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.

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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. 

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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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

(Anti)Markets

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There are many advantages to political decentralization as a structural limitation on government power. Imagine a country the size of the United States, but consisting of only five states. Now imagine the same region containing 500 states. All other things being equal, the second situation is likely to be much more hospitable to freedom than the first. The smaller the political unit, the greater the influence an individual citizen can have in politics, thus decreasing the lobbying advantage that concentrated special interests have over the diffuse general public. Further, as the number of available alternative political jurisdictions increases, the citizen’s exit option becomes more powerful. The freedom to leave one state is small comfort if there are only a handful of others nearby to go to; but with many states, the odds of finding a satisfactory destination are much better.

In addition, competition between states can serve as a check on state power, since if any state becomes too oppressive its citizens can vote with their feet. Also, decentralization softens the impact of government mistakes. If a single centralized government decides to implement some ill-conceived plan, everybody has to suffer. But with many states implementing different policies, a bad policy can be escaped, while a good policy can be imitated. (Here too, competition can serve as a discovery process.) – Roderick T. Long, “Virtual Cantons”

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As always, Xenogoth’s blog is a machine for inducing thoughts and productivity over here on this side of things. Their latest post concerns Rana Dasgupta’s recent article for the Guardian titled “The Demise of the Nation State”, the topic of which (as the very name indicates) should be well familiar now. “For increasing numbers of people,” Dasgupta writes, “our nations and the system of which they are a part now appear unable to offer a plausible, viable future.” And yet solutions posed seems to be more of the same: avoid the fragmentation, shore up that which is dissolving, and keep on keepin’ on with progressive universalism. Xenogoth writes:

it’s universalism which is the problem here and its funneling progressivism into a single, unwavering straight line. Progressivism reveals itself to be political tunnelvision. When you’re political system starts to offer you the Kool Aid, progressivism becomes putting it down and heading for the exit. There are surely better paths on the outside.

Contra more radical (and perhaps dangerous) routes to the Outside, Dasgupta’s future-oriented politics revolves around three key elements: “global financial regulation”, “global flexible democracy”, and “new conceptions of citizenship”. Xenogoth points out that these are these continue to the drift into neoliberal globalization – and indeed, are these three things not the very idealistic summit of the global regime that has existed since the end of World War II? Empire, the Cathedral, capitalist realism, the Washington Consensus, what have you; it is the unity of regulated monopolistic competition in political economy and liberal democracy in the order of politics that serve as the twin pincers of the meta-system.

The first element will be met with inherent skepticism. After all, we’re told repeatedly that the between the crisis that brought a swift and brutal conclusion to the Fordist-Keynesianism that defined the immediate post-war period (beginning in 1968 and culminating in the Nixon Shock of 1972) and the inauguration of the so-called New Economy of the 1990s, a disastrous path of deregulatory behavior was undertaken, one that undermined the developed world’s industrial base, hollowed out civic institutions and the infrastructures of ‘modern democracy’, and sent us spiraling into cycles of crisis. But is this really the case?

In the United States, it is undeniable that there have been the neutering of regulations in certain areas – but this is only remains a part of the story. The cutting here and there – which has become major talking point for both the left and right, as objects of derision and praise, respectively – has served as the mask for a great explosion of regulatory activities. Take John Dawson and John Seater’s 2013 paper “Federal Regulation and Aggregate Economic Growth”, for instance. Looking at the Code of Federal Regulation (CFR), which logs all regulations on the books in the US, Dawson and Seater discovered that its contents multiplied sixfold between 1949 and 2005, going from the (already significant 19,335 pages to a mind-boggling 134,261 pages). This already begins to overturn conventional wisdom on the left that consistent deregulation is the overarching trend in economic development over the last four to six decades – and Dawson and Seater can only pour more gasoline on this fire:

Periods of negative growth are infrequent, and, when they do occur, the absolute value of the growth rate is small. By far, the fastest percentage growth occurred in the early 1950s. High growth also occurred in the 1970s, even though there was extensive deregulation in transportation, telecommunications, and energy. Deregulation in that period was more than offset by increased regulation in other areas, notably pertaining to the environment and occupational safety, as Hopkins (1991) has noted. The Reagan administration of the 1980s promoted deregulation as a national priority, and growth in the number of CFR pages slowed in the early and late 1980s. Nevertheless, total pages decreased in only one year, 1985. The 1990s witnessed the largest reduction in pages of regulation in the history of the CFR, with three consecutive years of decline. This reduction coincides with the Clinton administration’s “reinventing government” initiative that sought reduced regulation in general and a reduction in the number of pages in the CFR in particular. (Interestingly, the greatest percentage reduction in the CFR did not occur during either the Reagan or Clinton administrations but rather in the first year of the Kennedy administration, 1961.) There thus are several major segments in regulation’s time path, with corresponding breaks in trend (dates are approximate): (1) 1949 to 1960 (fast growth), (2) 1960 to 1972 (slow growth), (3) 1972 to 1981 (fast growth), (4) 1981 to 1985 (slow growth), (5) 1985 to 1993 (fast growth), and (6) 1993 to 2005 (slow growth).

There’s a similar lip-service paid to classical political economy and ideological obfuscation going on where “free trade” is concerned. While the right-wing (outside of its populist sector, of course) sounds the trumpets in the name of laissez-faire and the nationalist right and the left-of-center viciously denounce it, what goes in the West under the name of free trade is anything but. While agreements like NAFTA, CAFTA, TPP and institutions like the WTO, the IMF, and the like seem to reduce this argument to an absurdity, there is an immense gulf between the sort of free trade advocated by classical political economists like David Ricardo – aaand Karl Marx – and these agreements reached by government negotiators.

Free trade would entail something very simple: the parties in question decide to mutually eliminate barriers, including but not limited to tariffs, to one another’s domestic market places. The contemporary agreement like NAFTA or the TPP, by contrast, consists of thousands upon thousands of pages of legal qualifications, special protections, and what are called “investor-state dispute settlements”. The result is an uneven playing field dominated by entrenched quasi-monopolistic corporations, protected by the state, who have suspended free trade for something profoundly different. Tariffs might have been avoided (until the looming US-China trade war, at least), but corporate protectionism reigns supreme.

A counterpoint might that this is precisely what free trade produces: concentration of power in a handful of corporate entities, who bend the legal apparatuses of the state to fix things their favor (such as implementing protectionist policies that further enforce their hegemony). It’s a good story, and one that makes clear who would be the bad guys and the bad systems (corporations! free trade!), and easy solutions (tightening the grip in advance on the exchange circuits before we get to this disastrous state of affairs). Unfortunately – or maybe not so unfortunately – it isn’t true, and one of the reasons has to do with the ubiquity of regulatory behavior. But more on that in a moment.

Perhaps the best way to look at the global system that is now in crisis is by returning to Deleuze and Guattari’s analysis of shifting modes of social organization around the mechanisms of warding off the forces that would undo them. The despotic state was dependent on coding and territorialization of flows in a particular way; it had to, at all costs, ward off the progressive decoding and deterritorializing of flows – and to do this, it had to prevent the arrival of capital, that alien mutagen that draws power from annihilating the very limits and barriers that a socius needs to maintain organization. Hence the sheer apocalypticism of capital and the dread it instills – but the despotic state does not disappear in its dark arrival. It undergoes a transformation into the capitalist state, a unit of “anti-production” that is subordinated to the flux of capitalist deterritorialization.

The capitalist state finds itself in a paradoxical situation: it is founded atop capital’s flows, but it still must ward off their ultimate – and inevitable – trajectory, that is, the acceleration into absolute deterritorialization. Maybe it is across this tension wire that we must place something like the free trade agreement, or even the rates of regulation growth and occasional deregulation. Read this way, the free trade agreement would be series of measures taken to channel flows, to situate institutional entities and political blocs atop the slipstream of global marketization, without falling into them – which would bring the order to its very demise.

