From a Philosophically Clean-Shaven Marx to a Philosophically Decolonized Deleuze

The Red Detachment of Women 4

A desperately rough sketch of the third chapter of my dissertation

If the face is in fact Christ, in other words, your average ordinary White Man, then the first deviances, the first divergence-types, are racial: yellow man, black man, men in the second or third category…They must be Christianized, in other words, facialized. European racism as the white man’s claim…operates by the determination of degrees of deviance in relation to the White-Man face, which endeavors to integrate nonconforming traits into increasingly eccentric and backward waves, sometimes tolerating them at given places under given conditions, in a given ghetto, sometimes erasing them from the wall, which never abides alterity (it’s a Jew, it’s an Arab, it’s a Negro, it’s a lunatic…). 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. – Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 178

In his 1968 Preface to Difference and Repetition, Deleuze offers the following description of the labor specific to philosophy, a labour that is said to be a “reproduction” of its own history:

It seems to us that the history of philosophy should play a role roughly analogous to that of collage in painting. The history of philosophy is the reproduction of philosophy itself. In the history of philosophy, a commentary should act as a veritable double and bear the maximal modification appropriate to a double. (One images a philosophically bearded Hegel, a philosophically clean-shaven Marx, in the same way as a moustached Mona Lisa). (Difference & Repetition, xxi)

If philosophy was supposed to be closer to collage and Duchamp than some faithful yet mechanical retelling of its history–a way of doing philosophy that produces novel contributions in thought but in the guise of slight modification–what does it mean to engage, philosophically, with the political project inaugurated by Deleuze and Guattari’s Capitalism & Schizophrenia? The thesis we will put forward is the following: if it was imperative that we understand Marx’s relationship to the history of philosophy as an icon stripped of it’s most distinguishing features, it is just as imperative for us to imagine a darker Deleuze. This would be a Deleuze who reacquaints himself the fire of negativity not by way of reviving negativity-as-contradiction but by weaponizing difference understood as asymmetrical and combative. If philosophy is closer to surrealistic portraiture than faithful reproduction, and just as Deleuze imagined a philosophically clean-shaven Marx, we are obliged to imagine a philosophically decolonized Deleuze in light of the the present conjuncture of capital accumulation. This chapter aims at demonstrating what is meant by a ‘philosophically decolonized’ Deleuzianism as well as providing the determinate content that gives a decolonial Deleuze its historical, material, and therefore real content.

First, we will proceed by reconsidering particularly significant interpretations of the relationship between philosophy and revolutionary politics as envisioned by Deleuze and Guattari. After which we will then demonstrate how D&G’s privileging of concepts such as the Particular, the minor, and minority, is constitutive of their attempt to think through, and against, the processes of racialization ushered in by European colonialism. This will be seen in this chapter’s final section that argues for the logical and political solidarity between D&G’s notion of revolutionary politics and the tradition of decolonial philosophy (e.g., Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon). It is only by making this link between D&G and the decolonial project that we will be in a position to judge the virtues and limitations of D&G joint writings. 

However, as a point of clarification with regards to the first section of this chapter, we use the term ‘revolutionary’ here in order to express Deleuze and Guattari’s commitment to the abolition of any/all structures of organizing society predicated upon the unfreedom, subjugation, alienation, or exploitation of a portion of the global population for the freedoms of the rest. While the literature regarding this topic is ever expanding, we will confine our analysis to two general interpretations of Deleuze and Guattari’s particular fusion of philosophical and political practice. On the one hand, there are those who view philosophy’s relationship to politics as one of providing a theoretical framework that gives clarity and coherence to the virtual potentials that are not actualized within a certain historical milieu and state of affairs. This position is best articulated by Eugene Holland who offers the following formulation:

