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

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Great Politics (assorted notes)

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Convergent with the Proudhon’s anarchistic analysis of the primordial linkage between the State and war is Nietzsche’s critique of social contract theory, as detailed by Hugo Drochon in his book Nietzsche’s Great Politics. To quote him at length:

In “The Greek State,” Nietzsche also takes issue with Wagner’s On State and Religion—another manuscript that Nietzsche read while in Tribschen—which the latter had recently composed at the behest of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. There Wagner accounts for the emergence of the state as from a Hobbesian “fear of violence,” which leads to a “contract whereby the units seek to save themselves from mutual violence, through a little practice of restraint.” While Nietzsche concurred that the state of nature was one of bellum omnium contra omnes (GSt, 170), he disagreed with the idea that the state arose through a contract. He instead saw the state as originating from a “conqueror with the iron hand,” who “suddenly, violently, and bloodily” takes control of a yet-unformed population and forces it into a hierarchical society (GSt, 168). [54]

[…]

In “The Greek State,” Nietzsche concurred with the Hobbesian view of the state of nature being a bellum omnium contra omnes. But he did not account for its birth in a contract. Instead, as we just saw, he located thebirth of the “cruel tool” of the state in the iron “conquerors.” Indeed, these conquerors are themselves, on Nietzsche’s account, the state. Yet the “ignominious” birth of the state is justified as a means to genius and culture. “Nature”—we see the influence of Romanticism on Nietzsche’s early thought here—had instilled in the conqueror the state-creating instinct so that she might achieve “her salvation in appearance in the mirror of genius.” The “dreadful” birth of the state, whose monuments include “devastated lands, ruined towns, savage men, consuming hatred of nations,” is justified by nature because it serves as a means to genius. “The state appears before it proudly and calmly: leading the magnificently blossoming woman, Greek society, by the hand” (GSt, 169).

While Nietzsche’s genealogy of the state claims to be more realistic than the “fanciful,” in his own words, account of the social contract tradition, this does not imply that on his account the state cannot be justified. Of course there is a difference between normative and descriptive claims here: over the course of their writings, Hobbes and indeed Rousseau gave quite detailed accounts of the history of the state they understood to be at odds with the normative ideals they were recommending, and the social contract theorists are often thought of as having tailored their state of nature to justify the type of state they were advocating. But Nietzsche is here rejecting both their descriptive—how the state came into being—and normative claims—how the birth of the state can be justified.

The state, for Nietzsche, is justified because it opens up a space within which culture, through genius, can for the first time flourish. There are a number of elements to this claim. First, that the time and energy used to defend oneself in the “war of all against all” is redirected, within a pacified society, toward more artistic and cultural pursuits. Nietzsche explains that once states have been founded everywhere, the bellicose urge gets concentrated into “less frequent” yet altogether much stronger “bolts of thunder and flashes of lightning” of “dreadful clouds of war between nations.” Thus, much as it was for Hobbes, the “state of nature” gets transferred to the interstate level. In the meantime, however, the “concentrated effect of that bellum, turned inward, gives society time to germinate and turn green everywhere, so that it can let radiant blossoms of genius sprout forth as soon as warmer days come.” In other words, the energy that was used to simply stay alive in the individual war of all against all gets redirected, once encased in and protected by the new state, either collectively toward wars against other nations or, in the intermediary, toward satisfying a “new world of necessities”—namely, culture (GSt, 170).

The two interrelated justifications for the state—genius and culture— come together in the figure of the first genius—the military genius. Since the beasts of prey were organized on a “war footing,” the first type of state, even the “archetype” of the state, is the military state, and the first genius is a military genius. The first work of art is the state itself and its constitution; Nietzsche mentions the Spartan lawgiver Lycurgus—a thought borrowed from Jacob Burckhardt. As a military state, the first state therefore divides itself into hierarchical military castes, and this “warlike society” necessarily takes the form of a pyramidal structure with a large slave-class bottom stratum (GSt, 172). [56-57]

As with all things, however, the state decays. For Nietzsche this appears in the time of the Kulturstaat, the modern state that treats its subjects as mere means to furthering the cause of “existing institutions”. “However loudly the state may proclaim its services to cultures, it furthers culture in order to further itself.” The state also loses what Nietzsche regarded as a sense of excitement regarding its function: mass bureaucracy and the dreary affairs of parliament tore from the governing institutions the “ancient Isis veil”. In an aphorism from Human, All Too Human, the cause of modern decline is highlighted: “modern democracy is the historical form of the state.”

Cue the transformation into what Drochon refers to as Nietzsche’s “postmodern state”:

Nietzsche concludes by proclaiming “with certainty” that “distrust of all government” will result from the “uselessness and destructiveness of these short-winded struggles,” and will “impel men to a quite novel resolve: the resolve to do away with the concept of the state, to abolish the distinction between public and private.” Instead, an “invention more suited to their purpose than the state was will gain victory over the state.” “Private companies” (Privatgesellschaften) will “step by step absorb the business of the state,” including those activities that are the “most resistant remainder of what was formerly the work of the government”: protecting “the private person from the private person.”

This marks another point of at least partial convergence with Proudhon, who also foresaw the unwinding of social and political relations into the hurried networks of economic exchange. He wrote in the General Idea of Revolution in the Nineteenth Century that

…if I could make a contract with all, as I can with some; if all could renew it among themselves, if each group of citizens, as a town, county, province, corporation, company, etc., formed by a like contract, and considered as a moral person, could thereafter, and always by a similar contract, agree with every and all other groups, it would be the same as if my own will were multiplied to infinity. I should be sure that the law thus made on all questions in the Republic, from millions of different initiatives, would never be anything but my law; and if this new order of things were called government, it would be my government.

Thus the principle of contract, far more than that of authority, would bring about the union of producers, centralize their forces, and assure the unity and solidarity of their interests.

The system of contracts, substituted for the system of laws, would constitute the true government of the man and of the citizen; the true sovereignty of the people, the Republic.

Speaking of state decay, demotic chaos and long-term political cycles, Peter Turchin has written a brief-but-interesting response to Tyler Cowen’s recent “No, Fascism Can’t Happen Here”. He ultimately reaches the same conclusion as Cowen via a different route, but his final note is telling: “In my opinion, the greatest danger for us today (and into the 2020s) is not the rise of a Hitler, but rather a Second American Civil War.” The 2020s thread is picked up elsewhere.

Also keeping up with the troubles is Chris Shaw on zombie politics, which moves from the fragmentation and conflict internal to the dominant political structures towards a Carsonian-informed look at potential leverages for Exit. In other words, ideas that move in the same waters as Nietzsche’s postmodern state and Proudhon’s contract government.