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

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

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

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

I: A Brief History of Disco Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II: Desiring-Revolution, The Revolution of Desire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(A year old paper that I still mean to return to)

“Of what account is a book that never carries us away beyond all books?”– Friederich Nietzsche

In a 1990 interview with Gilles Deleuze, Antonio Negri poses a rather interesting question regarding Deleuze’s early monographs on key figures in his personal canon: “Already in the years leading up to ‘68, in your work on Nietzsche and a bit later in Coldness and Cruelty, you’d given a new meaning to politics-as possibility, event, singularity…How should we understand this universality of the untimely?”(Negotiations, 170). What follows are close readings from Deleuze’s text Nietzsche and Philosophy, to give us a sense in which Nietzsche’s thought holds the potential for thinking through the cultural, socio-economic, and material milieu we have come to find ourselves in.

There is an unspoken assumption of my reading which needs to be made explicit: if we are to think and read Nietzsche in terms of what he has to offer the “Left,” we must search through his texts and his interpreters for potential tools of resistance to, and subversion of, Capital. Is this shift from a close reading of Nietzsche’s corpus to an emphasis on the social and political an appropriate one? Given Gilles Deleuze’s own biography, he began his philosophical career by writing texts dedicated to readings of Hume, Kant, Spinoza, Bergson, and of course Nietzsche. Even one of his major philosophical works Difference and Repetition, a post-structuralist study of ontology,  remained a close study of Deleuze’s personal philosophical canon. But given the events surrounding May/June of 1968, and his befriending of radical psychoanalyst Felix Guattari, Deleuze’s own thinking began to turn. His post-68 writings (most notably Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus) took as their subject matter society, politics, language, art, and everything in between.

Thus, I want to offer a shift in our own thinking of Deleuze’s Nietzsche and Philosophy (1962). If we are to dwell on the question of an “appropriate” way to approach this text, I only offer Deleuze and Guattari’s own words in reply: “We will never ask what a book means, as signified or signifier; we will not look for anything to understand in it. We will ask what it functions with, in connection with what other things it does or does not transmit intensities… A book itself is a little machine; what is the relation… of this literary machine to a war machine, love machine, revolutionary machine, etc.” (D&G, ATP, 4)


“There is no event, no phenomenon, word or thought which does not have a multiple sense. A thing is sometimes this, sometimes that, sometimes something more complicated – depending on the forces (the gods) which take possession of it.”(Nietzsche and Philosophy, 4). The irreducibility of sense to a unity is related to the fact that “every force is essentially related to another force. The being of force is plural,”(NP, 6) and simultaneously related to force’s own double movement: “A force is domination, but also the object on which domination is exercised.”(NP, 6). Force is that which gives the phenomena its sense. Force appropriates, exploits, possess the thing or expresses itself in it. Moreover forces determine how a thing is and thus one phenomena can have a variety of identities given a variety of forces. We can also say that force is whichever collection of material conditions the event, subject, word, or phenomena is located in: “The same object, the same phenomenon, changes sense depending on the force which appropriates it.” (NP, 3)

The example of Saussurian linguistics (while I’m well aware is not what Deleuze is after, but nonetheless presents an entry into understanding what is at stake here) is the easiest entry point into this understanding of force and its relation to sense. For Saussure, language is solely constructed of differences and nothing else. Any sign can be inserted into any series of signs to produce meaning. Likewise, signs can be rearranged, withdrawn, or substituted to produce a variety of other meanings. In this way, language produces a variety of senses (sens). Sense, in this regard, is what is created from the relation between the phenomena and the forces which constitute, appropriate, and take possession of it. So when Deleuze writes “a phenomenon is not an appearance or even an apparition but a sign, a symptom which finds its meaning in an existing force,” he is highlighting the fact that sense is constituted and derivative from a play of forces.

It is also important to note Deleuze’s insertion of ‘the gods’ in a parenthesis. If the forces are equivalent to the gods, which is what this sentence seems to suggest, it is the equivalence of the variety of forces with their respective divinities: Dionysus and Christ. A force can become either active or reactive depending on which god gets a hold of it (which force appropriates, subjugates, etc.) The active/affirming force is embodied in Dionysus who suffers from a “superabundance” of life, whereas Christ is the embodiment of the reactive/negating force for whom the superabundance of life results in an impoverished being; life is too much for Christ, but for Dionysus it is never enough.