Philosophy…turns away from the actuality in order to give consistency to virtuality by extracting from actual states of affairs the selected determinations constitutive of and mapped by its concepts. Philosophy’s concepts do not refer to the actual states of affairs…but rather give consistency to the virtuality from which those states of affairs arose or were actualized. Philosophy thus counter-actualizes actuality and re-potentiates virtuality, restoring the latter’s motility and, perhaps most importantly, its potential to be actualized differently…Where science captures or traces reality itself…philosophy maps the virtual, or rather maps diverse sections of virtuality on its various planes of immanence. (Holland, ‘The Utopian Dimension of Thought in Deleuze and Guattari’, 23)

On the other hand, there are those who read Deleuze and Guattari’s revolutionary aspirations by placing emphasis on their concepts of the minor/minoritarian subject, becoming-indiscernible, lines of flight, deterritorialization, and nomadic war machines. Scholars who maintain this position include Nicholas Thoburn, Guillaume Sibertin-Blanc, Andrew Culp, and Eduoard Glissant. In contrast to Holland’s reading, Thoburn, Sibertin-Blanc, Culp, and Glissant view the relationship between philosophy and politics as not simply the task of counter-actualizing potentials within the present that remain unactualized.

Now, while Holland’s reading remains true regarding the letter of Deleuze’s thought, through our exegesis of Thoburn and Glissant we are given the additional, if not more important insight, that, for Deleuze and Guattari, this task of counter-actualizing the virtual must be put in the service of a particular kind of subjectivity, or particular kind of identity constituted by late capitalism. To restrict oneself to the activity of counter-actualization that gives theoretical consistency to the virtual, is to ignore the other-half of the function Deleuze assigns to Thinking as such. For as we saw in the previous chapter, Thinking not only adheres to the tripartite criteria of the determination of the Idea; thinking synthetically produces Ideas whose purpose is the identification of certain objective tendencies of a Problem/problematic field, and whose content is that of an actual process that carries within it latent virtual potentials for transforming the Problem/problematic field in toto. It was this dual feature of constructing a consistent virtual Idea with an emphasis on its singular points (lines of flight) that Deleuze meant by asserting the two-faces of every Idea:

It is as though every Idea has two faces, which are like love and anger: love in the search for fragments, the progressive determination and linking of the ideal adjoint fields; anger in the condensation of singularities which, by dint of ideal events, defines the concentration of a ‘revolutionary situation’ and causes the Idea to explode into the actual. It is in this sense that Lenin had Ideas. (DR, 190)

In order to avoid a one-sided understanding of Deleuze and Guattari’s political project (as embodied in Holland’s position), Nicholas Thoburn’s work is useful insofar as it emphasizes the role the minor/minoritarian while Eduoard Glissant himself does this by emphasizing the importance of thinking emancipation from within his own context of the Caribbean. From this brief comparison, we already see how it is that the salient difference separating Holland from thinkers like Thoburn and Glissant is best summarized by Holland himself when he writes

In line with Deleuze & Guattari, his hopes clearly lie in the prospects for more equitable and mutually beneficial forms of market exchange. Unlike Deleuze & Guattari, however, Glissant projects a strong sense of writing from and about a particular place in the world, rather than about the world as a whole. For he speaks and thinks both from and of an archipelago: a region with no single standard or measure of identity, but plural sources, influences, relations; a region without a single People or State, but with multiple ties, parallel histories, shared interests; a region where subterranean or rather sub-oceanic links count for more than politically enclosed territorial boundaries. (‘The Utopian Dimension of Thought’, 6)

According to Holland, then, what distinguishes Glissant from Deleuze and Guattari is the formers localized and situated political project. To be clear, it is possible for one to find support for this criticism of Glissant’s reading of Deleuze and Guattari, and particularly with respect to the filmed interview between Claire Parnet and Deleuze at the end of his life. When the discussion turns to the topic of Deleuze’s relationship to the Left, leftist politics, and unlike many of his contemporaries, his non-participation in the French Communist Party, Deleuze begins to define what it means to be ‘from the Left’ in a manner that seemingly corroborates Holland’s concern:

To not be from the left means starting with myself, my street, my city, my country, the other countries further and further. We start by us, and as we are privileged, we live in a rich country, we wonder what we can do to sustain in time this situation. We can feel that there are some dangers, that this situation can’t last too long. So we say “Oh but the Chinese are so far away, what can we do so that Europe can sustain itself in time etc. To be from the left is the opposite. It is to perceive, as it is said that Japanese people perceive…They would say: The world, the Continent, Europe, France, etc. etc. the rue Bizerte, me. It is a phenomenon of perception. This way we first perceive the horizon…In fact, to be from the left is to know that the Third World’s issues are closer to us than our neighborhood’s issues. (Deleuze & Parnet, L’Abécédaire, G comme gauche)

However, against Holland’s fidelity to the letter of Deleuze’s work, his criticism of Glissant finds itself absent of any justification in for two main reasons. First, insofar as being part of the Left means affirming the priority of ‘Third World’ issues viz-à-viz issues that arise in rich countries whose citizens find themselves in a privileged position, faulting Glissant for ‘writing from a particular place rather than about the world as a whole’ actually amounts to criticizing Glissant for giving priority to his position of theorizing from within a ‘Third World’ country. Less a form of localism or provincialism in theory, we would say, against Holland, that what appears to be nothing but the limited scope of Glissant’s thought is in fact the very act that Deleuze claims includes one’s activity on the side of ‘the Left’ properly understood.

Second, it should strike readers as odd for Holland to claim that a thinker who attempts to construct a politics founded upon a terrain that lacks ‘standard or measure of a unified identity’; a politics that jettisons the ideal of ‘a single People or State’; is in some meaningful sense opposed to Deleuze and Guattari’s own political proscriptions. We need only remind ourselves that Deleuze and Guattari’s criticism of the concept of ‘the people’ isn’t simply based upon a generalized suspicion of any and all political categories. Rather, it is because, historically ‘a people can only be created in abominable sufferings.’ While it is the case that Deleuze and Guattari conceive of  philosophy as capable of signaling a ‘people to come’, it is always qualified in the following terms: “The race summoned forth by art or philosophy is not the one that claims to be pure but rather an oppressed, bastard, lower, anarchical, nomadic, and irremediable minor race” (WIP, 109). Thus, it is with regard to the question of a single People constituted by the presence or absence of a measure of identity, that these two contrasting readings of Deleuze and Guattari will be delineated.

The Red Detachment of Women 2

In the latter half of this chapter we will argue that just as Deleuze’s early works went to great lengths to critique what he called the Dogmatic Image of Thought, his work with Guattari aims to demonstrate the practical futility of ready-made political ideas such as ‘the people’, or the inherited virtues from the Enlightenment such as European humanism’s alleged ‘universality’. While a critique of humanism and universalism may seem to contradict any commitment to revolutionary politics, we will show how it is precisely because these Enlightenment values were never universally applicable to begin with that Deleuze and Guattari will privilege a minoritarian conception of revolutionary subjectivity; a subject whose political activity begins and remains inseparable from the localized ways they find themselves stratifications, organized, and subjectified by capital and its State.

So… while Holland’s interpretation remains valuable, it is a reading that ignores the minoritarian dimension of Deleuze and Guattari’s political position (Thoburn), as well as implicitly repeats the eurocentric bias of treating ‘particular’ or ‘local’ struggles and groups therein as needing to be subsumed into a more universal political category. What readings such as Holland’s neglects is the fact that it is precisely because history has denied particular groups inclusion into the universal that it is in the interest of these particular identity groups to propose a vision of the Universal that does not seek to establish substantial identity between model and copy, idea and claimant (Glissant). Thus, against the charge that would find us guilty for grounding a theory of revolutionary transformation on an overly localized and regional point of view, we aim to show how it is only by defending/beginning with the particular (or, minor) as instantiated in the individuals who belong to the marginalized sections of the global population that one can overcome the errors and blindspots of Holland’s position as well as understand why our criticism gives rise to a philosophically decolonized Deleuze. And is it not already the case that Deleuze and Guattari, in their discourse regarding the potential of a becoming-minoritarian in politics, begin this process of philosophically decolonizing Thought? And is this decolonial element not already evident to familiar readers? For what else could we understand when, in the midst of their discussion of the minor’s relationship with the capitalist-State, Deleuze and Guattari write,

