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

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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.

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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.

 

The Human Strike and The Politics of Escape

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Transcript of a short talk I gave @ b-books for the German book launch of Dark Deleuze in Berlin. 

Introductory Remarks

The terms of escape, opacity, and indiscernibility are perhaps three of the most essential concepts that constitute the lexicon of Dark Deleuze; a lexicon that seeks to refute and replace the consensus of Deleuze as a thinker of affirmation, of joyous affects, and lover of rhizomes. If this is so, readers may find the text’s development of these terms merely suggestive, especially since the notion of escape is given its most interesting treatment in the final passages of the text’s concluding chapter. However, as I hope to show, these concepts of escape, opacity, and indiscernibility, gain in significance insofar as we understand them in relation to the interlocutors Andrew brings together in his reading of Deleuze; and particularly the work of the Paris based art collective Claire Fontaine (and to a lesser extent Tiqqun) whose names appear at key moments in the development of this politics of escape.

1. Escape, Opacity, Indiscernibility


To begin, we can ask the following question: how are we to understand a politics of escape in light of Dark Deleuze’s argument that Deleuze, has always been, a partisan of the anti-state communist tradition? At the outset we can say that escape is not to be confused with some generalized notion of deterritorialization or even with Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of lines of flight. To escape requires lines of flight, but the two are not one and the same. For Andrew, escape is given a decidedly political inflection where lines of flight pertain to the objective tendencies of the world that, if taken to their logical conclusions, force a qualitative change of the situation:

Escape is never more exciting than when it spills out into the streets, where trust in appearances, trust in words, trust in each other, and trust in this world all disintegrate in a mobile zone of indiscernibility (Fontaine, ‘Black Bloc’). It is these moments of opacity…and breakdown that darkness most threatens the ties that bind us to this world. (Dark Deleuze, 70)

Regarding this passage it is worth noting the reference to Claire Fontaine and her writing on the black bloc, which suggests to the reader that between Fontaine and this Dark Deleuze there is something in common. What both Fontaine and Dark Deleuze hold in common is their antipathy toward those who envision the task of Thinking being one of adequate description, or the verification of conceptual representations. In contrast to these positions that equate thinking with representing/describing the world, Fontaine and Deleuze assert that before all else Thinking is a response to a problem whose nature is political. Or as Deleuze and Guattari write in the 8th chapter of A Thousand Plateaus, ‘…politics precedes Being’ (ATP, 203). Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, the reason for the reference to Fontaine’s work is because it is Fontaine who develops a key distinction that is implied in Dark Deleuze’s conclusion and one that will allow us to understand how the three terms of escape, opacity, and indiscernibility relate to one another. In her essay ‘This is not the black bloc’ Fontaine distinguishes between what is ontologically indiscernible and that which is politically indiscernible. As she writes:

A distinctive feature of one who finds themselves in what we call a black bloc is to demand nothing for themselves or for others, to cut across public space without being subjected to it for once, to disappear in a mass or factory exists and public transportation at rush hour…In this night where all demonstrators look alike there is no point in posing Manichean questions. Especially since we know that the distinction between guilty and innocent no longer matters, all that counts is the one between winners and losers. (Claire Fontaine, ‘This is not the black bloc’)

A world of difference, then, keeps apart the fabled ‘night in which all cows are black’ from the night of insurrection ‘where all demonstrators look alike’. Regarding the former, we find ourselves disabled in the face of pure immediacy. In this situation, there is nothing about the world that allows us to distinguish something from anything else; a cause from its effect; a principle from its consequences. However, in the night where all demonstrators look alike, we find ourselves enabled in our confrontation with capital’s imposed daily rhythm and its state apparatuses of capture. For example, while one may ordinarily be subjected to ‘random’ stops by the police or even the violence that always arrives at demonstrations, the indiscernibility of the black bloc affords this mass of individuals more opportunities for attack and resisting arrest than if they were to assume the transparency model of peaceful protest and orderly conduct. Fontaine continues:

Continue reading “The Human Strike and The Politics of Escape”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The War Machine Is Not Your Friend: Notes on Minoritarian Politics

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(Part II of an ongoing project on Clastres, D&G, and revolutionary politics. Additionally, I am indebted to Andrew Culp for the formulation that serves as the introductory section title for this post.)

