A Conspiracy Against the World: Comments on Andrew Culp’s “Dark Deleuze”

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“We do not lack communication,” Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari wrote in What Is Philosophy?, their final joint text. “On the contrary, we have too much of it. We lack creation. We lack resistance to the present.”[1] During the course of an interview with Antonio Negri, Deleuze raised a similar point, one that appears to have slipped past the autonomist: “The quest for ‘universals of communication’ ought to make us shudder… Maybe speech and communication have been corrupted. They’re thoroughly permeated by money—and not by accident but by their very nature. We’ve got to hijack speech.” In a similar mode of thought, the philosopher of the rhizome suggested in his infamous “Postscript on the Societies of Control” that the way power organized itself was transforming, moving away from the disciplinary societies that Foucault had so intently studied and towards the figure of the “continuous network”.

Deleuze’s interview with Negri had occurred in 1990, and What Is Philosophy? debuted in 1991. The “Postscript” appeared in the pages of October in 1992. This timing provides crucial context: the fall of the Soviet Union and the victory of a capitalist system entering its globalizing stage. The spread of information-communication platforms and the advent of the Dotcom Economy. This was the time in which the bi-polar world of the Cold War era was dissolving into a multipolar world, steered primarily by the first truly neoliberal regimes in the United States and the European, professing as they did the coming utopia of fluid trade, inter-state co-operation, and unlimited, global communication and knowledge sharing. It was this backdrop that Deleuze suggested to Negri that perhaps the way forward was a rekindling of new forms of resistance, forms that would take the techno-social substrate, deform them, break them, and ultimately “create vacuoles of noncommunication, circuit breakers, so we can elude control”.

For those familiar with Deleuzian thought, that non signals an interesting change in the philosopher’s perspective: it is a looming negativity, one that seems to stand in contrast to Deleuze’s life-long commitment to affirmation, to saying yes, and to cultivating joy. It is from this small glow of negativity, and the dozens of others scattered about Deleuze’s corpus, that Andrew Culp fashions a philosophical figure for our time: a Dark Deleuze.

Despite clocking in at a mere seventy pages, it could probably one of the most important books in the Deleuzian canon published in a long time. What makes it stand out so much from other works is not simply its sense of political intransigence (much more on that momentarily), but that it doesn’t treat Deleuze like so many commentators have in the mad-rush to transform Continental, post-structuralist thinking into an academic cottage industry. Deleuze and This. Deleuze and That. Now, Culp’s work can read as part of the academic debate on Deleuzian philosophy and its future, but it is not reducible that. Unlike these other works, it takes up the challenge that Deleuze himself set out – to draw out from a thinker that which is present in the text, but not said, to take a philosopher and give him “a child that would be his own offspring, yet monstrous.” Indeed, Culp excavates the negative buried in Deleuze and brings it fully into the open: the insistence in Anti-Oedipus that the purpose of schizoanalysis is to destroy, Deleuze’s reflection Difference and Repetition that the book constitutes apocalyptic science fiction, his fascination with Artaud and the Theater of Cruelty, his identification of the body’s scream as the very center of philosophy itself. Sometimes we can even glimpse the negative lurking in plain sight by merely shifting perspective: what is becoming but the un-becoming of something else, a small death in its own right?

My politics differ from Culp’s, and from his Dark Deleuze. Dark Deleuze breaks with the celebration of connectivity and communication, while I believe that connectivity is intrinsic to radical goals – though I fully agree that fighting for such a thing might require a step backwards or two. The ultimate goal of Dark Deleuze, Culp writes, is “full communism”. My position is rooted in anarchism-without-adjectives, with a strong lean towards market anarchism (so when a brief dismissal of ‘Proudhonism’ is offered, I cannot but protest). When he urges a move from “technoscience” to “political anthropology”, I want both – I have cast my lot with technoscience. In a critique of Landian accelerationism, Culp suggests that “Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘accelerationism’ has been too tarnished to rehabilitate”; as an accelerationist I again have to raise my hand in protest.

