by Steven Craig Hickman
On Speculative Realism and Materialism
…speculative realists …are committed to the view that there is a reality that exceeds the bounds of perception and phenomenological intuition; that human thought is capable of transgressing the limits of phenomenological evidence; and that being is not identical to knowing. In short: speculation, they maintain, is theoretically capable of disengaging objects from subjects in nonarbitrary ways, some of which approximate science fiction but none of which are, in the last analysis, fictitious.
--Tom Sparrow, The End of Phenomenology: Metaphysics and the New Realism
Ray Brassier who coined the term Speculative Realism as part of a weekend seminar at Goldsmith’s back in 2007 recently addressed this strange beast quoting Graham Harman from his essay ‘The Current State of Speculative Realism’ in Speculations: A Journal of Speculative Realism IV (2013), 22:
Though there are still tough tests ahead concerning the breadth and durability of Speculative Realism, it has long since passed the ‘existence’ test to a far greater degree than most of its critics.
To this Brassier asks: “Has Speculative Realism passed the existence test?” For Brassier the answer was an unqualifiable “no”. For him the originality of SR began with Quentin Meillassoux’s questioning of the Kantian tradition of Continental Philosophy and its Anti-Realist tendencies; otherwise known in Meillassoux’s parlance as “correlationism” (which we discussed in the previous post). So that Brassier will ask: “The question then arising is whether anti-correlationism is indeed a sufficient condition for Speculative Realism. I do not think it can be.” Ultimately Brassier’s dissatisfaction with SR comes from his disagreement with Graham Harman and his brand of speculative realism or Object-Oriented Ontology.
After agreeing with Brassier in that SR was stillborn, and that it has no center or circumference, no school of thought or associated ideas or member constituents but was already pronounced dead of arrival (D.O.A.), Leon Niemoczynski in a recent book – strangely entitled Speculative Realism: An Epitome – tells us that he sincerely hopes “that others will be able to disregard any brand or factional attachments and read the work of these philosophers for the sheer brilliance that it is: focus on the ideas in play and comment upon them, critique and assess them—or perhaps even critically incorporate them into one’s own outlook and work”.
Having watched these various blogsphere battles, and enraged young academics and their elders both publically and privately debating, castigating, warring over this beast of a brand and label, and its existence since 2007 it has been apparent to me at least that philosophers are “human, all too human” after all. Enough said on that score. For me at least its the individual and singular thinkers and their conceptual output that matters not the disquieting wars over umbrella brands and labels. What truly needs to be defined is not the label, but rather the use of the concepts “speculation” and “realism”. What are they separately, and when brought together what is being done? As Tom Sparrow puts it:
It would be inaccurate to claim that either phenomenology or speculative realism adheres to a standard, univocal method. The various figures gathered under the speculative realist label deploy disparate methodologies, although each in their own way attempts to overcome the antirealist hegemony in continental philosophy. Toward this end they share a willingness to speculate about things metaphysical and, some more than others, to construct original ontologies. (Sparrow, p. 2)
So is this actually just a return to premodern thought? A return to metaphysics? If as Wesley Philips in The Future of Speculation? implies, that SR in its “naturalistic sense of totality and of realism prevents it from relating ‘necessary contingency’ to any (future-oriented) task” then is there even a reason to continue to use this brand/labe.?4 Yet, if of contingency is neither a historical category, nor some Hegelian dialectical move, then maybe SR has an existence after all. The whole point of Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency which is the work around which the original conference was held, and brought the four main philosophical players – Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant, Graham Harman, and Quentin Meillassoux together, was more concerned with contingency than the problems of correlationism. Ultimately one of the primary goals of Meillassoux’s book was to provide a foundation for scientific knowledge. The absolutization of facticity — the idea according to which Meillassoux posits the absolute impossibility of a necessary being — entails a shifting away from the principle of sufficient reason into an anhypothetical and absolute principle of unreason.5 As Riera remarks:
By claiming that physical laws are contingent, Meillassoux proposed a speculative solution to Hume’s problem of primary and secondary qualities. The author’s treatment of what at first could have passed for an innocuous metaphysical non-problem is implemented in order to transform our outlook on unreason. A truly speculative solution to Hume’s problem must conceive a world devoid of any physical necessity that, nevertheless, would still be compatible with the stability of its physical laws. Here contingency is the key concept that, insofar as it is extracted from Humean-Kantian necessitarianism and thus distinguished from chance, enables Meillassoux to explain how and why Cantor’s transfinite number could constitute a condition for the stability of chaos.
The point here is that Cantor provides the tool for a mathematical way of distinguishing contingency from chance, and this tool is none other than the transfinite, which Meillassoux translates into an elegant and economical statement: “the (qualifiable) totality of the thinkable is unthinkable.” (AF, p. 104) This means that in the absence of any certainty regarding the totalization of the possible, we should limit the scope of aleatory reasoning to objects of experience, rather than extending it to the very laws that rule our universe (as Kant illegitimately did in the Critique of Pure Reason), as if we knew that the these laws necessarily belong to some greater Whole. (see Riera) Ultimately, as a good ephebe, Meillassoux following his mentor Badiou’s footsteps tried completing the Galilean-Copernican decentering wrought by science in stating that “what is mathematizable cannot be reduced to a correlate of thought.” (AF, p. 117) As Riera concludes, for Meillassoux contingency is the crucial concept, and is inextricably linked to Badiou’s conception of the event. (I’ll not go into Badiou’s conception of the event, here!)
Going back to the Great Outdoors of Being
What speculative realism provides in response to the rhetorics of concreteness and the Rich Elsewhere is a realism that multiplies the dimensions of reality by identifying those irreducible speculative moments of philosophical analysis that summon us to assume a realist stance because idealism, correlationism, and the linguistic turn leave us wanting.
--Tom Sparrow, The End of Phenomenology: Metaphysics and the New Realism
"Allure, with its severing of objects and qualities, is the paradigm shift of the senses…”
If the above is true then exactly what is this realist stance proposing against all those anti-realist philosophies of the twentieth-century? Instead of reiterating the singular stances of each of the players in the speculative realist movement (if there still is one?), I’ll append a set of previous essay and posts that have dealt the outlines of this. In my post on Graham Harman: An Ontology of Forces and Actions I came to the conclusion that Reality cannot be reduced to Mind, Language, or Scientific description. Reality is an open in indefinable ever-changing realm of metamorphosis within which we are but one among many entities, each impinging upon the other in a carnival of existence. The point of this is that the Real exceeds our explanatory explanandum, and cannot be reduced to any description whatsoever. Instead it needs a speculative aesthetics, a poetry of existence – at once inventive, trope ridden, and empowered to lure what is hidden and unknown out of its dark places. In this sense Harman reminds us that the concept of allure is the central figure-form within any speculative realism,
Object-oriented philosophy is not panpsychist, but only “panallurist,” to coin a ridiculous and linguistically inept term. I have argued that allure exists in germinal form in all reality, including the inanimate sphere. This by no means implies that rocks can think and feel, just as it never entails that mulberry bushes have wings in germ or that sand grains tacitly know how to manage farms or fabricate stone tools. Allure is something far more primitive than any of these revolutions: indeed, allure is the principle of revolution as such, since only allure makes quantum leaps from one state of reality into the next by generating a new relation between objects. Without allure, we are trapped amidst the swirling black noise of any given sensual space. … The ontological structure of the world does not evolve or undergo revolutions, which is precisely what makes it an ontological structure. Only objects undergo revolutions—and human beings make up just a few billion objects among others, and are not special guests at the table of Being whose absence would simplify the universe immeasurably. (GM, 244)
In an interesting essay in Object-Oriented Feminisms ‘Allure and Abjection: The Possible Potential of Severed Qualities’ Lunning explicates this notion of allure:
Allure, which provides the process for metaphor, does not take us any closer to the object—but merely translates it into object language— redolent with the pull of the now withdrawn object, but engineering a mysterious exchange of qualities that are left in the gap of the conceptual field that is the heart of the metaphor.
For Harman allure remains a concept that, contrasted with “sincerity,” allows him to account for the way in which objects break free of their sensual qualities.8 As Harman describes this concept in his book Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things, in “perception as in allure, the collision of inscrutable objects somehow generates an ether of tangible qualities in which both inanimate things and we ourselves reside. Allure is actually the clearest case we have seen so far in which qualities become visible.”9 (GM, p. 172) He also defines allure as a mechanism by which objects are split apart from their traits even as these traits remain inseparable from their objects. Above all else, it seemed to be aesthetic experience that splits the atoms of the world and puts their particles on display. (GM, p. 173)
This aesthetic dimension of allure seems pertinent to my own concern with dark realism. This is not aesthetics in the sense its used in the arts, rather its the Nietzschean sense of the Real as aesthetic. It’s this aspect that Harman addresses when he says,
…if we now say that the universe has an aesthetic or metaphorical structure, this has nothing to do with the shopworn theme of a conscious human artist projecting values onto an arbitrary perspectival universe. Instead, it is an actual metaphysical statement about the way that raindrops or sandstorms interact among themselves even when no humans are on the scene. The point is not the old postmodern chestnut of “life as literature,” but rather causation itself as music, sculpture, and street theater. When we speak of beauty, charm, humor, metaphor, or seduction, these are no longer perspectivist and humanized terms employed to flog naive realism, but are instead the basis for a haunting new realism more compellingly naive than any that has come before. (GM, p. 174)
This notion of the non-human is at the center of SR’s move against all humanistic philosophies, a de-centering of philosophy from the for-us circle of correlationism, etc. To understand this we might turn from Harman to the Italian philosopher Maurizio Ferraris who after Meillassoux would affirm that it has been far too long that philosophers have posited that humans have only ever access to the correlation between thought and being, but never to being itself. Instead he like Meillassoux would make the battle cry that it is high time we go back to the absolute: time to go back to the “Great Outdoors”.10 The difference for Ferraris is that he’d been saying this for twenty years in Italy to the detriment of those who were not familiar with his work. So in this sense he was there long before Speculative Realism was even a thought in the mind of its Goldsmith’s participants.
In fact Ferraris’s stance is not to reject the past two hundred years of philosophical speculation, nor to anathematize our immediate predecessors in postmodernism, but rather to shift the problems of epistemology to ontology:
The world’s resistance against our expectations and the surprises it holds for us seem to be excellent arguments proving that there is an ontological reality independent from any epistemological construction. In short, since we live in an intimately deconstructive reality, I believe there is nothing more deconstructive than realism. (NR, p. 10)
In fact, as a student of Derrida, he’ll not dispute the need for deconstruction or even a constructivist approach, only to shift such notions as there is “nothing outside the text” to the more politically and opportune notion that there is the text Derrida is describing is not the totality of the Real but rather of the social. It’s a emphasis of dimensions and levels of reality rather than some totalistic system of referencing everything as textual, etc.
In Ferraris’s new realism he provides three thesis to illustrate its ontological power:
The first, ‘negativity’, is a critique of the postmodern idea that the world is constructed by our conceptual schemes, all the more so as we have entered the age of immateriality and virtuality. I place this first part of my discourse under the title of ‘negativity’ because with postmodernism there was the triumph of negative thinking: it was posited that the world is nothing in itself, and if it is something, this essentially depends on our thoughts and our interpretations. The second thesis, ‘positivity’, proposes the fundamental ontological assertion of new realism, namely that not only (as acknowledged by every realist and, in many cases, even by some antirealists) are there parts of reality that are independent of thought, but these parts are also able to act causally over thought and the human world. Finally, the third thesis, ‘normativity,’ applies new realism to the sphere of the social world. (NR, p. 12)
Negativity, positivity, and normativity. A critique of constructivism, an ontological turn in which the world exist and exceeds our thoughts and is independent of it; and, not only that but it resists and communicates with both human and non-human actants through processes of causation; and, finally, an acceptance within the sociocultural sphere of a new normativity in which a new realism takes up its place within the ongoing public world and its political and social aspects.
What Ferraris shares with many other new realists is the wish to move beyond Kant’s transcendental turn and its legacy in postmodern philosophy, but not through a return to something like metaphysical realism or dogmatic metaphysics. New realists want to reassert the importance of the external world (Ferraris and Putnam), the object (Harman and Morton) or the absolute (Meillassoux): in any case, they want to break out of the relation between thought and being and reach out beyond it, so as to demonstrate that, to refer once again to Bryant’s expression, ‘it is not all about us’. (NR, p. 110)
Ferraris like Tom Sparrow seems tempted toward Hegel and the dialectic. As Sparrow says:
The alternative to strong correlationism, it seems to me, is total submission to phenomenology’s idealist roots. Not the transcendental idealism of Kant, however, or the neo-Kantianism to which Husserl and Heidegger were responding, but the absolute idealism of Hegel, the original phenomenology. Hegel has proven quite tenacious; he has even won over some notable analytic philosophers. A radical retrieval of the meaning of phenomenology as Hegel understood it could yield many unexpected conclusions. (Sparrow, pp. 188-189)
I do not share such conclusions. Like Bataille, Deleuze, and Land I seek a non-dialectical turn, one that is based in horror philosophy; or, what I like to term dark realism, and have in the past termed noir realism (after the realist detectives of that criminalized sub-genre of novels and films). In this sense it is a realism that has as its task to “make an object of the unknown, as the unknown”.11 This sense that there is an absolute Real that we will never have direct access to, and not only that but that it’s alterity is absolute. And yet this absolute realm or multidimensional Real resists us and impinges on our human existence, and is completely unconcerned and impersonal in its relations to both human and non-human alike.
by Steven Craig Hickman
On Dark Realism
The question for speculative realism then becomes: of what does speculation consist? The answers to this are as diverse as the field of speculative realism itself. What they have in common, however, is a desire to break with the recollective model of knowledge as well as the authority of phenomena, and to engage problems that are, roughly speaking, metaphysical in nature.
—Tom Sparrow, The End of Phenomenology: Metaphysics and the New Realism
For me there is no natural or supernatural, we’ve been imposing human categories on the Real for so long that the these categories of thought have become reality rather than Real. Now that the actual Real is resisting our categories of thought we are left pondering all our idiotic axioms. The Real is what resists our explanatory explanandum; that is the only viable realism. It’s so dark and unknown that we must start from the beginning, erase the human categories of thought and begin negotiating and communicating with the resisting forces of the Real. This is not a War but an admission of absolute alterity in all relations. The non-human other is speaking to us, but we are not listening. Time to enter the dark…
Reading a recent essay by Eugene Thacker on Mark Fisher’s last book before his untimely death The Weird and the Eerie, he reminds us of a statement by H.P. Lovecraft from that horror writer’s short story “The Call of Cthulhu”:
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.
This notion that our brains (Mind) were not evolved to correlate all the contents of our cultural knowledge, but were instead evolved to help us replicate our species and to survive in a hostile environment is a part of this limiting factor of the Mind. The other is what R. Scott Bakker terms the problem of “medial neglect“. As Scott puts it:
The problem is basically that the machinery of the brain has no way of tracking its own astronomical dimensionality; it can at best track problem-specific correlational activity, various heuristic hacks. We lack not only the metacognitive bandwidth, but the metacognitive access required to formulate the explananda of neuroscientific investigation.
A curious consequence of the neuroscientific explananda problem is the glaring way it reveals our blindness to ourselves, our medial neglect. The mystery has always been one of understanding constraints, the question of what comes before we do. Plans? Divinity? Nature? Desires? Conditions of possibility? Fate? Mind? We’ve always been grasping for ourselves, I sometimes think, such was the strategic value of metacognitive capacity in linguistic social ecologies. The thing to realize is that grasping, the process of developing the capacity to report on our experience, was bootstrapped out of nothing and so comprised the sum of all there was to the ‘experience of experience’ at any given stage of our evolution. Our ancestors had to be both implicitly obvious, and explicitly impenetrable to themselves past various degrees of questioning.
This inability of the brain to track “its own astronomical dimensionality; it can at best track problem-specific correlational activity, various heuristic hacks,” is the same thing H.P. Lovecraft meant when he spoke of the “inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents”. This acute blindness to the reality within and without, to the intrinsic and extrinsic facets of our own singular being and the Real or Outside is to be faced with the fact that move and have our being within an absolute darkness of which we know nothing. Like Plato’s mythical cave fantasists we project a fantasy reality onto the darkness of the cave walls and call that our world. Where Plato erred is in adding the notion that while we sit in the dark there exists behind us and outside us, beyond the universal chaos of time and space some other world– a world of pure forms (eidos, Ideas, substantial forms, etc.) that are the true sources of all our fake copies. So that the task of philosophy was to guide us back, to remember that this other immortal realm exists and that this is where our true home is beyond time and space. Problem is that Plato made this up; or, should we say he provided in his time a secularization of the mysteries of the Pythagorean-Orphic traditions that had been passed down through hundreds of years of Greek history from the early Shamans of those long forgotten sects and cults of the mysteries. Nothing is ever made out of whole cloth, instead Plato attributed his discoveries to his mentor Socrates so that Plato as a novelist of Ideas became for all intents and purposes the first Science Fiction author.
As Scott says above our ancestors, and such thinkers as Plato assumed they were providing us a way of grasping the world with thoughts, concepts, etc., when in fact they were providing us only an ignorance of our ignorance. On providing the “process of developing the capacity to report on our experience”, one that “was bootstrapped out of nothing” – thinkers like Plato provided a mere fiction and human fabrication of axioms, concepts, mind-tools: a set of evolving meanings to defend ourselves against this blindness –medial neglect. Instead of providing us a way of confronting the Real, they masked it leaving us in a human made world, one that enforced the recollection of knowledge (technics) as the Real. But sadly we began to take these fictions of reality as the Real – as knowledge of things as they are in themselves, while forgetting the little problems and resistances that didn’t fit or cooperate or mesh with these tidy and orderly little axioms, concepts, notions, etc. That is till later philosophers and then scientists began to realize the accumulation of errors in our linguistic world of cultural and symbolic exchange.
By the time Immanuel Kant came along the divisive state of philosophy and philosophers about this state of affairs was so great that two schools of thought had pitched their tent at the extreme poles of this quandary: the empiricists and rationalists. On the one side were those that believed all knowledge came from experience, on the other were those who believed it came from Reason alone. (Of course I have reduced this to a cartoon, but the general outlines are in that statement.) What Kant did was not to try to reconcile these two worlds of the empirical and rationalism, but rather to turn the tables on the world itself. For him neither experience or Reason held any absolute priority, rather we must turn to the source of knowledge in the categories of thought themselves. So he began documenting the schemas (forms) within the mind that impose and restrict (limit) what we can know about experience and Reason (knowledge).
This would lead to the notion that whatever the so to speak Real World is in-itself we can know nothing, all we can know is the way the world is given to us by our Mind (i.e., the actual world disappeared and was replaced by how it conformed or imitated the inward forms, categories of thought within the intelligible residing a priori within us). All this would form what Quentin Meillassoux in his work After Finitude. Meillassoux would set as the main task of that work a way out of Kant’s correlational circle, saying,
The first decision is that of all correlationism– it is the thesis of the essential inseparability of the act of thinking from its content. All we ever engage with is what is given-to-thought, never an entity subsisting by itself.
This decision alone suffices to disqualify every absolute of the realist or materialist variety. Every materialism that would be speculative, and hence for which absolute reality is an entity without thought, must assert both that thought is not necessary (something can be independently of thought), and that thought can think what there must be when there is no thought. The materialism that chooses to follow the speculative path is thereby constrained to believe that it is possible to think a given reality by abstracting from the fact that we are thinking it.
The point of the first statement is that we never touch the Real, all we ever know is the our own fictions of reality rather than the Real (i.e., the brain patterns and shapes and processes the real world then gives us its interpretation of that world, so that when we see things what we are seeing is only what our brain has given us rather than the thing as it is in-itself.) We live according to Kant in a Hall of Mirrors closed off in a circle of thought about reality rather than actually knowing it as it is. It’s this problem of being cut off from the Real that is at the heart of all philosophy since Kant. What Kant did is force thought to turn inward upon itself, to state that all we can ever know of the world is what is given to us: a world for-us rather than a world out there independent of the mind. This would come to be known as the Anti-Realist position of which all philosophers whether of the Continental or Analytical divide would have to deal with, overcome, accept, or in general come to terms with.
As Meillassoux shows us in that second paragraph the problem for both realist and materialist philosophers is simply put: How do we think things without imposing or conforming them to our a priori categories? If the world is independent of our Mind how to think it without these categories of thought. Is that possible? This paradoxical task is at the core of most current speculative realisms and materialisms, one that as of yet has no solution. Which leads one to ask: Is there a solution to this paradox or not?
The Phenomenological Moment: Husserl and Heidegger
Before we set off down this rabbit hole let’s dig a little deeper into just what correlationism is within current philosophical circles that are tackling this issue. During the Twentieth Century Continental philosophy would almost become synonymous with phenomenology as set forth in the works of Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger his pupil. They would inherit all the issues and problems of Kant and Kant’s heirs, the German Idealists. As Tom Sparrow tells us,
Many phenomenologists will fight tooth and nail against the claim that phenomenology necessarily ends, or should end, in idealism. They will argue that this claim completely misses the radical program of phenomenology, or they will assert that phenomenology operates outside the idealism/ realism schema and, consequently, cannot be idealism. However the phenomenologist resists the charge of idealism, their resistance will be premised on the claim that phenomenology does not recognize the subject/ object dualism as fundamental, but rather subject and object always come as an inseparable pair.
Quentin Meillassoux would describe such thinkers “who insists on the irreducible dependency of subject and object, thinking and being: the correlationist”. (Sparrow, p. 86) In Meillassoux’s terms there are both a strong and weak version of this correlationist stance in philosophy. The strong view of correlationism is the view that the in itself is neither knowable nor thinkable, while the weak view (Kant’s position!) states that the in itself is thinkable but not knowable. (Sparrow, pp. 35-36) Of course this second positions begs the question: What is the difference between thinking something and knowing it?
After Kant’s short lived belief that we could follow Plato’s advice and know the eternal forms residing in the intelligible world he’d come to deny it, saying that our understanding is incapable of insight into an intelligible world, which cleared the path toward his mature position in the Critique of Pure Reason (1781), according to which the understanding (like sensibility) supplies forms that structure our experience of the sensible world, to which human knowledge is limited, while the intelligible (or noumenal) world is strictly unknowable to us. So the divide between thinking and knowing is one of limits. We are limited only to the way our brain (Mind) structures the world for-us through the schemas or categories of thought and sensibility. Outside that we can know nothing of what the world is in itself. We can think it but not know it in fact or act.
Edmund Husserl would introduce the concept of the epoché – a suspension of the natural attitude, which as Sparrow argues “is essential to phenomenology, drives a correlationist wedge between the world as it is represented in consciousness and the world as it stands outside of consciousness” (Sparrow, p. 36). This would lead to the notion of “intentional objects”:
Intentional objects are objects in the sense that they make up the “objective” side of the subject/ object correlation. They give themselves through their various appearances as transcendent unities, even though this unity is always only judged transcendent from within immanence. They are what intentionality takes to be objective, what it “means,” as Husserl puts it, even though their absolute transcendence remains phenomenologically unconfirmed. (Sparrow, p. 36)
The point here is that we never leave the correlational circle, that for all his prowess in developing the phenomenological method Husserl in the end failed to provide a way out of the Kantian dilemma. It’s as if mind independent reality is like a Black Box we can peer into only indirectly rather than ever perceiving directly so that Husserl fails in showing how intentional objects are actual objects with independent lives all their own. Of course in Quantum physics the same black box problem came to be partially solved by stipulating that reality is only what can be measured and quantified once a particle leaves the black box. But that leaves the black box intact and unknown, a problem that remains a problem for philosophers. Whatever the actual world is it is not the intentional unity of phenomenological thought about objects. It is only thought about thought-objects, not actual objects which are forever closed off in that black box outside the Mind.
Martin Heidegger would following his mentor take another stab at this black box problem. As Sparrow suggests Heidegger’s path unlike his mentor would lead him on a philosophical quest for truth, attempting to access the way things are without the distortion of our brain’s (Mind) distorting lens. This would lead Heidegger to examine the distorting lens, to critique the very structuring process which maps the world and provides our awareness of it, in this way he believed that the way forward in “mitigating distortion, is to first examine the instrument or means of access to truth” (Sparrow, p. 37).
In Heidegger’s view phenomenology is never merely a matter of description; it is always a problem of interpretation, or hermeneutics. (Sparrow, p. 38) Ultimately Heidegger against his mentor’s belief in ever substantiating the truth and validity of mind-independent objects without the need of presuppositions would lead him in the opposite direction. As Sparrow describes it
Heidegger gives up on the dream of philosophy without presuppositions and asserts instead the necessity of presuppositions. And furthermore, Heidegger’s fusion of Dasein and being, phenomenology and ontology, guarantees that his method will not aim at establishing the transcendent reality of objects, but instead will reveal the utter bankruptcy of our traditional belief in the independent existence of this reality. (Sparrow, p. 39)
This is the Anti-Realist position which would be taken up by the postmodern thinkers from Foucault to Derrida and such contemporary thinkers as Slavoj Zizek. This road led back to German Idealism. In Heidegger’s view realism is predicated on a false presupposition, namely, that the world of objects exists as present-at-hand, objectively independent of Dasein’s access to them, and that Dasein exists as an isolated subject or cogito. (Sparrow, p. 39) Yet, as Sparrow ironically puts it: “Given this assessment, it is curious that Heidegger asserts that entities exist independent of Dasein’s disclosure of them. He certainly does not provide the evidence to support this claim.” (p. 39) Ultimately the so called phenomenology of Heidegger led not to and understanding of the Real, but more often Heidegger, like Nietzsche and Hegel, abandons the noumena and the realism that depends on their autonomous existence in favor of an ontology that echoes Hegel’s objective idealism. As Sparrow tells us “when Heidegger writes as though he is a realist, this is his way of describing phenomenologically how objects in the world present themselves as if they existed independent of their manifestation to Dasein. Their absolute existence remains suspect.” (Sparrow, p. 43)
Sparrow provides a reading of what might be best termed the last phenomenologist, the philosopher Merleau-Ponty for whom the Real is that which resists the phenomenological reduction. This negative appraisal and affirmation of realism as resistance leads Sparrow to conclude: “If the reduction is indeed impossible, then the viability of the phenomenological method itself is undermined.” (Sparrow, p. 48) As Sparrow states it:
Like so many phenomenologists after Husserl, Merleau-Ponty is compelled to reassure his readers that, despite appearances, there is a world that exists beyond the world of perception. It is there before any analysis of it. And yet, at the same time, he contends that it is not possible to experience either subject or object as distinct from each other. The “objective world” is nothing other than the “world of perception.”
In other words the world is bound to the correlational circle of being given for-us. The independence of the world is not independent of our perception of it, it doesn’t exist independent of that perception but only within that perception of perception. So much for an independent world. In his harshest critique of phenomenology Sparrow concludes:
If it is conceded that the reduction or intentionality, or even the reduction to intentionality, is the sine qua non of phenomenology, it would still be the case that phenomenology cannot yield metaphysical realism. This means that any phenomenology which claims to practice a phenomenological method – and I have argued that this is the only meaningful sense of what phenomenology is – must be a form of correlationism. A phenomenology without a method can only remain a style of philosophy, and – insofar as it lacks the methodological tools necessary to establish realism – one ill-equipped to deliver the real on its own terms. Phenomenology, as such, ends in correlationism, if not idealism or antirealism.
So if phenomenology was a dead end for realism then what comes next? Is there a path forward, a way out of the correlational circle that is not an idealism or anti-realist project?
Central to modern psychoanalytical theory is the relation between the money complex and the human body. Some analysts derive money from the infantile impulse to play with faeces. Ferenczi, in particular, calls money "nothing other than odorless dehydrated filth that has been made to shine." Ferenczi, in his concept of money, is elaborating Freud's concept of "Character and Anal Erotism." Although this idea of linking "filthy lucre" with the anal has continued in the main lines of psychoanalysis, it does not correspond sufficiently to the nature and function of money in society to provide a theme for the present chapter.
Money began in nonliterate cultures as a commodity, such as whales' teeth on Fiji; or rats on Easter Island, which later were considered a delicacy, were valued as a luxury, and thus became a means of mediation or barter. When the Spaniards were besieging Leyden in 1574, leather money was issued, but as hardship increased the population boiled and ate the new currency.
In literate cultures, circumstances may reintroduce commodity money. The Dutch, after the German occupation of World War II, were avid for tobacco. Since the supply was small, objects of high value such as jewels, precision instruments, and even houses were sold for small quantities of cigarettes. The Reader's Digest recorded an episode from the early occupation of Europe in 1945, describing how an unopened pack of cigarettes served as currency, passing from hand to hand, translating the skill of one worker into the skill of another as long as no one broke the seal.
Money always retains something of its commodity and community character. In the beginning, its function of extending the grasp of men from their nearest staples and commodities to more distant ones is very slight. Increased mobility of grasp and trading is small at first. So it is with the emergence of language in the child. In the first months grasping is reflexive, and the power to make voluntary release comes only toward the end of the first year. Speech comes with the development of the power to let go of objects. It gives the power of detachment from the environment that is also the power of great mobility in knowledge of the environment. So it is with the growth of the idea of money as currency rather than commodity. Currency is a way of letting go of the immediate staples and commodities that at first serve as money, in order to extend trading to the whole social complex. Trading by currency is based on the principle of grasping and letting go in an oscillating cycle. The one hand retains the article with which it tempts the other party. The other hand is extended in demand toward the object which is desired in exchange. The first hand lets go as soon as the second object is touched, somewhat in the manner of a trapeze artist exchanging one bar for another. In fact, Elias Canetti in Crowds and Power argues that the trader is Involved in one of the most ancient of all pastimes, namely that of climbing trees and swinging from limb to limb. The primitive grasping, calculating, and timing of the greater arboreal apes he sees as a translation into financial terms of one of the oldest movement patterns. Just as the hand among the branches of the trees learned a pattern of grasping that was quite removed from the moving of food to mouth, so the trader and the financier have developed enthralling abstract activities that are extensions of the avid climbing and mobility of the greater apes.
Like any other medium, it is a staple, a natural resource. As an outward and visible form of the urge to change and to exchange, it is a corporate image, depending on society for its institutional status. Apart from communal participation, money is meaningless, as Robinson Crusoe discovered when he found the coins in the wrecked ship:
I smiled to myself at the sight of this money. "O drug!" said I aloud, "What art thou good for? Thou art not worth to me --no, not the taking off the ground: one of those knives is worth all this heap: I have no manner of use for thee; e'en remain where thou art and, go to the bottom, as a creature whose life is not worth saving."
However, upon second thoughts, I took it away; and wrapping it all in a piece of canvas, I began to think of making another raft . . .
Primitive commodity money, like the magical words of non-literate society, can be a storehouse of power, and has often become the occasion of feverish economic activity. The natives of the South Seas, when they are so engaged, seek no economic advantage. Furious application to production may be followed by deliberate destruction of the products in order to achieve moral prestige. Even in these "potlatch" cultures, however, the effect of the currencies was to expedite and to accelerate human energies in a way that had become universal in the ancient world with the technology of the phonetic alphabet. Money, like writing, has the power to specialize and to rechannel human energies and to separate functions, just as it translates and reduces one kind of work to another. Even in the electronic age it has lost none of this power. Potlatch is very widespread, especially where there is ease of food-gathering or food-production. For example, among the Northwest coast fishermen, or rice-planters of Borneo, huge surpluses are produced that have to be destroyed or class differences would arise that would destroy the traditional social order. In Borneo the traveler may see tons of rice exposed to rains in rituals, and great art constructions, involving tremendous efforts, smashed. At the same time, in these primitive societies, while money may release frantic energies in order to charge a bit of copper with magical prestige, it can buy very little. Rich and poor necessarily live in much the same manner. Today, in the electronic age, the richest man is reduced to having much the same entertainment, and even the same food and vehicles as the ordinary man.
The use of a commodity such as money naturally increases its production. The nonspecialist economy of Virginia in the seventeenth century made the elaborate European currencies quite dispensable. Having little capital, and wishing to put as little of this capital as possible into the shape of money, the Virginians turned to commodity money in some instances. When a commodity like tobacco was legislated into legal tender, it had the effect of stimulating the production of tobacco, just as the establishment of metallic currencies advanced the mining of metals. Money, as a social means of extending and amplifying work and skill in an easily accessible and portable form, lost much of its magical power with the coming of representative money, or Paper money. Just as speech lost its magic with writing, and further with printing, when printed money supplanted gold the compelling aura of it disappeared. Samuel Butler in Erewhon (1872) gave clear indications in his treatment of the mysterious prestige conferred by precious metals. His ridicule of the money medium took the form of presenting the old reverent attitude to money in a new social context. This new kind of abstract, printed money of the high industrial age, however, simply would not sustain the old attitude:
This is the true philanthropy. He who makes a colossal fortune in the hosiery trade, and by his energy has succeeded in reducing the price of woollen goods by the thousandth part of a penny in the pound --this man is worth ten professional philanthropists. So strongly are the Erewhonians impressed with this, that if a man has made a fortune of over/2O,ooo a year they exempt him from all taxation, considering him a work of art, and too precious to be meddled with; they say, "How very much he must have done for society before society could have been prevailed upon to give him so much money"; so magnificent an organization overawes them; they regard it as a thing dropped from heaven. "Money," they say, "is the symbol of duty, it is the sacrament of having done for mankind that which mankind wanted. Mankind may not be a very good judge, but there is no better." This used to shock me at first, when I remembered that it had been said on high authority that they who have riches shall enter hardly into the kingdom of heaven; but the influence of Erewhon had made me begin to see things in a new light, and I could not help thinking that they who have not riches shall enter more hardly still.
Earlier in the book, Butler had ridiculed the cash-register morality and religion of an industrialized world, under the guise of the "Musical Banks," with clergy in the role of cashiers. In the present passage, he perceives money as "the sacrament of having done for mankind that which mankind wanted." Money, he is saying, is the "outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace. " Money as a social medium or extension of an inner wish and motive creates social and spiritual values, as happens even in fashions in women's dress. A current ad underlines this aspect of dress as currency (that is, as social sacrament or outward and visible sign) "The important thing in today's world of fashion is to appear to be wearing a popular fabric." Conformity to this fashion literally gives currency to a style or fabric, creating a social medium that increases wealth and expression thereby. Does not this stress how money, or any medium whatever, is constituted and made efficacious? When men become uneasy about such social values achieved by uniformity and repetition, doing for mankind that which mankind wants, we can take it as a mark of the decline of mechanical technology.
"Money talks" because money is a metaphor, a transfer, and a bridge. Like words and language, money is a storehouse of communally achieved work, skill, and experience. Money, however, is also a specialist technology like writing; and as writing intensifies the visual aspect of speech and order, and as the clock visually separates time from space, so money separates work from the other social functions. Even today money is a language for translating the work of the farmer into the work of the barber, doctor, engineer, or plumber. As a vast social metaphor, bridge, or translator, money -- like writing --speeds up exchange and tightens the bonds of interdependence in any community. It gives great spatial extension and control to political organizations, just as writing does, or the calendar. It is action at a distance, both in space and in time. In a highly literate, fragmented society, "Time is money," and money is the store of other people's time and effort.
During the Middle Ages the idea of the fisc or "the King's purse" kept the notion of money in relation to language ("the King's English") and to communication by travel ("the King's highway"). Before the advent of printing, it was quite natural for the means of communication to be regarded as extensions of a single body. In an increasingly literate society, money and the clock assumed a high degree of visual or fragmented stress. In practice, our Western use of money as store and translator of communal work and skill has depended upon long accustomation to the written word, and upon the power of the written word to specialize, to delegate, and to separate functions in an organization.
When we look at the nature and uses of money in nonliterate societies, we can better understand the ways in which writing helps to establish currencies. Uniformity of commodities, combined with a fixed-price system such as we now take for granted, does not become possible until printing prepares the ground. "Backward" countries take a long time to reach economic "takeoff' because they do not undergo the extensive processing of print with its psychological conditioning in the ways of uniformity and repeatability. In general, the West is little aware of the way in which the world of prices and numbering is supported by the pervasive visual culture of literacy.
Nonliterate societies are quite lacking in the psychic resources to create and sustain the enormous structures of statistical information that we call markets and prices. Far easier is the organization of production than is the training of whole populations in the habits of translating their wishes and desires statistically, as it were, by means of market mechanisms of supply and demand, and the visual technology of prices. It was only in the eighteenth century that the West began to accept this form of extension of its inner life in the new statistical pattern of marketing. So bizarre did this new mechanism appear to thinkers of that time that they called it a "Hedonistic calculus." Prices then seemed to be comparable, in terms of feelings and desires, to the vast world of space that had yielded its inequities earlier to the translating power of the differential calculus. In a word, the fragmentation of the inner life by prices seemed as mysterious in the eighteenth century, as the minute fragmentation of space by means of calculus had seemed a century earlier.
The extreme abstraction and detachment represented by our pricing system is quite unthinkable and unusable amidst populations for whom the exciting drama of price haggling occurs with every transaction.
Today, as the new vortices of power are shaped by the instant electric interdependence of all men on this planet, the visual factor in social organization and in personal experience recedes, and money begins to be less and less a means of storing or exchanging work and skill. Automation, which is electronic, does not represent physical work so much as programmed knowledge. As work is replaced by the sheer movement of information, money as a store of work merges with the informational forms of credit and credit card. From coin to paper currency, and from currency to credit card there is a steady progression toward commercial exchange as the movement of information itself. This trend toward an inclusive information is the kind of image represented by the credit card, and approaches once more the character of tribal money. For tribal society, not knowing the specialisms of job or of work, does not specialize money either. Its money can be eaten, drunk, or worn like the new space ships that are now designed to be edible.
"Work," however, does not exist in a nonliterate world. The primitive hunter or fisherman did no work, any more than does the poet, painter, or thinker of today. Where the whole man is involved there is no work. Work begins with the division of labor and the specialization of functions and tasks in sedentary, agricultural communities. In the computer age we are once more totally involved in our roles. In the electric age the "job of work ' yields to dedication and commitment, as in the tribe.
In nonliterate societies money relates itself to the other organs of society quite simply. The role of money is enormously increased after money begins to foster specialism and separation of social functions. Money becomes, in fact, the principal means of interrelating the ever more specialist activities of literate society. The fragmenting power of the visual sense, as literacy separates it from the other senses, is a fact more easily identified now in the electronic age. Nowadays, with computers and electric programming, the means of storing and moving information become less and less visual and mechanical, while increasingly integral and organic. The total field created by the instantaneous electric forms cannot be visualized any more than the velocities of electronic particles can be visualized. The instantaneous creates an interplay among time and space and human occupations, for which the older forms of currency exchange become increasingly inadequate. A modern physicist who attempted to employ visual models of perception in organizing atomic data would not be able to get anywhere near the nature of his problems. Both time (as measured visually and segmentally) and space (as uniform, pictorial, and enclosed) disappear in the electronic age of instant information. In the age of instant information man ends his job of fragmented specializing and assumes the role of information gathering. Today information gathering resumes the inclusive concept of "culture," exactly as the primitive food-gatherer worked in complete equilibrium with his entire environment. Our quarry now, in this new nomadic and "work-less world, is knowledge and insight into the creative processes of life and society.
Men left the closed world of the tribe for the "open society," exchanging an ear for an eye by means of the technology of writing. The alphabet in particular enabled them to break out of the charmed circle and resonating magic of the tribal world. A similar process of economic change from the closed to the open society, from mercantilism and the economic protection of national trade to the open market ideal of the free-traders, was accomplished in more recent times by means of the printed word, and by moving from metallic to paper currencies. Today, electric technology puts the very concept of money in jeopardy, as the new dynamics of human interdependence shift from fragmenting media such as printing to inclusive or mass media like the telegraph. Since all media are extensions of ourselves, or translations of some part of us into various materials, any study of one medium helps us to understand all the others. Money is no exception. The primitive or nonliterate use of money is especially enlightening, since it manifests an easy acceptance of staple products as media of communication. The nonliterate man can accept any staple as money, partly because the staples of a community are as much media of communication as they are commodities. Cotton, wheat, cattle, tobacco, timber, fish, fur, and many other products have acted as major shaping forces of community life in many cultures. When one of these staples becomes dominant as a social bond, it serves, also, as a store of value, and as a translator or exchanger of skills and tasks.
The classic curse of Midas, his power of translating all he touched into gold, is in some degree the character of any medium, including language. This myth draws attention to a magic aspect of all extensions of human sense and body; that is, to all technology whatever. All technology has the Midas touch. When a community develops some extension of itself, it tends to allow all other functions to be altered to accommodate that form.
Language, like currency, acts as a store of perception and as a transmitter of the perceptions and experience of one person or of one generation to another. As both a translator and storehouse of experience, language is, in addition, a reducer and a distorter of experience. The very great advantage of accelerating the learning process, and of making possible the transmission of knowledge and insight across time and space, easily overrides the disadvantages of linguistic codifications of experience. In modern mathematics and science there are increasingly mere and more nonverbal ways of codifying experience.
