Surrealism & Marxism: Notes on Breton, Césaire, and Miéville for Future Considerations

14237493_10207211959367278_5274789933012419958_nMarcel Sauvage, “Le Fin de Paris” (1932)

The original post has been edited and re-published by some friends at Blind Field – A Journal of Cultural Inquiry. You can read the updated version here

‘Concrete Rules and Abstract Machines’ (some notes & comments on Brassier’s talk at the ‘A Thousand Plateaus and Philosophy’ London Workshop)

Laurent-millet-somnium-04

[What follows is a summary of, and some comments on, Ray Brassier’s talk regarding the final chapter of A Thousand Plateaus. Delivered in London, 2015, at the A Thousand Plateaus and Philosophy Workshop]

At the very least one can confidently say that the reputation of A Thousand Plateaus precedes itself. At times, its reputation even precedes a reader’s first encounter with the text itself. And in light of ATP‘s repute, one of the features of this text that is known by all is that its authors have written the book in such a way that a reader can skip ahead or begin from the middle of whatever plateau grabs their interest. We are told that ATP is a book written to liberate its audience and to affect us so that we feel free to pick and choose where the story begins and ends. As Massumi himself notes in his translator’s forward, reading ATP is best done in the same way one listens to a record:

“When you buy a record there are always cuts that leave you cold. You skip them. You don’t approach a record as a closed book that you have to take or leave. Other cuts you may listen to over and over again. They follow you. You find yourself humming them under your breath as you go about your daily business. A Thousand Plateaus is conceived as an open system…The author’s hope…is that elements of it will stay with a certain number of its readers and will weave into the melody of their everyday lives” (ATP, xiv).

Despite the kernel of truth in Massumi’s record metaphor (the element of truth being that it is the case that throughout the chapters of ATP Deleuze and Guattari remain consistent in their use of specific terms and concepts and thus develop a unifying thread throughout all the plateaus that renders a one’s decision of abrupt beginnings and endings of little consequence), to overemphasize this staggered and haphazard approach to ATP is to elide one of it’s most fundamental features; a feature that Brassier will seek to highlight in his reading of the final chapter, ‘Concrete Rules and Abstract Machines.’

For Brassier, there is in fact a fundamental or privileged plateau: namely, the chapter on the Geology of Morals. Why? Because when Deleuze and Guattari conclude their text with a set of concrete rules for effectuating specific abstract machines, they base this final chapter on the very logic of double articulation develop in the Geology of Morals plateau. For Brassier, what’s striking when one reads ATP is the consistency with which Deleuze and Guattari use their vocabulary. Thus, despite the appearance of a proliferation of concepts tied to particular sets of practices (art, science, philosophy, literature, psychoanalysis, etc.), the concepts developed throughout ATP in fact constitute a unified logical system. Thus, says Brassier, it is the logical and conceptual relationship between double articulation and the final chapter that gives the lie to the kinds of readings of this text that fall in line with Massumi’s prescribed approach. However, before directly engaging with the relationship between double articulation and the final chapter of ATP, Brassier spends some time clarifying Deleuze and Guattari’s text in relation to other philosophical positions, and specifically in relation to those philosophies that lay claim to the title of materialism.

I). What is it that makes rules ‘concrete’ and machines ‘abstract’?

For Brassier, Deleuze and Guattari’s materialism is neither a contemplative representation of a pre-existing material reality, nor a series of practical imperatives that presupposes and yet disavows a theoretical representation of the world. For all its idiosyncrasy, ATP is a very classical work – where ontology is at one with ethics. This is not to say that it is a conservative work. Rather, it is a contemporary reactivation of the classical task of philosophizing: a fusion of understanding what there is and how to live (what we should do). The title of the last chapter, ‘Concrete Rules and Abstract Machines,’ gives Brassier a hint at how Deleuze and Guattari reconceive of this classical aim of philosophizing. Namely, by developing what Brassier terms an ‘abstract materialism’ (unformed matter) in tandem with a ‘concrete ethics’ (practical prescriptions for action selected independently of universal law). Thus, the question Brassier aims to clarify and explain is this: how can concrete practices engage formless matter? This is another way of asking about the relation between the ABSTRACT (machine) and the CONCRETE (actions); or, in Deleuze and Guattari’s language, between the UNFORMED (i.e., matters/flows that characterizes the plane of consistency) and the EFFECTUATED (i.e., how concrete rules develop the abstract machine enveloped in the strata/stratification).

