‘June, 1972 & A chief who does not command:’ Clastres/Deleuze/Guattari

welcome to the struggle

(part I of an on going research project on political anthropology, D&G, Clastres, etc.)

“Primitive society has always been considered a place of absolute difference in relation to western society, a strange and unthinkable space of absence – absence of all that constitutes the observers’ socio-cultural universe: a world without hierarchy, people who obey no one, a society indifferent to possession of wealth, chiefs who do not command, cultures without morals for they are unaware of sin, classless societies, societies without a State, etc. In short, what the writings of ancient travelers or modern scholars constantly cry out and yet never manage to say in that primitive society is, in its being, undivided.” – Pierre Clastres, ‘Archaeology of Violence: War in Primitive Societies’ p. 259

/0/. ‘The Permanent Exercise of the Decolonization of Thought’

In June of 1972, Pierre Clastres participated in a roundtable discussion on Anti-Oedipus, where Deleuze and Guattari were present as respondents. After a long period of questions and criticisms from other participants (through which Clastres remained silent) he interrupted the conversation with this striking claim: “Deleuze and Guattari have written about Savages and Barbarians what ethnologists up to now have not” (Desert Islands, p.226). Now, given the ethos of the French philosophical scene at this time such laudatory remarks tend to suggest a tinge of irony if not a complete lack of seriousness (cf. Foucault’s comment that perhaps, one day, the century will be called Deleuzean). However, if there is something serious intended by this claim it is due to a shared assumption by Clastres and D&G; namely, and to borrow its formulation from the Deleuzean anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, true philosophical and anthropological thinking must become a “permanent exercise in the decolonization of thought” (Cannibal Metaphysics, p. 48).

For Clastres, this means acknowledging and addressing the covert forms of eurocentrism that persist within the epistemic framework of anthropology. Thus, what was signaled by the remark with which we began is something like the truth of the socio-political embeddedness of the knowing-subject: it is the ethnographer’s and anthropologist’s subject matter that obliges them to enter into a relation with that ‘unthinkable space of absence’; the absence of all those social cues and normative values that render European social life as an intelligible and lived reality. If the ethnographer can successfully excise these dogmatic presuppositions, as Clastres thinks is possible and as we will see below, they wouldn’t merely benefit from a certain level of epistemic certainty about their subject matter. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, one would understand the positive reason for why certain societies are without States: namely, that non-State societies have intentionally constructed an entire way of living that is antithetical to State capture. In Clastres’ words, they are societies against the State.

For Deleuze (with and without Guattari) we see a similar notion as early as Difference and Repetition regarding the nature of ‘social Ideas’ and constructing a Thought that is adequate to Ideas themselves: “In short, the economic is…the totality of the problems posed to a given society. In all rigour, there are only economic social problems, even though the solutions may be juridical, political, or ideological, and the problems may be expressed in these fields of resolvability…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’.” (DR, 186)

For Clastres, as with Deleuze and Guattari, attaining a Thought that is adequate to its Idea does not guarantee the moral virtue, or constitute the innocence and objectivity, of the thinker: the Idea may clarify the various fields of resolution to the economic problem but the Idea does not legislate its outcomes due to some innate moralizing logic of establishing an equivalence between a problem and its resolution. Thus, in order to understand the points of convergence between these thinkers we’ll begin with an explication of Clastres’ analysis of the function of war and violence in what he calls ‘Primitive’ societies. Then, we will turn to D&G’s Nomadology chapter in order to see how Clastres’ ideas inform their understanding of the nomadic war machine and the State. Finally, we will conclude by showing how D&G extend and modify Clastres’ initial insights on the relationship between the war machine, the State, and the modification of this relationship effectuated by capitalism.

/1/. War Is ‘The Pure and Social Form of Violence’

In order to address the limits and errors of anthropology, Pierre Clastres resurrects the question of the role of the violence of warfare in non-State societies. For Clastres, the question of war has marked the internal limit of various anthropological accounts – where this limit is constituted by the inability to understand warfare from the perspective of non-State groups. Thus, war in societies without a State has continuously been ‘accounted for’ by its reduction to something other than itself: whether as a mere doubling of biological aggression, as the struggle over the scarcity of resources, or as the symptom of an unsuccessful transaction between two different social formations. These three ways of understanding war in ‘primitive’ societies are categorized under the headings of a naturalistevolutionist, and exchangist framework. 

