Keywords for a Speculative Empiricism I

Compiled by Amit S. Rai

(last revised 10-19-2018; edited by Etai Bar-On)

Note: all signifiers in bold face have separate entries.

Aufhebung (synthesis, sublation, sublimation): Spivak, in her Translator’s Introduction to Of Grammatology, writes: “Aufhebung is a relationship between two terms where the second at once annuls the first and lifts it up into a higher sphere of existence; it is a hierarchical concept generally translated `sublation’ and now sometimes translated `sublimation.’ A successful preface [to a book, for instance] is aufgehoben into the text it precedes, just as a word is aufgehoben into its meaning. It is as if, to use one of Derrida’s structural metaphors, the son or seed (preface or word), caused or engendered by the father (text or meaning) is recovered by the father and thus justified.

“But within this structural metaphor, Derrida’s cry is `dissemination,’ the seed that neither inseminates nor is recovered by the father, but is scattered abroad” (xi) (see Deconstruction, Differance, Subject).

Body: To begin with Nietzsche: “Everything that enters consciousness as ‘unity’ is already tremendously complex: we always have only a semblance of unity. The phenomenon of the body is the richer, clearer, more tangible phenomenon: to be discussed first, methodologically, without coming to any decision about its ultimate significance” (WtP 270).

The genealogical analysis of the body (see genealogy; Foucault, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History”) inscribes–or rescribes–itself in the nervous system, in temperament, in the digestive apparatus; it links the seeming throw-away representations of faulty respiration, improper diets, or the debilitated and prostrate bodies of those whose ancestors committed errors (consider Dickens’ lineage-less Fagin, “the Jew”) to a whole history of the underside of the Man. The body–“and everything that touches it: diet, climate, and soil”–will be analyzed by a genealogical approach. To quote Foucault, “The body manifests the stigmata of past experience and also gives rise to desires, failings, and errors. These elements may join in a body where they achieve a sudden expression, but as often, their encounter is an engagement in which they efface each other, where the body becomes the pretext of their insurmountable conflict. The body is the inscribed surface of events (traced by language and dissolved by ideas), the locus of a dissociated self (adopting the illusion of a substantial unity), and a volume in perpetual disintegration” (82-83). We believe, asserts Foucault, that the body obeys the exclusive laws of physiology and that it escapes the influence of history, but this is false. “The body is molded by a great many distinct regimes; it is broken down by the rhythms of work, rest, and holidays; it is poisoned by food or values, through eating habits or moral laws; it constructs resistances” (87). (See also Subject)

In Discipline and Punish, Foucault links the body to the soul (esprit but also âme in French), in a new technology of power: “. . . has not the surplus power exercised on the subjected body of the condemned man given rise to another type of duplication. That of a `non-corporal’, a `soul’, as Mably called it. The history of this `micro-physics’ of the punitive power would then be a genealogy or an element in a genealogy of the modern `soul’. Rather than seeing this soul as the reactivated remnants of an ideology, one would see it as the present correlative of a certain technology of power over the body. On the contrary, it exists, it has a reality, it is produced permanently around, on, within the body by the functioning of a power that is exercised on those punished — and, in a more general way, on those one supervises, trains, and corrects, over madmen, children at home and at school, the colonized, over those who are stuck at a machine and supervised for the rest of their lives. This is the historical reality of this soul, which, unlike the soul represented by Christian theology, is not born in sin and subject to punishment, but is born rather out of methods of punishment, supervision and constraint. This real, non-corporal soul is not a substance; it is the element in which are articulated the effects of a certain type of power and the reference of a certain type of knowledge, the machinery by which the power relations give rise to a possible corpus of knowledge, and knowledge extends and reinforces the effects of this power. On this reality-reference, various concepts have been constructed and domains of analysis carved out: psyche, subjectivity, personality, consciousness, etc.; on it have been built scientific techniques and discourses, and the moral claims of humanism. . . . The man described for us, whom we are invited to free, is already in himself the effect of a subjection much more profound than himself. A `soul’ inhabits him and brings him into existence, which is itself a factor in the mastery that power exercises over the body. The soul is the effect and instrument of a political economy; the soul is the prison of the body” (29-30).

