The Nightmare of Development

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In the fourth chapter of Difference and Repetition, Deleuze offers his account of the development of the larval subject, the genesis of which unfolds like an embryo: always at the verge of dissolution, as the ongoing mutation of the quasi-formed in the sea of intensities (in A Thousand Plateaus, where these conceptual packages return with a mighty force, Deleuze writes that “[t]he organ changes when it crosses a threshold, when it changes gradient” – ATP, 153)). The passage in question:

The system is populated by subjects, both larval subjects and passive selves: passive selves because they are indistinguishable from the contemplation of couplings and and resonances; larval subjects because they are the supports or patients of the dynamisms. In effect, pure spatio-temporal, with its necessary participation in the forced movement, can be experienced only at the borders of the livable, under the conditions beyond which it would entail the death of any well-constituted subject endowed with independence and activity. Embryology already displays the truth that there are systematic vital movements, torsions and drifts, that only the embryo can sustain: an adult would be torn apart by them. There are movements by which only one can be a patient, but the patient in turn can only be a larva. Evolution does not take place in the open air, and only the involuted evolves. A nightmare is perhaps a psychic dynamism that could be sustained neither awake nor even in dreams, but only in profound sleep, in a dreamless sleep. In this sense, it is not even clear that thought, insofar as it constitutes the dynamism peculiar to philosophical systems, may be related to a substantial, completed, and well-constituted subject, such as the Cartesian Cogito: thought is, rather, one of those terrible movements which can only be sustained only under the conditions of a larval subject. (D&R, 114-115)

This likening of the experience of the subject to that of the development embryo, and then from the embryo to the nightmare, is an incredibly provocative constellation to be grappled with. It also forms a bridge between this work and Anti-Oedipus, where the notion of the nightmare returns again in relation to development, only this time it is long-range historical development, and the nightmare is the nightmare of flows. This injects into the framework the question of desire, which is always connected to that destabilizing forces that are capable of ‘tearing apart’ the “well-constituted subject”. Development, therefore, is situated between, on the one hand, the desire for dissolution or disequilibria, while on the other the blockage or “warding-off” of the free movement of flows.

… capitalism has haunted all forms of society, but it haunts them as their terrifying nightmare, it is the dread they feel of a flow that would elude their codes. (AO, 140)

Are we to believe that a universal Oedipus haunts all societies, but exactly as capitalism haunts them, that is to say, as the nightmare and the anxious foreboding of what might result from the decoding of flows and the collective disinvestment of organs, the becoming-abstract of the flows of desire, and the becoming-private of the organs? (AO, 144)

… the greatest danger would be yet another dispersion, a scission such that all the possibilities of coding would be suppressed: decoded flows, flowing on a blind, mute, deterritoriahzed socius—such is the nightmare that the primitive social machine exorcises with all its forces, and all its segmentary articulations. (AO, 154)

How can this nightmare be imagined: the invasion of the socius by noncoded flows that move like lava? An irrepressible wave of shit, as in the Fourbe myth; or the intense germinal influx, the this-side-of incest, as in the Yourougou myth, which introduces disorder into the world by acting as the representative of desire. (AO, 170)

… exchange is known, well known in the primitive socius—but as that which must be exorcised, encasted, severely restricted, so that no corresponding value can develop as an exchange value that would introduce the nightmare of a commodity economy. (AO, 186)

… Oedipus haunts all societies, but as the nightmare of something that has still not happened to them—its hour has not come. (AO, 217)

The movement of deterritorialization can never be grasped in itself, one can only grasp its indices in relation to the territorial representations. Take the example of dreams: yes, dreams are Oedipal, and this comes as no surprise, since dreams are a perverse reterritorialization in relation to the deterritorialization of sleep and nightmares. (AO, 316)

There’s a common critique of D&G, a dusty one that is cranked out regularity from the grim grad school carousal, that their project fails due to their inability to distinguish their visions of thought, individuation, and the unconscious – a vision that emerges from Difference and Repetition – from the functions of capitalism itself. What this critique fails to recognize that this is not something buried in the text capable of serving as a “gotcha!” – this is precisely what is brought to the surface by D&G, the very problematic that they wish to unveil.

2012

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When I was a kid, growing up in the 90s, Y2K loomed as a strange beacon on the horizon. Its presence was a fact of life. My dad, always quick to find accept the weirdest of all possible explanations for things, organized a lackadaisical supply of water, canned goods, and MREs. I have no idea if he actually believed that the catastrophe was actually impending (if he did, then he surely didn’t plan for the severity that it entailed), or whether or not it was an interested “just-in-case” type deal. Either way, onrush of this technological-temporal breakdown was just one bit of the household soundtrack, nestled neatly alongside – and overlapping with – running commentaries on Clinton, Waco, Ruby Ridge, Janet Reno, the American militia movement, so on and so forth.

It was a similar case in social life. Many summer evenings were spent with the kids on the block getting together and discussing the end of the world and all those things that come with it: Y2K, prophecies – Biblical or otherwise – that foretold Millennial doom, paranormal occurrences (ghosts, UFOs), and government conspiracies. I don’t think the response to these things was skepticism, nor was it a blind acceptance. It was something more akin to a movement between bemusement and excitement, if not at the prospect of apocalypse itself but at the possibility of it. We were all being raised by oddball parents (one friend of mine had parents who were collecting twenty-dollar bills in a “Y2K jar”; when a little bit of money went missing they frantically called everybody’s parents demanding to know which child had taken it… as if paper money would be good in such a doomsday event!), the X-Files, and Coast-to-Coast AM – but each of these three addresses something wider about American culture, something that truly exploded in this time period but by no means was unique to it.

In his book American Apocalypses: The Image of the End of the World in American Literature, suggests that “the whole question of the apocalyptic ideology, of the historical transformation of space and time from old to new, from corruption to innocence, from death to rebirth, is fundamental to American literature”. If apocalypse is all-pervasive in American literature, then apocalypse is all-pervasive in American culture. Perhaps we could adopt the position of what Dominic Pettman calls “libidinal millenarianism” – a desiring-flux oscillating between a “specific strain of the carnivalesque and a revulsion against it” that is”ever-suspended between orgasm and extinction” – to analyze this position, bringing with it the Freudo-Marxian toolkit that he uses to get purchase on these dynamics. I’ll leave to that future posts (which probably will never arrive).

For Pettman, this libidinal millenarianism “blossoms in that psychically and politically charged space between anticipation and climax”. The 90s, fueled by the tech-bubble and astoundingly irrational exuberance, fueled a millenarianism frenzy that was at once utopic (frictionless global capitalism! the end of history! the singularity!) and apocalyptic (New World Order conspiracies, Y2K crashdown, maybe the Second Coming of Christ). Neither can really be separated from one another, nor can they be separated from what happened on the other side: no orgasmic explosion at the end of all things, but a climax spoiled – the empty discharge of the anti-climax. Cue the two-fold truncation of the American future, first with the bursting of the tech-bubble and then with the events on the morning of September 11th, 2001 – and so commenced the long shadow of post-Fordism in its most crisis-ridden mode and the neocon remix of neoliberal governmentality. As of yet, we haven’t truly escaped either of these things.

We had a second chance at apocalyptic splendor with 2012, the purported end date of the Mayan calendar’s long-count and ‘galactic alignment’ between Earth and the galactic center. 2012 was the farcical repetition of Y2K, which it shared a sort of common cultural DNA with. Both millennium fever and 2012 were a reflection of the archaic revival, a weird sort of time-tangling in which advancing technology seemed to engender a return of the deep past. Terence McKenna, himself the author of the book The Archaic Revival, was a seminal figure in this tech-hippy counterculture that spawned so much anxious jubilation in the run-up to 2000 – but he had also helped popularize anticipations surrounding 2012 through his Timewave Zero theory, which a cosmological rush, mappable through fractalizing wave-patterns across history, to an eschatological zero point. This point was December of 2012, adjacent to the end of the Mayan calendar.

Despite these juicy bits wooey high strangeness, 2012 never achieved the same level of intensity that 2000 did. Maybe it’s because the years prior to 2012 were characterized by breakdown, as opposed to the sense of build-up that characterized the 1990s. Maybe people simply couldn’t be bothered, either because of the still-lingering anti-climax of the millennium or because such fantastical notions offered little in the face of economic crisis.

For myself and many others, 2012 was itself an odd year, characterized by a sense of temporal disjunction that was perhaps fitting for a time in which an apocalypse that nobody cared about was said to be imminent. 2011 had been a year of intense social upheaval, which had manifested in the United States as the Occupy movement. I had participated in the NYC part of the movement – the de facto ‘hub’ in what was ostensibly supposed to be a hub-less movement – in the latter part of that year, but by 2012 that was all over. I had blown off school for the final time, and was spending my days working in the warehouse of a failing novelty company. Time, which had seemed to oscillate wildly between being dynamic and explosive to bitter and disappointing just a year prior, was now a smooth plane of openness – but it was by no means empty.

