The near-constant refrain at the heart of anti-hegemonic conceptualizations has been the body; as we move from book to book, tome to tome, we can see again and again the resurgence of this discourse: the Cartesian mind-body dualism, Spinoza’s eternal question on the potentialities of the body, Foucault’s analysis of the plays of power upon the body, Deleuze and Guattari’s complementary diatribes against normalized and regulated bodies, the circulations of the body and its imagery through pages of affect theory. The social is visualized as a body, and the military too. Works that we create are referred, in retrospect, as bodies. We joyously affirm the existence the body through the celebration of birth, and we revel in its deconstruction through horror cinema. The Dadaists made the body broken by the bullets and shells of World War 1 exemplars of absurd existence, a scream of rage against a renegade symbolic order; while Wilhelm Reich, Herbert Marcuse, the Situationists, and the New Left of the 1960s put their demand for the fulfillment of bodily pleasures on equal footing with the class struggle, and as a rejoinder, some of the most divisive political struggles today concern themselves with ‘rights of the body’, be they over the question of homosexuality or abortion. The body itself is the physical mechanism of revolt: how many times have we heard the term “bodies in the streets” as a reference to the mobilization of the multitude? Recent critics of accelerating technology, such as Bifo, bemoan the “disappearance of the body” into the swarming void of digital abstraction, yet certain extreme forms of resistance – self-immolation or suicide bombing – almost position themselves directly against this postmodern crisis (or is it in confirmation with this crisis?).
How does the entity that we refer to as the body, and the subjectivity that exists both within and adjacent to it, construct itself? In the introduction to his Parables for the Virtual, Brian Massumi draws on Deleuze and Guattari and makes reference to “coding.” The implication is a process of top-down transformation and writing; when we speak of coding in computer vernacular, it is the series of sequences generated by an outside actor or force that becomes unified image. This is the construction of software; programming – the process through which machines are made to operate in the way that is intended for them. For Massumi, coding itself refers to a deeper function, which he discusses “in terms of positioning on a grid.”1 In this grid system, boxes are divided up according to a signification that is generated in the exterior cultural sphere: complementary boxes for male and female, white and black, gay and straight, so on an so forth. The body is then constructed as a ‘geographical’ entity by their correspondence to a ‘site’ on the grid, with the site itself being overlapping terms from each pair. Thus, the grid system is combinatorial, composed of different interlocking parts; yet these combinations operate along binary vectors, dividing differentials into homogenous wholes.
We could speak of the body built on the grid as the “modeled body,” something constructed not by individual volition but under the gaze of the social other. As a modeled body, it comes built in with pre-existent expectations and roles to fulfill: stereotyped racial roles, gender roles, sexual roles are not scientifically determined roles, but ones that themselves are built along a myriad of different socio-cultural passageways that forms a hegemonic blanket. We find the submissive wife, the bread-winning husband, etc. These predicated social functions, while maintaining a running logic of domination and exploitation, are at their point of expression linguistic functions; the modeled body, then, can be seen as a body bracketed by the conjunction of binary signifiers that assume themselves to be scientifically justifiable. But underneath this pseudo-scientism we find lurking the gears of power, spinning a web of discourse that does nothing more than assume and perpetuate its own existence. Foucault spoke of the “rule of insistence” in regards to sexual discourse (something that must always be considered when the question of the body is raised). Sex under power, he charges, is placed within its own binary grid system, providing an order to what exactly constitutes the notion of ‘sex.’ Here too he finds the important role of the dominant linguistic structures operating as the despotic ‘invisible hand’: “power’s hold on sex is maintained through language, or rather through the discourse that it creates…”2
This gridwork permeates itself throughout the entirety of theoretical structuralism’s ambitions. Ferdinand de Saussure’s semiotic work finds language established through the model of a two-dimensional grid, linking together the signifier with its signified. Drawing on this work and the extensive research into the possibilities unlocked by post-World War 2 era cybernetic research, Claude Levi-Strauss brought the grid into his own anthropological work in an attempt to unlock universalities in the thought-forms of so-called primitive societies. Jacques Lacan, on the other hand, amalgamated all three of these approaches and transposed them into a psychoanalytical clinical framework; this time, a grid was drawn up that allowed the analyst to produce a diagnosis, assuming that the symptoms present followed a universal system of coding. It is no mistake that the ideology of structuralism emerged in lockstep with the height of Foucault’s Disciplinary Society – here, he found, was the body made docile and productive for the sake of capital accumulation. These bodies toiled inside disciplinary institutions such as the factory, the barracks, the school; each functions as a space of enclosure, insulating the body from outside forces that could alter the nature of its programming. Likewise, a modeled body inhabiting sites along the grid is existing within its own enclosed space, the outside factors that could disturb this homeostasis kept far out of mind. Therefore, the language of the modeled body is also a language of exclusion: “you are this and this, not that or that.” This is what Deleuze and Guattari refer to in Anti-Oedipus as the ‘disjunctive synthesis’, wherein Oedipus “imposes the ideal of a certain restrictive or exclusive use…’either… or… or…’”.3
To tackle what is being excluded here, which goes beyond the simple differences in linguistic significations, we must understand that the body positioned upon the grid results in (at least on an ideological level, though reality is never so reductionist) a predetermined subjectivity, a static figure whose movement through life is directed by what he or she is supposed to be and supposed to do. This static figure is the being; a construct of repetition, the external face of its subjectivity is never in doubt, its allegiance to the symbolic order that fostered it never faced with major forms of resistant behavior. The being has two births: yes, there is the biological birth, generated by the conjoining of the mother and father, but there is also the birth of the subjectivity from the womb of power. Power doesn’t know the presubjective, nor does it care to know it, for the presubjective must be excluded from the equation if the subjective is to be maintained. There is little doubt what this excluded presubjective agency is: the affect, the intensity of a sensation as it plays out on and within the body.