Continue reading “‘Concrete Rules and Abstract Machines’ (some notes & comments on Brassier’s talk at the ‘A Thousand Plateaus and Philosophy’ London Workshop)”

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

machinesoflovinggrace

(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”

HOSTIS: A Short Introduction to the Politics of Cruelty

Circles & Grids - Eva Hesse

[This is a brief excerpt from the introduction to Hostis Issue 1. A PDF of the full issue can be found here.]

THE PROBLEM with the social is not that it fails at its intended goals. There is no use in disputing the advances in education, science, or medicine brought by scientific planning of the social – they work. We instead take issue with the means through which the social brings social peace. As French historian Michel Foucault points out, the social was invented simultaneously with the science of the police and publicity, or as they are known today, Biopower and The Spectacle. The former ensuring that everything is found and kept in its proper place, and the latter making certain that everything which is good appears and everything which appears is good. The historical effects is that within the span of a few decades, the governmentalized techniques of the social were integrated into contemporary life and began passively making other means of existence either unlivable or invisible.

Today, the social is nothing but a de-centered category that holds the population to blame for the faults of government. Prefiguration fails to question the social. This is because prefigurative politics is: the act of reinventing the social. Socialist radicals come in a number of flavors. There are dual-power anarchists, who believe in building parallel social institutions that somehow run ‘better’ (though they rarely do, or only for a select few). There are humanist anarchists, who believe that when most styles of governance are decentralized, they then bring out human nature’s inherent goodness. There are even pre-figurative socialists (“democratic socialists” or “reformists”) who believe that many equally-allocated public resources can be administered by the capitalist state. Ultimately, the social functions for prefigurative politics just as it did for utopian socialists and now the capitalist present – the social is the means to an ideal state of social peace.

Let us be clear, we are not calling for social war. Everywhere, the social is pacification. Even social war thinks of itself as (good) society against the (bad) state. This is just as true of an ‘anti-politics’ that pits the social against politics. Look to John Holloway or Raúl Zibechi, who focus on indigenous resistance to the imperialism of capital and the state. Both argue that the threat is always ‘the outside,’ which comes in the form of either an external actor or a logic that attempts to ‘abstract’ the power of the social. Holloway argues that when the state is an objective fetish that robs the social of its dynamic power (Change the World, 15-9, 59, 94), while Zibechi says that indigenous self-management provides “social machinery that prevents the concentration of power or, similarly, prevents the emergence of a separate power from that of the community gathered in assembly” (Dispersing Power, 16). Such a perspective is deeply conservative in nature, and they lack a revolutionary horizon – they reject whatever are dangers imposed from without only by intensifying the internal consistency of a (family-based) community from within, thickening into a social shell that prevents relations of externality. Without going into much detail, this is the largest drawback to already existing utopian socialist experiments – the same autonomy that allows a group to detach from imperialistic domination also becomes cloistered, stuck in place and lacking the renewal provided by increased circulation.

