August 2007


Are we not, then, at the center of what Jean-Francois Lyotard calls the postmodern condition, which I, unlike him, understand to be the paradigm of all submission and every sort of compromise with the existing status quo? For Lyotard, postmodernism represents the collapse of what he calls the grand narratives of legitimation (for example, the discourses of the Enlightenment, those of Hegel’s accomplishment of the Spirit and the Marxist emanicipation of the workers). It would always be wise, according to Lyotard, to be suspicious of the least desire for concerted social action. Any promotion of consensus as an ideal, Lyotard argues, is to be regarded as out-dated and suspect. Only little narratives of legitimation, in other words, the ‘pragmatics of linguistic particles’ that are multiple, heterogeneous, and whose performativity would be only limited in time and space, can still save some aspects of justice and freedom. In this way, Lyotard joins other theorists, such as Jean Buadrillard, for whom the social and political have never been more than traps, or ‘semblances’, for which it would be wise to lose one’s fondness.

Whether they are painters, architects, or philosophers, the heroes of postmodernism have in common the belief that the crises experienced today in artistic and social practices can only lead to an irrevocable refusal of any large-scale social undertaking. So we ought to take care of our own backyards first and, preferably, in conformity with the habits and customs of our contemporaries. Don’t rock the boat! Just drift with the currents of the marketplace of art and opinion that are modulated by publicity campaigns and surveys.

But where does the idea that the socius is reducible to the facts of language, and that these facts are in turn reducible to binarizable and ‘digitalizable’ signifying chains, come from? On this point postmodernists have hardly said anything innovative! In fact, their views are directly in keeping with the modernist tradition of structuralism, whose influence on the human sciences appears to have been a carry-over from the worst aspects of Anglo-Saxon systematization. The secret link that binds these various doctrines, I believe, stems from a subterranean relationship– marked by reductionist concepts, and conveyed immediately after the war by information theory and new cybernetic research. The references that everyone continually made to the new communications and computer technologies were so hastily developed, so poorly mastered, that they put us far behind the phenomenological research that preceded them.

Here we must return to a basic truism, but on pregnant with implications; namely, that concrete social assemblages– not to be confused with the ‘primary group’ of American sociology, which only reflects the economy of opinion polls –call into question much more than just linguistic performance: for example, ethological and ecological dimensions, as well as the economic semiotic components, aesthetic, corporeal and fantasmatic ones that are irreducible to the semiology of language, and the diverse incorporeal universes of reference which are not readily inscribed within the coordinates of the dominant empiricity… (The Guattari Reader, 111)

Much of this passage reads as if it could have come directly out of Badiou, when he rails against the sophists that placed philosophy under the poem. How did language come to be seen as the “transcendental condition for the possibility of x” any? One says, “you must use language to express any thought therefore language is a condition for all beings in much the same way that Kantian categories are conditions.” Yet I have to use my lips, teeth, tongue, and ears as well, but I do not treat these as conditions in this way. I use my brain as well, yet I do not treat this as a condition in this way. There must be oxygen for the sound waves to travel, yet this is not a condition in this way. How did this move occur? What grounds it?

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I am thoroughly exhausted and should be falling into bed, yet somehow I won’t let myself rest. There are times, especially when fatigued or sick that I’ll will myself to stay awake as if I resent the implication or thought that life is being robbed from me. I stubbornly go on, as if in defiance of my physical limits. Or again, perhaps this stubbornness arises from knowing that next week I’ll be returning to classes and will be exceedingly busy.

In preparation for the After Music conference at University of Newcastle, I’ve been rereading A Thousand Plateaus, with fresh and excited eyes. The “Geology of Morals” plateau, while obscure in parts, is especially good… Or perhaps I only think this because it deals heavily with questions of individuation or morphogenesis, which seem to be my obsession. Deleuze and Guattari mobilize Hjelmslev’s linguistics, rereading it in a highly original fashion, to develop a metaphysics of matter undergoing morphogenesis. It seems to me that this particular schematization nicely thematizes a number of points N.Pepperrell has made about abstraction and her critiques of demystifying approaches and ideology critiques.

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Protevi has written an excellent critical review of Hallward’s Out of this World.