The Naturalist interpretation accounts for violence/war by reducing its social manifestations to biological necessity: humans are naturally aggressive and in pre-state societies the use of violence is a means for the survival of hunter-gatherers (the hunter does violence, and kills, the hunted animal). The problem here is that war, then, is seen as the mere double of the necessary violence of the hunter. So war, if it is this very same violence, is the hunting of other humans with the aim of satisfying hunger. However, says Clastres, even the phenomena of cannibalism isn’t sufficiently explained by this naturalist framework since it would be easier in the life of non-state societies to hunt non-human animals. The Economist interpretation accounts for violence/war by interpreting war as indicative of the poverty of ‘primitive’ life; where, due to the underdevelopment of the productive forces (e.g., the lack of technological means for things such as agriculture), war is fought over the scarcity of resources. The Economist position asserts a metaphysical economy of scarcity as the natural precondition of non-state social life. For Clastres, this idea appears to be disproven by the research of Marshall Sahlins whose field work proposes that life in pre-state societies was actually predicated on an economy of an abundance of resources; where the majority of time is understood as leisure-time since the labor-time is reduced to a minimum. The Exchangist framework, which is developed above, is attributed to Lévi-Strauss’s thesis that “exchanges are peacefully resolved wars, and wars are the result of unsuccessful transactions.”

While each account of war is historically significant for Clastres, it is the exchangist framework of Lévi-Strauss that is given the closest treatment since it is via structural anthropology that we are closest to, and yet farthest from, alleviating ourselves of the eurocentric horizon of anthropological study. Thus, Clastres cites the following passage from the Elementary Structures of Kinship as emblematic of this exchangist perspective: “…in Lévi-Strauss’s great sociological work, Elementary Structures of Kinship, at the end of one of the most important chapters, “The Principle of Reciprocity”: [Lévi-Strauss writes] “There is a link, a continuity, between hostile relations and the provision of reciprocal prestations: exchanges are peacefully resolved wars, and wars are the result of unsuccessful transactions.” (Archaeology of Violence, 252-3).

Thus, according to Lévi-Strauss, war in pre-State societies is what happens when the diplomatic exchange between autonomous social groups fails. However, says Clastres, Lévi-Strauss’s assertion that exchange is logically prior to war cannot obtain for two main reasons. First, drawing on the work of anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, exchange does not precede war in pre-State societies due to Sahlins’ discovery that the true economic structure of non-state societies was predicated on an abundance of natural resources. Given this economic relationship between non-state societies and their territorial milieu the logical relationship between exchange and violence appears as suspicious; if for no other reason than the unquestioned assumptions Clastres finds at the heart of the the exchangist hypothesis: “One would assume, all things being equal for all local groups, a general absence of violence: it could only arise in rare cases of territorial violation; it would only be defensive, and thus never produce itself, each group relying on its own territory which it has no reason to leave.” (AV, 258).

Thus, Clastres wonders, what motivates the exchange among social groups when each group, due to abundance and surplus, is materially and economically self-sufficient? That is, how can Lévi-Strauss posit the logical priority of exchange over war if exchange appears as superfluous from the perspective of each social groups relative autonomy and natural condition of affluence? It is for this reason, says Clastres, that we need to understand that it is not exchange that explains war, but it is war that gives rise to exchange among different non-State social groups. In other words, war is not the negative side of the positive determinations of non-State societies. Rather, war constitutes one of the fundamental and positive features of non-State societies as such. If war is given logical priority over exchange it is not simply because war comes before peace; rather, war is given logical priority due to the autonomous, autarkic, and self-sufficient desire of societies without a State. As Clastres writes

“At its actual level of existence…primitive society presents two essential sociological properties that touch upon its very being: the social being that determines the reason for being and the principle of the intelligibility of war. The primitive community is at once a totality and a unity. A totality in that it is a complete, autonomous, whole ensemble, ceaselessly attentive to preserving its autonomy: a society in the full sense of the word. A unity in that its homogenous being continues to refuse social division, to exclude inequality, to forbid alienation. Primitive society is a single totality in that the principle of its unity is not exterior to it: it does not allow any configuration of One to detach itself from the social body in order to represent it, in order to embody it as unity. This is why the criterion of non-division is fundamentally political: if the savage chief is powerless, it is because society does not accept power separated from its being, division, established between those who command and those who obey” (AV, 261).

What gives non-State societies their ‘reason for being’ is simultaneously the relative abundance of nature and the political aim of the autonomous self-determination of each social group for-themselves. Thus, we encounter an economic and political reason for constructing a society without a State: not only is non-State society self-sufficient economically but it is also self-determinant politically. Implicit in Clastres’ analysis is not only the necessary corrective to the eurocentric practices of anthropology and ethnography (i.e., societies without a State are not in some state of nature but are social wholes that attain a certain degree of economic and political autonomy); in addition, implied here is the existence of a socio-political intentionality on the part of non-State social formations. It is not enough to say the nomads lacks a State, and thus lack civilization. What Clastres shows us is that the nomad finds nothing of value in becoming assimilated into the State apparatus itself; and this lack of value attributed to assimilation from the perspective of non-State social groups is, in itself, a socio-political prescription. Hence Clastres’ well known formula of non-State societies as not simply being without a State; rather, they are social wholes fundamentally against the State. Thus, one of the fundamental features of non-State societies; one of their positive definitions; is the intentional organization of a society that seeks to ward off the State.