/0/. The Most Savage Fruit of Alienation

Despite the revolutionary promise of the nomadic war machines relation to the State, Deleuze and Guattari are quick to note that “…the present situation is highly discouraging. We have watched the war machine grow stronger and stronger…we have seen it assign it as its objective a peace still more terrifying than fascist death…” What happened, then, in this long history of the struggle between nomadic war machines and State societies, that solicits the caution of our schizo-philosophers? Quite straightforwardly, it is the construction of the capitalist world market; the emergence of which confronts the nomadic war machine as its most formidable enemy precisely because both the nomad and Capital seek to weaponize the processes of deterritorialization and their lines of flight to effectuate a truly destratified circulation of political sovereignty and economic power. If globally integrated capitalism constitutes one kind of war machine insofar as its moments of reterritorialization fall back onto a more fundamental process of deterritorialization this is due to the capitalist transformation of the function of the State as an apparatus of capture:

“To the extent that capitalism constitutes an axiomatic (production for the market), all States and all social formations tend to become isomorphic in their capacity as models of realization: there is but one centered world market, the capitalist one, in which even the so-called socialist countries participate. Worldwide organization thus ceases to pass “between” heterogenous formations since it assures the isomorphy of those formations. But it would be wrong to confuse isomorphy with homogeneity. For one thing, isomorphy allows and even incites, a great heterogeneity among States (democratic, totalitarian, and especially, “socialist” States are not facades) […] When international organization becomes the capitalist axiomatic, it continues to imply a heterogeneity of social formations, it gives rise to and organizes its “Third World”” (ATP, 436-7).

It is here that we see the similarity and difference between the nomadic war machine and capitalism as a worldwide organization of society: namely, the pure war effectuated by nomadic societies is doubled in the pure war effectuated by the capitalist axiomatic of production for the market. Thus, in both instances, the defining tendency of nomadic and capitalist society is one which seeks to retain the qualitative differences that define particular social groups (or, for capitalism, different nation-States). However, capitalism appears as the perfect double of the nomadic war machine in that it has found an other mode for the distribution and circulation of political sovereignty and economic resources that no longer relies on returning the fruits of Capital to the interests of Labor.

Thus, if it was the case with those societies against the State that sovereign power was continuously distributed to avoid its accumulation in the hands of a single individual and the abundance of resources was expended for benefit the group as a whole; the axiomatic of capital (production for the market) supplants and modifies the anti-State forms of sovereign power. Now it is capital that functions as the sovereign insofar as it is the axiomatic of the market that determines how resources, value, and commodities are distributed, and requires a continuous kind of warfare in the form of primitive accumulation for the infinite expansion of capital. In other words, the objective tendency of a deterritorialization that only reterritorializes on itself which defines the nomadic war machine as such, is actualized in both nomadic groups and capitalism where each actualization presents a means of organizing society, where one actualization necessarily excludes the other: either social relations are nomadically-mediated phenomena, or social relations are market-mediated phenomena. Thus, if it is the case that in non-State societies every kind of relation found therein is mediated by the nomadic-collective interest of the group considered as a whole; it is with the existence of globally integrated capitalism and its appropriation of the war machine that all hitherto existing relations in society are now mediated by the axiomatic (or principles) of the market as such.

And if only to add insult to injury, as Deleuze and Guattari mentioned in the previous passage, the capitalist world market affords nation-States a certain heterogeneous existence and simply requires their isomorphy in their adherence to the capitalist axiomatic as sovereign power and as economic interest. Thus if it was the aim of ‘societies against the State’ to ward off various forms of instantiated divisions within their social group (‘to forbid alienation’), Capital abides by the wishes of non-State societies since political and economic power has moved elsewhere.

To merely be against the State now appears as the most savage fruit of alienation under globally integrated capital since the restitution of political and economic power can no longer simply be achieved within, and/or against, the nation-State itself. It is for these reasons that Deleuze and Guattari will define two kinds of war machines. One the one hand, we have the capitalist world-war machine that makes war its object through the continuation of primitive accumulation; even to the extent that the perpetual war required at the level of anti-State societies is equated with a globalized perpetual peace (via phenomena such as the ‘war on terror’). On the other hand, there is the nomadic war machine that encounters war only as its supplement in the midst of its overall project of constructing a smooth space in order to avoid moments of capture, which function according to sovereign-Faciality; and to avoid the ossification of political power which produces a veritable fascism, whether internal or external to social formations as such. Thus, and with emergence of the world wide ecumenical machine of capitalism, it is no longer simply the State that imposes itself upon anti-State social groups in the same way that the Organism imposes a certain order and appropriates the capacities of its organs; now it is Capital as worldwide axiomatic that imposes itself as the Organism that gives a specific order to States and non-State social formations alike.