Is this not precisely an incredible compensatory mechanism, at one time aimed at global installation? Is this not a more accurate picture of what is splitting apart than most progressivist ideologues argue? And, by extension, does this not mean that the progressivist solution is ultimately to turn back the clock and complete the global installation?

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Braudel’s famous argument, implicit in Capitalism and Schizophrenia (this is the topic of a current in-progress work) and operationalized in full by Manuel Delanda, is that the market and capitalism must be made distinct from one another, and that capitalism must be thought as something oppositional to the market: an anti-market. The market – or micro-capitalism – is the realm of “economic life”; it is full of highly visible activities, the interchanges of commerce happening at rapid speeds, and variables profit rates attached to quickly shifting registers of price. “The market spells liberation, openness, access to another world”. Capitalism, by contrast, is defined large-scale centralization, bureaucracy, oligopoly, and decreased mobility in the price regime. Markets link themselves together in networks of “horizontal communication” between smaller firms and actors bound up in competitive behavior. Anti-markets are based around monopoly, and thus ward off the specter of competition.

We could say that, shifting into Deleuze and Guattari’s framework, the market/micro-capitalism corresponds the schizophrenizing, deterritorializing edge where capital rushes towards its ultimate limits, while the anti-market/capitalism side of the economic meshwork aligns with reterritorialization. Indeed, the capitalist state, identified by Deleuze and Guattari as composing a Katechonic mechanism for reterritorializing capital in order to avoid the end of things, is similarly found by Braudel as guarantor and protector of monopolistic entities. In the void of strong states, warding off occurs less and less, and the market emerges a norm; in the presence of them, it is capitalism that is business as usual.

I definitely hope to draw this argument out more in soon-to-be finished Vast Abrupt essay on SchizoMarketization and economic eschatology; in the meantime, however, I’d like to do something different and put forth the exceedingly questionable suggestion that the two of the ideological poles of economic governance in the US – Jeffersonianism and Hamiltonianism – can be roughly mapped to this schema of markets and antimarkets, in both their unity and opposition.

The Jeffersonian ideal moved power in a decentralizing direction, towards smaller and smaller, more localized levels; it opposed aristocracy and remained suspicious of mercantile, industrial and financial interests. The yeoman, an archetypal figure for small-scale, non-slaving owning farmers running the gamut from subsistence farmers to medium-range commercial entities, was the focal point of Jeffersonianism – making it a kind of populism that foreshadows many of the characteristics of certain libertarian factions in existence today.

Jeffersonianism seems to capture the ideological screen erected by the Washington establishment, but the order of business falls more under the purview of Hamiltonianism, with its emphasis on centralization of power, the supremacy of the Federal level above the local, and the creation of powerful and wealthy industrial and financial classes. The tenets of the “American School of Economics” (also known as the ‘National System’), developed in point-by-point opposition to those of classical liberalism, epitomize the Hamiltonian perspective. To quote from the wiki page, the three primary principles were:

  1. Protecting industry through selective high tariffs (1861 – 1932) and through subsidies (especially 1932-1970).
  2. Government investments in infrastructure creating targeted internal improvements (especially in transportation.
  3. A national bank with policies that promote the growth of productive enterprises rather than speculation.

If we’re to talk of the groundwork for the globalizing regime that is organized around transnational corporate protectionism, regulatory behavior, and liberal democracy, it is paramount not to mistake the Hamiltonian platform for free trade – especially given that the beginning of the globalization of this model corresponds with the arrival of US hegemony in the wake of the Second World War. It is an apparatus for producing monopolies – the dynamic generator of anti-market systems.

In 1888, well into the Hamiltonian era, Benjamin Tucker advocated what he described as an “unterrified Jeffersonianism” – a radical free market socialism that served as the “the logical carrying out of the Manchester doctrine; laissez faire the universal rule”. Blocking the path to this world were the four monopolies: “the money monopoly, the land monopoly, the tariff monopoly, and the patent monopoly.” The money monopoly is the state’s exclusive right to establish and produce a medium for circulation, which effectively cut-off the ability for competition between currencies to take place, and alloted greater power to banks and other lending institutions. The land monopoly, meanwhile, is “the enforcement by government of land titles which do not rest upon personal occupancy and cultivation”, while the tariff monopoly needs little mention. The patent monopoly – which, up until recently, was the far more pressing obstruction to international free trade than tariffs – is the domination of ideas under the rubric of intellectual property laws.