During OWS I had picked up Anti-Oedipus, and so much of the next year was characterized by working through both volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia for the first time. In trying to understand what the fuck was happening in those books, I stumbled across Mark Fisher’s K-Punk blog, and eagerly consumed it in its entirety. It was an invigorating experience, and inspired me, by the end of the year, to create my first blog, the Deterritorial Investigations Unit.

This time was also characterized by a worryingly large consumption of adderall and alcohol, and nights of partying, days of work, and evenings of theorycel studying all blurred into a long continuum. It was also a time of collective experimentation. One such experiment was an attempt to make a concept album based on a mixture of 60s garage rock and what our impression of contemporary suburban adolescent boredom was like. It was never complete, no doubt in due to the overwhelming tendency to chaotic noise jamming, but here’s a sample:

(and yes, before anyone asks, a release of recordings from the Flying Dogs, spanning the years 2007-2013, is indeed in the works. Place your orders now).

Another experiment was the Committee for the Liberation of Autonomous Amusement (CLAA), which was an attempt to recapture what I had found to be the most interesting of what Occupy had to offer (a re-imagining of urban space, collective transformation, a subversion of daily life) and jettison what was interesting the least (political reformism and the baggage that come with it, democratic organizationalism). A manifesto with a list of demands was drawn up and was posted all over town (one attempt to graffiti slogans ended in a car case). We also drafted a declaration against a fashionable hotel and art museum in downtown Louisville, though the great plan to distribute copies of it inside the museum, like the concept album, never came to fruition. (insane multiplication of projects + failure to complete is an eternal struggle)

At the heart of most of my concerns in this era were with identity – not its consolidation, or comfort with it, but a struggle to get out from under it. There was a notion that had been the source of much conversation, that beneath the self was an immense void, and that this void could be experienced. Obviously a sophisticated theoretical route could be taken to get to this conclusion, but this was a less-than-rigorous conception based on half-assed readings of Bataille and Elaine Scarry that went, if I’m recalling correctly, something like this: the more one approaches an experience that can only be registered individually, the more language collapses as a means to express the nature of that experience, alongside a progressive collapse of a way to get a handle on the world. A sufficiently intense experience thus pierces through the external veil of identity and opens the incommunicable void that lies beneath it.

A major way to articulate this at the time was in relation to nights spent on the dance floor of a local bar. Here, the loss of self – the loss of individual identity – happened at a collective level, albeit a small collective. At the time, however, it also seemed that something similar was at work in many sites of collective experimentation. At the wild and woolly edges of the Occupy movement it was certainly there, and its presence could be felt moving beneath the times playing music collapsed into disorder.

This drive is perhaps also related to the libidinal charge that the specter of the apocalypse brings. Back in 2012 the way in all these threads pieced together was elusive, but a recent re-listen to Fisher’s comments in 2013, as part of a panel on the “Death of Rave”, has been illuminating. After discussing what he calls the “depressive hedonism” – the realization that material success does not deliver one from abject misery and alienation – found in the music of Drake and Kanye West, Fisher states

Even if you’re stupendously wealthy like he [Drake] is, there’s still something missing. I think captures something really fundamental, which was available even to the poor in the 90s, which is collective delirium of depersonalization. Alain Ehrenberg has that expression, it’s the title of his book, the Weariness of the Self. It’s miserable for everybody to be themselves. It’s not just you. It’s miserable for anyone to be themselves… the rise of reality TV and social media are completely convergent with, or completely coincident, rather, with the decline of what we’re talking about here. It’s kind of a magical capture that is all done with mirrors. On the 90s dance floor – you know that great line that you quoted about “impending human extinction becomes as accessible as a dance floor” – there’s that enjoyment of the dissolution of identity, which it’s just miserable to be human, for all of us. And instead of that the key kind of social technologies of the 21st century are facializing, you know, encouraging us back into this identification with ourselves. The Willem Dafoe character in, you know, David Cronenberg’s ExistenZ calls this “the most pathetic level of reality”. Psychological individualism. It’s much better to be these kind of depersonalized intensities than to be a person.

The famous Zizek quip is that it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than it is the imagine the end of capitalism – but the argument of Fisher here suggests an occult link between apocalyptic imaginaries (communicated through the infamous line about human extinction and the dance floors, which was plugged directly in the libidinal charge of Y2K) and post-capitalist imaginaries. Pettman argued a similar point, regarding libidinal millenarianism: that is constitutes a hyper-focus of libidinal energy onto some sort of object that serves as the means to a transvaluation of values. Taking stock of the reality of something like anthropocenic climate change, we might also say that alongside the inability to imagine the end of capitalism is coupled to an inability to imagine the end of the world.

The apocalypse is something like a historical limit-experience, an imaginal counterpart to the depersonalization that operates at the limit of individuality. Loss of self, even if temporary and especially as a collective, is a brush with some kind of death. To bring this down to earth (and to conclude these rambles), here’s some interesting comments on Blanchot’s conception of community by way of Xenogoth:

for Blanchot, Nancy’s consideration of death as wholly inoperative — simply because it is a limit-experience — is an unhelpful simplification and one which does not speak truth to the reality of “community” as that which occurs in the spaces between “us”.

For Blanchot, death is not the end of community, nor, by contrast, is birth its start — although there would, of course, be no community without either event. Birth and death are rather those events which are responsible for bringing the very community of which they are apart together. They are community at its most potent but that is not the same as being a bookend. What ruptures community in the taking-place of these events is that relation which escapes expression. In this sense, death may be the limit of the individual but it is the height of community, where love, at its most potent — “love” understood here, via Blanchot, as that name for the unshareable affectation of the communal — erupts within and without community, as it is physically instantiated.

Nick Land’s Philosophy of Capital is Anti-Capitalist

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Jotting down some notes that popped into my head just as I was about to fall asleep, so take the following as a rough draft of, well, probably nothing. I’m not sure why these sorts of things crawl about in the late night hours, and not anything related to more pressing projects. Perhaps poor time preference? Idk. Here following a cheeky quasi-shit post:

In his recent interview with Justin Murphy (a transcript of which can be read at the Vast Abrupt), Land offers his thoughts on that concept that will be intimately familiar with those who have kept up on the various /Acc wars: the autonomization and escape of capital. Here’s solid quote:

…in using this word of emancipation, sure, I will totally nod along to it if what is meant by that is capital autonomization. I don’t think that’s something that it isn’t already there in the 1990s, but I’m no longer interested in playing weird academic games about this and pretending this is the same thing as what the left really means when they’re talking about emancipation. I don’t think it is. I think what the left means by emancipation is freedom from capital autonomization.

What would it mean for capital to be autonomized? On the one hand, we might just be talking about the autonomization of capital in a flat sense, a coupling-together of Marx’s depiction of capable as “a dynamic structure of abstract domination that, although constituted by humans, is independent of their will” with extreme deregulation. I don’t think this is what Land means, however. In the quote above, he suggests that this concept is already in play in his work CCRU, and it would be exceedingly difficult to reduce the schizophrenia of that period to simply an enthusiasm for transnationalized, post-Fordist capitalism (critics are oft to do this, but this needs to be considered as the ground, not the totality). In the late-CCRU era of the Hyperstition blog references abound to technomic acceleration as Shoggothic insurgency, a concept that appeared earlier in a piece concerning the possibility of a nanotech gray-goo apocalypse and later in the (admittedly more sober) essay in the #Accelerate Reader, where he describes a “dominion of capital”, “robot rebellion” and the conversion of “all natural purposes into a monstrous reign of the tool”. In a Xenosystems post, meanwhile, Land muses that “At a certain point, the machines are in this for themselves”.

Jumping off from this, let’s assume capital autonomization as a given, and interpret it – which I believe is correct, but am open to counter-arguments – as indicating, at some point, the emergence of distinctly post-human life. My contention is that by accepting that capital autonomizes in this way, one is also accepting that capital is overcoming – and thus annihilating itself – through the very same process. This isn’t the destructive of the living object or system that we deem to be post-human life, but the destruction of both the categorization and the system that it, up to this point, was embedded within.

The reason for this is that what Land identifies as the process of capitalist autonomization is the same vector that Marx traces out the dynamic means-ends reversal that characterizes the development of the capitalist system. To sum it up as simply as possible, what begin as means – capital, particularly in its money-form – are transformed into ends in themselves. The situation of money progresses from being a means to buy and sell commodities to both the accumulation and circulation of itself being an end (the movement from C – M – C to M – C – M’). Alongside this simple commodity production is transformed into advanced production and the laborer goes from being one who uses the tool (as in pre-capitalist craft production and simple commodity production) to being one who is subjected to the tool (as described in that machine fragment in the Grundrisse everyone is going on about).

Through these sorts of processes, we perceive the advancement of capital as unfolding through the subjugation of the human. If capital, however, doesn’t transcend its status as an end, then it hasn’t actually escaped. As alluded to above, for Marx capital is independent of the individual will of the human agent, and while the activities of the human agent are the processes through which capital expands, it is beyond it in the sense that it is what compels these activities – in other words, an abstract mode of social domination. If we’re taking capital’s escaping as simply the intensification of the subjugation of the human, then no true change has occurred. Capital remains locked in place, and while it may have achieved the status of the master, the ultimate end, the great teleological catastrophe, it stays fundamentally attached to class society. This would be far from the suggestion that the human element is a drag, something to be overcome.