CIVIL WAR IS THE ALTERNATIVE TO THE SOCIAL. Against the social and socialism, we pit the common and communism. Our ‘alternative institutions’ are war machines and not organs of a new society. The goal cannot be to form a clique or to build the milieu. Insurrectionary communism intensifies truly common conditions for revolt – it extends what is already being expropriated, amplifies frustrations shared by everyone, and communicates in a form recognized by all. We fight for sleep, for every minute in bed is a moment wrested from capital. We deepen the hostility, for anger is what keeps people burning hot with fury during the cold protracted war waged by our faceless enemies. We spread images of insubordination, for such scenes remind everyone of the persistence of defiance in these cynical times. If we build infrastructure at all, it is conflict infrastructure. Most of the time, we take our cues from pirates, who would never strike out alone like Thoreau to invent something from scratch. They commandeer full-formed tools of society and refashion them into weapons. The other thing we have learned from pirates is that duration is a liability; abandon anything that becomes too costly to maintain – a project, a struggle, an identity – there are a million other places to intensify the conflict. But even in our life behind enemy lines, we agree with Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, who insist that war is only a secondary byproduct of the war machine; producing new connections is its primary function (A Thousand Plateaus, 416-23). We like how Tiqqun elaborates on this difficulty. If one focuses too much of living, they descend into the insulated narcissism of the milieu. If one focuses too much on struggling, they harden into an army, which only leads down the path of annihilation. The politics of civil war, then, is how exactly one builds the coincidence between living and struggling. Though most know it by its reworking, Call: to live communism and spread anarchy.

 

Deleuze, Patton, and Godard go to the Cinema

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Jean-Pierre Léaud and Anne Wiazemsky, La Chinoise (1967)

The aim of this essay is to interrogate the relationship between Idea-problems, creativity, and the society of control as undertaken by Deleuze (within philosophy), Godard (within cinema), and Paul Patton (philosophy and cinema). It will be shown how Deleuze’s understanding of the relation between Ideas, creativity, and control differs in important ways from Patton’s interpretation of Deleuze’s thought on cinema. On Patton’s reading, the pessimism Godard expresses regarding gender roles in Sauve Qui Peut (La Vie) is merely a pretext for a redemptive reading of a becoming-woman, which prescribes an ethico-aesthetics of an “affective optimism and affirmation of life. (additionally – it is because Patton applies Deleuzean concepts to Sauve Qui Peut, that I term this an ‘affirmationist’ interpretation). Thus, what is essential according to Patton’s reading of Deleuze’s thinking regarding cinema is the following assertion:

“Deleuze and Guattari accord an ethical and ontological priority to those modes of existence which allow the maximum degree of movement, for example, forms of nomadism or rhizomes. In this sense, their philosophy embodies a vital ethic which affirms the creative power of life, even if this is something a non-organic life tracing the kind of abstract line we find in art or music.” (Patton, ‘Godard/Deleuze: Sauve Qui Peut)

As we will see, Patton’s interpretation of Godard, and use of Deleuze, simply reintroduces Platonism back into the heart of Deleuze’s thoroughly anti-Platonist commitments – whether considered within the domain of philosophy, art, science, or politics. By grounding Deleuze’s vitalism on the principle of life’s inherent creativity, Patton proposes a “Deleuzean” ethics and politics whose fundamental aim is the application of these metaphysical, social, and aesthetic principles (becoming-x, lines of flight, and so on) within the domains of art and politics. And it is precisely this idea of taking what is metaphysically True as the means and application what is aesthetically and politically Good, that is the trademark of Platonism. It is for this reason that we will claim that Patton reintroduces Platonism back into Deleuze’s strict anti-Platonism.