/2/. Societies Against The State

So what does this mean for war as the other positive determination of societies against the State? Given what has been said, war must now be understood as the social and political mechanism by which each autonomous social group ensures its autonomy relative to all neighboring groups. When Clastres characterizes war in non-State societies as the ‘pure and social form of violence’ we must understand two things: the function of war, as pure form of violence, is oriented toward the continuous guarantee of each social groups autonomy and self-determination relative to all other groups. War, in its pure form, is never something embarked upon for-itself or for the purposes of simply eliminating a rival group; war is not the object of nomadic society. Rather, it is the means by which the autarkic principle (the true object of nomadic society) is preserved at each step of the way. War, as the social form of violence, responds to the problems we encountered with Lévi-Strauss’s exchangist account. If war in its pure form is understood to be the means to secure the political desire for autonomy respective to all rivalling non-State groups, war in its social form is the cause of, or the sufficient reason for, exchange to take place. Why? Because, says Clastres, one never wages war without acquiring the means for a successful campaign. For non-State societies the means for success are not simply economic or technological; rather, each social group

“is resigned to alliance because it would be too dangerous to engage in military operations alone, and that, if one could, one would gladly do without allies who are never absolutely reliable. There is, as a result, an essential property of international life in primitive society: war relates first to alliance; war as an institution determines alliance as a tactic […] We see now that seeking an alliance depends on actual war: there is sociological priority of war over alliance. Here, the true relationship between exchange and war emerges. Indeed, where are relations of exchange established, which socio-political units assume a principle of reciprocity? These are precisely the groups implicated in the networks of alliance; exchange partners are allies, the sphere of exchange is that of alliance. This does not mean, of course that were it not for alliance, there would no longer be exchange; exchange would simply find itself circumscribed within the space of the autonomous community at the heart of which it never ceases to operate; it would be strictly intra-communal. Thus, one exchanges with allies; there is exchange, because there is alliance” (AV, 267).

War as ‘the pure and social form of violence’ is finally revealed as it exists within non-State societies: as the means by which each rival group ensures their relative autonomy from all other groups and as the basis on which alliances are formed and exchanges made. Thus Clastres writes, and in a manner reminiscent of Deleuze and Guattari, that to understand the function of war and violence in non-State societies necessarily means to understand that “[A]s long as there is war, there is autonomy: this is why war cannot cease, why it must not cease, why it is permanent…the logic of primitive society is a centrifugal logic, a logic of the multiple. The Savages want the multiplication of the multiple” (AV, 274). At this point it is worth recalling Deleuze and Guattari’s own attempt to properly pose the question of what defines the nomad/nomadic existence in-itself: “The nomad has a territory; he follows customary paths…But the question is what in nomad life is a principle and what is only a consequence” (ATP, 380). War is the principle on which nomadic life is predicated; of life in societies against the State; and exchange is merely the consequence of the tactical alliances established in this permanent war of ‘multiplying the multiple’, or of ensuring the relative autarky of nomadic social groups as such. And in line with Clastres’ positive determination of war in non-State societies, Deleuze and Guattari write, “Primitive war does not produce the State any more than it derives from it. And it is no better explained by exchange than by the State…war is what limits exchange, maintains them in the framework of “alliances”; it is what prevents them from becoming a State factor, from fusing groups” (ATP, 358).

In contrast to the nomadic war machine of societies against the State, and for Deleuze and Guattari, the State ‘captures’ nomadic life; the State is the reorganization of the political and economic relations of nomadic society and transforms the nomad into an organ for aims established by the State-as-Organism. Thus, States capture the nomads in order to transform them into an organ of power and exploit the nomad-as-organ for the ends of the preservation of State based sovereignty. And it is on the basis of these contrasting features of non-State and State societies that we can understand Deleuze and Guattari’s remark from the Faciality chapter regarding the role of racism in the construction of the European nation-state: “European racism as the white man’s claim has never operated by exclusion, or by the designation of someone as Other: it is instead primitive societies that the stranger is grasped as an “Other”…From the viewpoint of racism, there is no exterior, there are no people on the outside. There are only people who should be like us and whose crime it is not to be” (ATP, 178). 