To these Kevin Carson adds a fifth: the transportation monopoly, in which roads and other infrastructures are designed and paid for by the state. In both the land monopoly and the transportation monopoly, costs are externalized onto the taxpayer, either in the form of law enforcement or public works. While collective pooling of resources for a common goal is one thing, in the context of the monopoly system this means that businesses are automatically exempt from certain costs. Wal-Mart, for example, has its distribution infrastructure already established by the transportation system. Or, in another case, a landowner who must bear the costs of protecting ownership is going to own considerably less land due to that price tag.

For Tucker, examples such as these – and many others – point to how elimination of the monopolies would proceed from the elimination of the state that made them possible in the first place, and that their removal would clear the way for real competition to occur, the Braudelian market rising up to fill the void. With more competition comes lower costs, and without heavy regulatory burden the barriers to entry implode – which adds to more competition, and lower costs still. The effect would be less distance between market price and what the classical political economists called the “natural price” – the costs inputs that were expended in advance in order to initially bring something to the market.

Carson suggests an even radical transformation: the implosion of homogeneity in socio-cultural formation and politico-economic governance, and the rapid multiplication of other ways of life. Speaking from the left-libertarian perspective, he writes in The Homebrew Industrial Revolution that

…it’s extremely unlikely in my opinion that the collapse of centralized state and corporate power will be driven by,or that the post‐corporate state society that replaces it will be organized according to, any single libertarian ideology… although the kinds of communal institutions, mutual aid networks and primary social units
into which people coalesce may strike the typical right‐wing flavor of free market libertarian as “authoritarian” or “collectivist,” a society in which such institutions are the dominant form of organization is by no means necessarily a violation of the substantive values of self‐ownership and nonaggression… it seems to me that the libertarian concepts of self‐ownership and nonaggression are entirely consistent with a wide variety of voluntary social frameworks, while at the same time the practical application of those concepts would vary widely.

To exit from the globalist anti-market is to be propelled towards the strangeness of patchwork.

Cthelllic Tendrils (#3a: Possession and Return)

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From inside the Turning she whispers to the Bottomless Pit: Ogun the metal-bodied, one who is many, breaker of masks. The hour of her coming draws near, and her Cloud of Dispersion already casts its abysmal shadow. – Mother Mary Ann Haddok, Industrial Church of the Nine Knocks

In the final pages of Flatline Constructs, Mark Fisher turned his attention to John Carpenter’s 1994 horror film In the Mouth of Madness, which he provocatively described as something of a companion piece to the two volumes of Deleuze and Guattari’s Capitalism and Schizophrenia project. In the Mouth of Madness is the story of a freelance investigator by the name of John Trent, who is hired by a large New York City-based publishing company to look into the disappearance of Sutter Cane, a popular horror novelist whose novels are reputed to have ‘strange effects’ on certain types of readers. Things go off the rails fairly quickly when Trent and Linda Styles, Cane’s editor, arrive in the town of Hobb’s Endan otherwise idyllic little New England ‘burg, besides a sinisterly beckoning church that loom up on the outskirts and the fact that the town itself is a fictional setting in Cane’s novels.

What binds In the Mouth of Madness to Capitalism and Schizophrenia is the twisting red thread of market apocalypticism. Cane is ultimately revealed to be to be a conduit – initially unwittingly – for the Old Ones, who are invading the world through his books, with the massive capitalist market serving as a contagion vector for belief. The more people read, the more they believe, and the more they believe, the more time accelerates towards the impending arrival of the ancients from the Abyss. In the film’s closing moments, we hear emergency broadcasts reporting in from somewhere, panicked voices warning of mass outbreaks of schizophrenia, of waves of violence and social disintegration, and of afflicted human bodies undergoing horrific mutation. A hyperstitional configuration par excellence: fiction writing itself into reality, the Outside invading in via the wildly oscillating hype(r) circuitry of capital.