-THE AFFIRMATIONIST INTERPRETATION-

So what are we to make of Patton’s claim that Deleuze and Guattari give ethical and ontological priority to modes of maximizing one’s degrees of movement (rhizomes, nomads), such that this priority is tantamount to an affirmation of the creative powers of life as such? On Patton’s reading, what is key for understanding Deleuze’s relationship to cinema is his lasting commitment to the priority of a maximization of joyful encounters over and against the secondary fact of what is created in the process itself. The affirmationist interpretation categorizes the ‘creative powers of life’ as the principle of revolutionary aesthetic and political praxis and relegates life’s products as the consequence of what exists as ontologically, artistically, and politically prior. Thus Godard’s Sauve Qui Peut (La Vie), which Patton reads as emblematic of Deleuze’s aesthetic theory, is presented as a meditation on the ambiguities at the heart of masculine and feminine social roles; or, better still, as a presentation of gender as a zone of indistinction where the norms that underpin the gender binary are called into question. For Patton, it is precisely the unresolved dilemma regarding masculine social norms that gives one the impression of Godard’s pessimism regarding young men in post war France. However, this pessimistic impression of masculinity is only a pretext for the optimism that lies in the potential of a becoming-woman. As Patton writes,

“this pessimism about the male condition is not only circumscribed but contrasted with an optimism about life, albeit a life which has become feminine…The result is an affective optimism and affirmation of life which attaches itself above all to images of women engaged in an active becoming of their own.”

Thus, what first appears as Godard’s pessimism is simply indicative of a more fundamental optimism; an optimism that requires an affirmation of the becoming-woman at the heart of the dilemma of masculinity as such. Moreover, this becoming-woman isn’t simply taken as the becoming-minor at the heart of the molar identities of masculine/feminine. By invoking the Godardardian principle, ‘not just ideas, just ideas’, Patton reads this becoming-minor as being  privileged by Deleuze and Guattari since lines of flight and becomings are creative in themselves and harbor the potential for transformation and novelty. For Patton, a cinema or politics that operates by way of correct ideas (just ideas), as opposed to just having ideas, tends toward the ossification of power and the repetition of all the pitfalls already exhibited by historical communism. That is, Deleuze and Guattari view correct ideas as privileging “conformism and dogmatism.” Thus, according to Patton, they maintain “a rejection of any subordination to intellectual authority which inhibits creativity.”

This is the crux of the affirmationist interpretation: lines of flight, becoming-minor, rhizome-books, and so forth, are taken to be axiomatic to Deleuze (and Guattari’s) understanding of aesthetics, ethics, and politics. For Patton, anything that inhibits the creative potential of these lines of flight is seen as reactionary pure and simple. While Patton’s interpretation contains some kernel of textual truth, errors arise insofar as Deleuze and Guattari are interpreted as valorizing becoming and transformation for its own sake and on the basis of the idea that the creative powers of life are the ethico-political guideposts for aesthetic and political practices.

The affirmationist interpretation correctly highlights Deleuze’s emphasis on ambiguity, lines of flight, and the inherent quality of resistance in artistic production. However, this interpretation misconstrues how Deleuze views the emancipatory potential of each of these categories within cinema itself. That is, and against the affirmationist interpretation, not only does Patton commit himself to an approach to cinema that Deleuze explicitly rejects (applying concepts from outside cinema, and in this case from the Deleuzean corpus, to bear on cinema itself); Patton misunderstands Deleuze’s vitalism, which is in fact a theory of time and not a theory of some universal life force, and thereby conflates a faith in life’s inherent creativity with an aesthetico-political concept of resistance, change, and liberation. Regarding this discrepancy between vitalism as a theory of life or a theory of time, John Mullarkey’s genealogy of the vitalism Deleuze inherits from Bergson is crucial. As he writes,

“It takes only a little first-hand knowledge of Bergson’s texts to enable oneself to move beyond the stereotypical interpretation of Bergsonian vitalism as a notion regarding some mysterious substance or force animating all living matter. His theory of the élan vital has little of the anima sensitiva, archeus, entelechy, or vital fluid of classical vitalisms. This is a critical vitalism focused on life as a thesis concerning time (life is continual change and innovation) as well as an explanatory principle in general for all the life sciences” (‘Life, Movement and the Fabulation of the Event,’p. 53).