The Circulation of Desire: The Emergence of Underground Music Culture In The 1970’s and Deleuze and Guattari (Part I)

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 5.19.18 PM

(A project which is a few years old, but have been meaning to return to)

The project embarked upon by Michel Foucault in The History of Madness was an archeological understanding of the transition/translocation of the ‘madman,’ from the Classical to the Modern age; from the outer reaches of society to their confinement in prisons and hospitals. And within the annals of madness, perhaps there is another chapter yet to be added to the evolution of Occidental societies relationship to the “mad.” A chapter, the memory of which, evoked responses such as this: “I want to tell you about walking into an oasis and feeling like I just walked into my family’s living room. It was more than just walking into their living room, it was about completely being safe from the social restrictions of the outside. Everything that the moral majority told you you couldn’t do, it didn’t exist anymore. It was a family that only had one rule: to love thy brother… and that was okay.”

The chapter from this history would seek to trace out the relationship between the formation of identities in the 1970’s, the emergence of underground dance culture in lower Manhattan, and the theoretical works of philosopher Gilles Deleuze and radical psychoanalyst and political activist Felix Guattari. It is my belief that the sites of exchange where each of these three practices converge and diverge provide a deeper and richer understanding of the notions of “disco,” “gay,” and “sexuality” that was mediatized and codified into the narrative which motivated backlash against disco and everything it stood for.

I: A Brief History of Disco Culture

What is of interest for the current study is the construction of space, a territorialization, which made possible various sorts of communities: communities of disciplined bodies, communities of diagnosis, communities of exile, and communities of resistance. Michel Foucault highlights one such construction of space in History of Madness by tracing the progression of the exclusion of those persons considered “mad,” culminating in the inclusive-exclusion of the great confinement, which paved the way for modern psychiatric practice. Alongside this era in which Foucault wrote, it is worth noting another type of territorialization at work throughout lower Manhattan with the emergence of what would come to be known as the “underground disco culture.” The use of these terms ‘underground’ and ‘disco’ should not be taken as the vernacular of the era (early 1960’s and 1970’s). As one underground club goer notes:

“At the time no one looked at it and said, “Oh there it is, the underground!” It wasn’t that. It was “What is this?”… And it epitomized… it went against all those stereotypical expectancies of what a “disco” would be like at the time…back then it was just a little bit after stonewall and at the time Black and Latino gays needed a place to go where they could be just free, and Whites as well. We didn’t go in and go “Wow, this is underground.” What we did say was “This is different.” It was curious because it had a combination of things: organization, architecture, professionalism, atmosphere, music, sound system…But I didn’t go around telling people I found underground. We didn’t know it at the time; we didn’t even label it as underground. We just said, “This is something you gotta check out!””

These “underground” spaces were the polar opposite of the inclusive- exclusion of the mad as noted by Foucault. Instead of disciplined bodies, or bodies typically seen as driven by sexual promiscuity, spaces such as The Loft sought to construct a new set of possible relations which went against biopolitical government or mediatized images of the (gay) body: “The Loft chipped away the ritual of sex as the driving force behind parties,”…”Dance was not a means to sex but drove the space.” Revelers refigured the dance floor as a site not of foreplay but of spiritual communion where, thanks to the unique combination of décor, space, music, drugs, lighting, and dance, as well as Mancuso’s guiding party ethos, sensation wasn’t confined to the genitals but was everywhere – in every new touch, sound, sight, and smell. Freud defined the sexuality of an infant in similar terms – he called it the polymorphous perverse – and while the Loft didn’t enable a literal return to an irretrievable childhood it nevertheless functioned as the affective medium through which dancers invented new possibilities of bodily pleasure that didn’t revolve around genital sex. “There was an exchange of passion,” says Lisa Hazel, who first went to the Loft when she was sixteen. “We would get off on each other’s movements.””

Created by David Mancuso, “The Loft was a community. If you didn’t have money, as long as you had an invitation, you got in. Last thing in the world is to be broke, you want to be with your friends, and you can’t go out and you can’t do this and you can’t do that… oh yes, well you can still go out and see your friends that night. Write down an I.O.U..” Despite the awakening of political consciousness amongst various marginalized groups, it still remained difficult for gay men to “congregate publicly without fear of police harassment. In addition, many gay clubs were still controlled by organized crime, which severely limited the extent to which gays could control and socialize in their own spaces.”(Discophobia, 284). Hence, it was Mancuso’s intentioned response to his current socio-political environment to create a space, which would be made accessible to anyone, regardless of race, class, or gender.

Along with the combination of spaces such as The Loft, prominent police presence within the gay community, and within the underground music culture as well, the mediatization of “disco” through the film Saturday Night Fever contributed to disco’s integration into mainstream culture as well as the heavy backlash disco would eventually experience. While Saturday Night Fever “kind of took disco out of the closet” with a protagonist who was white, male, and middle-class (an image which distorts the demographic of “disco” goers at the time),  it also contributed to the explosion of disco music sales in the pop-music industry; so much so that WKTU, once a low-rating rock station, became New York’s first all-disco station which garnered popular attention. This relationship between disco and rock, straight and gay, underground and mainstream, constituted the conditions of possibility for both the visibility of marginalized communities, and for the repressive forces which would culminate in the Summer of 1979.