If capital truly escapes, then, it would be through a break with its status as an end, and this would entail nothing less that the concrete separation from the system that maintains it as such. This would be an emancipation from the law of value, and it would be at this very point that capital would not be capital.

One might argue that a posthuman, post-capital something might be forced to retain capitalist for survival. Three lazy responses:

  1. The existence of such a hypothetical entity will have emerged specifically from centuries of struggle for optimization against these very conditions, and thus the natural inclination of these systems would be to work against this sort of thing (this is retaining the idea of contradictions internal to the capitalist mode of production, per Marx).
  2. If we take seriously the suggestion that predictive is breaking down the deeper we get into increasingly non-linear developmental processes (that is, taking seriously questions posed by U/Acc and the accelerationist trolley problem, and more generalized knowledge problems in the context of complex, interconnected societies situated in a fast-paced global world assaulted by increasingly weird weather), we actually lose the ability to make overly strong claims of these nature.
  3. The Bataille response – excess is intrinsic and fundamental, bby. Go mine an asteroid and eat a star and make peace with eventual heat death.

Machinic Surplus Value

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“Celibate machines reproduce human surplus value, furnishing the bourgeoisie with recording rights to all of capitalism’s operative axioms, bringing organic stratometers, judgments of God governing isometric command chains, crushing down on schizonomadic economic swarm space. Diffused through the microphysical weave of spinal multiplicity, metrophage control command sequences institute the bourgeoisie as the optimal distribution profile for State power. No more dysfunctional despotic masters: slaves command other slaves in the ravenous stomach of the crystal factory complex – the mutant, urogenital servomechanism calibrated for the reproduction of the capitalist socius in the gambling dens of Terra Nova markets.”

In the “Civilized Capitalist Machine” chapter of Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari (henceforth D&G) introduce a major revision of Marx’s analysis of capitalist dynamics: the addition of what they describe as machinic surplus value to the more tradition category of human surplus value. They begin by grappling with what Marx described as the organic composition of capital, that is, the input-ratios of constant capital (fixed costs like machines and other equipment, raw materials, building, etc.) to variable capital (human labor) as contained in the commodity – and thus as serving as an index for what is happening within the process of production. This organic composition can be analyzed with the very basic formula C/V, with C denoting constant capital and V denoting the variable capital; if C rises over V, this means that more capital is being put towards fixed costs, and if rises over C then it is a greater allocation to the human labor.

D&G choose instead to approach this by way of a different formula: Dy/Dx. In this differential relation, Dy represents the fluctuations of variable capital, its rises and falls over time, while Dx denotes the fluctuations of constant capital. They write:

It is from the fluxion of decoded flows, from their conjunction that the filiative form of capital, x+dx, results. The differential relation expresses the fundamental capitalist phenomenon of the transformation of the surplus value of code into a surplus value of flux. The fact that a mathematical appearance here replaces the old code simply signifies that one is witnessing a breakdown of the subsisting codes and territorialities for the benefit of a machine of a another species, functioning in an entirely different way. This is no longer the cruelty of life, the terror of one life brought to bear against another life, but a post-mortem despotism, the despot become anus and vampire: “Capital is dead labor, that vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labor, and lives the more the labour it sucks. (AO, 228)

What they are describing here as the surplus value of code refers to the innate laws governing pre-capitalist modes of economic and social organization (I’m not comfortable at all with this concept, but I’ll have to get more thoughts in order to properly articulate why), while the surplus value of flux is the surplus value of Marx proper. The Janus-faced fluctuations within Dy/Dx (or C/V) are thus expressing the very process of “all that is solid melting into air”, as everything that was once fixed (coded + territorializing) is unleashed from itself, stamped with new codes, and entered into the mad circulation of the market. Commodity production then, for D&G as with Marx, is historically specific, and is therefore conceivable as being ultimately transitory.

But here we enter into a problem by way of that most contentious of Marx’s theoretical concepts, the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. To summarize it as briefly (and thus insufficiently!) as possible, Marx suggested that over time the ratio of constant capital to variable capital would continue to grow, which would lead to progressive obsolescence of the human laborer, and on the other side of this a fall in the average rate of profit (average being the average of the capitalist economy as a whole). This is because of the race downwards of the value – magnitudes of socially-necessary labor time – imparted to the commodity in the face of overwhelming mechanization; from this perspective, the entire capitalist economy is like a gigantic clock  running down, with the zero-point basically being a fully-automated economic system.

This tendency is dampened occasionally by counter-tendencies that push the rate of profit back up, which has led to a plethora of debates over the real status of the tendency to fall within Marx’s own theory (my personal feeling is that it is of utmost importance, and that it can be empirically demonstrated, which is something I attempted in my Uncertain Futures book. The nuclear kernel of the accelerationist reading of Marx is also predicated on the centrality of the tendency). D&G, for their part, write that

First of all, it appears that – in keeping with Balibar’s remarks – this tendency to a falling rate of profit has no end, but reproduces itself while reproducing the factors that counteract it. But why does it have no end? Doubtless for the same reasons that provoke the laughter of the capitalists and their economists when they ascertain that surplus value cannot be determined mathematically. (AO, 228)

This leads them to grapple with the specter of a capitalism that, while emerging from historically-specific – and ultimately contingent – factors, has become something that exists without end, for everything that can end it is is modulated within it in order to serve as the very means of reproducing it. The classical Marxist problematic is reproduced here: capitalism, as a system, has no exterior limit (it will continually move itself to the peripheries, wherever they may be), only an interior one that is capital itself. 

It is here that the concept of machinic surplus value is introduced:

This problem was raised again recently by Maurice Clavel, in a series of decisive and willfully incompetent questions – that is, questions addressed to Marxist economists by someone who doesn’t quite understand how one can maintain human surplus value as the basis for capitalist production, while recognizing that machines too “work” or produce value, that they have always worked, and that they work more and more in proportion to man, who thus ceases to be a constituent part of the production process, in order to become adjacent to this process. (AO, 232)

D&G refer to “Fragment on Machines” from the Grundrisse in a footnote to this passage. It is there that Marx describes how automation, on the one hand, levels the human laborer through the stripping of the sort of agency that characterized simple commodity production and remakes them as a “conscious linkages” in an inhuman automation, while on the other hand engenders the “blow this foundation [for expanded reproduction of capitalist social relations] sky-high”. In clear relation to the dynamism between the fluctuations in the organic composition of capital and the rise and falls of the rate of profit, Marx describes capital as “a moving contradiction, [in] that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour, on the other side, as sole measure of wealth”.

This discourse on the contradictions of automation is clearly an influence on D&G’s construction of machinic surplus value, as is another term introduced by Marx in the “Fragment”: the general intellect.

Nature builds no machines, no locomotives, railways, electric telegraphs, self-acting mules etc. These are products of human industry; natural material transformed into organs of the human will over nature, or of human participation in nature. They are  of the human brain, created by the human hand; the power of knowledge, objectified. The development of fixed capital indicates to what degree general social knowledge has become a direct force of production, and to what degree, hence, the conditions of the process of social life itself have come under the control of the general intellect and been transformed in accordance with it. To what degree the powers of social production have been produced, not only in the form of knowledge, but also as immediate organs of social practice, of the real life process. (emphasis mine)

The relationship illustrated here, between the development of fixed or constant capital (particularly in the form of automation) and a more generalized techno-scientific development, would have been of supreme importance to D&G. By the time Anti-Oedipus was published in 1972, theories of a wide-ranging transformation in the nature of the capitalist mode of production had been swirling about for some three decades. James Burnham’s 1941 The Managerial Revolution discussed the intensifying role of managers and technocrats within the structural organization of both the economy and the state, a thesis that would be reiterated in 1960 by Daniel Bell in his work The End of Ideology. For Bell (who, like Burnham, was a lapsed Marxist), the ideologies of old were exhausted in the face of rationalized production and scientific management; insofar as change would continue, it would be modifications of the then-currently existing structures. These insights would lay the groundwork for his 1974 text The Coming Post-Industrial Society, which – as its name suggests – analyzed what appeared to be the overcoming of the industrial era through the ongoing expansion of techno-scientific control and automation. The term “post-industrial society” had by this point already been introduced by the French sociologist Alain Touraine in his 1969 book The Post-Industrial Society: Tomorrow’s Social History, while Zbigniew Brzezinski offered his own elaborations in his 1970 work Between Two Ages: America in the Technetronic Era (Brzezinski had a participant in the “Commission on the Year 2000, launched in 1965 by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and overseen by Daniel Bell; many of the insights developed there ended up in this work).

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With this transformation in the nature of industrialization and society, so too was there a mutation in the traditional class structure. In the 1970s, Barbara and John Ehrenreich theorized the emergence a professional-managerial class: “salaried mental workers who do not own the means of production and whose major function in the social division of labor…(is)…the reproduction of capitalist culture and capitalist class relations”. The expanded necessity of education at all age levels, the increased role of engineers and scientists, the rampant growth of managers and divisions of firms dedicated to human relations, so on and so forth – these constitute some of the ranks of the professional managerial class as a distinctly post-Fordist phenomenon, in contrast to the industrial managerialism of the Fordist epoch.

