Stephen Metcalf – Third Terminal

Here’s another one from the archives. Third Terminal predates the Killing Time/Strife Kolony/NeoFuturism trifecta by several years, having appeared initially in a volume edited by Matthew Fuller (who at the time belonged to the “speculative software group” I/O/D, which Metcalf collaborated with) called Unnatural: Techno-Theory for a Contaminated Culture. The book, published in 1994 but compiled over the course of the year prior is a slick slice of the post-post-punk peripheries of cyberia: besides Metcalf and Fuller, it features writings by fellow I/O/Ders Graham Harwood and Simon Pope, Sadie Plant and Nick Land’s class text ‘Cyberpositive’, and multiple offerings from VNS Matrix, among others. 

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Countdown to the Millennium. The end or the beginning? Just as Capital’s dream of exercising magical, dematerialised control reaches delirious levels – populations comatosed in its immanent electronics, decorticated nervous systems wired to its terminals, sequences of instructions, error correcting codes, security systems, surveillance networks, flows of contradictory information pulsing electromagnetic waves of pleasure in consumption – a crisis point is reached: a terminal point both catastrophic and irresponsibly positive. Somewhere on the line the perverts have dropped out of the New World Order, begun to construct their own Virtual Machines, to program systems which may not yet exist, to jam systems already choked with information, feeding viral subroutines back into Capital’s master programmes, micro-errors in social programming bombarding the system with noise, absurdity, psychosis. Come flow in our Hysterical Materialism (the pleasure short-circuits the pain waves after they hit, cushions the blows to come) to three terminals in the technosphere; fuse with their circuitries.

Terminal 1

Electronic eyes of the State Machine. A program taking an identity law as premise. This one looks set to RUN and RUN. Or at least it has done, as the Digital Logic Level of the Human Security System. 1A = A, 0 + A = A; symmetrical equations, neatly balanced, never overstepping the mark of the identity law, present at the Digital Logic Level, faced with the apparent impossibility of things being otherwise.

Deposited in front of a mirror, the first lesson in sociability takes place. This scene of fascination, this tragic puppet which tracks my movements exactly is my first reference point, a place of safety and protection against the outside. Teach me to dichotomise. Those others in my looking glass who are not me. Teach me to fear them and, at the same time, identify myself in terms of the manifest fact that others who resemble me are not me. Teach me negation – I am not x, I am y. Then wire a brain to my voice box and teach me your language, the dichotomising communication vectors which you legitmise if manifest under scrutiny by some optical apparatus. As long as I see it in some sense, the rest follows – cogito ergo sum, dialectics, fear of the others, desire for borders and protection – and you think you’ve got me. You make my escape routes illegitimate, coding them, as symptoms to be cured.

Psychotic states. Schizophrenia. Fuck you.

Encrypted as Read Only Memory, these interiorized programs of the State Machine (Capital’s coding of desire) begin their Fetch – Decode – Execute cycles, all based on the premise of One Central Processing Unit (identity) and its ability to dichotomise: gender separation, heterosexuality, reproduction in the interests of the continuation of the code (families), neurosis (the desire to fit in rather than face the consequences of transgression), the desire for knowledge (to domesticate the perceived threat from others), nationalism, paranoia, fascism. Error Correcting Codes sweep the memory; search routines rubbing out points at which the program has not ‘taken’, domesticating the under the rubric of one or another of the paranoid categories of subjectivity, social position, family background: political economy, sociology, psychoanalysis.

Flickering grey of display screen coming on-line. High-pitched whine and singing crackle of pixels organising a closed circuit TV image. Search files for errors in desire coding.

Sex scene on monitor.

Two boys. Smooth, muscular bodies wrapped in accouterments of domination and submission. Steadying with hands on hip bones. Bound by wrist and ankle. Commands. Greased penis extends across flat stomach. Pulses. Advances to pretty boy for the thrill of being beaten as a man. Raises his arms and strikes. Mesh of thin purple welts traced across the back of thighs, calves, buttocks.

At Terminal 1, Error Correction Codes are cycling. Project Domestication initiated. Problems with socialisation according to Oedipal/heterosexual inscriptions of desire. Find in the masochist’s desire for humiliation, the shadowy figure of the father, the desire to be possessed by him, to belong to him, to be penetrated by him; discover a latent father figure/substitute in the dominator, by now a phallocentric tyrant; and, by some kabbalistic magic, ‘A Child is Being Beaten’ and mapped onto the familial/state apparatus. Or, worse, we could be more scientific: map statistical norms of behavior across the social body and burn out the deviancy accordingly.