Nonwhites would receive no adequate expression by becoming a new yellow or black majority, an infinite denumerable set. What is proper to the minority is to assert a power of the non-denumerable, even if that minority is composed of a single member. That is the formula for multiplicities. Minority as a universal figure, or becoming-everybody/everything (devenir tout le monde). Woman: we all have to become that, whether we are male or female. Non-white: we all have to become that, whether we are white, yellow, or black […] However modest the demand, it always constitutes a point that the axiomatic cannot tolerate: when people demand to formulate their problems themselves, and to determine at least the particular conditions under which they can receive a more general solution (hold to the Particular as an innovative form). It is always astounding to see the same story repeated: the modest of the minorities’ initial demands, coupled with the impotence of the axiomatic to resolve the slightest corresponding problem. In short, the struggle around axioms is most important when it manifests, itself opens, the gap between two types of propositions, propositions of flow and propositions of axioms. The power of the minorities is not measured by their capacity to enter and make themselves felt within the majority system…but to bring to bear the force of the non-denumerable set…against the denumerable sets. (ATP, 471)

As we will see, it is only by correcting Holland’s misreadings of Deleuze and Guattari, which he places in the service of a critique of Glissant’s localism/particularism, that we can then understand not only how Deleuze and Guattari’s political work is a faithful returning to Marx avant la lettre. More importantly, we will then be able to understand how their replacement of the category class with that of the minor/minority establishes the conditions that render possible a darker, decolonized, Deleuze; a Deleuze whose theoretical framework is freed from its own eurocentric residues and is able to better explain the ways in which the present conjuncture is defined by an enlarged and decolonial understanding of history: if the faithful Marxist position is to reiterate that the whole of human history is that of class struggle, and if the task Deleuze set for himself was to imagine a clean-shaven Marx and therefore unrecognizable, then our task is that of showing how the categories of the minor/minority serve as the grounds for undertaking a thorough decolonization of the Deleuzo-guattarian project. The outcome being that history is no longer simply defined by class-struggle. Rather, history is equally the history of the various anti-colonial struggles that preceded the establishment of capitalism and its division of the social along class lines. It is this latter view of history that brings Deleuze and Guattari’s minor conception of revolutionary politics into the tradition of Césaire and Fanon.


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

‘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). 

No Dialogue Is Possible: Badiou, Vergès, and the Question of Rupture

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No Dialogue

(This post is a continuation of some previous thoughts on Badiou’s essay ‘The Three Negations,’ which can be found here)

Perhaps one of Alain Badiou’s strongest allies in his articulation of the Event is an anachronistic one. Jacques Vergès, French-Vietnamese lawyer, was made famous by his defense of Djamila Bouhired, Algerian nationalist and fighter in the National Liberation Army in Algeria in the late 50’s. Using the ‘rupture defense,’ Vergès claimed that the French State had no grounds to try Bouhired due to its history of colonial violence against the Alergian people. Thus, instead of defending Bouhired in terms of the French legal system, Vergès approached the trial from the ‘outside.’ As he stated in an interview with Der Spiegel,

The other French attorneys who had taken over the defense in Algiers tried to begin a dialogue with the military judges there. The judges saw the FLN as a criminal group. But the Algerian defendants saw their attacks as a necessary act of resistance. In other words, there was no consensus over the principles that were to be applied in reaching a verdict. For me, it meant that I had to shift the events to outside the courtroom and win over public opinion for the defendants.