So too it goes in Capitalism and Schizophrenia: capital, described in Anti-Oedipus as a flow of “abstract or fictional quantities”, is oriented towards “the wilderness where the decoded flows run free, the end of the world, the apocalypse”. This plane of cosmic schizophrenia is constantly ward-offed by Oedipal and statist compensators – yet the more capital itself proliferates, the greater the schizophrenization that explodes back from the periphery to the center, and the more the compensatory mechanisms shake and, ultimately, shatter. When social bodiesthemselves compositions of fictional quantities and mythsare “confronted with this real limit, repressed from within, but returns to them from without, they regard this event with melancholy as the sign of their approaching death”.

Cane’s role is that of the xenocommunicant: here is a figure who is opened up, unwittingly at first, to the Outside, though which the infection of the “schizo-signal” spreads. It’s not hard to see him as a composite of, on the one hand, Stephen King, with his utterly insane sales figures and strangely mutagenic effect on cultural formations; and on the other Lovecraft (another point of connectivity with Capitalism and Schizophrenia, the second volume is particular). Carpenter filled In the Mouth of Madness with references to Lovecraft’s cosmic horror, from structure of the film itself, to the names of characters, to the New England setting, to the final actualization of the long-awaited return of the Old Ones.

If the fictional Cane is an xenocommunicant, is it a stretch to grant that same designation to the ‘real’ Lovecraft? Ludicrous as it may seemand it is only going to get strangerthis is the position that was taken by Kenneth Grant, who in the 1970s began to cross-pollinate Crowley’s Thelema doctrines with Lovecraft and UFOlogy. In Beyond The Mauve Zone Grant would even suggest that the signals tapped into by the author were “strange sigils swirled by the power-waves of [Frater] Achad’s work” – Achad being Charles Stansfeld Jones, a ceremonial magician and purported ‘magical child’ of Crowley. Peter Levenda also takes up this question in his work on Lovecraft, Crowley and Grant titled The Dark Lord; to quote him at length:

In Liber Liberi vel Lapidus Lazuli, Crowley refers to several of the images with which Lovecraft would be consumed in his stories, but especially in “The Call of Cthulhu.” Here we have a buried god that is awakened from a stone, in a coffin, in a sepulchre, and mysterious words written in an ancient book, including Tutulu. And “of pure black marble is the sorry statue” resonates with the black stone on which the statue of Cthulhu squats.Crowley believed that the first two books [the Holy Books of Thelema] mentioned above were not his writing, but were inspired works dictated to him by his Holy Guardian Angel, the ancient Sumerian personality Aiwass, after Crowley had attained samadhi during a course of rituals he undertook with his colleague, George Cecil Jones, in England. Even the undecipherable language of “Olalam Imal Tutulu” has its counterpart in the enigmatic hieroglyphics of the Cthulhu statue and the ecstatic, glossolalia-like cries of the worshippers in the Louisiana swamps. Both men—the American author and the English magician—were dealing with the same subject matter, and indeed Lovecraft had dated the first appearance of the Cthulhu statue to the same year, month and day that Crowley began writing these sections of the Holy Books.

Levenda suggests that these may not be mere coincidences (as if there is anything mere about coincidence!), but could very well be an indication of some alien entity at work: “Either Lovecraft was in some kind of telepathic communication with Crowley, or both men were in telepathic communication with… Something Else.”