All “affects,” we read in A Thousand Plateaus, “are becomings.”4 This is because the affect triggers a transition or change in the subject that it encounters; in response to external stimuli, our bodies will respond in ways unnoticeable or undetectable by the conscious mind. For Deleuze and Guattari, affects are particles, molecular bits from an outside that swarm or team, molecules that come together in aggregates that build themselves in greater wholes that retain their heterogeneous multiplicity. This is the “connective synthesis” discussed in Anti-Oedipus; they utilize what Massumi would later illustrate as a grid to show this point: “We are statistically or molarly heterosexual, but personally homosexual, without knowing it or being fully aware of it and finally we are transexual in an elemental, molecular sense.”5 This circulation of affects and its relationship to the molecular assemblage that constitutes the subjectivity of one’s body is recast in A Thousand Plateaus in the famous rhizome, and again we can find the same dichotomy: “The tree imposes the verb ‘to be,’ but the fabric of the rhizome is the conjunction, ‘and… and… and…’”.6 The tree, the hierarchy, can theoretically be “uprooted” by these rhizomatics; thus the logic of the rhizome, the affective registers and their capability in unlocking becomings that unfix the being that emerges on the grid, must be suppressed if the hierarchy is to continue unabated.
But we must ask: is this line of attack still a method for attack with clear, liberatory potential? This question implies the larger question, is the body still constructed along the grid?
The initial answer is yes, given there has been a major explosion in traditionalist and even fascistic political platforms and religious fundamentalism, ranging from evangelical Christianity to fundamentalist Islam, each attempting to situate the body and the possibilities of what it can do or be into predetermined, essentialist enclosures. At the same time, however, it is prudent to consider that these reactionary forces are part of a broken or fragmented lineage, that their linkages to their progenitors is indirect and not expressive of a direct continuity. Christian or Islamic fundamentalism is a distinctively postmodern phenomena; it reacts to the present because it exists within the present, and thus its divergences against the present order can only be situated upon those grounds.7 Likewise, Europe’s fascist resurgence bears little continuity with the massive mobilizations of fascism during the Second World War; instead, it is a curious – yet disturbing and dangerous – byproduct of the forces of globalization. If the grid exists today, it is only because it is within and against the postmodern conditions of Empire.
Frederic Jameson argued that the quintessential hallmark of the postmodern was the decline or waning of the affect; he poses this argument through an analysis of art. On hand, he depicts Edward Munch’s painting of The Scream as an icon of modernism: fear, alienation, horror at the impending fragmentation of the body and its subjective reality are, in Jameson’s eyes, all part of a potent affective soup.8 On the other hand is the nebulous arena of postmodern art which has already passed to the otherside, Munch’s screaming body now completely dissipated and made empty. Jameson, in lines similar to Deleuze and Guattari, finds that what he calls Late Capitalism (the underlying structure of postmodernism) to exhibit schizophrenic traits – drawing on Lacan, he understands the clinical situation of schizophrenia as a “breakdown in the signifying chain, that is, the interlocking syntagmatic series of signifiers that constitute an utterance or a meaning.”9 Returning to our earlier topic of discussion, we could see how this would indicate a breakdown of the grid system, perhaps to the point that the post-social and presubjective processes, whose functions have been obscured, are revealed. Hence the rationale behind a key insistence that Massumi makes in Parables for the Virtual: “Frederic Jameson notwithstanding, belief has waned for many, but not affect. If anything, our condition is characterized by a surfeit of it.”10 The dynamic energy of The Scream may very well not be one of lost affect, but the loss of the body’s dominant subjectivity, the loss of its signifying coding; if we are to pose a counterpoint to The Scream, what about a piece by Rothko? Though he emerges from the modernist era, though his work, in my opinion, transcended modernism confines and pointed the way directly to the postmodern sublime. In his works, the body is gone; we’re left with a colorful ocean that communicates itself to the viewer not in images that conjure forth semiotic chains, but trends towards a molecular communication utilizing emotion and pre-emotive affects (and yet, has there not always been a counter-modernity to authoritarian modernism, such as Antonin Artaud, that look towards disembodiment as a line of flight?). Simply put, it escapes language, and thus the modernism domination of grid coding. Beneath the body, the flows, and if the body is disappearing in the postmodern moment, it is because of the unified subjectivity has largely disintegrated, having been replaced by the constant presubjective exchange of affect circulation.