This lack of consensus marks the paraconsistent nature of the trial: it is both the case that Bouhired was guilty and innocent; guilty from the point of view of the State and innocent from the point of view of the FLN. It is this confrontation of view points that Vergès brought to the forefront of the trial. As critical legal theorist Emilios Christodoulidis writes, “the defense of ‘rupture’ aims at a confrontation with the system that is represented by the prosecution’s case. In its confrontation with the law of the State, its main aim is to derail the process all the time both using and contesting it…”(SR). Or as Vergès himself writes “rupture traverses the whole structure of the trial. Facts as well as circumstances of the action pass onto a secondary plane; in the forefront suddenly appears the brutal contestation with the order of the state”(SR). Ultimately, the strategy of rupture aims at a confrontation between defense and prosecution that, “excludes all compromise”(SR). It is here that we arrive at the classical logic that underpins Vergès approach: in defending Bouhired through the contestation of the legitimacy of the French legal system, by putting their judgment of Bouhired into contrast with France’s history of colonialism, and their use of torture on Algerian’s despite the State’s acknowledgment of the rights of the subjects of French colonies, Vergès disrupts the State’s legitimacy by positing its actual illegitimacy. That is to say, either France is guilty of ongoing colonial violence and thus revokes its legitimacy as a supposed, neutral, judicial third party; or France is not guilty of ongoing colonial violence and retains its authority, with no third possibility. The rupture defense, then, is an Event in the classical sense.

This defense which constitutes a rupture, is only a rupture (or an Event), since it achieves a critique which contests and posits “new rules of appearing”; since for Badiou, “an event is a sudden change of the rules of appearing; a change of the degrees of existence of a lot of multiplicities which appear in a world” (TTN). As seen above, Vergès led a defense of Bouhired not on the terms articulated by the court, but on the grounds of the principles which defined the legitimacy of the court itself. That is to say, what Vergès sought was a new set of ‘rules of appearing.’ Instead of terrorists, Bouhired was part of the resistance against colonialism; instead of a criminal, Bouhired was a revolutionary; instead of a murderer, she executed a traitor. And here we can see Vergès, and Badiou after him as an articulation of Fanon’s decolonial principle that “challenging the colonial world is not a rational confrontation of viewpoints. It is not a discourse on the universal” (WE). By establishing the incommensurability between the lives of colonized peoples and the legal structure of the French state, Vergès showed how the tactics of the FLN “could no longer be rationally contained within the context of the operations of the French municipal system of justice,” once France was seen for what it was: “a facilitator of the colonial brutality against an emergent people no longer subsumable to ‘le peuple’ (SR). Thus, Fanon’s argument about race and class relations in colonized Algeria takes on a new meaning: not only is one rich because one is white, and white because one is rich; within the French system of justice, one is just because one is white, and white because one is just. Within this logic of colonialism, there is no category by which the Algerian resistor can be recognized by except by the notions of an irrational ‘animal,’ a ‘terrorist,’ and a ‘criminal.’

A Rupture in Colonial Reason: Spivak, Fanon, and The Question of Subalternity

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This is an abridged draft for the upcoming ACLA conference in NYC in the Spring of 2014

I. Memories of a Spivakian

Given her revisions in A Critique of Postcolonial Reason, Spivak delineates three main point regarding the subaltern. First, the subaltern refers to the space of “sheer heterogeneity of” decolonization. Second, “when a line of communication is established between a member of a subaltern groups and the circuits of citizenships…this is absolutely desired.” This is to say, we should not valorize the condition of the subaltern unless, as Spivak writes, “we want to be romantic purists or primitivists.” And third, the trace-structure which characterizes the postcolonial intellectuals work is the experience of hearing the subaltern through this “effacement in disclosure”’(CPR, 310).