[If anyone is on the fence thus far, consider Levenda’s innocuous capitalizations in light of the following AQ equivalence: SOMETHING ELSE = 268 = SCHIZOPHRENIA]

In 1949a year after Crowley’s death, the beginnings of the modern UFO phenomenon (by way of the Kenneth Arnold sighting and the mythical Roswell Crash), and the inauguration of the Aeon of MaatPeter Vysparov convened a small group of researches together to study, among other things, these very sorts of “cryptic communications from the Old Ones, signaling return”. In a manner very close to Grant’s own untimely remixing of the edgeland currents rippling through cosmic post-war modernity, Vysparov’s goal was to find the key that would zip together Lovecraft’s ‘fiction’ with the body of work produced by Crowley and his acolytes, as well as with that of certain Indonesian indigenous populations. In his correspondence with the anthropologist Echidna Stillwell, he described this nexus as the zone of “Cthulhoid contagion”. On these matters Stillwell would response with a sense of knowing hesitance:

Whilst not in any way accusing you of frivolity, I feel bound to state the obvious warning: Cthulhu is not to be approached lightly. My researches have led me to associate this Chthonian entity with the deep terrestrial intelligence inherent in the electromagnetic cauldron of the inner earth, in all of its intense reality, raw potentiality, and danger. According to the Nma she is the plane of Unlife, a veritable Cthelll—who is trapped under the sea only according to a certain limited perspective—and those who set out to traffic with her do so with the greatest respect and caution.

Down and under…

A Thousand Plateau Dates

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1914: One or Several Wolves?

  • Freud’s On Narcissism is published (?)

10,000 BC: The Geology of Morals (Who Does the Earth Think It Is?)

  • Flexible dating for the beginning of the Holocene epoch, connected with the close of the last Ice Age, global geological and ecological transformations in the shifting of the climatic belt, and the beginning of both migratory and nomadic societies.
  • Hinted at in footnote 26 of the plateau on the Refrain:

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November 23rd, 1923: The Postulates of Linguistics

  • Date of the pegging of the German mark to the Rentemark, effectively ending hyperinflation in what Deleuze and Guattari described as a “semiotic transformation that, although indexed to the body of the earth and material assets, was still a pure act or incorporeal transformation.” (pg. 82)
  • Footnote 12 to this plateau further unpacks the significance of this date:

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587 BC – 70 AD: On Several Regimes of Signs

  • Dates marking the first and second Destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, essential events in the path of the Jewish people through history:

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November 28th, 1947: How Do You Make Yourself a Body Without Organs?

  • Antonin Artaud records “To Have Done with the Judgment of God”, a Theater of Cruelty-style radio play that was intended to wage war on the technopolitical order that consolidated on a global level in the wake of the Second World War. The Body without Organs is posed as the opposition to the organization this order – and the orders proceeding it – imposed upon the self:

No matter how one takes you you are mad, ready for the straitjacket.

– By placing him again, for the last time, on the autopsy table to remake his anatomy.
I say, to remake his anatomy.
Man is sick because he is badly constructed.
We must make up our minds to strip him bare in order to scrape off that animalcule that itches him mortally,

    • god,
    • and with god
    • his organs.

For you can tie me up if you wish,
but there is nothing more useless than an organ.

When you will have made him a body without organs,
then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactions
and restored him to his true freedom.

  • The Judgment of God itself, as that which imposes organization upon the Body without Organs, is invoked in the Geology of Morals:

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Year Zero: Faciality

  • The birth of Christ and the retrocausal genesis-point of Western civilization

1874: Three Novellas, or “What Happened?”

  • Barbey d’Aurevilly’s Les Diaboliques is published, a work regarded by Deleuze and Guattari as indicating the way that the novella folds the “postures” of the mind and body together (in contrast to the tale which is marked by an unfolding). Through this a tripartite schema is derived:

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1933: Micropolitics and Segmentarity

  • Hitler becomes chancellor

1730: Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible

  • Vampire-mania sweeps Europe:

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1837: Of the Refrain

  • Hector Berlioz composes his Requiem (?)

1227: Treatise on Nomadology: The War Machine

  • Ogedei Khan assumes power after Genghis dies and proceeds to expand Mongol empire.

7000 BC: The Apparatus of Capture

  • Systematization of agriculture occurs in Mesopotamia.

1440: The Smooth and the Striated

  • Development of Portuguese map-making in relation to the technological breakthroughs in oceanic navigation:

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