“For evaluation of this and that, the delicate weighing of each thing and its sense, the estimation of the forces which define the aspects of a thing and its relations with others at every instant-all this (or all that) depends on philosophy’s highest art – that of interpretation. To interpret (sense) and even to evaluate (values) is always to weigh. The notion of essence does not disappear here but takes on a new significance, for not every sense has the same value. A thing has as many senses as there are forces capable taking possession of it.”(NP,  4).  To begin interpreting this passage, it would be fruitful to begin by asking about the relation between weighing and a thing’s ‘many senses.’ If not every sense has the same value, that is to say if not every object, event, phenomena, subject, etc., created from the play of forces (differences) has the same value, it is because each created phenomena is not created with the same quantity of force. Or, given the example of Saussure, we could say that each sense is not created equally since its sense is contextually determined by its sentence, text, genre, language, environment, etc.. But how does one determine (weigh) from which context an essence is derived, if every sense is determined and dependent on the series of forces (signs) which constitute it? By determining which relation(s) of the multi-sensed phenomena enhances its power the most.

One could write a formula as such: the greater in quantity of force, the more pronounced that particular relation between abundance of force and event, subject, phenomena, object, etc. is effected into an essence. Thus Deleuze writes: “Essence…will be defined as that one, among all the senses of a thing, which gives it the force with which it has the most affinity.”(NP, 4). This redefinition of essence is Deleuze asking us to think the event, the phenomena, the subject, with caution. Essence, is related to both sense and force, and by this very relation Deleuze aims to steer us away from any common notions of the term (ousia, substance, the as such, etc.). Essence, understood here, is influenced by a variety of forces but only appears as an essence as that tendency of an object to exhibit itself most powerfully.

Apollo and Dionysus – The Triumph of Active Forces

Deleuze tells us that Apollo and Dionysus are not contradictory terms but rather two solutions to the same problem. The problem, is the triumph of reactive over active forces; the triumph of ressentiment, bad conscience, and the ascetic ideal; or what Deleuze calls the suffering of individuation. What the triumph of the reactive forces means is the domination of a “utilitarian force of adaptation and partial limitation; 2) force which separates active force from what it can do, which denies active force (triumph of the weak or the slaves); 3) force separated from what it can do, which denies or turns against itself (reign of the weak or of slaves).”(NP, 61). Reactive forces means substituting chance and necessity for probability and finality, denying a force to go to it’s limit, and substitutes the affirmation of difference for its negation. Thus, Deleuze can say, echoing Nietzsche’s untimely madman that “The fact remains that we do not feel, experience or know any becoming but becoming-reactive. We are not merely noting the existence of reactive forces, we are noting the fact that everywhere they are triumphant.”(NP, 64). But even though all we have known is the force of reaction/negation, it does not necessarily imply a fatalism.

Deleuze claims that reactive forces cannot return (they have no being) since, if reactive forces were to become-active; that is to say if they were to go to their limit, it must be able to at once affirm its action (dice which are thrown) and affirm that which returns (dice which fall back). But reactive forces find their essence in the will to nothingness. The will to nothingness cannot affirm the being of becoming (eternal return) nor can it affirm becoming itself. The essence of reactive forces is negation and nihilism, for whom life is that which must be put on trial.# Reactive forces find their embodiments in Hegel and Christianity: “For Christianity the fact of suffering in life means primarily that life is not just, that it is even essentially unjust, that it pays for an essential injustice by suffering, it is blameworthy because it suffers. The result of this is that life must be justified, that is to say, redeemed of its injustice or saved.”(NP, 15). For Hegel, “the slave only conceives of power as the object of a recognition, the content of a representation, the stake in a competition, and therefore makes it depend, at the end of a fight, on a simple attribution of established values.” (NP, 10).