Leading up to the events at the Disco Demolition held at Comiskey Park, radio dj Steve Dahl became the organ through which resentments against disco and everything it stood for were being voiced. Commenting on a song Dahl produced entitled “Do You Think I’m Disco,” Gillian Frank nicely highlights just what was at stake in drawing his listeners attention to anti-disco sentiments:

“The song parodied Rod Stewart’s disco song “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” and articulated three main ideas: heterosexuality and masculinity could not operate within discos; men in discos were gay and effeminate; and disco culture threatened masculinity and heterosexuality. The main theme in “Do You Think I’m Disco” is that heterosexuality had failed within disco culture, and its failure was linked putatively to the failure of rock music and was attributed to two factors: sexually unavailable women and effeminate men.”

Along with Dahl, John Holmstrom of Punk Magazine wrote: “Death to disco shit!…Long live the rock! Kill yourself. Jump off a fuckin’ cliff. Drive nails into your head. Become a robot and join the staff at Disneyland. O D. Anything. Just don’t listen to disco shit. I’ve seen that canned crap take real live people and turn them into dogs! And vice versa. The epitome of all that’s wrong with Western civilization is disco.” The efforts of persons such as Dahl and Holmstrom not only expressed, but helped create the image of the disco scene as predominantly gay, effeminate, degenerative, and as a moment in the historical progression of American culture whereby the moral value of masculinity was finding itself being called into question.

These overtly homophobic remarks about the disco scene in the 70’s were not only motivated by resentment toward the place “rock” music found itself, but also fail to take into account the vast array of differences that constitute what “disco” and “underground” meant to those who participated in the community itself. It should be noted that at the time, The Loft was in a league of it’s own; while most other disco clubs created the atmosphere of sex-driven parties and/or exclusionary spaces dominated by one community over another: “The Loft was about dancing, whereas the Tenth Floor was about dancing and getting laid…At David’s, the group was too diverse for that. You would dance with a three-hundred-pound black lady and have the most fabulous time. That wouldn’t happen at the Tenth Floor-they would screen that person out at the door. The Loft was warm and loving, whereas the Tenth Floor was sensual and sexual. There was definitely a feeling of, ‘Let’s go out and get laid,’ and the Tenth Floor met that demand. It was certainly needed at the time.””

Despite the differences between disco clubs during this time, the merit of each was the inauguration of the questioning of the male figure, and the production of anti-normative desire which found ways to construct spaces of subversion in response to the economic, social, cultural, and political confinements of desire.

II: Desiring-Revolution, The Revolution of Desire.

In March of 1973, Felix Guattari published an anonymous essay entitled ‘To Have Done With The Massacre of The Body’ in the ‘Three Billion Perverts’ issue of Retherches, as a response to the neutralization of desiring bodies and a call for the liberation of the body and all of it’s desiring potential. He writes:

“And let us not forget the pleasure…of shaking oneself, of humming, of speaking, of walking, of moving, of expressing oneself, of feeling delirious, of singing, of playing with one’s body in every possible way. We want to recover the pleasures of producing pleasure and of creating-pleasures which have been ruthlessly quashed by educational systems charged with manufacturing obedient worker-consumers. We want to open our bodies to the bodies of other people, to other people in general. We want to let vibrations pass among us, let energies circulate, allow desires to merge, so that we can all give free reign to our fantasies, to our ecstasies, so that at last we can live without guilt, so that we can practice without guilt all pleasures, whether individual or shared by two or more people.

The thought of Guattari (along with Deleuze) helps us understand just exactly what is at stake in the liberation of desire, along with the ways in which liberated desire can become revolutionary. While his writings with Deleuze have focused on critiques of both psychoanalysis and traditional Marxism (most notably Anti-Oedipus), what is at stake in their analysis could be formulated in one particular way: guilt. The role of guilt, at the socio-economic level as well as the familial level, is a key point in understanding the disaster created by Psychoanalysis and its failure to terminate the process of analysis regarding repressed individuals. It was this understanding of the necessity for the reclamation and re-introduction to our bodies in relation to structures of repression and oppression, that drove Deleuze and Guattari’s social and psychoanalytic critique.