Communication: Derrida, from “Signature Event Context”: “Now, the word communication, which nothing initially authorizes us to overlook as a word, and to impoverish as a polysemic word, opens a semantic field which precisely is not limited to semantics, semiotics, and even less to linguistics. To the semantic field of the word communication belongs the fact that it also designates nonsemantic movements. Here at least provisional recourse to ordinary language and to the equivocalities of natural language teaches us that one may, for example, communicate a movement, or that a tremor, a shock, a displacement of force can be communicated–that is, propagated, transmitted. It is also said that different or distant places can communicate between each other by means of a given passageway or opening. What happens in this case, what is transmitted or communicated, are not phenomena of meaning or signification. In these cases we are dealing neither with a semantic or conceptual content, nor with a semiotic operation, and even less with a linguistic exchange.

“Nevertheless, we will not say that this nonsemiotic sense of the communication . . . constitutes the proper or primitive meaning, and that consequently the semantic, semiotic, or linguistic meaning corresponds to a derivation, an extension or reduction, a metaphoric displacement. . . . We will not say so:

“1. because the value of literal, proper meaning appears more problematic than ever,

“2. because the value of displacement, of transport, etc., is constitutive of the very concept of metaphor by means of which one allegedly understands the semantic displacement which operated from communication as nonsemiolinguistic phenomenon to communication as a semiolinguistic phenomenon.” (Derrida, “Signature Event Context” 82-83)

Context: Anthony Easthope draws on Derrida for his notion of context. In Derrida’s thought writing typifies the relation of supposed communication between the sender and the receiver of a message, a text’s addresser and addressee. There are four general propositions that follow from this:

1) “One writes in order to communicate something to those who are absent”: a written text presupposes the absence of the addressee and can be read by someone other than the one it was first addressed to;

2) the same feature, the same intersubjective universality, equally guarantees that the text can still be read even if the author is absent;

3) A text is intended and has a meaning in a particular context;

4) But the universal feature of language means that no particular intention can saturate a text, which by virtue of this universality has the capacity to “break with every given context, and engender infinitely new contexts”: while a text does not have meaning outside a context, its meaning cannot be limited to any one context; spillage of meaning beyond any given context is the condition of its being taken up in fresh context — which it again exceeds (112-113); in Other words, for a text to be read, one must in a certain sense appropriate the text in one’s own context, which means that the text will be repeated in your context. Recall the definition of repetition: “For a text to be repeated it must be exactly reproduced. But for it to be a repetition, there must be a kind of space between the original text and the repetition. What exactly is repetition? It is difference and deferral.” Difference of context, and since all contexts are contexts within contexts (which participate in other contexts) there will always be a certain spillage of meaning.

As Derrida writes: “all those boundaries that form the running border of what used to be called a text, of what we once thought this word could identify, i.e. the supposed end and beginning of a work, the unity of a corpus, the title, the margins, the signatures, the referential realm outside the frame, and so forth. What has happened … is a sort of overrun that spoils all these boundaries and divisions and forces us to extend the accredited concept, the dominant notion of a `text’ [or context] … that is no longer a finished corpus of writing, some content enclosed in a book or its margins, but a differential network, a fabric of traces referring endlessly to something other than itself, to other differential traces” (Derrida, “Living On/Borderlines”, p. 81; pp. 83-84) (see difference, deconstruction).

In “Signature Event Context,” Derrida puts it thus:

But are the prerequisites of a context ever absolutely determinable? . . . Is there a rigorous and scientific concept of the context? Does not the notion of context harbor, behind a certain confusion, very determined philosophical presuppositions? To state it now in the most summary fashion, I would like to demonstrate why a context is never absolutely determinable, or rather in what way its determination is never certain or saturated. This structural nonsaturation would have as it double effect:

1. a marking of the theoretical insufficiency of the usual concept of (the linguistic or nonlinguistic) context such as it is accepted in numerous fields on investigation, along with all the other concepts with which it is systematically associated;

2. a rendering necessary of a certain generalization and certain displacement of the concept of writing. The latter could no longer, henceforth, be included in the category of communication, at least if communication is understood in the restricted sense of the transmission of meaning. (84)