Encryptions in pure machine language, pixels reversed into signals, surfaces reduced to latent content and diagnosed; digitisation of results fed into scanning devices of the state’s psycho-technicians. Frenzied algorithm carrying out social surgery: a process of psychochemotherapy cleaning out the system of unwanted networks of gratifications in deviant sexuality. Pulsations of desire along sine waves, completely unpredictable and transmitting no information, unfiltered noise, assaults on the precious, neurotic ego. Fuse the perverts into these networks, these licensed sex channels at all costs. Call it therapy.

Meanwhile, the two boys remain oblivious to this act of state-sponsored voyeurism. They have not been invited to any interactive screening of their scene, now being played-out in digital pantomime with the state’s mind cops in all the expensive seats, and carry on regardless, grinning in mutual consent – ‘Use me’ – Further – the dare – the contract.

Electric waves of intensity rush through nerve-endings, gated, connected, and wired to S&M circuitries. Master’s cock pushing gently but firmly into the slave’s rectum. Animal whinnying. Symphony of giggles. Fusing per vas nefandum to the detriment of patriarchy.

Now, this refusal to conform – to be ‘reasonable’ and embody upon the State Machine’s control circuits = psychosis – apparently justifies the arrest of transgressors and (conveniently for them) keeps psychologists at work. We care for you. Like the mummy-daddy apparatus. Condition a nauseous rush of anti-gratification, as aversion circuits switch in where pleasure previously erupted across the libidinal band, the sexualised skin, in micro-machines composed of body parts and fetish objects. Fit and legally working again.

Terminal 2

Terminal 1 is the desire to dominate: politically, psychologically, economically (in both monetary and libidinal senses), eternally. To operate a machine limiting interaction (the state) while remaining exterior to its mechanisms. To be Control without being controlled, as Burroughs might say. To close a social, familial, sexual, subjectified circuit and remain on its outside. Watching. Regulating. Avoiding being itself processed by the machine (E.g. consider how therapists are so immune to psychotic projections, deviant states of mind, outlawed behavioral patterns).

Eternal recurrence of state logics coupled to a slave output. Power, control, radical exterminisms of alterity, negations of the other, oppressive necessities, security systems, prison houses of linguistic and social co-operation, armies of labor shackled to the control machines, blood lines, shared cultures of panic, require recognition of their domination, binary co-movements of control and feedback. The interpretation of related messages in uninterrupted flows. Producing the following problem:

As Capital’s desire for spectral possession of its subjects reaches digital perfection, as control scales ecstatic peaks, measured only against the homeostatic metric of its self-regulating immune system, it decreases resistance; flipping the process over into its reverse – cancerous excrescence initiating a death-bound, entropic, retrograde spiral of wasted energy and useless institutions. Control runs out of things to control, it sets the mechanisms of its own death into a potentially catastrophically motion. Therefore a certain type of comprehensible resistance is tolerated as feedback. Something left on the screen to control. This is the radical negation of Terminal 2.

This S&M business looks awfully pitiful to the radical moralists in our midst. Can this “…dreary parade of sucked dry, catatonicised, vitrified, sewn-up bodies…”[1], as marginal and potentially antipathetical to the State, be radicalised, politicised, and domesticated in the social-factories of some revolutionary super-state? Like Terminal 1’s policing initiatives, it’s a matter of interpretation: a demand for recognition (all applauded by the state: first hand knowledge of what its defiers are up to in their bedrooms, clubs, and torture chambers). This is radicalism’s secret: it serves the State Machine, is caught up in the logical matrices of the state, and can only offer negation of the state’s negations as the (Final) solution. This is the logic of the Konzentrationslager, camping it up in libertarian clothing.

Represent.

Express yourself.

Confess. Lose your little war machines in our orbit, our demilitarised zones of settled identity, your new family; come and meet your Volks. But, as your future police force, we need to outline a few ground rules. Your co-operation is required. We want information. Data to be fed into our central control machines. We want to understand you. We want to Occupy Terminal 1.