[I suppose I should point out, however, that my accelerationism stems neither from what was cooked up in the CCRU or aligns absolutely with the social democratic ‘left accelerationism’. If anything, it falls under what Land has recently described as “fundamentalist accelerationism” – and I strongly suspect that, with some effective modulation and stripping of residual humanist elements, Culp’s Dark Deleuze teaters at the edge of  this (non)tendency as well. Sorry, Andrew!]

Despite these perhaps very important political differences, I concur wholly with Culp that cultivating the negative is a task of utmost importance. The ultimate goal of this task, we read, is not the creation of concepts (per the traditional reading of Deleuze), but the destruction of worlds. Some might recoil in horror at such a notion. Worlds are destroyed everyday by the police and the military and even by the do-gooders of capitalism; the world itself may very well be destroyed under the ecological forces we arrogantly signify with the term “Anthropocene”. But these things are of the world as it is, because of the world as it is, and it is for this reason that this world must be destroyed. To talk of the “destruction of worlds” is to talk of the learning how to say no to this world, to refusal that which it offers and that which it stands posed to say. The impulse of negation, the specter of Dark Deleuze insists, is the only reasonable course of action “in an era of generalized precarity, extreme class stratification, and summary executions of people of color.”

It’s not too much of a leap from the classic Deleuzian focus on cultivating joy to developing hatred for this world. Joy and hatred are not necessarily elements on the opposite end of some spectrum. “His teeth were ground down to points”, Greil Marcus scrawled in Lipstick Traces, mashing up Johnny Rotten’s mouth, the Dadaist parody of the savagery of war, and the Situationist’s declaration the great town planners of the Fordist era were nothing more than builders of ruins.[2] Even though each has long since been recuperated, the affective register emanating from the negative runs through all, each reflecting a disgust with the world that became a hatred of the world, ultimately becoming a refusal of the world and steps to actively changing it. “We are here”, they answered in their own ways, to the question posed by Deleuze 1977: “who are our nomads of today?” To this, Culp adds that “[t]he nomads that will dissolve capitalism will are not cowboys but barbarians.” Barbarians indeed! Musty history aside, we find that joyous barbarism, that will to be against alive and well today. It’s present every time a mask donned, a window deliberately broken, a police force stymied, a fascist rally disrupted.

I don’t want to give the impression that Culp’s work operates merely at the affective level (though affect, as anyone familiar with Deleuze will tell you, is vitally important to developing political processes). In order to cobble together Dark Deleuze, it becomes essential to carry out a critique of the more common bearers of the Deleuzian flame. Chief amongst these are those that collapse A Thousand Plateaus’s celebration of the rhizome, the self-organizing principles of the war machine, and the dynamic geophilosophies into little other than a coded discourse on complexity theory. Such is the case with the tendency running from Manuel DeLanda down through the so-called “new materialisms”; while these works – and complexity theory writ large! – often do pose valid insights, they often interface with Deleuzian thought in a way that sheers off the sharp, political edge. Beyond this, however, there is an unfortunate tendency towards the sort of naturalistic thinking akin to that I have diagnosed in the works of Lewis Mumford. Culp writes that the slippery metaphor of complexity frequently “culminates in a ‘flat ontology’… [that] often leads to a ‘uniformization of diversity’ and “equalization of inequality”. The new materialisms, in other words, fold everything together into the same processes, and thus eliminate difference.

Dark Deleuze’s solution is an asymmetry between the elements or forces working in a system, or between relations of multiple systems. The purpose of this asymmetry is to allow difference to proliferate – and also to allow us to carry out critical separations between things. The immediate concerns of Dark Deleuze aside, such a notion would serve as quite useful a device in navigating the murky waters of complexity and emergence in general, as a kind of second-order mechanism that allows us to remain partially embedded in a system (say, a regional ecology, insofar as we can actually talk of such things) while also working against beyond it and against it (the movement of society at the infrastructural level). Such a mechanism would serve as “an indivisible asymmetrical relation”, to quote Deleuze from Difference and Repetition, “established between series of heterogeneous terms and expresses at each moment the nature of that which does not divide without changing its nature.”[3]

Also to be warded off are the democratic Deleuzians, a banishing that formally brings the figure of Dark Deleuze into the canon of delicious Negri-bashing that had been innovated by Tiqqun and their conspiratorial offshoot, the Invisible Committee. One doesn’t even have to read deeply into Deleuze and Guattari to put the silly notions of Deleuze-as-liberal to rest, and it is worth quoting Culp at length on this matter:

Deleuze and Guattari viciously criticize democracy in their collaborations, usually by calling it the cousin of totalitarianism. They discuss democracy, fascism, and socialism as all related in Anti-Oedipus. In A Thousand Plateaus they discuss “military democracy”, “social democracy” as the complementary pole of the state to “totalitarianism”, “totalitarian-social democracy”, and a poverty-stricken “Third World social democracy”. In What Is Philosophy? they speak of Athenian “colonizing democracy”, hegemonic democracy, democracy being caught up with dictatorial states, a social democracy that “has given the order to fire when the poor come out of their territory or ghetto”, and a Nazi democracy, which all lead them to conclude that their utopian “new people and a new earth… will not be found in our democracies”. Together, they can be neatly summarized: no matter how perfect, democracy always relies on a transcendent sovereign judgement backed by the threat of force.

Thus what Dark Deleuze ultimately draws out is what Deleuze and Guattari always were all along, but seemed so recalcitrant to admit it: anarchists of the most radical form. The figure of Dark Deleuze itself is not one of the future society, nor even the revolution which could deliver it; it is a ghost of an anarchist conspiracy haunting our current society. Anti-Oedipus was itself a great book of conspiracy, drawing its energy the Nietzsche that was revealed by Klossowski: the Nietzsche that formed a conspiracy “not only against his whole class, but also against the existing forms of the human species as a whole.”[4] It goes without saying that this conspiracy against humanity is not one of extermination, but of a Death of Man to follow the Enlightenment’s Death of God. The proclamation “God is dead” illustrates how under the march of civilization, the former power of theology was unmoored and lessened; with the proclamation “Man is dead!”, the dissolution of the power relations that set humans over humans.

In its short space, Dark Deleuze moves through these concepts and many others very rapidly. Just when one begins to feel out the argument being made, the next argument is already being deployed. Such treatment makes for fast reason, and is well suited for the excellent aphorisms that Culp drops along the way (I’m very jealous of “temporary autonomous zones have become special economic zones”). But I do hope we get a larger and more in-depth treatment down the line – yet perhaps this is precisely the sort of academic navel-gazing that Dark Deleuze intends to avoid. Culp tells us that “the ultimate task of Dark Deleuze is but a modest one: to keep the dream of revolution alive in counterrevolutionary times.” It is a book for the barricades.

[1] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari What Is Philosophy? Columbia University Press, 1994, pg. 108

[2] Greil Marcus Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century Harvard University Press, 1990, pg. 27

[3] Gilles Deleuze Difference and Repetition Athlone Press, 1994 pgs. 237-238

[4] Pierre Klossowski Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle Continuum, 2005, pg. xiv

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17 Responses to A Conspiracy Against the World: Comments on Andrew Culp’s “Dark Deleuze”

  1. S.C. Hickman says:

    Reblogged this on southern nights and commented:
    Edmund Berger on Andrew Culp’s Dark Deleuze. Dark Deleuze ultimately draws out is what Deleuze and Guattari always were all along, but seemed so recalcitrant to admit it: anarchists of the most radical form. The figure of Dark Deleuze itself is not one of the future society, nor even the revolution which could deliver it; it is a ghost of an anarchist conspiracy haunting our current society. Anti-Oedipus was itself a great book of conspiracy, drawing its energy the Nietzsche that was revealed by Klossowski: the Nietzsche that formed a conspiracy “not only against his whole class, but also against the existing forms of the human species as a whole.”

  2. S.C. Hickman says:

    I tend to agree with you on ‘market anarchism’. I think we’ve both seen the great bureaucracies of democracy in EU and US turn into inverted dictatorships of fascist orientation under the thumb of Oligarchs, Plutocrats, and the Elite Establishments. Our use of that umbrella term ‘Neoliberalism’ has always seemed to hide more than it reveals. The sense that the target is not static, but always changing and that the moment you think you have it pinned down it suddenly pops up under a new more malicious form in another site. Capitalism has divorced itself form both communism and democracy in our time: this is the key. We no longer have the older Athenian Public space, everything has been privatized, and with BREXIT we are seeing that nations too are no being privatized and bound to the economic dictatorship of the vast network society we’ve developed. Anarchy or building voids within voids in the already ruinous wastelands of our capitalist socio-cultural ruins is our best chance. We see this in various forms in China in the pirate enclaves and cities that Nick Land’s partner, Anna Greenspan called: Huaqiangbei Shenzhen is high tech toolbox to the world.