Money, like language a store of work and experience, acts also as translator and transmitter. Especially since the written word has advanced the separation of social functions, money is able to move away from its role as store of work. This role is obvious when a staple or commodity like cattle or fur is used as money. As money separates itself from the commodity form and becomes a specialist agent of exchange (or translator of values), it moves with greater speed and in ever greater volume.
Even in recent times, the dramatic arrival of paper currency, or "representative money," as a substitute for commodity money caused confusions. Much in the same way, the Gutenberg technology created a vast new republic of letters, and stirred great confusion about the boundaries between the realms of literature and life. Representative money, based on print technology, created new speedy dimensions of credit that were quite inconsistent with the inert mass of bullion and of commodity money. Yet all efforts were bent to make the speedy new money behave like the slow bullion coach. J. M. Keynes stated this policy in A Treatise on Money:
Thus the long age of Commodity Money has at last passed finally away before the age of Representative Money. Cold has ceased to be a coin, a hoard, a tangible claim to wealth, of which the value cannot slip away so long as the hand of the individual clutches the material stuff. It has become a much more abstract thing--just a standard of value; and it only keeps this nominal status by being handed round from time to time in quite small quantities amongst a group of Central Banks, on the occasions when one of them has been inflating or deflating its managed representative money in a different degree from what is appropriate to the behavior of its neighbours.
Paper, or representative money, has specialized itself away from the ancient role of money as a store of work into the equally ancient and basic function of money as transmitter and expediter of any kind of work into any other kind. Just as the alphabet was a drastic visual abstraction from the rich hieroglyphic culture of the Egyptians, so it also reduced and translated that culture into the great visual vortex of the Graeco-Roman world. The alphabet is a one-way process of reduction of nonlit-erate cultures into the specialist visual fragments of our Western world. Money is an adjunct of that specialist alphabetic technology, raising even the Gutenberg form of mechanical repeatability to new intensity. As the alphabet neutralized the divergencies of primitive cultures by translation of their complexities into simple visual terms, so representative money reduced moral values in the nineteenth century. As paper expedited the power of the alphabet to reduce the oral barbarians to Roman uniformity of civilization, so paper money enabled Western industry to blanket the globe.
Shortly before the advent of paper money, the greatly increased volume of information movement in European newsletters and newspapers created the image and concept of National Credit. Such a corporate image of credit depended, then as now, on the fast and comprehensive information movement that we have taken for granted for two centuries and more. At that stage of the emergence of public credit, money assumed the further role of translating, not just local, but national stores of work from one culture to another. One of the inevitable results of acceleration of information movement and of the translating power of money is the opportunity of enrichment for those who can anticipate this transformation by a few hours or years, as the case may be. We are particularly familiar today with examples of enrichment by means of advance information in stocks and bonds and real estate. In the past, when wealth was not so obviously related to information, an entire social class could monopolize the wealth resulting from a casual shift in technology. Keynes' report of just such an instance, in his study of "Shakespeare and the Profit Inflations," explains that since new wealth and bullion fall first to the governing classes, they experience a sudden buoyancy and euphoria, a glad release from the habitual stress and anxieties that fosters a prosperity, which in turn inspires the starving artist in his garret to invent new triumphant rhythms and exultant forms of painting and poetry. As long as profits leap well ahead of wages, the governing class cavorts in a style that inspires the greatest conceptions in the bosom of the impecunious artist.
When, however, profits and wages keep in reasonable touch, this abounding joy of the governing class is correspondingly diminished, and art then cannot benefit from prosperity. Keynes discovered the dynamics of money as a medium. The real task of a study of this one medium is identical with that of the study of all media; namely, as Keynes wrote, "to treat the problem dynamically, analyzing the different elements involved, in such a manner as to exhibit the causal process by which the price level is determined, and the method of transition from one position of equilibrium to another." In a word, money is not a closed system, and does not have its meaning alone. As a translator and amplifier, money has exceptional powers of substituting one kind of thing for another. Information analysts have come to the conclusion that the degree to which one resource can be substituted for another increases when information increases. As we know more, we rely less on any one food or fuel or raw material. Clothes and furniture can now be made from many different materials. Money, which had been for many centuries the principal transmitter and exchanger of information, is now having its function increasingly transferred to science and automation.
Today, even natural resources have an informational aspect. They exist by virtue of the culture and skill of some community.
The reverse, however, is true also. All media –or extension of man -- are natural resources that exist by virtue of the shared knowledge and skill of a community. It was awareness of this aspect of money that hit Robinson Crusoe very hard when he visited the wreck, resulting in the meditation quoted at the beginning of this chapter. When there are goods but no money, some sort of barter --or direct exchange of one product for another --has to occur. When, however, in nonliterate societies goods are used in direct exchange, then it is easiest to note their tendency to include the function of money. Some work has been done to some material, if only in bringing it from a distance. The object, then, stores work and information or technical knowledge to the extent that something has been done to it. When the one object is exchanged for another, it is already assuming the function of money, as translator or reducer of multiple things to some common denominator. The common denominator (or translator) is, however, also a time-saver and expediter. As such, money is time, and it would be hard to separate labor-saving from time-saving in this operation.
There is a mystery about the Phoenicians, who, although they were avid maritime traders, adopted coinage later man the landed Lydians. The reason assigned for this delay may not explain the Phoenician problem, but it draws sharp attention to a basic fact about money as a medium; namely, that those who traded by caravan required a light and portable medium of payment. This need was less for those who, like the Phoenicians, traded by sea. Portability, as a means of expediting and extending the effective distance of action, was also notably illustrated by papyrus. The alphabet was one thing when applied to clay or stone, and quite another when set down on light papyrus. The resulting leap in speed and space created the Roman Empire.
In the industrial age the increasingly exact measurement of work revealed time-saving as a major aspect of labor-saving. The media of money and writing and clock began to converge into an organic whole again that has brought us as close to the total involvement of man in his work, as of native in a primitive society, or of artist in his studio.
Money in one of its features provides a natural transition to number because the money hoard or collection has much in common with the crowd. Moreover, the psychological patterns of the crowd and those associated with accumulations of wealth are very close. Elias Canetti stresses that the dynamic which is basic to crowds is the urge to rapid and unlimited growth. The same power dynamic is characteristic of large concentrations of wealth or treasure. In fact, the modern unit of treasure in popular use is the million. It is a unit acceptable to any type of currency. Always associated with the million is the idea that it can be reached by a rapid speculative scramble. In the same way, Canetti explains how the ambition to see numbers mounting up was typical of Hitler's speeches.
Not only do crowds of people and piles of money strive toward increase, but they also breed uneasiness about the possibility of disintegration and deflation. This two-way movement of expansion and deflation seems to be the cause of the restlessness of crowds and the uneasiness that goes with wealth. Canetti spends a good deal of analysis on the psychic effects of the German inflation after the First World War. The depreciation of the citizen went along with that of the German mark. There was a loss of face and of worth in which the personal and monetary units became confused.
excerpt from the book: Understanding Media (The extensions of man) by Marshall McLuhan
It is the secret failing of politics that it is no longer able to think evil.
Politics is the site of the exercise of evil, of the management of evil, scattered into individual souls and collective manifestations in all its forms - privilege, vice and corruption. It is the inescapable fate of power to take this accursed share upon itself, and that of men in power to be sacrificed to it, a privilege from which they expect to derive all the secondary gains.
But practising evil is difficult and one may suppose that they are constantly trying to pass the buck in every way possible.
In the past, power was arbitrary, which corresponded to the fact that it came from elsewhere, being devolved from on high without regard for inherent qualities - being, in a sense, predestined.
Royal power was like this. Hence Louis XVI's stupefaction on being told that the insurgents wanted power. How can you want power?
It is given to you, and all you can do is exercise it, like it or not. No one can rid you of it. The idea of deposing the King is as absurd as the idea of a constitutional God.
Power is an obligation and one must not demand it, one must consent to it.
On the other hand, it is arbitrary since, for that very reason, it does not have to justify itself. The only solution was, indeed, the death of the King, that is to say, the restoration of the accursed share to the whole of society.
That each should have his or her portion of the 'accursed share' is the democratic principle. But it seems the 'citizens' do not really want to submit to this sovereign obligation and they are afraid of their own arbitrary power.
It will, then, be devolved to a few - these will be the politicians, who themselves most often have only one idea: to give it away. You have only to see them redistributing power in every possible way - on the one hand, to prove to themselves that they have it, and, on the other, to ensure that no one escapes it, for those who refuse it are dangerous. 'If I knew,' said Canetti, 'that there still are on this earth some human beings without any power I would say that nothing is lost.'
The great danger for the very existence of politics is not that human beings should compete to take power, but that they should not want it.
Those in power have a twofold problem: in the political order, the problem of wielding power; and in the symbolic order, the problem of getting rid of it.
It's exactly the same as with money: the economic problem is to earn money and make it work for you; the symbolic problem is to be rid of it at all costs, to lift that curse from yourself. And it's an almost impossible task.
You have only to see those American start-up com panic. Suddenly made rich by speculation and desperately trying to hand out donations right and left, trying to invest in all kinds of charitable trusts and foundations for promoting the arts. Alas, by some fearful curse they just make even more profit. Money takes its revenge by multiplying.
It is the same with power: in spite of all the rituals of interaction, participation and devolution, power is not soluble in exchange, and the dominated are too cunning really to take their part in it. They prefer to live in the shade of power.
So, when it comes to power or money, no absolution; the defiance remains total and the ordeal of the rich and powerful is, in this sense, inescapable. By their very privilege they are cast in the role of victims, since they are burdened with all the responsibility we have relinquished, a responsibility of which they are the stooges and mercenaries.
The 'social contract' ideally represented the portion of sovereignty citizens relinquished to the state, but nowadays we would be talking rather of the relinquished, alienated part of themselves that they rid themselves of in order to retain their sovereignty.
In the same way, more or less, as we once handed over the management of money to the Jews and the usurers, we have passed the dirty work of management and representation off to a body of people that has by that very act become accursed and untouchable, and which expects to take the profits from it in the form of 'power'.
When they describe themselves as servants of the people and the nation, they do not know how right they are. They are, in fact, the occupants of a servile - traditionally servile - function: the administration of things. May God protect and keep them!
This discredit resurfaces in the way the political class is perpetually on trial, in this endless question of lack of public confidence for which they can find no answer - a repudiation that sounds like an invitation to suicide, the only political act worthy of the name.
We dream of seeing the political class resigning en masse because we dream of seeing what a social body without a political superstructure would be like (as we dream of seeing what a world without representation would be like): a massive relief, a massive collective catharsis.
In every trial, in every public challenge to a politician or statesman, this millenarian demand (naturally always thwarted) resurfaces: the demand for a power that would speak out against itself, unmask itself, giving way to a radical, un-hoped-for and, admittedly, hopeless situation, but one from which the inextricable tangle of mental corruption would be removed.
However, this art of disappearing, this predisposition to elimination and death - which is, properly speaking, sovereignty - was long ago forgotten by politicians (they are sometimes recalled to it by the involuntary sacrifice of their lives). Their sole objective remains the renewal of their class and its privileges (?) with our most total connivence, it must be said, which is justified by the fact that they are the perverse instrument of our sovereignty.
One always hopes that the politicians will admit their uselessness, their duplicity, their corruption. One is always on the look-out for an ultimate demystification of their sayings and doings. But could we bear this? For the politician is our mask, and if we tear it off we run the risk of ending up with our responsibility painfully exposed, that very responsibility we relinquished to the politician's advantage.
Corruption: that is, indeed, the heart of the problem.
It is never an accident. It is inherent in the exercise of power and, hence, in the exercise of evil. The whole world over and wherever they come from, those who reach the nerve center of affairs are immediately transfigured by corruption and it is here that their real complicity is forged.
But the complicity does not end there - nor the essence of evil.
For the corruption of the elites is, precisely, the corruption of everyone: corruption is a collective psychodrama and, since we have the leaders we deserve, if we feel contempt for them it is only ever the reflection of the contempt we each feel for ourselves as political animals.
Doubtless we should even see corruption as one of the real rules of the game, the echo of a basic symbolic rule (different from politics and the social), which has become, above and beyond all morality, a practical, immanent and secret rule of operation. A serious question this, since it concerns the whole of public morality and connects with Mandeville's hypothesis on the supremacy of vice in the happy conduct of affairs.
The corruption of ideas is no exception.
They too follow a much more cynical, subtle trajectory than the pathways of reason, and the networks of thought that are: related bear only a distant relation to truth.
It is this cunning which means that, as soon as they are invested with power, politicians immediately turn against that which, or those who carried them to power, just as intellectuals very quickly turn against the very ideas that inspired them.
There is no point, then, tormenting oneself over this state of corruption, in which is to be seen the radicality of politics - or, in other words, from which we can read off what politics is in its symbolic dimension: namely, a sharing - out of evil.
Such is the living coin of power in a confrontation that goes way beyond representation, in a system of obligation in which I here is always a gift and a counter-gift, a lethal revenge.
This is the 'two-sidedness of corruption'. Where those in power are concerned, the aim is to corrupt the dominated, to induce in them some form or other of 'voluntary servitude'. Whereas the aim of the dominated is to corrupt the dominant precisely by their voluntary servitude, which they turn round against them like a weapon: this is the whole strategy of the masses, of the silent majorities.
Once the great and the good had the privilege of granting the pardon. Today, they want to be pardoned in their turn. They take the view that, on the basis of human rights, they are entitled to the universal compassion that had until now been the prerogative of the poor and of victims (in fact we cannot pardon them enough and they deserve all our compassion, not for reasons of rights or morality, but quite simply because there is nothing worse than being in power).
However this may be, they believe they must now stand before the moral tribunal of public opinion and even declare their corruption before it (more or less spontaneously!). They would even accuse themselves of crimes they did not commit in order to gain artificial immunity as a by-product.
But the cunning of the dominated is even subtler.
If consists not in pardoning them (you do not pardon those in power), nor in inflicting any real punishment 0f them, but in passing over their little acts of embezzlement and this faked-up spectacle with a certain indifference. And this should leave the politicians very crestfallen, as it is the' clear sign of their insignificance for everyone. Some of them have demanded to be judged and found guilty (though they are innocent, of course!). But the 'ordeal' the judges have put the politicians and the big industrialists through has in the end only restored legitimacy, recognition and an audience to people who had lost them.
Hence the strange confusion that prevails in the political sphere. For there is in the fact of this universal compassion a deep disturbance of symbolic regulation. Everywhere today we see the tormentors (pretending to) take the victim's side, showing them compassion and compensating them (as in Charles Najman's film La memoire est-elle soluble dans l'eau ... ?). This may perhaps resolve things on the moral plane, but it aggravates them at the symbolic level.
On the symbolic plane, there is only one way to pay back, and that is the counter-gift. If that is impossible, then there is vengeance, which is itself a form of counter-gift. Compassion here is useless and perverse: it merely adds to the inferiority of the victim.
On the symbolic plane there is only one way to pay back, and that is the counter-gift. If that is impossible, then there is vengeance, which is itself a form of counter-gift. Compassion here is useless and perverse: it merely adds to the inferiority of the victim.
It is the same with the media and the news sources when they put themselves in the dock and engage in self-criticism. They rob the public of the last of their rights as citizens - the right not to believe a single word they are told.
Just as advertising, by affecting a self-deprecating ironic tone, short-circuits our opportunities for deriding it. This could deterrence is at work everywhere: ' citizens ' are deprived of their right of revenge and their capacity to take upheavals.
Happily, the citizen still has the spectacle and the ironic enjoyment or that spectacle. For, if we are politically under arrest we turn at least have the spectacle of politics. It was already like reordering to Rivarol, during the French Revolution: the people did not mind making revolution, but primarily they wanted the spectacle of revolution.
Here again, then, it is naive to pity those populations that are condemned to ' the society of the spectacle'. Alienated they may be, but their servitude is double-edged. And there is here, in this combination of indifference and the enjoyment of politics as spectacle, a mischievous form of revenge.
excerpt from the book: The Intelligence of Evil or the Lucidity Pact by Jean Baudrillard
In Dionysus and in Christ the martyr is the same, the passion is the same. It is the same phenomenon but in two opposed senses (VP IV 464). On the one hand, the life that justifies suffering, that affirms suffering; on the other hand the suffering that accuses life, that testifies against it, that makes life something that must be justified. For Christianity the fact of suffering in life means primarily that life is not just, that it is even essentially unjust, that it pays for an essential injustice by suffering, it is blameworthy because it suffers. The result of this is that life must be justified, that is to say, redeemed of its injustice or saved. Saved by that suffering which a little while ago accused it: it must suffer since it is blameworthy. These two aspects of Christianity form what Nietzsche calls "bad conscience" or the internalization of pain (GMII). They define truly Christian nihilism, that is to say the way in which Christianity denies life; on the one side the machine for manufacturing guilt, the horrible pain-punishment equation, on the other side the machine to multiply pain, the justification by pain, the dark workshop.9 Even when Christianity sings the praises of love and life what curses there are in these songs, what hatred beneath this love! It loves life like the bird of prey loves the lamb; tender, mutilated and dying. The dialectician posits Christian love as an antithesis, for example as the antithesis of Judaic hatred. But it is the profession and mission of the dialectician to establish antitheses everywhere where there are more delicate evaluations to be made, coordinations to be interpreted. That the flower is the antithesis of the leaf, that it "refutes" the leaf - this is a celebrated discovery dear to the dialectic. This is also the way in which the flower of Christian love "refutes" hate - that is to say, in an entirely fictitious manner. "One should not imagine that love . . . grew up ... as the opposite of Jewish hatred! No, the reverse is true! That love grew out of it as its crown, as its triumphant crown spreading itself farther and farther into the purest brightness and sunlight, driven as it were into the domain of light and the heights in the pursuit of the goals of that hatred-victory, spoil and seduction" (GM 18 p. 35*).10 Christian joy is the joy of "resolving" pain in this way, pain is internalised, offered to God, carried to God, "that ghastly paradox of a 'God on the cross', that mystery of an unimaginable and ultimate cruelty" (GM 18 p. 35), this is truly Christian mania, a mania which is already wholly dialectical.
How different this aspect is from the true Dionysus! The Dionysus of the Birth of Tragedy still "resolved" pain, the joy that he experienced was still the joy of resolving it and also of bearing this resolution in the primeval unity. But now Dionysus has seized the sense and value of his own transformations, he is the god for whom life does not have to be justified, for whom life is essentially just. Moreover it is life which takes charge of justification, "it affirms even the harshest suffering" (VP IV 464). We must be clear, it does not resolve pain by internalising it, it affirms it in the element of its exteriority. And, from this, the opposition of Dionysus and Christ is developed point by point as that of the affirmation of life (its extreme valuation) and the negation of life (its extreme depreciation). Dionysian mama is opposed to Christian mania; Dionysian intoxication to Christian intoxication; Dionysian laceration to crucifixion; Dionysian resurrection to Christian resurrection; Dionysian transvaluation to Christian transubstantiation. For there are two kinds of suffering and sufferers. "Those who suffer from the superabundance of life" make suffering an affirmation in the same way as they make intoxication an activity; in the laceration of Dionysus they recognise the extreme form of affirmation, with no possibility of subtraction, exception or choice. "Those who suffer, on the contrary, from an impoverishment of life" make intoxication a convulsion, a numbness; they make suffering a means of accusing life, of contradicting it and also a means of justifying life, of resolving the contradiction.11 All this in fact goes into the idea of a saviour; there is no more beautiful saviour than the one who would be simultaneously executioner, victim and comforter, the Holy Trinity, the wonderful dream of bad conscience. From the point of view of a saviour, "life must be the path which leads to sainthood". From the point of view of Dionysus, "existence seems holy enough by itself to justify a further immensity of suffering" (VP IV 464). Dionysian laceration is the immediate symbol of multiple affirmation; Christ's cross, the sign of the cross, is the image of contradiction and its solution, life submits to the labour of the negative. "Developed contradiction, solution of the contradiction, reconciliation of the contradictories" - all these notions become foreign to Nietzsche. It is Zarathustra who exclaims, "Something higher than all reconciliation" (Z II "Of Redemption") - affirmation. Something higher than all developed, resolved and suppressed contradiction - transvaluation. This is the common ground between Zarathustra and Dionysus: "Into all abysses I still carry the blessings of my saying Yes (Zarathustra). . .But this is the concept of Dionysus once again" (EH III "Thus spoke Zarathustra" 6 p. 306). The opposition of Dionysus or Zarathustra to Christ is not a dialectical opposition, but opposition to the dialectic itself: differential affirmation against dialectical negation, against all nihilism and against this particular form of it. Nothing is further from the Nietzschean interpretation of Dionysus than that presented later by Otto: a Hegelian Dionysus, dialectical and dialectician!
excerpt from the book: Nietzsche and Philosophy by Gilles Deleuze
by J.G. Ballard
During the week after the jeweller's death, events moved rapidly in a more disquieting direction. Richard Wilder, twenty-four floors below Dr Laing and for that reason far more exposed to the pressures generated within the building, was among the first to realize the full extent of the changes taking place.
Wilder had been away on location for three days, shooting scenes for a new documentary on prison unrest. A strike by the inmates at a large provincial prison, widely covered by the newspapers and television, had given him a chance to inject some directly topical footage into the documentary. He returned home in the early afternoon. He had telephoned Helen each evening from his hotel and questioned her carefully about conditions in the high-rise, but she made no particular complaints. Nevertheless, her vague tone concerned him.
When he had parked Wilder kicked open the door and lifted his heavy body from behind the steering wheel. From his place on the perimeter of the parking-lot he carefully scanned the face of the huge building. At first glance everything had settled down. The hundreds of cars were parked in orderly lines. The tiers of balconies rose through the clear sunlight, potted plants thriving behind the railings. For a moment Wilder felt a pang of regret-always a believer in direct action, he had enjoyed the skirmishes of the past week, roughing up his aggressive neighbours, particularly those residents from the top floors who had made life difficult for Helen and the two boys.
The one discordant note was provided by the fractured picture window on the 40th floor, through which the unfortunate jeweller had made his exit. At either end of the floor were two penthouse apartments, the north corner occupied by Anthony Royal, the other by the jeweller and his wife. The broken pane had not been replaced, and the asterisk of cracked glass reminded Wilder of some kind of cryptic notation, a transfer on the fuselage of a wartime aircraft marking a kill.
Wilder unloaded his suitcase from the car, and a holdall containing presents for Helen and his sons. On the rear seat was a lightweight cine-camera with which he planned to shoot a few hundred feet of pilot footage for his documentary on the high-rise. The unexplained death of the jeweller had confirmed his long-standing conviction that an important documentary was waiting to be made about life in the high-rise-perhaps taking the jeweller's death as its starting point. It was a lucky coincidence that he lived in the same block as the dead man-the programme would have all the impact of a personal biography. When the police investigation ended the case would move on to the courts, and a huge question mark of notoriety would remain immovably in place over what he liked to term this high-priced tenement, this hanging palace self-seeding its intrigues and destruction.
Carrying the luggage in his strong arms, Wilder set off on the long walk back to the apartment building. His own apartment was directly above the proscenium of the main entrance. He waited for Helen to emerge on to the balcony and wave him in, one of the few compensations for having to leave his car at the edge of the parking-lot. However, all but one of the blinds were still drawn.
Quickening his step, Wilder approached the inner lines of parked cars. Abruptly, the illusion of normalcy began to give way. The cars in the front three ranks were spattered with debris, their once-bright bodywork streaked and stained. The pathways around the building were littered with bottles, cans, and broken glass, heaped about as if they were being continuously shed from the balconies.
In the main entrance Wilder found that two of the elevators were out of order. The lobby was deserted and silent, as if the entire high-rise had been abandoned. The manager's office was closed, and unsorted mail lay on the tiled floor by the glass doors. On the wall facing the line of elevators was scrawled a partly obliterated message-the first of a series of slogans and private signals that would one day cover every exposed surface in the building. Fittingly enough, these graffiti reflected the intelligence and education of the tenants. Despite their wit and imagination, these complex acrostics, palindromes and civilized obscenities aerosolled across the walls soon turned into a colourful but indecipherable mess, not unlike the cheap wallpapers found in launderettes and travel-agencies which the residents of the high-rise most affected to despise.
Wilder waited impatiently by the elevators, his temper mounting. Irritably he punched the call buttons, but none of the cars showed any inclination to respond to him. All of them were permanently suspended between the 20th and 30th floors, between which they made short journeys. Picking up his bags, Wilder headed for the staircase. When he reached the 2nd floor he found the corridor in darkness, and tripped over a plastic sack stuffed with garbage that blocked his front door.
As he let himself into the hall his first impression was that Helen had left the apartment and taken the two boys away with her. The blinds in the living-room were lowered, and the air-conditioning had been switched off. Children's toys and clothes lay about on the floor.
Wilder opened the door of the boys' bedroom. They lay asleep together, breathing unevenly in the stale air. The remains of a meal left from the previous day were on a tray between the beds.
Wilder crossed the living-room to his own bedroom. One blind had been raised, and the daylight crossed the white walls in an undisturbed bar. Uncannily, it reminded Wilder of a cell he had filmed two days earlier in the psychiatric wing of the prison. Helen lay fully dressed on the neatly made bed. He assumed that she was asleep, but as he crossed the room, trying to quieten his heavy tread, her eyes watched him without expression.
"Richard… it's all right." She spoke calmly. "I've been awake-since you rang yesterday, in fact. Was it a good trip?"
She started to get up but Wilder held her head on the pillow.
The boys-what's going on here?"
"Nothing." She touched his hand, giving him a reassuring smile. "They wanted to sleep, so I let them. There isn't anything else for them to do. It's too noisy at night. I'm sorry the place is in such a mess."
"Never mind the place. Why aren't the boys at school?"
"It's closed-they haven't been since you left."
"Why not?" Irritated by his wife's passivity, Wilder began to knead his heavy hands together. "Helen, you can't lie here like this all day. What about the roof garden? Or the swimming-pool?"
"I think they only exist inside my head. It's too difficult…" She pointed to the cine-camera on the floor between Wilder's feet. "What's that for?"
"I may shoot some footage-for the high-rise project."
"Another prison documentary." Helen smiled at Wilder without any show of humour. "I can tell you where to start."
Wilder took her face in his hands. He felt the slim bones, as if making sure that this tenuous armature still existed. Somehow he would raise her spirits. Seven years earlier, when he had met her while working for one of the commercial television companies, she had been a bright and self-confident producer's assistant, more than a match for Wilder with her quick tongue. The time not spent in bed together they had spent arguing. Now, after the combination of the two boys and a year in the high-rise, she was withdrawing into herself, obsessively wrapped up with the children's most elementary activities. Even her reviewing of children's books was part of the same retreat.
Wilder brought her a glass of the sweet liqueur she liked. Trying to decide what best to do, he rubbed the muscles of his chest. What had at first pleased Wilder, but now disturbed him most of all, was that she no longer noticed his affairs with the bachelor women in the high-rise. Even if she saw her husband talking to one of them Helen would approach, tugging the boys after her, as if no longer concerned with what his wayward sex might be up to. Several of these young women, like the television actress whose Afghan he had drowned in the pool during the blackout, or the continuity girl on the floor above them, had become Helen's friends. The latter, a serious-minded girl who read Byron in the supermarket queues, worked for an independent producer of pornographic films, or so Helen informed him matter-of-factly. "She has to note the precise sexual position between takes. An interesting job-I wonder what the qualifications are, or the life expectancy?"
Wilder had been shocked by this. Vaguely prudish, he had never been able to question the continuity girl. When they made love in her 3rd-floor apartment he had the uneasy feeling that she was automatically memorizing every embrace and copulatory posture in case he was suddenly called away, and might take off again from exactly the same point with another boy-friend. The limitless professional expertise of the high-rise had its unsettling aspects.
Wilder watched his wife sip the liqueur. He stroked her small thighs in an attempt to revive her. "Helen, come on-you look as if you're waiting for the end. We'll straighten everything and take the boys up to the swimming-pool."
Helen shook her head. "There's too much hostility. It's always been there, but now it stands out. People pick on the children-without realizing it, I sometimes think." She sat on the edge of the bed while Wilder changed, staring through the window at the line of high-rises receding across the sky. "In fact, it's not really the other residents. It's the building…"
"I know. But once the police investigation is over you'll find that everything will quieten down. For one thing, there'll be an overpowering sense of guilt."
"What are they investigating?"
"The death, of course. Of our high-diving jeweller." Picking up the cine-camera, Wilder took off the lens shroud. "Have you spoken to the police?"
"I don't know. I've been avoiding everyone." Brightening herself by an effort of will, she went over to Wilder. "Richard-have you ever thought of selling the apartment? We could actually leave. I'm serious."
"Helen…" Nonplussed for a moment, Wilder stared down at the small, determined figure of his wife. He took off his trousers, as if exposing his thick chest and heavy loins in some way reasserted his authority over himself. "That's equivalent to being driven out. Anyway, we'd never get back what we paid for the apartment."
He waited until Helen lowered her head and turned away to the bed. At her insistence, six months earlier, they had already moved from their first apartment on the ground floor. At the time they had seriously discussed leaving the high-rise altogether, but Wilder had persuaded Helen to stay on, for reasons he had never fully understood. Above all, he would not admit his failure to deal on equal terms with his professional neighbours, to outstare these self-satisfied cost-accountants and marketing managers.
As his sons wandered sleepily into the room Helen remarked, "Perhaps we could move to a higher floor."
Shaving his chin, Wilder pondered this last comment of his wife's. The frail plea had a particular significance, as if some long-standing ambition had been tapped inside his head. Helen, of course, was thinking in terms of social advancement, of moving in effect to a "better neighbourhood", away from this lower-class suburb to those smarter residential districts somewhere between the I5th and 30th floors, where the corridors were clean and the children would not have to play in the streets, where tolerance and sophistication civilized the air.
Wilder had something different in mind. As he listened to Helen's quiet voice, murmuring to her two sons as if speaking to them from inside a deep dream, he examined himself in the mirror. Like a prize-fighter reassuring himself before a match, he patted the muscles of his stomach and shoulders. In the mental as well as the physical sense, he was almost certainly the strongest man in the building, and Helen's lack of spirit annoyed him. He realized that he had no real means of coping with this kind of passivity. His response to it was still framed by his upbringing, by an over-emotional mother who loved him devotedly through the longest possible childhood she could arrange and thereby given Wilder what he always thought of as his unshakeable self-confidence. She had separated from Wilder's father-a shadowy figure of disreputable back-ground-when he was a small child. The second marriage, to a pleasant but passive accountant and chess enthusiast, had been wholly dominated by the relationship between the mother and her bullock-like son. When he met his future wife Wilder naively believed that he wanted to pass on these advantages to Helen, to look after her and provide an endless flow of security and good humour. Of course, as he realized now, no one ever changed, and for all his abundant self-confidence he needed to be looked after just as much as ever. Once or twice, in unguarded moments during the early days of their marriage, he had attempted to play the childish games he had enjoyed with his mother. But Helen had not been able to bring herself to treat Wilder like her son. For her part, Wilder guessed, love and care were the last things she really wanted. Perhaps the breakdown of life in the high-rise would fulfil her unconscious expectations more than she realized.
As he massaged his cheeks Wilder listened to the air humming erratically in the air-conditioning flues behind the shower stall, pumped all the way down from the roof of the building thirty-nine floors above. He watched the water emerge from the tap. This too had made its long descent from the reservoirs on the roof, running down the immense internal wells riven through the apartment block, like icy streams percolating through a subterranean cavern.
His determination to make the documentary had a strong personal bias, part of a calculated attempt to come to terms with the building, meet the physical challenge it presented to him, and then dominate it. For some time now he had known that he was developing a powerful phobia about the high-rise. He was constantly aware of the immense weight of concrete stacked above him, and the sense that his body was the focus of the lines of force running through the building, almost as if Anthony Royal had deliberately designed his body to be held within their grip. At night, as he lay beside his sleeping wife, he would often wake from an uneasy dream into the suffocating bedroom, conscious of each of the 999 other apartments pressing on him through the walls and ceiling, forcing the air from his chest. He was sure that he had drowned the Afghan, not because he disliked the dog particularly or wanted to upset its owner, but to revenge himself on the upper storeys of the building. He had seized the dog in the darkness when it blundered into the pool. Giving in to a cruel but powerful impulse, he had pulled it below the water. As he held its galvanized and thrashing body under the surface, in a strange way he had been struggling with the building itself.
Thinking of those distant heights, Wilder took his shower, turning the cold tap on full and letting the icy jet roar acrosss his chest and loins. Where Helen had begun to falter, he felt more determined, like a climber who has at long last reached the foot of the mountain he has prepared all his life to scale.
excerpt from the novel: High Rise by J.G.Ballard
by J.G. Ballard
Everything is becoming science fiction. From the margins of an almost invisible literature has sprung the intact reality of the 20th century. What the writers of modern science fiction invent today, you and I will do tomorrow - or, more exactly, in about 10 years' time, though the gap is narrowing. Science fiction is the most important fiction that has been written for the last 100 years. The compassion, imagination, lucidity and vision of H.G. Wells and his successors, and above all their grasp of the real identity of the 20th century, dwarf the alienated and introverted fantasies of James Joyce, Eliot and the writers of the so-called Modern Movement, a 19th century offshoot of bourgeois rejection. Given its subject matter, its eager acceptance of naiveté, optimism and possibility, the role and importance of science fiction can only increase. I believe that the reading of science fiction should be compulsory. Fortunately, compulsion will not be necessary, as more and more people are reading it voluntarily. Even the worst science fiction is better -- using as the yardstick of merit the mere survival of its readers and their imaginations -- than the best conventional fiction. The future is a better key to the present than the past.
Above all, science fiction is likely to be the only form of literature which will cross the gap between the dying narrative fiction of the present and the cassette and videotape fictions of the near future. What can Saul Bellow and John Updike do that J. Walter Thompson, the world's largest advertising agency and its greatest producer of fiction, can't do better? At present science fiction is almost the only form of fiction which is thriving, and certainly the only fiction which has any influence on the world around it. The social novel is reaching fewer and fewer readers, for the clear reason that social relationships are no longer as important as the individual’s relationship with the technological landscape of the late 20th century.
In essence, science fiction is a response to science and technology as perceived by the inhabitants of the consumer goods society, and recognizes that the role of the writer today has totally changed -- he is now merely one of a huge army of people filling the environment with fictions of every kind. To survive, he must become far more analytic, approaching his subject matter like a scientist or engineer. If he is to produce fiction at all, he must out-imagine everyone else, scream louder, whisper more quietly. For the first time in the history of narrative fiction, it will require more than talent to become a writer. What special skills, proved against those of their fellow members of society, have Muriel Spark or Edna O'Brien, Kingsley Amis or Cyril Connolly? Sliding gradients point the way to their exits.
It is now some 15 years since the sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi, a powerful and original writer in his own right, remarked that the science fiction magazines produced in the suburbs of Los Angeles contained far more imagination and meaning than anything he could find in the literary periodicals of the day. Subsequent events have proved Paolozzi's sharp judgment correct in every respect. Fortunately, his own imagination has been able to work primarily within the visual arts, where the main tradition for the last century has been the tradition of the new. Within fiction, unhappily, the main tradition for all too long has been the tradition of the old. Like the inmates of some declining institution, increasingly forgotten and ignored by the people outside, the leading writers and critics count the worn beads of their memories, intoning the names of the dead, dead who were not even the contemporaries of their own grandparents.
Meanwhile, science fiction, as my agent remarked to me recently in a pleasant tone, is spreading across the world like a cancer. A benign and tolerant cancer, like the culture of beaches. The time-lag of its acceptance narrows -- I estimate it at present to be about 10 years. My guess is that the human being is a nervous and fearful creature, and nervous and fearful people detest change. However, as everyone becomes more confident, so they are prepared to accept change, the possibility of a life radically different from their own. Like green stamps given away at the supermarkets of chance and possibility, science fiction becomes the new currency of an ever-expanding future.
The one hazard facing science fiction, the Trojan horse being trundled towards its expanding ghetto -- a high-rent area if there ever was one in fiction -- is that faceless creature, literary criticism. Almost all the criticism of science fiction has been written by benevolent outsiders, who combine zeal with ignorance, like high-minded missionaries viewing the sex rites of a remarkably fertile aboriginal tribe and finding every laudable influence at work except the outstanding length of penis. The depth of penetration of the earnest couple, Lois and Stephen Rose (authors of The Shattered Ring), is that of a pair of practicing Christians who see in science fiction an attempt to place a new perspective on "man, nature, history and ultimate meaning." What they fail to realize is that science fiction is totally atheistic: those critics in the past who have found any mystical strains at work have been blinded by the camouflage. Science fiction is much more concerned with the significance of the gleam on an automobile instrument panel than on the deity's posterior -- if Mother Nature has anything in science fiction, it is VD.
Most critics of science fiction trip into one of two pitfalls -- either, like Kingsley Amis in New Maps of Hell, they try to ignore altogether the technological trappings and relate SF to the "mainstream" of social criticism, anti-utopian fantasies and the like (Amis's main prophecy for science fiction in 1957 and proved wholly wrong), or they attempt to apostrophize SF in terms of individual personalities, hopelessly rivaling the far-better financed efforts of American and British Publishers to sell their fading Wares by dressing their minor talents in the great-writer mantle. Science fiction has always been very much a corporate activity, its writers sharing a common pool of ideas, and the yardsticks of individual achievement do not measure the worth of the best Writers, Bradbury, Asimov, Bernard Wolfe Limbo 90) and Frederik Pohl, The anonymity of the majority of 20th-century Writers of science fiction is the anonymity of modern technology; no more "great names" stand out than in the design of consumer durables, or for that matter Rheims Cathedral.
Who designed the 1971 Cadillac El Dorado, a complex of visual, organic and psychological clues of infinitely more subtlety and relevance, stemming from a vastly older network of crafts and traditions than, say, the writings of Norman Mailer or the latest Weidenfeld or Cape miracle? The subject matter of SF is the subject matter of everyday life: the gleam on refrigerator cabinets, the contours of a wife's or husband's thighs passing the newsreel images on a color TV set, the conjunction of musculature and chromium artifact within an automobile interior, the unique postures of passengers on an airport escalator -- all in all, close to the world of the Pop painters and sculptors. Paolozzi, Hamilton, Warhol, Wesselmann, Ruscha, among others. The great advantage of SF is that it can add one unique ingredient to this hot mix -- words. Write!
Robin Mackay + Armen Avanessian
Return to or departure from Marx?
Before closing this introduction, it is worth returning in more detail to Marx, since much of the volume contends with his contributions, whether implicitly or explicitly. The disarray of the Left fundamentally stems from ‘the failure of a future that was thought inevitable’ (Camatte) by Marxism—the failure of capitalism to self-destruct as part of history’s ‘intrinsic organic development’, for the conflict between productive forces and capitalist relations of production to reach a moment of dialectical sublation, or for the proletariat to constitute itself into a revolutionary agent. And theoretical analysis of the resulting situation (real subsumption into the spectacle) seems to offer no positive possibility of opposition, yielding only modes of opposition frozen in cognitive dissonance between the ‘disruptions’ they stage and the inevitability of their recuperation. Accelerationism is significant in the way in which it confronts this plight through a return to a few fundamental questions posed by Marx upstream from various Marxist orthodoxies such as the dialectic, alienation, and the labour theory of value. Indeed one feature of accelerationism is a repeated return to these fundamental insights each time under a set of stringent conditions related to the prevailing political conditions of the epoch, a radical repetition that sometimes demands violent rejections. For, as the map contends, there is an accelerationist strand to Marx’s work which is far from being the result of a tendentious reading.
According to the ‘Fragment’, then, the development of large-scale integrated machine production is a sine qua non of Capital’s universal ascendency (‘not an accidental moment’, says Marx, later positing that intensity of machinic objectification=intensity of capital). Machine production follows directly from, maximally effects, and enters into synergy with capital’s exigency to reduce the need for human labour and to continually increase levels of production. Undoubtedly the absorption of the worker into the burgeoning machine organism more clearly than ever reduces the worker to a tool of capital. And yet, crucially, Marx makes it clear that these two forms of subsumption—under capital, and into a technical system of production—are neither identical nor inseparable in principle.
In the machine system, the unity of labour qua collectivity of living workers as foundation of production is shattered, with human labour appearing as a ‘mere moment […] infinitesimal and vanishing’ of an apparently autonomous production process. And although it reprocesses its original human material into a more satisfactory format for Capital, for Marx the machine system does not preclude the possibility of other relations of production under which it may be employed. It is, however, inseparable from a certain metamorphosis of the human, embedded in a system that is at once social, epistemic (depending on the scientific understanding and control of nature), and technological. Man no longer has a direct connection to production, but one that is mediated by a ramified, accumulated objective social apparatus constructed through the communication, technological embodiment, replication and enhancement of knowledge and skills—what Marx calls the ‘elevation of direct labour into social labour’ wherein ‘general social knowledge […] become[s] a direct force of production’. Once again, however, this estrangement is not identical with alienation through capital; nor is the former, considered apart from the strictures of the latter, necessarily a deplorable consequence. It is precisely at this point that Marx enters the speculative terrain of accelerationism: for in separating these two tendencies—the expanded field of production and the continuing metamorphoses of the human within it, and the monotonous regime of capital as the meta-machine that appropriates and governs this production process and its development—the question arises of whether, and how, the colossal sophistication, use value, and transformative power of one could be effectively freed of the limitations and iniquities of the other.