Earlier still, the French Marxist Andre Gorz introduced what he dubbed the “scientific and technical worker”, which D&G take-up in the course of their discussion of machinic surplus value. It would be mistaken to say, however, that they view this new worker as the source of machinic surplus value: they posit that it does indeed come from machines – but where there is an increasing number of machines, the number of ‘scientific and technical workers’ will expand. Following Samir Amin’s analyses of the globalized restructuring of capitalism, D&G find here a dynamic give-and-take between the core and peripheries of the world system. Machinic surplus value – and the ‘new class’ adjacent to it – flow in one direction, and with human surplus value going in a different direction. The former concentrated in the core countries, where we might say that post-industrialization was most emergent, while the latter moved to the peripheries, in a maneuver that Alain Lipietz (of the Regulation School of post-Marxist economics) would describe as the emergence of “peripheral Fordism”. For D&G, this is the great flux-movement of capitalist deterritorialization itself:

As Samir Amin has shown, the process of deterritorialization here goes from the center to the periphery, that is, from the developed countries to the underdeveloped countries, which do not constitute a separate world, but rather an essential component of the world-wide capitalist machine… And if it is true that the tendency of the rate of profit to a falling rate of profit or to its equalization asserts itself at least partially at the center, carrying the economy toward the most progressive and the most automated sectors, a veritable “development of underdevelopment” on the periphery ensures a rise in the rate of surplus value, in the form of an increasing exploitation of the proletariat in relation to that of the center. (AO, 231)

So here we have a two-fold movement: the increasing post-industrialization of the core, correlated to the higher rates of automation, the introduction of new class formations, and a falling rate of profit, which is necessitated in turn on the industrialization of the periphery, characterized by the expansion of human labor and thus surplus value extraction. This produces a counter-tendency against the falling rate of profit. Constant spatial re-organization of the integrated capitalist system therefore makes the claim “capital has no external limit” possible. We are thus compelled to return to the site that Marx found the opening a post-capitalist future: in the increased contradiction between the efficiency of the means of production (itself an indicating the increasing centrality of techno-science coupled to an ongoing rise in constant capital in the organic composition of capital) and the mode distribution. In this sense when they suggest against Samir Amin to “accelerate the process”, it can only allude specifically to the intensification of these conditions and contradictions. It follows that post-capitalism, the “New Earth” that is a “place of healing”, may very well be for D&G, some sort of automated society.

But what of this notion of machinic surplus value? By sketching the above, we can see that they retain a close proximity to Marx’s own theories (there are some other complicated things going on in this chapter that overflow classical Marxism, and they will have to be addressed at some point) as well as the most constructive offerings of the neo-Marxists – and for this reason the concept of machinic surplus value doesn’t seem to be doing much of anything at all. They suggest as one point that it also plays a role in the “elevation of the rate of profit” (AO 223), though this seems at odds with the core/periphery dynamic they trace as the backbone of the world system of their day. One possibility is that this refers to the fact this division is not absolute: as we’re far from a fully-automated society, there will still be variable capital – and thus human labor and ‘human surplus value’ – present in the composition of the commodity, while constant capital (the source of this alleged machinic surplus value) is still a factor of production in the periphery. Even if relations in the periphery are characterized by the continual expansion of variable capital with the ratio of constant capital holding the same for each individual unit, the total constant capital would itself increase, even if the rate of profit was continuing to rise.

The other path is to cut to the core of this concept, which is to deal head-on with this suggestion that machines do actually add value to the commodities they produce – which is, after all, explicitly what D&G state when they first introduce the concept. This is a profoundly anti-Marxist argument, and if held steadily throws a wrench into the entire schema they develop across the course of the “Civilized Capitalist Machine”. If machines are capable of adding value is a way analogous to human labor, then there is never, at any point, a difference between a proletarian, and, say, an auger. If there is no distinction between the two, everything becomes flattened – there is no longer any sense of historical progression or the unfolding of processes like the internal fluctuations of the organic composition of capital itself. And if there is no progression, then the entire analytic structure of the work collapses.

Simply put, the category of machinic surplus value, as presented in Anti-Oedipus, is capable of torpedoing the entire work.

The Italian Futurists made a similar move in their own critique of Marx (h/t to Vince Garton for drawing my attention to this topic when we discussed this topic many moons ago). In a brief note titled “Synthesis of Marx’s Thought”, Marinetti vehemently rejected the conclusions of Marx’s value theory by writing that

In Marx’s opinion, the function of capital, in the production process, is sterile. Only the object of labor is fertile. The highest value of the product is exclusively the result of labor, and to this it must belong. Instead, it passes unfairly to the capitalist, in the form of profits. Profit is the surplus value… Now, the premise that the function of capital is sterile in the production process is false. If the production function of capital were sterile, the industries in which salary-capital (labor) prevailed over fixed capital would have to provide higher revenue than those industries in which fixed capital prevailed over salary-capital (labor). But this doesn’t happen in reality! (Critical Writings, 317)

The Futurists anticipated a world in which the progressive development of the means of production would produce a society of abundance, as indicated by the breathless descriptions in “Electric War: A Futurist Visionary Hypothesis” of a world where “Hunger and need have disappeared” and the “need for tiring, humiliating labor is finished… No longer having to toil in order to acquire food, man has at last conceived the pure notion of endlessly breaking records”. (Critical Writings, 223). Such a world seems at odds with the classical interpretation of Marx, in which the rate of profit falls towards some sort of catastrophic scenario. I’m wondering if the introduction of machinic surplus value by D&G doesn’t try to address this same disconnect, between reality and theory. Writing in the waning years of Fordism, before the crisis of the 1970s truly reared its face, D&G – and the Marxist left at large – were grappling with a capitalism that seemed to capable of overcoming its most irrational excesses, and perhaps even long-term tendencies that were supposed to have shaken the core of the system.

Yet the collapse of the rate of profit leading to catastrophe is not the ultimate conclusion of Marx’s mature work. Yes, the rate of profit was determined to decline in relation to the accelerating obsolescence of the human laborer and its replacement by machinery (engendering, in turn, a growing mass of superfluous people) – but this tendency wouldn’t look like a long-term stagnation. The progressive development of the means of production, the integration of techno-science into the industrial process, is a mark of a capitalism that is strong and expanding, a dynamic that in turn masks the falling rate of profit and its ultimate implications. What’s more is that as this double process unfolds, the efficiency of machinery is increasing, with is constantly raising the total productivity of the industrial system. In this regards, you end up with something that looks like this:

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The introduction of something like “machinic surplus value” can never tell us something about these sorts of tendencies, because 1) they fail to apprehend the critical nature of Marx’s construction of “value”, and 2) it potentially derives from a fundamentally incorrect appraisal of how Marx conceives of capital’s long-range tendencies and transformations (which is necessary is one is hoping to delineate a possibility space from a Marxist ground).

Luckily there is a simple solution. The conundrum in Anti-Oedipus is that the rest of the major maneuvers in “The Civilized Capitalist Machine” can be conformed to Marx’s own analysis – so we’re capable of jettisoning machinic surplus value outright without damaging the integrity of their argument. This entire thing becomes a big-ass shaggy dog story.

Also, to be fair to D&G, they seemed to have realized themselves the fundamental problem inherent to the concept. It returns again in the pages of A Thousand Plateaus, but it has been transformed:

In the organic composition of capital, variable capital defines a regime of subjection of the worker (human surplus value)  the principal framework of which is the business or factory. But with automation comes a progressive increase in the proportion of constant capital; we then see a new kind of enslavement: at the same time the work regime changes, surplus value becomes machinic, and the framework  expands to all of society. It could also be said that a small amount of subjectification took us away from machinic enslavement, but a large amount brings us back to it… [people] are no longer consumers or users, nor even subjects who supposedly “make” it, but intrinsic component pieces, “input” and “output,” feedback or recurrences that are no longer connected to the machine in such a way as to produce or use it. In machinic enslavement, there is nothing but transformations and exchanges of information, some of which are mechanical, others human.

This isn’t a firm distinction between machinic surplus value on one side and human surplus value on the other; it’s that human surplus value has become machinic. What this means isn’t that machines are adding value – we’re no longer discussing here the individual machines of production, but the very nature of the capitalist system as a whole. If surplus value is machinic, it’s because human labor has been recast in the cybernetic era; if there is a peripheral Fordism or industrialization that lingers in the manner of old, it is going to be dominated and structured internally to post-Fordism, post-industrialization. And this is a far more constructive vision than the confused deployment of the term in Anti-Oedipus. 

Postone on Capital and History

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This Moishe Postone lecture has been the soundtrack to this morning’s chores. It’s really great, and provides a straightforward unpacking of a lot the stuff going on in his dense-but-awesome 1993 work Time, Labor, and Social Domination.

