The Girl With the Bomb, The Guardian of Dynamite: Notes on the politics of becoming-woman

poetical licence

Excerpt from a piece on D&G, gender, struggle, and communism as the ‘real movement’ of abolition

 

1. Identifying the Girl of Russian Terrorism

In the tenth chapter of A Thousand Plateaus, ‘1730: Becoming-intense, becoming-animal…’, one is presented with a sequence of memories drawn from such a diversity of individuals and conceptual-personae that the sequence itself appears to make very little sense if read as one single extended argument for Deleuze and Guattari’s particular understanding of becoming. In place of the expected rational demonstration of the being and function of becoming, what we encounter instead are the memories of a Spinozist, a theologian, a sorcerer, and a plan(e) maker, among others. However, buried near the middle of the chapter, in the section entitled ‘Memories of a Molecule‘, where we encounter a discussion on the role of becoming-woman and the figure of the (universal) girl as they relate to both becoming in general and becomings within the domain of politics and history, our authors briefly, though suggestively, pose the question of “[T]he special role of the girl in Russian terrorism: the girl with the bomb, the guardian of dynamite?[1]

While it is clear that, at least for Deleuze and Guattari, the girl of Russian terrorism played the role of the guardian of the bomb and of dynamite, what is not at all clear is the reason for why they attribute this special role to the girl in the first place. Is it simply a case of elevating what is particular (in this case to Russian history) in order to treat it as a general principle or maxim? And should it not strike us as strange that Deleuze and Guattari give any example at all–let alone that of the girl of Russian terrorism–since it would present what is tempting in the error of conflating becoming with imitation or role-play, and instead of employing the girl as the means of instituting a break with one’s present material conditions (and which one of us hasn’t encountered a situation where they start to desire, whether from desperation or insomniac exhaustion, a revival of the Red Army Faction or Red Brigades? Or succumb to the hallucination that abolishing capital can be achieved simply through replicating the structure and organization created by the Zapatistas or even the YPG?).

One possible interpretation would be to try and locate the reasons and causes that lead Deleuze and Guattari to attribute speciality to this ‘role of the girl in Russian terrorism’ wholly within the political movements and traditions of Russia itself. The temptation of this reading is that it’s method leads one directly to a rich and largely forgotten dimension of the individuals and organizations that helped pave the way for the atmosphere of the 1917 revolution. Proceeding in this manner, one immediately encounters women such as Maria Spiridonova:

On 16 January 1906 at the Borisoglebsk railroad station in Tambov province, 21-year-old Mariya Aleksandrovna Spiridonova, daughter of a non-hereditary noble and member of the Socialist-Revolutionary (SR) Party, shot and fatally wounded provincial government councilor Gavriil Nikolaevich Luzhenovskiy, the security chief of the Borisoglebsk district as well as a leader of the Tambov branch of the right-wing Union of the Russian People. The Tambov SR committee had sentenced Luzhenovskiy to die “for his criminal flogging to death and excessive torturing of peasants during the agrarian and political dis- orders” of the autumn of 1905, as Spiridonova afterward explained in her deposition to Tambov court authorities. “In full agreement with this sentence and in full consciousness of my action,” she stated, “I took it on myself to carry out this sentence.”[2]

However, as an unintended consequence of this view is the very discovery that what was so special about the girl of Russian terrorism is the simultaneous neutralization of her haecceity. For if this quality only belongs to Russian terrorism between the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, what are we to understand when Deleuze and Guattari write that they are “certain that molecular politics proceeds via the girl and the child”?[3]

Alternatively, one could read this ‘girl of Russian terrorism,’ and that function proper to her, as a function relative to the more general war-machine of which it is said. That is to say, the part played by this girl of Russian terrorism can also be found in struggles outside of the Russian context. Consequently, the special role would simply arise from the requirements of any struggle undertaken against the State. On this view, what is special about the girl exceeds the historical cases of armed struggle and direction action against a Tsarist State that one may find in Russia at the end of the 19th or beginning of the 20th century. What is special to the girl in Russian terrorism is only what allows her to institute becomings in the midst of overall capture by the State and its generalized stratification in accord with the universal axiom of capital (produce for the market). As Deleuze and Guattari put it, “The girl is like the block of becoming that remains contemporaneous to each opposable term, man, woman, child, adult. It is not the girl who becomes a woman; it is becoming-woman that produces the universal girl.”[4] 

The salient function proper to the girl of Russian terrorism, then, is the fact that she functions as that which maintains or initiates processes of destratification, deterritorialization, molecular becomings, and searches for what is potentially liberatory within lines of flight. Thus, it is true that the quality proper to this girl of Russian terrorism is a general feature of the kind of subjectivity defined as a war-machine; it is seen in every action taken by the war-machine and confront the (actual or virtual) State by means of what Deleuze and Guattari call ‘the three virtues’: the impersonal, imperceptible, and indiscernible. If only to further emphasize the irreducibility of the girl’s significance with respect to the historical and material conditions at the turn of the century Russia, we turn our attention to another instance where we encounter, once more, this special role of the girl (but now as a literal instantiation of the girl as the guardian of explosives): the anti-colonial struggle undertaken by the Algerian National Liberation Front (F.L.N.).