Christianity is the reactive force which accuses life for failing to tend to human proclivities. Hegel’s dialectics are the reactive forces that at once are incapable of affirming difference by framing life in terms of a negative movement of competition, and at the same time fail to carry out a true critical thought, which thinks both the origin of values and the value of origins. And one can only say yes when Deleuze asks us, “And what is there at the end of all this if not a subtle way of deprecating existence, of subjecting it to judgment, moral judgment and above all God’s judgment?” (NP, 20).

The solution to the problem of reactive forces (suffering of individuation) are Apollo, and Dionysus. “Apollo is the divine incarnation of the principle of individuation,” who “overcomes the suffering of the individual by the radiant glorification of the eternity of the phenomenon.” (NP, 11). Dionysus is “the affirmative and affirming god. He is not content with “resolving” pain in a higher and suprapersonal pleasure but rather he affirms it and thus turns it into someone’s pleasure. This is why Dionysus is himself transformed in multiple affirmations, rather than being dissolved in original being or reabsorbing multiplicity…He affirms the pains of growth rather than reproducing the suffering of individuation.” (NP, 13).

To think Apollo and Dionysus is non-oppositional since both are solutions of creation (willing) and affirmation (will). The Apollonian is a territorializing solution while the Dionysian is a deterritorializing one. The Apollonian appeals to the forces which constitute its essence (pain being just one constitutive force), and using this essence as its center of gravity to free itself from suffering. The Apollonian gesture is not opposed to the Dionysian, which ‘rumbles’ beneath it. Rather, in its appeal to its constitutive forces for its solution, it affirms the Dionysian excess. Thus the Apollonian is said to be territorializing since it constructs its own grounding from the Dionysian and finds its center within it.

The Dionysian solution can be said to be an extra-subjective solution which, too, appeals to the forces – flows, relations, material conditions – which constitute its essence in order to enhance its own power. It is the extra-subjective solution (deterritorial) since it finds its enhancement of power outside of itself in the very forces which constitute it. Moreover, to enhance one’s own power is not a self/ego driven enterprise, but an affirmation of the will’s relation and place within a network of forces. To enhance one’s power, in the style of Dionysus, is to affirm difference and multiplicity. The difference between Dionysus and Apollo, then, is not a difference of opposition but a difference in the expressivity and concentration# of power: the territorial and deterritorial, the crystallization of power (Apollo) and the dissemination of power (Dionysus). For Apollo, power grows at its center while for Dionysus its power grows at its limits; both affirming difference.
The Tragic Community

Beginning to think a Left Nietzsche, a thought which is a resistance and subversion of Capital, we must begin with the principle that thought is never separable from its form-of-life. That is to say, we must realize one of the greatest gifts Nietzsche offers philosophy: the understanding that the daily activities of life are not neutral. Deleuze is right to say that “affirmation is the product of a way of thinking which presupposes an active life as its condition and concomitant,”(NP, 102) and to emphasize that “evaluations… are not values but ways of being, modes of existence of those who judge and evaluate.”(NP, 1).  From this understanding of the non-neutrality of a form-of-life, we can then ask the question, what is the potential for a Left Nietzschean thought today? The answer is Dionysus and the Tragic Community.

Dionysus is the essence of the tragic and is the one who creates meaning, identity, community, by affirming the forces which constitute essences and by multiplying its own relations of constitution (its own lines of flight): “Affirmation is tragic because it affirms chance and the necessity of chance; because it affirms multiplicity and the unity of multiplicity. The dicethrow is tragic. All the rest is nihilism.” (NP, 36) Through this affirmation, which is at once gay and a multiplication, power begins to grow along every relation; the life related to which takes greater intensities (larger quantities of virtual meaning – that is to say a wider range of possible senses and values). A formula could be stated as such:

1) The more one multiplies its constituting forces, the more one enhances power.

2) The more one enhances power, the more one “overcomes the SUFFERING of the individual” since affirmation and enhancement of power entails the increase in the production of an ESSENCE and the DISSEMINATION of further power.

                    2.1) Suffering here meaning succumbing to the abyss (radical nihilism) and also  denotes    the inversion of this very process; we can name this inversion Capital.