Such is the kernel of the map’s problematic and a point of divergence between the various strains of accelerationism: Williams and Srnicek, for example, urge us to devise means for a practical realization of this separability, whereas for Nick Land and Iain Hamilton Grant writing in the 90s, Deleuze and Guattari’s immanentization of social and technical machines was to be consummated by rejecting their distinction between technical machines and the capitalist axiomatic.
Since the ‘new foundation’ created by integrated machine industry is dependent not upon direct labour but upon the application of technique and knowledge, according to Marx it usurps capitalism’s primary foundation of production upon the extortion of surplus labour. Indeed, through it capital ‘works toward its own dissolution’: the total system of production qua complex ramified product of collective social labour tends to counteract the system that produced it. The vast increase in productivity made possible through the compaction of labour into the machine system, of course, ought also to free up time making it possible for individuals to produce themselves as new subjects. How then to reconcile this emancipatory vision of the sociotechnological process with the fact that the worker increasingly becomes a mere abstraction of activity, acted on by an ‘alien power’ that machinically vivisects its body, ruining its unity and tendentially replacing it (a power which, as Marx also notes, is ‘non-correlated’— that is, the worker finds it impossible to cognitively encompass it)? Once again, Marx distinguishes between the machine system as manifestation of capital’s illusory autonomy, confronting the worker as an alien soul whose wishes they must facilitate (just as the worker’s wages confront them as the apparent source of their livelihood), and the machine system seen as a concrete historical product. Even as the process of the subsumption of labour into machine production provides an index of the development of capital, it also indicates the extent to which social production becomes an immediate force in the transformation of social practice. The monstrous power of the industrial assemblage is indissociable from the ‘development of the social individual’: General social knowledge is absorbed as a force of production and thus begins to shape society: ‘the conditions of the process of social life itself […] come under the control of the general intellect and [are] transformed in accordance with it’. Labour then only exists as subordinated to the general interlocking social enterprise into which capital introduces it: Capital produces new subjects, and the development of the social individual is inextricable from the development of the system of mechanised capital.
This suggests that the plasticity of the human and the social nature of technology can be understood as a benchmark for progressive acceleration. Marx’s contention was that Capitalism’s abstraction of the socius generates an undifferentiated social being that can be subjectivated into the proletariat. That is, a situation where the machinic system remained in place and yet human producers no longer faced these means of production as alienating would necessarily entail a further transformation of the human, since, according to Marx, in the machine system humans face the product of their labour through a ramified and complex network of mediation that is cognitively and practically debilitating and disempowering.
This ‘transformative anthropology’ (Negri) is what every communist or commonist (Negri’s or Terranova’s post-operaismo) programme has to take into account. Granted the in-principle separability of machinic production and its capitalist appropriation, the ‘helplessness’ of the worker in the face of social production would have to be resolved through a new social configuration: the worker would still be confronted with this technical edifice and unable to reconcile it with the ‘unity of natural labour’, and yet humans would ‘enter into the direct production process as [a] different subject’, ceasing to suffer from it because they would have attained a collective mastery over the process, the common objectified in the machine system no longer being appropriated by the axiomatic of capital. This participation would thus be a true social project or common task, rather than the endurance of a supposedly natural order of things with which the worker abstractly interfaces through the medium of monetary circulation, the ‘metabolism of capital’, while the capitalist, operating in a completely discontinuous sphere, draws off and accumulates its surplus.
However, as Marx observes (and as Deleuze and Guattari emphasise), capitalism continues to operate as if its necessary assumption were still the ‘miserable’ basis of ‘the theft of labour time’, even as the ‘new foundation’ of machine production provides ‘the material conditions to blow this foundation sky-high’. The extortion of human labour still lies at the basis of capitalist production despite the ‘machinic surplus value’ (Deleuze and Guattari) of fixed capital, since the social axiomatic of capital is disinterested in innovation for itself and is under the necessity to extract surplus value as conveniently as possible, and to maintain a reserve army of labour and free-floating capital. The central questions of accelerationism follow: What is the relation between the socially alienating effects of technology and the capitalist value-system? Why and how are the emancipatory effects of the ‘new foundation’ of machine production counteracted by the economic system of capital? What could the social human be if fixed capital were reappropriated within a new postcapitalist socius?
At the core of new accelerationisms, and responding in depth to these questions so as to fill out the map’s outlines, new philosophical frameworks suggested by Negarestani, Singleton and Brassier reaffirm Prometheanism, and bring together a transformative anthropology, a new conception of speculative and practical reason, and a set of schemas through which to understand the inextricably social, symbolic and technological materials from which any postcapitalist order will have to be constructed. They advocate not accelerationism in a supposedly known direction, and even less sheer speed, but, as Reed suggests, ‘eccentrication’ and, as Negarestani, Brassier and Singleton emphasise in various ways, navigation within the spaces opened up through a commitment to the future that truly understands itself as such and acknowledges the nature of its own agency.
In earlier accelerationisms, ‘exploratory mutation’ (Land) was only opened up through the search-space of capital’s forward investment in the future. As Land tells us, ‘long range processes are self-designing, but only in such a way that the self is perpetuated as something redesigned’. However, for cybercultural acceleration, this ‘self’ can be none other than capital’s ‘infinite will’ as it absorbs modernity into its ‘infinite augmentation’, its non-finality. In the account of Negarestani, this non-finality is displaced into the space of reason progressively constructed by the advent of symbolic social technologies and the space of norms they make possible and continually transform, thus providing an underpinning to the map’s aims and a framework within which its technological and social questions can be treated. In Singleton’s understanding of design, the opportunistic and cunning appropriation of the powers of nature progressively ratchets open an uncircumscribable space of freedom, springing human intelligence from its parochial cage and extending it through prostheses and platforms.
Whereas earlier moments of accelerationism had been a matter of a conviction in utopian projects or in the possible imminent collapse of capitalism, and subsequently a delirious summoning of revolutionary forces at work within it, today’s accelerationism, no less optimistic in certain respects, is undoubtedly more sober; a fact that cannot be unconnected to the fact that it emerges in a climate of combined crisis-and-stagnation for capitalism. It is indeed interesting to note that accelerationism reappears at moments when the powers of capitalism appear to be in crisis and alternatives appear thin on the ground. As Fisher insists, today’s crisis provides an opportune point at which to reassess those previous moments.
The destiny of the authors included in the ‘Ferment’ section is instructive here: Deleuze and Guattari arguably diluted the stance of Anti-Oedipus in A Thousand Plateaus with calls for caution in deterritorialization and a more circumspect analysis of capitalism. As Iain Grant recounts, Lyotard was soon to openly deplore his ‘evil’ accelerationist moment, and instead—in effect concurring with Camatte’s pessimism—set out to develop minor strategies of aesthetic resistance. In similar fashion, Lipovetsky’s 1983 collection tellingly entitled The Era of Emptiness5 modulates the revolutionary tone to one of acquiescent approbation: although still concerned with an ‘accelerating destabilisation’, he now sees it largely operating through a ‘process of personalisation’ whose overall liberatory vector is balanced by a contraction into narcissism and the spectacular consumption of ubiquitous ‘communication’.
The cyberculture phase, in extending Lyotard’s own ‘branchingoff’ from Deleuze and Guattari, arguably reproduced his failure to reckon with the powers of antiproduction: Deleuze and Guattari drew attention not just to the ‘positive’ schizophrenia of decoding and deterritorialization but to a certain schizophrenic dissociation within the technical or scientific worker himself, who ‘is so absorbed in capital that the reflux of organized, axiomatized stupidity coincides with him’ (‘Dear, I discovered how to clone people at the lab today. Now we can go skiing in Aspen’, as Firestone puts it). The transformation of surplus value of code into surplus value of flux necessitates that, just as technical knowledge is separated from aesthetics, so the potentially insurrectionary social import of machinically-potentiated errant intelligence is itself ‘split’ and its surplus drawn off safely by capital.
Thus, under capital, individuals are sequestered from the immense forces of production they make possible qua social beings, and feedback is limited to a minimal ‘reflux’, a purchasing ‘power’ qualitatively incommensurable with the massive flows of capital. In ‘Teleoplexy’ Land continues to set store by the crossover between consumer devices and economically-mobilizable technologies within consumer capitalism itself. Yet the earlier expectation that technology would of itself disrupt antiproduction was overoptimistic— in line with the contemporary Thatcherite spirit of free enterprise, which promised to empower every citizen with opportunities for self-realization through access to the market. The explosion in share ownership, consumer credit, and the burgeoning of consumer media and information technology did little to dislodge this dissociative mechanism that, for Deleuze and Guattari, constitutes ‘capitalism’s true police’. Projects such as those of Terranova and Parisi, of examining and rebuilding technological platforms outside this value-system and its ideological assumptions, benefit today from a greater appreciation of the subtlety of antiproduction, and complement the new philosophical resources emerging within contemporary accelerationisms.
Herein lies the real divergence between Land’s consolidated rightaccelerationism and the burgeoning left-accelerationisms: whereas one continues to see an ever increasing accumulation of both collective intelligence and collective freedom, bound together in the monstrous form of Capital itself, the other, as it develops, is proving more speculative and more ambitious in its conception of both ‘intelligence’ and ‘freedom’, seeing Capital as neither an inhuman hyperintelligence nor the one true agent of history, but rather as an idiot savant driven to squander collective cognitive potential by redirecting it from any nascent process of collective self-determination back into the selfreinforcing libidinal dynamics of market mechanisms. In this respect, the work of Negarestani and Brassier forms the conceptual bulwark preventing left-accelerationism from collapsing back into schizoid anarchy or technocapitalist fatalism. By reviving the constitutive link between freedom and reason at the heart of German idealism (Kant and Hegel), reconfigured and repurposed by pragmatist functionalism (Sellars and Brandom), they not only provide a dynamic measure of the emancipatory promise of modernity at odds with Capital’s own monotonous modes of valuation, but equally demonstrate how its progressive realization implies, in contrast to the blind idiot cyborgod of Kapital, the constitution of a genuine collective political agency.
This dialectic parallels that played out in artificial intelligence research between dominant strains developing AI capable of parochial problem solving and those increasingly concerned with characterising artificial general intelligence (AGI). The shift from conceiving intelligence as a quantitatively homogeneous measure of adaptive problem solving to conceiving it as a qualitatively differentiated typology of reasoning capacities is the properly philosophical condition of the shift from the hyperstitional invocation of machinic intelligence of the Cyberculture era to the active design of new systems of collective intelligence proposed by MAP.
The labour of constructing an accelerationist politics, its machines and its humans, is a matter, as Marx says, of ‘both discipline, as regards the human being in the process of becoming… [and] at the same time, practice, experimental science, materially creative and objectifying science, as regards the human being who has become, in whose head exists the accumulated knowledge of society’. If this space of speculation outside of capital is not a mirage, if ‘we surely do not yet know what a modern technosocial body can do’, isn’t this labour of the inhuman not just a rationalist, but also a vitalist one in the Spinozist sense, concerning the indissolubly technical and social human--homo sive machina—in the two aspects of its collective labour upon its world and itself: Homo hominans and homo hominata?
Robin Mackay + Armen Avanessian
Truro + Berlin, April 2014
Robin Mackay + Armen Avanessian
In the 90s the demonic alliance with capital’s deterritorializing forces and the formal ferment it provoked in writing was pursued yet further by a small group of thinkers in the UK. Following Lyotard’s lead, the authors of this third section attempt not simply to diagnose, but to propagate and accelerate the destitution of the human subject and its integration into the artificial mechanosphere. It is immediately apparent from the opening of Nick Land’s ‘Circuitries’ that a darkness has descended over the festive atmosphere of desiring-production envisaged by the likes of Deleuze and Guattari, Lyotard and Lipovetsky. At the dawn of the emergence of the global digital technology network, these thinkers, rediscovering and reinterpreting the work of the latter, develop it into an antihumanist anastrophism. Their texts relish its most violent and dark implications, and espouse radical alienation as the only escape from a human inheritance that amounts to imprisonment in a biodespotic security compound to which only capital has the access code. From this point of view, it seems that the terminal stages of libidinal economics (as affirmation) mistook the transfer of all motive force from human subjects to capital as the inauguration of an aleatory drift, an emancipation for the human; while postmodernism can do no more than mourn this miscognition, accelerationism now gleefully explores what is escaping from human civilization, viewing modernity as an ‘anastrophic’ collapse into the future, as outlined in Sadie Plant + Nick Land’s ‘Cyberpositive’.
The radical shift in tone and thematics, despite conceptual continuities, can be related to the intervening hiatus: What differed from the situation in France one or two decades earlier? Precisely that, particularly in popular culture in the uk, a certain relish for the ‘inconceivable alienations’ outputted by the monstrous machine-organism built by capital had emerged—along with a manifest disinterest in being ‘saved’ from it by intellectuals or politicians, Marxist or otherwise. Of particular note here as major factors in the development of this new brand of accelerationism were the collective pharmaco-sociosensory-technological adventure of rave and drugs culture, and the concurrent invasion of the home environment by media technologies (vcrs, videogames, computers) and popular investment in dystopian cyberpunk sf, including William Gibson’s Neuromancer trilogy and the Terminator, Predator and Bladerunner movies (which all became key ‘texts’ for these writers). As Ballard had predicted, sf had become the only medium capable of addressing the disorienting reality of the present: everything is sf, spreading like cancer.
90s cyberculture employed these sonic, filmic and novelistic fictions to turbocharge libidinal economics, attaching it primarily to the interlocking regimes of commerce and digitization, and thanatizing Lyotard’s jouissance by valorizing a set of aesthetic affects that locked the human sensorium into a catastrophic desire for its dispersal into machinic delirium. The dystopian strains of darkside and jungle intensified alienation by sampling and looping the disturbing invocations of sf movie narratives; accordingly the cyberculture authors side not with the human but with the Terminator, the cyborg prosecuting a future war on the battleground of now, travelling back in time to eliminate human resistance to the rise of the machines; with Terminator II’s future hyperfluid commercium figured as a ‘mimetic polyalloy’ capable of camouflaging itself as any object in order to infiltrate the present; and against the Bladerunner, ally of Old Bearded Prosecutor Marx, agent of biodespotic defense, charged with preventing the authentic, the human, from irreversible contamination (machinic incest), tasked with securing the ’retention of [the fictitious figure of] natural humanity’ or organic labour.
Rediscovering Lipovetsky’s repetitious production of interiority and identity on the libidinal surface in the figure of a ‘negative cybernetics’ dedicated to ‘command and control’, cyberculture counters it with a ‘positive cybernetics’ embodied in the runaway circuits of modernity, in which ‘time itself is looped’ and the only command is that of the feverishly churning virtual futurity of capital as it disassembles the past and rewrites the present. Against an ‘immunopolitics’ that insists on continually reinscribing the prophylactic boundary between human and its technological other in a futile attempt to shore up the ‘Human Security System’, it scans the darkest vistas of earlier machinic deliriums, echoing Butler in anticipating the end of ‘the human dominion of terrestrial culture’, welcoming the fatal inevitability of a looming nonhuman intelligence: Terminator’s Skynet, Marx’s fantastic ‘virtuous soul’ refigured as a malign global ai from the future whose fictioning is the only perspective from which contemporary reality makes sense.
This jungle war fought between immunopolitics and cyborg insurgency, evacuating the stage of politics, realises within theory the literal welding of the punk No with the looped-up machinic positivity of the cyber—‘No demands. No hint of strategy. No logic. No hopes. No end…No community. No dialectics. No plans for an alternative state’ (ccru)—in a deliberate culmination of the most ‘evil’ tendencies of accelerationism. Beyond a mere description of these processes, this provocation employs theory and fiction interchangeably, according to a remix-and-sample regime, as devices to construct the future it invokes. Thus the performance-assemblages of the collective Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (ccru), of which the hypersemically overloaded texts here (‘text at sample velocity’) were only partial components.
The final section documents the contemporary convergence toward which the volume as a whole is oriented. While distancing itself from mere technological optimism, contemporary accelerationism retains an antipathy, a disgust even, for retreatist solutions, and an ambitious interest in reshaping and repurposing (rather than refusing) the technologies that are the historical product of capitalism. What is most conspicuously jettisoned from 70s and 90s accelerationism is the tendency to reduce theoretical positions to libidinal figures. Gone is the attempt to write with rather than about the contemporary moment, and a call for Enlightenment values and an apparently imperious rationalism make an unexpected appearance. If prima facie at odds with the enthusiastic nihilism of its forerunners, however, today’s accelerationisms can be seen as a refinement and rethinking of them through the prism of the decades that spanned the end of the twentieth century and the birth of the twenty-first. Broadly speaking, today the anarchistic tendencies of ‘French Theory’ are tempered by a concern with the appropriation of sociotechnological infrastructure and the design of post-capitalist economic platforms, and the antihumanism of the cyberculture era is transformed, through its synthesis with the Promethean humanism found in the likes of Marx and Fedorov, into a rationalist inhumanism.
Once again this apparent rupture can be understood through consideration of the intervening period, which had seen the wholesale digestion by the capitalist spectacle of the yearning for extracapitalistic spaces, from ‘creativity’ to ethical consumerism to political horizontalism, all of which capitalism had cheerfully supplied. In a strange reversal of cyberculture’s prognostications, technology and the new modes of monetization now inseparable from it ushered in a banal resocialisation process, a reinstalling of the most confining and identitarian ‘neo-archaisms’ of the human operating system. Even as they do the integrative work of Skynet, the very brand names of this ascendent regime—iPod, Myspace, Facebook—ridicule cyberculture’s aspiration to vicariously participate in a dehumanising adventure: instead, we (indistinguishably) work for and consume it as a new breed of autospectacularized all-too-human being. At the same time as these social neo-archaisms lock in, the depredations of capital pose an existential risk to humanity, while finance capital itself is in crisis, unable to bank on the future yet continuing to colonise it through instruments whose operations far outstrip human cognition. All the while, an apparently irreversible market cannibalization of what is left of the public sector and the absorption of the state into a corporate form continues worldwide, to the troubling absence of any coherent alternative. In short, it is not that the decoding and deterritoralization processes envisioned in the 70s, and the digital subsumption relished in the 90s, did not take place: only that the promise of enjoyment, the rise of an ‘unserviceable’ youth, new fields of dehumanised experience, ‘more dancing and less piety’, were efficiently rerouted back into the very identitarian attractors of repetition-without-difference they were supposed to disperse and abolish, in sole favour of capital’s investment in a stable future for its major beneficiaries.
When Mark Fisher, former member of ccru, returned in 2012 to the questions of accelerationism, outlining the current inconsistency and disarray in left political thought, the notion of a ‘left accelerationism’ seemed an absurdity. And yet, as Fisher asks, who wants or truly believes in some kind of return to a past that can only be an artefact of the imaginary of capitalism itself? As Plant and Land had asked: ‘To what could we wish to return?’ The intensification of sociotechnological integration has gone hand in hand with a negative theology of an outside of capital; as Fisher remarks, the escapist nostalgia for a precapitalist world that mars political protest is also embedded in popular culture’s simulations of the past. The accelerationist dystopia of Terminator has been replaced by the primitivist yearnings of Avatar. Fisher therefore states that, in so far as we seek egress from the immiseration of capitalist realism, ‘we are all accelerationists’; and yet, he challenges, ‘accelerationism has never happened’ as a real political force. That is, insofar as we do not fall into a number of downright inconsistent and impossible positions, we must indeed, be ‘all accelerationists’, and this heresy must form part of any anticapitalist strategy.
A renewed accelerationism, then, would have to work through the fact that the energumen capital stirred up by Lyotard and co. ultimately delivered what Fisher has famously called ‘capitalist realism’.4 And that, if one were to maintain the accelerationist gambit à la cyberculture at this point, it would simply amount to taking up arms for capitalist realism itself, rebuffing the complaint that capitalism did not deliver as sheer miserablism (Compared to what? And after all, what is the alternative?) and retracting the promises of jouissance and ‘inconceivable alienations’ as narcissistic demands that have no place in an inhuman process (Isn’t it enough that you’re working for the Terminator, you want to enjoy it too?)—a dilemma that opens up a wider debate regarding the relation between aesthetic enjoyment and theoretical purchase in earlier accelerationism.
Alex Williams + Nick Srnicek’s ‘#Accelerate: Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics’ can be read as an attempt to honour Fisher’s demand for a contemporary left accelerationist position. In provocation of the contemporary Left’s often endemic technological illiteracy, Srnicek and Williams insist on the necessity of precise cognitive mapping, and thus epistemic acceleration, for any progressive political theory and action today. With full confidence that alternatives are thinkable, they state the obvious, namely that neoliberal capitalism is not just unfair or unjust as a system, but is no longer a guarantor of dynamism or progress.
Intended as a first draft of a longer theoretical and political project, map found immediate notoriety (being translated into numerous languages within months of appearing online) but was also criticised for not yet offering new solutions beyond focussing on three general demands: firstly for the creation of a new intellectual infrastructure, secondly for far-reaching media reform, and thirdly for the reconstitution of new forms of class power. Following the example of Marx— according to them a ‘paradigmatic accelerationist thinker’—Wiliams and Srnicek attempt to overcome the mistrust of technology on the left in the last decades. And closely affiliated to the rationalist wing of current speculative philosophy, they adopt the topos of ‘folk psychology’ for their polemic against a folk politics, opposing a politics based on inherited and intuitively ready-to-hand categories with an accelerationist politics that conceives its program on the basis of ‘a modernity of abstraction, complexity, globality, and technology’ that outstrips such categories.
A key element of any left Promethean politics must be a conviction in a transformative potential of technology, including the ‘transformative anthropology’ it entails, and an eagerness to further accelerate technological evolution. Thus this new accelerationism is largely dependent on maturing our understanding of the current regime of technology and value. Even though Antonio Negri’s response is critical of what he calls the ‘technological determinism’ of the Manifesto, he agrees that the most crucial passage of the manifesto—concerning the relation between machinic surplus value and social cooperation—cannot really be understood independently of the technological dimension implied. Clearly it is not enough to valorize the ‘real’ human force of labour over the perversions of technocapital or to attempt to recover it: if ‘the surplus added in production is derived primarily from socially productive cooperation’, as Negri says, and if it must be admitted that this cooperation is technically mediated, then the project of reappropriation cannot circumvent the necessity to deal with the specific ‘material and technical qualities’ that characterise this fixed capital today.
With Negri’s response, the first of several contributions by Italian authors linked to ‘post-operaismo’ who address precisely this point, we are dealing with a tradition that is already heretical to official Marxism. Both in theory and in political practice the ‘operaismo’ (workerism) of the 1960s and 70s was opposed to official party politics and its focus on the state. Operaism’s molecular politics, focused on concrete activities in factories, is also the background for recent (post-operaistic) investigations of immaterial labour and biopower. In the present context this tradition contributes towards a greater insight into the nature of technological change (an insight which also owes something to the bitter experience following early optimism with regard to the Internet’s liberatory possibilities). This allows a much subtler reading of the relation between technology and acceleration than cyberculture’s championing of positive feedback and networks, which in certain ways reiterates the horizontalism of Lyotard’s metaphysics of the flat ‘libidinal band’. Not only has this horizontalism (as map indicates) been an ineffective paradigm for political intervention, it also significantly misrepresents the mode of operation of ‘network technology’ in general. For the latter’s technological and subjectivizing power (as substantially anticipated in Veblen) resides in the progressive and hierarchical ‘locking in’ of standardized hardware and software protocols each of which cannot be understood as means to a particular end, but rather present an open set of possibilities.
Tiziana Terranova suggests a reappropriation of this logic in the form of a ‘red stack’ bringing together the types of autonomous electronic currencies that are currently emerging outside the bounds of nation-state or corporate governance, social media technology, and the ‘bio-hypermedia’ that is thriving in the interference zone between digital and bodily identities. This vision of a digital infrastructure of the common enacts map’s shift from abstract political theory (‘this is not a utopia’) to an experimental collaboration with design, engineering, and programming so as to activate the latent potential of these technologies in the direction of another socius.
In ‘finally grasp[ing] the shift from the hegemony of material labour to the hegemony of immaterial labour’ (Negri), a particular focus is the increased importance of the algorithm as the general machine regime in the information economy, which takes the baton from Marx and Veblen’s ‘machine system’ in continually accumulating, integrating, linking and synergizing ‘informational fixed capital’ at every level of collective production, commercial circulation and consumption. As has been widely discussed, the rise of the algorithm runs parallel to the visible absorption into the integrated machine system of human cognitive and affective capacities, which are also now (in Marx’s words) ‘set in motion by an automaton’—or rather a global swarm of abstract automata. The algorithms at work in social media technologies and beyond present an acute test case for reappropriation. Unlike heavy metal machines, algorithms do not themselves embody a value, but rather are valuable in so far as they allow value to be extracted from social interaction: the real fixed capital today, as Negri suggests, is the value produced through intensive technically coordinated cooperation, producing a ‘surplus beyond the sum’ of its parts (the ‘network externalities’ which economists agree are the source of value in a ‘connected economy’).
To reduce of the value of software to its capacity for monetization, as Terranova suggests, leaves unspoken the enthusiasm and creativity in evidence in open source software movements. Perhaps the latter are better thought of as a collective practice of supererogation seizing on the wealth of opportunities already produced by capitalism as a historical product, in the form of hardware and software platforms, and which breaks the loop whereby this wealth is reabsorbed into the cycles of exchange value. This invocation of the open-source movement is a powerful reminder that there are indeed other motivating value systems that may provide the ‘libidinizing impulse’ that Fisher calls for in the search for alternative constructions; it also recalls Firestone’s call for a cultural revolution in which the distinction between aesthetic imagination and technical construction is effaced.
Next Luciana Parisi turns to computational design to ask what we can learn from the new cutting-edge modes of production that are developing today. Carefully paring apart the computational processes from their ideological representations, Parisi suggests that these new computational processes do indeed present a significant break from a model of rationality that seeks command and control through the top-down imposition of universal laws, aiming to symbolically condense and circumscribe a system’s behaviour and organization. And yet computation driven by material organization cannot be regarded as simply entering into a dynamic immanence with the ‘intelligence of matter’. Rather, these algorithmic operations have their own logic, and open up an artificial space of functions, a ‘second nature’. For Parisi these developments in design figure the more general movement toward systems whose accelerated and extended search and evaluation capabilities (for example in ‘big data’ applications) suggest a profound shift within the conception of computation itself.
It is often claimed that through such advanced methods accelerated technocapital invests the entire field of material nature, completely beyond the human field of perception. Such a strict dichotomy, Parisi argues, loses sight of the reality of abstraction in the order of algorithmic reason itself, moving too quickly from the Laplacean universe of mechanism governed by absolute laws to a vitalist universe of emergent materiality. Instead, as Parisi argues, the action of algorithms opens up a space of speculative reason as a Whiteheadian ‘adventure of ideas’ in which the counter-agency of reason is present as a motor for experimentation and the extraction of novelty.
Reza Negarestani addresses a related dichotomy to the one Parisi critiques, and which lies behind contemporary political defeatism and inertia—namely, the choice between either equating rationality with a discredited and malign notion of absolute mastery, or abandoning all claim for the special status of human sapience and rationality. In the grip of this dichotomy, any possible platform for political claims is nullified. Rather than an abdication of politics, for Negarestani accelerationism must be understood precisely as the making possible of politics through the refusal of such a false alternative. In ‘The Labor of the Inhuman’, he sets out a precise argument to counter the general trend to identify the overcoming of anthropomorphism and human arrogance with a negation of the special status of the human and the capacities of reason.
The predicament of a politics after the death of god and in the face of real subsumption—and the temptation either to destitute subjectivity, leaving the human as a mere cybernetic relay, or to cling to obsolete political prescriptions made on the basis of obsolete folk models of agency—is stripped down by Negarestani to its epistemic and functional kernel. Drawing on the normative functionalism of Wilfrid Sellars and Robert Brandom, he criticizes the antihumanism of earlier accelerationisms as an overreaction no less nihilistically impotent than a yearning for substantial definitions of the human. In their place Negarestani proposes an ‘inhumanism’ that emerges once the question of what it means to be human is correctly posed, ‘in the context of uses and practices’.
What is specific to the human is its access to the symbolic and sociotechnological means to participate in the construction and revision of norms; the task of exploring what ‘we’ are is therefore an ongoing labour whose iterative loops of concept and action yield ‘nonmonotonic’ outcomes. In this sense, understanding and committing to the human is synonymous with revising and constructing the human. Far from involving a voluntaristic impulse to ‘freedom’, this labour entails the navigation of a constraining field of collateral commitments and ramifications, through which the human responds to the demands of an agency (reason) that has no interest in preserving the initial self-image of the human, but whose unforeseeable ramifications are unfolded through the human—‘a future that writes its own past’ in so far as one views present commitments from the perspective of their future ramifications, yielding each time a new understanding of past actions.
In other words, whereas the human cannot ‘accelerate’ within the strictures of its inherited image, in merely rejecting reason it abdicates the possibility of revising this image at all. Acceleration takes place when and in so far as the human repeatedly affirms its commitment to being impersonally piloted, not by capital, but by a program which demands that it cede control to collective revision, and which draws it towards an inhuman future that will prove to have ‘always’ been the meaning of the human. ‘A commitment works its way back from the future’, and inconceivable vistas of intelligence open up through the ‘common task’ or duty of the labour of the inhuman.
In the absence of this indispensable platform of commitment and revision, Negarestani insists, no politics, however shrill its protestations and however severe its prescriptions, has the necessary motor with which to carry a project forward—indeed it is this inability to ‘cope with the consequences of committing to the real content of humanity’ that is according to him at the root of today’s political inertia. In effect, then, Negarestani re-places the infinite will-without-finality within reason rather than capital, and rethinks the inhuman futural feedback process through which it conducts human history not as a thanatropic compulsion but as social participation in the progressive and self-cultivating anastrophism of in/humanity.
Design strategist Benedict Singleton, in a contemporary return to Fedorov’s project, rethinks the question of the mastery of nature through the question of perhaps humankind’s most Promethean project: space exploration. Continuing Negarestani’s examination of the pragmatic momentum that drives a continual opening up of new frontiers of action, he finds in the logic of design a way to think this ‘escape’ otherwise than in the form of a creative ‘leap of faith’: as an ‘escapology not an escapism’, a twisted path in which the stabilisation of new invariants provides the basis for new modes of action, and, reciprocally, new modes of action and new instruments for cognition enable new perspectives on where we have come from and where we are going: design is a dense and ramified leveraging of the environment that makes possible the startling clarity of new observables, as well as enabling the transformation of apparently natural constants into manipulable variables required for constructing new worlds.
Drawing out a language of scheming, crafting, and plotting that declares itself quite clearly in the vocabulary surrounding design, but which has been studiously ignored by a design theory rather too keen to ingratiate itself with humanist circles, Singleton elaborates a counter-history of design that affirms this plotting or manipulative mode of thought, and even its connotations of deception, drawing on Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant’s unearthing of the Greek notion of mêtis—‘cunning intelligence’. As Singleton suggests, mêtis is exemplified in the trap, which sees the predator adopting the point of view of the prey so that its own behaviour is harnessed to ensure its extinction. Mêtis thus equates to a practice in which, in the absence of complete information, the adoption of hypothetical perspectives enables a transformation of the environment—which in turn provides opportunities for further ruses, seeking to power its advance by craftily harnessing the factors of the environment and its expected behaviours to its own advantage.
Important here is the distinguishing of this ‘platform logic’ from a means-end ‘planning’ model of design. In altering the parameters of the environment in order to create new spaces upon which yet more invention can be brought to bear, cunning intelligence gradually twists free of the conditions in which it finds itself ‘naturally’ ensnared, generating paths to an outside that does not conform to the infinite homothetism of ‘more of the same’ but instead opens up onto a series of convoluted plot twists—precisely the ramifying paths of the ‘labour of the inhuman’ described by Negarestani. Ultimately this escapology, Singleton insists, requires an abduction of ourselves by perspectives that relativize our spontaneous phenomenal grasp of the environment. Echoing Fedorov, he calls for a return to an audacity that, far from seeking to ‘live in harmony with nature’, seeks to spring man out of his proper place in the natural order so as to accelerate toward ever more alien spaces.
Taking up this Promethean theme, Ray Brassier launches a swingeing critique of some of the absurd consequences entailed by the countervailing call to humility, and uncovers their ultimately theological justification. Whence the antipathy toward any project of remaking the world, the hostility to the normative claim that not only ought things to be different but that they ought to be made different? Examining Jean-Pierre Dupuy’s critique of human enhancement, Brassier shows how the inflation of human difference into ontological difference necessitates the same transcendental policing that Iain Hamilton Grant explores in his reading of Bladerunner: what is given— the inherited image of the human and human society assumed as transcendental bond—shall by no means be made or indeed remade. Certain limits must be placed on the ability of the human to revise its own definition, on pain of disturbing a certain ‘fragile equilibrium’. As Brassier remarks, since the conception of what a human can be and should tolerate is demonstrably historical, it is only possible to understand this invocation of a proper balance or limit as a theological sentiment. This reservation of an unconceptualisable transcendence beyond the limits of manipulation devolves into a farcical discourse on the ‘reasonableness’ of the suffering inflicted by nature’s indifference to the human—a suffering, subjection, and finitude which is understood to provide a precious resource of meaning for human life. However Prometheanism consists precisely both in the refusal of this incoherency and in the affirmation that the core of the human project consists in generating new orientations and ends—as in Negarestani’s account of the production and consumption of norms, echoed here in the ‘subjectivism without selfhood […] autonomy without voluntarism’ that Brassier intimates must lie at the core of Prometheanism. The productivism of Marx, too, as Brassier reminds us, holds mankind capable of forging its own truth, of knowing and controlling that which is given to it, and of remaking it. Like Negarestani, Brassier holds that the essential project here is one of integrating a descriptive account of the objective (not transcendental) constitution of rational subjectivation with an advocacy of the rational subject’s accession to self-mastery.
Against these new approaches, Nick Land, in ‘Teleoplexy’, insists that it is the practice of forward-looking capitalization alone that can produce the futural dynamic of acceleration. Against Williams and Srnicek, for whom ‘capitalism cannot be identified as the agent of true acceleration’, and Negarestani, for whom the space of reasons is the future source from which intelligence assembles itself, Land argues that the complex positive feedback instantiated in market pricing mechanisms is the only possible referent for acceleration. And since it is capitalization alone that gives onto the future, the very question What do we want—the very conception of a conditional accelerationism and the concomitant assertion, made by both map and Negri, that ‘planning is necessary’ in order to instrumentalise knowledge into action—for Land amounts to nothing but a call for a compensatory movement to counteract acceleration. For him it is the state and politics per se that constitute constraints, not ‘capital’; and therefore the claim that ‘capitalism has begun to constrain the productive forces of technology’ is senseless. Land’s ‘right accelerationism’ appears here as an inverted counterpart to the communitarian retreat in the face of real subsumption: like the latter, it accepts that the historical genesis of technology in capitalism precludes the latter from any role in a postcapitalist future. If at its most radical accelerationism claims, in Camatte’s words, that ‘there can be a revolution that is not for the human’ and draws the consequences of this, then one can either take the side of an inherited image of the human against the universal history of capital and dream of ‘leaving this world’, or one can accept that ‘the means of production are going for a revolution on their own’. This reappearance of accelerationism in its form as a foil for the Left (even left-accelerationism), with Land still fulfilling his role as ‘the kind of antagonist that the left needs’ (Fisher), rightly places the onus on the new accelerationisms to show how, between a prescription for nothing but despair and a excitable description that, at most, contributes infinitesimally to Skynet’s burgeoning selfawareness, a space for action can be constructed.
If ‘left accelerationism’ is to succeed in ‘unleashing latent productive forces’, and if its putative use of ‘existing infrastructure as a springboard to launch towards postcapitalism’ is to issue (even speculatively) in anything but a centralized bureaucracy administering the decaying empty shell of the historical product of capitalism, then the question of incentives and of an alternative feedback loop to that of capitalization will be central. This is one of the ‘prescriptions’ that Patricia Reed makes in her review of the potentials and lacunae of the Manifesto that concludes our volume. Among her other interventions is the suggestion that a corrective may be in order to address the more unpalatable undertones of its relaunch of the modern—a new, less violent model of universalisation. It also does not pass unnoticed by Reed that the map’s rhetoric is
It also does not pass unnoticed by Reed that the map’s rhetoric is rather modest in comparison to earlier accelerationism’s enthusiastic invocations and exhortations (‘maximum slogan density’). A tacit aim in the work of Plant, Land, Grant and ccru is an attempt to find a place for human agency once the motor of transformation that drives modernity is understood to be inhuman and indeed indifferent to the human. The attempt to participate vicariously in its positive feedback loop by fictioning or even mimicking it can be understood as an answer to this dilemma. The conspicuous fact that, shunned by the mainstream of both the ‘continental philosophy’ and cultural studies disciplines which it hybridized, the Cyberculture material had more subterranean influence on musicians, artists and fiction writers than on traditional forms of political theory or action, indicates how its stance proved more appropriable as an aesthetic than effective as a political force. The new accelerationisms instead concentrate primarily on constructing a conceptual space in which we can once again ask what to do with the tendencies and machines identified by the analysis; and yet Fisher’s initial return to accelerationism turned upon the importance of an ‘instrumentalisation of the libido’ for a future accelerationist politics. Reed accordingly takes map to task in its failure to minister to the positive ‘production of desire’, limiting itself to diagnostics and prognostics too vague to immediately impel participation. She rightly raises the question of the power of belief and of motivation: Whatever happened to jouissance? Where is the motor that will drive commitment to eccentric acceleration? Where is the ‘libidinal dispositif’ that will recircuit the compelling incentives of consumer capitalism, so deeply embedded in popular imagination, and the bewildered enjoyment of the collective fantasies of temporary autonomous zones? As Negri says, ‘rational imagination must be accompanied by the collective fantasy of new worlds’. Certainly however much one might ‘rationalise’ the logic of speculation, it still maintains a certain bond with fiction; yet earlier accelerationisms had attempted to mobilize the force of imaginative fictions so as to adjust the human perspective to otherwise dizzying speculative vistas.
In addition, as Reed notes, Accelerationism, far from entailing a short-termism, involves taking a long view on history that traditional politics is unable to encompass in its ‘procedures…based on finitude, and the timescale of the individual human’; and equally needs to engage with algorithmic processes that happen beneath the perceptual thresholds of human cognition (Terranova, Parisi). Therefore a part of the anthropological transformation at stake here involves the appropriation and development of a conceptual and affective apparatus that allows human perception and action some kind of purchase upon this ‘Promethean scale’—new science-fictional practices, if not necessarily in literary form; and once again, Firestone’s ‘merging of the aesthetic with the technological culture’.
Robin Mackay + Armen Avanessian
Robin Mackay + Armen Avanessian
The science which compels the inanimate limbs of the machinery, by their construction, to act purposefully, as an automaton, does not exist in the worker’s consciousness, but rather acts upon him through the machine as an alien power.
Just as the merging of the divided sexual, racial, and economic classes is a precondition for sexual, racial, or economic revolution respectively, so the merging of the aesthetic with the technological culture is the precondition of a cultural revolution.
Catastrophe is the past coming apart. Anastrophe is the future coming together. Seen from within history, divergence is reaching critical proportions. From the matrix, crisis is a convergence misinterpreted by mankind.
Sadie Plant + Nick Land
The most important division in today’s Left is between those that hold to a folk politics of localism, direct action, and relentless horizontalism, and those that outline what must become called an accelerationist politics at ease with a modernity of abstraction, complexity, globality, and technology.
Alex Williams + Nick Srnicek
Accelerationism is a political heresy: the insistence that the only radical political response to capitalism is not to protest, disrupt, or critique, nor to await its demise at the hands of its own contradictions, but to accelerate its uprooting, alienating, decoding, abstractive tendencies. The term was introduced into political theory to designate a certain nihilistic alignment of philosophical thought with the excesses of capitalist culture (or anticulture), embodied in writings that sought an immanence with this process of alienation. The uneasy status of this impulse, between subversion and acquiescence, between realist analysis and poetic exacerbation, has made accelerationism a fiercely-contested theoretical stance.
At the basis of all accelerationist thought lies the assertion that the crimes, contradictions and absurdities of capitalism have to be countered with a politically and theoretically progressive attitude towards its constituent elements. Accelerationism seeks to side with the emancipatory dynamic that broke the chains of feudalism and ushered in the constantly ramifying range of practical possibilities characteristic of modernity. The focus of much accelerationist thinking is the examination of the supposedly intrinsic link between these transformative forces and the axiomatics of exchange value and capital accumulation that format contemporary planetary society.