Hallward’s dualism and positing of uni-directional virtual dominance prepares him to say that Deleuze’s orientation “out of this world” vitiates his politics, leaving it “little more than utopian distraction” (162), one that “inhibits any consequential engagement with the constraints of our actual world” (161). Instead of a supposedly extra-worldly preference for the virtual, Hallward writes — eloquently and certainly not without justification — that “the politics of the future are likely to depend less on virtual mobility than on more resilient forms of cohesion, on more principled forms of commitment, on more integrated forms of coordination, on more resistant forms of defense” (162). But it’s only Hallward’s identification of the intensive and the virtual and consequent evacuation of all creativity from our world that leads him to think that, of his desiderata, “resilient cohesion” and “integrated coordination” are not Deleuzean concepts. I would submit that these are more aligned with what Deleuze and Guattari recommend — experimentation with intensive processes — than with either “virtual mobility” or its alleged counterpart, “actual fixity,” to which Hallward seems attracted here.

I have insisted enough, I think, on the fact that we live in an intensive rather than (or at least in addition to) an “actual” world, so I will conclude only by saying that Hallward has missed the “toolbox” element of Deleuze’s work. (I’m referring here to the well-known conversation between Foucault and Deleuze, “Intellectuals and Power,” available in English in D. F. Bouchard, ed., Language, Counter-Memory, Practice [Cornell, 1977]; see 208 for the “toolbox” remark.) In his conclusion, Hallward verges on the polemical, warning us against the futility of reading Deleuze politically. But his reading is theoretical, all-too-theoretical. To examine Deleuzean politics is not so much to read the singular logic of being that allegedly subtends the many analyses of the structures of territorial assemblages, the detailed theory of capitalism and the state, the many pragmatic cautions about experimentation with social interaction found throughout A Thousand Plateaus, but to see how these can be and have been used to find points of transformation and intervention in a system. When Deleuze and Guattari write, “we know nothing about a body until we know what it can do, in other words, what its affects are, how they can or cannot enter into composition with other affects, with the affects of another body” (A Thousand Plateaus 314F / 257E), we have to consider their philosophical writings in this respect. In other words, we have to see how they’ve been put to use (and there is certainly no “progressive” guarantee here, as Hallward himself notes [163]). So in this regard at least, it’s to the positive attempts at “applying” Deleuze and Deleuze & Guattari that we must turn in order to evaluate the potentials for compositional affects offered by these thinkers, rather than to the critical work of Hallward, as noteworthy and thought-provoking as that might be in many other aspects.

Read the rest here.

Mark Lilla has an interesting article on the history of political theology since the 16th century in The New York Times Magazine.

The twilight of the idols has been postponed. For more than two centuries, from the American and French Revolutions to the collapse of Soviet Communism, world politics revolved around eminently political problems. War and revolution, class and social justice, race and national identity — these were the questions that divided us. Today, we have progressed to the point where our problems again resemble those of the 16th century, as we find ourselves entangled in conflicts over competing revelations, dogmatic purity and divine duty. We in the West are disturbed and confused. Though we have our own fundamentalists, we find it incomprehensible that theological ideas still stir up messianic passions, leaving societies in ruin. We had assumed this was no longer possible, that human beings had learned to separate religious questions from political ones, that fanaticism was dead. We were wrong.

Well worth the read.

The galleys of my book are to arrive today, so I will be busy reading over the final draft over the next couple of weeks. I deeply appreciate the many offers to help with the copy editing, though this wont be necessary as Northwestern sent the manuscript to a copy-editor. My apologies for not being clearer on the process. I’m learning as I go. I suppose now I get to dwell in the anxiousness of living with what I’ve written.

I can’t resist quoting this remark from a high ranking Bush aide drawn from a New York Times article on the central role that Bush’s religious beliefs have played in the formation of his policies once again:

The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ‘”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

You can read the article here. It doesn’t seem this strategy is working quite as expected these days. This is a prime reason the Greeks and Enlightenment thinkers sought to banish religious argumentation or arguments from revelation from the private sphere. The point here, of course, is that religious forms of thought also invite certain forms of argumentation and ways of conceiving the world that fly fast and loose with careful analysis of phenomena.