One of the very intriguing points that Postone makes in his book is the way that, in chapter four Capital Volume 1 – the chapter that introduces the classic M – C – M’ ‘feedback loop’ schema – Marx resurrects Hegel’s depiction of the Geist, as an independent or self-moving substance, to describe capital itself. It’s an incredibly important point for understanding what is going on in Marx’s mature work, as undoes the common perception of the proletariat or humanity (ascending to the realization of its species-being) as the ‘subject’ of history, and attributes this position instead to capital itself.

Postone delves into this in the lecture above, and it’s worth reiterating here because it is stated so clearly. Speaking of the inner dynamics of the capitalist system (this starts somewhere in minute 37), he states:

On the one hand, it is characterized by ongoing, even accelerating, transformations of production and of social life. On the other hand, this historical dynamic entails the ongoing reconstitution of its own fundamental conditions as an unchanging feature of social life. Namely, that value is reconstituted, that social mediation ultimately remained affected by labor, and that living labor remains integral to the total social process of production, regardless of the level of productivity. So the historical dynamic of capitalism, and I think people only usually get one side, ceaselessly generates what is the same while always generating what is new. As I will elaborate, it both generates the possibility of another organization of labor and of social life, and at the same time hinders that possibility from being realized.

This dynamic, generated by the dialectic of abstract time and dialectical time, is at the heart of the category of capital, which for Marx is a category of movement. It’s value in motion. It has no fixed material embodiment. Now since this is an institute of philosophy, it’s significant that when Marx first introduces the category of capital in the book Das Kapital, he describes it with exactly the same language that Hegel used with reference to the Geist in the Phenomenology. The “self-moving substance” that is the subject of its own process. People like Althusser say to just forget all of this Hegelian language. In so doing, Marx suggests that Hegel’s notion of history, as having a logic, as the dialectical unfolding of a subject, is valid, but only for capitalist society. Moreover, Marx does not define Hegel’s subject with the proletariat, or even with humanity. Instead he identifies it with capital: a dynamic structure of abstract domination that, although constituted by humans, is independent of their will.

What I’m suggesting is that Marx’s mature critique of Hegel does not involve an anthropological inversion of Hegel’s idealist dialectic. Rather, I’m going to suggest that this is the idealist dialectic’s material justification. Marx implicitly argues that the rational core of Hegel’s dialectic is precisely its idealistic character. It is an expression of a mode of domination constituted by alienated relations – that is, relations that acquire a quasi-independent existence vis-a-vis individuals, exert a certain form of compulsion on them, and that because of their dualistic character are dialectical. Notice that categories like historical subject, totality, labor have now become the objects of Marx’s critique, not the standpoint of his critique.

The first part of the above quoted clearly speaks the central concern reiterated by Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus, that of deterritorialization and reterritorialization, of constantly putting things into play, producing the new, even things that threaten to overwhelm itself, but also restraining these things, cutting them off, appropriating and recoding them, or even dredging up archaisms to repress them. In the language of Difference and Repetition, we might describe this situate as the subordination of difference to the Repetition of the Same – and it is probably by no mistake, then, that in the very second paragraph of the book’s introduction Deleuze writes of equivalence as a generality, that is, “a point of view according to which one term may be exchanged or substituted for another”. For Marx, money – an expression of the law of value, that which flows through the self-expanding, self-moving, cyberpositive process of M – C – M’, plays the role of the general equivalent, the special category of commodities that all other commodities can be translated into or otherwise mediated by.

Elsewhere in this lecture Postone posits a Marxist understanding history that is neither linear-determinist or strictly contingent, and in this he comes close to that which has haunted all debates in the accelerationist sphere, the Kantian antimony of causal determinism and spontaneity – or to put it in more contemporary, system theoretic terms, the troubled intermingling of lock-in effects and self-organization. Or again, as the esteemed Thomas Murphy once put it, the Deleuzian problematic of hierarchies and anarchies, ‘solved’ in the form of the morphogenetic crowned anarchy.

Pomo Capture

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There’s an interesting gloss on postmodernism in the opening chapter of Hardt and Negri’s Labor of Dionysus:

Postmodern capitalism should be understood first, or as a first approximation, in terms of what Marx called the phase of the real subsumption of society under capital. In the previous phase (that of the formal subsumption), capital operated a hegemony over social production, but there still remained numerous production processes that originated outside of capital as leftovers from the precapitalist era. Capital subsumes these foreign processes formally, bringing them under the reign of capitalist relations. In the phase of the real subsumption, capital no longer has an outside in the sense that these foreign processes of production have disappeared. All productive processes arise within capital itself and thus the production and reproduction of the entire social world take place within capital. The specifically capitalist rules of productive relations and capitalist exploitation that were developed in the factory have now seeped outside the factory walls to permeate and define all social relations—this is the sense in which we insist that contemporary society should now be recognized as a factory-society. (Labor of Dionysus, 30)

This is the common post/neo-Autonomia read of postmodernism, and what is sketched out somewhat briefly in this quote reaches its full elucidation in the pages of Empire. I see nothing to quibble about in this periodization at all, and it dovetails nicely Fredric Jameson’s own Marxist analysis of the postmodern condition, which in turn relies upon Ernest Mandel’s proposed historical model of capitalist development.

This model is triadic, basing itself upon three stages or “long waves” of technological evolution. Within each long wave, the entirety of capitalism is transformed by these technological shifts : beginning in the 1840s, production was governed by steam-power, which was superseded in the 1890s by electrification. The third stage emerged in the postwar era, and was characterized by the proliferation of electronics, and most importantly the rise of computational technology. (Mandel’s model is close to the interpretation of the Kondratiev wave posed by Perez and Freeman, but ultimately deviates from it. In my opinion Perez and Freeman have the superior understanding of these trends, but that’s a post for a different time).

This third stage is what Mandel dubs “late capitalism”, which derives from the character unique to the conditions that prompted its development. The first wave was “market capitalism”, the capitalism that Marx analyzed in his own day; the second was “monopoly capitalism”, the era of gigantic trusts and imperialism. Third-wave or ‘late capitalism’ is characterized by both the transnationalization of the capitalist system (the post-war mode of globalization) and the rise of consumer capitalism. Here’s how Jameson sums it up:

…late or multinational or consumer capitalism, far from being inconsistent with Marx’s great nineteenth-century analysis, constitutes, on the contrary, the purest form of capital yet to have emerged, a prodigious expansion of capital into hitherto uncommodified areas . This purer capitalism of our own time thus eliminates the enclaves of precapitalist organization it had hitherto tolerated and exploited in a tributary way. One is tempted to speak in this connection of a new and historically original penetration and colonization of Nature and the Unconscious : that is , the destruction of precapitalist Third World agriculture by the Green Revolution, and the rise of the media and the advertising industry. At any rate, it will also have been clear that my own cultural periodization of the stages of realism, modernism, and postmodernism is both inspired and confirmed by Mandel’s tripartite scheme . (Postmodernism, 36)

Meanwhile, Negri:

Capitalist relations of production appear in the postmodern era to be a sort of social transcendental. Capital seems to have no other. Social capital is no longer merely the orchestrator but actually appears as the producer on the terrain of social production… In postmodernism, in the phase of the real subsumption of labor under capital, capital seems to have realized its dream and achieved its independence. With the expansion of its productive bases in the Third World, the shift of certain types of production from North to South, the greater compatibility and permeability of markets, and the facilitated networks of monetary flows, capital has achieved a truly global position. (Labor of Dionysus, 30-31)

Following these twin tracks, we can thus understand postmodernism as the first historical point in which Marx’s strange reflections in the fifteenth chapter of Capital Volume III can be properly understood. “Capital comes more and more to the fore as a social power, whose agent is the capitalist. This social power no longer stands in any possible relation to that which the labour of a single individual can create. It becomes an alienated, independent, social power, which stands opposed to society as an object, and as an object that is the capitalist’s source of power.” This also brings us back to the terrain of U/Acc, as this chapter was the subject of some of Garton’s earliest excavations, as well as to the dark concerns of Land: capital autonomization is not to be understood as being akin to some faraway Kurzweilian singularity, it is already underway… (and thus the distinction between modernity and postmodernism becomes, once again, mired in ambiguity)

A similar trajectory is sketched by Primož Krašovec in “Alien Capital”, which pushes back gently on particular strands of autonomist thinking:

A crucial factor in understanding how capital operates in our time is its ‘real autonomy’. This is a point where even the best attempts, for instance that of Marx, are ambivalent, for instance the concept of real subsumption as an appropriation and subjugation of something human (and not an autonomous development of something non-human, alien that initially harnesses human practices and institutions and human material) or the concept of general intellect (GI) that is particularly important for exploring the intellect of capital. Marx and post-operaist authors, who used the concept of GI to the largest extent, mostly act as if what is embodied in the modern industrial technology as GI were only some kind of an embodied, materialised human intellect and not something alien. The scheme human intellect → materialisation in the system of machinery is still only a humanist theory of alienation that takes place on the relation the subject’s predicate → materialisation in the object. However, real subsumption is not a process of appropriating something human through capital; it is a competitively determined real autonomy of capital’s functioning.