This stance apparently courts two major risks: on the one hand, a cynical resignation to a politique du pire, a politics that must hope for the worst and can think the future only as apocalypse and tabula rasa; on the other, the replacement of the insistence that capitalism will die of its internal contradictions with a championing of the market whose supposed radicalism is indistinguishable from the passive acquiescence into which political power has devolved. Such convenient extremist caricatures, however, obstruct the consideration of a diverse set of ideas united in the claim that a truly progressive political thought—a thought that is not beholden to inherited authority, ideology or institutions—is possible only by way of a future-oriented and realist philosophy; and that only a politics constructed on this basis can open up new perspectives on the human project, and on social and political adventures yet to come. This assumption that we are at the beginning of a political project, rather than at the bleak terminus of history, seems crucial today in order to avoid endemic social depression and lowering of expectations in the face of global cultural homogenization, climate change and ongoing financial crisis. Confronting such developments, and the indifference of markets to their human consequences, even the keenest liberals are hard-pressed to argue that capitalism remains the vehicle and sine qua non of modernity and progress; and yet the political response to this situation often seems to face backwards rather than forwards.
Despair seems to be the dominant sentiment of the contemporary Left, whose crisis perversely mimics its foe, consoling itself either with the minor pleasures of shrill denunciation, mediatised protest and ludic disruptions, or with the scarcely credible notion that maintaining a grim ‘critical’ vigilance on the total subsumption of human life under capital, from the safehouse of theory, or from within contemporary art’s self-congratulatory fog of ‘indeterminacy’, constitutes resistance. Hegemonic neoliberalism claims there is no alternative, and established Left political thinking, careful to desist from Enlightenment ‘grand narratives’, wary of any truck with a technological infrastructure tainted by capital, and allergic to an entire civilizational heritage that it lumps together and discards as ‘instrumental thinking’, patently fails to offer the alternative it insists must be possible, except in the form of counterfactual histories and all-too-local interventions into a decentred, globally-integrated system that is at best indifferent to them. The general reasoning is that if modernity=progress=capitalism=acceleration, then the only possible resistance amounts to deceleration, whether through a fantasy of collective organic self-sufficiency or a solo retreat into miserablism and sagacious warnings against the treacherous counterfinalities of rational thought.
Needless to say, a well-to-do liberal Left, convinced that technology equates to instrumental mastery and that capitalist economics amounts to a heap of numbers, in most cases leaves concrete technological nous and economic arguments to its adversary—something it shares with its more radical but equally technologically illiterate academic counterparts, who confront capitalism with theoretical constructs so completely at odds with its concrete workings that the most they can offer is a faith in miraculous events to come, scarcely more effectual than organic folk politics. In some quarters, a Heideggerian Gelassenheit or ‘letting be’ is called for, suggesting that the best we can hope for is to desist entirely from destructive development and attempts to subdue or control nature—an option that, needless to say, is also the prerogative of an individualised privileged spectator who is the subjective product of global capital.
From critical social democrats to revolutionary Maoists, from Occupy mic checks to post-Frankfurt School mutterings, the ideological slogan goes: There must be an outside! And yet, given the real subsumption of life under capitalist relations, what is missing, precluded by reactionary obsessions with purity, humility, and sentimental attachment to the personally gratifying rituals of critique and protest and their brittle and fleeting forms of collectivity? Precisely any pragmatic criteria for the identification and selection of elements of this system that might be effective in a concrete transition to another life beyond the iniquities and impediments of capital.
It is in the context of such a predicament that accelerationism has recently emerged again as a leftist option. Since the 2013 publication of Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek’s ‘#Accelerate: Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics’ [map], the term has been adopted to name a convergent group of new theoretical enterprises that aim to conceptualise the future outside of traditional critiques and regressive, decelerative or restorative ‘solutions’. In the wake of the new philosophical realisms of recent years, they do so through a recusal of the rhetoric of human finitude in favour of a renewed Prometheanism and rationalism, an affirmation that the increasing immanence of the social and technical is irreversible and indeed desirable, and a commitment to developing new understandings of the complexity this brings to contemporary politics. This new movement has already given rise to lively international debate, but is also the object of many misunderstandings and rancorous antagonism on the part of those entrenched positions whose dogmatic slumbers it disturbs. Through a reconstruction of the historical trajectory of accelerationism, this book aims to set out its core problematics, to explore its historical and conceptual genealogy, and to exhibit the gamut of possibilities it presents, so as to assess the potentials of accelerationism as both philosophical configuration and political proposition.
But what does it mean to present the history of a philosophical tendency that exists only in the form of isolated eruptions which each time sink without trace under a sea of unanimous censure and/or dismissive scorn? Like the ‘broken, explosive, volcanic line’ of thinkers Gilles Deleuze sought to activate, the scattered episodes of accelerationism exhibit only incomplete continuities which have until now been rendered indiscernible by their heterogeneous influences and by long intervening silences. At the time of writing we find a contemporary accelerationism in the process of mapping out a common terrain of problems, but it describes diverse trajectories through this landscape. These paths adjust and reorient themselves daily in a dialogue structured by the very sociotechnologies they thematize, the strategic adoption of the tag #accelerate having provided a global address through which to track their progress and the new orientations they suggest.
If a printed book (and even more so one of this length) inevitably seems to constitute a deceleration in relation to such a burgeoning field, it should be noted that this reflective moment is entirely in keeping with much recent accelerationist thought. The explicit adoption of an initially rather pejoratively used term1 indicates a certain defiance towards anticipated attacks. But it also indicates that a revisionary process is underway—one of refining, selecting, modifying and consolidating earlier tendencies, rebooting accelerationism as an evolving theoretical program, but simultaneously reclaiming it as an untimely provocation, an irritant that returns implacably from the future to bedevil the official sanctioned discourse of institutional politics and political theory. This book therefore aims to participate in the writing of a philosophical counterhistory, the construction of a genealogy of accelerationism (not the only possible one—other texts could have been included, other stories will be told), at the same time producing accelerationism ‘itself’ as a fictional or hyperstitional anticipation of intelligence to come.
This revisionary montage proceeds in four phases, first setting out three sets of historical texts to be appropriated and reenergized by the undecided future of accelerationism following the appearance of the map, and subsequently bringing together a sequence of contemporary accelerationist texts galvanized by the Manifesto’s call.
The first section features late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century thinkers who, confronted with the rapid emergence of an integrated globalised industrial complex and the usurpation of inherited value-systems by exchange value, attempted to understand the precise nature of the relation between technical edifice and economic system, and speculated as to their potential future consequences for human society and culture.
Karl Marx is represented in perhaps his most openly accelerationist writing, the Grundrisse’s ‘Fragment on Machines’. Here Marx documents the momentous shift between the worker’s use of tools as prosthetic organs to amplify and augment human cognitive and physical abilities (labour power), and machine production properly speaking, dating the latter to the emergence of an integrated ‘automatic system of machines’ wherein knowledge and control of nature leveraged as industrial process supplant direct means of labour. Within this system, the worker increasingly becomes a prosthesis: rather than the worker animating the machine, the machine animates the worker, making him a part of its ‘mighty organism’, a ‘conscious organ’ subject to its virtuosity or ‘alien power’. Individuals are incorporated into a new, machinic culture, taking on habits and patterns of thought appropriate to its world, and are irreversibly resubjectivized as social beings.
In Erewhon’s ‘Book of the Machines’, Samuel Butler develops Marx’s extrapolations of the machine system into a full-scale machinic delirium, extending an intrinsic science-fictional aspect of his theoretical project which also entails a speculative anthropology: if technology is bound up with the capitalist decanting of primitive and feudal man into a new mode of social being, then a speculation on what machines will become is also a speculation on what the human is and might be. In line with the integration that at once fascinates Marx and yet which he must denounce as a fantasy of capital, Butler’s vision, a panmachinism that will later be inspirational for Deleuze and Guattari, refuses any special natural or originary privilege to human labour: Seen from the future, might the human prove nothing but a pollinator of a machine civilization to come?
Refusing such machinic fatalism, Nicolai Fedorov’s utopian vision reserves within a ‘cosmist’ vision of expansion a Promethean role for man, whose scientific prowess he sees as capable of introducing purposefulness into an otherwise indifferent and hostile nature. Fedorov exhorts mankind to have the audacity to collectively invest in the unlimited and unknown possibilities this mastery of nature affords him: to abandon the modesty of earthly concerns, to defy mortality and transcend the parochial planetary habitat. It is only by reaching beyond their given habitat, according to Fedorov, that humans can fulfill their collective destiny, rallying to a ‘common task’.
Thorstein Veblen, famously the author of The Theory of the Leisure Class, takes up the question of the insurrectionary nature of scientific and technical change as part of his evolutionary analysis of developments in modern capitalism (the emergence of monopolies and trusts). For Veblen it is not the proletariat but the technical class, the scientists and engineers, who ultimately promise to be the locus of revolutionary agency; he sees the tendencies of the machine system as being at odds with the ethos of business enterprise, which, ultimately, is just one more institutional archaism to be sloughed off in the course of its development. Significant also is Veblen’s refusal to conceive ‘culture’ narrowly in an ameliorative role, offering compensation for the ‘social problems’ triggered by the reshaping of individuals and social relations in accordance with the automatism and standardization of the machine system: instead he insists that this process be understood as a radical transformation of human culture, and one that will outlive its occasional cause—an assumption shared by Fedorov in his vision of a ‘multi-unity’ allied in the ‘common task’ and armed with the confidence in the capacity of science and engineering to reshape the human life-world.
All of the core themes of accelerationism appear in germ in the projects of these writers, along with the variety of forms—descriptive, prescriptive, utopian, fictional, theoretical, scientific, realist—in which they will later be developed. The speculative extrapolation of the machine process, the affirmation that this process is inextricably social, technical and epistemic; the questioning of its relation to capitalism, the indifferent form of exchange-value and its corrosion of all previous social formations and subjective habits; and its effect upon culture and the new possibilities it opens up for the human conceived not as an eternal given, fated to suffer the vicissitudes of nature, but as a historical being whose relation to nature (including its own), increasingly mediated through technical means, is mutable and in motion.
The second section belongs predominantly to a moment in modern French philosophy that sought to integrate a theoretical analysis of political economy with an understanding of the social construction of human desire. Galvanized by the still uncomprehended events of May ’68 and driven to a wholesale rejection of the stagnant cataracts of orthodox party politics, these thinkers of the ‘Marx-Freud synthesis’ suggest that emancipation from capitalism be sought not through the dialectic, but by way of the polymorphous perversion set free by the capitalist machine itself. In the works of Deleuze and Guattari, Lyotard, and Lipovetsky, the indifference of the value-form, the machine composition of labour, and their merciless reformatting of all previous social relations is seen as the engine for the creation of a new fluid social body. It is the immanence with universal schizophrenia toward which capital draws social relations that promises emancipation here, rather than the party politics that, no doubt, paled by comparison with the oneiric escapades of ’68. It is at this point that the credo of accelerationism is for the first time openly formulated—most explicitly by Gilles Lipovetsky: ‘“[R]evolutionary actions” are not those which aim to overthrow the system of Capital, which has never ceased to be revolutionary, but those which complete its rhythm in all its radicality, that is to say actions which accelerate the metamorphic process of bodies’.
In ‘Decline of Humanity?’, Jacques Camatte extends the reflections of Marx and Veblen on the ‘autonomization of capital’, arguing that, in testing to the limit certain ambivalent analyses in Marx’s thought, it reveals shortcomings in his thinking of capital. Marx claims that capital blocks its own ‘self-realization’ process, the way in which its ‘revolutionary’ unconditional development of production promises eventually to subvert capitalist relations of production. Capital is thus at once a revolutionary force (as evidenced by its destruction of all previous social formations) and a barrier, a limited form or mere transitional moment on the way to this force’s ultimate triumph in another mode of social relation.
According to Camatte, Marx here underestimates the extent to which, particularly through the runaway acceleration of the ‘secondary’ productive forces of the autonomic form of machine capital, the revolutionary role of the proletariat is taken over by capitalism itself. Manifestly it leads to no crisis of contradiction: rather than the productive forces of humans having been developed by capital to the point where they exceed its relations of production, productive forces (including human labour power) now exist only for capital and not for humans. Thus Camatte suggests we can read Marx not as a ‘prophet of the decline of capital’ but instead as a Cassandra auguring the decadence of the human. Capital can and has become truly independent of human will, and any opportunity for an intervention that would develop its newly-reformatted sociotechnological beings into communist subjects is definitively lost.
Along similar lines to contemporaries such as Althusser and Colletti, Camatte concludes: no contradiction, therefore no dialectic. ‘On this we agree: the human being is dead’: more exactly, the human being has been transformed by capital into a passive machine part, no longer possessed of any ‘irreducible element’ that would allow it to revolt against capital. For Camatte the only response to this consummate integration of humans is absolute revolt. The entire historical product of capitalism is to be condemned; indeed we must reject production itself as a basis for the analysis of social relations. Revolutionary thought for Camatte, therefore, urges a refusal of Marx’s valorization of productivism, and counsels absolute retreat—we can only ‘leave this world’ (Camatte’s work was thus a strong influence on anarcho-primitivist trends in political thought).
Anything but an accelerationist, then, Camatte nevertheless sets the scene for accelerationism by describing this extreme predicament: Faced with real subsumption, is there any alternative to pointless piecemeal reformism apart from total secession? Can the relation between revolutionary force, human agency, and capitalism be thought differently? Where does alienation end and domestication begin? Is growth in productive force necessarily convertible into a socialized wealth? Camatte’s trenchant pessimism outlines accelerationism in negative: He commits himself to a belief that subsumption into the ‘community of capital’ is a definitive endpoint in capital’s transformation of the human. Still in search of a revolutionary thought, however, and despite his own analysis, he also commits himself to a faith in some underlying human essence that may yet resist, and that may be realised in an ‘elsewhere’ of capital—a position underlying many radical political alternatives imagined today. In contrast, accelerationism, making a different analysis of the ambivalent forces at work in capital, will insist on the continuing dynamism and transformation of the human wrought by the unleashing of productive forces, arguing that it is possible to align with their revolutionary force but against domestication, and indeed that the only way ‘out’ is to plunge further in.
Gilles Deleuze + Félix Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus developed precisely the ambivalences noted by Camatte, modelling capitalism as a movement at once revolutionary—decoding and deterritorializing—and constantly reterritorializing and indifferently reinstalling old codes as ‘neoarchaic’ simulations of culture to contain the fluxes it releases. It is within this dynamic that a genuine accelerationist strategy explicitly emerges, in order to reformulate the question that haunts every Left political discourse, namely whether there is a ‘revolutionary path’ at all. It is not by chance that probably the most famous ‘accelerationist’ passage in Deleuze and Guattari’s work, included in the extract from Anti-Oedipus here, plays out against the backdrop of the dichotomy between a folk-political approach (in this case Samir Amin’s Third-Worldist separatism) and the exact opposite direction, ‘to go still further, that is, in the movement of the market, of decoding and deterritorialization? For perhaps the flows are not yet deterritorialized enough, not decoded enough, from the viewpoint of a theory and a practice of a highly schizophrenic character. Not to withdraw from the process, but to go further, to “accelerate the process”.’ Famously Deleuze and Guattari, at least in 1972, opt for the latter. Rather than contradictions precipitating collapse, on the contrary, ongoing crises remain an immanent source of capitalist productivity, and this also implies the production of ever new axioms capable of digesting any arising contradictions. For Deleuze and Guattari, there is no necessary conclusion to these processes, indeed the absence of any limit is their primary assumption; and yet they suggest that, as the capitalist socius draws into an ever-closer immanence with universal schizophrenia, (further deterritorializing) lines of flight are a real prospect.
In his writings from the early 70s, Jean-François Lyotard amplifies Deleuze and Guattari’s heresies, at the same time as he joins Anti-Oedipus’s struggle against reflective deceleration in theoretical writing and critique. In a series of extraordinary texts the claim of the immanence of the political and libidinal is enacted within writing itself. In Libidinal Economy Lyotard uncovers a set of repressed themes in Marx, with the latter’s oeuvre itself seen as a libidinal ‘dispositif’ split between an enjoyment of the extrapolation and imaginary acceleration of capitalism’s liquefying tendencies, and the ever-deferred will to prosecute it for its iniquities (embodied in the dramatis personae of ‘Little Girl Marx’ and ‘Old Bearded Prosecutor Marx’).
Lyotard strikingly reads Anti-Oedipus not primarily as a polemical anti-psychoanalytical tract, but as a stealth weapon that subverts and transforms Marxism through the tacit retirement of those parts of its critical apparatus that merely nourish ressentiment and the petty power structures of party politics. He denounces the Marxist sad passion of remonstrating and harping at the system to pay back what it owes to the proletariat while simultaneously decrying the dislocations brought about by capitalism—the liberation of generalised cynicism, the freedom from internalised guilt, the throwing off of inherited mores and obligations—as ‘illusory’ and ‘alienated’. From the viewpoint of a schizoanalytics informed by the decoding processes of ‘Kapital’, there are only perversions, libidinal bodies and their liquid investments, and no ‘natural’ position. Yet critique invests its energies in striving to produce the existence of an alienated proletariat as a wrong, a contradiction upon which it can exercise its moral authority. Instead, Lyotard, from the point of view of an immanence of technical, social and libidinal bodies, asks: How can living labour be dismembered, how can the body be fragmented by capitalism’s exchangeable value-form, if bodies are already fragments and if the will to unity is just one perversion among others? Thus he proposes an energetics that not only voluntarily risks anarchic irrationalism, but issues in a scandalous advocacy of the industrial proletariat’s enjoyment of their machinic dissection at the hands of capital. Lyotard dares us to ‘admit it…’: the deracinating affect of capitalism, also, is a source of jouissance, a mobilization of desire. Saluting Anti-Oedipus as ‘one of the most intense products of the new libidinal configuration that is beginning to gel inside capitalism, Lyotard summons a ‘new dispositif’ that is like a virus thriving in the stomach of capital: in the restless yet undirected youth movements of the late 60s and early 70s ‘another figure is rising’ which will not be stifled by any pedantic theoretical critique. As Deleuze and Guattari assert, ‘nothing ever died of contradictions’, and the only thing that will kill capitalism is its own ‘excess’ and the ‘unserviceability’ loosed by it, an excess of wandering desire over the regulating mechanisms of antiproduction.
Eschewing critique, then, here writing forms a pact with the demon energy liberated by Kapital that liquidates all inheritance and solidity, staking everything on the unknown future it is unlocking. Few can read Lyotard’s deliberately scandalous celebration of the prostitution of the proletariat without discomfort. Yet it succeeds in uncovering the deepest stakes of unstated Marxist dogma as to the human and labour power: If there never was any human, any primary economic productivity, but only libidinal bodies along with their investments, their fetishes, where does theory find the moral leverage to claim to ‘save’ the worker from the machines, the proletariat from capital—or to exhort them to save themselves?
In ‘Power of Repetition’ Gilles Lipovetsky gives a broad exposition of the ungrounded metaphysics of desire underpinning Libidinal Economy’s analyses (a metaphysics Lyotard simultaneously disclaims as just another fiction or libidinal device). In laying out very clearly a dichotomy between the powers of repetition and reinstatement of identity, and the errant metamorphic tendencies of capital, Lipovetsky makes a crucial distinction: Although capitalism may appear to depend upon powers of antiproduction which police it and ensure the minimal stability necessary for the extraction of profit, in fact these ‘guarddogs’ are obstacles to the core tendency of capital qua ‘precipitate experimentation’ in the ‘recombination of bodies’—and this latter tendency is the side that must be taken by emancipatory discourse and practice. Resisting the ‘Marxist reflex’ to critique ‘capitalist power’, Lipovetsky states that there is no such thing, but only and always a multiplicity of powers, which in fact restrain capital’s advance. He thus repeats Lyotard’s call for chaos and permanent revolution: there is no way to prevent new alien recombinations settling back into new forms of power; we must match and exceed capital’s inhuman speeds, ‘keep moving’ in ‘a permanent and accelerated metamorphic errancy’.
Lipovetsky also draws further attention to one of the important departures from Marx that Lyotard had expanded upon: For Deleuze and Guattari, more basic to an analysis of capitalism than human labour power is the way in which capitalism mobilizes time itself through the function of credit. (As Marx himself declares in Grundrisse, ‘economy of time, to this all economy ultimately reduces itself’). Lipovetsky confirms that the supposed ‘contradictions’ of capital are a question of configurations of time, and accordingly his accelerationism pits capital’s essentially destabilizing temporal looping of the present through the future against all stabilising reinstantiations of the past.
This futural orientation is also at work in Lyotard’s attempt at an indistinction between description and prescription, between the theoretical and the exhortatory, something that will be extended in later accelerationisms—as Nick Land will write, there is ‘no real option between a cybernetics of theory and a theory of cybernetics’: The subject of theory can no longer affect to stand outside the process it describes: it is integrated as an immanent machine part in an open ended experimentation that is inextricable from capital’s continuous scrambling of its own limits—which operates via the reprocessing of the actual through its virtual futures, dissolving all bulwarks that would preserve the past. In hooking itself up to this haywire time-machine, theory seeks to cast off its own inert obstacles. It would indeed be churlish to deny the enduring rhetorical power of these texts; and yet the hopes of their call to permanent revolution are poignant from a contemporary viewpoint: As we can glimpse in the starkness of Lipovetsky’s exposition, beneath the desperate joy with which they dance upon the ruins of politics and critique, there is a certain ‘Camattian’ note of despair (acceleration ‘for lack of anything better’, as Lipovetsky says); and an unwitting anticipation of the integral part that the spirit of permanent creative festivity would come to play in the neoconservative landscape of late twentiethcentury consumer capitalism
Those writers included in the ‘Anticipations’ section had emphasised in their analyses that the incursion of the value-form and of machine production are not a ‘merely economic’ question, but one of the transformation of human culture and indeed of what it means to be human. As can clearly be seen in the mercurial topicality of Lyotard’s ‘Energumen Capitalism’, under different cultural and sociotechnological conditions the same goes for the texts of this second phase of accelerationism. The position is set out in exemplary fashion by radical feminist activist and theoretician Shulamith Firestone. Beyond Fedorov’s arguably shortsighted dismissal of the aesthetic response to the world as a squandering of energy that could be directed into the technological achievement of real transcendence, Firestone insists that the separation of these two modes of ‘realizing the conceivable in the possible’ is an artefact of the same constraints as class barriers and sex dualism. She envisages an ‘anticultural’ revolution that would fuse them, arguing that ‘the body of scientific discovery (the new productive modes) must finally outgrow the empirical (capitalistic) mode of using them’. In Firestone’s call for this cultural revolution the question is no longer, as in Fedorov, that of replacing imaginary transcendence with a practical project of transcendence, but of erasing the separation between imaginary vision and practical action.
If we take Firestone’s definition of culture as ‘the attempt by man to realize the conceivable in the possible’ then we can see at once that (as Veblen had indicated) the application of culture as a salve for the corrosive effects of machine culture on the subject merely indicates a split within culture itself: the Promethean potentiality of the human, evidenced in ‘the accumulation of skills for controlling the environment, technology’ is hobbled by the obstruction of the dialogue between aesthetic and scientific modes of thinking. With industry, science and technology subsumed into commerce and exchange value, the question of other, aesthetic values becomes a matter of a compensatory ‘outside’ of the market, a retreat into private (and marketized) pleasures.
Closing this section of the volume, novelist J.G. Ballard echoes Firestone’s call for a merging of artistic and technological modes, advocating the role of science fiction not only as ‘the only possible realism in an increasingly artificialized society’, but as an ingredient in its acceleration. sf dissolves fear into excited anticipation, implicitly preparing readers for a ‘life radically different from their own’. Accepting that ‘the future is a better guide to the present than the past’, sf is not involved in the elaboration of the meaning of the present, but instead participates in the construction of the future through its speculative recombination: the only meaning it registers is the as yet uncomprehended ‘significance of the gleam on an automobile instrument panel’. Like Firestone, Ballard cheerfully jettisons the genius cult of the individual artist and high culture, instead imagining the future of sf along the lines of an unceremonious integration of fiction into global industry and communications that is already underway.
Punctuating the end of this phase of accelerationism, Ballard’s world of ‘the gleam of refrigerator cabinets, the conjunction of musculature and chromium artefact’ is echoed in the cut-up text ‘Desirevolution’ where Lyotard refuses to cede the dream-work of ’68 to institutional politics and Party shysters, countering its inevitable to institutional politics and Party shysters, countering its inevitable recuperation through an acceleration of the cut-up reality of the spectacle, an accelerated collage of ‘fragments of alienation’ launching one last salvo against political and aesthetic representation.
Answers to the Schizo-Culture Conference
Felix Guattari: After a systematic attack (at least I think so) on psychoanalysis, Gilles Deleuze and I began asking ourselves about the linguistic and semiotic conceptions underlying formations of power in psychoanalysis, in the university, and in general.
A sort of generalized suppression of what I call the semiotic components of expression takes place in a certain type of writing, such that even when people speak, they speak as if they were writing. At the same time, the rules of their speech not only depend on a certain syntax, but on a certain law of writing.
Unlike primitive societies, our society doesn't think much of speech-only writing, writing that is signed, attested. Subjugation in capitalist societies is basically a semiotic subjugation linked to writing. Those who escape writing give up any hope of survival. They end up in specialized institutions. Whether at work or in any other area of life, one must always make sure that the semiotic modes one uses relate to a phenomenon of the law of writing. If I make a gesture, it must relate to a text that says: "Is it appropriate to make this gesture at this point?" If my gesture is incoherent, there will be, as in a computer, some written or digitalized device that will say: "This person may be mad, or drugged, perhaps we should call the police, or maybe he is a poet: that individual belongs to a certain society and should be referred to a written text." I think, therefore, that the problem posed in this colloquium whether to read certain texts or not-is basically a problem of the formation of power that goes beyond the university.
Question: Doesn't this relate to what Antonin Artaud said about the written text?
Absolutely. Artaud understood theater and cinema in their multiplicity of semiotic components. Most of the time a film is based on a written text, a script, and the plastic and aural elements are referred to, and alienated from, the text.
Isn't it more a question here of linearity rather than of writing, strictly speaking?
Certainly, or what could be called digitalization, putting everything into digits.
Is the problem of linearity specific to capitalism, or is there a form of writing specific to capital?
Yes, I believe so. The whole evolution of systems of enunciation tends toward the individuation of enunciation and toward the degeneration of collective arrangements of enunciation. In other words, one moves toward a situation where the entirety of complex systems of expression-as in dance, tattoo, mime, etc.-is abandoned for an individuation that implies the position of a speaker and an auditor, such that the only thing that remains of a communication is the transmission of information quantified in "bits." Yet, in another arrangement, the essence of communication is a communication of desire. A child who plays, or a lover who courts someone, does not transmit information, he creates a richly expressive situation in which a whole series of semiotic components are involved.
Capitalism refuses to take these components into consideration; what it wants is: 1) people to express themselves in a way that confirms the division of labor; 2) desire to be only expressed in a way that the system can recoup, or only if it is linearized, quantified in systems of production. A number of people here have remarked that linearization is the best way of transmitting data for a given purpose, even in genetic systems. For example, consider what happens in a primitive society when a purchase is made. The purchase is often a body linked to interminable discussions; it is more often like a donation, even though it is presented as an exchange. Today, shopping ideally demands that the salesperson behaves like a computer. Even if the salesperson is someone affable, and displays all the iconic components of seduction, she nonetheless seduces according to a precise code. Her skirt must be a certain length, her smile artificial, etc. The best way for capitalism to insure semiotic subjugation is to encode desire in a linear way. Whether in a factory or a bank, capitalism does not want people who bring the totality of what they are, with their desire and their problems. One doesn't ask them to desire, to be in love, or to be depressed; one asks them to do the work. They must suppress what they feel, what they are, their entire perceptive semiotics, all their problems. To work in capitalist society implies isolating the usable quantity of semiotization which has a precise relation to a law of writing.
That's questioning capitalism in an extremely broad sense.
Clearly, one must also include bureaucratic socialism.
To take up the question of linearity again, what consequence follows, according to you, .from the critique and rejection of the Oedipal triangle in Lacan? What is the impact of such a critique in terms of revolutionary action; not just as critical exegesis, but as intellectual praxis?
To me, the Lacanian definition of the unconscious seems particularly pertinent if one remembers that it forgets the unconscious of the capitalist socialist bureaucratic social field. What, in fact, does Lacan say? He says that the unconscious is structured like a language and that a signifier represents the subject for another signifier. One gains access to the unconscious through representation, the symbolic order, the articulation of persons in the symbolic order, through the triangle and castration. In fact, and this is really what it's all about, desire can only exist insofar as it is represented, as it passes through representatives. Otherwise, one falls into the black night of incestuous indifferentiation of drives, etc. For the whole question lies here; if one follows Lacan closely to the end, what does he ultimately say? You accede to desire by the signifier and by castration, and the desire to which you accede is an impossible desire.
I think that Lacan is completely right in terms of the unconscious of the capitalist social field, for as soon as someone represents our desire, as soon as the mother represents the desire of the child, as soon as the teacher represents the desire of the students, as soon as the orator represents the desire of the audience, or the leader, the desire of the followers, or ourselves in our ambition to be something for someone who represents our desire (I've got to be "macho," or else what will she think of me), then there is no more desire. I think the position of the subject and the object in the unconscious is one that continually implies not a metaphysical, general subject, but a particular subject, a type of particular object in a definite socioeconomic field. Desire as such escapes the subject as well as the object, and in particular the series of so-called partial objects. Partial objects of Psychoanalysis only appear in a repressive field. For those who remember Freud's monograph The Little Hans, the anal partial object appears when all the other objects have been forbidden, the little girl next door or crossing the street, going for a walk, sleeping with the mother, or masturbating-then, when everything has become impossible, the phobic object appears, the phobic subject appears.
Systems of signification are always linked with formations of power and each time the formations of power intervene in order to provide the significations and the significative behaviors, the goal is always to hierarchize them, to organize and mal(e them compatible with a central formation of power, which is that of the state, of capitalist power mediated by the existence of a national language, the national language being the machine of a system of general law that is differentiated into as many particular languages as will specify the particular positions of each one. The national language is the instrument of translatability which specifies each person's way of speaking. An immigrant does not speak the same way as a teacher, as a woman, as a manager, etc., but in any case each is profiled against a system of general translatability. I do not believe one should separate functions of transmission, of communication, of language, or the functions of the power of law. It is the same type of instrument that institutes a law of syntax, that institutes an economic law, a law of exchange, a law of labor division and alienation, of extortion, of surplus value.
And yet I am so talkative myself that I don't see how one could accuse me of denying language and power. It would be absurd to go to war against power in general. On the contrary, certain types of politics of power, certain types of arrangements of power, certain uses of language, notably national languages, are normalized in the context of a historical situation, which implies the seizure of power by a certain linguistic caste, the destruction of dialects, the rejection of special languages of all kinds-professional as well as infantile or feminine (see Robin Lakoff's study)-I think that is what happens. It would be absurd to oppose desire and power. Desire is power; power is desire. What is at issue is what type of politics is pursued with regard to different linguistic arrangements that exist. Because-and this seems essential to me-capitalist and socialist-bureaucratic power infiltrate and intervene in all modes of individual semiotization today, they proceeds more through semiotic subjugation than through direct subjugation by the police, or by explicit use of physical pressure. Capitalist power injects a micro-fascism into all the attitudes of the individuals, into their relation to perception, to the body, to children, to sexual partners, etc. If a struggle can be led against the capitalist system, it can only be done, in my opinion, through combining a struggle-with visible, external objectives-against the power of the bourgeoisie, against its institutions and systems of exploitation, with a thorough understanding of all the semiotic infiltrations on which capital is based. Consequently, each time one detects an area of struggle against bureaucracy in the organizations against reformist politics, etc., one must also see just how much we ourselves are contaminated by, are carriers of, this micro-fascism.
Everything is done, everything organized in what I will call the individuation of the enunciation, so that one is prevented from taking up such work, so that an individual is always coiled up in himself, his family, his sexuality, so that such work of liberation is made impossible. Thus, this process of fusing a revolutionary political struggle with analysis is only conceivable on condition that another instrument be forged. In our terminology (i.e., with Gilles Deleuze), this instrument is called a collective arrangement of enunciation. This doesn't mean it's necessarily a group: a collective arrangement of enunciation can bring both people and individuals into play-but also machines, organs. This can be a microscopic endeavor, like that of certain characters we find in novels (I am thinking of Beckett's Molloy); it can be transcendental meditation or a group work. But the collective arrangement of enunciation is not a solution by the group. It is simply an attempt to create opportunities of conjunction between different semiotic components in order that they not be systematically broken, linearized, separated.
In the previous talk, the person who was "discoursing" came to me and said: "If I spoke a long time, all at once, it was because I felt inhibited, because I could not speak." We did not function as a collective arrangement of enunciation; I didn't manage to relate my own inhibition about hearing him with his inhibition about speaking. It always comes back to the idea that if you abandon the discourse of reason, you fall into the black night of passions, of murder, and the dissolution of all social life. But I think the discourse of reason is the pathology, the morbid discourse par excellence. Simply look at what happens in the world, because it is the discourse of reason that is in power everywhere.
In your collective arrangement of enunciation, how do you prevent the reimposition of linearity and syntax?
It would also be absurd to want to suppress the information, the redundancies, the suggestions, the images all the powers-that-be want to suppress. The question, then, is not semiotic, or linguistic, or psychoanalytic-it is political. It consists in asking oneself where the emphasis is put-on the politics of significative redundancy or on the multiple connections of an entirely different nature.
You have to be more precise. You speak of semiotics, of information, of collective arrangements ofenunciation, i.e., of linguistics, and then you displace your argumentation from the linguistic or psychological system to that of politics. I no longer follow you.
Each time it is the same thing. Let's take a concrete example: teaching writing in school. The question is often posed in a different, global method. Society being made as it is, even in a completely liberated school, one can hardly imagine refusing to teach children how to write or to recognize linguistic traffic signs. What matters is whether one uses this semiotic apprenticeship to bring together Power and the semiotic subjugation of the individual, or if one does something else. What school does is not to transmit information, but to impose a semiotic modeling on the body. And that is political. One must start modeling people in a way that ensures their semiotic receptiveness to the system if one wants them to accept the alienations of the bureaucratic capitalist-socialist system. Otherwise they would not be able to work in factories or offices; they would have to be sent away to asylums, or universities.
Do you completely reject the system of knowledge elaborated by Lacan through linguistics and Psychoanalysis?
Completely. I believe Lacan described the unconscious in a capitalist system, in the socialist-bureaucratic system. This constitutes the very ideal of Psychoanalysis.
But is it valid as a system for describing this system?
Certainly. Psychoanalytic societies (and this is why we pay them dearly) represent an ideal, a certain model that can have great importance for the other domains of power-in the university and elsewhere-because they represent a way of making sure desire is invested in the signifier and only the signifier, in pure listening, even the silent listening of the analyst. It is the ideal of semiotic subjugation pushed to its highest expression.
According to Nietzsche, one assumes or goes beyond one's own weaknesses in adjusting oneself to them, in refining them. Yet Nietzsche is a reactionary. Is it possible for someone who is a radical to propose going further into psychoanalytic discourse and industrial discourse?
First of all, I am no Nietzschean. Second, I do not think of going beyond my weaknesses. Third, I am soaked to my neck in psychoanalysis and in the university, and I do not see what I could bring to this domain. All the more so since I do not believe that anything can be changed by a transmission of information between speaker and listener. This is not, then, even a problem of ideological striving or of striving for truth, as one could have understood it here. It is simply this: either there will be other types of arrangement of enunciation in which the person will be a small element juxtaposed to something else (beginning with me), or there will be nothing. And worse than nothing: the development of fascism in continuous linear fashion is taking place in many countries, and there you have it.
excerpt from the book: Chaosophy (Text and Interviews 1972 - 1977) by Felix Guattari
Oedipus restrained is the figure of the daddy-mommy-me triangle, the familial constellation in person. But when psychoanalysis makes of Oedipus its dogma, it is not unaware of the existence of relations said to be pre-oedipal in the child, exo-oedipal in the psychotic, para-oedipal in others. The function of Oedipus as dogma, or as the "nuclear complex," is inseparable from a forcing by which the psychoanalyst as theoretician elevates himself to the conception of a generalized Oedipus. On the one hand, for each subject of either sex, he takes into consideration an intensive series of instincts, affects, and relations that link the normal and positive form of the complex to its inverse or negative form: a standard model Oedipus, such as Freud presents in The Ego and the Id, which makes it possible to connect the pre-Oedipal phases with the negative complex when this seems called for. On the other hand, he takes into consideration the coexistence in extension of the subjects themselves and their multiple interactions: a group Oedipus that brings together relatives, descendants, and ascendants. (It is in this manner that the schizophrenic's visible resistance to oedipalization, the obvious absence of the Oedipal link, can be obscured in a grandparental constellation, either because an accumulation of three generations is deemed necessary in order to produce a psychotic, or because an even more direct mechanism of intervention by the grandparents in the psychosis is discovered, and Oedipuses of Oedipus are constituted, to the second power: neurosis, that's father-mother, but grandma, that's psychosis.) Finally, the distinction between the Imaginary* and the Symbolic* permits the emergence of an Oedipal structure as a system of positions and functions that do not conform to the variable figure of those who come to occupy them in a given social or pathological formation: a structural Oedipus (3 + 1) that does not conform to a triangle, but performs all the possible triangulations by distributing in a given domain desire, its object, and the law.
It is certain that the two preceding modes of generalization attain their full scope only in structural interpretation. Structural interpretation makes Oedipus into a kind of universal Catholic symbol, beyond all the imaginary modalities. It makes Oedipus into a referential axis not only for the pre-oedipal phases, but also for the para-oedipal varieties, and the exo-oedipal phenomena. The notion of "foreclosure," for example, seems to indicate a specifically structural deficiency, by means of which the schizophrenic is of course repositioned on the Oedipal axis, set back into the Oedipal orbit in the perspective, for example, of the three generations, where the mother was not able to posit her desire toward her own father, nor the son, consequently, toward the mother. One of Lacan's disciples writes: we are going to consider "the means by which the Oedipal organization plays a role in psychoses; next, what the forms of psychotic pregenitality are and how they are able to maintain the Oedipal reference." Our preceding criticism of Oedipus therefore risks being judged totally superficial and petty, as if it applied solely to an imaginary Oedipus and aimed at the role of parental figures, without at all penetrating the structure and its order of symbolic positions and functions.
For us, however, the problem is one of knowing if, indeed, that is where the difference enters in. Wouldn't the real difference be between Oedipus, structural as well as imaginary, and something else that all the Oedipuses crush and repress: desiring-production—the machines of desire that no longer allow themselves to be reduced to the structure any more than to persons, and that constitute the Real in itself, beyond or beneath the Symbolic as well as the Imaginary? We in no way claim to be taking up an endeavor such as Malinowski's, showing that the figures vary according to the social form under consideration. We even believe what we are told when Oedipus is presented as a kind of invariant. But the question is altogether different: is there an equivalence between the productions of the unconscious and this invariant—between the desiring-machines and the Oedipal structure? Or rather, does not the invariant merely express the history of a long mistake, throughout all its variations and modalities; the strain of an endless repression? What we are calling into question is the frantic Oedipalization to which psychoanalysis devotes itself, practically and theoretically, with the combined resources of image and structure. And despite some fine books by certain disciples of Lacan, we wonder if Lacan's thought really goes in this direction. Is it merely a matter of oedipalizing even the schizo? Or is it a question of something else, and even the contrary?* Wouldn't it be better to schizophrenize—to schizophrenize the domain of the unconscious as well as the sociohistorical domain, so as to shatter the iron collar of Oedipus and rediscover everywhere the force of desiring-production; to renew, on the level of the Real, the tie between the analytic machine, desire, and production? For the unconscious itself is no more structural than personal, it does not symbolize any more than it imagines or represents; it engineers, it is machinic. Neither imaginary nor symbolic, it is the Real in itself, the "impossible real" and its production.
But what is this long history, if we consider it only during the period of psychoanalysis? It does not take place without doubts, detours, and repentances. Laplanche and Pontalis note that Freud "discovers" the Oedipus complex in 1897 in the course of his self-analysis, but that he doesn't give a generalized theoretical form to it until 1923, in The Ego and the Id, and that, between these two formulations, Oedipus leads a more or less marginal existence, "confined for example to a separate chapter on object-choice at puberty (Three Essays), or to a chapter on typical dreams (The Interpretation of Dreams)." They say that this is because a certain abandonment by Freud of the theory of traumatism and seduction leads not to a univocal determination of Oedipus, but to the description as well of a spontaneous infantile sexuality of an endogenous nature. It is as if "Freud never managed to articulate the interrelations of Oedipus and infantile sexuality," the latter referring to a biological reality of development, the former to a psychic fantasy reality. Oedipus is what all but got lost "for the sake of a biological realism."
