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

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[A desperately rough outline/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 original Preface for Difference and Repetition, Deleuze makes the following observation regarding the labor of philosophy as 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). (Deleuze, Difference and 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; that encourages us to imagine, in philosophy, a Marx sans beard–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, as the opening move toward answering this question, is the following: if it was imperative 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 philosophically decolonized Deleuze. This chapter aims at demonstrating what it 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, George Ciccariello-Maher). 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 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, and Eduoard Glissant. In contrast to Holland’s reading, Thoburn, 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. (Difference and Repetition, 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. (Holland, 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.” 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.

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)




‘5 Theses on the Politics of Cruelty’ – Hostis: A Journal of Incivility

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(A preview from the forthcoming Issue of Hostis: A Journal of Incivility)

I). The politics that seduces us is not ethical, it is cruel.

We contrast the politics of cruelty to the politics of ethics. Ethics goes all the way back to the Greeks, whose ethics was the study of ‘the good life.’ Our interests do not lie in being better than our enemies.There is only cheap satisfaction in telling yourself that you have more exciting sex, stronger friendships, or fiercer personal convictions. The point is not to be better, but to win. Perhaps this leaves a bad taste in some mouths. However, we ask: is ethics not just a last resort for the impotent? Are ethical people what is left after struggles collapse into impossibility, futility, or counterproductivity

If abandoning ethics leaves one disturbed, it is because ethics is a wholly personal affair. To be ethical today is not even reformist – it is politics rendered as fantasy, a live action role play of those who ‘mean well.’ The sphere of ethical life is a world of braggarts and bullies looking for others to affirm that they have made the right personal choices. Ethics valorizes the virtue of activist intentions while leaving the systemic destruction of globally-integrated capital intact. In other words, it is fueled by the elitism of ‘being better than everyone else.’ And the problem with elitism is that it plunges us back into the milieu.

Cruelty has no truck with the individualism of ethics. It does not guide political action with virtue or best intentions. We are not looking to win the respect of those we wish to defeat. Ethics is the trap laid for those who walk the earth searching for respite from the destruction and violence of capital and the state. There is no use in making peace with an enemy whose realized interests entail your subjugation. There was nothing ‘ethical’ about the colonial world. And as Fanon reminds us, it could only be destroyed by giving up on an ‘ethical’ method. It is in this sense that a politics of cruelty picks up the old adage that one must ‘destroy what destroys you’.

II). Few emotions burn like cruelty.

It is already old wisdom that emotions are at stake when we talk about becoming ‘politicized.’ Emotions are what render the speculative and abstract into a lived reality. Winning is not simply a question of having the right ideas or right principles, this is why we define politics as the transformation of ideas into a whole mode of existence where one’s principles are at the same time one’s impulsion toward the world. If the politics of cruelty follows from the belief that we must destroy what destroys us, the emotion of cruelty is revenge. Only this taste for revenge offers resistance to the voices of this world that tell us to put up with the daily violence done to us. To feel cruel is to know that we deserve better than this world; that our bodies are not for us to hate or to look upon with disgust; that our desires are not disastrous pathologies. To feel the burning passion of cruelty, then, is to reclaim refusal. We refuse to compromising ourselves and the million tiny compromises of patriarchy, capitalism, white-supremacy, heter/homo-normativity, and so on. As such, the subject of cruelty no longer convinces themselves to love the world or to find something in the world that redeems the whole. Simply put: the subject of cruelty learns to hate the world. The feeling of cruelty is the necessary correlate to the politics of cruelty; learning to hate the world is what correlates to the political task of destroying what destroys us all. And as we already noted, it is because these two principles have a long history behind them that a politics of cruelty does not posit itself as a novelty: The Women’s Liberation movements are correct in saying: We are not castrated, so you get fucked.

III). Those motivated by cruelty are neither fair nor impartial.

Fairness is the correlate to the ‘ethics-as-politics’ paradigm. Why? Because fairness suggests that we relate to everyone in the same way. There is nothing about this world that encourages universal fairness or acting according to mutual support of any and all interests. Rather, we live in a world where everyone is pitted against each other – we have a structurally determined interest to be mean and to succeed at the expense of others. Fairness, as it currently exists, is the fairness of neoliberal competition; a state sponsored ‘state of nature’. Impartiality is the counter-tendency to the subject of cruelty. Unlike the cruel subject who understands that there can be no agreement made between capital and its dispossessed, the impartial subject furthers the myth that agreements can and should be found between the two parties. Impartiality is the idea that power is symmetrical and that a social contract can give this symmetry its proper force through law.

We know that we are in the midst of a civil war. We act as partisans. And as in any war, we have friends and enemies. For our enemies, we have nothing but disdain, hatred, and cruelty. Our only engagement with them is when it strategically advances our side in the conflict. For our friends, we extend care, support, and solidarity.