At this juncture we need to recall that what Deleuze and Guattari find of merit in Clastres’ attempts to overcome the eurocentric blindspots internal to various anthropological frameworks, they also find a certain limit to his thinking. Namely, Clastres’ account of societies against State-capture fails at the moment it would need to provide an analysis of how the State emerged in contrast to non-State societies. The war machine that was discovered in Clastres’ research and the war machine that is appropriated by Deleuze and Guattari undergoes a transformation. No longer is war simply the instance of conflict between State and non-State groups (this conflict is rather one instantiation of the absolute and unconditioned Idea of war itself). Rather, war is understood as the more general, and objective, tendential process that defines any social organization. As Deleuze mentions in his interview with Negri, “we think any society is defined not so much by its contradictions as by its lines of flight, it flees all over the place, and it’s very interesting to try and follow the lines of flight taking shape at some particular moment or other”(Negotiations, p. 171). In other words, what is definitive of societies are what flees from their centers of capture and processes of assimilation/normalization prior to any talk of the contradictions between the forces and means of production, for instance. In other words, what defines social formations and produces contradiction only as its consequence are the ways in which any ordering of society is subject to individuals, resources, processes, etc., that fail to be exhaustively incorporated into the dominant social order.

Thus, if the orthodox Marxist continues to proclaim that the history of all hitherto society is the history of class struggle, Deleuze and Guattari reply that the history of all hitherto societies is the negotiation of that which can and cannot be adequately incorporated, captured, normalized, and adjusted toward the ends of the political and economic order. And within their universal history of apparati of capture and lines of flight, Capitalism emerges as a monstrous hybrid between the nomadic distribution of sovereignty and economic abundance characteristic of non-State societies and the colonial and imperial war machine in order to maintain worldwide hegemony. That is, what Capital takes from the nomad is the nomads aptitude for constructing a Body without Organs where there is a continuous circulation of political and economic power while at the same time marrying the nomadic BwO to the order imposed on the organs by the Organism of State-capture. It is at this point in their analysis of Capital that it is worth highlighting their agreement with Marx’s characterization of the relationship between Labor and Capital in the Grundrisse. As Marx writes,

“The production process has ceased to be a labour process in the sense of a process dominated by labour as its governing unity. Labour appears, rather, merely as a conscious organ, scattered among the individual living workers at numerous points of the mechanical system […] In machinery, knowledge appears as alien, external to him; and living labour [as] subsumed under self-activating objectified labour” (Grundrisse, 693-5) 

In DeleuzoGuattarian terms, Capital is peculiar since it is a BwO that acts upon its organs in ways that are similar to the subjugation inflicted by the Organism. It is due to this peculiarity that they write, in a more sober moment, that the war machine has grown stronger only to produce something more terrifying than fascist death: namely, the world war machine of which Capital constructs a BwO that allows the flow and circulation of all of its elements in a productive manner while the very same BwO exploits the productive capacities of its organs for ends other than those elements that constitute the BwO as such.

Thus, and given this relationship between labor-as-organ of capitalism’s worldwide Organism, we can reasonably wonder if, on this account of the relationship between nomadism and capitalism, there is some significant difference between Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the Nomad and Marx’s concept of Labor. That is, can we justifiably equate this concept of the nomad with the Marxian concept of Labor? Additionally, if Deleuze and Guattari want to remain Marxists, we must also ask if they simply appropriate Marx’s understanding of Labor wholesale or if Deleuze and Guattari offer a transformation of the social antagonism as first schematized by Marx himself?

/1/. A Revolutionizing Tendency IS NOT A Revolutionary Praxis

While it may appear as if there is little to no significant difference between the nomad and Labor, it is important to understand that the difference between labor and the nomadic war machine is the difference between Labor, which is understood as the organization of a people along certain lines of flight or certain points of tension within capitalism itself, while the nomadic war machine is simply one of the objective tendencies that defines social formations under specific socio-determinate conditions. Thus, contrary to the apparent identity between the nomad and Labor, we can neither equate Labor nor Capital with the nomadic war machine itself. Rather, Labor and Capital are two qualitatively different attempts to utilize, organize, and weaponize those tendential processes of global society that either seek to push Capital to the point of its radical transformation and towards the realization of global communism; or to continuously establish more axioms that temporarily resolve the crises of Capital through its organs that perpetuate capital’s realization of value (legal, juridical, military, political, etc.).