    As you suggest this fusion of small enclave market anarchism and techno-commercialism or techno-accelerationist aesthetic is the wave out of the dying ruins of globalism.

    Greenspan, Anna; Livingston, Suzanne. Future Mutation: Technology and the Evolution of Species (Kindle Location 21). Time Spiral Press. Kindle Edition.

    • edmundberger says:

      >I tend to agree with you on ‘market anarchism’.
      It’s funny, I have a sneaking suspicion that more people are on this train than care to admit! I remember about a year ago, in a lot of circles, to mention such a concept was to be branded a heretic, or even worse – an anarcho-capitalist! But market anarchism is a fundamentally different proposition from anarcho-capitalism… It’s taken the collapse of capitalism (2008-onwards) and the collapse of liberal democracy (ongoing in the EU, but arising in the US 2014-onwards) for people to start to looking at the dynamics between the state and capitalism, between liberal democracy and monopolistic competition, and between monopolistic competition’s disruption of markets to start to reconsider formation.

      Strange times, but maybe such times call for heresies…

      • S.C. Hickman says:

        Goes back to those early anarchists, the Gnostics, who developed a whole anti-social system of thought to counter the hegemony of the prevalent worldview in their time. They were truly the original anarchists.

        I also was rereading that book you linked too. But see they too misread the passage from Deleuze AO: “It is at the level of flows, the monetary flows included, and not at the level of ideology, that the integration of desire is achieved. So what is the solution? Which is the revolutionary path? Psychoanalysis is of little help? …”

        One first has to start with D&G’s notion of ‘desire’ as against the Lacanian/Freudian ‘Lack’, in which for D&G one starts with ‘desiring production’ – the positive notion of Nietzsche’s Will-to-power, or Schopenhauer’s Will-to-life…. etc. For D&G flows are the ‘material flows’ of deterritorialization in capitalism that deform the earlier stages of their 3 stage system: tribal, dictator, capitalist. This sense that what is captured (integrated) is this ‘desiring production’ at the heart of the world – actual and concrete universal. For as they will admit Freud/Lacan work in cahoots with the capitalist regime to capture desire not escape it: “Psychoanalysis constitutes for its part a gigantic enterprise of absorption of surplus value.”

        In Acceleration Money and Revolution the authors say: “If capitalism is immanent to society and desire for it permeates society, what possible solution may we find if the two fluxes are so intrinsically integrated? If ideology is no longer an answer, as masses are not captivated by ideology but by the desire of monetary fluxes, what solution may we find?” 28

        Here they are equating capitalism as a concrete universal or reducing it to ‘desiring production’, which to me is erroneous for capitalism is the ideology pervading the socious like the ancient tribal tattoos that mapped to the body of the tribe, or the dictator stamping his cattle (people), or in capitalism as the data flows of the economic bottom line count or marks that etch the marks on economics. Again the masses are so pervaded by ideology, not as in the old dictatorships of fascism (Hitler/Mussolini as spectacle), but as technospheric immersion in which the critical distance necessary to break the circuit in the rhizome (network) is no longer available. Example: Think of people and selfies as the metaphor of this endless repetition of power, the narcissistic mirror of the ever receding body into its technologies as mere image works. Our technology is our ideology materialized, and we are trapped in Alice’s Wonderland without knowing so.

      • edmundberger says:

        You should write a response, Steve. I think they would be very interested in a dialogue on those matters!

  3. dmf says:

    I don’t think we will have access to much in the way of non-corporate operating systems in the near term and much beyond that I don’t think anyone will have the infrastructures needed to support anything like the global internet of today.