Critique (or What is to be done?): But paralysis isnt the same thing as anaesthesis–on the contrary. Its in so far as theres been an awakening to a whole series of problems that the difficulty of doing anything comes to be felt. Not that this effect is an end in itself. But it seems to me that `what is to be done ought not to be determined from above by reformers, be they prophetic or legislative, but by a long work of comings and goings, of exchanges, reflections, trials, different analysis. If the social workers you are talking about dont know which way to turn, this just goes to show that theyre looking, and hence are not anaesthetized or sterilized at all–on the contrary. And its because of the need not to tie them down or immobilize them that there can be no question for me of trying to tell `what is to be done. If the questions posed by the social workers you spoke of are going to assume their full amplitude, the most important thing is not to bury them under the weight of prescriptive, prophetic discourse. The necessity of reform mustnt be allowed to become a form of blackmail serving to limit, reduce or halt the exercise of criticism. Under no circumstances should one pay attention to those who tell one: `Dont criticize, since youre not capable of carrying out a reform. Thats ministerial cabinet talk. Critique doesnt have to be the premise of a deduction which concludes: this then is what needs to be done. It should be an instrument for those who fight, those who resist and refuse what is. Its use should be in processes of conflict and confrontation, essays in refusal. It doesnt have to lay down the law for the law. It isnt a stage in programming. It is a challenge directed to what is. The problem, you see, is one for the subject who acts — the subject of action through which the real is transformed. If prisons and punitive mechanisms are transformed, it wont be because a plan of reform has found its way into the heads of the social workers; it will be when those who have to do with that penal reality, all those people, have come into collision with each other and with themselves, run into dead-ends, problems and impossibilities, been through conflicts and confrontations; when critique has been played out in the real, not when reformers have realized their ideas (Michel Foucault, Questions of Method in The Foucault Effect 84-85 — see resistance).

Death Drive: Acc. to Laplanche and Pontalis, “In the framework of the final Fruedian theory of the instincts, this is the name given to a basic category: the death instincts, which are opposed to the life instincts, strive towards the reduction of tensions to zero-point. In other words, their goal is to bring the living being back to the inorganic state” (The Language of Psycho-Analysis 97). The death drive emerged as part of Freud’s second topographic model, that is after around 1919, and is linked to two major texts Beyond the Pleasure Principle and “The Uncanny.” As Freud put it: “If we take into consideration the whole picture made up by the phenomena of masochism immanent in so many people, the negative therapeutic reaction and the sense of guilt found in so many neurotics, we shall no longer be able to adhere to the belief that mental events are exclusively governed by the desire for pleasure. These phenomena are unmistakable indications of the presence of a power in mental life which we call the instinct of aggression or of destruction according to its aims, and which we trace back to the original death instinct of living matter” (qtd. in Boothby, Death and Desire 3). As Boothby points out, Freud’s thesis on the death drive seems to imply that “the true goal of living is dying and that the life-course of all organisms must be regarded as only a circuitous route to death” (3). This theory has proved to be perhaps the most controversial idea in psychoanalysis, and was rejected by many people who otherwise claimed to be psychoanalysts. But for Lacan, the death drive was the very center of psychoanalytic theory. As he puts it: “To ignore the death instinct in [Freud’s] doctrine is to misunderstand that doctrine completely” (qtd. in Boothby 10). He characterizes Beyond the Pleasure Principle as the “pivotal point” in the evolution of Freud’s thought, and argues that the death drive is the key to understanding the topography of id, ego, and superego upon which Freud based all of his final theory (Boothby 10). To “return to Freud” meant for Lacan that we grasp the full import of the death drive as a force of self-destructiveness, a primordial aggressivity toward oneself, from which aggressivity toward others in ultimately derived. The question of the death drive in Lacan is linked to the faculty of speech and language, on the one hand, and to the fate of desire, on the other. Linking these three concepts, Boothby argues that “the death drive operates on two levels, imaginary [tied to the image, and anticipated wholeness of the subject: see Mirror Stage] and symbolic [where the subject enters language, which re-orients its desire toward the signifier of an Other]. In either case, the death drive attempts to have its way with the imaginary ego, seeking to deconstruct its false unity. But what emerges on the level of the imaginary as literal violence is accomplished in the function of the superego [the symbolic] by means of a symbolically mediated [i.e. by the Phallus] transformation of identity. The graduation of the subject from the imaginary place to that of the symbolic might thus be called a sublimation of the death drive” (177). But this (failed) sublimation of the death drive is also the return of Lacan’s other register, the real: the death drive presents the eruption of the real against the constraints of the imaginary and the symbolic. According to Boothby, the death drive represents the return of the irreducible, and irrepressible difference between our (whose?) experience of the somatic (the body) and the unconscious functionings of our psyche. “The doctrine of the death drive implies the profound inadequacy of every self-image of the human being. There can be no total psychical representation of the reality of the animate subject. The final implication of what is beyond the pleasure principle is that the real of the body remains beyond our powers to imagine it” (Boothby 225).

