......• The Ongoing Soft Revolution •
.............Critical Inquiry - Winter 2004
In his admirable "The Pedagogy of Philosophy," Jean-Jacques Lecercle described the scene of a yuppie on the Paris underground reading Deleuze and Guattari's What Is Philosophy?
The incongruity of the scene induces a smile–after all, this is a book explicitly written against yuppies… Your smile turns into a grin as you imagine that this enlightenment-seeking yuppie bought the book because of its title… Already you see the puzzled look on the yuppie's face, as he reads page after page of vintage Deleuze.
What, however, if there is no puzzled look, but enthusiasm, when the yuppie reads about impersonal imitation of affects, about the communication of affective intensities beneath the level of meaning ("Yes, this is how I design my publicities!"), or when he reads about exploding the limits of self-contained subjectivity and directly coupling man to a machine ("This reminds me of my son's favorite toy, the action-man that can turn into a car!"), or about the need to reinvent oneself permanently, opening oneself up to a multitude of desires that push us to the limit ("Is this not the aim of the virtual sex video game I am working on now? It is no longer a question of reproducing sexual bodily contact but of exploding the confines of established reality and imagining new, unheard-of intensive modes of sexual pleasures!"). There are, effectively, features that justify calling Deleuze the ideologist of late capitalism. Is the much celebrated Spinozan imitatio afecti, the impersonal circulation of affects bypassing persons, not the very logic of publicity, of video clips, and so on, where what matters is not the message about the product, but the intensity of the transmitted affects and perceptions? Furthermore, recall again the hard-core pornography scenes in which the very unity of the bodily self-experience is magically dissolved, so that the spectator perceives the bodies as a kind of vaguely coordinated agglomerate of partial objects. Is this logic where we are no longer dealing with persons interacting, but just with the multiplicity of intensities, of places of enjoyment, plus bodies as a collective/impersonal desiring machine, not eminently Deleuzian?
And, to go even a step further, is the practice of fist-fucking not the exemplary case of what Deleuze called the "expansion of a concept?" The fist is put to a new use; the notion of penetration is expanded into the combination of the hand with sexual penetration, into the exploration of the inside of a body. No wonder Foucault, Deleuze's Other, was practicing fisting: is fist-fucking not the sexual invention of the twentieth century, a new model of eroticism and pleasure? It is no longer genitalized, but focused just on the penetration of the surface, with the role of the phallus being taken over by the hand, the autonomized partial object par excellence. And, what about the so-called Transformer or animorph toys, a car or a plane that can be transformed into a humanoid robot, an animal that can be morphed into a human or robot. Is this not Deleuzian? There are no "metaphorics" here; the point is not that the machinic or animal form is revealed as a mask containing a human shape but, rather, the existence of the becoming-machine or becoming-animal of the human, the flow of continuous morphing. What is blurred here is also the divide machine/living organism: a car transmutes into a humanoid/cyborg organism. And, is the ultimate irony not that, for Deleuze, the sport was surfing, a Californian sport par excellence if there ever was one? No longer a sport of self-control and domination directed towards some goal, it is just a practice of inserting oneself into a wave and letting oneself be carried by it. Brian Massumi formulated clearly this deadlock, which is based on the fact that today's capitalism already overcame the logic of totalizing normality and adopted the logic of the erratic excess:
the more varied, and even erratic, the better. Normalcy starts to lose its hold. The regularities start to loosen. This loosening of normalcy is part of capitalism's dynamic. It's not a simple liberation. It's capitalism's own form of power. It's no longer disciplinary institutional power that defines everything, it's capitalism's power to produce variety–because markets get saturated. Produce variety and you produce a niche market. The oddest of affective tendencies are okay–as long as they pay. Capitalism starts intensifying or diversifying affect, but only in order to extract surplus-value. It hijacks affect in order to intensify profit potential. It literally valorises affect. The capitalist logic of surplus-value production starts to take over the relational field that is also the domain of political ecology, the ethical field of resistance to identity and predictable paths. It's very troubling and confusing, because it seems to me that there's been a certain kind of convergence between the dynamic of capitalist power and the dynamic of resistance.