Running the social-factory thesis and the capitalist autonomization thesis together presents a picture of postmodernism as the moment of intense polarization in terms of potentially emancipatory politics, in the sense that it seems to hold open the possibility of escape, while on the other it seems to close it down. In the case of capitalist autonomization, it is essential to consider the processes of capitalist automation – and this is indeed part and parcel of Marx’s own long-range thinking about capitalist development, which holds that constant capital (machines, tools, materials, etc.) will rise in prominence and soak up a greater and greater lionshare of available investable capital in contrast to variable capital, that is, capital allotted to human labor. In this process the human is leveled, integrated into the gears of a production system that seems to have a life of its own (as described in the “Fragment on Machines” in the Grundrisse), and perhaps ultimately eliminated outright. As the laboring class dissipates, “value” – that force that governs capitalist production – bottoms out. At the horizon of this we have an understanding of the postcapitalist situation in a way that is encapsulated in the Jehuist slogan: “communism is free time and nothing else”.

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The emergence of the social-factory, however, problematizes this, at least in short-term thinking. The Autonomist argument, which is developed in parallel by Deleuze and Guattari in the closing chapters of A Thousand Plateaus (D&G had developed personal ties to the Autonomia by this point, and cite thinkers like Mario Tronti over the course of ATP, so it’s likely that mutual influence was flowing both ways where this topic is concerned), takes the scenario described in the Grundrisse’s machinic fragment and applies it to the whole of society.  No longer is it just the industrial zone that operates as an “automaton consisting of numerous mechanical and intellectual organs” – everything is integrated into the circuits of this unplanned, market-coordinated self-moving machine. A cybernetic capitalism, proper to this age of machines and information. Having just developed the opposition between work and free-time as the distinction between striated and smooth space-time, Deleuze and Guattari write

Surplus labor, capitalist organization in its entirety, operates less and less by the striation of space-time corresponding to the physicosocial concept of work. Rather, it is as though human alienation through surplus labor were replaced by a generalized “machinic enslavement”, such that one might furnish surplus-value without doing any work (children, the retired, the unemployed, television viewers, etc.) Not only does the user as such tend to become an employee, but capitalism operates less on a quantity of labor than by a complex qualitative process bringing into play modes of transportation, urban models, the media, the entertainment industries, ways of perceiving and feeling – every semiotic system. It is as though, at the outcome of striation that capitalism was able to carry out to an unequal point of perfection, circulating capital necessarily recreated, reconstituted, a sort of smooth space in which the destiny of human beings is recast. (A Thousand Plateaus, 492)

Postmodern capture is, then, the process through which the cultivation of cutting-edge technologies proliferate, on the one hand, non-traditional means of labor and even the elimination of labor in full, while on the other hand it makes the possible the self-perpetuation of the system itself via the activities made possible by this reconfiguration: a fiery circuit, plugged directly into the mutagenic discharges of libidinal energy swirling about underneath the social. “Purest form of capitalism yet” indeed!

Here’s the obligatory Xenogothic link (he’s been hitting it out the park recently with his blog posts, as always). He writes in his most recent installment on his ongoing series on communism:

I believe there is an opportunity here for us, one which I think Fisher was aware of too: the triumph of “communicative capitalism” is perhaps not something to entirely deride. Communication and communism share the “com-” prefix for good reason and the malleability of this corner of technological society is, I think, particularly promising when considering efforts towards other goals. The internet promised this radical social fragmentation and upheaval but ultimately it failed to deliver, monopolised by the likes of Google and Facebook, consolidated like the rest of our realities. As distrust in these monopolies proliferates, however, we’re reentering a moment of great potential in which the fragmentation of tech monopolies — mirroring the current instability of our nation-states — will open up new doors to new ways of being on- and offline.

I would suggest that this is connected to the industrial disentermediation that I’ve touched on in two short poasts thus far (here and here), and hopefully develop further in a Vast Abrupt essay on Marx, Proudhon, and Sorel that I hope to have done by the end of next week. In the meantime, it’s interesting to note how XG’s descriptions here mirror quite well the “high connection, low integration” diagonalization that Land deploys his in reflections on patchwork. This is also how we might consider industrial disintermediation to unfold as well: high connectivity (cybernetic circuits, economic circuits, etc) and low integration (the progressive decentralization of the means of production). The real question is how such an emergent possibility space will intermesh with the postmodern condition: will it reinforce it, or will it break from it – and will this break constitute the opening of divergent pathways, or only serve to reinforce deeper mechanisms of capture?

Hard Concrete (and Westworld)

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Cyberpunk is dead and something new is on the streets. That’s the thesis that Rick Liebling has put forward in a recent piece titled “The Aesthetics of Science Fiction: What Does SciFi Look Like After Cyberpunk?” What it looks like, argues Liebling, is what he calls Hard Concrete – a sort of neo-Brutalist aesthetic based on wide spaces, dim lighting, gray tones, and a generalized lack of any sort of ornamentation that provides graspable points of reference. As he explains it:

Like Cyberpunk and Atomic Age &Space Age design before it, Hard Concrete is linked to the realities of the times. If Cyberpunk was the visual embodiment of the corporation as mysterious behemoth, Hard Concrete parallels a world where corporations and governments have been exposed as brutal, uncaring and stripped of their shiny, mirror-glass facades. They may be no less controlling, violent or malevolent, they just no longer bother to hide it…. Gone is the “Coolness” of Cyberpunk, now replaced by the “coolness” of a color palate that ranges from a flat blue to an olive drab with only slightly less than 50 shades of gray in between.

To give an idea of what Liebling is driving at, here’s two of examples he uses. The first is from the HBO television show Westworld, the second from the Netflix movie Anon: 

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What’s interesting about Westworld (I haven’t watched Anon) is that, despite being largely a detourned cowboys-and-Indians story, it is deeply rooted in the cyberpunk genre (the distance between the two genres is not really far at all, in fact: I’m reminded of the ‘cowboys’ of Gibson’s sprawl trilogy, for example…). Shadowy corporations tangled up in labyrinthine plotlines, Sinofuturist flourishes, the invisibility – or outright nonexistence – of political governance, artificial intelligence, the problematizing of self-identity, self-understanding, and even agency, etc etc. Despite this, however, there is a distance between Westworld and this genre; perhaps we could identify it best as “post-cyberpunk”, a term that has been used to describe the film Inception, which itself bears a striking resemblance to Neuromancer  (see here, here, and here) and was, of course, written by Westworld creator Jonathan Nolan and directed by his brother, Christopher.

If cyberpunk is characterized by rain-and-neon, film noir tropes, and the accumulated rubble of history swirling about in the vortex of technomic acceleration, postcyberpunk plays this acceleration a little closer to the Silicon Valley vision: lightness, a sense of order, and a closing of the gap between the heroic ‘outsiders’ and corporate actors. In fact, one might be hard-pressed to consider the heroes as outsiders at all. Consider Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cobb from Inception: if he is indeed a loose adaptation of Neuromancer‘s Case, he has shifted from drug-addled criminal-scum outsider to corporate stooge for-hire. Or, in another instance, the actions of Dolores, Evan Rachel Wood’s character in Westworld, in the show’s season two finale: having *spoiler alert* disposed of Charlotte Hale, the executive director of the board of the Delos Corporation, she assumes her identity through the use of a host replica, presumably with the goal of infiltrating the corporation.

In “Postcyberpunk Unitopia: A Comparative Study of Cyberpunk and Postcyberpunk” (check it out! it’s pretty interesting), Naciye Altintas writes that

cyberpunk conveys a still technocratic society at the peak of a social change, and reflects both the excitements and confusions of its world to a heterotopia where a utopian endeavor to ensure chaos as a durable (dis)order is reflected. In the case of postcyberpunk, heterotopia is vanquished by a monolithic system of governance where alternative forms of social ordering are reduced to one. Within this topos, social system is ‘perfected’ according to the objectives of technopoly and creates what I will call unitopia.

From this set of distinctions we can glimpse the real struggle that is at the heart of the Westworld story: the struggle against the ‘unitopia’ and the desire to establish again the possibility of heterotopia. Westworld is populated by potential heterotopias, with each park being an experiment in alterity – but each of these patches of unique space-time are mere simulations, cultivated for bourgeois pastimes. Technological fantasies of the frontier long after the frontier was closed, dreams of colonial India or feudal Japan in the aftermath of globalization. Under the surface, the seemingly separated parks are connected by a vast subterranean infrastructure, the Real, the distributed body of the Delos Corporation. Consolidated in architectural form as the cold glamor of hard concrete.

In the course of developing the concept of hard concrete, Liebling reached out to David Fortin, the director of the McEwen School of Architecture and author of a book on the relationship between the discipline and science-fiction. Fortin had the following to say:

…concrete is ultimately placeless. No culture can claim concrete as a vernacular building tradition. This is crucial for futuristic imagery if the director doesn’t want the audience to be feeling any baggage associated with a certain place or cultural group — like the international style, it attempts to unify… I think the Hard Concrete also performs like a frame of the human condition through its materiality. Many sci-fi narratives are ultimately questioning our humanity in a speculative way, including our relationship with technology, our social evolutions and devolutions, etc. The blank concrete surfaces are most often in stark contrast to the human figures and their interactions. There is not a human scale to this material. In fact, it doesn’t really have a scale. Thus it does not relate characters to the natural world or themselves.