Some say that capital and the state operate through cruelty; and contrary to their cruelty, our struggle is to take the higher ground. This is to misunderstand what few things are unique to our position. Our enemies must reproduce their bases of power, which is takes a costly investment in corrupt political systems, crumbling industrial infrastructure, and expensive wars of ideology. As anarchists, we do not need to reproduce much  – we do not need to justify our actions, we do not need to be consistent in our activities, and we need not defend any of the institutions of this world. To limit ourselves even more than our enemies by following the narrow path of ethics is to give up our only advantage.

IV). Their actions speak with an intensity that does not desire permission, let alone seek it.

There is a qualitative difference between the cruelty exercised by us and the cruelty of capital and its State(s). In the United States, there is the idea that the 18th amendment guarantees the protection of citizens from ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’ This was to juridically curtail the power of the State over and against its citizenry. But due to the explicitly bourgeois heritage from which it emerges, this guarantee against State-cruelty only goes as far as the eyes of the State can see; that is, only insofar as two isolated individuals are coming into conflict with one another, and where the State intervenes impartially as the mediating third term. It is in this way that the curtailing of State-cruelty remains within the logic of recognition: metrics of intelligibility only pertain to situations of isolated actions. State recognition ignores situations of collective antagonism. What is more, is what we gain via the channels of State recognition (e.g., desegregation in the 1950’s) was already being eroded through other State sanctioned economic mechanisms (e.g., redlining as early as the 1930’s). The conclusion should be obvious by now: State-recognition is nothing more than the continuation of war by other means.

Thus, if our politics of cruelty seeks to destroy what destroys us coupled to its subjective correlate of revenge – which means our learning to hate the world while staving off the internalization of those norms which teach us to hate ourselves – then it is clear that our political-cruelty cannot treat the state and capital as reliable sources for recognition since what we want and need cannot be tolerated by globally integrated capital and thus pre-emptively renders us all variations of pathological, trouble-making, hysterical, killjoys alike.

V). While social anarchism sings lullabies of altruism, there are those who play with the hot flames of cruelty.

Altruism comes in at least two variants. The first is already well known; the emphasis on collectivist ethics that diffuses any antagonism through its criteria of absolute horizontalism. The second, more insidious, is a zealous altruism; here the emphasis is placed on the absolute destruction of the individual put in the service of actualizing an Idea. These are not the actions of the dispossessed. Rather, it is the altruism of an anarchists crucifixion. If the latter at least agrees that struggle is an ineluctable fact of politics, the zealous altruists weakness still lies in his belief that to engage in civil war means to burn out in the process. For every form of communal horizontalism that defers the moment of attack there is a correlating tendency to collapse heroism and martyrdom. Additionally, it is true that we have said that our political-cruelty seeks to destroy what destroys us. However, this does not necessitate the assertion that real transformation means our own self-destruction. There is a world of difference between converting structural oppression into a fight for abolition and identifying existential abolition as the proper means toward the abolition of capital as such. In a word: “Even if we had the power to blow it [the State] up, could we succeed in doing so without destroying ourselves, since it is so much a part of the conditions of life, including our organism and our very reason? The prudence with which we must manipulate that line, the precautions we must take to soften it, to suspend it, to divert it, to undermine it, testify to a long labor which is not merely aimed against the State and the powers that be, but directly at ourselves.”

That said, the first iteration of altruism should not be given scant attention precisely because of its prevalence. In place of weaponizing our feelings of cruelty, social anarchism substitutes a straight forward Habermasianism sutured to the mantra of ‘returning to a class based analysis’. This helps some sleep at night. Contra these political sedatives, we again confront the history and cruelty of our politics. What is at stake is the feminist lesson we must never forget: that the personal is political; that few emotions burn and catalyze collective insubordination like those of pain, vengeance, and cruelty. The lesson is that the efficacy of political-cruelty lies not in the never ending reflections and discussions on what pains us; rather, that emotions such as cruelty are what constitute the armature of our collective antagonism.

Frankenstein Revenge Poster

A Brief Note For Enemies And Allies:

We could care less about those whose politics amounts to being a good ‘friend’ to those who struggle, or being a good ‘ally’ by reading up on the history of people of color, queers, and so on. A politics of cruelty is not a politics of friendship; since we do not see a softer world here because sociability has its cruelties, friendship has its rivalries, and opinion has its antagonisms and bloody reversals.

Friendship is already too Greek, too philosophical, and too European for our politics of cruelty. In its place, we should reinvigorate the politics of the Guayaki in Paraguay or the many tribes in that territory known as Zoma. That is, political cruelty does not seek to be included into the universality proposed by the history of Western capitalism and instead seeks to find the means of escaping from a universality that was never ours from the start. For those who would prefer reductive formulations, we could say that while the West continues its process of inclusion and expansion, our political-cruelty maintains its relation to the Outside. To our enemies who get off on finding contradictions that abound in this politics of cruelty we say to them ‘all the better!’ For them, whose desire is to be the intelligible subjects of globally integrated capital, these contradictions are mere impasses on their road to being exceptions to the rule. To our allies, who opt for a politics of cruelty, we say ‘savor these supposed contradictions!’ From the point of view of political-cruelty a contradiction simply means that we have a weapon with more than one side.

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.