Demand that they recognize you. We’ll start with a nice, safe, legal end to censorship as a prelude to your crossing the threshold of your new home after you’ve married the Party, and then we’ll make you normal as a valued and functional component in our joyous machineries. Maybe secondly we’ll demand that you should become V.I.P.s right now, articulate your demand for the normality you obviously long for, pry over your practices with interviews, video cameras, study groups, day-schools, seminars, politically correct consciousness raising events, why not a few concerts? The future is yours. With our permission.

Transmission ends. Funded by State T.V. Crackling terminus of the program. The opposition trots back home, claiming victory over the social void, monitored at all points by banks of cameras lining the ceilings of the decimated cities.

For sure, radical cybernegative S&M will finds its place on the margins of the social, its black hole where desire stops, terminating in suicidal exhibitionism. There at the dimly lit entrance, a micro-fascist territory will be staked out, a zone of ressentiment generated by a gasping reflex-jerk. “We”. Homeostasis. Security systems monitoring the entrance, defense systems barring the exit.

Even Deleuze and Guattari, usually willing to allow deviant states to flow back into the social and infect it, show a myopic moralism in relegating S&M to this second terminal position. It was they who alerted our attention to the fact that S&M is not a fantasy requiring interpretation mapped onto a familial, Oedipal grid but is, actually, a program. But this is not to accept their contention that this algorithm careens into Terminal 2 monomania (cutting off relations with the outside of the system) and produces a micro-fascist fortification. A pre-programmed security system.

PROGRAM

– the process of sewing

-how to produce a reactive-cybernetic, closed-up body:

Bow to the mistress. Beg her for forgiveness. Transgression must have its punishment, after all. Lash the penitent to the table, drawing the ropes, cords, thongs, cuffs and chains tight enough to register their presence with nagging insistency. Prepare tools required to carry out the program: weapons, instruments of humiliation. RUN. 100 lashes. Then pause.

Begin to sew. Sew up the hole in the glans, then sew the skin around the glans to the glans itself. Sew the scrotum to skin of the inner thighs. Sew the breasts, attaching a pinching clamp to both nipples. Connect them. Bind the penitent to a chair. 100 lashes. Sew the buttocks together. Initiate procedure for intensifying torture as per contract. Stick pins in the buttocks, as far as they go. Tie the penitent to a chair. 100 lashes. Apply cigarette burns. Random humiliation.

Presto. A pre-program. A security system closing up the body; a set of sad, repetitive, entirely predictable rituals in whose regime nothing is unexpected, no contact outside of this particular orbit is even desirable or even possible. The program becomes a means by which the masochist guarantees a fortified sense of identity. Martyrdom. The ascetic’s sanctity reinforced by a sewn-up, bound, lacerated, body only allowing waves of pain to traverse its surface. Desire’s anarchic flow is blocked as the masochist closes the circuit, refuses to patch into other networks. Welcome to the cave. Populate in an act of fortification against the passage of exterior flows, this “…Metropolis that has to be managed with a whip.”[2]

Two problems –

[1] Mechanical absurdity. Energy flows need to be gated at the Digital Logic Level in order to pass through a machine. An open circuit is a ridiculous concept: with no gates, no channels to focus energy, nothing will happen; the amorphous cloud of electrical nonsense bombarding the machine ending in entropic degradation. The point of the S&M programs is to channel energy through the gates sufficiently to blow the whole assemblage apart, with a negentropic co-movement into synergetic relations of desubjectification on a positive feedback circuit.

[2] Repetition taken to mean ‘I want more of the same. Reinforce me’. Rather, take it to be simply ‘I want more’. This argument against enclosure, desire to open up the circuit, condemnation of the refusal to climax and build elaborate systems instead, what does it affirm? A simple genital interface between cock and cunt, keying into no other zones (except for a quick grope in the dark), so desperate to climax and allow the outside to flood in that it prematurely ejaculates. Not ‘I want more’, but ‘Fuck me now, quickly, let’s get this over with, we’ve other things to do, come quickly, the intensity, the intensity, inside and waiting for others to join us, feels so good, coming, end.’ An algorithmic progression resembling nothing more pleasurable than five minutes with a Victorian patriarch.