Let us turn to warfare, where this “disappearance of the body” can be found most strongly. Without too much elaboration, we can see that the postmodernization of warfare through the so-called “Revolution in Military Affairs” (RMA), hailed as a new, ‘mature’ form of combat, has led to significant reduce in the bodies directly involved and situated within the theater of war. Armies and combat units no longer can be thought of as the large-scale monoliths advancing across territories; today we have seen this model rejected for smaller, more mobile and flexible units that operate in perpetual uplink with digital information technologies which can allow them to operate in decentralized swarm tactics. This transformation to smaller units (less bodies) is complimented by forms of combat that are completely bodyless: smart missiles, cyberwarfare, drone warfare, robotics, etc. To quote Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri,
Increasingly, U.S. Leaders seem to believe that the vast superiority of its firepower, the sophistication of its technology, and the precision of its weapons allow the U.S. military to attack its enemies from a safe distance in a precise and definitive way, surgically removing them like so many cancerous tumors from the global social body, with minimal side effects. War thus becomes virtual from the technological point of view and bodyless from the military point of view….11
Another form of this “bodyless” warfare would be the increasing interest by the military in sonic warfare. Steve Goodman has written extensively on this topic, noting how the history of sound-based weaponry has moved to higher and higher stages of abstraction alongside accelerating technology. Early research and development in sonic warfare during the two World Wars concerned themselves with outright destruction – massive blasts of sound that, theoretically, could blow the wings off airplanes. By the Vietnam War, however, interest in the destructive capabilities of sonic warfare had become replaced by programs such as the U.S. military’s “Wandering Soul”: “haunting sounds said to represent souls of the dead were played in order to perturb the superstitious snipers, who, while recognizing the artificial source of the wailing voices, could not help but dread that what they were hearing was a premonition of their own postdeath dislocated souls.”12 Fast-forward to more contemporary combat theaters, like the occupation of the Palestinian territories by Israel, where “sound bombs” are deployed against slumbering populations. Here, “high-volume, deep frequency” sonic explosions that lack any centralizing object (such as the utilization of religious superstition in Wandering Soul) are used to create nothing other than a direct climate of fear, where “the threat becomes autonomous from the need to back it up.”13 Looking at these developments and an array of others, Goodman propositions that this new type of warfare is not only one of disembodiment, but a warfare that taps into the presubjective circuitry of the affect. He is worth quoting at length:
In the onset of the event, the body-environment acts as one, with an immediate continuity of the extensive movement of the body and the intensive affect of fear. The vector of the event, in its unfolding, passes down the line of flight, pulling the environment into its slipstream. The event bifurcates. The action ceases, its movement dissipated. The vortical blur of fearful movement congeals into the stasis of segmented, objective space, scanned for potential weapons or retrospectively attribute causes to effects. What happened? Meanwhile the affect continues to unravel further, becoming distinct, finally as a feeling of fear.14
All of this begs the question, however, as to what constitutes the body in the affective, post-grid environment? For all this language of the disappearance, of floating schizophrenia, it is clear that at the same time the body has not disappeared on a physical level. No, postmodernism can be seen in anyways as a culture emerged in the cult of the body. Yet these bodies themselves are not real: they are airbrushed, digitally altered, made glossy for magazine spreads and bikini commercials. The result is a body that is perpetually in movement, a body endlessly striving for its ideal, borderline Platonic form. The body can always be buffer, tougher, leaner, bustier, more toned, perfected – even if this perfection is impossible. The body in movement is a body submersed in a machinic environment: catalyzed by media machines, it turns to workout machines, pharmacology, collagen injections, posthuman alterations through becoming-plastic, becoming-enhanced. This body in movement is an augmented body. Then, when placed into the context of the even greater networkings of the cybernetic mechanosphere, we achieve what Donna Haraway has called the theory-fiction of “cyborg body.” This state has been achieved, she claims, through the postmodern condition in which we have “become chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism.”15 Like the schizophrenic and Deleuze and Guattari’s connective synthesis, the cyborg is free from Oedipal triangulation; it is post-gender, post-racial, and, therefore, it is post-grid. Instead of constructing itself through processions of binary stratifications that harkens back to Hegelian metaphysics, it constructs itself through free-form augmentation, and while these augmentations could be indicative of the hegemony of the Society of the Spectacle, they could also be an expression of the body acting, for the first time, as an autonomous agent. In short, in the void of the grid exists hybridity.