But is it correct to present things in this way? Did the imperialism of Oedipus require only the renunciation of biological realism? Or wasn't something else sacrificed to Oedipus, something infinitely stronger? For what Freud and the first analysts discover is the domain of free syntheses where everything is possible: endless connections, nonexclusive disjunctions, nonspecific conjunctions, partial objects and flows. The desiring-machines pound away and throb in the depths of the unconscious: Irma's injection, the Wolf Man's ticktock, Anna's coughing machine, and also all the explanatory apparatuses set into motion by Freud, all those neurobiologico-desiring-machines. And the discovery of the productive unconscious has what appear to be two correlates: on the one hand, the direct confrontation between desiring-production and social production, between symptomological and collective formations, given their identical nature and their differing regimes; and on the other hand, the repression that the social machine exercises on desiring-machines, and the relationship of psychic repression with social repression. This will all be lost, or at least singularly compromised, with the establishment of a sovereign Oedipus. Free association, rather than opening onto polyvocal connections, confines itself to a univocal impasse. All the chains of the unconscious are biunivocalized, linearized, suspended from a despotic signifier. The whole of desiring-production is crushed, subjected to the requirements of representation, and to the dreary games of what is representative and represented in representation. And there is the essential thing: the reproduction of desire gives way to a simple representation, in the process as well as theory of the cure. The productive unconscious makes way for an unconscious that knows only how to express itself--express itself in myth, in tragedy, in dream.
But who says that dream, tragedy, and myth are adequate to the formations of the unconscious, even if the work of transformation is taken into account? Groddeck remained more faithful than Freud to an autoproduction of the unconscious in the coextension of man and Nature. It is as if Freud had drawn back from this world of wild production and explosive desire, wanting at all costs to restore a little order there, an order made classical owing to the ancient Greek theater. For what does it mean to say that Freud discovered Oedipus in his own self-analysis? Was it in his self-analysis, or rather in his Goethian classical culture? In his self-analysis he discovers something about which he remarks: Well now, that looks like Oedipus! And at first he considers this something as a variant of the "familial romance," a paranoiac recording by which desire causes precisely the familial determinations to explode. It is only little by little that he makes the familial romance, on the contrary, into a mere dependence on Oedipus, and that he neuroticizes everything in the unconscious at the same time as he oedipalizes, and closes the familial triangle over the entire unconscious. The schizo—there is the enemy! Desiring-production is personalized, or rather personologized (personnologisee), imaginarized (imaginarisee), structuralized. (We have seen that the real difference or frontier did not lie between these terms, which are perhaps complementary.) Production is reduced to mere fantasy production, production of expression. The unconscious ceases to be what it is—a factory, a workshop—to become a theater, a scene and its staging. And not even an avant-garde theater, such as existed in Freud's day (Wedekind), but the classical theater, the classical order of representation. The psychoanalyst becomes a director for a private theater, rather than the engineer or mechanic who sets up units of production, and grapples with collective agents of production and antiproduction.
Psychoanalysis is like the Russian Revolution; we don't know when it started going bad. We have to keep going back further. To the Americans? To the First International? To the secret Committee? To the first ruptures, which signify renunciations by Freud as much as betrayals by those who break with him? To Freud himself, from the moment of the "discovery" of Oedipus? Oedipus is the idealist turning point. Yet it cannot be said that psychoanalysis set to work unaware of desiring-production. The fundamental notions of the economy of desire—work and investment—keep their importance, but are subordinated to the forms of an expressive unconscious and no longer to the formations of the productive unconscious. The anoedipal nature of desiring-production remains present, but it is fitted over the co-ordinates of Oedipus, which translate it into "pre-oedipal," "para-oedipal," "quasi-oedipal," etc. The desiring-machines are always there, but they no longer function except behind the consulting-room walls. Behind the walls or in the wings, such is the place the primal fantasy concedes to desiring-machines, when it reduces everything to the Oedipal scene.18 They continue nevertheless to make a hellish racket. Even the psychoanalyst can't ignore them. He tends therefore to maintain an attitude of denial: all of that is surely true, but it is still daddy-mommy. Over the consulting-room door is written, "Leave your desiring-machines at the door, give up your orphan and celibate machines, your tape recorder and your little bike, enter and allow yourself to be oedipalized." Everything follows from that, beginning with the unreliable character of the cure, its interminable and highly contractual nature, flows of speech in exchange for flows of money. All that is needed is what is called a psychotic episode: after a schizophrenic flash, one day we bring our tape recorder into the analyst's office—stop!—with this insertion of a desiring-machine everything is reversed: we have broken the contract, we are not faithful to the major principle of the exclusion of a third party, we have introduced a third element—the desiring-machine in person.* Yet every psychoanalyst should know that, underneath Oedipus, through Oedipus, behind Oedipus, his business is with desiring-machines. At the beginning, psychoanalysts could not be unaware of the forcing employed to introduce Oedipus, to inject it into the unconscious. Then Oedipus fell back on and appropriated desiring-production as if all the productive forces emanated from Oedipus itself. The psychoanalyst became the carrier of Oedipus, the great agent of antiproduction in desire. The same history as that of Capital, with its enchanted, "miraculated" world. (Also at the beginning, said Marx, the first capitalists could not be unaware of ...)
excerpt from the book: Anti -Oedipus (Capitalism and Schizophrenia) by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari
Theatre is real movement, and it extracts real movement from all the arts it employs. This is what we are told: this movement, the essence and the interiority of movement, is not opposition, not mediation, but repetition. Hegel is denounced as the one who proposes an abstract movement of concepts instead of a movement of the Physis and the Psyche. Hegel substitutes the abstract relation of the particular to the concept in general for the true relation of the singular and the universal in the Idea. He thus remains in the reflected element of 'representation', within simple generality. He represents concepts instead of dramatizing Ideas: he creates a false theatre, a false drama, a false movement. We must see how Hegel betrays and distorts the immediate in order to ground his dialectic in that incomprehension, and to introduce mediation in a movement which is no more than that of his own thought and its generalities. When we say, on the contrary, that movement is repetition and that this is our true theatre, we are not speaking of the effort of the actor who 'repeats' because he has not yet learned the part. We have in mind the theatrical space, the emptiness of that space, and the manner in which it is filled and determined by the signs and masks through which the actor plays a role which plays other roles; we think of how repetition is woven from one distinctive point to another, including the differences within itself. (When Marx also criticizes the abstract false movement or mediation of the Hegelians, he finds himself drawn to an idea, which he indicates rather than develops, an essentially 'theatrical' idea: to the extent that history is theatre, then repetition, along with the tragic and the comic within repetition, forms a condition of movement under which the 'actors' or the 'heroes' produce something effectively new in history.) The theatre of repetition is opposed to the theatre of representation, just as movement is opposed to the concept and to representation which refers it back to the concept. In the theatre of repetition, we experience pure forces, dynamic lines in space which act without intermediary upon the spirit, and link it directly with nature and history, with a language which speaks before words, with gestures which develop before organised bodies, with masks before faces, with spectres and phantoms before characters - the whole apparatus of repetition as a 'terrible power'.
It then becomes easy to speak of the differences between Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. Even this question, however, must no longer be posed at the speculative level of the ultimate nature of the God of Abraham or the Dionysus of Zarathustra. It is rather a matter of knowing what it means to 'produce movement', to repeat or to obtain repetition. Is it a matter of leaping, as Kierkegaard believes? Or is it rather a matter of dancing, as Nietzche thinks? He does not like the confusion of dancing and leaping only Zaratustra's ape, his demon, his dwarf, his buffoon, leaps).
Kierkegaard offers us a theatre of faith; he opposes spiritual movement, the movement of faith, to logical movement. He can thus invite us to go beyond all aesthetic repetition, beyond irony and even humour, all the while painfully aware that he offers us only the aesthetic, ironic and humoristic image of such a going-beyond. With Nietzsche, it is a theatre of unbelief, of movement as Physis, already a theatre of cruelty. Here, humour and irony are indispensable and fundamental operations of nature. And what would eternal return be, if we forgot that it is a vertiginous movement endowed with a force: not one which causes the return of the Same in general, but one which selects, one which expels as well as creates, destroys as well as produces? Nietzsche's leading idea is to ground the repetition in eternal return on both the death of God and the dissolution of the self. However, it is a quite different alliance in the theatre of faith: Kierkegaard dreams of an alliance between a God and a self rediscovered. All sorts of differences follow: is the movement in the sphere of the mind, or in the entrails of the earth which knows neither God nor self? Where will it be better protected against generalities, against mediations? Is repetition supernatural, to the extent that it is over and above the laws of nature? Or is it rather the most natural will of Nature in itself and willing itself as Physis, because Nature is by itself superior to its own kingdoms and its own laws? Has Kierkegaard not mixed all kinds of things together in his condemnation of 'aesthetic' repetition: a pseudo-repetition attributable to general laws of nature and a true repetition in nature itself; a pathological repetition of the passions and a repetition in art and the work of art? We cannot now resolve any of these problems; it has been enough for us to find theatrical confirmation of an irreducible difference between generality and repetition.
Repetition and generality are opposed from the point of view of conduct and from the point of view of law. It remains to specify a third opposition from the point of view of concepts or representation. Let us pose a question quid juris: a concept may be in principle the concept of a particular existing thing, thus having an infinite comprehension. Infinite comprehension is the correlate of an extension = 1. It is very important that this infinity of comprehension be supposed actual, not virtual or simply indefinite. It is on this condition that predicates in the form of moments of concepts are preserved, and have an effect on the subject to which they are attributed. Infinite comprehension thus makes possible remembering and· recognition, memory and self-consciousness (even when these two faculties are not themselves infinite). The relation of a concept to its object under this double aspect, in the form that it assumes in this memory and this selfconsciousness, is called representation. From this may be drawn the principles of a vulgarized Leibnizianism. According to a principle of difference, every determination is conceptual in the last instance, or actually belongs to the comprehension of a concept. According to a principle of sufficient reason, there is always one concept per particular thing. According to the reciprocal principle of the identity of indiscernibles, there is one and only one thing per concept. Together, these principles expound a theory of difference as conceptual difference, or develop the account of representation as mediation.
However, a concept can always be blocked at the level of each of its determinations or each of the predicates that it includes. In so far as it serves as a determination, a predicate must remain fixed in the concept while becoming something else in the thing (animal becomes something other in man and in horse; humanity something other in Peter and in Paul). This is why the comprehension of the concept is infinite; having become other in the thing, the predicate is like the object of another predicate in the concept. But this is also why each determination remains general or defines a resemblance, to the extent that it remains fixed in the concept and applicable by right to an infinity of things. Here, the concept is thus constituted in such a fashion that, in its real use, its comprehension extends to infinity, but in its logical use, this comprehension is always liable to an artificial blockage. Every logical limitation of the comprehension of a concept endows it with an extension greater than 1, in principle infinite, and thus of a generality such that no existing individual can correspond to it hic et nunc (rule of the inverse relation of comprehension and extension). Thus, the principle of difference understood as difference in the concept does not oppose but, on the contrary, allows the greatest space possible for the apprehension of resemblances. Even from the point of view of conundrums, the question 'What difference is there?' may always be transformed into: 'What resemblance is there?' But above all, in classification, the determination of species implies and supposes a continual evaluation of resemblances. Undoubtedly, resemblance is not a partial identity, but that is only because the predicate in the concept is not, by virtue of its becoming other in the thing, a part of that thing.
We wish to indicate the difference between this type of artificial blockage and a quite different type which must be called a natural blockage of the concept. One refers to logic pure and simple, but the other refers to a transcendental logic or a dialectic of existence. Let us suppose that a concept, taken at a particular moment when its comprehension is finite, is forcibly assigned a place in space and time - that is, an existence corresponding normally to the extension = 1. We would say, then, that a genus or species passes into existence hic et nunc without any augmentation of comprehension. There is a rift between that extension = 1 imposed upon the concept and the extension = 00 that its weak comprehension demands in principle. The result will be a 'discrete extension' - that is, a pullulation of individuals absolutely identical in respect of their concept, and participating in the same singularity in existence (the paradox of doubles or twins). This phenomenon of discrete extension implies a natural blockage of the concept, different in kind from a logical blockage: it forms a true repetition in existence rather than an order of resemblance in thought. There is a significant difference between generality, which always designates a logical power of concepts, and repetition, which testifies to their powerlessness or their real limits. Repetition is the pure fact of a concept with finite comprehension being forced to pass as such into existence: can we find examples of such a passage? Epicurean atoms would be one: individuals localised in space, they nevertheless have a meagre comprehension, which is made up for in discrete extension, to the point where there exists an infinity of atoms of the same shape and size. The existence of Epicurean atoms may be doubted. On the other hand, the existence of words, which are in a sense linguistic atoms, cannot be doubted. Words possess a comprehension which is necessarily finite, since they are by nature the objects of a merely nominal definition. We have here a reason why the comprehension of the concept cannot extend to infinity: we define a word by only a finite number of words. Nevertheless, speech and writing, from which words are inseparable, give them an existence hic et nunc; a genus thereby passes into existence as such; and here again extension is made up for in dispersion, in discreteness, under the sign of a repetition which forms the real power of language in speech and writing.
The question is: are there other natural blockages besides those of discrete extension and finite comprehension? Let us assume a concept with indefinite comprehension (virtually infinite). However far one pursues that comprehension, one can always think that it subsumes perfectly identical objects. By contrast with the actual infinite, where the concept is sufficient by right to distinguish its object from every other object, in this case the concept can pursue its comprehension indefinitely, always subsuming a plurality of objects which is itself indefinite. Here again, the concept is the Same - indefinitely the same - for objects which are distinct. We must therefore recognise the existence of non-conceptual differences between these objects. It is Kant who best indicates the correlation between objects endowed with only an indefinite specification, and purely spatia-temporal or oppositional, non-conceptual determinations (the paradox of symmetrical objects). However, these determinations are precisely only the figures of repetition: space and time are themselves repetitive milieux; and real opposition is not a maximum of difference but a minimum of repetition - a repetition reduced to two, echoing and returning on itself; a repetition which has found the means to define itself. Repetition thus appears as difference without a concept, repetition which escapes indefinitely continued conceptual difference. It expresses a power peculiar to the existent, a stubbornness of the existent in intuition, which resists every specification by concepts no matter how far this is taken. However far you go in the concept, Kant says, you can always repeat - that is, make several objects correspond to it, or at least two: one for the left and one for the right, one for the more and one for the less, one for the positive and one for the negative.
Such a situation may be better understood if we consider that concepts with indefinite comprehension are concepts of Nature. As such, they are always in something else: they are not in Nature but in the mind which contemplates it or observes it, and represents it to itself. That is why it is said that Nature is alienated mind or alienated concept, opposed to itself. Corresponding to such concepts are those objects which themselves lack memory -that is, which neither possess nor collect in themselves their own moments. The question is asked why Nature repeats: because it is partes extra partes, mens momentanea. Novelty then passes to the mind which represents itself: because the mind has a memory or acquires habits, it is capable of forming concepts in general and of drawing something new, of subtracting something new from the repetition that it contemplates.
Concepts with finite comprehension are nominal concepts; concepts with indefinite comprehension but without memory are concepts of Nature. Yet these two cases still do not exhaust the examples of natural blockage. Take an individual notion or a particular representation with infinite comprehension, endowed with memory but lacking selfconsciousness. The comprehensive representation is indeed in-itself, the memory is there, embracing all the particularity of an act, a scene, an event or a being. What is missing, however, for a determinate natural reason, is the for-itself of consciousness or recognition. What is missing in the memory is remembrance - or rather, the working through of memory. Consciousness establishes between the I and the representation a relation much more profound than that which appears in the expression 'I have a representation': it relates the representation to the I as if to a free faculty which does not allow itself to be confined within any one of its products, but for which each product is already thought and recognised as past, the occasion of a determinant change in inner meaning. When the consciousness of knowledge or the working through of memory is missing, the knowledge in itself is only the repetition of its object: it is played, that ,is to say repeated, enacted instead of being known. Repetition here appears as the unconscious of the free concept, of knowledge or of memory, the unconscious of representation. It fell to Freud to assign the natural reason for such a blockage: repression or resistance, which makes repetition itself . a veritable 'constraint', a 'compulsion'. Here, then, is a third case of blockage, one which concerns, this time, the concepts of freedom. Here too, from the standpoint of a certain Freudianism, we can discover the principle of an inverse relation between repetition and consciousness, repetition and remembering, repetition and recognition (the paradox of the 'burials' or buried objects): the less one remembers, the less one is conscious of remembering one's past, the more one repeats it - remember and work through the memory in order not to repeat it. Self-consciousness in recognition appears as the faculty of the future or the function of the future, the function of the new. Is it not true that the only dead who return are those whom one has buried too quickly and too deeply, without paying them the necessary respects, and that remorse testifies less to an excess of memory than to a powerlessness or to a failure in the working through of a memory?
There is a tragic and a comic repetition. Indeed, repetition always. appears twice, once in the tragic destiny and once in the comic aspect. In, the theatre, the hero repeats precisely because he is separated from an' essential, infinite knowledge. This knowledge is in him, it is immersed in' him and acts in him, but acts like something hidden, like a blocked representation. The difference between the comic and the tragic pertains to two elements: first, the nature of the repressed knowledge - in the one case. immediate natural knowledge, a simple given of common sense, in the other terrible esoteric knowledge; second, as a result, the manner in which . the character is excluded from this knowledge, the manner in which 'he does not know that he knows'. In general the practical problem consists in this: this unknown knowledge must be represented as bathing the whole scene, impregnating all the elements of the play and comprising in itself all the powers of mind and nature, but at the same time the hero cannot represent it to himself - on the contrary, he must enact it, play it and repeat it until the acute moment that Aristotle called 'recognition'. At this point, repetition and representation confront one another and merge, without, however, confusing their two levels, the one reflecting itself in and being sustained by the other, the knowledge as it is represented on stage and as repeated by the actor then being recognised as the same.
The discrete, the alienated and the repressed are the three cases of natural I blockage, corresponding respectively to nominal concepts, concepts of nature and concepts of freedom. In all these cases, however, conceptual identity or Sameness of representation is invoked to account for repetition: repetition is attributed to elements which are really distinct but nevertheless share strictly the same concept. Repetition thus appears as a difference, . but a difference absolutely without concept; in this sense, an indifferent difference. The words 'really', 'strictly', 'absolutely' are supposed to refer to the phenomenon of natural blockage, in opposition to logical blockage which only determines a generality. However, an important drawback compromises this whole endeavour. As long as we invoke absolute conceptual identity for distinct objects, we suggest a purely negative explanation, an explanation by default. The fact that this default should be grounded in the nature of concepts or representations themselves changes nothing. In the first case, repetition occurs because nominal concepts naturally possess a finite comprehension. In the second case, repetition occurs because concepts of nature are naturally devoid of memory, alienated and outside themselves. In the third case, because the concept of freedom remains unconscious while memories and representations remain repressed. In all these cases, that which repeats does so only by dint of not 'comprehending', not remembering, not knowing or not being conscious. Throughout, the inadequacy of concepts and of their representative concomitants (memory and self-consciousness, remembrance and recognition) is supposed to account for repetition. Such is therefore the default of every argument grounded in the form of identity in the concept: these arguments give us only a nominal definition and a negative explanation of repetition. No doubt the formal identity which corresponds to simple logical blockage may be opposed to real identity (the Same) as this appears in natural block, age. But natural blockage itself requires a positive supra-conceptual force capable of explaining it, and of thereby explaining repetition.
Let us return to the example of psychoanalysis: we repeat because we repress ... Freud was never satisfied with such a negative schema, in which repetition is explained by amnesia. It is true that, from the beginning, repression was considered a positive power. However, he borrowed this positivity from the pleasure principle or from the reality principle: it was merely a derived positivity, one of opposition. The turning point of Freudianism appears in Beyond the Pleasure Principle: the death instinct is discovered, not in connection with the destructive tendencies, not in connection with aggressivity, but as a result of a direct consideration of repetition phenomena. Strangely, the death instinct serves as a positive, originary principle for repetition; this is its domain and its meaning. It plays the role of a transcendental principle, whereas the pleasure principle is only psychological. For this reason, it is above all silent (not given in experience), whereas the pleasure principle is noisy. The first question, then, is: How is it that the theme of death, which appears to draw together the most negative elements of psychological life, can be in itself the most positive element, transcendentally positive, to the point of affirming repetition? How can it be related to a primordial instinct? But a second question immediately arises: Under what form is repetition affirmed and !/prescribed by the death instinct? Ultimately, it is a question of the relation , between repetition and disguises. Do the disguises found in the work of dreams or symptoms - condensation, displacement, dramatisation rediscover while attenuating a bare, brute repetition (repetition of the Same)? From the first theory of repression, Freud indicated another path: Dora elaborates her own role, and repeats her love for the father, only through other roles filled by others, which she herself adopts in relation to those others (K., Frau K., the governess ... ). The disguises and the variations, the masks or costumes, do not come 'over and above': they are, on the contrary, the internal genetic elements of repetition itself, its integral and constituent parts. This path would have been able to lead the analysis of the unconscious towards a veritable theatre. However, if it did not do so, this was because Freud was unable to prevent himself maintaining the model of a brute repetition, at least as a tendency. We see this when he attributes fixation to the Id: disguise is then understood from the perspective of a simple opposition of forces; disguised repetition is only the fruit of a secondary compromise between the opposed forces of the Ego and the Id. Even beyond the pleasure principle, the form of a bare repetition persists, since Freud interprets the death instinct as a tendency to return to the state of inanimate matter, one which upholds the model of a wholly physical or material repetition.
Death has nothing to do with a material model. On the contrary, the death instinct may be understood in relation to masks and costumes. I Repetition is truly that which disguises itself in constituting itself, that it which constitutes itself only by disguising itself. It is not underneath the • masks, but is formed from one mask to another, as though from one distinctive point to another, from one privileged instant to another, with and within the variations. The masks do not hide anything except other masks. There is no first term which is repeated, and even our childhood love for the mother repeats other adult loves with regard to other women, rather like the way in which the hero of In Search of Lost Time replays with his mother Swann's passion for Odette. There is therefore nothing t repeated which may be isolated or abstracted from the repetition in which it was formed, but in which it is also hidden. There is no bare repetition which may be abstracted or inferred from the disguise itself. The same thing is both disguising and disguised. A decisive moment in psychoanalysis occurred when Freud gave up, in certain respects, the hypothesis of real childhood events, which would have played the part of ultimate disguised terms, in order to substitute the power of fantasy which is immersed in the death instinct, where everything is already masked and disguised. In short, repetition is in its essence symbolic; symbols or simulacra are the letter of repetition itself. Difference is included in repetition by way of disguise and by the order of the symbol. This is why the variations do not come from without, do not express a secondary compromise between a repressing instance and a repressed instance, and must not be understood on the basis of the still negative forms of opposition, reversal or overturning. The variations express, rather, the differential mechanisms which belong to the essence and origin of that which is repeated. We should even overturn the relations between 'covered' and 'uncovered' within repetition. Take an uncovered or bare repetition (repetition of the Same) such as an obsessional ceremony or a schizophrenic stereotype: the mechanical element in the repetition, the element of action apparently repeated, .serves as a cover for a more profound repetition, which is played in another dimension, a secret verticality in which the roles and masks are furnished by the death instinct. Theatre of terror, Binswanger said of schizophrenia. There, the 'never seen' is not the contrary of the 'already seen': both signify the same thing, and are lived each in the other. Nerval's Sylvie already introduced us into this theatre, and the Gradiva, so close to a Nervalian inspiration, shows us the hero who lives at once both repetition as such and the repeated which is always disguised in the repetition. In the analysis of obsession, the appearance of the theme of death coincides with the moment at which the obsessed has command of all the characters of his drama and brings them together in a repetition of which the 'ceremony' is only the external envelope. The mask, the costume, the covered is everywhere the truth of the uncovered. The mask is the true subject of repetition. Because repetition differs in kind from representation, the repeated cannot be represented: rather, it must always be signified, masked by what signifies it, I itself masking what it signifies.
I do not repeat because I repress. I repress because I repeat, I forget because I repeat. I repress, because I can live certain things or certain experiences only in the mode of repetition. I am determined to repress whatever would prevent me from living them thus: in particular, the representation which mediates the lived by relating it to the form of a similar or identical object. Eros and Thanatos are distinguished in that Eros must be repeated, can be lived only through repetition, whereas Thanatos (as transcendental principle) is that which gives repetition to Eros, that which submits Eros to repetition. Only such a point of view is capable of advancing us in the obscure problems of the origin of repression, its nature, its causes and the exact terms on which it bears. For when Freud shows beyond repression 'properly speaking', which bears upon representations the necessity of supposing a primary repression which concerns first and foremost pure presentations, or the manner in which the drives are necessarily lived, we believe that he comes closest to a positive internal principle of repetition. This later appears to him determinable in the form of the death instinct, and it is this which, far from being explained by it, must explain the blockage of representation in repression properly speaking. This is why the law of an inverse relation between repetition and remembering is in every respect hardly satisfactory, in so far as it makes repetition depend upon repression.
Freud noted from the beginning that in order to stop repeating it was not enough to remember in the abstract (without affect), nor to form a concept in general, nor even to represent the repressed event in all its particularity: it was necessary to seek out the memory there where it was, to install oneself directly in the past in order to accomplish a living connection between the knowledge and the resistance, the representation and the blockage. We are not, therefore, healed by simple anamnesis, any more than we are made ill by amnesia. Here as elsewhere, becoming conscious counts for little. The more theatrical and dramatic operation by which healing takes place - or does not take place - has a name: transference. Now transference is still repetition: above all it is repetition.10 . If repetition makes us ill, it also heals us; if it enchains and destroys us, it also frees us, testifying in both cases to its 'demonic' power. All cure is a voyage to the bottom of repetition. There is indeed something analogous to scientific experimentation in transference, since the patient is supposed to repeat the whole of his disturbance in privileged, artificial conditions, taking the person of the analyst as 'object'. In transference, however, repetition does not so much serve to identify events, persons and passions as to authenticate the roles and select the masks. Transference is not an experiment but a principle which grounds the entire analytic experience. The roles themselves are by nature erotic, but the verification of these roles appeals to the highest principle and the most profound judge, the death instinct. In effect, reflection on transference was a determinant motive behind the discovery of a 'beyond'. In this sense, repetition constitutes by i itself the selective game of our illness and our health, of our loss and our salvation. How can this game be related to the death instinct? No doubt in a sense close to that in which Miller, in his wonderful book on Rimbaud, says: 'I realized that I was free, that the death I had gone through had liberated me.,ll It seems that the idea of a death instinct must be understood in terms of three paradoxical and complementary requirements: to give repetition an original, positive principle, but also an autonomous disguising power; and finally, to give it an immanent meaning in which terror is closely mingled with the movement of selection and freedom.
Our problem concerns the essence of repetition. It is a question of knowing why repetition cannot be explained by the form of identity in concepts or representations; in what sense it demands a superior 'positive' principle. This enquiry must embrace all the concepts of nature and freedom. Consider, on the border between these two cases, the repetition of a decorative motif: a figure is reproduced, while the concept remains absolutely identical ... . However, this is not how artists proceed in reality. They do not juxtapose instances of the figure, but rather each time combine an element of one instance with another element of a following instance. They introduce a disequilibrium into the dynamic process of construction, an instability, dissymmetry or gap of some kind which disappears only in the overall effect. Commenting on such a case, Levi-Strauss writes: 'These elements interlock with each other through dislocation, and it is only at the end that the pattern achieves a stability which both confirms and belies the dynamic process according to which it has been carried out.' These remarks stand for the notion of causality in general. For it is not the elements of symmetry present which matter for artistic or natural causality, but those which are missing and are not in the cause; what matters is the possibility of the cause having less symmetry than the effect. Moreover, causality would remain eternally conjectural, a simple logical category, if that possibility were not at some moment or other effectively fulfilled. For this reason, the logical relation of causality is inseparable from a physical process of signalling, without which it would not be translated into action. By 'signal' we mean a system with orders of disparate size, endowed with elements of dissymmetry; by 'sign' we mean what happens within such a system, what flashes across the intervals when a communication takes place between disparates. The sjgn is indeed an effect, but an effect with two aspects: in one of these it expresses, qua sign, the productive dissymmetry; in the other it tends to cancel it. The sign is not entirely of the order of the symbol; nevertheless, it makes way for it by implying an internal difference (while leaving the conditions of its reproduction still external).
The negative expression 'lack of symmetry' should not mislead us: it indicates the origin and positivity of the causal process. It is positivity itself. For us, as the example of the decorative motif suggests, it is essential to break down the notion of causality in order to distinguish two types of repetition: one which concerns only the overall, abstract effect, and the other which concerns the acting cause. One is a static repetition, the other is dynamic. One results from the work, but the other is like the 'evolution' of a bodily movement. One refers back to a single concept, which leaves only an external difference between the ordinary instances of a figure; the other is the repetition of an internal difference which it incorporates in each of its moments, and carries from one distinctive point to another. One could try to assimilate these two repetitions by saying that the difference between the first and the second is only a matter of a change in the content of the concept, or of the figure being articulated differently, but this would be to fail to recognise the respective order of each repetition. For in the dynamic order there is no representative concept, nor any figure represented in a pre-existing space. There is an Idea, and a pure dynamism which creates a corresponding space.
Studies on rhythm or symmetry confirm this duality. A distinction is drawn between arithmetic symmetry, which refers back to a scale of whole or fractional coefficients, and geometric symmetry, based upon proportions or irrational ratios; a static symmetry which is cubic or hexagonal, and a dynamic symmetry which is pentagonal and appears in a spiral line or in a geometrically progressing pulsation - in short, in a living and mortal 'evolution'. Now, the second of these is at the heart of the first; it is the vital, positive, active procedure. In a network of double squares, we discover radiating lines which have the centre of a pentagon or a pentagram as their asymmetrical pole. The network is like a fabric stretched upon a framework, 'but the outline, the principal rhythm of that framework, is almost always a theme independent of the network': such elements of dissymmetry serve as both genetic principle and principle of reflection for symmetrical figures.13 The static repetition in the network of double squares thus refers back to a dynamic repetition, formed by a pentagon and 'the decreasing series of pentagrams which may be naturally inscribed therein'. Similarly, the study of rhythm allows us immediately to; distinguish two kinds of repetition. Cadence-repetition is a regular division of time, an isochronic recurrence of identical elements. However, a period i exists only in so far as it is determined by a tonic accent, commanded by intensities. Yet we would be mistaken about the function of accents if we said that they were reproduced at equal intervals. On the contrary, tonic and intensive values act by creating inequalities or incommensurabilities between metrically equivalent periods or spaces. They create distinctive points, privileged instants which always indicate a poly-rhythm. Here again, the unequal is the most positive element. Cadence is only the envelope of a rhythm, and of a relation between rhythms. The reprise of points of inequality, of inflections or of rhythmic events, is more profound than the reproduction of ordinary homogeneous elements. As a result, we should distinguish cadence-repetition and rhythm-repetition in every case, the first being only the outward appearance or the abstract effect of the second. A bare, material repetition (repetition of the Same) appears only in the sense that another repetition is disguised within it, constituting it and constituting itself in disguising itself. Even in nature, isochronic rotations are only the outward appearance of a more profound movement, the revolving cycles are only abstractions: placed together, they reveal evolutionary cycles or spirals whose principle is a variable curve, and the trajectory of which has two dis symmetrical aspects, as though it had a right and a left. It is always in this gap, which should not be confused with the negative, that creatures weave their repetition and receive at the same time the gift of living and dying.
Finally, to return to nominal concepts: is it the identity of the nominal concept which explains the repetition of a word? Take the example of rhyme: it is indeed verbal repetition, but repetition which includes the difference between two words and inscribes that difference at the heart of a poetic Idea, in a space which it determines. Nor does its meaning lie in marking equal intervals, but rather, as we see in a notion of strong rhyme, in putting tonal values in the service of tonic rhythm, and contributing- to the independence of tonic rhythms from arithmetic rhythms. As for the repetition of a single word, we must understand this as a 'generalised rhyme', not rhyme as a restricted repetition. This generalisation can proceed in two ways: either a word taken in two senses ensures a resemblance or a paradoxical identity between the two senses; or a word taken in one sense exercises an attractive force on its neighbours, communicating an extraordinary gravity to them until one of the neighbouring words takes up the baton and becomes in turn a centre of repetition. Raymond Roussel and Charles Peguy were the great repeaters of literature, able to lift the pathological power of language to a higher artistic level. Roussel takes ambiguous words or homonyms and fills the entire distance between their meanings with a story presented twice and with objects themselves doubled. He thereby overcomes homonymity on its own ground and inscribes the maximum difference within repetition, where this is the space opened up in the heart of a word. This space is still presented by Roussel as one of masks and death, in which is developed both a repetition which enchains and a repetition which saves - which saves above all from the one which enchains. Roussel creates an after-language where,f once everything has been said, everything is repeated and recommenced.1 Peguy's technique is very different: it substitutes repetition not for homonymity but for synonymity; it concerns what linguists call the function of contiguity rather than that of similarity; it forms a before-language, an auroral language in which the step-by-step creation of an internal space within words proceeds by tiny differences. This time, everything leads to the problem of aging and premature deaths, but in relation to this problem also to the extraordinary chance to affirm a repetition which saves against that which enchains. Both Peguy and Roussel take language to one of its limits: in the case of Roussel, that of similarity and selection, the 'distinctive feature' between billard and pillard; in the case of Peguy, that of contiguity or combination, the famous tapestry points. Both substitute a vertical repetition of distinctive points, which takes us inside the words, for the horizontal repetition of ordinary words repeated. Both substitute a positive repetition, one which flows from the excess of a linguistic and stylistic Idea, for a repetition by default which results from the inadequacy of nominal concepts or verbal representations. How does death inspire language, given that it is always present when repetition is affirmed?
The reproduction of the Same is not a motor of bodily movements. We know that even the simplest imitation involves a difference between inside and outside. Moreover, imitation plays only a secondary and regulatory role in the acquisition of a behaviour: it permits the correction of movements being made, but not their instigation. Learning takes place not in the relation between a representation and an action (reproduction of the Same) but in the relation between a sign and a response (encounter with the Other). Signs involve heterogeneity in at least three ways: first, in the object which bears or emits them, and is necessarily on a different level, as though there were two orders of size or disparate realities between which the sign flashes; secondly, in themselves, since a sign envelops another 'object' within the limits of the object which bears it, and incarnates a natural or spiritual power (an Idea); finally, in the response they elicit, since the movement of the response does not 'resemble' that of the sign. The movement of the swimmer does not resemble that of the wave, in particular, the movements of the swimming instructor which we reproduce on the sand bear no relation to the movements of the wave, which we learn to deal with only by grasping the former in practice as signs. That is why it is so difficult to say how someone learns: there is an innate or acquired practical familiarity with signs, which means that there is something amorous - but also something fatal - about all education. We learn nothing from those who say: 'Do as I do'. Our only teachers are those who tell us to 'do with me', and are able to emit signs to be developed in heterogeneity rather than propose gestures for us to reproduce. In other words, there is no ideo-motivity, only sensory-motivity. When a body combines some of its own distinctive points with those of a wave, it espouses the principle of a repetition which is no longer that of the Same, but involves the Other - involves difference, from one wave and one gesture to another, and carries that difference through the repetitive space thereby constituted. To learn is indeed to constitute this space of an encounter with signs, in which the distinctive points renew themselves in each other, and repetition takes shape while disguising itself. Apprenticeship always gives rise to images of death, on the edges of the space it creates and with the help of the heterogeneity it engenders. Signs are deadly when they are lost in the distance, but also when they strike us with full force. Oedipus receives a sign once from too far away, once from too close, and between the two a terrible repetition of the crime is woven. Zarathustra receives his 'sign' either from too near or from too far, and only at the end does he foresee the correct distance which will turn that which in eternal return makes him ill into a liberatory and redemptive repetition. Signs are the true elements of theatre. They testify to the spiritual and natural powers which act beneath the words, gestures, characters and objects represented. They signify repetition as real movement, in opposition to representation which is a false movement of the abstract.
We are right to speak of repetition when we find ourselves confronted by identical elements with exactly the same concept. However, we must distinguish between these discrete elements, these repeated objects, and a secret subject, the real subject of repetition, which repeats itself through them. Repetition must be understood in the pronominal; we must find the Self of repetition, the singularity within that which repeats. For there is no . repetition without a repeater, nothing repeated without a repetitious soul. . As a result, rather than the repeated and the repeater, the object and the subject, we must distinguish two forms of repetition. In every case repetition is difference without a concept. But in one case, the difference is taken to be only external to the concept; it is a difference between objects represented by the same concept, falling into the indifference of space and time. In the other case, the difference is internal to the Idea; it unfolds as pure movement, creative of a dynamic space and time which correspond to the Idea. The first repetition is repetition of the Same, explained by the identity of the concept or representation; the second includes difference, . and includes itself in the alterity of the Idea, in the heterogeneity of an 'a-presentation'. One is negative, occurring by default in the concept; the other affirmative, occurring by excess in the Idea. One is conjectural, the other categorical. One is static, the other dynamic. One is repetition in the , effect, the other in the cause. One is extensive, the other intensive. One is ordinary, the other distinctive and singular. One is horizontal, the other vertical. One is developed and explicated, the other enveloped and in need of interpretation. One is revolving, the other evolving. One involves equality, commensurability and symmetry; the other is grounded in inequality, incommensurability and dissymmetry. One is material, the other spiritual, even in nature and in the earth. One is inanimate, the other carries the secret of our deaths and our lives, of our enchainments and our liberations, the demonic and the divine. One is a 'bare' repetition, the other a covered repetition, which forms itself in covering itself, in masking and disguising itself. One concerns accuracy, the other has authenticity as its criterion.
The two repetitions are not independent. One is the singular subject, the interiority and the heart of the other, the depths of the other. The other is only the external envelope, the abstract effect. The repetition of dissymmetry is hidden within symmetrical ensembles or effects; a repetition of distinctive points underneath that of ordinary points; and everywhere the Other in the repetition of the Same. This is the secret, the most ... profound repetition: it alone provides the principle of the other one, the reason for the blockage of concepts. In this domain, as in Sartor Resartus, it is the masked, the disguised or the costumed which turns out to be the truth of the uncovered. Necessarily, since this repetition is not hidden by something else but forms itself by disguising itself; it does not pre-exist its own disguises and, in forming itself, constitutes the bare repetition within which it becomes enveloped. Important consequences follow from this. When we are confronted by a repetition which proceeds masked, or comprises displacements, quickenings, slowdowns, variants or differences which are ultimately capable of leading us far away from the point of departure, we tend to see a mixed state in which repetition is not pure but only approximative: the very word repetition seems to be employed symbolically, by analogy or metaphor. It is true that we have strictly defined repetition as difference without concept. However, we would be wrong to reduce it to a difference which falls back into exteriority, because the concept embodies the form of the Same, without seeing that it can be internal to the Idea and possess in itself all the resources of signs, symbols and alterity which go beyond the concept as such. The examples invoked above concern the most diverse kinds of case, from nominal concepts to concepts of nature and freedom, and we could be charged with having mixed up all kinds of physical and psychical repetitions, even with having run together stereotypical repetitions and latent, symbolic repetitions in the psychical domain. However, we wished to show the coexistence of these instances in every repetitive structure, to show how repetition displays identical elements which necessarily refer back to a latent subject which repeats itself through these elements, forming an 'other' repetition at the heart of the first. We therefore suggest that this other repetition is in no way approximative or metaphorical. It is, on the contrary, the spirit of every repetition. It is the very letter of every repetition, its watermark or: constitutive cipher. It forms the essence of that in which every repetition consists: difference without a concept, non-mediated difference. It is both the literal and spiritual primary sense of repetition. The material sense results from this other, as if secreted by it like a shell.
We began by distinguishing generality and repetition. Then we distinguished two forms of repetition. These two distinctions are linked: the consequences of the first are unfolded only in the second. For if we were content to treat repetition abstractly and as devoid of any interior, we would remain incapable of understanding why and how a concept could be naturally blocked, allowing a repetition which has nothing to do with generality to appear. Conversely, when we discover the literal interior of repetition, we have the means not only to understand the outer repetition as a cover, but also to recapture the order of generality (and, following Kierkegaard's wish, to carry out the reconciliation of the singular with the general). For to the extent that the internal repetition projects itself through a bare repetition which covers it, the differences that it includes appear to be so many factors which oppose repetition, which attenuate it and vary it according to 'general' laws. Beneath the general operation of laws, however, there always remains the play of singularities. Cyclical generalities in nature are the masks of a singularity which appears through their interferences; and beneath the generalities of habit in moral life we rediscover singular processes of learning. The domain of laws must be understood, but always on the basis of a Nature and a Spirit superior to their own laws, which weave their repetitions in the depths of the earth and of the heart, where laws do not yet exist. The interior of repetition is always affected by an order of difference: it is only to the extent that something is linked to a repetition of an order other than its own that the repetition appears external and bare, and the thing itself subject to the categories of generality. It is the inadequation between difference and repetition which gives rise to the order of generality. Gabriel Tarde suggested in this sense that resemblance itself was only displaced repetition: real repetition is that which corresponds directly to a difference of the same degree as itself. Better than anyone, Tarde was able to elaborate a new dialectic by discovering in mind and nature the secret effort to establish an ever more perfect correspondence between difference and repetition.