These three points could be summed up as follows: the inhabited spaces of difference and erasure are not to be valorized as the revolutionary space par excellence; rather, justice takes place in a move away from the space of subalternity, into forms of hegemony which counter those institutions which maintain the conditions of the subaltern. Moreover, the position of the postcolonial intellectual in this relationship is always at a particular remove, at a particular distance (temporal or geographical) from the subaltern. It is in the name of this movement out of subaltern space that the postcolonial intellectual actively critiques the sites of global capital which produce the truths of power masquerading as the Truth of the Other. Thus, what follows from Spivak’s revised position concerning subaltern speech are two important themes: the temporal structure of ethics and the idea of constructing a counterhegemony. Regarding the former, the ethical responsibility of the western intellectual has a temporal structure specific to its way of being in the world. Regarding the latter, Spivak’s belief in the political potential of constructing a ‘counterhegemonic ideology’ against the persisting forms of colonialism and imperialism is at the constitutive heart of her, seemingly, aporetic position.

Concerning the question of the ‘time of the ethical relation’ between the postcolonial intellectual and the subaltern group, it is always an ‘effacement in disclosure;’ it is as if the intellectual is always-already late to the scene of colonial and imperial violence and nonetheless, it is through the erasure of the subaltern that they are disclosed. Judith Butler articulates the logic of this time best, which is worth to quote at length:

“The norms by which I seek to make myself recognizable are not fully mine. They are not born with me; the temporality of their emergence does not coincide with the temporality of my own life. So, in living my life as a recognizable being, I live a vector of temporalities, one of which has my death as its terminus, but another of which consists in the social and historical temporality of the norms by which my recognizability is established and maintained. These norms, are, as it were, indifferent to me, to my life and my death. Because norms emerge, transform, and persist according to a temporality that is not the same as the temporality of my life, and because they also in some ways sustain my life in its intelligibility, the temporality of norms interrupts the time of my living. Paradoxically, it is this interruption, this disorientation of the perspective of my life, this instance of an indifference in sociality, that nevertheless sustains my living” (Butler, Giving an Account of Oneself, 35).

This time which is both not mine and yet mine; a time that is older than me and yet constitutes me in my subjectivity; this time which remains indifferent to me and is yet the time of my immediate experience; it is this double structure of time which lies at the heart of the ethical responsibility of those of us who find ourselves in the positions of intellectual/knowledge production. It is a time of preserving the past in the present; a time of memory in the name of the trace-structure of subaltern speech.

While Butler is working to articulate the conditions of possibility of how one can give an account of oneself and makes sense of the multiplicity of narratives that constitute who one is; Spivak’s relationship to this double structure of ethical time is thought within the context of how those in positions of knowledge production always-already inherit the history of exploitation, and how those whose subjectivities are created by the diasporic movements from the Third to First world become complicit in the absolute erasure of this history. This question of the relationship between ‘ethical time’ and politics is articulated, in my estimation, in a different way by Frantz Fanon.

II. Memories of A Fanonian

In The Wretched of The Earth, Fanon articulates Spivak’s first point on subalternity as follows: “In colonies the economic infrastructure is also a superstructure. The cause is effect: You are rich because you are white, you are white because you are rich” (The Wretched of The Earth, 5). On Fanon’s account, the space inhabited by the colonized subject, their way of being in the world, is such that they are in a position of radical exclusion such that they do not even constitute a class in themselves. This space of exclusion is a space where,

“you are born anywhere, anyhow. You die anywhere, from anything. It’s a world with no space, people are piled one on top of the other, the shacks squeezed tightly together. The colonized’s sector is a famished sector, hungry for bread, meat, shoes, coal, and light. The colonized’s sector is a sector that crouches and cowers, a sector on its knees, a sector that is prostrate”(WE, 4-5).

As Butler correctly articulates, this is a space whose time is one which is totally indifferent to the time of the Algerian people; a space of norms which are indifferent to their life and to their death. It is at this point in colonialism where the trace-structure of subaltern speech is effaced absolutely: “the colonist is right when he says he “knows” them. It is the colonist who fabricated and continues to fabricate the colonized subject” (WE, 2). Thus, subalternity is maintained when French colonialism speaks for the Algerian people; and it is an identity which is neither desirable for Fanon nor Spivak.