In postcolonial theory as articulated by Edward Said and Homi Bhabha, this notion of hybridity is infused with both macropolitical and micropolitical agency. Under the yoke of colonial imperialism, binary dualisms became the justification for Europe’s capital-driven march across the globe: civilization/uncivilized, enlightenment/savagery, First World/Third World, self/other, etc. Just as de Saussure attempted to ‘pin-down’ the orders of signifier and signified and Levi-Strauss scouted for universal structures in ‘primitive societies’, Bhabha sees the colonial discourse as one that approaches the Other, the outside, and attempts to apply rigorous categorization to heterogenous space; the bracketing of this space universal signifiers and discourses, language games usually cobbled together from ethnic or racial stereotypes. These binary essentialism can be combatted, he claims, through the use of hybridity: “Hybridity is the name of this displacement of value from symbol to sign that causes the dominant discourse to split along the axis of its power to be representative, authoritative… Hybridity has no such perspective of depth or truth to provide: it is not a third term that resolves the tension between two cultures… in a dialectical play of ‘recognition.’”16 At the same time, however, there is a truism that binary oppositions, no matter how absolute or totalizing power makes them appear to be, have always operated alongside hybridity; a zero-point field of cultural isolation has never been a reality. There has always been cracks to slip through, seepages, heterogeneous forces always threatening the black of homogenization. Bhabha’s attack, then, is an attack on the discourse of power itself. But what of this power? By the time his critique emerged, colonialism and imperialism was on the decline, a master narrative of modernism that is repeatedly misapplied today to the transnational police action that Empire depicts as protectionism of a globalized peace.
Hardt and Negri take Bhabha to task for just this point. “Power is assumed to operate exclusively through a dialectical and binary structure. The only forms of domination Bhabha recognizes, in other words, is that of modern sovereignty.”17 They continue:
Perhaps the discourses themselves[postmodernism and postcolonialism] are possible only when the regimes of modern sovereignty are already on the wane. Like postmodernists too, however, postcolonialist theorists in general give a very confused view of this passage because they remain fixated on attacking an old form of power and propose a strategy of liberation that could be effective only on that old terrain. The postcolonialist perspective remains primarily concerned with colonial sovereignty. As Gyan Prakash says, “The postcolonial exists as an aftermath, as an after – after being worked over by colonialism.”18
With this in mind, should we consider, then, that the discourse of the body has become irrelevant, with the decline of binary grid-thought? Has affect theory been scrubbed of any political agency, either macropolitical or micropolitical, through its integration into really-existing postmodern subjectivity and its integration into the neoliberal war machine? Is the rhizome, the and…and… and…, still relevant? Or are we at a point, to paraphrase Deleuze and Guattari, where we have not gone far enough into the decoding, into the celebration of hybrid forms that still need to be detached from power discourses? Have we seen anything yet?
1Brian Massumi Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation Duke University Press, 1992, pg. 2
2Michel Foucault The History of Sexuality, Volume 1 Vintage, 1990, pg. 83
3Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia Penguin Books, 2009 (reprint edition) pgs. 75-76
4Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia University of Minnesota Press, 1987, pg. 256
5Deleuze and Guattari Anti-Oedipus pg.70
6Deleuze and Guattari A Thousand Plateaus pg. 25
7For a treatment on how contemporary American traditionalism is largely a postmodern manifestation, see Stephanie Coontz The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap Basic Books, 1992; as for the relationship between fundamentalist Islam and the postmodern phenomena of globalization, one excellent source is Olivier Roy Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah Columbia University Press, 2004
8Frederic Jameson Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism Duke University Press, 1990, pg. 11
9Ibid, pg. 26
10Massumi Parables for the Virtual, pg. 27
11Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire, Penguin Books, 2005, pg. 44
12Steve Goodman Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear MIT Press, 2012, pgs. 19-20
13Ibid, pg. xiv
14Ibid, pg. 72
15Donna Haraway Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature Free Association Books, 1996, pg. 148
16Homi K. Bhabha The Location of Culture Routeledge, 2004
17Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri Empire Harvard University Press, 2000, pg. 145
18Ibid, pgs. 145-146
affect theory seems to either focus too much on framing the individual body or make the unfortunate leap to imagining/project-ing sorts of collective/hive/crowd bodies without ever really taking into account individuals-in-the-midst-of greater, even tragically overwhelmingly dimensioned/scaled, powers/assemblages/events, I see no evidence for human-beings being less affected than ever but literally what are we to do in the face of hyper-objects and such? Can we let go of messianic hopes in some new overcoming super-man and get back to the rough ground of being ground down?