2. When becoming-woman transforms into collective imperceptibility

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With the F.L.N., we encounter once again the phenomena of how girls with bombs act as partisans of an anti-colonial war-machine. In other words, if the girl of Russian terrorism effectuates a becoming-woman that is also at work in the context of the F.L.N.’s struggle against Algeria’s colonial occupation by France it is because becoming-woman is fundamentally an attribute belonging, not to any particular historico-political movement, but to the deterritorializing function of the war-machine wherever it takes hold. It is only by understanding how it is only in the presence of a war-machine that we may speak of becoming-woman as one of its constituent parts. It is in this way that we get a better sense as to why Deleuze and Guattari claim that the becomings that constitute political struggles against the State find ‘their necessary condition [in] the becoming-woman of the warrior, or his alliance with the girl, his contagion with her’; to understand why it is that ‘the man of war is inseparable from the Amazons.’[5] 

In scenes such as the one above, taken from Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers, Pontecorvo shows his audience how F.L.N. women succeed in infiltrating the French quartiers of Algiers–a task made especially difficult since these areas of the city were surveilled and protected by French police checks. Thus, this scene’s significance is due to its depiction of the necessary relationship between the girl-as-guardian-of-the-bomb and the war machine in itself. Now, regarding such scenes, Peter Matthews proposes one possible reading of this function of the young-girl:

The acid test of this comes in the unforgettable sequence where three Algerian women plant bombs at various crowded hangouts in the French quarter. Masquerading as loose-living Europeans, carrying mortality in a shopping basket, they would be sinister femmes fatales in another context…If we can accept the grievous necessity of these deaths, then we consent to everything. Pontecorvo has penetrated our Western self-absorption and let in the harsh light of reality.[6]

Now, aside from the fact that Matthews’ sentimentalism regarding the actions of the three Algerian women, his is a reaction that is of no use for understanding the relationship between gender, sex, and revolutionary struggle. It must be said, however, that what we find misleading in Matthews’ account of the FLN’s very own ‘femme fatales’ is the claim that affirming the violence enacted by the FLN means that we affirm a politics that ‘consents to everything’ by necessity. Allying with the FLN isn’t to consent to a situation where anything is permissible. Rather, the logic of the FLN war machine is precisely the logical steps colonized subjects must take since theirs is an intolerable situation. Thus, the “horror that we consent to everything” masks the fact that it is only by going to war that the colonized has any chance at liberation. More than some fear regarding the loss of morality in colonial contexts the reappearance of Russian terrorism’s jeuene-fille finds herself far from Russia and on African shores; here she runs and hides in the alleyways of the casbah in order to evade capture and continue the anti-colonial struggle.

But what is a becoming-woman in all of this? And the ‘special role’ of the girl related to the aims of the war machine? If it is the case, as D&G claim, that waging war is the best means of warding off state, then the function of becoming-woman is to aid the war machine in ensuring the non-existence, or abolition of, the State:

…just as Hobbes saw clearly that the State was against war, so war is against the State, and makes it impossible. It is should not be concluded that war is not a state of nature [an error that grounds Matthews’ fear], but rather that it is the mode of a social state that wards off and prevents the State.[7]

Unlike Matthews, D&G understand it as imperative, in the confrontation between the FLN and the colonial violence of France, to differentiate the actions of each from the other in order not to confuse or conflate both. Consequently, for D&G, this means that we lack any right/legitimacy in saying that only a state of nature exists (as implied by Matthews) between the war machine and the State since it’s a confrontation the nature of which ‘consents to everything’; a confrontation wherein the actions of both the FLN and France can only be treated as having equal ethico-political value. If the FLN constructed its own war-machine and correlating becoming-woman, it means, then, that the actions of the FLN and France are not only unequal, but fundamentally incommensurable. And as seen in the passage above, it is the State that seeks to prevent war while it is the war machine that seeks to prevent the existence of States. So… if the actions of the FLN and the State cannot be treated as equal, it is because their respective political projects involve the mutual exclusion of their opposite. And while it may be the case, objectively speaking, that the colonial context held open a number of possible resolutions to anti-colonial struggles (liberation, neo-colonialism, genocide), for the FLN liberation was always the only legitimate option.