In a brilliant inversion of the Oedipus complex, Deleuze and Guattari argue that it isn’t so much so that a subject comes into the world repressed, but has his or her guilt projected onto him/her by the Father (Phallus, Other, Superego, etc.) and then begins to believe in the projected guilt as their own: “The initial theme of the key myth is the incest committed by the hero with the mother. Yet the idea that he is ‘guilty’ seems to exist mainly in the mind of the father, who desires his son’s death and schemes to bring it about…In the long run it is the father who appears guilty, through having tried to avenge himself, and it is he who is killed…This curious indifference toward incest appears in other myths. Oedipus is first the idea of an adult paranoiac, before it is the childhood feeling of a neurotic.”

But why is there a need for the projection of guilt onto the child? onto the culture which emerged around disco music? The reason, say Deleuze and Guattari, is that similar to the projection of guilt onto the subject (subjugated-groups), taboo (the crossing of which produces the imposition of guilt) functions in the same fashion. Guilt and taboo are deployed, and impinge upon the subject-groups from the outside and re-appropriate its desires. And as Deleuze and Guattari write, it isn’t simply that power is the agent of repression and oppression, but the possibility for liberation itself: “If desire is repressed, it is because every position of desire, no matter how small, is capable of calling into question the established order of a society: not that desire is asocial, on the contrary. But it is explosive; there is no desiring-machine capable of being assembled without demolishing entire social sectors.” There would be no need for repression if it wasn’t for desire. Moreover, the force by which desire is repressed provides insight into the power of desire to call into question existing institutions. Hence the backlash experienced by disco was exactly this combination of guilt and taboo in order to maintain the figure of masculinity in American culture, reestablish the position of rock music within the public domain, and provide moral justification for the immoral form-of-life of “homosexuality.”

Thus the merits of underground spaces such as The Loft: not only did The Loft surpass all conventional wisdom as to what a “disco” ought to be, ought to look like, and ought to sound like, but moreover, The Loft operated as a space of liberated desire; a site which decoded the conventional norms and created a space for new semiotic subjugations – new ways of dancing, speaking, hearing, relating, and new raisons d’etre. And as Deleuze and Guattari always remind us, it isn’t enough to deterritorialize onto a new territory, but it’s imperative to continue deterritorializations – produce a becoming-woman, becoming-minor, becoming-animal, etc. And it would not be an exaggeration to say that The Loft tapped into the collective desiring-machine at the time, even to the extent of producing it’s own becoming-animal (a cross pollination):

“Jim Jessup used to come to the Loft, and I got along with him very well…One day he said he and a couple of friends wanted to open a Loft-style party that would be strictly gay and white. They wanted a private club atmosphere so that it would be more discreet, and they said they would only proceed if I said it was OK…I told them, ‘Please, go right ahead!’ I gave them all the help I could…I said we were like bees and could pollinate.”

When Local Knowledge Means Autonomy

Bruges1500

“An aerial view of a town built during the Middle Ages or the oldest quarters (medina) of a Middle Eastern city that has not been greatly tampered with has a particular look. It is the look of disorder. Or, to put it more precisely, the town conforms to no overall abstract form…

The fact that the layout of the city, having developed without any overall design, lacks a consistent geometric logic does not mean that it was at all confusing to its inhabitants. One imagines that many of its cobbled streets were nothing more than surfaced footpaths traced by repeated use. For those who grew up in its various quarters, Bruges would have been perfectly familiar, perfectly legible. Its very alleys and lanes would have closely approximated the most common daily movements. For a stranger or trader arriving for the first time, however, the town was almost certainly confusing, simply because it lacked a repetitive, abstract logic that would allow a newcomer to orient herself.

The cityscape of Bruges in 1500 could be said to privilege local knowledge over outside knowledge, including that of external political authorities. It functioned spatially in much the same way a difficult or unintelligible dialect  would  function linguistically. As a semipermeable membrane, it facilitated communication within the city while remaining stubbornly unfamiliar to those who had not grown up speaking this special geographic dialect.

Historically, the relative illegibility to outsiders of some urban neighborhoods (or of their rural analogues, such as hills, marshes, and forests) has provided a vital margin of  political safety from control by outside elites. A simple way of determining whether this margin exists is to ask if  an outsider would have needed a local guide (a native tracker) in order to find her way successfully. If the answer is yes, then the community or terrain in question enjoys at least a small measure of insulation from outside intrusion. Coupled with patterns of  local solidarity, this insulation has proven politically valuable in such disparate contexts as eighteenth-and early nineteenth-century urban riots over bread
prices in Europe, the Front de Liberation Nationale’s tenacious resistance to the French in the Casbah of Algeria and the politics of the bazaar that helped to bring down the Shah of Iran. Illegibility, then, has been and remains a reliable resource for political autonomy.” – James C. Scott, Seeing Like A State

The Tragic Community: Nietzsche and Philosophy as A Treatise on Politics (Part II)