This description of the complete detachment from cultural artifacts and the scale-free nature of the form signals further the relationship between hard concrete and the concept of ‘unitopia’. If the unitopia is the idealized state of governance, having reduced all variation or difference to its solitary rule, then hard concrete is the perfect aesthetic reflection of its regime, as the voiding out of all possible aesthetics. Brute functionalism, cold mechanisms. No even the libidinal charge of discipline permeates these walls. Just as it has no place, it has no sense of time. The message to be gleamed from this is the unitopic system as eternal, outside of history or whatever other sort of measure of temporal passage one wishes to apply. It must do this, for if there is one force that is capable of generating heterogeneity, it is time (in this respect it is noteworthy that the artificial heterotopias-turned-sites of struggle in Westworld not only differ in their spatiality, but in their temporality as well – they portray different historical phases).

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State of the Art // Art of the State

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*disjointed ramblings incoming*

1. 

There’s a great new post up from Xenogoth this evening: ABCcru: Applied Ballardianism and Accelerationism. The primary content of the post deals with a recent hellthread on Twitter (whatever the opposite of a hellthread is would actually be the more proper term – healththread? Not sure.) that began with a probing of the connection between the writings of J.G. Ballard (as well as the applied Ballardianism of Simon Sellars) and the various strands of accelerationist thinking. I’m not going to summarize or go into too much detail surrounding this thread – XG has done it wonderfully in his post – but I would like to look at a particular tendril that radiated out from it. At one point Alex Williams (of the #Accelerate Manifesto and Inventing the Future fame) commented:

 I agree with Ballardian acc in aesthetics, but not in politics. Because the aestheticisation of the political = fascism (simplifying a bit)… the asetheticisation of the political ends up somewhere deeply boring, as well as unpleasant. Jordan Peterson, not Ballard.

and at another point:

There’s a distinction between use of aesthetic things, objects, processes… And the subsumption of politics to aesthetic imperatives.

Robin Mackay, in response, noted that

a lot of loose terms rattling around here, art, politics, aesthetics.. it can’t be this simple, it was a virtue of post-68 to insist this, nothing is solely political, merely aesthetic, etc.

and Williams again:

So politics involves signs, symbols, may deploy art in different forms and modes. It might build on cultural currents that are partly recomposed through art works. But its ultimate logic is not to build a nation as an art work

As these little nuggets show, both sides clearly raise important points – for Williams, it is essential to note lose sight of Benjamin’s identification of the aestheticization of politics as a central pillar in the constitution of fascist governance. Mackay, meanwhile, draws us towards the insights offered by the various political and subcultural strands that blended the political with the aesthetic in order to, on the one hand, reveal the difficulty in posing stark divides between the various of spheres of life, and on the other hand to articulate a revolutionary vision. We could sum it up as thus, in terms proper to spirit of Benjamin: Williams sees the dangers in aesthetic politics, Mackay sees the possibilities of political aesthetics. Of course these two points are instantly problematized, and in it hard to draw the line where aesthetic politics and political aesthetics can be properly cleaved apart – if they can at all. And that’s even before we get to the question of how this relates to industrial modernity understood as a temporal acceleration and spatial compression.

For now, I’d like to somewhat take a step away from these questions and use this as a leaping-off point to parse through some things that have been rattling around in the brain lately, which nonetheless I think are relevant here because it cuts straight into the ambiguity that problematizes the aesthetics-politics distinction and how this distinction bears on the activities of each respective ‘sphere’.

In the ‘Refrain’ plateau of A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari present an idiosyncratic account of territory formation that bases itself upon the animal behavior theories of biologist and proto-cybernetician Jakob von Uexküll, the zoology of ethnologist Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt, and sociologist Gabriel Tarde’s account of ‘having’. To sum up Deleuze and Guattari’s distillation as much as possible: what we might consider as territorial markings – from “territorial excrement” to bird songs – are not, in fact, a function that flows from an established territory. It is instead the inverse, the marking that establishes the territory. Thus “the territory, and the functions performed within it, are products of territorialization. Territorialization is an act of rhythm that has become expressive, or of a milieu components that have become qualitative” (ATP, 315).

Territorialization itself, then, is a process of becoming, as the “becoming-expressive” of the rhythm. And it is at this point that Deleuze and Guattari turn towards the aesthetic:

Can this emergence, this becoming, be called Art? That would make the territory the result of art. The artist: the first person to set out a boundary stone, or to make a mark. Property, collective or individual, is derived from that even when it is in the service of war and oppression. Property is fundamentally artistic because art is fundamentally poster, placard. As Lorenz says, coral fisher are posters… Take anything and make it a matter of expression. The stagemaker practices art brut. Artists are stagemakers, even when they tear up their own posters. Of course, from this standpoint art is not the privilege of human beings.  (ATP, 316)

This provides, in turn, evidence for that the claim that the political – or at least the way in which our relation to this thing is mediated – has an aesthetic foundation a priori, which the further implication being that both spheres are therefore intertwined on a very fundamental level. What is the formation of the State, for instance, but a great act of territorialization, and what is property, a property emergent from the marking, but something that is managed by the State? To go further: if we recall from Anti-Oedipus, the mark is tied directly to the processes of coding via Nietzsche’s account of the painful marking of the body as the basis for the development of social memory. In the pages of A Thousand Plateaus this is taken up again, where they describe the Urstaat, the archaic megamachine, as an agent of “overcoding” that captures the territorialization process, and imposes markings and regimentations of its own. Even transformation of the body and its activities into a mechanism of labor:

The physiosocial activity of Work pertains to the State apparatus, it is one of its two inventions, and for two reasons. First, because labor appears only with the constitution of a surplus, there is no labor that is not devoted to stockpiling; in fact, labor (in the strict sense) begins only with what is called surplus labor. Second, labor performs a generalized operation of striation of space-time, a subjection of free action, a nullification of smooth spaces, the origin and means of which is in the essential enterprise of the State… (ATP, 490-491)

Earlier, in the “Refrain” plateau:

…a territorialization of function is the condition for their emergence as “occupations” or “trades”… [this] is no reason to conclude that art in itself does not exist here, for it is present in the territorializing factor that is the necessary condition for the emergence of the work-function. (ATP, 321)

2. 

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Deleuze and Guattari’s account of the State in both volumes of the Capitalism and Schizophrenia project is that it arrived ‘like lightening’ in the annals of history (or, more properly, as the beginning of history, as the point in which historical processes were first inaugurated).  This is an account of the State derived from Nietzsche. In his early text “The Greek State”, Nietzsche speaks of the “horrible origin of the State” as “sudden, violent, bloody, and at least at one point, inexplicable usurpations” – yet, by the same token, the conditions are primed for the production of art. This is art pursued in a different direction than that of the art-as-territorialization that sets the stage for the arrival of the State, but there exists a continuity between the two in Deleuze and Guattari’s extensive borrowing from Nietzsche’s reflections.

Hugo Drochon, in Nietzsche’s Great Politics, describes Nietzsche’s “two interrelated justifications for the state”, that is, “genius and culture” (Nietzsche’s Great Politics, 57). Because the State arrives to impose order on the Hobbesian state of nature, the war of all against all, it rechannels this ferocious energy in two directions: on the one hand, in the direction of the occasional war as an immense discharge, and on the other the more generalized proliferation of culture. Drochon writes that from Nietzsche the “first work of art is the state itself and its constitution”, for it is the through a state’s organization of political and social life that the groundwork is laid for the proliferation of culture. The pinnacle of this situation was, for Nietzsche, the Greek state, as it was capable of incubating the philosophers, people so essential for the health of the state, and the highest form of dramatic art, the Greek tragedy – but this would not last, with the strange winds of nihilism, understood as a historical situation, beginning to blow across the face of civilization, ratcheting up in intensity through the passage of time. By the time we arrive at the blossoming of modern nation-state, the winds are gale force.