 

 

 

Endnotes

[1] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 277
[2] Boniece, ‘The “Shesterka” of 1905-06’
[3] ATP, p. 277

[4] Ibid.
[5] ATP, p. 278
[6] Matthews, ‘Bombs and Boomerangs’
[7] ATP, p. 357

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On the End of History & the Death of Desire (Notes on Time and Negativity in Bataille’s ‘Lettre á X.’)

 

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To continue from our conclusions regarding the question of what it would mean to love as a communist, we begin from the idea that abolition is what necessary binds communism as real movement to problems encountered in the life of desire, of the heart, of the family. And one key consequence of this would be the following: if communism, as the real movement that abolishes both itself and the present state of things, is what allows us to truly pose questions pertaining to sex, love, and family life, then the political and the libidinal, which have been historically treated as two distinct phenomena, are now revealed as inseparable and necessarily bound to each other. Thus, and as we will see Bataille write in response to Kojève, ours is a time wherein Desire’s libidinal activity can no longer be thought of, and even more so understood, as independent of the economic ‘base’ of the capitalist mode of production. So, if last time we saw that questions of sex and love are revealed to be inherently socio-historical and not merely personal and private, then the very notion of desire is given a new, and hopefully truer, meaning. Moreover, this new understanding of the life of desire also brings about a shift in our theoretical and practical perspective – from a position that has been comfortable in thinking desire as solely belonging to pertaining to private (as opposed to public) life to a view that finds it impossible to think through problems of libidinal life independent of their socio-political and material determination.

Given this more nuanced position, however, we are still confronted by the following question: what is the nature of desire in both its libidinal and politico-economic determination? If it is said that, now, Desire’s proper place as the ‘base’ and not ‘superstructure’, what, then, does this mean about Desire and its subjects? What kind of subjectivity is as political as it is libidinal such that it is simultaneously constituted by, while expressing itself through, the very forces and relations of production? This is to ask, in another way, about the meaning of a desire that is inherently irreducible to fantasy, dreams, or the physical act of sex?

Bataille & Kojève: A Meeting At The End of History

What is the nature of a desire that is both sexual and political; a desire that is at once psychic and socio-historical? On way of approaching the question of the sexual/psychic and political/socio-historical features of desire is that of Bataille; and particularly his treatment of desire in ‘Lettre á X., chargé d’un cours sur Hegel…’, a letter written to Kojeve in light of his seminar on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit at the Sorbonne. While Bataille’s letter does not treat the question of libidinal economy explicitly, he does take up the question of desire as it is linked to negativity, and what a desire with negativity at its heart would mean for the very notion of negation/negativity as such. And it is this treatment of desire’s inherent negativity that is instructive for our purposes since the abolition that binds communism to problems of sex, love, and gender is a relation that has negation at its center.:

In truth its no longer a matter of misfortune or life, only what has become of “negativity out of work”, if it is true that it does become something. I am there in the forms which it engenders, forms not at the outset in myself but in others. Most often negativity without power becomes the work of art…In what concerns me, the negativity which belongs to me didn’t give up work until that moment when there wasn’t any work: the negativity of a man who has nothing more to do, not that of a man who prefers to talk. But the fact – which seems incontestable – that a negativity turned away from action would express itself as work of art is no less charged with meaning given the possibilities remaining to me. It shows that negativity can be objectified […] the man of “negativity out of work”… He is in front of his own negativity as if before a wall. Whatever ill he suffers from this, our man knows that henceforth nothing can be avoided, for negativity has no issue. (‘Lettre á X.,’ 49) 

The task, then, is to see whether or not Bataille has good reason to posit a relation between desire, negativity, and the fact that to love as a communist means to love via the real movement of abolition.

The Economy of Abolition; The Economy of Desire

If Bataille shows that the problem of interpreting Hegel’s claim to an ‘end of history’ is not resolved with Kojève’s call for the ‘re-animalization of Man.’ Rather, if there is an ‘end of history’ it is a riddle solved in the attempt to delineate a different kind of negativity; one no longer tied to a notion of a productive activity that progressively attains its historical telos. Contra Kojeve, what the end of history forces us to think is a negativity no longer characterized as laborious. The negativity of desire, at the end of history, has exhausted itself of all productivity and is thus left with nothing to do. As Bataille writes regarding this non-productive negativity of desire:  

