We Head for The Horizon and Return With Bloodshot Eyes (Brief Comments on the Plane of Immanence)

the great mosque of samarra

The question of the status of the plane of immanence has often been interpreted in a positive light. Namely, it is evident to the reader that ‘reaching the plane of immanence’ is portrayed as a virtue of the philosopher insofar as philosophy, understood as the creation of concepts, necessarily relies upon the plane on which philosophy’s concepts are brought into relation. As if to corroborate this interpretation, Deleuze and Guattari themselves write

“…Spinoza is the Christ of philosophers, and the greatest philosophers are hardly more than apostles who distance themselves from or draw near to this mystery. Spinoza, the infinite becoming-philosopher: he showed, drew up, and thought the “best” plane of immanence–that is, the purest, the one that does not hand itself over to the transcendent or restore any transcendent, the one that inspires the fewest illusions, bad feelings, and erroneous perceptions” (What is Philosophy? 60).

Thus the virtue of a thought adequate to its plane of immanence appears as self-evident, as something axiomatic; the inherent virtue of the plane of immanence seems to function as an analytic truth that is simply reiterated across the work of Deleuze, and his joint works with Guattari.

However, and against this view of the plane of immanence as both epistemic and ethico-political virtue, it is important to remind ourselves that while constructing the plane of immanence is a necessary condition for the creation of concepts (as philosophy’s presupposed non-conceptual, or pre-philosophical, correlate), this task carried out by thought cannot be the site of both epistemic virtue and ethico-political praxis. Why? For the very reason that, for Deleuze and Guattari, the importance of constructing a plane of immanence is not justified in terms of the ethical or political potential opened up by immanence as such. Rather, we must construct a plane of immanence since it is only in relation to the plane of immanence that concepts themselves take on significance and value for the thinker: “All concepts are connected to problems without which they would have no meaning and which can themselves only be isolated or understood as their solution emerges” (WP, 16).

The plane of immanence orients Thought in a way that allows the thinker to distinguish between true and false problems and thereby allows the thinker to formulate true as opposed to false problems. Unlike the portrait of Spinoza as the apex of the philosopher par excellence, Deleuze and Guattari’s contention is that while we all must strive toward the plane’s construction in our own thought, the plane of immanence itself appears as something wholly devoid of virtue and is not a model to guide collective praxis but a necessary condition for the creation of concepts. It is for this reason that Deleuze and Guattari do not hesitate to praise Spinoza’s fidelity to immanence while simultaneously laboring against the plane of immanence established by capitalism despite its necessary construction by someone such as Marx. Capital, as our specifically contemporary plane of immanence takes up certain tendencies from previous social forms in order to effect a world wide expansion. It is for this reason that we require a new construction of a place of immanence, since it is Capital that serves as the historical condition and futural horizon that determines the totality of planetary social life:

“A world market extends to the ends of the earth before passing into the galaxy: even the skies become horizontal. This is not a result of the Greek endeavor but a resumption, in another form and with other means, on a scale hitherto unknown, which nonetheless relaunches the combination for which the Greeks took the initiative–democratic imperialism, colonizing democracy. The European can, therefore, regard himself, as the Greek did, as not one psychosocial type among others but Man par excellence, and with much more expansive force and missionary zeal than the Greek” (WP, 97).

If the plane of immanence was simply the fusion of an epistemic requirement and political goal, there would be no way to understand their following assertion: “Concepts and plane are strictly correlative, but nevertheless the two should not be confused. The plane of immanence is neither a concept nor the concept of all concepts” (WP, 35-6). The plane is the nexus of problems that give significance and meaning to the concepts that come to populate it. In other words, and as Deleuze already noted as early as Difference and Repetition, the plane of immanence is the dialectic between Idea-Problems, on the one hand, and their possible solutions as incarnated by concepts, on the other. Once we understand that Deleuze and Guattari emphasize the need to discriminate the plane of immanence from its concepts, that we can no longer satisfy ourselves with the conflation between immanence and concept, problems and their solutions, the task of the philosopher and the task of politics:

“The famous phrase of the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, ‘mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve’, does not mean that the problems are only apparent or that they are already solved, but, on the contrary, that the economic conditions of a problem determine or give rise to the manner in which it finds a solution within the framework of the real relations of the society. Not that the observer can draw the least optimism from this, for these ‘solutions’ may involve stupidity or cruelty, the horror of war or ‘the solution of the Jewish problem’. More precisely, the solution is always that which a society deserves or gives rise to as a consequence of the manner in which, given its real relations, it is able to pose the problems set within it and to it by the differential relations it incarnates” (DR, 186).