“When someone asks “what’s the use of philosophy?” the reply must be aggressive, since the question tries to be ironic and caustic. Philosophy does not serve the State or the Church, who have other concerns. It serves no established power. The use of philosophy is to sadden. A philosophy that saddens no one, that annoys no one, is not a philosophy. It is useful for harming stupidity, for turning stupidity into something shameful. Its only use is the exposure of all forms of baseness of thought. Is there any discipline apart from philosophy that sets out to criticise all mystifications, whatever their source and aim, to expose all the fictions without which reactive forces would not prevail?” (NP, 108)

Philosophy’s function, according to Deleuze, is “to sadden” or better, to be unforgivingly critical of reactive forces. Through this unforgiving critique, philosophy seeks to demystify, destroy, debase, deconstruct, etc., all established (reactive) values and in this way Deleuze claims “This is why philosophy has an essential relation to time: it is always against its time, critique of the present world. The philosopher creates concepts that are untimely and not of the present.”(NP, 107) To think actively (Philosopher) is “acting in a non-present fashion therefore against time and even on time, in favor (I hope) of a time to come.”(NP, 107) Thus a new conception of philosophy and thought arises: the thinking of Culture instead of the thought of Method.

“Method always presupposes the good will of the thinker, “a premeditated decision.” Culture, on the contrary, is a violence undergone by thought, a process of formation of thought through the action of selective forces, a training which brings the whole unconscious of the thinker into play.” (108) Deleuze’s critique of Method is the critique of the “ready-made” theory. To use Method thus means one is not thinking, since Deleuze understands Thinking as an immanent process. That is to say, “Thinking depends on forces which take hold of thought.”(108) To think actively and affirmatively, one must be able to take stock of those active forces which constitute one’s life, understanding, etc. Thinking entails a certain genetic element which “determines the relation of force and qualifies related forces.”

This genetic element is similar to the will to power where will=joy/creation, and power is the differential force in a will. Thus Deleuze says, “The thinker thus expresses the noble affinity of thought and life: life making thought active, thought making life affirmative. In Nietzsche this general affinity is…the essence of art.” (NP, 101) And who are the artists? “We the artists” = “we the inventors of new possibilities of life.” (NP, 103) This is one way to understand Deleuze when he says “the theory of forces depends on a typology of forces. And once again a typology begins with a topology. Thinking depends on certain coordinates.” (NP, 110)

To begin Thinking, and to begin thinking about a Tragic Community, we must begin with an immanent process; untimely and ‘to come.’ Jean Luc-Nancy illustrates the pitfalls of a Method-ological thinking and the need for a Cultural one:

“ What is important is one sense of this truth, namely, that “authority” cannot be defined by any preexisting authorization (whether institutional, canonical, or based on some norm) but can only proceed from a desire that expresses itself or recognizes itself in it. There is no subjectivism, certainly no psychologism, in this desire, only the expression of a true possibility and thus of a true potential of being. If democracy has a sense, it would be that of having available to it no identifiable authority proceeding from a place or impetus other than those of desire – of a will, an awaiting, a thought – where what is expressed… is being all together, all and each one among all.” (Truth of Democracy, 14)

Given this passage by Nancy we can say that to think in the style of Method is to define authority (or that which governs and limits the degree of play, freedom, movement, etc., within a given context; that is to say values and evaluations!) by a preexisting “authorization,” or “ready-made” theory. Rather, for Nancy as for Deleuze, to think in the style of Culture is to think of a community, subject, event, etc., ‘on its own terms.’ That is to say, to think ‘in process,’ to think the forces which take hold of the event, and to have a thought that does not attempt to anticipate the community ‘to come.’ But this isn’t to say that one should have no method of approach, but rather thought/life must be strategic. One must be willing to abandon what is ready-made in theory, and create new concepts because the ‘to come,’  is unknown (chance), is that which we cannot anticipate at all. Thus a Tragic Community doesn’t elaborate any theory but rather its concern is understanding the material conditions (forces, flows, economic, agricultural, cultural, etc.) necessary to be both an artist (an envisioneer of new possibilities) and the critic and criminal.

But a problem, one posed by persons like Zizek, Hardt and Negri, and to a lesser extent Brian Massumi, remains. In the age of postmodern capitalism, does the theorization and practice of a Tragic Community carry out a true critique of capital? The answer appears to be no:

“Individual consumers are being inducted into…collective processes rather than being separated out and addressed as free agents who are supposed to make an informed consumer choice as rational individuals. This is a step beyond niche marketing, its relational marketing. It works by contagion rather than by convincing, on affect rather than rational choice. It works at least as much on the level of our ‘indeterminate sociality’ as on the level of our identities. More and more, what it does is hitch a ride on movements afoot in the social field, on social stirrings, which it channels in profit-making directions. People like Negri talk about the ‘social factory’, a kind of socialisation of capitalism, where capitalism is more about scouting and capturing or producing and multiplying potentials for doing and being than it is about selling things…The product ultimately, is us. We are in-formed by capitalist powers of production. Our whole life becomes a ‘capitalist tool’ – our vitality, our affective capacties.” (Navigating Movements, 55)