I do agree with what you say about affect theory; what interests me the most are the points in this theory (I think Massumi aims to illustrate this in particular, but many others fall short) that overcome the individual/collective dualism and concentrate on the role on the individual within the collective, that is, the in-between-ness, the parts of the individual subjectivity that are pre- or transubjective in a socio-cultural sense, or are outright nonhuman (environment, economic technology, etc). Certainly people are not affected less, as Jameson claims, but Massumi’s argument that there is a higher concentration of affect gains traction in within the context of the discourse of “late” capitalism (a problematic term if there ever was one!). True, we are being ground down and this will be our business for a long, long time – I see no ‘super-men’ on the horizon – but the reality is that this business is, for every advancement made, accelerating assemblages of crisis – those hyperobjects you allude to. Can the non-counter-intuitive elements of affect theory, molecular identity politics, symptoms of pomo passage, help in cutting at the root of these hyperobjects? I think so, if for any reason more than acting as an ‘imagination pump’ for getting particles moving, getting things flexible – and, of course, for the possibilities of actual real-world application, something that can only be done if inserted into a physical context of our current situational ecologies. But, I admit, I too have by quasi-ideological filters that I process this through (certain strains of post-left anarchism, if I had to be forced to categorize myself, which I am no fan of doing), and these leave me uneasy with any system that admits passivity techno-Promethean proclamations of managerial hierarchies and macro-level planning.
if “collectives” mean something other than always in transition/rearrangement assemblages/environs than I’m not a believer but that aside I see little to no evidence that we are getting better at organizing the kinds of effective resistances that would be of a scale/power to make a difference in the face of the kinds of forces/collapses that we are suffering under (if anything nascent research into neurophenomenology/cognitive-biases make this seem ever less likely) so increasingly I’m interested in what (if anything) we can do much more locally (maybe even individually) to try and keep some semblance of our humanity/dignity and other social graces in the face of such grinding tragedies, and just how much stress/suffering can we endure? Are there a kinds of sublimation to be cultivated/engineered that are up to the demands for our times?
I get a feeling the body is with us long and longer… although, it may suddenly flower into a thousand forms before our self-evolving biogen masters are through with us. What I do think is that all this talk of objects is getting no where. Who really cares about the noumena or blankness or void or emptiness… all that is so arid and pointless. I say back to appearances, to the flesh, the strange zones of surface being that has yet to be fully explored. Let the physicists have their dark energy and dark body of matter, etc. So much for being ground down to grey goo… seems like what we need is designer nanofibers, instant body transformations, stylistic morphs… of course I jest.
What we should be concerned with is all those starving, and ailing bodies of the third world that have no access to pharmaceuticals or medical health; that live in force conclaves due to genocidal wars, etc. We can’t become super-man till we first become human… maybe that’s the problem: they keep telling us we were never modern, or human… what are we? Spinoza thought we should start with the stuff we’re made of then work from there…. that seems to be our bodies, yes? I don’t see our minds walking around anywhere too soon? And, if we ever merge with our machines we’ll be something else anyway… I don’t think we can escape binary structures, why should we? That’s the basis of existence here on earth… light and dark, sun and moon, input/output, no matter how we try to deconstruct or get rid of hierarchies they remain… each generation seems to find new prisons or systems of thought in which to hide themselves. Maybe we just keep looking for better bodies in our thoughts… what we really want is something new, something different, a change, a way forward … and, yet, there are the others among us who are perfectly happy with the status quo (I’m not one of them!). Why is that? Why do we have such ultra-Burkean traditionalists out there? Isn’t this some strange encoded binary button in humanity that keeps producing such opposite tendencies as the old battle of the ancients and moderns, liberal / conservative, religious/atheist, etc. The embodied philosophies just seem one more extension of this endless war of oppositional forces… maybe conflict is our path and center… without difference and conflict we’d all be ground down to that cesspool of sameness and grey goo wouldn’t we? Even the greatest and most creative artists of the Renaissance were downright selfish and competitive amongst themselves and their guilds… strange!