Thus, against the idea that a philosopher’s innocence or moral virtue is proportionate to the adequacy of their concepts and their construction of a plane of immanence, Deleuze and Guattari write,

“The plane of immanence is not a concept that is or can be thought but rather the image of thought, the image thought gives itself of what it means to think, to make use of thought, to find one’s bearings in thought…The image of thought implies a strict division between fact and right: what pertains to thought as such must be distinguished from contingent features of the brain or historical opinions….The image of thought retains only what thought can claim by right” (WP, 37).

The task, then, is to construct the image of thought adequate to our historical present since it is the plane itself that determines what Thought (and philosophy) can rightfully call it’s own, or properly understand its broader socio-political function in the present. However, if the plane of immanence is the Image of Thought, it is clear that a plane is only constructed in order to be overcome. It is for this reason that while Deleuze and Guattari emphasize the necessity of the plane of immanence, they ultimately assert that it is in light of the concepts philosophy can create (or the percepts and affects of art, or the functions of science) that we can overturn the image of thought itself. As Deleuze already understood, the “… ‘solvability’ [of a Problem] must depend upon an internal characteristic: it must be determined by the conditions of the problem, engendered in and by the problem along with the real solutions” (DR, 162).

Planes of immanence may be necessary, and we can acknowledge someone like Spinoza’s fidelity in his thoroughgoing construction as seen in his Ethics, while also acknowledging that it is only in the solutions within the plane that a philosophical/political praxis can emerge; whereby the emergence of a solution spells the overcoming of the plane/image of thought itself. In this way we should hear Marx in background of Deleuze; as Marx himself already understood “communism is not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself…but the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence” (German Ideology). Our fidelity to the construction a plane of immanence (taken as epistemic virtue), only gains in political utility insofar as the plane is constructed to its logical conclusion and the concepts created by the thinker within this plane is a solution that abolishes the present state of things…whose conditions (i.e. nexus of problems, plane of immanence established by capital) are already now in existence.

For what else did Deleuze mean when he praised the free reign of simulacra as the crowned anarchy at the end of his overturning of Platonism? The idea that the solutions to a problem; the instantiations of an Idea; neither resemble nor share in the essence of the problem-Idea to which they are indexed? Any position to the contrary and which posits solutions as sharing in the essence and remaining fundamentally identical to an Idea-problem, implicitly or explicitly commits one to a fatalism in the face of capital’s plane of immanence: There is no longer any available alternative solution to the problem posed by capital’s plane of immanence (neoliberalism). There is no longer such a thing as society (Thatcher). We have reached the end of history (Fukuyama), and the cause célèbre is this best of all possible worlds with the correct and justifiable amount of global suffering (Habermas).

UNE AUTRE FIN DU MONDE EST POSSIBLE: Some Political Conclusions Regarding Deleuze on Cinema

12891112_10156832908875085_2706529096530411341_ophoto cred: Patrice Maniglier, 2016

(Draft of the concluding section for my forthcoming article in Carte Semiotiche Annali 4, IMAGES OF CONTROL. Visibility and the Government of Bodies. Part I can be found here and Part II can be found here)

An other end of the world is possible. This statement ties together our critique of Patton, the emphasis Deleuze places (in cinema and politics) on the struggle for alternate and possible worlds in light of its seeming impossibility from the perspective of control societies, and the political category of creativity and resistance. For as we have seen, it is at the end of the second World War that two important transformations took place: the shift in cinema from the ‘movement-image’ to the ‘time-image’ and the marriage between cybernetics, information theory, and modes of governmentality; this latter case being undertaken in order to prevent the global devolution of the global capitalist order and its form of civil society. Thus, in our present circumstance it’s worth reiterating the point made by Guattari in his reflection on the progress made by capitalism after the events of ‘68:

“Capitalism can always arrange things and smooth them over locally, but for the most part and essentially, everything has become increasingly worse […] The response to many actions has been predicted organized and calculated by the machines of state power. I am convinced that all of the possible variants of another May 1968 have already been programmed on an IBM” (‘We Are All Groupuscules’). 

This IBM which has predicted every possible future May ‘68 is to Alpha 60 as Deleuze’s concept of control societies is to our present. That is to say, and more to the point, present day control societies, with its cybernetic form of governance, is a form of social organization that takes as one of its axioms the pre-emptive powers derived from the control and permanent exchange of information in our present. In the situation where Alpha 60’s algorithmic powers of prediction equally determine the upstanding and problematic citizen; where cybernetic capitalism can create predictive models that run through every possible situation where an insurrection could take place; we find ourselves squarely in the contemporary manifestation of Clausewitz’s formula now with its contemporary twist: control is war by other means; these ‘other means’ being the politics of pre-emptive strategy supported by cybernetic technologies:

“Even if the origins of the Internet device are today well known, it is not uncalled for to highlight once again their political meaning. The Internet is a war machine invented to be like the highway system, which was also designed by the American Army as a decentralized internal mobilization tool. The American military wanted a device which would preserve the command structure in case of a nuclear attack…With such a device, military authority could be maintained in the case of the worse catastrophes. The Internet is thus the result of a nomadic transformation of military strategy. With that kind of plan at its roots, one might doubt the supposedly anti-authoritarian characteristics of this device. As is the Internet, which derives from it, cybernetics is an art of war, the objective of which is to save the head of the social body in case of catastrophe. What stands out historically and politically during the period between the great wars…was the metaphysical problem of creating order out of disorder” (Tiqqun, ‘The Cybernetic Hypothesis’).

Thus it merits an emphasis on the way in which our geopolitical context still maintains the cybernetic criteria of governance in ways that cannot simply be reduced to the technological or algorithmic properties of capitalist technology. In a 2014 Wall Street Journal article entitled ‘On The Assembly of a New World Order,’ Henry Kissinger asserts that the defining condition regarding Western powers today is the following: ‘the very concept of order that has underpinned the modern era is currently in crisis.’ According to Kissinger (and after the economic crisis of 2008 in a post 9/11 era) it is the recovery of global order based on the interests of American capitalism that is projected as the necessary task for Western powers today. If he is anything, Kissinger must be said to be the present day embodiment of those concerns that characterized both postwar cyberneticians (Abraham Moles, Wiener, et. al.) as well as Alphaville‘s central governing body, Alpha 60. In light of Kissinger’s perceived urgency regarding the re-establishment of order in the light of this concepts present crisis, the context of global warfare originally outlined by Clausewitz and cyberneticians alike is continued through the constitution of Western government’s pre-emptive measures; which seeks to perpetually defer war in favor of what are now called ‘security measures’ justified by the ‘war on terror.’

So… this proposed ‘end of the world’ as conceived by the cybernetic paradigm of governance is a decidedly different apocalypse as the one viewed from the perspective of a radical political orientation. This alternative apocalyptic scenario is intended in the same way as someone like Marx who characterized communism as a certain kind of global abolition. Communism, as iterated in the oft cited formula, is not “a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself,” but the “real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence” (German Ideology). Therefore, the type of abolition involved in this fin du monde is not the same type of abolition that is hinted at in the fears of Kissinger and cyberneticians regarding a generalized disorder since, for Marx as well as Deleuze, the revolutionary subject that abolishes itself and capital in the process of revolution brings about the end of the world as determined by capitalist social relations and ushers in a new world determined by the needs and interests of labor considered as a whole.

From this perspective, the end of the world feared by cybernetic control appears desirable insofar as it means the end of this world; the end of the world governed on the basis of capitalist control and surveillance. So bringing about the ‘end of this world’ requires, on our part, a vision of alternative worlds that would come to take its place. It is this dimension of Deleuze’s aesthetic and political commitments that Patton fails to understand and thereby commits himself to the valorization of anything that can be understood as metaphysically productive and creative (which is to say, Patton’s position ultimately consists of the affirmation of everything in-itself). The autre fin du monde that we call for must replace Patton’s vitalist aesthetico-politics since it is clear that, for Deleuze, there is a real content to the prescription of being against one’s time in the hopes for a time to-come. The content being the elimination of every form of complicity , the eradication of a global situation whereby one person’s freedom is only won at the expense of another individual or group. It is for this reason that Deleuze’s engagements with art and philosophy bring him to the realm of politics:

“Nor is it only in the extreme situations described by Primo Levi that we experience the shame of being human. We also experience it in insignificant conditions, before the meanness and vulgarity of existence that haunts democracies, before the propagation of these modes of existence and of thought-for-the-market, and before the values, ideals, and opinions of our time. The ignominy of the possibilities of life that we are offered appears from within. We do not feel ourselves outside of our time but continue to undergo shameful compromises with it. This feeling of shame is one of philosophy’s most powerful motifs. We are not responsible for the victims but responsible before them […] For the race summoned forth by art and philosophy is not the one that claims to be pure but rather an oppressed, bastard, lower, anarchical, nomadic and irremediably minor race–the very ones that Kant excluded from the path of the new Critique. Artaud said: to write for the illiterate–to speak for the aphasic, to think for the acephalous. But what does “for” mean? It is not “for their benefit,” or yet “in their place.” It is “before.” It is a question of becoming. The thinker is not acephalic, aphasic, or illiterate, but becomes so. He becomes Indian, and never stops becoming so…” (What is Philosophy? pp. 107-09).