Additionally, Fanon methodologically articulates the logic of colonial ideology and then quickly juxtaposes them with the values which correspond to the way of being that would lead to the liberation of the Algerian people:

“How many times in Paris or Aix, in Algiers or Basse-Terre have we seen the colonized vehemently protest the so-called indolence of the black, the Algerian, the Vietnamese…The colonized’s indolence is a conscious way of sabotaging the colonial machine; on the biological level it is a remarkable system of self-preservation and, if nothing else, a positive curb on the occupier’s stranglehold over the entire country…Put yourself in his shoes and stop reasoning and claiming that the “nigger” is a hard worker and the reality of the “towelhead,” the reality of the “nigger,” is not to lift a finger, not to help the oppressor sink his claws into his prey” (WE, 220, my emphasis).

Thus Fanon establishes a rupture within colonial Reason; a break in the rational underpinnings of the logic of colonialism – the ‘reason’ of colonialism (it’s structure, it’s values, it’s economics, it’s temporality, it’s knowledge-production) is opposed to the ‘reason’ of the decolonial project with it’s own structures, values, economics, temporality, and knowledge-production. As Fanon aptly writes, “challenging the colonial world is not a rational confrontation of viewpoints. It is not a discourse on the universal, but the impassioned claim by the colonized that their world is fundamentally different” (WE, 6, my emphasis). It is this ‘fundamental difference,’ this understanding of the incommensurability of colonialism with the colonized’s condition, that rests at the basis of constructing a counterhegemony in the style of Fanon. Additionally, Fanon’s analysis of the psychiatric case studies during French colonialism marks a second moment of attempting to construct an alternative hegemony to that of bourgeois, French, ideology.

III. A Rupture in Time: Opening onto the Outside

Spivak’s approach to the question of the subaltern remains within certain limits (limits, which she herself acknowledges). By affirming the concept of ‘trace’ and carrying it over into postcolonial discourse, she marks the relationship between ‘the field of academic prose’ and the subaltern voice. As she says, “this trace-structure (effacement in disclosure) surfaces as the tragic emotions of the political activist, springing not out of superficial utopianism, but out of the depths of what Bimal Krishna Matilal has called “moral love” (CPR, 310). This trace-structure relationship is a bringing together of the earlier and later Derrida: not only is the trace-structure that which is always being set off from the dominant meaning systems of culture (differ-defer); it is also that which marks out the radical alterity of the subaltern voice (the experience of the impossible). This is something she also sees in Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved: “In the novel…Morrison places the “Africa” that is the prehistory of Afro-America or New World African-to be strictly distinguished from the named contemporary continent-in the undeconstructible experience of the impossible” (CPR, 430). This trace-structure, on Spivak’s reading, is the structure of the subaltern relationship to globalization.

Moreover, the trace-structure as the relationship of Western intellectual subject-position to the subaltern is the extent to which, I believe, her analysis can bring her to doing ‘justice’ to the subaltern. It is telling through her examples and criticisms, most of which revolve around the production of cultural and historical objects, the way knowledge has been produced and transmitted throughout history, and the way in which Western intellectuals remain complicit in the silencing of subaltern speech (the second mode of complicity – the inclusion and absolute erasure of subaltern identity in globalization – is also at stake in this bringing together of the early and late Derridean concept of the trace-structure).