Thus, since Patton maintains that vitalism is a theory of life as opposed to time, his affirmationist interpretation simply perpetuates the idea that Deleuze satisfied himself with following whatever is the most deviant, the most subversive, and the most minor in philosophy, art, and politics on the basis that deviancy, subversiveness, and minority are desirable-in-themselves precisely because they are metaphysically guaranteed features of reality. On this view one affirms their becoming-minor and the subversiveness it entails simply because it accords to the higher metaphysical claim of life’s inherent creativity. That is to say, insofar as our aesthetic and political engagements exist as perfect copies of the metaphysical and vitalist principle of creativity, we can safely judge actions as aesthetically, ethically, and politically virtuous, or revolutionary. At this point we should pause to highlight at least 3 themes that are equivocated, which allow the affirmationist interpretation to function: vitalism, the affirmation of life as tantamount to the production of novelty, and the status of indeterminacy/indistinction as effected by cinema itself.

1. Vitalism

Deleuze’s ‘vitalism’ is not reducible to a theory about the inherent capacities of life as creative. Rather, it is a theory of the nature of time and time’s foundational relation to space. It is the problem posed by the nature of time, moreover, that is precisely what motivates Deleuze’s voyage into cinema. As he writes,

“Time is out of joint: Hamlet’s words signify that time is no longer subordinated to movement, but rather movement to time. It could be said that, in its own sphere, cinema has repeated the same experience, the same reversal, in more fast-moving circumstances…the post-war period has greatly increased the situation which we no longer know how to react to, in spaces which we no longer know how to describe…Even the body is no longer exactly what moves; subject of movement or the instrument of action, it becomes rather the developer of time, it shows time through its tiredness and waitings” (Cinema 2, p. xi).

The interpretation that sees a vitalism at work within Deleuze’s analysis of cinema is correct insofar as what is meant by vitalism is the problem posed by the nature of time to philosophy, art, politics, and science. It is for this reason that Bergson becomes an instructive thinker for Deleuze’s turn to cinema since what preoccupied Bergson, and what Deleuze finds at work in post-war cinema, is precisely the attempt to reverse the classical idea which thinks the reality of time as subordinate to, and dependent upon, the nature of space.

As Deleuze (following Bergson) makes clear the intelligibility of Life-in-itself is never grasped, as Aristotle thought, through the definition of time as the measure of movement in space; a definition which posits the essence and actuality of time as dependent upon space for its own existence. Thus, if time is not ontologically dependent on space as Bergson maintains; and if time is not reducible to the linear progression of the measure of movement; then this conception of time-itself requires a reconceptualization of the very lexicon of temporality: the past, present, and future. In Creative Evolution, Bergson gives his refutation of interpreting Life in terms of finality/final causes, and it is here where Bergson offers the means for a transvaluation of our temporal lexicon. On the ‘Finalist’ or teleological account of the reality of Time, the future finds its reality in the past and present, follows a certain order, and is guaranteed due to first principles. Thus, for the finalists, the future remains fixed and dependent upon the linear progression of time. For Bergson, the future is precisely that which does not depend on the linear progression of time for its own reality. In this way we can understand that for both Bergson and post-war cinema, the nature of time can no longer be understood as derivative of space as such.

Rather, time must now be thought as that which conditions the reality of movement and space. And this can be achieved in cinema, says Deleuze, precisely by doing something only cinema can do. That is, by film’s capacity to produce a disjunct between the visual and the audible aspects of film: “The relations…between what is seen and what is said, revitalize the problem [of time] and endow cinema with new powers for capturing time in the image” (C2, p. xiii). If the ‘vital’ creativity of cinema is fundamental for Deleuze’s understanding of cinema, it is the case only insofar as cinema provides us with the means to no longer think of time as subordinate to space but as the problem that motivates and determines space itself.  It for this reason that Deleuze will mark the shift from the movement-image to the time-image at the precise moment when cinema reformulated the problem posed to its filmic characters:

“if the major break comes at the end of the war, with neorealism, it’s precisely because neorealism 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. But, more important, the possibility appears of temporalizing the cinematic image: pure time, a little bit of time in its pure form, rather than motion” (Negotiations, p. 59).