Thus (and to put forward the beginnings of an argument that will be reserved for another article) the least we can say regarding Deleuze’s aesthetic and philosophical commitments is that they lead him, and therefore us interpreters of Deleuze, to assert the following prescription: find the means and conditions to effect the total abolition of anyone’s/everyone’s complicity in the violence (political, social, economic, environmental, etc.) against others; a complicity made actual by the individual freedoms granted by liberal-capitalism on the basis of the further devastation of the Third World and the First World’s own internal (and gentrifying) colonies.  So the political correlate to Deleuze’s emphasis on the need to ‘believe in the world’ vís-a-vís cinema is the following: we need to learn how to bring an end to this world in order to wrest back what has been determined as impossible from the perspective of cybernetic-capital. Une autre fin du monde est possible, one that does not entail the infinite accumulation of surplus-value up to the point of environmental/societal collapse but the complete abolition of all forms of contemporary complicity in the violence against ourselves and others. 


Cinema In The Age of Control Societies


(Incredibly rough draft of part II of an article for Carte Semiotiche Annali 4, IMAGES OF CONTROL. Visibility and the Government of Bodies. Part I can be found here).

Given our critique of the affirmationist interpretation, and while Godard’s Sauve Qui Peut (La Vie) is Patton’s exemplar of something that approximates a Deleuzean ethico-political program, we should turn our attention to Godard’s 1965 sci-fi noir film Alphaville as the measure (and critique) of this affirmationist reading. Turning to Alphaville is crucial since it is the film where Godard achieves in cinema what Deleuze himself would only put down to paper towards the end of his life: the problem of how one makes revolution from within the contemporary paradigm of control societies. Not only were societies of control emerging as the latest form of capitalism’s ongoing globalization in Deleuze’s own life time; specific for our purposes here, what Deleuze understands as the technical and material conditions of control societies is precisely what Godard explores through the figure of an artificially intelligent computer (Alpha 60) that regulates the city of Alphaville as a whole with the aim of ensuring ‘civic order’ and dependable (i.e., predictable) citizenry. It is Alpha 60 who surveils, polices, and determines the guilt or innocence of the citizenry; that is, this AI form of governance is the perfect instance of those cybernetic machines at work in capitalist-control societies. Additionally, this emerging problem of control was a consequence of the shift from the ‘movement-image’ to the ‘time-image,’ as Deleuze notes. It is a shift to the paradigm  that “registers the collapse of sensory-motor schemes: characters no longer “know” how to react to situations that are beyond them, too awful, or too beautiful, or insoluble…So a new type of character appears” (Negotiations, 59).

However, what Deleuze leaves implicit and under theorized in his concept of the ‘time-image,’ is the following: after the second world war, where we see a shift from the ‘movement-image’ to the ‘time-image,’ there was a simultaneous shift in how nation-states began to conceive of the role of global strategies of governance. During and after the war, information theorists, scientists, and academics were employed by the American government to develop the technological means for establishing a certain degree of civic order in a world that has proven itself capable of succumbing to the ever looming threat of global war. It was this emerging group of scientists and academics that would construct the very means for actualizing societies of control (Deleuze) and were the real world correlates for the social function of Alpha 60 (Godard):

the very persons who made substantial contributions to the new means of communication and of data processing after the Second World War also laid the basis of that “science” that Wiener called “cybernetics.” A term that Ampère…had had the good idea of defining as the “science of government.” So we’re talking about an art of governing whose formative moments are almost forgotten but whose concepts branched their way underground, feeding into information technology as much as biology, artificial intelligence, management, or the cognitive sciences, at the same time as the cables were strung one after the other over the whole surface of the globe […] As Norbert Wiener saw it, “We are shipwrecked passengers on a doomed planet. Yet even in a shipwreck, human decencies and human values do not necessarily vanish, and we must make the most of them. We shall go down, but let it be in a manner to which we make look forward as worthy of our dignity.” Cybernetic government is inherently apocalyptic. Its purpose is to locally impede the spontaneously entropic, chaotic movement of the world and to ensure “enclaves of order,” of stability, and–who knows?–the perpetual self-regulation of systems, through the unrestrained, transparent, and controllable circulation of information” (The Invisible Committee, To Our Friends, p.107-9).

In the last instance, whether we speak of the paradigm of control in contemporary modes of governmentality or Alpha 60 in Alphaville, both Deleuze and Godard are concerned with the possibilities for the radical transformation of social life from within this context of cybernetic governance. Thus, it is against the background of societies of control that Patton’s affirmationist interpretation, and the politics that logically follows, will be measured and tested; if only to underscore how the affirmationist’s Platonism demonstrates that the application of metaphysical and epistemic truths into the domain of politics culminates in a praxis that is impotent at best and reactionary at worst.

Continue reading “Cinema In The Age of Control Societies”