Terminal 3

As the territory of the Virtual Machine, Terminal 3 is the zone Terminal 1 turns its systemic antibodies against, tabulates information on, and explains away in terms of its simple categories, with the hope of viewing and controlling its pixellated manifestation in Terminal 2. The Third Terminal has other ideas. Refuses the play the game of panic, surveillance, and control. Supposedly canceled in the rational signification of Capital’s symbolic order, it continues pulsing incomprehensible forces resisting domestication, puncturing the fabric of the order itself, setting up its own expert systems in questions of domination and submission, running its own viral programmes, perverting the natural course of the state’s desire code. Action, intensity, jouissance, desubjectification, pragmatics of evasion and flight, sadomasochism, homosexuality, drugs, strange rituals and algorithms, schizophrenia, psychotic projection, hysterical refusal, wild boys and girls switching their soft machines into annihilation mode, writing programs for machines that do not even exist yet, cyberpositive and obsessed with the disappearance of self. Fracturing screens at the point of system crash.

The desire of the Third Terminal is the incapacity for embodiment as subject in/to Capital’s machine language, the jamming of systems saturated with flows of information, a tactic of total indifference to Capital’s demand for feedback in order to produce more information facilitating the management of the crisis engendered by the existence of the Third Terminal; hatred of all police machines, including those of Capital’s cynical future negotiators.

The Third Terminal is the space of the Assassins, drifting silently through the crowds and uniform architectures of user friendly consumption; the time of the Assassins, deferring execution until the optimal moment; the invisibility of the Assassins, spilling off the control screens in all directions; the humour of the Assassins, leaving a jeweled dagger in the Sultan’s pillow; the threat of the Assassins, the trusted servant who suddenly turns against his master.

As Burroughs pointed out in a fragment of The Book of Breething[3], the power of the Third Terminal lies in its invisibility, in the confounding fact that it does not present a coherent scanning pattern to the optical apparatus of control. Control does not know anything about it. It knows a lot about control. The Third Terminal is the pathological case control inscribes into its symptomatologies, to which it then attributes all of its unpredictable maladies, its dangerous malcontents and social indigestion problems. The Third Terminal is the enemy of paranoia.

A Virtual Machine is a constant process of production, it evades control to the extent that by the time the state machine has translated its software into terms inside its orbit, it is always elsewhere, always other, patching new components into its assemblage. Once the fetish object has been neatly compartmentalized as a maternal penis/phallus substitute-pubic fur, shoes, underwear, instruments of punishment – fetishism begins to confound this categorization in the delirious contemplation of other objects exterior and absurd to this Oedipal matrix: Rubber (next to silicon, the perfect inhuman fabric?) suspension in space (the desire to float, to get out of it?) masks (desubjectification of the face), machines (opening the sexual circuit to the flow of the final outside, the technological inhuman).

The construction of these Virtual Machines has always been an element in the cycling of S&M programs, scanned on their own (virtual) terms and free from the prejudices of symptomatology, (namely that S&M is a problem, a disturbance. Actually, all it disturbs is the state’s encryption of ‘normality’. A precious thing). A reading of Sade and Sacher-Masoch reveals the frenzies of two early cyberneticians at work: it is not the subjectified practices of sexuality that matter, it is the bodies and objects that open the gates to ecstatic desire flux, these assemblages of harnesses, straps, thongs, cuffs, pulleys, seats positioning the body for optimum penetration by others, mirrors assaulting the senses with confused images of the co-flux of self, others, and mechanical parts; primitive tactile feedback sensors (as the orgiastics move in escalating pleasure, the entire machine rocks, intensifying the mania, the regal dominatrix in her furs, the resonating surface of the body of the submissive.

Fragmentation of identity on positive feedback circuits. This is the use of the machine that processed itself, removing the certainty of exactly who or what is using who or what. Human use of mechanical means of dominating nature or the viral contamination of a metabolic vehicle by a machine? Or a process of becoming machine, carrying the debris of of the subject of certainty in its undertow in a movement of becoming inhuman. Non-existence of the Human Security System. The birth of a monster.

But that’s not all. Blown apart by escalating positive feedback, the Virtual Machine begins to bombard the security systems with noise. The only feedback Terminal 1 will result in micro-destruction of sections of its desire code as unfiltered noise becomes ungovernable. Third Terminal perversion feeds a viral sub-routine back into the system, fucking up its terminals, corrupting its operations.

Meanwhile, the culprits are never caught. As non-beings with no identity of their own, they are already out of the combat area, regrouping for the next strike, disguised in indicators of outward respectability and normality, laughing. Techno-Assassins whisperings calls to chaos. Viral whispers. Strange infections.