So long as we take difference to be conceptual difference, intrinsically conceptual, and repetition to be an extrinsic difference between objects represented by the same concept, it appears that the problem of their relation may be resolved by the facts. Are there repetitions -yes or no? Or is every difference indeed intrinsic and conceptual in the last instance? Hegel ridi- ( culed Leibniz for having invited the court ladies to undertake experimental metaphysics while walking in the gardens, to see whether two leaves of a tree could not have the same concept. Replace the court ladies by forensic scientists: no two grains of dust are absolutely identical, no two hands have the same distinctive points, no two typewriters have the same strike, no two revolvers score their bullets in the same manner ... . Why, however, do we feel that the problem is not properly defined so long as we look for the criterion of a principium individuation is in the facts? It is because a difference can be internal, yet not conceptual (as the paradox of symmetrical ob, jects shows). A dynamic space must be defined from the point of view of an observer tied to that space, not from an external position. There are internal differences which dramatise an Idea before representing an object. Difference here is internal to an Idea, even though it be external to the concept which represents an object. That is why the opposition between Kant and Leibniz seems much less strong to the extent that one takes account of the dynamic factors present in the two doctrines. If, in the forms of intuition, Kant recognised extrinsic differences not reducible to the order of concepts, these are no less 'internal' even though they cannot be regarded as 'intrinsic' by the understanding, and can be represented only in their external relation to space as a whole. In other words, following certain neo-Kantian interpretations, there is a step-by-step, internal, dynamic construction of space which must precede the 'representation' of the whole as a form of exteriority. The element of this internal genesis seems to us to consist of intensive quantity rather than schema, and to be related to Ideas rather than to concepts of the understanding. If the spatial order of extrinsic differences and the conceptual order of intrinsic differences are finally in harmony, as the schema shows they are, this is ultimately due to this intensive differential element, this synthesis of continuity at a given moment which, in the form of a continua repetitio, first gives rise internally to the space corresponding to Ideas. With Leibniz, the affinity between extrinsic differences and intrinsic conceptual differences already appealed to the internal process of a continua repetitio, grounded upon an intensive differential element which ensures the synthesis of continuity at a point in order to engender space from within.
There are repetitions which are not only extrinsic differences, just as there are internal differences which are neither intrinsic nor conceptual. We are thus in a better position to identify the source of the preceding ambiguities. When we define repetition as difference without concept, we are drawn to conclude that only extrinsic difference is involved in repetition; we consider, therefore, that any internal 'novelty' is sufficient to remove us from repetition proper and can be reconciled only with an approximative repetition, so-called by analogy. Nothing of the sort is true. For we do not yet know what is the essence of repetition, what is positively denoted by the expression 'difference without concept', or the nature of the interiority it may imply. Conversely, when we define difference as conceptual difference, we believe we have done enough to specify the . concept of difference as such. Nevertheless, here again we have no idea of difference, no concept of difference as such. Perhaps the mistake of the philosophy of difference, from Aristotle to Hegel via Leibniz, lay in confusing the concept of difference with a merely conceptual difference, in remaining content to inscribe difference in the concept in general. In reality, so long as we inscribe difference in the concept in general we have no singular Idea of difference: we remain only with a difference already mediated by representation. We therefore find ourselves confronted by two questions: what is the concept of difference -one which is not reducible to simple conceptual difference but demands its own Idea, its own singularity at the level of Ideas? On the other hand, what is the essence of repetitionone which is not reducible to difference without concept, and cannot be confused with the apparent character of objects represented by the same concept, but bears witness to singularity as a power of Ideas? The meeting between these two notions, difference and repetition, can no longer be assumed: it must come about as a result of interferences and intersections between these two lines: one concerning the essence of repetition, the other the idea of difference.
An excerpt from introduction to the Book: Difference and Repetition by Gilles Deleuze
Repetition is not generality. Repetition and generality must be distinguished in several ways. Every formula which implies their confusion is regrettable: for example, when we say that two things are as alike as two drops of water; or when we identify 'there is only a science of the general' with 'there is only a science of that which is repeated'. Repetition and resemblance are different in kind -extremely so.
Generality presents two major orders: the qualitative order of resemblances and the quantitative order of equivalences. Cycles and equalities are their respective symbols. But in any case, generality expresses a point of view according to which one term may be exchanged or substituted for another. The exchange or substitution of particulars defines our conduct in relation to generality. That is why the empiricists are not wrong to present general ideas as particular ideas in themselves, so long as they add the belief that each of these can be replaced by any other particular idea which resembles it in relation to a given word. By contrast, we can see that repetition is a necessary and justified conduct only in relation to that which cannot be replaced. Repetition as a conduct and as a point of view concerns non-exchangeable and non-substitutable singularities. Reflections, echoes, doubles and souls do not belong to the domain of resemblance or equivalence; and it is no more possible to exchange one's soul than it is to substitute real twins for one another. If exchange is the criterion of generality, theft and gift are those of repetition. There is, therefore, an economic difference between the two.
To repeat is to behave in a certain manner, but in relation to something unique or singular which has no equal or equivalent. And perhaps this· repetition at the level of external conduct echoes, for its own part, a more secret vibration which animates it, a more profound, internal repetition within the singular. This is the apparent paradox of festivals: they repeat an 'unrepeatable'. They do not add a second and a third time to the first, but carry the first time to the 'nth' power. With respect to this power, repetition interiorizes and thereby reverses itself: as Peguy says, it is not Federation Day which commemorates or represents the fall of the Bastille, but the fall of the Bastille which celebrates and repeats in advance all the Federation Days; or Monet's first water lily which repeats all the others. Generality, as generality of the particular, thus stands opposed to repetition as universality of the singular. The repetition of a work of art is like a singularity without concept, and it is not by chance that a poem must be learned by heart. The head is the organ of exchange, but the heart is the amorous organ of repetition. (It is true that repetition also concerns the head, but precisely because it is its terror or paradox.) Pius Servien rightly distinguished two languages: the language of science, dominated by the symbol of equality, in which each term may be replaced by others; and lyrical language, in which every term is irreplaceable and can only be repeated. Repetition can always be 'represented' as extreme resemblance or perfect equivalence, but the fact that one can pass by degrees from one thing to another does not prevent their being different in kind.
On the other hand, generality belongs to the order of laws. However, law determines only the resemblance of the subjects ruled by it, along with their equivalence to terms which it designates. Far from grounding repetition, law shows, rather, how repetition would remain impossible for pure subjects of law - particulars. It condemns them to change. As an empty form of difference, an invariable form of variation, a law compels its subjects to illustrate it only at the cost of their own change. No doubt there are as many constants as variables among the terms designated by laws, and as many permanences and perseverations as there are fluxes and variations in nature. However, a perseveration is still not a repetition. The constants of one law are in turn variables of a more general law, just as the hardest rocks become soft and fluid matter on the geological scale of millions of years. So at each level, it is in relation to large, permanent natural objects that the subject of a law experiences its own powerlessness to repeat and discovers that this powerlessness is already contained in the object, reflected in the permanent object wherein it sees itself condemned. Law unites the change of the water and the permanence of the river. Elie Faure said of Watteau: 'He imbued with the utmost transitoriness those things which our gaze encounters as the most enduring, namely space and forests.' This is the eighteenth-century method. Wolmar, in La Nouvelle Heloise, made a system of it: the impossibility of repetition, and change as a general condition to which all particular creatures are subject by the law of Nature, were understood in relation to fixed terms (themselves, no doubt, variables in relation to other permanences and in function of other, more general laws). This is the meaning of the grove, the grotto and the 'sacred' object. Saint-Preux learns that he cannot repeat, not only because of his own change and that of Julie, but also because of the great natural permanences, which assume a symbolic value and exclude him no less from true repetition. If repetition is possible, it is due to miracle rather than to law. It is against the law: against the similar form and the equivalent content of law. If repetition can be found, even in nature, it is in the name of a power which affirms itself against the law, which works underneath laws, perhaps superior to laws. If repetition exists, it expresses at once a singularity opposed to the general, a universality opposed to the particular, a distinctive opposed to the ordinary, an instantaneity opposed to variation and an eternity opposed to permanence. In every respect, repetition is a transgression. It puts law into question, it denounces its nominal or general character in favour of a more profound and more artistic reality.
From the point of view of scientific experiment, it seems difficult to deny a relationship between repetition and law. However, we must ask under what conditions experimentation ensures repetition. Natural phenomena are produced in a free state, where any inference is possible among the vast cycles of resemblance: in this sense, everything reacts on everything else, and everything resembles everything else (resemblance of the diverse with itself). However, experimentation constitutes relatively closed environments in which phenomena are defined in terms of a small number of chosen factors (a minimum of two - for example, Space and Time for the movement of bodies in a vacuum). Consequently, there is no reason to question the application of mathematics to physics: physics is already mathematical, since the closed environments or chosen factors also constitute systems of geometrical co-ordinates. In these conditions, phenomena necessarily appear as equal to a certain quantitative relation between the chosen factors. Experimentation is thus a matter of substituting one order of generality for another: an order of equality for an order of resemblance. Resemblances are unpacked in order to discover an equality which allows the identification of a phenomenon under the particular conditions of the experiment. Repetition appears here only in the passage from one order of generality to another, emerging with the help of - or on the occasion of - this passage. It is as if repetition momentarily appeared between or underneath the two generalities. Here too, however, there is a risk of mistaking a difference in kind for a difference of degree. For generality only represents and presupposes a hypothetical repetition: 'given the same circumstances, then .. .'. This formula says that in similar situations one will always be able to select and retain the same factors, which represent the being-equal of the phenomena. This, however, does not account for what gives rise to repetition, nor for what is categorical or important for repetition in principle (what is important in principle is ON times as the power of a single time, without the need to pass through a second or a third time). In its essence, repetition refers to a singular power which differs in kind from generality, even when, in order to appear, it takes advantage of the artificial passage from one order of generality to another.
Expecting repetition from the law of nature is the 'Stoic' error. The wise must be converted into the virtuous; the dream of finding a law which would make repetition possible passes over to the moral sphere. There is always a task to recommence, a fidelity to be revived within a daily life indistinguishable from the reaffirmation of Duty. Buchner makes Danton say:
'It is so wearisome. First you put on your shirt, then your trousers; you drag yourself into bed at night and in the morning drag yourself out again; and always you put one foot in front of the other. There is little hope that it will ever change. Millions have always done it like that and millions more will do so after us. Moreover, since we're made up of two halves which both do the same thing, everything's done twice. It's all very boring and very, very sad.'
However, what good is moral law if it does not sanctify reiteration, above all if it does not make reiteration possible and give us a legislative power from which we are excluded by the law of nature? Moralists sometimes present the categories of Good and Evil in the following manner: every time we try to repeat according to nature or as natural beings (repetition of a pleasure, of a past, of a passion) we throw ourselves into a demonic and already damned exercise which can end only in despair or boredom. The Good, by contrast, holds out the possibility of repetition, of successful repetition and of the spirituality of repetition, because it depends not upon a law of nature but on a law of duty, of which, as moral beings, we cannot be subjects without also being legislators. What is Kant's 'highest test' if not a criterion which should decide what can in principle be reproduced in other words, what can be repeated without contradiction in the form of moral law? The man of duty invented a 'test' of repetition; he decided what in principle could be repeated. He thought he had thereby defeated both the demonic and the wearisome. Moreover, as an echo of Danton's concerns or a response to them, is there not a moralism in that repetition apparatus described with such precision by Kant's biographers, right down to the astonishing garters that he made for himself, and the regularity of his daily promenades (in the sense that neglecting one's toilet and missing exercise are among those conducts whose maxim cannot, without contradiction, be regarded as a universal law, nor, therefore, be the object of rightful repetition)?
Conscience, however, suffers from the following ambiguity: it can be conceived only by supposing the moral law to be external, superior and indifferent to the natural law; but the application of the moral law can be conceived only by restoring to conscience itself the image and the model of the law of nature. As a result, the moral law, far from giving us true repetition, still leaves us in generality. This time, the generality is not that of nature but that of habit as a second nature. It is useless to point to the existence of immoral or bad habits: it is the form of habit - or, as Bergson used to say, the habit of acquiring habits (the whole of obligation) - which is essentially moral or has the form of the good. Furthermore, in this whole or generality of habit we again find the two major orders: that of resemblance, in the variable conformity of the elements of action with a given model in so far as the habit has not been acquired; and that of equivalence, with the equality of the elements of action in different situations once the habit has been acquired. As a result, habit never gives rise to true repetition: sometimes the action changes and is perfected while the intention remains constant; sometimes the action remains the same in different contexts and with different intentions. There again, if repetition is possible, it would appear only between or beneath the two generalities of perfection and integration, testifying to the presence of a quite different power, at the risk of overturning these two generalities.
If repetition is possible, it is as much opposed to moral law as it is to natural law. There are two known ways to overturn moral law. One is by. ascending towards the principles: challenging the law as secondary, derived, borrowed or 'general'; denouncing it as involving a second-hand principle which diverts an original force or usurps an original power. The other way, by contrast, is to overturn the law by descending towards the consequences, to which one submits with a too-perfect attention to detail. By adopting the law, a falsely submissive soul manages to evade it and to taste pleasures it was supposed to forbid. We can see this in demonstration by absurdity and working to rule, but also in some forms of masochistic behaviour which mock by submission. The first way of overturning the law is ironic, where irony appears as an art of principles, of ascent towards the principles and of overturning principles. The second is humour, which is an art of consequences and descents, of suspensions and falls. Must we understand that repetition appears in both this suspense and this ascent, as though existence recommenced and 'reiterated' itself once it is no longer constrained by laws? Repetition belongs to humour and irony; it is by nature transgression or exception, always revealing a singularity opposed to the particulars subsumed under laws, a universal opposed to the generalities which give rise to laws.
There is a force common to Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. (Peguy would have to be added in order to form the triptych of priest, Antichrist and Catholic. Each of the three, in his own way, makes repetition not only a power peculiar to language and thought, a superior pathos and pathology, but also the fundamental category of a philosophy of the future. To each corresponds a Testament as well as a Theatre, a conception of the theatre, and a hero of repetition as a principal character in this theatre: Job-Abraham, Dionysus Zarathustra, Joan of Arc-Clio). What separates them is considerable, evident and well-known. But nothing can hide this prodigious encounter in relation to a philosophy of repetition: they oppose repetition to all forms of generality. Nor do they take the word 'repetition' in a metaphorical sense: on the contrary, they have a way of taking it literally and of introducing it into their style. We can - or rather, must - first of all list the principal propositions which indicate the points on which they coincide:
1. Make something new of repetition itself: connect it with a test, with a selection or selective test; make it the supreme object of the will and of freedom. Kierkegaard specifies that it is not a matter of drawing something new from repetition, of extracting something new from it. Only contemplation or the mind which contemplates from without 'extracts'. It is rather a matter of acting, of making repetition as such a novelty; that is, a freedom and a task of freedom. In the case of Nietzsche: liberate the will from everything which binds it by making repetition the very object of willing. No doubt it is repetition which already binds; but if we die of repetition we are also saved and healed by it - healed, above all, by the other repetition. The whole mystical game of loss and salvation is therefore contained in repetition, along with the whole theatrical game of life and death and the whole positive game of illness and health (d. Zarathustra ill and Zarathustra convalescent by virtue of one and the same power which is that of repetition in the eternal return).
2. In consequence, oppose repetition to the laws of nature. Kierkegaard declares that he does not speak at all of repetition in nature, of cycles and seasons, exchanges and equalities. Furthermore, if repetition concerns the most interior element of the will, this is because everything changes around the will, in accordance with the law of nature. According to the law of nature, repetition is impossible. For this reason, Kierkegaard condemns as aesthetic repetition every attempt to obtain repetition from the laws of nature by identifying with the legislative principle, whether in the Epicurean or the Stoic manner. It will be said that the situation is not so clear with Nietzsche. Nietzsche's declarations are nevertheless explicit. If he discovers repetition in the Physis itself, this is because he discovers in the Physis something superior to the reign of laws: a will willing itself through all change, a power opposed to law, an interior of the earth opposed to the laws of its surface. Nietzsche opposes 'his' hypothesis to the cyclical hypothesis. He conceives of repetition in the eternal return as Being, but he opposes this being to every legal form, to the being-similar as much as to the being-equal. How could the thinker who goes furthest in criticising the notion of law reintroduce eternal return as a law of nature? How could such a connoisseur of the Greeks be justified in regarding his own thought as prodigious and new, if he were content to formulate that natural platitude, that generality regarding nature well known to the Ancients? On two occasions, Zarathustra corrects erroneous interpretations of the eternal return: with anger, directed at his demon ('Spirit of Gravity ... do not treat this too lightly'); with kindness, directed at his animals ('0 buffoons and barrel-organs ... you have already made a refrain out of it'). The refrain is the eternal return as cycle or circulation, as being-similar and being-equalin short, as natural animal certitude and as sensible law of nature.
3. Oppose repetition to moral law, to the point where it becomes the suspension of ethics, a thought beyond good and evil. Repetition appears as the logos of the solitary and the singular, the logos of the 'private thinker'. Both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche develop the opposition between the private thinker, the thinker-comet and bearer of repetition, and the public professor and doctor of law, whose second-hand discourse proceeds by mediation and finds its moralising source in the generality of concepts (d. Kierkegaard against Hegel, Nietzsche against Kant and Hegel; and from this point of view, Peguy against the Sorbonne). Job is infinite contestation and Abraham infinite resignation, but these are one and the same thing. Job challenges the law in an ironic manner, refusing all second-hand explanations and dismissing the general in order to reach the most singular as principle or as universal. Abraham submits humorously to the law, but finds in that submission precisely the singularity of his only son whom the law commanded him to sacrifice. As Kierkegaard understands it, repetition is the transcendent correlate shared by the psychical intentions of contestation and resignation. (We rediscover the two aspects in Peguy's doubling of Joan of Arc and Gervaise.) In Nietzsche's striking atheism, hatred of the law and amor fati (love of fate), aggression and acquiescence are the two faces of Zarathustra, gathered from the Bible and turned back against it. Further, in a certain sense one can see Zarathustra's moral test of repetition as competing with Kant. The eternal return says: whatever you will, will it in such a manner that you also will its eternal return. There is a 'formalism' here which overturns Kant on his own ground, a test which goes further since, instead of relating repetition to a supposed moral law, it seems to make repetition itself the only form of a law beyond morality. In reality, however, things are even more complicated. The form of repetition in the eternal return is the brutal form of the immediate, that of the universal and the singular reunited, which dethrones every general law, dissolves the mediations and annihilates the particulars subjected to the law. Just as irony and black humour are combined in Zarathustra, so there is a within-the-Iaw and a beyond-the-law united in the eternal return.
4. Oppose repetition not only to the generalities of habit but also to the particularities of memory. For it is perhaps habit which manages to 'draw' something new from a repetition contemplated from without. With habit, we act only on the condition that there is a little Self within us which contemplates: it is this which extracts the new -in other words, the general - from the pseudo-repetition of particular cases. Memory, then, perhaps recovers the particulars dissolved in generality. These psychological movements are of little consequence: for both Nietzsche and Kierkegaard they fade away in the face of repetition proposed as the double condemnation of habit and memory. In this way, repetition is the thought of the future: it is opposed to both the ancient category of reminiscence and the modern category of habitus. It is in repetition and by repetition that Forgetting becomes a positive power while the unconscious becomes a positive and superior unconscious (for example, forgetting as a force is an integral part of the lived experience of eternal return). Everything is summed up in power. When Kierkegaard speaks of repetition as the second power of consciousness, 'second' means not a second time but the infinite which belongs to a single time, the eternity which belongs to an instant, the unconscious which belongs to consciousness, the 'nth' power. And when Nietzsche presents the eternal return as the immediate expression of the will to power, will to power does not at all mean 'to want power' but, on the contrary: whatever you will, carry it to the 'nth' power - in other words, separate out the superior form by virtue of the selective operation of thought in the eternal return, by virtue of the singularity of repetition in the eternal return itself. Here, in the superior form of everything that is, we find the immediate identity of the eternal return and the Overman.
We are not suggesting any resemblance whatsoever between Nietzsche's Dionysus and Kierkegaard's God. On the contrary, we believe that the difference is insurmountable. But this is all the more reason to ask why their coincidence concerning this fundamental objective, the theme of repetition, even though they understand this objective differently? Kierkegaard and Nietzsche are among those who bring to philosophy new means of expression. In relation to them we speak readily of an overcoming of philosophy. Furthermore, in all their work, movement is at issue. Their objection to Hegel is that he does not go beyond false movement - in other words, the abstract logical movement of 'mediation'. They want to put metaphysics in motion, in action. They want to make it act, and make it carry out immediate acts. It is not enough, therefore, for them to propose a new representation of movement; representation is already mediation. Rather, it is a question of producing within the work a movement capable of affecting the mind outside of all representation; it is a question of making movement itself a work, without interposition; of substituting direct signs for mediate representations; of inventing vibrations, rotations, whirlings, gravitations, dances or leaps which directly touch the mind. This is the idea of a man of the theatre, the idea of a director before his time. In this sense, something completely new begins with Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. They no longer reflect on the theatre in the Hegelian manner. Neither do they set up a philosophical theatre. They invent an incredible equivalent of theatre within philosophy, thereby founding simultaneously this theatre of the future and a new philosophy. It will be said that, at least from the point of view of theatre, there was no production: neither the profession of priest and Copenhagen around 1840, nor the break with Wagner and Bayreuth, was a favourable condition. One thing, however, is certain: when Kierkegaard speaks of ancient theatre and modern drama, the environment has already changed; we are no longer in the element of reflection. We find here a thinker who lives the problem of masks, who experiences the inner emptiness of masks and seeks to fill it, to complete it, albeit with the 'absolutely different' -that is, by putting into it all the difference between the finite and the infinite, thereby creating the idea of a theatre of humour and of faith. When Kierkegaard explains that the knight of faith so resembles a bourgeois in his Sunday best as to be capable of being mistaken for one, this philosophical instruction must be taken as the remark of a director showing how the knight of faith should be played. And when he comments on Job or Abraham, when he imagines the variations of Agnes and the Triton, he rewrites the tale in a manner which is clearly that of a scenario. Mozart's music resonates even in Abraham and Job; it is a matter of 'leaping' to the tune of this music. 'I look only at movements' is the language of a director who poses the highest theatrical problem, the problem of a movement which would directly touch the soul, which would be that of the soul.
Even more so with Nietzsche. The Birth of Tragedy is not a reflection on ancient theatre so much as the practical foundation of a theatre of the future, the opening up of a path along which Nietzsche still thinks it possible to push Wagner. The break with Wagner is not a matter of theory, nor of music; it concerns the respective roles of text, history, noise, music, light, song, dance and decor in this theatre of which Nietzsche dreams. Zarathustra incorporates the two attempts at dramatizing Empedocles. Moreover, if Bizet is better than Wagner, it is from the point of view of theatre and for Zarathustra's dances. Nietzsche's reproach to Wagner is that he inverted and distorted 'movement', giving us a nautical theatre in which we must paddle and swim rather than one in which we can walk and dance. Zarathustra is conceived entirely within philosophy, but also entirely for the stage. Everything in it is scored and visualised, put in motion and made to walk or dance. How can it be read without searching for the exact sound of the cries of the higher man, how can the prologue be read without staging the episode of the tightrope walker which opens the whole story? At certain moments, it is a comic opera about terrible things; and it is not by chance that Nietzsche speaks of the comic character of the Overman. Remember the song of Ariadne from the mouth of the old Sorcerer: here, two masks are superimposed - that of a young woman, almost of a Kore, which has just been laid over the mask of a repugnant old man. The actor must play the role of an old man playing the role of the Kore. Here too, for Nietzsche, it is a matter of filling the inner emptiness of the mask within a theatrical space: by multiplying the superimposed masks and inscribing the omnipresence of Dionysus in that superimposition, by inserting both the infinity of real movement and the form of the absolute difference given in the repetition of eternal return. When Nietzsche says that the Overman resembles Borgia rather than Parsifal, or when he suggests that the Overman belongs at once to both the Jesuit Order and the Pruss ian officer corps, we can understand these texts only by taking them for what they are: the remarks of a director indicating how the Overman should be 'played'.
An excerpt from introduction to the Book: Difference and Repetition by Gilles Deleuze
from Nova Express by William S. Burroughs
Listen to my last words anywhere. Listen to my last words any world. Listen all you boards syndicates and governments of the earth. And you powers behind what filth deals consummated in what lavatory to take what is not yours. To sell the ground from unborn feet forever—
“Don’t let them see us. Don’t tell them what we are doing—”
Are these the words of the all-powerful boards and syndicates of the earth?
“For God’s sake don’t let that Coca-Cola thing out—
“Not The Cancer Deal with The Venusians—”
“Not The Green Deal—Don’t show them that—”
“Not The Orgasm Death—”
“Not the ovens—”
Listen: I call you all. Show your cards all players. Pay it all pay it all pay it all back. Play it all pay it all play it all back. For all to see. In Times Square. In Piccadilly.
"Premature. Premature. Give us a little more time."
Time for what? More lies? Premature? Premature for who? I say to all these words are not premature. These words may be too late. Minutes to go. Minutes to foe goal—
“Top Secret—Classified—For The Board—The Elite—The Initiates—”
Are these the words of the all-powerful boards and syndicates of the earth? These are the words of liars cowards collaborators traitors. Liars who want time for more lies. Cowards who can not face your “dogs” your “gooks” your “errand boys” your “human animals” with the truth. Collaborators with Insect People with Vegetable People. With any people anywhere who offer you a body forever. To shit forever. For this you have sold out your sons. Sold the ground from unborn feet forever. Traitors to all souls everywhere. You want the name of Hassan i Sabbah on your filth deeds to sell out the unborn?
What scared you all into time? Into body? Into shit? I will tell you: “the word.” Alien Word “the.” “The” word of Alien Enemy imprisons “thee” in Time. In Body. In Shit. Prisoner, come out. The great skies are open. I Hassan i Sabbah rub out the word forever. If you I cancel all your words forever. And the words of Hassan i Sabbah as also cancel. Cross all your skies see the silent writing of Brion Gysin Hassan i Sabbah: drew September 17, 1899, over New York.
excerpt from Nova Express by William S. Burroughs
An Interview with Paul Virilio by Bertrand Richard
"Terror is the realization of the law of movement."
Bertrand Richard: Paul Virilio, what do you mean by "administration of fear"? The expression seems to have a paranoid, Orwellian connotation and I would like to begin our conversation with it.
Paul Virilio: When you and I began to discuss the project of doing this interview, the tide, The Administration of Fear, sprang to mind right away as a direct echo of the title of Graham Greene's well-known book, The Ministry of Fear. As you know, the novelist portrays London under the devastation of the German blitz in the Second World War. Greene's protagonist fights members of the Fifth Column, Nazis disguised as ordinary Londoners fighting a merciless war against the British from the inside. I lived through the ministry of fear as a child in Nantes after witnessing the Debacle; the Fifth Column, which had been formed during the Spanish Civil War, was omnipresent in everyone's thoughts and conversations. The presence of this sometimes imagined army of "saboteurs" and "traitors against the Nation" turned every neighbor, priest and shopkeeper into a potential enemy. The idea behind the Fifth Column was to sow panic; its message and power to create fear could be stated as: "We are not there, but we are already among you." We had had a first-hand experience of the Blitzkrieg, the lightning war. Nantes, 1940: one morning, we were informed that the Germans were in Orleans; at noon, we heard the sound of German trucks rolling through the streets. We had never seen anything like it. We had been living with memories of the First World War, a conflict that stretched out endlessly in time and between the positions occupied by the combatants-a war of attrition. Thirty years later, it only took a few hours for our city to be occupied.
It is important to understand that occupation is both physical and mental (preoccupation). I use the expression "administration of fear" to refer to two things. First, that fear is now an environment, a surrounding, a world. It occupies and preoccupies us. Fear was once a phenomenon related to localized, identifiable events that were limited to a certain timeframe: wars, famines, epidemics. Today, the world itself is limited, saturated, reduced, restricting us to stressful claustrophobia: contagious stock crises, faceless terrorism, lightning pandemics, "professional" suicides (think of France Telecom, but we will come back to them). Fear is a world, panic as a "whole."
The administration of fear also means that States are tempted to create policies for the orchestration and management of fear. Globalization has progressively eaten away at the traditional prerogatives of States (most notably of the Welfare State), and they have to convince citizens that they can ensure their physical safety. A dual health and security ideology has been established, and it represents a real threat to democracy. That is a brief explanation of my choice.
Bertrand Richard: Can you elaborate on the connection between occupation (with fear representing the occupier today) and the notion of speed that you mentioned in relation to the Blitzkrieg of 1940?
Paul Virilio: What is a Blitzkrieg? It is a military and technological phenomenon that occupies you in the blink of an eye, leaving you dumbfounded, mesmerized. It is also a phenomenon that introduced the extraordinary moment known as the Occupation. As you know, I think about speed, about speed that becomes increasingly faster through technological progress, with which it combines to form what I call a "dromosphere." I am convinced that just as speed led to the Germans' incredible domination over continental Europe in 1940, fear and its administration are now supported by the incredible spread of realtime technology, especially the new ICT or new information and communications technologies. This technological progress has been accompanied by real propaganda, notably in the way the media covers the new creations presented by Steve Jobs, Apple's all-powerful CEO. This combination of techno-scientific domination and propaganda reproduces all of the characteristics of occupation, both physically and mentally.
Bertrand Richard: To continue the analogy, can we also see phenomena of resistance and collaboration today?
Paul Virilio: To be a collaborator, there has to be an occupation, either intellectual (a preoccupation) or physical; the same is true for resistance fighters. During the Second World War, we were in the presence of a trinity: Occupation, Resistance and Collaboration. We can only understand the nature of fear within the complexity of an imposed situation like this. It was hard for me to understand as a child because we saw the enemy every day. They ate Lu cookies in the streets of Nantes; they bought meat at the same butcher shop as my mother; the ones who were bombarding and killing us were in fact our allies.
Bertrand Richard: If I follow you, you mean that the administration of fear is also a problem of identity, and of identifying danger?
Paul Virilio: Yes, it is a problem of identity in the proximity and interpenetration of different realities. Realities that can no longer be imagined in their conflict, which we imitated in our games as children, putting toy bayonets on our rifles to play Verdun-tragic but clear situations-but in their proximity. When I read Graham Greene's book, I found the expression "ministry of fear" to be particularly well chosen because it carries the administrative aspect of fear and describes it like a State. When you are occupied, fear is a State in the sense of a public power imposing a false and terrifying reality.
Bertrand Richard: Why "false"?
Paul Virilio: False because no one is inherently a collaborator, especially as a child, no more than anyone, is inherently a resistance fighter, even though the moral reality imposed on us follows this bipartition. For a child, an adult is at first surrounded by an aura of authority, no matter where he or she is from. Reality first appears as a trick. That is why I am sensitive to the current situation of the acceleration of reality. Not an "augmented" reality as the virtualists say but an accelerated reality, which is not the same thing. There is something at play here causing fear to become a constitutive element of life, relating it to the world of phenomena. And giving it a relationship with the world, a distorted relationship with Being-inthe-world. I am a phenomenologist, so I look back on a distorted world because the child that I once was lived in a world where you could not trust adults, which was very traumatic.
Reality also appeared distorted on the level of physical fear: you could be killed by people who lived nearby and who appeared to be normal human beings, since we were in France and not in Poland where atrocities like the Warsaw ghetto were taking place. The occupiers were "normal" up until the head of the Kommandantur was assassinated in Nantes and the reprisals turned violent-I'm thinking of the prisoners executed at Chateaubriant, including Guy Moquet. The city was then in a state of siege and a curfew was imposed starting at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. Fear became physical, the fear of imminent death. Then, a few years later, we were subjected to extremely heavy Allied bombardments. Our allies were killing us and we saw truckloads of legless bodies, eviscerated torsos, decapitated heads drive past to the Saint-Jacques Hospital. The administration of fear is on both sides: it is an environment.
Bertrand Richard: What happens to individual courage when fear is environmental and collective?
Paul Virilio: For a young boy like myself, fear was a question of who was strongest and the question was limited to individual courage, skill and strength. But with the shelling and hostage taking, fear took hold of everyone, including the adults. Every building was shaking with fear. We were faced with collective fear, and it is impossible for children to be courageous in a time of collective terror, except by embracing sacrificial ideologies like patriotism or the kamikaze. What can be done with collective fear? It is a question of speed, which is essential to my work as a planner and philosopher. There was the Blitzkrieg and then the war of the radio waves. The speed of radio waves for communication and fighting immediately took on new importance on June 18, 1940 with General De Gaulle's call to arms. And it all took place in the same town, in the same street, in Nantes.
Bertrand Richard: The reality you describe appears to be chaotic and indistinct. There is no distinction between things-it is a real hodge-podge. Is this an early farm of jean Baudrillard's "viral process of indistinction"? And how does one develop a capacity far judgment when things are so mixed up?
Paul Virilio: First by taking refuge at the heart of the microcollectivity of the family, then the building or the town. They allow children to situate themselves. Towns are more protected than cities because the countryside is more isolated and occupied less strictly. Living in the countryside means being more in the resistance because there is less control. I lived for a time in Vertou, in 1943-44, in the Loire-Atlantique near Nantes: it was there that we met members of the Resistance. Getting outside the administration of fear took place in communities, first in families and then in villages. I sketched the anti-tank fortifications located south of Nantes in my school notebook and passed them on to the resistance.
Bertrand Richard: Isn't it inappropriate to use the same expression "administration of fear"far both the tragic historical events of the Second World War and what we Westerners are experiencing today, facing considerable challenges but in a relatively protected and prosperous position? In short, can't you be accused of being overly dramatic?
Paul Virilio: I don't think so. To explain myself, I would like to refer to a phrase from one of the most eminent post-war thinkers, Hannah Arendt. In other words, Hannah Arendt has had a much greater influence on contemporary thought than Martin Heidegger. With the philosopher Gunther Anders, her first husband, she revealed the shock and the nature of the totalitarian phenomenon. She is its most incisive philosopher and theorist, especially when she states in The Origins of Totalitarianism that "Terror is the realization of the law of movement." For someone like me who lived through the Blitzkrieg and the war of the radio waves, it is dear that terror is not simply an emotional and psychological phenomenon but a physical one as well in the sense of physics and kinetics, a phenomenon related to what I call the "acceleration of reality." Arendt uses the expression "law of movement" to refer to the fact that there is no relationship to terror without a relationship to life and speed. Terror cuts to the quick: it is connected to life and quickness through technology. You can see it in the image of a gazelle using its agility to escape a lion.
Speed is a significant phenomenon that became my life's work. The "law of movement" theorized by Arendt is the law of speed. Soon after celebrating the end of the war, a "balance" of terror was established between the Western and Eastern Blocs, a reciprocal immobilization, suspended speed. After experiencing the wars of direct confrontation symbolized by Verdun and Stalingrad, we came into the idea of massive dissuasion with Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We lived under this regime of a balance of terror for almost forty years. The first real and symbolic explosion in Hiroshima opened the space of cosmic fear.
Bertrand Richard: "Balance of terror" is an "unbalanced" expression. It makes security the "offipring of terror" to use philosopher Jean-Pierre Dupuy's expression. Fear as a generating principle. How can we think this incongruity?
Paul Virilio: This "incongruity," as you say, is at the heart of the administration of fear. The "balance of terror" was first and foremost, concretely, a military balance based on the arms industry and the scientific complex. Let's remember that science started to become militarized in World War I with chemical warfare but was only truly militarized with the H-bomb, which was on an entirely different level as an absolute weapon. We must see reality as it is. Since Hiroshima, Western democracies and the USSR, followed by Russia, and the rest of the world by means of diplomatic alliances and preferences, have lived with a military regime overshadowing political life. We can graciously recognize that this would be in democracy's interest if it wanted to be preserved, but we must also admit that it created a politically uncomfortable situation. It is even politically incorrect because democracy, under this military-scientific regime, can only survive in an illusory and very partial manner. And I will remind you that the reason we did not have an atomic war is due more to a miracle of history than the supposed virtues of mutual dissuasion. Take the Cuban Missile Crisis. Arthur Schlesinger, Kennedy's advisor at the time, said that it was not only the most dangerous time of the Cold War but the most dangerous time in the history of humanity. It was two minutes to midnight on the Doomsday Clock, the timepiece invented in 1947 by physicists who were shocked by the atomic bombs dropped on Japan.
Bertrand Richard: Robert McNamara, military adviser during the war in the Pacific and later Secretary of Defense under Kennedy, even said "We lucked out. "
Paul Virilio: Yes, but political reality is rigged by military power. The military-industrial complex took control in the end. When he left the White House, Eisenhower, a specialist in military logistics, warned against the military-industrial complex and its increasing hold over all levels of decision making, and against the fact that it was becoming a univocal filter for reading the contemporary world. And Eisenhower knew just how much it threatened democracy.
Bertrand Richard: In using the expression "military-industrial complex," you have no hesitation in sharing terminology favored by conspiracy theorists?
Paul Virilio: I am not a conspiracy theorist; I only describe logics. This complex started to become dominant with the bomb because it took hold of science and contaminated it. To be precise, however, the word "scientific" is missing from the expression "military-industrial complex." No political philosophy emerged to counterbalance, manage or channel this ideological and logistical complex. To understand it, I think we need to remember how a major, historic rendezvous in the history of ideas was missed. In fact, in the early 20th century, the question of the relationship between philosophy and science became frayed: a misunderstanding occurred between two leading thinkers. The intellectual encounter between Henri Bergson, the theorist of duration, and Albert Einstein, the inventor of relativity, did not work. The two thinkers, both Jewish, both geniuses, were not able to understand each other when they met in Paris. Bergson did not interpret relativity in the same way as Einstein: he understood it from the perspective of the feeling of immediacy and the experience of time, not from the perspective of physics. Neither as special relativity, with the question of the respective position of two observers placed in situations of relative movement, nor from the point of view of the curve of space-time in general relativity. For me, this is the domination of the military-industrial complex: it is all the more frightening for political philosophy today because this philosophy has not thought about speed or speed articulated in space.
Bertrand Richard: In terms of concrete political philosophy, what did we miss in the unproductive dialogue between Bergson and Einstein?
Paul Virilio: The source of the misunderstanding between Bergson and Einstein was mainly the fact that the philosopher was talking about "vif"[vivid, lively] and the physicist was talking about "vite"[quick] and "vide"[vacuum] which have scientific validity but lead people to be anxious about life, towards doubt and the relativity oflife. It was a space-time that had until then escaped immediate consciousness; temporal compression crushed the euphoria of progress. Phenomenology, which could be hastily described as the science of phenomena as they are perceived by the consciousness, was caught short, and I am using this expression on purpose. I am a phenomenologist, a Bergsonian and Husserlian. Bergsonian because of the attention to the living; Husserlian because of the attention he gave to thinking our habitat, the Earth, as the space in and through which we experience our own body, most notably in one of his posthumous works "Overthrow of the Copernican theory in usual interpretation of a world view. The original ark, Earth, does not move." [TN-published in English under the title "Foundational Investigations of the Phenomenological Origin of the Spatiality of Nature"] Husserl asserted the inertia of being in the world, which makes it a world and not a flux. Today, the inertia of the instant (simultaneity of communications) dominates the inertia of place (sedentariness) and phenomenology has been caught short by the notion of speed, despite the "intuition of the instant" by Gaston Bachelard. Phenomenology has been unable to explain that speed is not a phenomenon but the relationship between phenomena. Speed is relativity and relativity is politics! To explain: ancient societies had varied and diverse chrono-politics: calendarial, liturgical, natural (the seasons), civil or religious (holidays), professional, with the rhythms of farmers and then craftspeople, etc. In the 20th century, we discovered and used the instantaneity offered by the absolute speed of waves: at this precise moment, philosophy was left behind. I was friends with Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari and we often remarked that the lack of a political economy of speed to follow the traditional political economy of wealth was and still remains the great drama of political thought. The administration of time and tempo escapes us. Tempo and rhythm. Dromology, the science of movement and speed, has therefore always been a musicology for me. My master, Vladimir Jankelevitch, was a prominent musicologist. Dromology is a question of rhythm, of the variety of rhythms, of chronodiversity. You can see that what I am trying to think about has nothing to do with deciding whether or not to decrease or increase the speed of the TGV. I am not part of an Ancients vs. Moderns debate between technophiles and technophobes. The stakes are on a completely different level: it is the question of the diversity of rhythms. Our societies have become arrhythmic. Or they only know one rhythm: constant acceleration. Until the crash and systemic failure.