It is for this reason that Deleuze and Guattari write, “[T]he question is therefore less the realization of war than the appropriation of the war machine” (ATP, 420). Thus the question of the nomad’s relationship to Labor is not a question that seeks to establish their essential identity. Rather, the question posed by the nomadic war machine, understood as the various tendencies of deterritorialization within a given social formation, is a socio-economic problem that is posed to both Labor and Capital; where both Labor and Capital are two ways of resolving the socio-economic problems posed to a given society and thus involve qualitatively different appropriations of the nomadic war machine as such.

Thus, there is an important difference between the revolutionary potential of those nomadic tendencies that push social formations toward points of structural transformation and the subsequent politics that ensues given how social formations make use of the variable processes of deterritorialization. Namely, the revolutionary organization of Labor over and against Capital is not simply one of capitalism’s ‘revolutionizing tendencies’ that force capital’s ever growing expansion across the globe. Rather, it is the means by which Labor uses the lines of flight that define capitalist society as the grounds for the abolition of capital itself; in other words, what is definitive of revolutionary politics on the one hand, cannot be equated to the revolutionizing tendencies of the capitalist mode of production, on the other. Thus, if one is to search for a term that serves the same function as Marx’s concept of Labor; and if one acknowledges the difference in kind between the revolutionizing tendencies of capitalism and  revolutionary politics; one would do better in finding something akin to Labor in Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of the minor/minoritarian. As they write:

“The power of minority, of particularity, finds its figure or its universal consciousness in the proletariat…We have often seen capitalism maintain and organize inviable States, according to its needs, and for the precise purpose of crushing minorities. The minorities issue is instead that of smashing capitalism, of redefining socialism, of constituting a war machine capable of countering the world war machine by other means” (ATP, 472).

Thus, against this common misconception that Deleuze and Guattari privilege deterritorialization for-itself prior to any concrete determination of how society should be globally arranged, what is truly revolutionary according to our authors and what social position in contemporary capitalism possesses the revolutionary force that Marx identified in the relation of Labor to Capital at the end of the 19th century, is the manner by which various social groups engage with the revolutionizing tendencies of capital in order to construct a revolutionary political praxis. On this point of difference between tendencies and political praxis, Nicholas Thoburn provides us with one of the clearest formulation of the stakes and nuances of Deleuze and Guattari’s relationship to Marx’s concept of Labor and their use of the category of minor/minoritarian. As he writes, what is revolutionary is how the exploited subjects of Capital collectively

engage with the ‘objective’ lines of flight immanent to the social system […] For Marx and Deleuze and Guattari, capitalism is a radically transformative social system that is premised on lines of flight; it was born through a new means of mobilizing and conjoining flows of money and flows of labour. The essence of capital is that it continually sets free its lines of flight – its made scientists, its countercultures, its warmongers – in order to open new territories for exploitation. It is thus a perpetual process of setting and break limits. Politics is not an assertion of a class or minority identity, but is a process of engagement with these ‘objective’ lines of flight. Inasmuch as an assemblage ‘works’ in a social system, its lines of flight are functional to it – they are not in themselves revolutionary. Politics thus seeks to engage with these flows (of people, ideas, relations, and machines in mutual interrelation) and, in a sense, push them further or take them elsewhere, against their immanent reterritorialization in fashions functional to the realization of surplus value. This is why for Marx the communist movement needs to follow a path through the flows of capitalism, not oppose an identity to it, and why Deleuze and Guattari suggest that minorities do not so much create lines of flight, as attach themselves to them (cf. Deleuze and Parnet 1987: 43)” (Deleuze, Marx and Politics, p.29)

‘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). 

Towards a Feminist “Axiomatics”

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The title of this post, Feminist ‘Axiomatics,’ is a term I will use to explain and articulate a specific gesture within feminist theory – mainly found in the work of Elizabeth Grosz and Sara Ahmed. This gesture consists in this: to understand that there is something specific and distinct about feminist theory – where for Grosz it is understanding the historical specificity of feminist theory as a body of work that stands apart from other competing theories (Marxism, structuralism, etc.), and for Ahmed it is a certain preoccupation with the future and the attempt to not repeat the past. Based on this initial claim, Grosz and Ahmed then make the following move: feminist theory takes as its object of critique every theoretical project claiming for itself the path toward emancipation in order to understand and deconstruct every patriarchal, sexist, and misogynistic assumption which help found the very project in question. It is in the combination of these two claims that we can come to understand the axiomatic quality of feminist theory and its relationship with other, and sometimes seen as competing, thinkers and ideas.