Euthyphro. Piety is doing as I am doing; that is to say, prosecuting any one who is guilty of murder, sacrilege, or of any similar crime-whether he be your father or mother, or whoever he may be-that makes no difference; and not to prosecute them is impiety. And please to consider, Socrates, what a notable proof I will give you of the truth of my words, a proof which I have already given to others:-of the principle, I mean, that the impious, whoever he may be, ought not to go unpunished. For do not men regard Zeus as the best and most righteous of the gods?-and yet they admit that he bound his father (Cronos) because he wickedly devoured his sons, and that he too had punished his own father (Uranus) for a similar reason, in a nameless manner. And yet when I proceed against my father, they are angry with me. So inconsistent are they in their way of talking when the gods are concerned, and when I am concerned.

Socrates. May not this be the reason, Euthyphro, why I am charged with impiety-that I cannot away with these stories about the gods? and therefore I suppose that people think me wrong. But, as you who are well informed about them approve of them, I cannot do better than assent to your superior wisdom. What else can I say, confessing as I do, that I know nothing about them? Tell me, for the love of Zeus, whether you really believe that they are true.

Euth. Yes, Socrates; and things more wonderful still, of which the world is in ignorance.

Soc. And do you really believe that the gods, fought with one another, and had dire quarrels, battles, and the like, as the poets say, and as you may see represented in the works of great artists? The temples are full of them; and notably the robe of Athene, which is carried up to the Acropolis at the great Panathenaea, is embroidered with them. Are all these tales of the gods true, Euthyphro?

Euth. Yes, Socrates; and, as I was saying, I can tell you, if you would like to hear them, many other things about the gods which would quite amaze you.

Soc. I dare say; and you shall tell me them at some other time when I have leisure. But just at present I would rather hear from you a more precise answer, which you have not as yet given, my friend, to the question, What is “piety”? When asked, you only replied, Doing as you do, charging your father with murder.

Of course, such folk never think very much about whether their accounts are persuasive to others… Perhaps because others do not exist for such people, there is no difference. After all, it’s all narrative anyway, right? Where it all becomes a matter of assertions, myths, and the interpretation of sacred texts based on revelations from oracles, how can the outcome where differences are concerned by anything but bluster and violence? You might as well start a mystery cult. A little immanence, please!

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Towards the beginning of Capital, Marx writes:

Human labour-power in its fluid state, or human labour, creates value, but is not itself value. It becomes value in its coagulated state, in objective form. The value of the linen as a congealed mass of human labour can be expressed only as an ‘objectivity’, a thing which is materially different from the linen itself and yet common to the linen and all other commodities. (Fowkes trans, 142)

Exhaustion prevents me from commenting at length on this passage, so I just wanted to draw attention to certain turns of phrase Marx employs, detaching them from their immediate context with regard to questions about the origins of value, and situating them in a broader philosophical context. Throughout Capital terms such as coagulation and the congealed perpetually appear in Marx’s thought. Indeed, alongside concepts such as relation, exchange, and differentiality, the congealed and coagulated seem to be key concepts at work in his thought, even if these concepts are never explicitly thematized for their own sake. While Marx does not himself use the term, the concept of differentiality is perpetually at work as it is one of the necessary elements in the value-relation. As Marx likes to point out, 100 yards of linen does not, in itself, have a value, but rather it takes on value only relatively in relation to the coat that it can produce. In short, for value to be produced, there must be relations of exchange and difference. One would not, for instance, conceive of exchanging 100 yards of linen for another 100 yards of linen. There must be a difference between the commodities for value to emerge.

To put the matter very crudely in a way that does not at all do Marx’s account of exchange-value justice, the comparatively higher value of the coat made of the linens is greater than that of the linens themselves, while nonetheless being made of these same linens, by virtue of the labor that goes into transforming the linens into the coat. Despite the fact that the matter present in the coats and the linens is identical, this process of production engenders a transformation of value. There is thus a morphogensis, a process of individuation, through which exchange-value is produced as an effect. This effect is the result of a transformation of a multiplicity into a specific form through labor.

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