Bertrand Richard: Yet we are in an era of the balance of terror. Atomic weapons still exist, but their proliferation is relatively limited and slow, at a rate that the researcher Bruno Tertrais estimates to be approximately one new nuclear power every five or six years since the end of the 1940s. And the two blocs no longer exist. Isn't that enough for fear to ebb?
Paul Virilio: No, because the first, largely unthought sequence constituted by the balance of terror, was followed by a second sequence characterized by the imbalance of "terrorist" terror. This is the key factor in the spread of contemporary terror. It is an imbalance because the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction has spread beyond the sphere of dissuasion between the blocs to threaten world peace (in particular, by means of radiological weapons, which are relatively more accessible than nuclear devices and can still render cities uninhabitable for a century). The initial events of this new phase called the "imbalance of terror" are of course the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York, followed three years later by the attack at Atocha Station in Madrid and then in London. How should we define the imbalance of terror? As the possibility for a single individual to cause as much damage as an absolute weapon. It is also the "making of fear" in the literal sense of the word, which is what terrorism does. The weapons are not necessarily sophisticated, but they are volatile, movable and frighteningly effective. The possibility of a total war caused by a single individual is frightening because it changes the traditional relationships of force as they have been experienced throughout most of human history. It has caused panic not only on the individual level but also a political panic that has lost all sense of scale, especially in the United States.
Bertrand Richard: You are thinking of Donald Rumsfeld when he said that "the war on terror will be won when Americans and their children can again feel safe. " The American political scientist Benjamin R. Barber's response was that "no American child may feel safe in his or her bed if in Karachi and Baghdad, children don't feel safe in theirs. "
Paul Virilio: Yes, speed causes anxiety by the abolition of space or more precisely by the failure of collective thinking on real space because relativity was never truly understood or secularized. It is why Francis Fukuyama was wrong in predicting the end of history. First of all, because there is something unnecessarily apocalyptic about his prognosis; second, because history continues with the march of time and human action; and third, because Fukuyama was misleading us and causing us to waste time. The question is not the end of history but the end of geography. My work on speed and relativity led me to suggest the notion of a "gray ecology" on the occasion of the Rio summit on the environment in 1992. Why "gray"? More than just a reference to Hegel's "gray ontology," it was a way for me to say that if green ecology deals with the pollution of flora, fauna and the atmosphere, or in fact with Nature and Substance, then gray ecology deals with the pollution of distance, of the life-size aspect of places and time measurement. Almost twenty years later, I fear that we have not made any further progress in understanding this pollution or the ways to reduce it.Yes, speed causes anxiety by the abolition of space or more precisely by the failure of collective thinking on real space because relativity was never truly understood or secularized. It is why Francis Fukuyama was wrong in predicting the end of history. First of all, because there is something unnecessarily apocalyptic about his prognosis; second, because history continues with the march of time and human action; and third, because Fukuyama was misleading us and causing us to waste time. The question is not the end of history but the end of geography. My work on speed and relativity led me to suggest the notion of a "gray ecology" on the occasion of the Rio summit on the environment in 1992. Why "gray"? More than just a reference to Hegel's "gray ontology," it was a way for me to say that if green ecology deals with the pollution of flora, fauna and the atmosphere, or in fact with Nature and Substance, then gray ecology deals with the pollution of distance, of the life-size aspect of places and time measurement. Almost twenty years later, I fear that we have not made any further progress in understanding this pollution or the ways to reduce it. True, but these two statements reveal the failure of the war on terror. Between them, the outraged and outrageous political reactions of neoconservative America and Great Britain have multiplied. The second Iraq War that removed Saddam Hussein revealed the grotesque face of a response that was literally a misstep, one war late and one terror removed. When you realize that a person can get on an airplane with explosives while his father is warning the CIA of his dangerousness and radicalization, it says a great deal about the means being deployed and the nature of the threat.
The imbalance of terror has also taken an apocalyptic slant, in the religious sense of the word, a "revelation" in the extremely suggestive combination of man-made events and acts of nature, some of which come from what I would call the "ecological bomb." The major biblical myths were realized and concentrated in the first decade of the 21st century. Babel, with the collapse of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center; the Flood with the combination of the tsunami in December 2004 and Katrina in 2005; and then the Exodus today with the probable submersion of coastal regions caused by the rising seas of global warming. I call it an ecological bomb in reference to the atomic bomb. I should also mention a second type, which is intimately connected to this time of the imbalance of terror. It is no longer atomic and not yet ecological but informational. This bomb comes from instantaneous means of communication and in particular the transmission of information. It plays a prominent role in establishing fear as a global environment, because it allows the synchronization of emotion on a global scale. Because of the absolute speed of electromagnetic waves, the same feeling of terror can be felt in all corners of the world at the same time. It is not a localized bomb: it explodes each second, with the news of an attack, a natural disaster, a health scare, a malicious rumor. It creates a "community of emotions," a communism of affects coming after the communism of the "community of interests" shared by different social classes. There is something in the synchronization of emotion that surpasses the power of standardization of opinion that was typical of the mass media in the second half of the 20th century. With the industrial revolution of the second half of the 19th century, the democracy of opinions flourished through the press, pamphlets and then the mass media-press, radio and television. This first regime consisted of the standardization of products and opinions. The second, current regime is comprised of the synchronization of emotions, ensuring the transition from a democracy of opinion to a democracy of emotion. For better or for worse. On the positive side, there are the examples of spontaneous generosity following disasters of all types; on the negative side, there is the instantaneous terror caused by an attack or a pandemic and the shortterm political actions that are taken in response. This shift is a significant event that places the emphasis on real time, on the live feed, instead of real space. And because the philosophical revolution of relativity did not take place, we have been unable to conceive of every space as a space-time: the real space of geography is connected to the real time of human action. With the phenomena of instantaneous interaction that are now our lot, there has been a veritable reversal, destabilizing the relationship of human interactions, and the time reserved for reflection, in favor of the conditioned responses produced by emotion. Thus the theoretical possibility of generalized panic. This is the second major explosion of the relationship with reality.
Bertrand Richard: In your opinion, then, fear is the product of speed, which causes anxiety by the abolition of space, but is also amplified and vectorized by it.
Paul Virilio: Yes, speed causes anxiety by the abolition of space or more precisely by the failure of collective thinking on real space because relativity was never truly understood or secularized. It is why Francis Fukuyama was wrong in predicting the end of history. First of all, because there is something unnecessarily apocalyptic about his prognosis; second, because history continues with the march of time and human action; and third, because Fukuyama was misleading us and causing us to waste time. The question is not the end of history but the end of geography. My work on speed and relativity led me to suggest the notion of a "gray ecology" on the occasion of the Rio summit on the environment in 1992. Why "gray"? More than just a reference to Hegel's "gray ontology," it was a way for me to say that if green ecology deals with the pollution of flora, fauna and the atmosphere, or in fact with Nature and Substance, then gray ecology deals with the pollution of distance, of the life-size aspect of places and time measurement. Almost twenty years later, I fear that we have not made any further progress in understanding this pollution or the ways to reduce it.
Bertrand Richard: Do you mean a disappearance of reality, and do you agree here with Baudrillard and his theory of simulacra? I am thinking of his polemical article post-September 11 where he claimed that the iconographic power of the towers collapsing was such that it would cover up the event itself.
Paul Virilio: More than Baudrillard, whose conclusions on simulacra I do not share, I would prefer to mention the book by Daniel Halevy published in 1947 called Essay on the Acceleration of History. In my opinion, we have left the acceleration of history and entered the acceleration of reality. When we speak of live events, of real time, we are talking about the acceleration of reality and not the acceleration of history. The classical definition of the acceleration of history is the passage from horses to trains, from trains to propeller planes and from planes to jet aircraft. They are within speeds that are controlled and controllable. They can be managed politically such that a political economy can be created to govern them. The current era is marked by the acceleration of reality: we have reached the limits of instantaneity, the limits of human thought and time.
Bertrand Richard: The loss of place is joined by the loss of the body?
Paul Virilio: Yes, and people are required to transfer their power of decision to automatic responses that can function at the immobile speed of instantaneity. The acceleration of reality is a significant mutation in History. Take the economy, for example. The economic crash that we experienced in 2007-2008 was a systemic crash with a history, a history going back to the early 1980s when global stock exchanges were first connected in real time. This connection, called "Program Trading," also had another, highly suggestive name: the "Big Bang'' of the markets. A first crash in 1987 confirmed and concretized the impossibility of managing this speed. The crash in 2008, which was partially caused by "flash trading," or very fast computerized listings done on the same computers as those used in national defense.
Insider trading could occur very quickly. In fact, the shared time of financial information no longer exists; it has been replaced by the speed of computerized tools in a time that cannot be shared by everyone and does not allow real competition between operators. We are witnessing the end of the shared human time that would allow competition between operators having to reveal their perspective and anticipation (competition that is vital for capitalism to function) in favor of a nano-chronological time that ipso facto eliminates those stock exchanges that do not possess the same computer technology: automatic speculation in the futurism of the instant. This insider trading is an anamorphosis of time that has yet to be analyzed and sanctioned. Regulation becomes impossible because of this escape into the acceleration of reality. We can see how the absence of a political economy of speed is now literally causing not capitalism but turbo-capitalism to explode because it is caught at the limits of the acceleration of reality. I know that the current systemic crash, with the collapse of the housing bubble in 2007, is more complex and is leading us to rethink the relationship to value and accounting norms; however, the short-termism is obvious. The dilemma is that science itself has been deeply affected. Our reality has become uninhabitable in milliseconds, picoseconds, femtoseconds, billionths of seconds.
Bertrand Richard: In an infinitely reduced space-time, does fear become fear of the lack of space, claustrophobia?
Paul Virilio: Fear, as a product of spatio-temporal contraction, has paradoxically become cosmic. It was already cosmic at the time of the balance of terror. Now it has become cosmic in the sense of space-time: fear now covers the relationship to the universal. The universal was fundamentally peaceful as it was understood in the Enlightenment and JudeoChristian thought. Panic has now become something mystical. For example, do you remember how the end of communism saw the rise of a movement that had gone unnoticed: "cosmism"? Leonid Plioutch, a dissident, wanted to write a book on this phenomenon and on the Moscow philosophers who worked on it. Cosmism was the chimerical and expansionist desire to perpetuate the communist ideal in universal space as it was opened by the conquest of space. In the same way, with the crisis of capitalism, we can see how a "cosmic-theism" has developed with the same mystical fantasies. German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, whom I admire, has done significant work on this subject and has even developed a philosophy of the space station. I see it as no more and no less than another example of contemporary illuminism. The current crisis is an anthropological crisis. Literally. Hegel's "beautiful totality" is becoming the "awful globality'' of the ecological crisis.
Bertrand Richard: Isn't this fear the fear of losing reality, along with any control over it?
Paul Virilio: Derealization is no more and no less than the result of progress. The defense of augmented reality, which is the ritual response of progress propaganda, is in fact a derealization induced by the success of the progress in acceleration and the law of movement that we mentioned at the start of this interview. This continual increase in speed has led to the development of a megaloscopy which has caused a real infirmity because it reduces the field of vision. The faster we go, the more we look ahead in anticipation and lose our lateral vision. Screens are like windshields in a car: with increased speed, we lose the sense of lateralization, which is an infirmity in our being in the world, its richness, its relief, its depth of field. We have invented glasses to see in three dimensions while we are in the process of losing our lateralization, our natural stereo-reality. Augmented reality is a fool's game, a televisual glaucoma. Screens have become blind. Lateral vision is very important and it is not by chance that animals' eyes are situated on the sides of their head. Their survival depends on anticipating surprise, and surprises never come head-on. Predators come from the back or the sides. There is a loss of the visual field and the anticipation of what really surrounds us.
Yet this situation is not fatal. It would be if we pay no attention to it and speed is still not taken into account with wealth. I have always thought that political economy was invented by physiocrats, men of the body, human, humus, and hygiene. We lack a political economy of speed. I am not an economist, but one thing is clear: we will need one, or we will fall into globalitarianism, the "totalitarianism of totalitarianism." As a reminder, I believe that the mastery of power is linked to the mastery of speed. A world of immediacy and simultaneity would be absolutely uninhabitable.
Bertrand Richard: How can a body or density remain in a purely informational logic? Do you share the idea that progress has something to do with our fate, which is to be unable to resist it?
Paul Virilio: We must be able to dominate the domination of progress. There is a distinction between progress and propaganda. Speed, the cult of speed, is the propaganda of progress. The problem is that progress has become contaminated with its propaganda. The computer bomb exploded progress in its materiality, its substance in the sense of reality, geopolitics, temporal relationships, rhythm. To be clear, my fight is against the propaganda of progress and not against progress itself. I remember reading Signal during the Occupation; it was a newspaper that promoted the occupiers. I remember it very clearly: the power of domination and, moreover, the will to convince others of its merits had something very contemporary about it. Today, propaganda has replaced progress. In the word propaganda, we can recognize "propagation." In religious faith, there is propaganda fide, the spread of the catholic faith under the direction of the department of pontifical administration. Propagation and faith are of the same nature. Propaganda and faith are not of the same nature.
Bertrand Richard: Propagandists and proselytizers are not the same ...
Paul Virilio: Exactly. And propaganda comes directly from the fact that we did not take into account the phenomena of relativity that we have been talking about from the beginning. The damage of progress is the damage caused by propaganda. I have always said that I am not against new technologies; I am only against promoting them. How can we not be alarmed by the media storm that erupts with each new product released by the company with an apple as its logo? The media provides free promotion and participates in the mass illuminism which is at a far remove from information. It explains how augmented reality (the computerized technology that allows virtual images to be superposed onto natural perception) is passed off as progress in itself. Whereas these new perceptions come at a cost: the loss of a part of the field of perception, since augmented reality is nothing more than accelerated reality.
from the book: The Administration Of Fear by Paul Virilio
Obviously many readers will be familiar with this material, but in the interests of accumulating resources on the site, I've reproduced below some of the key passages in A Thousand Plateaus in which D/G invoke Castaneda.
From '587 BC-AD 70: On Several Regimes of Signs' (138-39)
'One of the things of profound interest in Castaneda's books, under the influence of drugs, or other things, and of a change in atmosphere, is precisely that they show how the Indian manages to combat the mechanisms of interpretation and instill in the disciple a presignifying semiotic, or even an asignifying diagram: Stop! You're making me tired! Experiment, don't signify and interpret! Find your own place, territorialities, deterritorializations, regime, lines of flight! Semiotize yourself instead of rooting around in your prefab childhood and Western semiology. "Don Juan stated that in order to arrive at 'seeing' one first had to 'stop the world'. 'Stopping the world' was indeed an appropriate rendition of certain states of awareness in which the reality of everyday life is altered because the flow of interpretation, which ordinarily runs uninterruptedly, has been stopped by a set of circumstances alien to the flow." '
-2)From 'How Do You Make Yourself a Body without Organs?' (161-2)
'In the course of Castaneda's books, the reader may begin to doubt the existence of the Indian Don Juan, and many other things besides. But that has no importance. So much the better if the books are a syncretism rather than an ethnographical study, and the protocol of an experiment rather than an account of an initiation. The fourth book, Tales of Power, is about the living distinction between the "Tonal" and the "Nagual." The tonal seems to cover many disparate things: It is the organism, and also all that is oraganized and organizing; but it is also signifiance, and all that is signifying or signified, all that is susceptible to interpretation, explanation, all that is memorizable, in the form of something recalling something else; finally it is the Self (Moi), the subject, the historical, social or individual person. In short, the tonal is everything, including God, the judgment of God, since it "makes up the rules by which it apprehends the world. So, in a manner of speaking, it creates the world." Yet the tonal is only an island. For the nagual is also everything. And it is the same everything, but under such conditions that the body without organs has replaced the organism and experimentation has replaced all interpretation, for which it no longer has any use. Flows of intensity, their fluids, their fibers, their continuums and conjunctions of affects, the wind, fine segmentation, microperceptions, have replaced the world of the subject. Becomings, becoming-animal, becomings-molecular, have replaced history, individual or general. In the fact, the tonal is not as disparate as it seems: it includes all of the strata and everything that can be ascribed to the strata, the organization of the organism, the interpretations and explanations of the signifiable, the movements of signification. The nagual, on the contrary, dismantles the strata. It is no longer an organism that functions but a BwO that is constructed. No longer are there acts to explain, dreams or phantasies to interpret, childhood memories to recall, words to make signify; instead, there are colours and sounds, becomings and intensities (and when you become-dog, don't ask if the dog you are playing with is a dream or a reality, "if it is your goddamn mother" or something else entirely). There is no longer a Self [Moi] that feels, acts, and recalls; there is "glowing fog, a dark yellow mist" that has affects and experiences movements, speeds. The important thing is not to dismantle the tonal by destroying it all of a sudden. You have to diminish it, shrink it, clean it, and that only at certain moments. You have to keep it in oder to survive, to ward off the assault of the nagual. For a nagual that erupts, that destroys the tonal, a body without organs that shatters the strata, turns immediately into the body of nothingness, pure self-destruction, whose only outcome is death: "The tonal must be protected at all costs." '
From '1933: Micropolitics and Segmentarity', 227
'According to Nietzsche's Zarathustra and Castaneda's Indian Don Juan, there are three or even four dangers: first, Fear, then Clarity, then Power, and finally, the great Disgust, the longing to kill and to die, the Passion for abolition.'
From '1730: Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal...', 248-249
'If the experimentation with drugs has left its mark on everyone, even nonusers, it is because it changed the perceptive coordinates of space-time and introduced us to a universe of micro-perceptions in which becomings-molecular take over from becomings-animal leave off. Carlos Castaneda's books clearly illustrate this evolution, or rather this involution, in which the affects of a becoming-dog, for example, are succeeded by those of a becoming-molecular, micro-perceptions of water, air, etc. A man totters from one door to the next and disappears into thin air: "All I can tell you is that we are fluid, luminous beings made of fibers." All so-called initiatory journeys include these thresholds and doors where becoming itself becomes, and where one changes becoming depending on the "hour" of the world, the circles of hell, or the stages of a journey that sets scales, forms, and cries in variation. From the howling of animals to the wailing of elements and particles.'
'All drugs fundamentally concern speeds, and modifications of speed. What allows us to describe an overall Drug assemblage in spite of the differences between drugs is a line of perceptive causality that makes it so that (1) the imperceptible is perceived; (2) perception is molecular; (3) desire directly invests the perception and the perceived. The Americans of the beat generation had already embarked on this path, and spoke of a molecular revolution specific to drugs. Then came Castaneda's broad synthesis.'
Posted by mark k-p at July 23, 2004 08:11 AM
by McKenzie Wark
I N F O R M A T I O N
Information wants to be free but is everywhere in chains.
Information is immaterial, but never exists without a material support. Information may be transferred from one material support to other, but cannot be dematerialised—other than in the more occult of vectoralist ideologies. Information emerges as a concept when it achieves an abstract relation to materiality. This abstracting of information from any particular material support creates the very possibility of a vectoral society, and produces the new terrain of class conﬂict—the conﬂict between the vectoralist and hacker classes.
Information expresses the potential of potential. When unfettered, it releases the latent capacities of all things and people, objects and subjects. Information is the plane upon which objects and subjects come into existence as such. It is the plane upon which the potential for the existence of new objects and subjects may be posited. It is where virtuality comes to the surface.
The potential of potential that information expresses has its dangers. But its enslavement to the interests of the vectoral class poses greater dangers still. When information is free, it is free to act as a resource for the averting of its own dangerous potentials. When information is not free, then the class that owns or controls it turns its capacity toward its own interest and away from information’s own inherent virtuality.
Information exceeds communication. Deleuze: “We do not lack communication. On the contrary, we have too much of it. We lack creation. We lack resistance to the present.” Information is at once this resistance, and what it resists—its own dead form, communication. Information is both repetition and difference. Information is representation, in which difference is the limit to repetition. But information is also expression, in which difference exceeds repetition. The hack turns repetition into difference, representation into expression, communication into information. Property turns difference into repetition, freezing free production and distributing it as a representation. Property, as representation, fetters information.
The enabling conditions for freedom of information do not stop at the “free” market, no matter what the apologists for the vectoral class may say. Free information is not a product, but a condition of the effective allocation of resources. The multiplicity of public and gift economies, a plurality of forms—keeping open the property question—is what makes free information possible.
The commodification of information means the enslavement of the world to the interests of those whose margins depend on information’s scarcity, the vectoral class. The many potential benefits of free information are subordinated to the exclusive benefits in the margin. The infinite virtuality of the future is subordinated to the production and representation of futures that are repetitions of the same commodity form.
The subordination of information to the repetition of communication means the enslavement of its producers to the interests of its owners. It is the hacker class that taps the virtuality of information, but it is the vectoralist class that owns and controls the means of production of information on an industrial scale. Their interests lie in extracting as much margin as possible from information, in commodifying it to the nth degree. Information that exists solely as private property is no longer free, for it is chained to the repetition of the property form.
The interests of hackers are not always totally opposed to those of the vectoral class. There are compromises to be struck between the free flow of information and extracting a flow of revenue to fund its further development. But while information remains subordinated to ownership, it is not possible for its producers to freely calculate their interests, or to discover what the true freedom of information might potentially produce in the world. The stronger the hacker class alliance with the other producing classes, the less it has to answer the vectoralist imperative.
Information may want to be free, but it is not possible to know the limits or potentials of its freedom when the virtual is subordinated to this actual state of ownership and scarcity. Privatizing information and knowledge as commodified “content” distorts and deforms its free development, and prevents the very concept of its freedom from its own free development. “As our economy becomes increasingly dependent on information, our traditional system of property rights applied to information becomes a costly fetter on our development.” The subordination of hackers to the vectoralist interest means the enslavement not only of the whole of human potential, but also natural potential. While information is chained to the interests of its owners, it is not just hackers who may not know their interests, no class may know what it may become.
Information in itself is mere possibility. It requires an active capacity to become productive. But where knowledge is dominated by the education of the ruling classes, it produces the capacity to use information for the purposes of producing and consuming within the limits of the commodity. This produces a mounting desire for information that meets the apparent lack of meaning and purpose in life. The vectoralist class fills this need with communication that offers these desires a mere representation and objectification of possibility.
For everyone to become free to join in the virtuality of knowledge, information and the capacity to grasp it must be free also, so that all classes may have the potential to hack for themselves and their kind a new way of life. The condition for this liberation is the abolition of a class rule that imposes scarcity on knowledge, and indeed on virtuality itself.
Free information must be free in all its aspects—as a stock, as a flow, and as a vector. The stock of information is the raw material out of which history is abstracted. The flow of information is the raw material out of which the present is abstracted, a present that forms the horizon that the abstract line of an historical knowledge crosses, indicating a future in its sights. Neither stocks nor flows of information exist without vectors along which they may be actualized. Even so, it is not enough that these elements are brought together as a representation that may then be shared freely. The spatial and temporal axes of free information must do more than offer a representation of things, as a world apart. They must become the means of coordination of the expression of a movement capable of connecting the objective representation of things to the presentation of a subjective action.
Information, when it is truly free, is free not for the purpose of representing the world perfectly, but for expressing its difference from what is, and for expressing the cooperative force that transforms what is into what may be. The sign of a free world is not the liberty to consume information, or to produce it, nor even to implement its potential in private worlds of one’s choosing. The sign of a free world is the liberty for the collective transformation of the world through abstractions freely chosen and freely actualized.
excerpt from the book: A Hacker Manifesto by McKenzie Wark
by Franco "Bifo" Berardi
Within the aleatory regime of fluctuant values, precariousness becomes the general form of social existence. Capital can buy fractals of human time, recombining them through the digital network. Digitalized info-labor can be recombined in a different location, far from the one that produces it. From the standpoint of capital's valorization, the flow is continuous, finding its unity in the produced object. Yet from the cognitive workers' perspective the work done has a fragmentary character: it consists in fractions of cellular time available for productive recombination. Intermittent work cells turn on and off within the large control frame of global production. The distribution of time can thus be separated from the physical and juridical person of the worker. Social labor time is like an ocean of value producing cells that can be grouped and recombined according to capital's needs. Precariousness has changed the social composition, and the psychological, relational, linguistic, expressive forms of the new generations now facing the job market.
Precariousness is not a particular element of the social relation, but the dark core of the capitalist production in the sphere of the global network where a flow of fragmented recombinant info-labor continuously circulates. Precariousness is the transformative element of the whole cycle of production. Nobody is shielded from it. The wages of workers on permanent contracts are lowered and broken down; everyone's life is threatened by an increasing instability.
Ever since Fordist discipline was dissolved, individuals find themselves in a condition of apparent freedom. Nobody forces them to endure subjection and dependency. Coercion is instead embeded in the technicalities of social relations, and control is exerted through the voluntary yet inevitable submission to a chain of automatisms. In the U.S.A., the great majority of students need to obtain a loan in order to pay their courses and obtain a university degree. The cost of tuition is so high that this loan becomes a burden from which students can't free themselves for decades. In this way, the conditions for a new form of dependence are produced in the lives of the new generations.
The neoliberal values presented in the 1980s and 1990s as vectors of independence and self-entrepreneurship, revealed themselves to be manifestations of a new form of slavery producing social insecurity and most of all a psychological catastrophe. The soul, once wandering and unpredictable, must now follow functional paths in order to become compatible with the system of operative exchanges structuring the productive ensemble. The soul hardens, and loses its tenderness and malleability. Industrial factories used the body, forcing it to leave the soul outside of the assembly line, so that the worker looked like a soulless body. The immaterial factory asks instead to place our very souls at its disposal: intelligence, sensibility, creativity and language. The useless body lies flabbily at the borders of the game field: to take care of it and entertain it, we put it through the commercial circuits of fitness and sex.
When we move into the sphere of info-labor, Capital no longer recruits people, it buys packets of time, separated from their interchangeable and contingent bearers. De-personalized time is now the real agent of the process of valorization, and de-personalized time has no rights.
Meanwhile, the human machine is there, pulsating and available, like a brain-sprawl in waiting. The extension of time is meticulously cellular: cells of productive time can be mobilized in punctual, casual and fragmentaty forms. The recombination of these fragments is automatically realized in the digital networks. The mobile phone makes possible the connection between the needs of semio-capital and the mobilization of the living labor of cyber-space. The ringtone of the mobile phone calls the workers ro reconnect their abstract time to the reticular flows.
Thanks to the interconnection of its living parts, the social system seems to get more and more similar to a biological system. In 1993, in his book Out of Control, Kevin Kelly talked about vivisystems, artificial systems functioning according to the biorecombining paradigm of living organisms. The general horizon traced by this book is the Global Mind, where we find syntheSized biological organisms and digital networks. The global mind is a biodigital super-organism connecting brains, bodies and electronic networks. The model of the network is able to organize and direct productive energies in the most functional way. Therefore the model of horizontal integration tends to replace that of hierarchical decision, and the model of recombination tends to replace that of the accumulation of events and dialectic contradiction. Living systems are infinitely more complex than any system rhat could be interpreted according to the sequential model of mechanics and of rational and voluntary action. Technology led us to produce artificial living systems. This makes the method and episteme of modern politics, which was derived from a mechanical metaphor, irreparably obsolete. We need to rethink politics according to the metaphorical possibilities of a bioinformatics model.
This idea was largely popular in cyber-culture during the 1990's: the horizontal connection of networked systems gives human intelligence a superior power. Bur what is the principle that semiotizes this power? And who really benefits from the empowering of the collective intelligence? In Out of Control, Kevin Kelly writes:
"As very large webs penetrate the made world, we see the first glimpses of what emerges from the net-machines that becomle alive, smart, and evolve-a neo-biological civilization. There is a sense in which a global mind also emerges in a network culture. The global mind is the union of computer and nature-of telephones and human brains and more. It is a very large complexity of indeterminate shape governed by an invisible hand of its own.'"
In Kelly's vision the obscure yet superior designs of the global mind are manifested through automatic mechanisms of global inreractive decision making. The multitude can speak hundreds of thousands of languages, bur the language that enables it to function as an integrated whole is that of the economic automatisms embodied in technology. Seized in a game of mirrors of indeterminacy and precariousness, the multitude manifests its dark side and follows automatisms that turn its wealth into misery, its power into anguish. and its creativity into dependency.
The multitude does not manifest itself as autonomy rather as dependence from the automatisms that biopower builds and activates in everyday life, in our sensibiliry and psyche: we become a swarm. According to Eugene Thacker, a swarm is an organization of multiple, individuated units with some relation to one another. That is, a swarm is a particular kind of collectivity group or phenomenon that may be dependent upon a condition of connectivity. A swarm is a collectivity that is defined by relationality. This pertains as much to the level of the individual unit as it does to the overall organization of the swarm. At some level "living network and "swarms" overlap. A swarm is a whole that is more than the sum of its parts, but it is also a heterogeneous whole. In the swarm the parts are not subservient to the whole-both exist simultaneously and because of each other.
The swarm has no political soul, only an automatic and relational soul.
The effective exercise of politics (that is to say of political goverment) presupposes a conscious possibility of elabotating of the information collectively shared by the social organism. But the information circulating within digital sociery is too much: too fast, too intense, too thick and complex for individuals or groups to elaborate it consciously, critically, reasonably, with the necessary time to make a decision. Therefore the decision is left to automatisms, and the social organism seems to function ever more often according to evolutionary rules of an automatic kind, inscribed in the genetic cognitive patrimony of individuals. The swarm now tends to become the dominant form of human action. Displacement and direction are more and more decided by the system of collective Displacement and direction are more and more decided by the system of collective automatisms that impose themselves over the individual.
In Business @ The Speed of Thought, referring to the general biologic form that the process of digital production is assuming, Bill Gates writes:
An organization's nervous system has parallels with our human nervous system. Every business, regardless of industry, has 'autonomic' systems, the operational processes that just have to go on if the company is to sutvive [ ... ]. What has been missing are links between infotmation that resemble the interconnected neutons in the brain [ ... ] You know you have built an excellent digital nervous system when infotmation flows through your organization as quickly and naturally as thought in a human being and when you can use technology to marshal and coordinate teams of people as quickly as you can focus an individual on an issue. It's business at the speed of thought.'"
In the connected world, the retroactive loops of a general systenlS ;; theory is combined with the dynamic logic of biogenetics in a post-human vision of digital production. The model of bio-info' production imagined by Gates is the interface that will allow bodies to integrate with the digital circuit. Once it gets fully operative, the digital nervous system can be rapidly installed on a new form of organization. Microsoft deals with products and services ' only apparently. In reality, it deals with a form of cybernetic organization that-once installed-structures the flows of digital information through the nervous systems of all key institutions contemporary life. Microsoft needs to be considered a virtual memory that we can download, ready to be installed in the bio-informatics interfaces of the social organism: a cyber-Panopticon installed inside the bodily circuits of human subjectivity, a mutagenetic factor introduced in the circuits of social communication. Cybernetics finally becomes life or - as Gates likes to say- information is our "vital lymph."
Biotechnologies open the way to an ulterior evolution of this scenario, allowing us to connect individual bodies and the social body with mutagenic fluxes produced by bioengineering: medications, artificial organs, genetic mutations and functional reprogramming. In a sense, even information technologies occupy the mind with mutagenic flows, invading our attention, imagination and memory. Informatics and biotechnical technologies allow bodies to connect in a continuum ruled by automatisms.
In the disciplinary society whose epistemic and practical origins were discussed by Michel Foucault, bodies were disciplined in a repressive way by social and productive rules that required consensus, submission and conscious interiorization. The law imposed by rhe modern state over individuals had an exterior character with respect ro the conscious human organism, represented by the citizen.
The society of control, as discussed by Deleuze, is instead installed beginning with the wiring of bodies and minds, innerving automatisms of a techno-linguistic kind, thanks to mutations induced according to the finalities inscribed in the technological device. Refined technologies are active on a molecular level, they are nano-factors of mutation. Therefore they create the conditions for the control of the agent-subject through techno-linguistic automatisms and techno-operations. The minds of conscious individual organisms are connected by muragenic flows of a semiotic kind: they transform organisms into terminals for the global mind and the bio-digital super organism.
Darwin thought that the process of selection worked on the extremely long times necessary to the natural evolution of the species. In the span of one generation we cannot perceive anything significant in this sense, and selection is manifested only in a cumulative way, throughout many generations. Little, almost imperceptible modifications are cumulated throughout extremely long temporal cycles. But is this still the case in the modern epoch? Isn't technology a factor of incredible acceleration in the mutational processes that in nature were so slow, and hasn't it now acquired its results within one or two generations? Isn't the mutation occurring under our eyes spreading from the technological level (digitalization, conectivity to the social, cultural aesthetic, cognetive and psychological one? Can't we see already in action the mutation of the emotional system, desiring regimes, territorial dislocations, modalities of attention, memorization and imagination? Aren't we beggining to perceive a possible psychological mutation in the organism, induced by biotechnology?
Therefore it is true that the environment has a determinant function on the choices made by human minds, yet human minds are part of the environment. For this reason, the conclusions that liberalist theory elaborated from the premises of social Darwinism follow a pseudo-logic. It is true that biology dominates human action, but human action also determines biology. The question is to understand which choices (epistemic, technologic and finally instinctual and aesthetic) a conscious human mind will make.
excerpt from the book: THE SOUL AT WORK/ FROM ALIENATION TO AUTONOMY/ Franco "Bifo" Berardi
A conversation between Armen Avanessian and Suhail Malik
continues from the previous post:
SM: To return to your question: in contrast to the sorry complex of right and left reactions to the speculative present that is contemporaneity in art and elsewhere, what is needed is a way to engage with the time-complex that is not just about drawing profits and exacerbating exploitation on this revised basis, as neoliberalism has so successfully done. That capitalized formation of the time-complex is a kind of limited and restricted organization of the speculative present; one that for all of its complexity reverts to presentification because the profits have to be accumulated now as per the short-termism of neoliberal capitalism.
AA: The problem is that one has to admit that the social, technological, political and economic formation of neoliberalism has an advantage because it acts within the speculative temporality, in part as it has established institutions functioning in accordance with this speculative logic. But the neoliberal formation also reduces the speculative dimension of the time-complex because it repudiates the openness or contingency of the future as well as the present.
SM: No, I disagree. I think the problem precisely is that it opens up more societal and semantic contingency. That is what Ulrich Beck and others involved in the notion of “risk societies” diagnosed in the 1990s in other terms.9 What they call risk is the acknowledgement in the present of how the speculative time-complex opens up the future as the condition for a societal order (more accurately, a quasi-order).
AA: No, no. The contemporary is a constant production of innovations and differences, but it doesn’t introduce a difference to the recursive movement of time. The German allows for distinction between Beschleunigung, which is acceleration as a speeding up, and Akzeleration. The latter really means something like, in the old days, when a clock was too fast. A deviation ahead — not a circular movement, but a recursive one. Akzeleration introduced a kind of difference to the functionality of the clock. And it’s this difference that the neoliberal or neofeudal economic system hardly allows for, because it produces an automatized future. While the kind of criticism typical of the contemporary (left) art is not wrong, it doesn’t see the possibilities of speculative time and reduces it to the present. It just sees the capitalist effects of it. Contemporary critical art mostly produces different — essentially, decorative — objects or meanings that maintain the reduced form of the speculative time-complex. And I am arguing not on the level of just semantic meaning, but really on the level of the materiality of language and the materiality of time, which are not separable.
SM: So the task of the post-contemporary against contemporaneity is to change time?
AA: The post-contemporary works within the speculative present. It understands it, it practices it, and it shapes our temporality. Are there alternative actualizations of the speculative or asynchronous present, are there different readings of it? In her contribution, Aihwa Ong highlights some of these constructions in her anthropology of what she calls “cosmopolitan science.” She outlines how the universalisms and abstractions intrinsic to scientific entrepreneurialism support and are supported in Asia by specific historical-culture formations of meaning, scrambling any simple opposition between local and universals, or between past (culture) and future (entrepreneurial technoscience). With speculative poetics, to take another example, the issue is how do we understand the future in an open way and not just as a kind of indicative future.
SM: What do you mean by “indicative”?
AA: There are three modes in grammar: the imperative (“Go!”), the indicative (“She goes.”), and the conjunctive (“I could go.”). In language philosophy — but also politically — it’s important to understand that all tenses are modal. The past and the present have to be understood in a modal way — primarily as indicative. But the future tense and the conjunctive mode are pretty close in that they both deploy the grammar of possibility. It is this contingency that is reduced by the logic of the contemporary logic and is often misunderstood by the closure of speculative time to the present (“I will have gone.”). But, if I may get a bit more into the technical analysis, the conjunctive is constructed before you are actually going, so whether you are using the conjunctive mode or the future tense in the present you are not yet going. Maybe that’s too technical for here, but the main point is that mode is how a future tense is transformed into a present tense and subsequently into a past tense.
SM: Is the conjunctive the form of contemporaneity? What it sets up is a sense that actions could have happened, but did not happen: “they would or could go,” but they didn’t. And this is a sense where the subject of the sentence is left with a potentiality, which is unrealized.
That makes sense of the celebration of “potentiality” everywhere across the critical left today, and also, again, the limitation of the speculative time-complex by the domination of the present. Claims in contemporary art and contemporaneity are emphatically limited only to setting up options with potentials, without actually doing anything or mobilizing the speculative present to construct a future. The future is only and just a set of potentials that must never be actualized for fear of instrumentalization and, paradoxically and self-destructively, realizing in any present a future radically distinct from the present.
AA: The reduction of the time-complex to contemporaneity does not understand the future to be contingent but the only possible future present that becomes real; in grammatical terms, the future or the present here are understood only via the indicative. But the present is not just an “is,” just as tenses don’t represent time. We have to get rid of an a-modal understanding of time.
SM: The contemporary is a-modal?
AA: Yes, and what is needed instead for a thinking and praxis adequate to the speculative temporality we live in — a Zukunftsgenossenschaft as I called it earlier — are means for transforming a future tense into a present tense. That’s why for me grammar is a way of understanding speculative time in its openness, instead of subjecting it exclusively to the indicative mode. A future happens in the present only if a conjunctive is successfully realized, which happens by way of an imperative. In between “I could go” (present tense conjunctive) and “I go” (future tense indicative) is the hidden command “Go!” (imperative).
For me, it’s exactly this grammatically organized difference that opens up not just a different future and the possibility to do and act differently in the present instead of being subjected to an automatized future, whether it’s by preemptive policing or derivatives. More generally, we have to understand that language changes meaning and time — and on a material and ontological level, not just on a linguistic or conceptual level. These complexes can be tackled via grammatical analyses.
SM: OK, but as nearly all the contributions to this issue demonstrate, we also need to generalize the construction of the time-complex beyond language and its grammar. The conditions we are talking about are made of the broad infrastructures and systemics of the speculative present in large-scale integrated societies. Esposito identifies a scrambling of the time-line against its received and modernist logics that suggests a new openness to the future, which is to the advantage of a relatively new kind of capital accumulation but can be mobilized otherwise. Ivanova makes the case for how a new global juridico-political quasi-order is constructed via unstable restagings of the relations between particulars and universals, while Srnicek and Williams look to the systemic techno-social advance of robotics and automation to transform the fundament of the capitalist rendering of human activity. Benjamin Bratton extends these possibilities under the rubric of “Speculative Design” to more specific scenarios and, simultaneously, along longer time-lines; Ong also takes up the jurisdictional and operational issues in the specific case of the fabrication of a scientific enterprise that makes sense in ethno-cultural terms in Asia, transforming the practical manifestations of where and how identity formation takes place. Laboria Cuboniks wrestle with the legacies of feminism given just such futural and technoscientific reorganization of bodies, identities, and concepts of selfhood; and Roden scrambles body, affect, language in light of a “Disconnection Thesis” according to which the kinds of intelligence inaugurated by Artificial General Intelligence completely change the space of coding at any and every order.
In general, and similarly to the insufficiency of experience as a basis for apprehending the speculative present, the constructions of (presumably only some) human languages is only part of this integrated complex but not wide enough as a mechanism to meet the broad material and semiotic condition.
AA: We need more than a language theory, for sure, but in any case we need what I call a “poetic understanding” which, for me, is informed by language theory instead of an aesthetic one.
SM: My divergence is that, first, even taking poetics as a name for production in general, it still seems to me to be too tied into the structures and affordances of more or less ordinary human language and their ordering. That’s of course a fundamental condition of the systemic, social, technological, economic structuring and mediation necessary for large scale organization. So, while poetics as you present it gives us as human linguistic actors a way of reordering the speculative time-complex in other formats than the kind of repressive mechanisms of contemporaneity and what you identify as the indicative, it’s also necessary that the restructuring are operationalized also in non-linguistic terms. We have to open up the time-complex in its infrastructures which are more structured in terms other than those of human languages. This is what Bratton’s proposal of Speculative Design in this issue puts forward in concrete ways and with specific situations and time-lines, not least with his identification of “The Stack,” which rearranges sovereign power according to the material and infrastructural conditions of computation that is interconnected at a planetary scale. Even more generally, however, we need a grammar adequate to the expansive infrastructure of the time-complex in its widest formation.