From Equality to Autonomy

For Grosz, this move begins in the 1960’s; specifically with the rise of Feminist Theory in universities as distinct from Feminism as a political movement. “In the sixties, feminists began to question various images, representations, ideas, and presumptions traditional theories developed about women and the feminine” (Grosz, 1986). Given the already established presence of the struggle for women’s emancipation, what was specific about this time period was the rise of what Grosz calls a ‘politics of autonomy’ as opposed to a ‘politics of equality.’ A politics of equality was based on two basic ideas: the inclusion of women into the intellectual concerns of theorists and the intellectual treatment of women as legitimate objects of inquiry as being equal to the way in which intellectuals have long since treated men as objects of study. Against these two claims, a politics of autonomy understood that equality does not go far enough since equality would only grant women and the feminine equal treatment insofar as certain aspects of the lives of women and feminine lives were like the lives of men: “The project of women’s equal inclusion meant that only women’s sameness to men, only women’s humanity and not their womanliness could be discussed” (Grosz, 1986).
The politics of autonomy, means not undertaking an emancipatory project on the basis of women’s sameness to men. Rather, “struggle for autonomy…imply the right to reject such standards and create new ones”(Grosz, 1986). It is this politics of autonomy that constituted the heart of Feminist Theory as a distinct and specific intellectual movement. By understanding that equality is the attempt to grant women the privileges enjoyed by men as long as they emulated men/masculine lives, the politics of autonomy attempt to not only reject this move but also posit the idea that the dogmatic assumption of the equivalence of maleness with rationality and womanliness with irrationality was too a bankrupt framework. Feminist Theory, understood through the lens of autonomy, then means 4 things:

  • 1). Women are both the subjects and objects of knowledge – they ought to be granted the same standing as men and the lives of men in terms of theoretical inquiry as well as granting the idea that one cannot easily separate reason from desire.
    2). Due to the first point, there is undertaken by Feminist Theorists a radical questioning of all methods, theory’s, and ideas in the attempt to bring under critical analysis each of their main axioms and tenants. This critical attitude which constitutes the heart of Feminist Theory brings under close scrutiny commonly held beliefs of intellectual’s of the left in order to show how even the most liberatory projects can still reinforce and perpetuate anti-feminist ideas and practices.
    3). The politics of autonomy feminists ‘work through’ all objects of study, sometimes in order to subvert and detourn them.
    4). All of this, plus the alternatives developed through Feminist analysis, constitutes what Grosz calls Feminist Theory.

Thus, as Grosz says, the goal of Feminist Theory is to render patriarchical theories and institutions incapable of exercising domination and power over women and the feminine. Ultimately, for Grosz, Feminist Theory as a politics of autonomy is an attempt to counter patriarchical paradigms as well as establish alternative theories and institutions based on the principles of Feminist Theory itself.

Feeling Differently

Extending Grosz’s insights into the question ‘What is Feminist Theory?’ and concluding with a politics of autonomy that takes up a critical attitude toward all ideas, theories, and intellectual projects which present themselves as emancipatory, Ahmed’s essay ‘Feminist Futures’ acts as a further reflection on the status of Feminist Theory itself. For Ahmed, writing after Butler’s Gender Trouble which brought to the attention of Feminist Theory the crisis in the category of Woman, acknowledges the differences which separate feminists of all stripes while also acknowledging that what all feminists share is a “concern with the future; that is, a desire that the future should not simply be a repetition of the past, given that feminism comes into being as a critique of, and resistance to, the ways in which the world has already taken shape” (Ahmed, 2008).

To be concerned with the future and to avoid repeating the past, Ahmed highlights the way in which she, as a feminist, can write her coming into being a feminist through various emotions: anger, pain, love, joy, wonder, and hope. Briefly, in this section, I want to reconstruct Ahmed’s main argument regarding the relationship between emotion and feminist theory/politics since I believe it is an extension of Grosz’s prior claims about the emergence and foundation of Feminist Theory as a theory in its own right. Ahmed’s main argument is as follows:

  • 1). Gender permeates all aspects of social life, hence it is constitutive of our being-in-the-world in a fundamental way.
    2). Feminist anger is directed towards an object that has gone by various names (patriarchy, sexism, misogyny, sexual division of labor) but shares the same quality of pain and oppression constituting women’s everyday lives.
    3). Anger already implies a reading of the world, thus it begins with a reading of a specific object and moves on toward the world itself (due to point 1).
    4). When Feminist anger becomes a critique of “what is,” it becomes “a critique that loses an object.” Through this loss of an object, Feminism opens up the potentials that are not found in the present organization of society.