However, I believe the limit of Spivak’s analysis of subaltern identity is overcome by Fanon, which can be seen in his articulation of the position which the colonized subject finds themselves in colonial society. As he writes, “Challenging the colonial world is not a rational confrontation of viewpoints. It is not a discourse on the universal” (WE, 6). This logic is furthered by statements such as “to the expression: “All natives are the same,” the colonized reply: “All colonists are the same” (WE, 49); or “The work of the colonist is to make even dreams of liberty impossible for the colonized. The work of the colonized is to imagine every possible method of annihilating the colonist…The theory of the “absolute evil of the colonist” is in response to the theory of the “absolute evil of the native”” (WE, 50). As mentioned above, this logic articulated by Fanon is the logic of rupture; it is the logic of articulating a political position which is absolutely incommensurable to the colonial condition.

However, there is something deeper lurking in such claims to incommensurability. The fundamental premise of Fanon’s form of argumentation is the realization that colonialism, and the capitalism which benefits from it, is an internally rational system. That is to say, colonialism does not contradict itself. It’s forms of exclusion, segregation, the knowledge produced and imposed on the colonized subjects; all of these are positive and necessary elements within the logic of colonialism itself. It is at this point that Spivak’s reading of Deleuze limits her from seeing the ways in which a “social field is not defined by its contradictions” (Desire and Pleasure) can become a productive way of thinking through the subaltern condition.

Additionally, the differences between Spivak and Fanon also revolve around the idea of this trace-structure and her commitment to a theory of ideology. While for Spivak, the trace-structure is what it means to be constituted as a subject – an always-already differed-deferred experience of the impossible – for Fanon, this subject is constituted by the colonial situation itself: the interpellation of the black body, or the construction of the ‘native’ subject as ‘lacking a cortex’, these are truths of Power and not truths of the Other. Thus, it is the institutions of colonial power which construct the ‘truth’ of the lacking subject. Or as Deleuze and Guattari say, and as Spivak cites unapprovingly, “Desire does not lack anything; it does not lack its object. It is, rather, the subject that is lacking desire, or desire that lacks a fixed subject; there is no fixed subject except by repression” (AO, 26, my emphasis).

There is a fundamental difference, then, between Spivak and Fanon. While both agree for the need to attend to those abject spaces and peoples of global capital, their approaches remain distinct in the sense that Spivak seems to be fine with the integration of subaltern peoples into society as long as they preserve the memory of the subaltern space. Fanon, on the other hand, is not so quick to desire inclusion into society. In Fanon’s case, there is no place in existing social bodies for the colonized, abject, subject. Thus, the only way to articulate a politics that would do justice to the condition of the abject subject would be to institute a rupture within capitalist reason itself. It is rupture, and not inclusion, that Fanon calls for and which marks him off from Spivak’s approach. On this difference, perhaps Walter Mignolo has put it best when speaking of the difference between and ‘ethics of discourse’ (where I would place Spivak) and an ‘ethics of liberation’ (where I would place Fanon):

“an ethics of discourse argues for the “recognition of difference” and the “inclusion of the other”; such benevolent recognition and inclusion, however, leave those to be included with little say in how they are recognized or included. In that it assumes an abstract universal space in which to recognize and where to include, the ethics of discourse is, in essence, the standard version of multiculturalism, and, as such, is common, in spite of the obvious differences…The idea of an ‘ethics of liberation,’ on the other hand, thinks, as it were, from the thinking of the excluded…Whereas an ‘ethics of discourse’ allows only the tolerance of diversity within a refashioning of existing and hegemonic abstract universals, an ‘ethics of liberation’ proposes diversality as a universal project.” (‘The Zapatista’s Theoretical Revolution’).

Continuing, he writes “The Ethics of LIberation is transformation grounded in a philosophical discourse which questions the fact that in the politics of inclusion and recognition what is left unquestioned is the very place in and from which inclusion is being proposed. Those who propose inclusion do not reflect critically on the fact that those who are being welcomed for inclusion may not necessarily want to play the game generously offered by those who open their arms to the inclusion of what is perceived as different” (ZTR). It this difference, between inclusion and liberation, between the deconstructive rememberance and instituting a rupture within the logic of capital, that marks the shortcomings of Spivak, and the hope of Fanon’s work for the future.