Thus, what motivates Deleuze to bring Bergson’s theorization of time to bear on cinema is precisely because what we discover (whether in Bergson or in cinema) is that time is both the object of Thought and cinema and the productive principle of any actualized and lived reality. Thus, the vitalist tendencies of Deleuze’s remarks on cinema should not be seen as a theorization of the creative powers of life. If vitalism is somehow a theory regarding what is principally creative within the world, it is not ‘Life’ but time-as-such that is creative. Moreover, what is produced by time-itself and cinema’s time-image is problematic in nature. Thus, not only is vitalism a theory about time (and not life); time-as-such does not produce something that can easily be judged as good or bad; virtuous or vicious. Rather, time produces problems for us; problems whose solutions can only be determined insofar as Thought and cinema pose the problem truthfully as opposed to preoccupying itself with false problems.

2. Novelty/Creativity

If Deleuze’s vitalism is a theory of time and the problem posed by Time for Thought and cinema, then the ‘creative powers’ attributed to this vitalism must also undergo redefinition. The interpretation of Deleuze’s aesthetic and political theory as one that seeks to adequate, in thought and praxis, Life’s inherent creativity and novelty fails to account for Deleuze’s anti-Platonism, where the relationship between models and copies is jettisoned for the relationship between simulacra and the Idea-problems to which they are indexed. As Deleuze writes in Difference and Repetition regarding the relationship between optimism and the relationship between Thought and its Ideas/problems:

“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” (Difference and Repetition, p. 186).

Thus, the idea of simply pursuing various lines of actualization vis-á-vis a specific set of Ideas/problems, thereby embodying the perfect copy of the creative potential of the problems posed to us by life itself, is seen as suspect by Deleuze himself if for no other reason than what is given to Thought in the Idea-Problem is every possible solution. Every possible solution includes, as seen in the passage above, both the horrors of fascism and the aspiration of social and political liberation.

If, as Patton encourages us to believe, Deleuze’s aesthetic/political theory simply amounts to affirming the novelty of life, we would commit ourselves to the position of accepting every solution to social and political problems. While it is true for Deleuze that Idea-problems pose every possible solution from the outset it is also the case that each possible solution to an Idea-problem can be actualized only on the condition that one solutions unfolding (explication) maintains an incompossible relation to all other solutions. Solutions to a problem, thus, are actualized according to their exclusive disjunction with an Idea-problems other possibilities. This thesis of incompossibility in regards to the relation between problems and their resolution is what is at stake when Deleuze writes:

“The I and the Self…are immediately characterised by functions of development or explication: not only do they experience qualities in general as already developed in the extensity of their system, but they tend to explicate or develop the world expressed by the other, either in order to participate in it or to deny it (I unravel the frightened face of the other, I either develop it into a frightening world the reality of which seizes me, or I denounce its unreality)” (DR, p. 260).

However, why have we said that Patton’s affirmationist interpretation reintroduces Platonism into Deleuze’s thought? For the following reason: once we understand that Deleuze’s vitalism is a theory of time and not a theory of life; and once we grasp that what time produces are Idea-problems prior to their resolution; the priority given to Idea-Problems by Deleuze can only be a priority of metaphysical and epistemic inquiry and not moral in character. Patton’s affirmationist interpretation, which takes Idea’s as a legislative-model for ethical, political, or aesthetic action reintroduces Platonism in the heart of Deleuze’s thought since the equation of metaphysics (Idea/model) with politics (claimant/copy) necessarily entails the logic of the good and bad copy, the true and false claimant. Patton’s reading reintroduces what is inessential to Ideas (moral criteria of judgment) back into their essence (qualitatively different claimants to an Idea), and thereby reduces what is truly creative for Thought (Problems) to something to be subjected to ready-made criteria (Image of Thought):

“This Platonic wish to exorcise simulacra is what entails the subjection of difference. For the model can be defined only by a positing of identity as the essence of the Same…and the copy by an affection of internal resemblance, the quality of the Similar…Plato inaugurates and initiates because he evolves within a theory of Ideas which will allow the deployment of representation. In his case, however, a moral motivation in all its purity is avowed: the will to eliminate simulacra or phantasms has no motivation apart from the moral” (DR, p. 265).