Perhaps one day Capital will begin marketing domestic sex machines. Glance at all the middle class, cultish drool saturating this potentiality of paying by credit card, jacking into telephone networks, staging pixellated fantasies of machine fellatio, necrophile liaisons with historical figures, rape without scars, promiscuity without viral infection, and realise that Capital’s boomer R&D department is ecstatic about taking its chimerical sexual revolution to the next stage.

When these systems come online, be positive that noise from the Third Terminal will infect the code at its vegetable roots. Terrorising the aging sixties’ club. Leaving anonymous death threats on the bulletin boards of the state. Perverting the licensed trajectories of desire.

[1]Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari: A Thousand Plateaus, Athlone Press, 1988, p. 150.

[2]Ibid., p. 153

[3]See William S. Burroughs: Ah Pook is Here and Other Texts, John Calender, London, 1979, p. 188

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Labor Between the General and the Restricted

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There’s a remarkable similarity between the two following passages, the first a remark from the Grundrisse on the equation of production with consumption and Spinoza (apparently reiterating what Pierre Macherey has argued is a misreading by Hegel of Spinoza, though I don’t have a good enough handle on the nuances of this argument to comment on it much at all), the second on the importance of the ‘production of production’ from the beginning of Anti-Oedipus:

Production is also immediately consumption. Twofold consumption, subjective and objective: the individual not only develops his abilities in production, but also expends them, uses them up in the act of production, just as natural procreation is a consumption of life forces. Secondly: consumption of the means of production, which become worn out through use, and are partly (e.g. in combustion) dissolved into their elements again. Likewise, consumption of the raw material, which loses its natural form and composition by being used up. The act of production is therefore in all its moments also an act of consumption. But the economists admit this. Production as directly identical with consumption, and consumption as directly coincident with production, is termed by them productive consumption. This identity of production and consumption amounts to Spinoza’s thesis: determinatio est negatio. But this definition of productive consumption is advanced only for the purpose of separating consumption as identical with production from consumption proper, which is conceived rather as the destructive antithesis to production. (Grundrisse90)

and

It is probable that at a certain level nature and  industry are two separate and distinct things: from one point of view, industry is the opposite of nature; from another, industry extracts its raw materials from nature; from yet another, it returns its refuse to nature; and so on. Even within society, this characteristic man-nature, industry-nature, society-nature relationship is responsible for the distinction of relatively autonomous spheres that are called production, distribution, consumption… [but] the real truth of the matter—the glaring, sober truth that resides in delirium—is that there is no such thing as relatively independent spheres or circuits: production is immediately consumption and a recording process (enregistrement), without any sort of mediation, and the recording process and consumption directly determine production, though they do so within the production process itself. Hence everything is production: production of productions, of actions and of passions; productions of recording processes, of distributions and of co-ordinates that serve as points of reference; productions of consumptions, of sensual pleasures, of anxieties, and of pain. Everything is production, since the recording processes are immediately consumed, immediately consummated, and these consumptions directly reproduced. (Anti-Oedipus4)

These two passages describe, in ever-so-slightly different ways, a pair of distinct yet fundamentally entangled positions. The first of these is a general situations; relative to the developmental pathways of human civilization at the most total level, it is what produces transhistorical conditions. The second is a more historically-bound and situated situation. The necessary inseparability of the two lies in that the historically-situated is always the expression of the transhistorical current: the latter gives rise to the former, but it is through the variations of the former are the only ways that the latter can be understood.

Bataille’s distinction between a ‘general’ and ‘restricted’ economy provided an apt vantage points to examine the two sorts of systems that characterize this split. In a footnote to the above passage, Deleuze and Guattari write that “[w]hen Georges Bataille speaks of sumptuary, nonproductive expenditure or consumption in connection with the energy of nature, these are expenditures or consumption that are not part of the supposedly independent sphere of human production, insofar as the latter is determined by ‘the useful’. They therefore have to do with what we call the production of consumption” (Anti-Oedipus, 4). The production of consumption, then, oscillates around the equation of production with consumption as it occurs within the general economy. This economy is, for Bataille, a cosmological economy, composed of immense and violent circuits of energy that are discharged as pure expenditure. The burning fury of the sun is the source of expenditure par excellence: it continually pounds the earth with pulsing solar rays, and it is this nourishing gift of radiation—which for the sun is merely waste—that is the ultimate source of terrestrial organic evolution and the synthetic things that in turn evolve from. By drawing the equivalence between waste and excess, Bataille subverts the common economic logic that situates scarcity as primacy. Not simply abundance, but overabundance reigns over all. The consequence that follows from this proposition is the flipping of the logic that governs economic organization. It’s not a mechanism for the production and distribution of scarce resources, as the bourgeois economists maintain, but a machine designed to eliminate, as much as it possibly can, a mighty and permanent wave of excess that threatens to submerge everything:

Economic science merely generalizes the isolated situation; it restricts its object to operations carried out with a view to a limited end, that of economic man. It does not take into consideration a play of energy that no particular end limits: the play of living matter in general, involved in the movement of light of which it is the result. On the surface of the globe, for living matter in general, energy is always in excess; the question is always posed in terms of extravagance. The choice is limited to how the wealth is to be squandered. It is to the particular living being, or to limited populations of living beings, that the problem of necessity presents itself. But man is not just the separate being that contends with the living world and with other men for his share of resources. The general movement of exudation (of waste) of living matter impels him, and he cannot stop it; moreover, being at the summit, his sovereignty in the living world identifies him with this movement; it destines him, in a privileged way, to that glorious operation, to useless consumption. (The Accursed Share, 23)

The logic of the ‘restricted economy’ pertains to the various ways in which this dissipation becomes organized; read historically, this means that there are a variety of different forms that the restricted economy takes at various stages of civilizational development. The capitalist mode of production, in Bataille’s account, is a unique form of the restricted economy  in that it converts this dissipation into a drive towards accumulation—and it is for this reason, as Nick Land argues in Thirst for Annihilation, that the Marxian problem of overproduction the chronic “symptomatic redundancies of labour and capital” is able to rear its head (Thirst for Annihilation, 57).

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Specters of  mechanical overproduction (source)

Deleuze and Guattari convert the Bataillean infrastructure into their productive ontology, thereby transforming the cosmos’ release of a cursed gift into the production of production, that is, into the movement from primary generative processes to the more narrow, yet still transhistorical, production processes (Jon Roffe has noted that when it comes to the relationship between Bataille and Deleuze and Guattari, the pair “have no  time for the entire thematic of transgression and its concomitants”, so it is telling that in this conversion process many of the transgressive elements are either forced into a new guise or discarded (Abstract Market Theory, 163, Note 15)). Nonetheless, the distinction between the general and the restricted is still constructive, and works well in thinking through not only through Deleuze and Guattari’s ultimately Marxian account of history (analyzing the historically-distinct forms of ‘restricted’ production in order to produce a baseline for developing a theory of how different productions of the subject occur), as well as returning to Marx himself .

In order to carry this out, a further distinction between a general-restrictive economy (not to be confused with the general economy) and a specific-restrictive economy must be posed, with each correlating, respectively, to transhistorical dimensions and historically-bound forms that express these dimensions. This can help navigate the problem-fraught space between Deleuze and Guattari’s elaboration of Marx and the writings of Marx himself. In a previous post on that topic, Andrew Culp raised the excellent point that “by claiming god=nature=industry at the beginning of AO, perhaps DG realize that they’ve put the labor theory of value into question. the problem is, of course, the labor theory of value defines the political dimension of marxism”. By analyzing (or, in a peevish maneuver, overcoding) the implications of their Spinozist-productivist equation with a diagram of a general economy, general-restrictive economy, and specific-restrictive economy, the question of the law of value can be properly re-injected back into their framework. This is because we are able to situate labor at a pivotal point between general and general-restricted economy, with passage between specific-restrictive economies serving to unveil variations of how this relationship unfolds in time.

All the elements to do this, of course, are present in Marx, and this simple fact threatens to overturn this perhaps overly-complicated presentation and render it redundant. But given the general state of confusion concerning the status of labor in Marx’s theory—something that inevitably leads to confusion about value), we’ll soldier onwards; this framework, after all, might also help communicate answers to those important questions.