Freud wrote that the unconscious knows nothing of death, and Lacan extends and revises his thesis; as John Forrester argues, “Freud preserved a continuous tension between the fact of death as the end, total finality, and the denial of death, its leavening, its symbolisation by other things. . . . For Lacan, this `abstract concept with a negative content’ [death] is the symbol: the category that defines the limit of the Fruedian field. . . . True: the unconscious knows no time, knows no death, knows no negation. All these are linked together for Freud. . . . For Lacan . . . Freud’s arguments here need to be supplemented or transformed. Lacan introduces a meditation on the relation between symbol and thing: `the name is the time of the object.’ The fundamental feature of the object for Lacan, its duration in time, is given it in the pact of naming [see Names-of-the-father], in which two subjects create a symbolic world. Linked with this is the claim that the symbol `manifests itself first of all as the murder of the thing, and this death constitutes in the subject the eternalization of his desire’. In raising the thing to another level, its thinginess [yes: he actually wrote “thinginess”] is lost forever: it becomes a thing-in-relation-to-other-things — that is, a part of the symbolic order. . . . What for Freud, then, is abstract, pure negativity and therefore unrepresentable (in the unconscious), becomes for Lacan the privileged motor of all representations, of all meaning. Insofar as death is installed in me, in my beginnings, in so far as I am a speaking being, conjuring the death of things through the birth of language, in so far as I have an ego, and effect of an identification with a fundamentally always-already dead other, in so far as I am a human who recognises the existence of an after-life (in Freud’s dialect), of a symbolic order (in Lacan’s), then I am alive” (The Seductions of Psychoanalysis: Freud, Lacan and Derrida [New York: Cambridge UP, 1990] 174-76).

Deconstruction: 10 definitions of deconstruction by Willy Maley (Dr. W T Maley <wtm”ARTS.GLA.AC.UK>, “Deconstruction for Beginners” Multiple recipients of list DERRIDA, 11/13/95, 5:24am):

1) It is a general theory of text, not a “textualization” of politics but a politicization of text, of text as a system rather than as a book bound by covers. In ‘Of Grammatology’ (1967), Derrida first formulated the phrase that has haunted him ever since: ‘There is no extra-text’, or there is no frame, often interpreted as: ‘There is nothing outside – or beyond – the text’: ‘there is no outside-the-text’ signifies that one never accedes to a text without some relation to its contextual opening and that a context is not made up only of what is so trivially called a text, that is, the words of a book or the more or less biodegradable paper document in a library. If one does not understand this initial transformation of the concepts of text …[and] … context, one understands nothing about nothing of …. deconstruction … (Derrida, “Biodegradables”, p. 841). . . . “all those boundaries that form the running border of what used to be called a text, of what we once thought this word could identify, i.e. the supposed end and beginning of a work, the unity of a corpus, the title, the margins, the signatures, the referential realm outside the frame, and so forth. What has happened … is a sort of overrun that spoils all these boundaries and divisions and forces us to extend the accredited concept, the dominant notion of a ‘text’ … that is no longer a finished corpus of writing, some content enclosed in a book or its margins, but a differential network, a fabric of traces referring endlessly to something other than itself, to other differential traces”. (Derrida, “Living On/Borderlines”, p. 81; pp. 83-84). . . . “An ‘internal’ reading will always be insufficient. And moreover impossible. Question of context, as everyone knows, there is nothing but context, and therefore: there is no outside-the-text” (Derrida, “Biodegradables”, p. 873). Derrida’s enlarged notion of text has been seen, curiously in an academic context, as a reduction of politics. Derrida denies the equation of textualization with trivialization. He maintains that: “It was never our wish to extend the reassuring notion of the text to a whole extra-textual realm and to transform the world into a library by doing away with all boundaries…but…we sought rather to work out the theoretical and practical system of these margins, these borders, once more, from the ground up”. Derrida is out to circumvent both the “text as world” and the “world as text”.