Thus, it is only by the confusion of the ontological and epistemic with the aesthetic and political, that Patton’s affirmationist reading reintroduces Plato’s moralism back into Deleuze’s philosophy of Difference.

3. Indeterminacy/Falsity

The third and final point regarding the status of indeterminacy/falsity in cinema as presented in the affirmationist approach can be seen in the following passage. For Patton, and regarding the status of normative gender roles in Sauve Qui Peut, Godard, “offers no solution to this dilemma of masculinity…Ultimately, this pessimism about the male condition is not only circumscribed but contrasted with an optimism about life, albeit a life which has become feminine…The result is an affective optimism and affirmation of life which attaches itself above all to images of women engaged in an active becoming of their own.” What is missing from Patton’s account, however, is the precise relationship between the indeterminacy of social norms as seen in Sauve Qui Peut as they relate to what cinema’s time-image achieves: namely, the power of falsity that reintroduces indeterminacy/indistinction (molecular) into that which remains determinate and distinct (molar). As Deleuze writes, “[T]he power of falsity is time itself, not because time has changing contents but because the form of time as becoming brings into question any formal model of truth” (N, p. 66).

Thus, if Godard resists resolving the dilemma of masculinity, it is not because there is no answer to the problem of hetero-patriarchy. Rather, it is because only by making the determinate/distinct into something indeterminate/indistinct that cinema moves beyond merely representing different solutions of a problem to the immediate presentation of the problem via the time-image. It is time (as the form of becoming) that creates the indistinct and undecidable character of the lived reality of hetero-patriarchy in Sauve Qui Peut; and Godard achieves this in cinema through a direct presentation of a problem over and against the presentation of its various solutions. Remarking upon this relationship between truth and falsity, indistinction and undecidability, Deleuze remarks,

“The real and the unreal are always distinct, but the distinction isn’t always discernible: you get falsity when the distinction between real and unreal becomes indiscernible. But, where there’s falsity, truth itself becomes undecidable. Falsity isn’t a mistake or confusion, but a power that makes truth undecidable” (N, p. 65-6).

The powers of the false; the immediate presentation of a problem; renders truth undecidable and the relation of the true and the false indiscernible precisely because this immediate presentation of a problem “brings into question any formal model of truth. This is what happens in the cinema of time” (N, p. 66). Just as the philosopher cannot hope for any optimism in their proper orientation toward Ideas, the filmmaker does not predict any certain or clear solution in their immediate presentation of a problem. For both philosopher and filmmaker, the true posing of Idea-problems troubles our ready-made models because, as Deleuze says of Godard in an interview, “the key thing is the questions Godard asks and the images he presents and a chance of the spectator feeling that notion of labor isn’t innocent, isn’t at all obvious.” Insofar as philosopher’s pose true problems and create concepts adequate to them; insofar as filmmakers present problems in their immediacy in terms of the time-image; each creates something which no longer allows others to treat ideas, concepts, or images as ready-made, neutral, and naturally given features of the world. The posing of true problems in thought and cinema is the genesis of a concept, or artwork, that disrupts our habituated modes of thinking, feeling, and approaching the world (i.e., the dogmatic image of thought). The power of falsification is cinema’s capacity to render what we take to be obvious, ready-made, or second nature as alien and no longer a fixed socio-political certainty. The powers of the false and a cinema of undecidability, then, are Godard’s means of effecting a becoming since he “brings into question any formal model of truth.”