I like your manner of thought, Steve, because it injects something that is sorely missing in so much of the theory and philosophical circles – points of view that operate outside of First Worldism, or that are not completely detached from very real and tragic human crises. If there is to be any political agency in thought – which, understandably not some people’s forte, even if I don’t get it – it must keep these things in mind. But you write “I don’t think we can escape binary structures, why should we?”… I think its critical to look past binaries, for throughout sovereign and disciplinary societies, these dialectics have been the modus operandi for how power operates and their own conflicting logic presses towards a terrifying sameness – master/slave, nation/people, colonizer/colonized, signifier/signified, etc. Even the binary of light/dark, sun/moon, isn’t a very binary system but a process, an endless rotation that effects us on a scientific level. That said,we’re in an increasingly post-binary world, the world where hybridity emerges to the front – and good for it, I say! The hybridities I speak of aren’t the fusion of man and machine, but the non-dialectical processes through which subjectivity and culture is assembled through endless encounters with forces of alterity.
That said, my primary interest, as has been the ongoing focus point of this blog, has been to look out how in the our time of transition and crisis, all the things that were previously held up at liberatory – affects, swarms, aesthetics, rhizomes, hybridity – become the new manner through which power operates. Can we turn back the dial, find solace in earlier forms? I don’t think so; the march of “progress” has neutered these approaches. All that remains is to confront power on its own postmodern terrain, in the rubble of a world that it long ago decided was not truly ours – but then again, who are ‘we’?
Power is master, whether of self or other; ergo, thought is something to be mastered, and used by power to further its own goals. All these systems of thought ultimately fall within the purview of power as such. Once we enter into sociality we are immersed in systems of power that resist autonomy of the individual. About the only way to resist power would be to become a totalized solipsist, but what kind of freedom is that? Autism? The moment we enter into these communicative networks we are both controller/controlled, mutating as we grasp more and more of the fullness of the meshworks of this entangled web we weave.
You state: “All that remains is to confront power on its own postmodern terrain, in the rubble of a world that it long ago decided was not truly ours – but then again, who are ‘we’?” I still believe we came out of the universe from whatever source of your choice (god, matter, etc.), a happy accident. We are this stuff, every part of our physical and mental being is made up of both the currents of the matter we see, and probably the dark matter/energy that we don’t see. I think it’s our quest to free ourselves from ourselves that is the problem, not the answer… we just happen to be that one off accident of thinking matter that is perplexed about the game of life. Why do we want to become other when we have as of yet not even learned to become our selves? Whatever that might entail… I think that is why Plato was so bitter with the poets, they kept turning metaphors over and over, creating gods rather than Ideas (but then again are not the Ideas for Plato immortal gods that outlive humanity?). We seem to create gods of Ideas then bow down and worship them as if they had made us rather than the other way round. Take me for instance, I seem to be stuck in the Eighteenth Century with the Philosophes… or I should say the Radical sect of that tribe… I have yet to see a society based on the radical philosophes ideas… the ones that won out were the moderates, the comprising lot of liberals and conservatives like Burke who have repeatedly tried to bring their traditionalism back to center front.
I think what you’re saying of Deleuze and Guattari is correct: their ideas were built on a critique of what they saw within both Capitalism and Schizoanalysis. The were dealing inside the prison house of this system we’re still part of… we’re waiting for the next big congnitive leap, the next cognitive map that will break us out of the current paradigm. We seem to be moving closer and closer to that point, but have as yet been unable to step out of the frame of this present picture as see what comes next. When it does it will hit us like a bolt of lightening or it may happen so slowly that we’ll just wake up one day and realize it happened a hundred years back and we just didn’t see it for what it was…
I think we’re more like ‘cultural pathologists’ reading the nodes of extreme late capitalism, marking the limits between technology and desire. We don’t need to read cyberpunk novels anymore, we’re living inside one. The problem is that the third world nations want in on the game, and each of them is like the proverbial barbarian at the gate chomping away at the tattered edges of this global pipe dream.
You raise a lot of good points – why do we strive to be something different when, to paraphrase Spinoza, we don’t even know what we can do? We get confronted with a weird kind of emergence: the subjectivity is already process, a series of augmentations situated in various overlapping environments, including the social environment; yet this social environment continues to forcefully impose further, negative augmentations in a bodily acceleration towards an “ideal form.” This ideal form takes many manifestations: the technotronic posthuman body, for one, or for another, the picture-perfect ‘designer’ body. Of course, the two collapse into one another, as designer bodies are altered through technological means, surgery and digital reworking of the body’s image. We could place the postmodern body into a dromological framework, perhaps, to help illustrate these capital-led subversions of naturally occurring processes. Going beyond bodies, It’s as you say, we bow down to Ideas as if they created us; this is something all of us involved in a discourse are guilty of committing. In some ways, it returns us back to the grid: a linguistic and premade structure standing above and representing something that exists and has movement beyond these signifiers.