So, when Naomi Klein writes that "neo-liberal economics is biased at every level towards centralization, consolidation, homogenization. It is a war waged on diversity," is she not focusing on a figure of capitalism whose days are numbered? Would she not be applauded by contemporary capitalist modernizers? Is not the latest trend in corporate management itself "diversify, devolve power, try to mobilize local creativity and self-organization?" Is not anticentralization the topic of the "new" digitalized capitalism? The problem here is even more "troubling and confusing" than it may appear. As Lacan pointed out apropos of his deployment of the structural homology between surplus-value and surplus-enjoyment, what if the surplus-value does not simply "hijack" a preexisting relational field of affects. What if what appears an obstacle is effectively a positive condition of possibility, the element that triggers and propels the explosion of affective productivity? What if, consequently, one should precisely throw out the baby with the bath water and renounce the very notion of erratic affective productivity, and so on as the libidinal support of revolutionary activity?
More than ever, capital is the "concrete universal" of our historical epoch. What this means is that, while it remains a particular formation, it overdetermines all alternative formations, as well as all noneconomic strata of social life. The twentieth-century communist movement emerged, defining itself as an opponent of capitalism, and was defeated by it; Fascism emerged as an attempt to master capitalism's excesses, to build a kind of capitalism without capitalism. For this reason, it is also much too simple, in a Heideggerian mood, to reduce capitalism to one of the ontic realizations of a more fundamental ontological attitude of will to power and technological domination (claiming that the alternatives to it remain caught within this same ontological horizon). Modern technological domination is inextricably intertwined with the social form of capital; it can only occur within this form, and, insofar as the alternative social formations display the same ontological attitude, this merely confirms that they are, in their innermost core, mediated by capital as their concrete universality, as the particular formation that colors the entire scope of alternatives, that is, that functions as the encompassing totality mediating all other particular formations. In his new book on modernity, Fredric Jameson offers a concise critique of the recently fashionable theories of "alternate modernities":
How then can the ideologues of 'modernity' in its current sense manage to distinguish their product–the information revolution, and globalized, free-market modernity–from the detestable older kind, without getting themselves involved in asking the kinds of serious political and economic, systemic questions that the concept of a postmodernity makes unavoidable? The answer is simple: you talk about 'alternate' or 'alternative' modernities. Everyone knows the formula by now: this means that there can be a modernity for everybody which is different from the standard or hegemonic Anglo-Saxon model. Whatever you dislike about the latter, including the subaltern position it leaves you in, can be effaced by the reassuring and 'cultural' notion that you can fashion your own modernity differently, so that there can be a Latin-American kind, or an Indian kind or an African kind, and so on… But this is to overlook the other fundamental meaning of modernity which is that of a worldwide capitalism itself.
As Jameson is well aware, the line goes on and on, up to those Muslims who dream about a specific Arab modernity that would magically bypass the destructive aspects of the Western global capitalism. The significance of this critique reaches far beyond the case of modernity; it concerns the fundamental limitation of the nominalist historicizing. The recourse to multitude ("there is not one modernity with a fixed essence, there are multiple modernities, each of them irreducible to others") is false not because it does not recognize a unique fixed "essence" of modernity, but because multiplication functions as the disavowal of the antagonism that inheres to the notion of modernity as such; the falsity of multiplication resides in the fact that it frees the universal notion of modernity of its antagonism, of the way it is embedded in the capitalist system, by relegating this aspect just to one of its historical subspecies. And, insofar as this inherent antagonism could be designated as a "castrative" dimension, and, furthermore, insofar as, according to Freud, the disavowal of castration is represented as the multiplication of the phallus-representatives (a multitude of phalluses signals castration, the lack of the one), it is easy to conceive such a multiplication of modernities as a form of fetishist disavowal. This logic holds also for other ideological notions, especially, today, for democracy. Do those who want to distinguish another ("radical") democracy from its existing form and thereby cut off its links with capitalism, not commit the same categorical mistake?
At this point, one should introduce the difference between the works of Deleuze himself and the popular field of Deleuzianism: which of the two is the true target of our critique? The primary target is the popular version of "Deleuzianism" because it goes without saying that Deleuze's thought is ridiculously simplified in its popular acceptance, so that it is easy to play the game of "things are much more complex in Deleuze"; however, if there is something to be learned from the history of thought, from Christianity to Marx and Heidegger, it is that the roots of misappropriations are to be sought in the "original" thinker himself.
Jean-Jacques Lecercle, "The Pedagogy of Philosophy," Radical Philosophy 75 (Jan.—Feb. 1996): 44.
See Gilles Deleuze, Negotiations, 1972—1990, trans. Martin Joughin (New York, 1995), p. 121.
Brian Massumi, "Navigating Movements," in Hope, ed. Mary Zournazi (New York, 2002), p. 224.
Naomi Klein, Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the Globalization Debate (London, 2002), p. 245.
Fredric Jameson, A Singular Modernity (London, 2002), p. 12.