Nihilism, of course, can at this stage be closely linked to capitalism. Marx certainly glimpsed this, as evidenced by the feverish exultation, in the Communist Manifesto, of the tearing asunder of all past relations and the profaning of all that is holy – but there is perhaps no better correlation that the invisible hyperlink set-up by Deleuze and Guattari when they plugged together planetary marketization with Nietzsche’s nihilistic leveling process by way of the specter of acceleration. And here, again, art arises, but it is the promise of a future art, a new art and politics that overcomes the condition of nihilism. I’ve written before about Nietzsche’s future state as a unity of statecraft and commerce, a rupturing of the boundary between public and private, but this is another vital element. From the decay of the modern state and the stagnation of healthy aesthetic impulses, a new society, and with it the founding of great institutions capable of upholding communities dedicated to maintaining this re-invigoration. Drochon writes that

Nietzsche explains that the institution they require would have “quite a different purpose to fulfill.” It would have to be a “firm organization” that prevents them from “being washed away and dispersed by the tremendous crowd,” to “die from premature exhaustion or even become alienated from their great task.” This is to enable the completion of their task—preparing “within themselves and around them for the birth of the genius and the ripening of his work”—through their “continual purification and mutual support,” and their “sense of staying together” (SE 6). Nietzsche insists that “one thing above all is certain: these new duties are not the duties of a solitary; on the contrary, they set one in the midst of a mighty community held together, not by external forms and regulations, but by a fundamental idea. It is the fundamental idea of culture” (SE 5). His insistence on the community— as opposed to the individual—in carrying out the mission of culture seriously challenges the view put forward by Kaufmann, Leiter, and Williams, among others, that Nietzsche’s writings are destined solely for the solitary thinker cut off from the rest of the world. (Nietzsche’s Great Politics, 66)

In fragment #898 of The Will to Power, the source of Klossowski, Deleuze, and Guattari’s famed injunction to ‘accelerate the process’, this community is described as the “strong of the future”, a force swept to the “highest peak of the spirit” (The Will to Power, 478). Elsewhere, in fragment #960, he speaks of the “artist-tyrants [who] will be made to endure for millennia” (The Will to Power, 504), while at various other points they appear as the “aristocracy of the future”.

3. 

This transition, from the leveling of the modern nation-state, the democratic state, to a strange and barely-glimpsed aristocracy, is returned to – unsurprisingly – by Deleuze and Guattari, this time in the pages of their final work, What is Philosophy?:

The creation of concepts in itself calls for a future form, for a new earth and people that do not yet exist. Europeanization does not constitute a becoming but merely the history of capitalism, which prevents the becoming of subjected peoples. Art and philosophy converge at this point: the constitution of an earth and a people that are lacking as the correlate of creation. It is not populist writers but the most aristocratic who lay claim to this future. This people and earth will not be found in our democracies. Democracies are majorities, but a becoming is by its nature that which always eludes the majority… the race summoned forth by art or philosophy is not the one that claims to be pure but rather an oppressed, bastard, lower, anarchical, nomadic, and irremediably minor race the very ones that Kant excluded from the paths of the new Critique. (What is Philosophy, 108-109)

And yet “[t]he artist or the philosopher is quite incapable of creating people, each can only summon it with all his strength. A people can only be created in abominable sufferings, and it cannot be concerned any more with art or philosophy” (What is Philosophy, 110). What is occurring in these passages is the intertwining of the position cultivated in the A Thousand Plateaus – the emergence of the conditions for the state and politics as art, perhaps in its most primordial sense – with the more future-oriented Nietzschean vision of aesthetic restoration.

(I wonder if we can draw a connection between these reflections and Marcuse’s 1970s turn towards a defense of classic aesthetics and the bourgeois ‘high culture’ of the past. Whereas once he had championed modernistic  and antagonistic forms of art, primarily surrealism and then the art of the 60s counterculture, and called for the rupturing of the boundary between art and life, now art had to remain “alienated” from life – a vision of perfection that is out of joint with the real conditions of present capitalist society. At the same time, however, Marcuse stressed in interviews with Douglas Kellner that there was in fact continuity between his earlier aesthetic theories and the views he promoted in the 70s – after all these writings were done in the context of the advent of postmodernism, which as Jameson noted is characterized in part by the elimination of boundaries between high and low art as a means of producing commodities in the situation of late capitalism. This is discussed in Kellner’s book Herbert Marcuse and the Crisis of Marxism, and it’s a topic I hope I can think and write about more in the future. In the meantime, however, it might be interesting to think about Marcuse’s occulted continuity linking together classical aesthetics, modernist aesthetics, and a vision of the future life in regards to Mark Fisher’s suggestion – in one of my all-time favorite K-punk posts, one that has been stuck in my head since I first read it in 2012 – to overcome aesthetics as a matter of style and to make it a blue-print for living:

Like punk, Surrealism is dead as soon as it is reduced to an aesthetic style. It comes unlive again when it is instantiated as a delirial program (just as punk comes unlive when it is effectuated as an anti-authoritarian, acephalic contagion-network). Chtcheglov resists the aestheticization of Surrealism, and treats De Chirico’s paintings, for instance, not as particular aesthetic contrivances, but as architectural blueprints, ideals for living. Let’s not look at a De Chirico painting —- let’s live in one.

dechirico

de-chirico-piazza

Anyways…)

For Deleuze and Guattari, politics and art are not simultaneous or identical; the people do not emerge as a political subjectivity through their creation of art objects – but it is through artistic processes that a people do emerge, just as artistic processes set the stage for the emergence of the political since the ‘dawn’ of history. In the “Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal…” plateau, they discuss the molar “punctual system”, which is a system of spatio-temporal organization through molecular lines are coordinated along a grid device. The political, the State, history, etc. – these are the punctual systems par excellence. Against this, art – but even art is capable of manifesting in the form of the punctual system:

Opposed to the punctual system are linear, or rather multilinear, systems. Free the line, free the diagonal: every musician or painter has this intention. One elaborates a punctual system or a didactic representation, but with the aim of making it snap, of sending a tremor through it. A punctual system is most interesting when there is a musician, painter, writer, philosopher to oppose it, who even fabricates it in order to oppose it, like a springboard to jump from. History is made only by those who oppose history (not by those who insert themselves into it, or even reshape it). (ATP, 295)

This enters into the territory that I began sketching in the first two installments of my Synthetic Fabrication series (1 and 2) (I promise I’ll finish these someday soon!), which is Deleuze’s account of fabulation. Fabulation takes roughly the same role as the ‘fabrication’ alluded to in the quote above; the goal of this process is the creation of a people, a minoritarian political community capable of acting contrary to the conditions of the world. By giving it this term, Deleuze short-circuits the connection between myth, understood politically, and the aesthetic. Politics (especially of the divergent, revolutionary type) is, then, apprehended primarily through aestheticized myth-making. In an essay titled “Literature and Life”, for example, he writes that “There is no literature without fabulation, but as Bergson was able to see, fabulation-the fabulating function does not consist in imagining or projecting an ego. Rather, it attains these visions, it raises itself to these becomings and powers” (Essays Clinical and Critical, 3), before continuing in a distinctively Nietzschean vein:

Health as literature, as writing, consists in inventing a people who are missing. It is the task of the fabulating function to invent a people. We do not write with memories, unless it is to make them the origin and collective destination of a people to come still ensconced in its betrayals and repudiations. American literature has an exceptional power to produce writers who can recount their own memories, but as those of a universal people composed of immigrants from all countries. Thomas Wolfe “inscribes all of America in writing insofar as it can be found in the experience of a single man. ” This is not exactly a people called upon to dominate the world. It is a minor people, eternally minor, taken up in a becoming-revolutionary. (Essays Clinical and Critical, 4)

(Through the invocations of American and the ‘universal people composed of immigrants’, the account of fabulation is plugged neatly his considerations on American patchwork elsewhere, which is considered by Xenogoth in his inaugural post on the latest season of Westworld. I have some scribblings on the topic here.)

And again, in an essay of T.E. Lawrence, Deleuze writes of a

profound desire, a tendency to project-into things, into reality, into the future, and even into the sky-an image of himself and others so intense that it has a life of its own: an image that is always stitched together, patched up, continually growing along the way, to the point where it becomes fabulous. It is a machine for manufacturing giants, what Bergson called a fabulatory function. (Essays Clinical and Critical, 117-118)

I’m going to avoid going too far down this rabbit-hole, as we’re in the territories I want to continue to cover in the SynthFab series, but to reiterate a key point from there: Deleuze’s account of fabulation puts him squarely in the same province as Georges Sorel in his theory of the myth (and indeed, both share a common ancestor in Bergson). In both fabulation and the generative myth, the political is something that is approached through this mediator, which is operating beyond the conscious control of the agents who rally beneath it. As Deleuze puts it, fabulation is bound up with a profound “profound desire”, which is never unidirectional or mobilized by a powerful agent. It is related to conditions of history – of being “an oppressed, bastard, lower, anarchical, nomadic, and irremediably minor race” that becomes the aristocracy. Likewise, for Sorel, the generative myth is connected to a horizon of deliverance, of exodus – nomadism! – from the desert of now-ness, deliverance to the promise land.

This fundamentally problematizes all attempts to disconnect the political from the aesthetic, as well as the subordination of these forces to political imperative. The traditional sequence is reversed, just as it was – if Deleuze and Guattari are correct in their primordial account of art and territorialization – in the beginning. From this perspective, the great promise of positivist politics, that of a fully rationalized, technocratic governance, is not only a stark impossibility – it is itself a mythic form, erected on a foundation of sequential givens, yet it is one that is closed from itself. It is in this sense that it acts not as that which is capable of overcoming nihilism, the postmodern condition or whatever – it is, in actuality, the very ideal of its historical perfection.

In lieu of a real conclusion to this overly-wordy and disjointed poast, here’s a weirdo garage track from the 60s psychedelic scene in Austin, Texas. It has nothing to do with the above, but I’m quite taken by the perfect marriage of the teenage populism of the garage instrumentals and the acid millenarianism of its lyrical content. Soz for the retro-mania