As for the paradigm shift, it could indeed be that flash of light – but I worry that the electrical charge will not come from the multitude. “I have yet to see a society based on the radical philosophes ideas…” I’m interested in the idea of creating zones of experimentation, where individuals and collectives can attempt different manners of living and being/becoming, outside the overcode. Talking, debating, and analyzing only go so far; actual attempts must be tried. Kind of like an activation of Foucault’s heteropia, those breakages in the continuity of the spectacle that allows a play of difference. It also brings to mind Bey’s T.A.Z., yet this is too First Worldist, too escapist and unable to address the severity of the crises we face. Zones of experimentation would imply an infusion of (post)political agency, requiring the will-to-be-against to mobilize an act.
Just a couple of thoughts!
” I’m interested in the idea of creating zones of experimentation, where individuals and collectives can attempt different manners of living and being/becoming, outside the overcode. Talking, debating, and analyzing only go so far; actual attempts must be tried.” this is my hope for our blog in the making that it might become a sort of virtual workshop/studio for people to bring their (with all of the affordances and resistances of field/lab work) projects/experiments and get feedback and other related resources, we shall see if it catches on but we would certainly welcome any input/suggestions that you might have to offer: http://syntheticzero.net/
Hey dmf, looks like I kinda answered your question above… the way I think of it, zones of experimentation can take on a variety of forms – a non-institutional transdisciplinary flexible unit, for one,or a militant place where alternative forms of governance can be debated, experimented with, or tried out. Or they could occur on an individual or microgroup level – with the free spaces we have, the heterotopias that are already in our grasp, who knows what kinds of transformation could play out with the proper catalyzing could play out! It would be important, however, for zones to establish connects between one another, where exchanges of ideas and experiences can feed back through one another. Furthermore, they have to have intent driving them; we can’t count on the multitude’s general intellect to spontaneously deliver of from the crises, or something other pseudo-Hegelian balderdash… These zones may be digital or operate along other mediums, but real, physical space seems to me to be essential.
I’ve been following your synthetic zero blog; great stuff always going on there! I dunno how you guys kind time to sort through the sheer volume of material that is constantly going up… I’m excited to see how it evolves, particularly in the ways that you describe.
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Absolutely fascinating post and discussion! Multiplying zones of experimentation sounds like the way forward.
On another note, I think we need to be careful not to lump the people of third world countries together. Today’s third world countries are a twisted mix of something closer to first that sits alongside third… We can find third-world like patches of society in the USA and in Europe just as we can find vast terrains of it in India… And even there – indigineity, for example, poses questions quite unlike those posed by semi-feudal agrarian societies. I know a lot of activists here in India who scoff at the notion of the ‘post-colonial’ because they believe that there has never really been an end to colonisation. Instead, I would venture, we are all grappling with multiple colonisations: of our bodies, our ideas and our minds, our physical spaces and our ways of thinking and relating to alterity and the unknown. The production of ‘Western’ subjects – and I would argue ‘modern’ subjects (and why not the subjects of any self-proclaimed ‘civilisation’?), through the machinic assemblages of subjectification that have predominated everywhere where imperial and capitalist logics have gained ground, succeeded in capturing bodies and souls, etc. – is itself colonisation.
Colonisation, as much as it is a question of geopolitical territories, denotes a particular mode of subjectification; one that is carried out under the rhythms and logics, the network of organising and reified abstractions, of prevailing elite regimes of governance, material- and knowledge-production and technology. Resistance to these regimes is nothing new. However, the ante has been upped as ever more convoluted and subtle fronteirs of existential territory have been carved open (as exemplified by the emerging slew of possibilities for creating and modifying bodies – but the same applies to genetic engineering of food crops, the place of nanotechnologies or the management of radioactive waste) and the geographical terrain itself has become a vector of destruction (whether we call it ‘Gaia’s revenge’ or the ‘anthropocene’, recognising their important differences).
It is perhaps here that philosophy makes itself most valuable, in equipping us with new tools – the concepts and the means of creating them – that we can work with to imagine and imaginatively enact alternative possibles. While the concept of contingency enables us to consider that the way things are could be otherwise, the question remains as to the nature of these alternatives. Given that these alternatives must be brought into being, they demand a capacity for imagination and, at the same time, the practical techniques that would help to translate imagination into concrete, materialised or actualised arrangements of things. This clearly brings us into the domain of experimentation – and experimentation can only be carried out in specific, concrete situations. The question is, then, how to experiment, collectively, on the one hand in ways that play with the possible that exists at the edge of what is currently given, and on the other in ways that resist being captured or co-opted by that which would render them impotent?