                     2.2) The essences here being Apollo, community, territorialization

2.3) Dissemination here meaning a forces ex-propriation of force and sense

And the greater power grows along every relation a truth continually becomes exposed:

“Whatever singularity, which wants to appropriate belonging itself, its own being-in-language, and thus rejects all identity and every condition of belonging, is the principal enemy of the State. Wherever these singularities peacefully demonstrate their being in common there will be a Tiananmen, and, sooner or later, the tanks will appear.” (Agamben, Means Without Ends, p.89)

The principal enemy of Capital is community. And it is the most radical forms of community, where Capital finds its most powerful enemy. This community, is what we would call the Tragic Community. Within a Tragic Community, power grows along every line of flight and at once embodies the gesture of subversion: the crystallization and dissemination of power, the deterritorialization and territorialization of forces which constitute it. Moreover, the Tragic Community is not only in solidarity with Dionysus but also with Heraclitus who “makes existence an aesthetic phenomenon rather than a moral or religious one.” (NP, 23).

If we repeat the Deleuzean question with a slight shift, “what can the Tragic community do?”, we must reply with his own equation of “we the artists” = “we the inventors of new possibilities of life.” (NP, 103). The Tragic Community is the community which is an active/affirming force; it doesn’t suffer from the impoverishment of life but rather from its superabundance. And in this style, the Tragic Community is incommensurate to Hegel and dialectics. It does not ask for its power to be represented. How could Capital recognize values which aim to overthrow it as anything but “base,” “terroristic,” “violent,” or even better “utopian”? The Tragic Community opposes the negative values of Hegel, the moral values of Christianity, and the global-economic values of Capital. In its place, the Tragic Community only upholds aesthetic values – any creative activity which makes everything in life fuller, richer, more perspicuous and more necessary: the enhancement of force and the feelings of plenitude.# And by doing so, the Tragic Community attempts an escape from Capital’s accommodation of those desires which remain incommensurate to Capital’s essence (reactive) and values. And thus, the real question of my reading: in what sens (way? line? front? meaning? and direction?) does the Tragic Community respond?

If we can assume this language of the crystallization and dissemination of power, we must ask ourselves: What ‘form-of-life’ will the Tragic Community exhibit? How will it resist Capital? One example of the deterritorializing nature of the Tragic Community may take the form of the harassment of State power: “Harassing the police means that by forcing them to be everywhere they can no longer be effective anywhere.”(The Coming Insurrection, 127). A Tragic Community may take the form of territorialization, which is at once a crystallization and a dissemination and can be conceived as such:

“It’s not about possessing territory. Rather, it’s a matter of increasing the density of the communes, of circulation, and of solidarities to the point that the territory becomes unreadable, opaque to all authority. We don’t want to occupy the territory, we want to be the territory […] the rule is simple: the more territories there are superimposed on a given zone, the more circulation there is between them, the harder it will be for power to get a handle on them. Bistros, print shops, sports facilities, wastelands, second-hand bookstalls, building rooftops, improvised street markets, kebab shops and garages can all easily be used for purposes other than their official ones if enough complicities come together in them.”(CI, 108).

A Tragic Community can even be started by raising a question as simple as this: “We should not ask whether it is a crime to ‘steal’ a piece of property, but whether it is a crime to charge rent.” (No Trespassing, 20). And thereby a Tragic Community “super imposes its own geography over the state cartography, scrambling and blurring it: it produces its own secession,”(CI, 108-109) ushering in it’s own transvaluation of values. A Tragic Community is not afraid to establish values by destroying old ones, whether symbolically or materially, since “the creator of values cannot be distinguished from a destroyer, from a criminal or from a critic.” (NP, 87).

Simultaneously, a Tragic Community’s relation to itself grows in quantity of force. But this enhancement of force, the Community’s growth in power, is inseparable from its moment of resistance to power. Thus, thinking both powers growth and resistance at once, a Tragic Community counts “on making that which is unconditional in relationships the armor of a political solidarity as impenetrable to state interference as a gypsy camp […] “becoming autonomous” could just as easily mean learning to fight in the street, to occupy empty houses, to cease working, to love each other madly, and to shoplift.”(CI, 42). And finally, a Tragic Community does not spend time feeling guilt or doubt for any act of love, sabotage, theft, etc. because it knows, that which doesn’t kill power is killed by it.