So, if Sauve Qui Peut offers no solution to the problem posed by hetero-patriarchy and thus remains indeterminate; and if this problem reveals the condition of masculinity as being one that requires a becoming-woman; the indistinctness/undecidability of becoming-as-such is much more a counter-actualization rather than an actualization of a solution with respect to its problem. The main consequence of Patton’s equation between the (ontologically) True with the (ethically) Good or (politically) Just results in a case of misplaced concreteness; whereby Deleuze appears to valorize the simply extension/application of ontological truth into the realm of aesthetico-political activity. Here we find a Deleuze who would never have found troubling the moralism at the heart of Platonism; who never would have written that philosophers and filmmakers alike should follow the maxim that says “Don’t have just ideas, just have an idea (Godard).”

4. The Affirmationist Interpretation

Given what has been shown regarding the themes of vitalism, novelty/creativity, and ambiguity/falsity, we can summarize Patton’s affirmationist interpretation of Deleuze in the following manner: by treating vitalism as a theory of life and life’s inherent creative powers Patton proposes a Deleuzean ethics and politics whose fundamental aim is the application of metaphysical and epistemic principles (becoming-x, lines of flight, and so on) within the domains of art and politics. However, as we have seen, this interpretation reintroduces Platonism back into Deleuze’s strictly anti-Platonic thinking regarding the relationship between Ideas, the possible solutions they propose, and the thinkers relation to the two. It is for these reasons that he interprets ‘the creative powers life’ (Idea-problems) as ready-made criteria for the judgement between good and bad copies, between better or worse claimants to an Idea. Thus, on this reading of Deleuze, what is ‘True’ regarding the nature and structure of reality (inherent creativity of life) is also interpreted as what is ‘Good’ for individual and social life. And it is on this basis that Patton can claim that the essence of Deleuze’s political commitments can be summarized as a repudiation of anything that inhibits modes maximization of movement and creative powers.

Hence our nomination of Patton’s reading of Deleuze as Platonic by nature – when the True is also the Good we should know that we are not far from discovering a Plato in our midst. Additionally, even at the moment when Patton’s reading seems to gain most support from his analysis of gender roles within Godard’s film his proposal of a becoming-woman at the heart of a perceived pessimism regarding young men (while true) remains at the level of the most basic generality. In other words, lines-of-flight may give us insight into the available means for the subversion of power or the escape from control, but lines-of-flight are not inherently revolutionary. And it is this principle – that lines-of-flight, deterritorialization, smooth space are not inherently revolutionary – that Patton’s analysis leaves out. As Deleuze and Guattari constantly remind us, “smooth spaces are not in themselves liberatory” (A Thousand Plateaus, p. 500).

Thus, our suspicion of Patton’s interpretation stems from the claim that Deleuze’s preoccupation with Idea-problems is not simply a continuation of their Platonic ancestors.  On this affirmationist/Platonist interpretation, Deleuze appears to locate the creativity and novelty of art (and Godard’s cinema in particular) at the register of the cinematic representation of specific concepts (lines of flight, becoming-woman, becoming-minor). It is in this way that Patton reads the pessimism which Godard expresses regarding gender roles as a mere pretext for the redemptive theme of becoming-woman. And it is precisely the cinematic representation of the redeeming theme of becoming-woman that Patton takes to be Deleuze’s own prescription of an ethico-politico-aesthetics that can be adequately summarized as an “affective optimism and affirmation of life.” However, if philosophy and cinema are creative insofar as they can pose a problem correctly (falsification), an optimism or affirmation of life does not follow necessarily since it is precisely the distinction and determination of truth and falsity, the real and the unreal, that is rendered undecidable by problems themselves. The activity of philosophy and filmmaking follows a different outcome, whereby each individual cannot draw the least amount of optimism from solutions of the problem, since as Deleuze continuously reminds us, the solutions of a problem may involve stupidity or cruelty, the horror of war or ‘the solution of the Jewish problem.’