I think that such experiments are already being conducted in various domains in the USA and Europe as well as in other parts of the world. I think there are already philosophers – and certainly those who draw on philosophical thought – engaged in these efforts. How then, are we (us here) engaging in, complicating, connecting and contributing to these efforts, bringing what we have to offer to help supply the resources for imagining and actualising resilient alternatives? This is at least the question I am asking myself – and I feel I still have a very long way to go… I suppose I am lingering at the point where philosophy (speculative pragmatism, post-nihilist praxis) meets activism, because someone has to do the hard work of translating philosophical thought into grounded speculative action – and taking the risks that doing so inevitably involves. I also feel, very strongly, that we must resist the urge to let our anxieties and fears about global trends paralyse us because I find it hard to see how anything other than imaginative, grounded experimentation can bring life to the fragile possibilities that flutter on the edges of what is.
Another thought is that while we must engage with philosophical grand narratives – the abstractions, binaries, etc., that explain why the world is produced in the way that it is – we must always turn them around and ask: “what does this do for thinking-acting our way out; for defying the logics that have been revealed?” In a sense, it is the productiveness of concepts – discourse, schizoanalysis, etc. and the various grids that you have all described above – for those engaged in experimenting with the construction of alternatives that will be the judge of their utility. “What does concept X do? What is it capable of doing?” Does it merely produce a new wave of academic activity or does it open up channels of thought and action that allows cordoned off areas of the possible to be breached so that they might leak in and enrich or infect the actual? Alternatively how can we work with concepts in ways that expand their productive/infectious potential?
Anyway, the main point was really to say thanks for this great post and the fertile discussion that it produced.
Hi Andreling! I don’t know how this amazing and well-written response slipped past me, but I need to offer you ten thousand apologies! You raise several good points, first and foremost being the urge not to apply generalizations to the multitudes of the Third World. I concur entirely, and we need this not only be reflected there but across the entirety of the global spectrum – life is way too diverse, chaotic and random, and far from determinstic for us to think in generalities. This, in my opinion, may be THE critical error of any theoretical undertaking, for to apply theory means to establish generalizations, even in the looses sense, to the topics of discussion (I think this is one of my main attractions to Deleuze and Guattari, because they certainly recognize this and attempt to create a philosophical antidote to it. What is rhizomatic thought if not a way of thinking outside generalizations?) When it comes to question of colonialism, its entirely understandable for segments of the ‘dominant’ populations to see it as a thing of the past, while it is also readily visible how the subaltern peoples could scoff at such a notion. At some level, this is a game of semantics and nothing more: when it comes to variety of exploitations occuring around the world today, do we really need to be splitting hairs on whether or not it constitutes colonialism? Furthermore, we can see that the figure of the transnational corporation has simply taken the position of the colonizing country; its powers certainly rival that of the nation-state and in many cases far surpass it. Thus, as you put it, the very nature of our contemporary capitalism and its adjacent state structures – a well-mainted system of machinic enslavement, to borrow D&G’s term – is a machine in which particular forms of subjectivity are produced that are not necessarily inherent to ourselves (whatever ourselves is in actuality). It is a flag planted within our incorporeal universes, the formation of a closed existential territory; how could this be anything else other than a slicker, more subtle form of colonialism that exists alongside the corporate apparatus in operation today?
“The question is, then, how to experiment, collectively, on the one hand in ways that play with the possible that exists at the edge of what is currently given, and on the other in ways that resist being captured or co-opted by that which would render them impotent?”
I think that it really is a matter of getting down to brass tasks, rolling up the sleaves and leaving the library of books, carrying with us the tools and weapons that philosohy and theory has taught us (not to say that a great, great many of us aren’t doing just this!). Of course, a zone of experimentation does not necessarily have to constitute an “in the streets” group – a collective questioning, an experimentation between fields of discipline, radical research, or private experimentation in who-knows-what can, I think, all be actively work together to begin to cross their lines of flight, a coalescence of the diaspora, if you will. Its the bridging the gaps, as you say, that becomes the hardest part. How do we link various zones together in a way that is not totalizing, not hierarchical, and does not function as a despotic signifier? Can we proliferate without becoming what we oppose? Also, can we find a real situational applicability for our trials and errors? Ever the optimist, even in the most pessimistic of moments, I believe so – its a joy to experiment, and a joy to converse with another who is walking in similar territories, as we are now.
Anyways, thanks for the kind words and the fertile thoughts of your own. Out of curiosity, have you gleamed much from post-nihilism and other related philosophy grounds in a way that assists or creates new productive energy in your activities in India? I came to theory through the things I’ve done here in US, so I’m always interested in hearing other experiences.
Sorry again for the extremely belated reply!