    • edmundberger says:

      I would agree with this, though we can certainly take steps to minimize our dependency on overtly corporate systems; build smaller-scale meshworks that, while certainly klugey, could provide alternatives; and even flip the current infrastructures against power systems in dynamic ways. In that sense, I do think we need to step away from large, world-building concepts and political processes (major prometheanism) and towards local + regional concerns that nonetheless do not lose sight of – or engagement with – the world as-is. Things I’ve seen over the past year or so in anarchist milieus and broader left milieus have given me some cautious optimism in this regard, though it has to be acknowledged that these developments are defensive maneuvers in relation to what is currently happening. But then again, islands of stability, to borrow from Pickering, are also a matter of pushing back against entropy.

      What we will see, I imagine, will be a shifting of borderlands and contested zone – not a grand utopia.

      • dmf says:

        indeed, we certainly should do all that we can with what we have and as the always proliferating hacks and system failures show there are many weak points and gaps in the big networks to be exploited if only to buy some breathing room, and as you say on the global front we should keep sharing hopes, fears and prototypes, any ease we can share with our friends families and allies and any
        dis-ease we can bring to the powers that be the better.

  4. wjacobr says:

    What all those still hanging onto the farce of the electoral system miss… that Trump is not an anomaly, not something antithetical to liberal democracy, but a manifestation of it’s ugly soul come out of the shadows.

    We can excuse being duped, once–but not twice: Trump is the confirmation, that, like Hitler and the Nazis, his movement is a PRODUCT of liberal democracy,

    • edmundberger says:

      Absolutely! That impulse is always lurking in the heart of liberal democracy, and is implicit in the state-form itself. A state’s constitution (allegedly) establishes legitimacy for the state’s rule, which it develops through certain axioms… there is always a single foundation axiom, that seeks no justification – and that the state is already legitimate a priori and that its enforcement of structure is just and right. At that point you have a system of discipline and regimentation that is the baseline infrastructure for civic operations, no matter how “liberal”. As long as that remains intact, there are two inevitabilities: the state will always expand and there will always be a slippage to some form of fascism.

      That we’re witnessing this now should be unsurprising. The entire “neoliberal” phase of development was framed by two contradictory tendencies: global economic expansion, setting off political interpendencies and multipolarity; and the continuation of unilateral infrastructures for individual states. Since these two cannot be balanced for long (too much variables in play, especially when crisis strikes), it seems pretty clear cut that the state will assert itself in the most stark declaration of its sovereign power.

    • S.C. Hickman says:

      Plato believed there was a far more sinister nature to democracy. A calamity at the very heart of democracy, it would lead only to tyranny and subjugation.

      In book VIII of The Republic, Plato begins to describe several stages of government that are intolerable, yet unavoidable. Plato predicts a society with an enormous socioeconomic gap, where the poor remain poor and the rich become richer off the blood and sweat of others. In this instance, the people will long for freedom and liberty. They will use it as a battle cry against their oppressors, sparking a revolution.

      From this revolution, blood will be spilled and many will die. During this time of violent transition, the people will rally behind one man, or a few men, whom they believe to be their savior. The people will lift this champion to great heights and anoint him with sacred responsibilities to bring liberty to the land. When the smoke clears the old regime will be gone and a democracy will be supplanted. And while this is reminiscent of several historical revolutions, including the American revolution, Plato warns that the trouble only intensifies from here.

      • S.C. Hickman says:

        Plato continues in his discussion by explaining that the these leaders will eventually become unpopular, an unavoidable result. Those who once supported this ruling class begin to rebel against the would be tyrant. At this point the citizens will try to get rid of whatever man is currently in office, either by exile or impeachment. If this is not possible, the ruler will inevitable strike down any political opposition he may have.

        Hated by the people, these leaders will request the presence of a body guard. And now he is a tyrant, the leader has no choice if he wishes to rule. Elected by the people, yet now he is protected from them. Plato predicts that this tyrant will appeal to the lowest form of citizen. He will make soldiers of the slaves and the degenerates. The tyrant will pay them to protect him from the ordinary citizens. And now the leader is a tyrant, born from democracy and propped up by the demand for liberty. And in our quest for liberty, we instead created a monster.

  5. Pingback: Deleuze Oscuro | Máquinas, Equipamientos, Aparatos

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