Or let us take Zizek’s analysis of Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of becoming and its potential for resistance:

“And what about the so-called Transformer or Animorph toys, a car or a plane that can be transformed into a humanoid robot, an animal that can be morphed into a human or robot-is this not Deleuzian? There are no “metaphorics” here: the point is not that the machinic or animal form is revealed as a mask containing a human shape but, rather, as the “becoming-machine” or “becoming-animal”of the human.” (Bodies without Organs, 184)

According to Zizek’s analysis, it appears that capital has managed to materialize Deleuze and Guattari’s own theories of becoming-animal and becoming-machine, and even turn a profit on them. Zizek thus poses a problem-question to those who find potential forms of resistance to capital in this framework of the immanence of forces, essences, power, becomings, etc.: how does one distinguish between the becoming-animal that resists capital, and the becoming-animal that is produced by capital? Is there a ‘real’ or ‘true’ becoming and a ‘pseudo’ becoming? In response to such a caricature (a la Zizek) I would remind us that there isn’t a unitary and solitary, becoming and/or force. Every force can be either active or reactive, depending on the forces that take hold of it. Moreover, becomings can be subsumed into capitalist production or can be used to resist and subvert them.

What cannot be denied is the fact that postmodern capitalism does operate all too similar to Deleuze’s notions of becoming, flow, and deterritorialization. However, what must be resisted is the conception that the immanent critique of capitalism cannot effect any substantial changes to capitalism’s postmodern immanence. Here we must recall a notion, and one I have not yet touched on at length, of Deleuze’s reading of Nietzsche: the will to power, which is the counterargument to the Zizekian straw-man. “The will to power is the element from which derive both the quantitative difference of related forces and the quality that devolves into each force in this relation.” (NP, 50) Or put in another way,

“The will to power is thus added to force, but as the differential and genetic element, as the internal element of its production […] The will to power must be described as the genealogical element of force and of forces. Thus it is always through the will to power that one force prevails over others and dominates or commands them. Moreover it is also the will to power (dy) which makes a force obey within a relation; it is through will to power that it obeys.”(NP, 51)

To understand the will to power as the genealogical element of force is to understand that will to power does not mean that a will wants power. Will/willing designate something different from power: will/willing are understood as ‘joy’ and ‘creation,’ respectively. Power, on the other hand, “is the one that wills in will. Power is the genetic and differential element in the will.”(NP, 85) To the extent that power is ‘the one that’ interprets and evaluates life, we must ask who is ‘the one that’? What is the creative deed, the willed creation, of power? Insofar as our answer to this question is active and affirmative force, Deleuze will maintain the term will to power. Will to power is the selection and creation of “a particular relation of forces, a particular quality of forces.”(NP, 85) Insofar as our answer to this question is reactive and negating force, Deleuze will use the term will to nothingness. (NP, 64) But to what extent does the will to power answer the question of distinguishing active from reactive force, or capitalist-becomings from anticapitalist-becomings?

“The will to power as genealogical element is that from which senses derive their significance and values their value…The signification of sense consists in the quality of the force which is expressed in a thing: is this force active or reactive and of what nuance? The value of a value consists in the quality of the will to power expressed in the corresponding thing; is the will to power affirmative or negative and of what nuance?” (NP, 54-55)

These are the guiding questions Deleuze gifts us with: what type of power, or better who is ‘the one that’ wills in the will to power? is it active or reactive and of what nuance? These questions can be summed up as such: what is the creative deed of the one that wills? Nietzsche replies, “slave morality says “no”…: and this “no” is its creative deed.” (NP, 36) Understanding this distinction of will to power and will to nothingness, we can return to the “theoretical weakness” of  “postmodern” philosophy. The becoming-animal, and becoming-machine of transformer and animorph toys embody a becoming, yes. But what kind of becoming? active or reactive? and of what nuance?

The becoming-commodity of these becoming-animal/becoming-machine are reactive becomings arising from a will to nothingness. The creativity of such becomings have been channeled and reduced into profit-machines; becoming-animal has become-commodity, which has become-profit. The ultimate reduction to profit is capitals creative deed; the “no” to that which is outside of itself, to that which becomes something other than profit. This is, too, the point of Agamben’s commentary on Tiananmen square: the becoming-community of whatever-singularities posit a value different from the values of becoming-capital. And to the extent that ‘postmodern’ capitalism cannot tolerate these becomings which are incommensurable to it and thus actively negate them, they are reactive/negating forces: the will to nothingness par excellence.