As I discussed in my post on ecological readings of Marx, labor is positioned in the first chapter of Capital Volume I as a transhistorical force that, across time, has served as a mediating relation between humans and nature—or, between restricted and general economies. To quote the passage in full:

Men made clothes for thousands of years, under the compulsion of the need for clothing, without a single man ever becoming a tailor. But the existence of coats, of linen, of every element of material wealth not provided in advance by nature, had to be mediated through a specific productive activity appropriate to its purpose, a productive activity that assimilated particular natural materials to particular human requirements. Labour, then, as the creation of use-values, as useful labor, is a condition of human existence which is independent of all forms of society; it is an eternal natural necessity which mediates the metabolism of between man and nature, and therefore human life itself. (Capital Volume 1, Chapter 1: The Commodity, 133)

There are several comments to be had on this passage. First, labor is described here as a natural necessity, highlighting its status not only as something that mediates a particular relationship with nature, but is a characteristic of nature itself. What this further entails is that the status of the human is one who is subsumed in nature (they are continuous with it), while also being in opposition; this can be described in terms of somewhat reductive autonomist formula of being ‘within and against’, but also as a proper dialectical relation, the emergence of the opposite and their unity.

Second, relations of labor are intrinsically productive relations. The mediation of human and labor, of the general and restrictive economies, is also the link between the production of production and that ‘secondary’ production.

The third point concerns how Marx rises from this general condition to the specificity of labor relations under the capitalist mode of production. Insofar as Marx’s critics are concerned, the category of value is something that can only be grasped through narrow economic lenses, which is why they are so ready to pull the rug out from under the labor theory of value for a theory of value that operates at the level of appearance. For these bourgeois economists, value is but a measure of social valuation, itself an aggregate of individuals valuating in accordance with their personal preferences. Marx’s understanding of value cannot, however, be properly understood from the point of view of social valuation in this way, because it is intended to articulate how this society itself is produced by the economic relations. Value-theory is an analysis of the specific-restrictive economy that is the capitalist mode of production, but it follows from what Marx says above: because labor mediates a relationship between humans and nature, it also becomes the force that mediates relations between humans. Or, more properly, it imparts itself as social mediation.

It’s not just labor-time, but labor-time as well, that becomes transhistorical. In the discussion of communal production in the Grundrisse, Marx writes

On the basis of communal production, the determination of time remains, of course, essential. The less time the society requires to produce wheat, cattle etc., the more time it wins for the other production, material or mental. Just as in the case of an individual, the multiplicity of its development, its enjoyment and its activity depends on economization of time. Economy of time, to this all economy ultimately reduces itself. Society likewise has to distribute its time in a purposeful way, in order to achieve a production adequate  to its overall needs; just as the individual has to distribute his time correctly in order to satisfy the various demands on his activity.

In Time in Marx, Stavros Tombazos translates the bold passage above as the far-less unwieldy “every economy is an economy of time” (Time in Marx, 13). As he further points out, the word economy being used here shouldn’t be thought in a narrow point of view (i.e. like those given by the bourgeois economists), but should be seen first and foremost as an form of organization—a reading consistent with the above and with the Bataillean notion of a restricted economy. This means that social mediation can also be framed temporally, as distilling the economy to time itself highlights the way in which time, or the experience of time, becomes organized. If there is variation between restrictive economies, which is to say variation between the way labor-as-mediation materially manifests, then there is variation in the experience of time itself.

All of this is made abundantly clear in a short passage found in Marx’s Letters on Capital:

That this necessity of distributing social labour in definite proportions cannot be done away with by the particular form of social production, but can only change the form it assumes, is self evident. No natural laws can be done away with. What can change, in changing historical circumstances, is the form in which these laws operate. (quoted in Time in Marx, 14)

In pages of the Grundrisse these natural laws themselves seem to shake. Even if time still determines the post-capitalist economy, social mediation is transformed as the dominant logic swings from labor-time to time outside of labor (which is why Jehu is so adamant that the progressive elimination of labor-hours is the only real means of realizing “a so-called ‘post-capitalist society'”, or why Postone argues that Capital should not be understood as a “critique of capitalism from the standpoint of labor… [but] a critique of labor in capitalism” (Time, Labor, and Social Domination, 5)). What this implies is that which exists beyond the capitalist mode of production—what the capitalist mode of production is incubating within itself—must be understood as qualitatively and quantitative different from every social formation that has existed. It implies nothing less than the breakdown of the very logic of the so-called restricted economy.

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.

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?

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.

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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