If the act (the “doing of things”) is – as Hegel says – negativity, the question then arises as to whether the negativity of one who has “nothing more to do” disappears or is subsumed under “negativity out of work” [négativité sans emploi]. Personally I can only decide on the one sense, my own being exactly this “negativity out of work” (I could not define myself better). I wish Hegel had foreseen that possibility: at least didn’t he put it at the outcome of the process he described. I imagine that my life – or its miscarriage, better still, the open wound my life is – this alone constitutes the refutation of Hegel’s closed system. (‘Lettre á X.,’ 48)  

Desire as negativity without work is nothing but its unemployment. If the essence of desire is this unemployed negativity, then we are confronted with the paradox of imaging a desire whose particular products and effects are generated through non-productive means; a negativity that can only live and create by means other than that of a life lived according to the dictates of labor. But why does Bataille maintain that, at the end of history, Desire continues to be productive in spite of the fact that Desire can no longer continue to be the labor of negativity?

As the editors of Bataille’s letter helpfully clarify: “Bataille thinks this question [negativity] through by discussing what he terms expenditure. Expenditure may be either productive…or unproductive [and] … it is to this second sense of expenditure that Bataille reserves the term ‘expenditure’ sans phrase” (‘Lettre á X.,’ 47). It is for these reasons that Bataille will maintain that the end of history force’s Desire to undergo a substantial transformation: the labor of the negative, and this negativity as productive activity, do not persist at history’s end (and for Bataille this also means that if the labor of the negative was the motor of desire it was only because of historical and contingent factors). At the end of History, humanity isn’t forced to re-naturalize itself into what is animal (a la Kojève). Rather, we are forced to find ways to live the new found life of negativity, obliged to live a life no longer tied to labor or productive activity. With Bataille, it is as if the fate of humanity was to eventually see itself in a new light; as if, history was simply the first act in humanity’s reckoning with itself as a negativity now unemployed; as if what is instantiated is a form of subjectivity whose very possibility for existing is now constituted by the simple fact that it has ‘nothing more to do;’ at History’s end, then, the only thing we are left with is Time.

After History, Time

Now, with Bataille’s interpretation of the real and Subjective consequences brought about by the ‘end of History’ two things are clear. First, we are able to understand that there exists the persistence of negativity after History; even if negativity will persist in an altogether different form and be of a different nature. Second, and this is what will become important for this section, the unemployed negativity of desire may have been born at History’s closure but its life is lived in a world where there is ‘nothing but Time.’ So it seems that just as negativity persists after History, Time, too, continues on after History’s closure. Thus it is this question of the Time that emerges at the end of History that is at issue since, it is our intuition that the negativity of non-productive expenditure does not simply belong to a world where there is nothing but Time. What is more, this negativity will be said to have its own form of Time proper to itself (and the least we can say is that, for Bataille, Time and History are said to exist independent of each other, since it is the only way by which History can be resolved while Time presses onward). However, if these two consequences that follow from Bataille’s position are of any significance it is due to the fact that, when taken together, we begin to understand that the end of History doesn’t not mean the absolute exhaustion of Being and rather that Time and negativity persist beyond History (and we should add to this that they accomplish this only on the condition that they are constituted by a new relation, which determines and guarantees their mutual persistence).

Putting aside, for the moment, other possible consequences we may draw from the contents of this letter, we can at the very least say that the implicit but crucial thesis of Bataille’s letter is that of the ontological independence of Time and negativity from History. That is, if Time is said to be what determines non-productivity as the form Desire must take, it is only because the Desire, which comes at the end of History is the one that finds itself with “nothing left to do.” This persistence of negativity, that is to say, of Desire, is forced to confront itself by virtue of its post-Historical circumstance as a form of Desire that has at its disposal, and when aiming to secure its persistence after History post-Historical existence, nothing other than Time. To be sure, at the end of History Desire does in fact die even though it is made to be reborn in the persistence of this unemployed negativity.

And if we were to inquire deeper into just what exactly this time of unemployed negativity could be, we quickly finds ourselves returning to Marx; for it was Marx who already gave unemployed negativity a name when, in the Grundrisse, he spoke of disposable-time as a form of time that is irreducible to capital’s division between labor- and leisure-time (where the real difference is between waged and unwaged labor). Moreover, says Marx, disposable-time reveals itself to be the real meaning of wealth since it implies the development of the capacities, knowledges, and well-being of society as a whole: ‘For real wealth is developed productive power of all individuals. The measure of wealth is then not any longer, in any way, labour time, but rather disposable time‘ (Grundrisse, tr. Nicolaus, London: Penguin, 1973, 708). And lastly, we saw that disposable-time as the time of communism also made possible attempted resolutions to questions/problems of sex, gender, and love since those relations can be created and recreated without the threat to the material- and/or social well-being of those involved. Loving takes time, or at the very least learning to love takes time and it is an education the temporality of which must be disposable.