It is from these four main claims, and read in relation to Elizabeth Grosz’s definition of Feminist Theory, that we come to understand the concept of a Feminist AxiomaticsThrough the reading of Grosz and Ahmed, we can come to a set of conclusions as to what constitutes Feminist Theory as Theory and why is Feminist Theory, in this line of thinking, understood to be “axiomatic.” Simply stated: when Feminism becomes a critique without an object, a critique waged against the world as such, it becomes once again a Theory a la Grosz; that is to say, when one aims at a critique of the world as such, the task is not to name, describe, and diagnose the world (although this may be done along the way). Rather, the project of a feminist axiomatics becomes the creation and establishment of a world where gender and sexuality no longer operate as oppressive relations, no longer perpetuate and continuously solidify stratified and socialized inequality, where this project is founded on the principles of Feminist Theory itself.

Towards a Feminist Axiomatics

So, what is ‘axiomatic’ about this understanding of Feminist Theory and “Feminist” about ‘axiomatics’? The term axiomatics, indebted to the concept of the axiom, is borrowed from Alain Badiou’s own understanding of the relationship between politics and justice – where politics is the collective and voluntaristic decision making of the body politic and justice does not signify a unity or stability, but an instability, a rupture, with the current state of affairs. For Badiou, the status of the axiom in his ontology, just as it is with the status of choice in politics and metapolitics, is not something taken for granted or assumed to be true prior to investigation. Rather, axioms are only ‘true,’ or gain the status of intelligible through their application in the process of which they are a part. That is to say, the intelligibility of an axiom cannot be separated from the demonstration of its Truth: “choice has its intelligibility neither in the objective collective nor in a subjectivity of opinion. Its intelligibility is internal, in the sequential process of action, just as an axiom is intelligible only through the application of the theory that it supports” (Badiou, 2005).

In regards to Feminism and Feminist Theory, what makes Grosz’s and Ahmed’s feminism a feminist axiomatics is due to their shared investment in the idea that what is axiomatic and foundational for theory and politics does precede the process of politics itself. As Grosz writes, a feminist axiomatics is not simply one method among others. It is the search for a new method where theory is sexual, political, gender infused, and understood as historically and politically produced – that there is, at bottom, not simply truth but a ‘politics of truth:’ “feminist theory is involved in continuing explorations of and experimentation with new forms of writing, new methods of analysis, new positions of enunciation, new kinds of discourse…Instead of attempting to establish a new theoretical norm, feminist theory seeks a new discursive space, a space where women can write, read and think as women” (Grosz, 1986). In a similar sentiment, Ahmed writes at the end of her essay: “And so, everyday, we might be compelled to declare “I am/we are feminists,’ even when the meaning of the word is not decided in advance, indeed because it is not decided and because it has effects that are, as yet, not lived. So we say it, and we say it with a certain kind of love, a love that is impure, and not easy, but one that might give us life, a life that has all the vitality of the living, even if it is a life that has yet to take form” (Ahmed, 2008).

It is this idea, of a feminism that remains faithful to all the ways in which it is yet to be decided what it means to be a feminist at this specific historical, political, social, and economic situation that constitutes the axiomatics of Grosz’s and Ahmed’s feminism. For each show us, in their own way, that what is most important about “being a feminist” is the relationship between the lived experience of women and the feminine and the coupling of that experience with intellectual work. To be clear, feminists (political and/or intellectual) do not need Badiou to educate them on the various ways being a feminist constitutes a yet to be decided position with regards to the world as such. The bringing together of Badiou and Feminist Theory is an attempt to show how a thinker such as Badiou has the potential to be brought into conversation with feminist intellectuals and activists, and for this reason, must take into account the claims and method of feminist theory itself. Hence the “towards” in the title of this post: bringing together Badiou with Grosz and Ahmed is a first attempt to move toward a conversation where each can benefit, intellectually and politically, from their shared commitments to the axiomatic quality of their thought. Each thinker, in their own way, is a subject of a truth (where they are faithful to an Event – be it May ’68, the birth of Feminist Theory as a necessary counter part to feminist politics, or the commitment to a future that does not replicate the past) that aims to derive its Truth, as a subject, immanently from the situation itself. Thus, we say once more and along with Ahmed: “And so, everyday, we might be compelled to declare “I am/we are feminists,” even when it has effects that are, as yet, not lived” (Ahmed, 2008).