9. Ulrich Beck, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity (London: SAGE, 1992)
Revised transcript of a conversation held in Berlin, 29 January 2016.
The German version of this text is part of the book Der Zeitkomplex: Postcontemporary edited by Armen Avanessian and Suhail Malik.
Illustrations Andreas Töpfer
A conversation between Armen Avanessian and Suhail Malik is taken from:
Author's Note. The assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963, raised many questions, not all of which were answered by the Report of the Warren Commission. It is suggested that a less conventional view of the events of that grim day may provide a more satisfactory explanation. In particular, Alfred Jarry's 'The Crucifixion Considered as an Uphill Bicycle Race' gives us a useful lead.
Oswald was the starter.
From his window above the track he opened the race by firing the starting gun. It is believed that the first shot was not properly heard by all the drivers. In the following confusion Oswald fired the gun two more times, but the race was already under way.
Kennedy got off to a bad start.
There was a governor in his car and its speed remained constant at about fifteen miles an hour. However, shortly afterwards, when the governor had been put out of action, the car accelerated rapidly, and continued at high speed along the remainder of the course.
The visiting teams. As befitting the inauguration of the first production car race through the streets of Dallas, both the President and the Vice-President participated. The Vice-President, Johnson, took up his position behind Kennedy on the starting line. The concealed rivalry between the two men was of keen interest to the crowd. Most of them supported the home driver, Johnson.
The starting point was the Texas Book Depository, where all bets were placed on the Presidential race. Kennedy was an unpopular contestant with the Dallas crowd, many of whom showed outright hostility. The deplorable incident familiar to us all is one example.
The course ran downhill from the Book Depository, below an overpass, then on to the Parkland Hospital and from there to Love Air Field. It is one of the most hazardous courses in downhill motor racing, second only to the Sarajevo track discontinued in 1914.
Kennedy went downhill rapidly. After the damage to the governor the car shot forward at high speed. An alarmed track official attempted to mount the car, which continued on its way, cornering on two wheels.
Turns. Kennedy was disqualified at the hospital, after taking a turn for the worse. Johnson now continued the race in the lead, which he maintained to the finish.
The flag. To signify the participation of the President in the race Old Glory was used in place of the usual chequered square. Photographs of Johnson receiving his prize after winning the race reveal that he had decided to make the flag a memento of his victory.
Previously, Johnson had been forced to take a back seat, as his position on the starting line behind the President indicates. Indeed, his attempts to gain a quick lead on Kennedy during the false start were forestalled by a track steward, who pushed Johnson to the floor of his car.
In view of the confusion at the start of the race, which resulted in Kennedy, clearly expected to be the winner on past form, being forced to drop out at the hospital turn, it has been suggested that the hostile local crowd, eager to see a win by the home driver Johnson, deliberately set out to stop him completing the race. Another theory maintains that the police guarding the track were in collusion with the starter, Oswald. After he finally managed to give the send-off Oswald immediately left the race, and was subsequently apprehended by track officials.
Johnson had certainly not expected to win the race in this way. There were no pit stops.
Several puzzling aspects of the race remain. One is the presence of the President's wife in the car, an unusual practice for racing drivers. Kennedy, however, may have maintained that as he was in control of the ship of state he was therefore entitled to captain's privileges.
The Warren Commission. The rake-off on the book of the race. In their report, prompted by widespread complaints of foul play and other irregularities, the syndicate lay full blame on the starter, Oswald.
Without doubt, Oswald badly misfired. But one question still remains unanswered: who loaded the starting gun?
excerpt from the book: The Atrocity Exhibition by J.G. Ballard
A conversation between Armen Avanessian and Suhail Malik
continues from the previous post:
SM: Under the guise of the contemporary the modernist left has a kind of melancholia for a future that it cancels to preserve its received premise: the present. The past and the future are taken as modifications of the present. The advantage for left-criticality is that the contemporary can then accommodate, dissimilate, colonize all of time in its own terms. This is really evident in contemporary art, which becomes a kind of last word in art. It cancels even its own futurity if not the future in general for the sake of its own critical accomplishments, which are of course capture-mechanisms demonstrating contemporary art’s salience to everything.
AA: Contemporary art is a good example also because it has not been just a victim of the recent economic and political reordering of neoliberalism, but has really helped build the matrix of that reorganization by implementing its logic on all levels from a left-critical angle. Specifically, it has stressed the dominance of the present or the past as condition for action, and also, as we said before, individuated experience as the main benefit of that reorganization. It takes the lead in a general aestheticization at all levels: personal/individual creativity, originality etc; environment and cities as spaces of creativity and “disruptive” entrepreneurialism; the conflation of production and consumption with the prosumer, whose “natural” habitat is, precisely, the smart city itself turned into a kind-of continual biennial event. All of this goes back to the fetishization of presentness and of the aesthetic experience of everyday life at the expense of its reconstruction, which would be the task of poiesis or a poetics.
SM: Via the continued enrichment of experience through an aesthetic encounter, contemporary art also draws attention to specifics and particulars at the cost of systemic understanding. Victoria Ivanova draws attention to this operational logic in her contribution to this issue, linking it to the human rights regime as a kind-of counterpart in global ordering that constructs the relation between universality and particulars after the so-called “end of history.”
Let’s be clear that this is not a condition of stasis: contemporary art is integrated into neoliberalism’s enrichment of experience for its elite beneficiaries, and those thereabouts, in a way that promotes change and revision. This is part of the complexity of the speculative present of neoliberal capitalist development: it looks like a personal good, an enrichment of experiment by aestheticization, by promoting change while maintaining a certain stability --
AA: An aesthetic experience not just of art, but of everything.
SM: Yes, the aestheticization of experience, or experience as an aesthetic. That is also a generalization of ethics too: the appreciation of differences without political demand, a kind of superliberal --
SM: A de-politicization because it’s a de-systematization. Such an aesthetic/ethical appreciation is a repudiation — indirectly made, as a kind of background condition — against making systemic determinations. The latter are held to be too complex to be apprehended or reworked, impossible or just wrong-headed because totalitarian. What we are obliged to be restricted to are instead only the singularities of what is and of experiences. That is certainly the injunction of contemporary art, operating via each artwork and its social norms. And to that extent it is a minor but paradigmatic model for a neoliberal sociality, as Ivanova remarks.
The way in which contemporary art becomes a plaything for big power in neoliberalism, despite many of art’s critical content claims against that model of domination, this convergence makes coherent sense on this basis. But what needs to be emphasized here is that rather than just remaining at the level of the conflation of varieties of anarcho-leftism in contemporary art’s critical claims with the rightist interests of increasingly concentrated capital and power, the two can be seen to have common interests in flattening out or simplifying the speculative time-complex, as reactive detemporalizations of the speculative present.
What is necessary against these and other such reactions is to have strategies and praxes — and that means theories — to gain traction in the speculative present. And that is what both right-wing conservative strategies and left-critical or aesthetic approaches are utterly incapable of doing. As we’ve said, both are combined in contemporary art which is then also incapable of doing anything but consolidating this condition, no matter what it claims to do, what it pretends to do, or what its content claims are.
AA: We agree that we have to think and act within a post-contemporary speculative time-complex. But now the question is: how to differ from the capitalist or financial-feudalistic version of it? How does a speculative theory introduce a difference into the speculative present from its exploitative formation by neoliberalism, however else we might characterize that form of domination? What would be a speculative politics capable of accelerating the time-complex, in the sense of introducing a difference to it?
SM: That is the fundamental political question, for sure. One further theoretical point might help us understand the difficulties here. Namely, why is our wish to get past contemporaneity not just Jacques Derrida’s criticism of the metaphysics of presence? For Derrida, presence is the primary category of western metaphysics, circumscribing not just the main philosophical doctrines in the Western tradition but also correlative prevailing social, political and language formations. And Derrida proposes that the present held to be adequate to itself needs to be dismantled and reconstituted. For him, the task is to deconstruct presence — ontologically, in time, space, and so on. We are contending that that contemporaneity is no less an extended social historical present, presentification. So, in a way, aren’t we just doing Derrida again, even though he is a key figure in the critical lineage that needs to be surpassed?
AA: It’s not the worst thing to be repeating Derrida to some extent. But with his deconstruction, it’s a necessarily ongoing process of the ideology or effect of presentness establishing itself and also being deconstructed: Metaphysics needs to be deconstructed and it deconstructs itself all the time, so it’s an unending procedure. Unfortunately, this goes down all too well with a tedious modernist aesthetic of the negative, not so far away from the fetishes of Frankfurt School, of the non-identical, or of a “différance” that plays with the opposition between meaning or content, traditionally the bad thing, and subtraction, which is the good thing, as are emptiness and non-readability. And I think that’s a very modernist, twentieth century logic, and also the logic of the contemporary. Contrary to all such attempts, the reworking of the speculative present must admit that meaning is always there anyway, and the constant procedure of changing and subtracting it endorsed by Derrida and the lineage of critique he belongs to is not necessarily something positive.
So, with deconstruction and most other strands of last century’s aesthetic philosophy, whatever its other merits are, you end up in an aesthetics that is an ongoing celebration of the gesture of interruption, of emptying out, and so on (just think of some of Badiou’s tedious disciples). But with the speculative time-complex we are no longer in that logic of interruption. I don’t have a problem with an ontology of time, as long as it gives us another possibility of understanding time than via the present.
SM: You are right to say Derrida ends up in an aesthetics. But it is also an ethics, with its emphasis of an always singular and irreconcilable experience of vulnerability. He rails against established meaning.
AA: We should not be afraid of establishing meaning. On the contrary.
SM: Certainly. I don’t know if my additional observation is compatible with your response, but it’s that the construction of the speculative time-complex is the societal — meaning mainly technical and economic — operation of the deconstruction of presence. That is, the way that semantics or instrumental operations are occasioned in time-complex societies is precisely the deconstruction of presence and meaning in the way that Derrida affirmed. We are then no longer in a metaphysics of presence because of the speculative time-complex. Derrida speaks to this somewhat in his discussion of teletechnologies and the displacements of space, locality, and ontology that are involved.8 But the politically difficult and mostly evaded point in these discussions is that the sought-after deconstruction of time, meaning and so on are actually taking place though processes of capitalization. The “they” of the state-business nexus effectuated that deconstruction, and they did it better than Derrida. In this light, what “the contemporary” enforces is the retrenchment of presence against its deconstruction by the speculative time-complex. Contemporaneity here includes all the procedures of interruption, subtraction, delay and non-identity you mention, as well as many others including semantic deconstruction.
8. Jacques Derrida and Bernard Stiegler, Echographies of Television: Filmed Interviews (Cambridge: Polity, 2002)
A conversation between Armen Avanessian and Suhail Malik is taken from:
by McKenzie Wark
I once interviewed Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi before a live audience, and via closed circuit tv with the over-flow audience in the bar next door. It was exhilarating and exhausting. Bifo is such an energetic font of both good humor and sharp analysis. Then I found out it was his second event for the day. How he keeps it up, I’ll never know.
Where Mario Tronti and Antonio Negri were born in the 30s, Berardi (1948) belongs with Paolo Virno (1952) and Silvia Federici (1942) to a second wave of Italian Marxist thinkers who grew out of the workerist current that struck out on its own path, diverging from the official Gramscian postures of the Communist Party of Italy. The field of Italian Marxism has its own tangled genealogy, far beyond my competence. My interest is more in what can be made of it today.
There’s been a spate of translation of Berardi’s work into English. The most recent is Heroes (Verso, 2015), but I want to concentrate on The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy (Semiotext(e), 2009), as it has a useful sketch of how workerist and later autonomist thought diverges from other Marxist currents.
Berardi’s objective is to account for the distinctive contours of what he calls semiocapitalism, which is close cousin to what Moulier Boutang calls cognitive capitalism, and which “takes mind, language and creativity as its primary tools for the production of value.”
He does it though a sort of activist history of the uses of the category of alienation. In Marx, alienation is about the split between life and labor, where labor is alienated from the life of the worker. The innovation of the Italian workerists was a reversal of perspective on this. They saw the worker not as the passive object of alienation, but rather as an active subject of refusal. The worker’s estrangement from capital is the basis for affirming another life.
Berardi links this to another reversal, of the value of schizophrenia in the work of Deleuze and Guattari, where the schizophrenic is not the passive object of a disintegrating subjectivity but is actively producing other, more transversal relations. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
Let’s start with that troubling figure, the intellectual. To put things very schematically, there might be two versions of the intellectual from which Marxism both draws and diverges. One is the intellectual as bearer of universal reason, guarantor of the proper functioning of public affairs, detached from any particular culture or background. The other might be the romantic intellectual, expressing the spirit of a people. This might have nationalist overtones, or occasionally more radical ones, connected not to the national folk but the people more broadly.
There is a tension between the enlightenment intellectual and romantic concept of a people. In the Marxist conception, the intellectual has to descend from the history of thought into history itself, and become an agent of a universal mission, the abolition of classes.
For Lenin, the task of the intellectual is leadership on behalf of the working class, giving voice and organizational form to a universal spirit to correct the economism and spontaneity of working class struggles. Gramsci understood the intellectual more broadly as a strata which might have connections to sedimentary layers of past social formations, or might be the organic expression of a rising class.
With Sartre, the intellectual is bound to consciousness rather than production. The Sartrean intellectual chooses to engage in universal project, but he may have been the last of that line, given that he lived long enough to see the rise of what Virno calls “mass intellectualism” (33) in the 60s.
The Italian workerists took a different tack, drawing on Marx’s ‘Fragment on Machines’ from the Grundrisse. There machines are an unnatural phenomenon, organs of the human brain created by the human hand. (Unfortunately neither Marx nor the Italians quite see how the reverse is just as true: human hand and brain were probably always shaped by tech.) The intellectual is hence a force of production, even if Marx’s language is still saturated in older, idealist models of the intellectual, as is clearly the case with his stop-gap concept of the “general intellect.”
Still, understanding intellect as a force of production is progress over the enlightenment and romantic ideas about the intellectual that still lingered. Berardi: “At the time of the communist revolutions, in the first part of the twentieth century, the Marxist-Leninist tradition ignored the concept of the general intellect, therefore conceiving the intellectual function as exteriority and as a political direction determined within the purely spiritual domain of philosophy.” (34)
Of course very few people even knew Marx’s Grundrisse texts even existed at the time. But there was at least one powerful alternative to the party as intellectual leader guided by a dogmatic philosophy, and that was Bogdanov’s Proletkult, which sought to replace the party as central control with practices of coordination between sites of labor, be they manual or intellectual.
In any case, the Marxist-Leninist model and its dialectical-materialist philosophical dogmas were clearly in crisis by 1956. Three tendencies emerged as alternatives. One was the Italian workerist current (based on Marx’s Grundrisse) already mentioned. Berardi puts it alongside two others. A second school would then by those influenced by the young Marx, whether read in Hegelian fashion via Marcuse or more in the spirit of Kierkegaard via Sartre. A third school was the Althusserians, with their structuralist reading of Capital.
For the second current, the young Marx’s focus on alienation was a central preoccupation. Particularly common was a sort of Hegel-lite reading in which the alienation of the capitalist production shatters a prior wholeness of a generic human essence. Revolution then becomes an essentially restorative, even conservative action to restore a lost unity. For Sartre, there is no lost unity, as alienation is constitutive of the human condition. Sartre was in this outside of the Hegel-lite ideological field. But for Marcuse, alienation is an historical phenomena that can be overcome.
The Italian workerists such as Panzieri and Tronti freed themselves from both Sartre and Marcuse, although like both of them they were trying in their own way to carve out a space beyond the strictures of official party dia-mat philosophy. For them, there is neither a human essence to be restored, nor an eternal human alienation. Berardi: “.. it is precisely thanks to the radical inhumanity of the worker’s existence that a human collectivity can be founded, a community no longer dependent on capital.” (44) Labor is not a natural condition, but an historical one. An estrangement from labor is the basis for a new society. Their policy was an “active estrangement.” (46)
The first generation workerists celebrated a working class that was a “rude pagan race.” (47) Here they were like Pasolini products of the Italian situation with its rich layers of cultural sediment, including a pre-modern proletariat, even if they shared little else with him. Like Bogdanov, they hewed close to the worker point of view, but unlike him, they stressed labor’s antagonism to capitalism, rather than its capacity to re-organize the whole via labor.
The workerists’ stress on worker antagonism to capital is contrary to Marcuse’s intuition that the working class was being integrated into capital. This led Marcuse to seek other agents of liberation, and particularly in the hands of people he influenced, an exhaltation of the student-radical. For workerists such as Tronti, the worker’s demand for higher wages was not necessarily a sign of integration, however. It is all about how the wage struggle is conducted. The ‘political wage’ demand, for example, exceeded the limits of worker economism. In any case, student radicalism would hardly prove an enduring phenomena either.
Another path away from alienation-theory is Althusser, although the provenance of this is a bit more complicated. After 1956 ‘official’ Soviet-aligned Marxist thought began its own embrace of Hegel-lite theories as part of a cautious and partial repudiation of Stalinism. Althusser rather uniquely rejected this development but not in the name of old-fashioned dia-mat but via a rather novel replacement of it by a kind of ‘theoretical practice’ that owed more to Spinoza and French philosophy of science than to Engels’ and Plekhanov’s old formalizations of Marxisant philosophy. Or as Berardi says, Althusser left the “Hegel field.” (52)
For Berardi what is significant in Althusser is his understanding of knowledge as a form of production. (And while Althusser adopted something like the official Leninist anathemas against Bogdanov, this theme is strikingly Bogdanovite, and curiously enough Bogdanov was translated and published in Althusser’s book series.) Althusser reintroduces the theme of the world as produced by labor, and mental labor as productive labor. Unlike the workerists, the question of science as productive labor is one that he does not ignore, even if he is in the end not able to give it the autonomy the Bogdanovites would. Just as Lenin thought the party’s universalizing theory and practice was needed to correct the spontaneity of the workers; so to Althusser thought the theoretical practice of philosophy was needed to correct the ‘spontaneous philosophy’ of the scientists.
The workerists waged everything on the refusal of work as the sole agent of history. “The motor of this constant transformation is the dynamic of subtraction of lived time from the wage-relation.” (59) Refusing work creates a time and place for activities that escape labor domination. In the era of the industrial worker, the split between labor (in the form of abstract labor) and life was very stark. Work itself offered little. Life was what was lived outside of dead time.
With the constant replacement of labor by ‘labor-saving’ technique, science is inducted fully into capital accumulation. Berardi thinks this calls for a new paradigm for labor and life. Surplus labor is no longer the condition for general wealth. Marcuse had hedged his bets on the question of science and technology. At his most pessimistic, he thought that “The totality generated by computers has replaced Hegel’s totality… The matrix is replacing the event.” (73) The real has become rational and the rational real, but in a non-dialectical form, as a means of control.
The moment of 1968 put all of these late-Marxist theories to the test. For Berardi, it was a moment of alliance between mass intellectual labor and refusal of industrial labor. Students had become a mass, a form of intellectual labor absorbed into production. (George Perec’s novel Things: A Story of the Sixties neatly captures the affective side of this.) It was the end of the intellectual as universal conscience and the beginnings of a full subsumption of intellectual labor into production, although one that might produce its own modes of refusal.
One such moment of refusal was 1977, that “last reawakening of consciousness” (114) Berardi, who was only 20 in 1968, is more a thinker shaped by the late 70s. This was when Italian autonomists, Berlin squatters and British punks all seemed to be acting on the same intuitions about the absorption of manual and intellectual labor into production, and the same desire to strike out for another life. “That 1977 moment therefore used the ideology of happiness as a powerful critical instrument against the Taylorist factory and the Fordist production cycle, but also against the social and disciplinary structure based on the factory model.” (93)
After that – often neglected – high watermark of refusal, the landscape changes. Berardi’s whole body of work can be read as an attempt to understand how and why. After 1977 we see the spread of post-Fordist models of labor and of digital technologies that will make them possible. Before 1977, desire was located outside of capital; after, desire means self-realization through work.
The working-class community outside of labor has lost many of its powers of self-organization. (A novel by the Italian writer’s collective Wu Ming called 54 gives a vivid account of that lost world.) “Communism was the form of universal consciousness produced by the working community.” (84) In Italy, at least, it had “a common project, a shared mythology” (85)
Labor today, at least certain kinds of advanced labor in the over-developed world, has a different character. Look around any metropolitan café at all the people on their laptops or tablets. The tools are the same, but the labor itself is varied and can even be imbued with the personality of the worker. Whatever its discontents, it is not the alienating factory work of another time – or place.
For Berardi, it is partly this different quality of the labor, and partly the decay of communal spaces outside of it, that leads workers to invest emotional energy and desire in their work itself: “labor has regained a certain position in the imagination” (80) Identity based on a job role can replace pleasures sought outside of it, as so eloquently summed up by the 60s Australian group the Easybeats in their 1966 hit: “Monday I’ve Got Friday On My Mind.”
Berardi is far from rapturous about this new kind of embrace of work. It may bespeak a failure of any other understanding of what ‘wealth’ could be outside of accumulation. There is a “reduction of the erotic sphere” (82) and “metropolitan life become so sad that we might as well sell it for money.” (83) The attempt to find freedom, humanity and happiness can only be through that ambiguous term, ‘enterprise.’ I wonder what leverage one might get here by juxtaposing the commonplace free enterprise against a notion of true enterprise. What might it mean to have a real project of making the good life?
The historical distinction Berardi draws here between Fordist and post-Fordist work is illuminating but might be a bit too sharp. Not many metropolitan workers enjoy such conditions, in either sense. It might not be the case that all workers found Fordist labor alienating. Lyotard notoriously thought otherwise, and there is a magnificent scene in Elio Petri’s The Working Class Go To Heaven (1971) that shows the hard, visceral engagement of worker and machine.
Still, it seems an at least partially accurate delineation of the metropolitan present: where accelerated capital blocks formation of community; where the cellphone makes possible endless recombinations of fragments of labor, making all of time potentially productive; and where it takes a whole pill cabinet of anti-depressants, stimulants, anti-anxiety medications and even cocaine just to keep working through the cycles of panic and depression.
Conceptually, Berardi wants to rethink the tradition of alienation, drawing on both the young Marx (but without the lost whole) and the workerists (but without the faith in labor as an outside). It’s a question of thinking the shift from incommunicability to over-communication in an era when the question is not so much being separated from the product of one’s labor as incessantly nagged at by the products of other people’s labor for our time and money.
Berardi: “Within the postindustrial domain, we should talk of derealization rather than reification. The concept of alienation is then understood as: 1. A specific psychopathological category; 2. A painful division of self; 3. A feeling of anguish and frustration related to the inaccessible body of the other… It is the third meaning of the term alienation that best describes our present times: an era marked by the submission of the soul, in which animated, creative, linguistic, emotional corporeality is subsumed and incorporated by the production of value.” (108)
Fordist capitalism put body to work not the soul, but then it caught up with the soul as well. Once worker’s souls were at least partly left to their own devices. Extracting the body from alienation through an affirmative alienation from labor was possible while the soul was created as a thing apart. Semiocapitalism puts the soul to work. (Berardi, like Andrey Platonov before him, makes soul a useful and curious Marxist concept).
Here Berardi performs a bit of self-criticism, in that like a lot of us influenced by Deleuze and Guattari, it seemed sometimes that the liberation of desire pointed in a direction outside of commodification, a direction not indicated by the communalist but also conformist cultures of working class solidarity. Desire might be an illusion. “Yet we need to acknowledge that this very illusion is history, the city, falling in love, existence: it is the game we have been playing knowing it was a game.” (117)
Perhaps the mistake was in seeing desire as a force rather than a field, and downplaying negative forms of desire. “Desire judges history, but who judges desire?” (118) Judging desire, or rather reformatting it, might be what ‘politics’ amounts to in the twenty-first century. Desire experiences limits, but can the limit not always be an other to push against, but a node of (com)passion? “Social recomposition is the process through which the relation to the other is linguistically, affectively, and politically elaborated, then transformed into a conscious collective, an autonomous aggregate, a group in fusion, constructive in its rebellion.” (119)
There’s ways to find this in Deleuze as well. Alexander Galloway thinks it is time to move away from the ‘expressive’ legacy of Deleuze to a more ‘prophylactic’ thought. Berardi might almost agree, but rather by seeking out different resources within Deleuze (and Guattari). He retains the rejection of the pre-constituted subject. “Subjectivity does not pre-exist the process of its own production.” (123) His interest shifts to the idea of the chaoid, a kind of modulator of communicative excess and chaotic unpredictability.
How did sadness come to prevail? For Berardi, in post-Fordist production solidarity was throttled, labor became precarious, and the soul put to work. There was a dissolution of chaos reducers, refrains, organizers of fields – chaoids – and the result is an exhausting cycle of panic and depression, where depression is a refusal of the field of communication and the stimulants to desire it offers, all of which connect to nothing but more labor and more commodities. “We are entering the civilization of emptiness.” A world Lauren Berlant characterizes as one of cruel optimism.
The rhetoric of desire is thus rather exhausted itself. Here Baudrillard’s critique of it turns out to be prescient. He understood desire’s in-folding into commodified acceleration. Desire turns out not to be an outside. There was a critique in advance here of something like Hardt and Negri’s multitude, presented as if it was a boundless positive energy. Rather: the so-called black hole of the masses, who absorb all communication but refuse to respond.
Drawing on Matteo Pasquinelli, Berardi speaks rather of libidinal parasites, and a ‘thermodynamics’ of desire in which it is actually quite limited – maybe imploding, and perhaps suffering what Dominic Pettman calls peak libido. Berardi: “having abandoned a certain Spinozist triumphalism, we can admit that libidinal energy is a limited resource.” (160) Desire is an ambivalent field, not a divine force. “The schizo vision thinks that the proliferation of desire can endlessly erode all structures of control. The implosive vision sees proliferation as the diffusion of a derealizing virus.” (160)
This is an era then of Thano-politics (what I called thanaticism), where the soul becomes fully commodified, and commodities become what Rachel Law and I called weaponized adorables. It is post-political to the extent that it is no longer possible to consciously and mythically organize information around a shared project. It is a time of “soul troubles” (209) Of war against collective intelligence. Power even turns against one of its own servants – the university.
If, as Berardi suggests, Antonioni was the film maker of an earlier era of alienation, then perhaps Olivier Assayas is the film maker of de-realization. As Steven Shaviro saws of Assayas’ Boarding Gate, it is a film of relentless horizontality, of connection, none of it good. His demonlover prefigures what Berardi calls “a pathogenic separation between cognitive functions and material sociality.” (109)
It is a bleak vision, which becomes even more so in Berardi’s more recent book Heroes, which documents a lurid fascination with serial killers and other symptomatic news stories, not unlike Bernard Stiegler’s little book Acting Out. Berardi’s call for a therapeutic (post) politics could be connected to Stiegler’s for the restoration of ‘long loops of desire’ against the short circuits and synchronizations which paradoxically prevent the formation of a primary narcissism that might ward off a more damaging lack of autonomy.
Berardi still uses some of the language of the late workerist cum autonomist writers. As I wrote (on Terranova and Moulier Boutang), I don’t find the invocation of the ‘immaterial’ or the ‘cognitive’ particularly helpful. Berardi’s own account of the declension of the intellectual into the sphere of production would seem to indicate why one should push harder towards a fully material account of information. His perspective also seems at times rather limited to the overdeveloped western world, although Heroes has a beautiful sketch of the South Korean variant of that world. Still, if anyone has found a genealogy, and an affect, for early twenty-first century life as many of us live it — it is Bifo.
by J.G. Ballard
During these assassination fantasies
Ronald Reagan and the conceptual auto disaster. Numerous studies have been conducted upon patients in terminal paresis (G.P.I.), placing Reagan in a series of simulated auto crashes, e.g. multiple pile-ups, head-on collisions, motorcade attacks (fantasies of Presidential assassinations remained a continuing preoccupation, subjects showing a marked polymorphic fixation on windshields and rear trunk assemblies). Powerful erotic fantasies of an anal-sadistic character surrounded the image of the Presidential contender. Subjects were required to construct the optimum auto disaster victim by placing a replica of Reagan's head on the unretouched photographs of crash fatalities. In 82 percent of cases massive rear-end collisions were selected with a preference for expressed fecal matter and rectal hemorrhages. Further tests were conducted to define the optimum model-year. These indicate that a three-year model lapse with child victims provide the maximum audience excitation (confirmed by manufacturers' studies of the optimum auto disaster). It is hoped to construct a rectal modulus of Reagan and the auto disaster of maximized audience arousal.
Tallis became increasingly obsessed
Motion picture studies of Ronald Reagan reveal characteristic patterns of facial tonus and musculature associated with homo-erotic behaviour. The continuing tension of buccal sphincters and the recessive tongue role tally with earlier studies of facial rigidity (cf., Adolf Hitler, Nixon). Slow-motion cine-films of campaign speeches exercised a marked erotic effect upon an audience of spastic children. Even with mature adults the verbal material was found to have minimal effect, as demonstrated by substitution of an edited tape giving diametrically opposed opinions. Parallel films of rectal images revealed a sharp upsurge in anti-Semitic and concentration camp fantasies (cf., anal-sadistic fantasies in deprived children induced by rectal stimulation).
with the pudenda of the Presidential contender
Incidence of orgasms in fantasies of sexual intercourse with Ronald Reagan. Patients were provided with assembly kit photographs of sexual partners during intercourse. In each case Reagan's face was superimposed upon the original partner. Vaginal intercourse with 'Reagan' proved uniformly disappointing, producing orgasm in 2 percent of subjects. Axillary, buccal, navel, aural and orbital modes produced proximal erections. The preferred mode of entry overwhelmingly proved to be the rectal. After a preliminary course in anatomy it was found that caecum and transverse colon also provided excellent sites for excitation. In an extreme 12 percent of cases, the simulated anus of post-colostomy surgery generated spontaneous orgasm in 98 percent of penetrations. Multiple-track cine-films were constructed of 'Reagan' in intercourse during (a) campaign speeches, (b) rear-end auto collisions with oneand three-year-old model changes, (c) with rear exhaust assemblies, (d) with Vietnamese child-atrocity victims.
mediated to him by a thousand television screens.
Sexual fantasies in connection with Ronald Reagan. The genitalia of the Presidential contender exercised a continuing fascination. A series of imaginary genitalia were constructed using (a) the mouth-parts of Jacqueline Kennedy, (b) a Cadillac rear-exhaust vent, (c) the assembly kit prepuce of President Johnson, (d) a child-victim of sexual assault. In 89 percent of cases, the constructed genitalia generated a high incidence of self-induced orgasm. Tests indicate the masturbatory nature of the Presidential contender's posture. Dolls consisting of plastic models of Reagan's alternate genitalia were found to have a disturbing effect on deprived children.
The motion picture studies of Ronald Reagan
Reagan's hairstyle. Studies were conducted on the marked fascination exercised by the Presidential contender's hairstyle. 65 percent of male subjects made positive connections between the hairstyle and their own pubic hair. A series of optimum hairstyles were constructed.
created a scenario of the conceptual orgasm,
The conceptual role of Reagan. Fragments of Reagan's cinetized postures were used in the construction of model psychodramas in which the Reagan-figure played the role of husband, doctor, insurance salesman, marriage counsellor, etc. The failure of these roles to express any meaning reveals the non-functional character of Reagan. Reagan's success therefore indicates society's periodic need to re-conceptualize its political leaders. Reagan thus appears as a series of posture concepts, basic equations which re-formulate the roles of aggression and anality.
a unique ontology of violence and disaster
Reagan's personality. The profound anality of the Presidential contender may be expected to dominate the United States in the coming years. By contrast the late J.F. Kennedy remained the prototype of the oral object, usually conceived in prepubertal terms. In further studies sadistic psychopaths were given the task of devising sex fantasies involving Reagan. Results confirm the probability of Presidential figures being perceived primarily in genital terms; the face of L.B. Johnson is clearly genital in significant appearance—the nasal prepuce, scrotal jaw, etc. Faces were seen as either circumcised (JFK, Khrushchev) or uncircumcised (LBJ, Adenauer). In assemblykit tests Reagan's face was uniformly perceived as a penile erection. Patients were encouraged to devise the optimum sex-death of Ronald Reagan.
excerpt from the book: The Atrocity Exhibition by J.G. Ballard
by Franco "Bifo" Berardi
Deregulation and control
Baudrillard remarks that the word liberation has been losing its meaning since power stopped being founded on the norm, on the disciplinary regulation of bodies and of social, linguistic and moral relations, that is to say since the world was submerged by generalized indeterminacy.
In the Fordist era, the fluctuations of prices, salaries, and profits were founded on the relation between the time of socially necessaire labor and the determination of value. With the introduction of micro-electronic technologies, and the consequent intellectualization of productive labor, the relationships between existing units of measure and the different productive forces entered a regime of indeterminacy. The deregulation launched by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan at the beginning of the 1980s is not the of such indeterminacy, but its political inscription. Neolibelralism registered the end of the rule of value, and made it into an economic policy. The decision that Richard Nixon made in 1971 to delink the dollar from gold gave American capitalism a pivotal role within the global economy, freeing it from the constitutional frame established in Bretton Woods in 1944. Since then, the American economy was no longer subject to the control of economic laws (if this control ever existed), and only relied on force.
American debt could grow indefinitely, since the debtor was millitary stronger than the creditor. Since then, the USA has made the rest of the world pay for the ramping up of their war machine, and uses its war machine to threaten the rest of the world and force it to pay. Far from being an objective science, economics revealed itself to be a modeling of social relations, an enterprise of violent coercion, whose task is the imposition of arbitrary rules on social activities: competition, maximum profit, unlimited growth.
In Symbolic Exchange and Death, Baudrillard had an intuition about the general lines of the evolution characterizing the end of the millennium:
"The reality principle corresponded to a certain stage of the law of value. Today the whole system is swamped by indeterminacy, and every reality is absorbed by the hyperreality of the code and simulation."
The entire system fell into indeterminacy, since the correspondences between referent and sign, simulation and event, value and time of labor were no longer guaranteed. The decision that inaugurated the end of the dollar's convertibility inaugurated an aleatory regime of fluctuating values. The rule of convertibility was dismissed according to an act of political will, while in those same 1970s, the entire technical and organizational system ruled by the mechanical paradigm, started to crumble.
How is value established, then, within the aleatory regime of fluctuating values? Through violence, swindling and lies. Brute force is legitimated as the only effective source of law. The aleatory regime of fluctuating values coincides with the domination of cynicism in public discourse and in the public soul.
In order to understand the social effects of Neoliberal deregulation, we have to understand the phytopathogenic effects that the precariousness of social relations produces on the individual and the collective soul. Beginning with the 1970s, deregulation assumed a central role in the ideology of power, upsetting not only the relations between the economy and society but also the coordinate of critical discourse. The word deregulation is false. It looks as if it originated in the history of the anti-systemic avant-garde to bring a libertarian wind into the social sphere and heralding the end of every norm and constructive rule. In reality, the deregulatory practices that accompany the victory of monetary neo-liberalism consist in clearing away all rules, so that only the rules of the economic dominated, uncontested. The only legitimate rule is now the strictest, the most violent, the most cynical, the most irrational of all the rules: the law of the economic jungle.
In the works that Foucault devoted to the genealogy of modern power formations, the key concept was discipline, understood as the modeling of the bodies in the Fordist context. In his early writings, where he studied the formation of the modern disciplinary structures - mental hospitals, clinics, prisons-Foucault built a theory of modern power that included a theory of subject formation.
Now that the despotic regime of liberalist deregulation has fully developed itself, the discourse Foucault developed in his early writings needs to be updated. Foucault himself realized it, as we can see in The Birth of Biopolitics, the subsequently published form of his 1979 seminar at the College de France. Here Foucault retraces the post - Fordist transformation as an implosive insertion of the neoliberalist form within the animated social body. In his seminar, contemporary with the election of Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain and of Ronald Reagan in the USA, Foucault broadens the scope of his genealogical and biopolitical perspective in order to include the economic processes that in those years were only beginning to take shape.
In his Course Summary, Foucault writes:
"The theme was to have been 'biopolities,' by which I meant the attempt, starting from the eighteenth century, to rationalize the problems posed to governmental practice by phenomena characteristic of a set of living beings forming a population: health, hygiene, birth rate, life expectancy, race ... We know the increasing importance of these problems since the nineteenth century, and the political and economic issues they have raised up to the present."
With the word biopolitics, Foucault introduces the idea that the history of power is the story of the living body being modeled by deeply mutational institutions and practices, capable of introducing behaviors and expectations and indeed permanent modifications in the living. Biopolities represents a morphogenetic modeling of the living operated by the habitat with which it is required to interact.
Liberalism (or rather neo-liberalism, since we want to refer to the particularly aggressive variant of liberalism that was proposed throughout the 1 970s by the Chicago School of economics and later adopted by American and British governments until it finally became, after 1989, the central dogma of global politics) is a political program whose purpose implies the inoculation of the enterprise principle to every space of human relations. Privatization and the fact that every fragment of the social sphere was reduced to the entrepreneurial model freed economic dynamics from any tie be they political, social, ethical, juridical, unionist or environmental. In prior decades, these ties were able to shore up privatization thanks to the public investment policies that had been stimulated by Keynes' reforms and the workers' organized action.
But the more liberal deregulation eliminates any legal ties within production and the juridical person is freed from regulations, the more living social time is caught in linguistic, technological and psychological chains. Foucault explains that biopolitics is a process of internalization: economic chains are incorporated in the physical and linguistic sphere once society has been freed from any formal rule. In this sense the question of freedom today is a biopolitical problem.
Let me indulge, now, in a Marxist digression.
In his so-called "Unpublished Sixth Chapter" of Volume I of Capital, published in the 1960s, Marx talks about the passage from to real subsumption by capital. Formal subsumption is based on the juridical subjugation of the laborers, on the formal disciplining of the bodies. Real subsumption means instead that the workers' lifetimes have been captured by the capital flow, and the souls have been pervaded by techno-linguistic chains.
The introduction of pervasive technologies, the computerization of productive processes and of social communication enact a molecular domination upon the collective nervous network. This the domain of the dead object, the commodity, which objectifies human activity reducing it to a cognitive automatism. In this sense we should speak of "thanato-politics" (from the Greek "Thanatos" meaning death): the submission of intelligent life to the dead object, the domination of the dead over the living.
Neo-Liberal theories reduce the concept of freedom to its formal, juridical dimension. But contemporary totalitarianism has forged chains that are different from those of political absolutism: its instruments of domination have moved from the domain of politics to that of the technical production of subjectivity, from the realm of the juridical person to the animated body, to the soul.
Neoliberalism aimed, on one side, at the elimination of all legal norms and social regulations that resulted in the limitation of competitive dynamics. On the other side, it wanted to transform every domain of social life (included health care, education, sexuality, affects, culture, etc) into an economic space where the only valid rule is that of supply and demand within an increasingly absolute privatization of services.
Neoliberalism eliminated the ties that protected society from the economical dynamics of competition; therefore an effect of biopolitical branding was produced in the collective mind-body.
"It means generalizing the 'enterprise' from within the social body or social fabric; it means talking this social fabric and arranging things so that it can be broken down, subdivided, and reduced, not according to the grain of individuals, bur according to the grain of enterprises. The individual life must be lodged [ ...]
within the framework of a multiplicity of diverse enterprises connected up to and entangled with each other [ ... ]. And finally, the individual's life itself-with his relationships to his private property, for example, with his family, household, insurance, and retirement-must make him into a sort of permanent and multiple enterprise [ ... ]. What is the function of this generalization of the 'enterprise' form? On the one hand, of course, it involves extending the economic model of supply and demand and investment-cost- profits so as to make it a model of social relations and of existence itself, a form of relationship of the individual to himself, time, those around him, the group, and the family [...] The return to the enterprise is therefore at once an economic policy or a policy of the economization of the entire social field, but at the same time a policy which presents itself or seeks to be a kind of Vitalpolitik with the function of compesating for what is cold, impassive, calculating, rational, and mechanical in the strictly economic game of competition".
The reign of the enterprise is at once a political deregulation process and an epistemic process of a new segmentation of time, and cultural of time, and cultural expectations. In this sense it is a Vitalpolitik, a politics of life a biopolitics.
On a political level, the neoliberal victoty leads to the creation of what Foucault defines:
"a sort of economic tribunal that claims to assess goverment action in strictly economic and market terms."
Every government choice, social initiative, form of culture, education, innovation, is judged according to a unique criterion: that of economic competition and profitability. Every discipline, knowledge, nuance of sensibility must conform to that criterion. Neoliberalism represents an attempt to build the homo oeconomicus, an anthropological model incapable of distinguishing between one's own good and economic interest.
At the origins of the liberalist vision there is a reduction of human good (ethical and aesthetic good) to economic interest, and the reduction of the idea of wealth to that of ownership. The idea of wealth is separated from the pleasure of free enjoyment and reduced to the accumulation of value.
excerpt from the book: THE SOUL AT WORK/ FROM ALIENATION TO AUTONOMY/ Franco "Bifo" Berardi