2) Deconstruction is deliberately eccentric, working in the margins. As Terry Eagleton puts it in Literary Theory: “Derrida’s … typical habit of reading is to settle on some apparently peripheral fragment in the work – a footnote, a recurrent minor term or image, a casual allusion – and work it tenaciously through to the point where it threatens to dismantle the oppositions which govern the text as a whole” (p. 133-34). As Derrida himself says: “I do not ‘concentrate’ in my reading … either exclusively or primarily on those points that appear to be the most ‘important’, ‘central’, ‘crucial’. Rather, I deconcentrate, and it is the secondary, eccentric, lateral, marginal, parasitic, borderline cases which are ‘important’ to me and are the source of many things, such as pleasure, but also insight into the general functioning of a textual system (Derrida, “Limited Inc.”). . . . “… ‘marginal, fringe’ cases … always constitute the most certain and most decisive indices wherever essential conditions are to be grasped” (Derrida, “Limited Inc”, p. 209). Of course, there is a sense in which whenever we quote from any text, whenever we write criticism, we are writing on the margins.

3) Deconstruction can be seen as an overcoming of the risk of repetition through revolution. In Positions Derrida states that deconstruction has two stages. Reversal and displacement. Reversal of a binary opposition which is also a violent hierarchy, followed by a reorientation, or displacement of the problem, to avoid repetition. You cannot skip reversal and move straight on to displacement. Elsewhere Derrida seems to suggest that these two stages need not be executed in that order. Still, reversal and displacement remain one way of thinking about deconstruction.

4) It can also be seen as an allegoric, or analogic of power. A politics of ‘linkage’. Because there is nothing outside the text – everything is included in ‘reading’ – connections are constantly made with the so-called ‘real’ or ‘outside’ world.

5) It is an attempt to recover histories that have been ‘repressed’, ‘minoritized’, ‘delegitimated’. Derrida claims that it is in fact the most historical of approaches: “One of the most necessary gestures of a deconstructive understanding of history consists … in transforming things by exhibiting writings, genres, textual strata (which is also to say – since there is no outside-the-text, right – exhibiting institutional, economic, political, pulsive [and so on] ‘realities’) that have been repulsed, repressed, devalorized, minoritized, delegitimated, occulted by hegemonic canons, in short, all that which certain forces have attempted to melt down into the anonymous mass of an unrecognizable culture, to `(bio)degrade’ in the common compost of a memory said to be living and organic” (Jacques Derrida, “Biodegradables: Seven Diary Fragments,” Critical Inquiry 15, 4 (1989) 821).

6) It problematises the notion of author. The author is included in the text – because there’s nothing outside the text – but as text, to be read, not as a governing presence. “… what [deconstruction] calls into question is the presence of a fulfilled and actualized intentionality, adequate to itself and its contents” (Jacques Derrida, “Limited Inc”, pp. 202-203). Derrida appeals to Freud and the psychoanalytic notion of the unconscious in order to back up his claim that intention is necessarily limited. Note, not that it doesn’t exist. But it is limited.

7) You become like the thing you criticize. Oppositional writing always runs the risk of reappropriation.

8) Deconstruction inhabits – in a parasitic way – the texts it reads. There is a kind of miming that goes on. This is both a question of fidelity and of parody.

9) It is a hauntology, rather than an ontology, a theory of ghosts. A belief in the ghostliness of being. The self, according to Derrida is a ghost. The first ghost we are host to. Derrida believes in ghosts, and in telepathy. This `supernaturalism’ can be traced throughout Derrida’s work.

10) It is “a radicalization of Marxism”, claims Derrida in his most recent book (Specters of Marx (Routledge, 1994), p. 92), a radicalization in terms of its conception of work, ideology, and ghosts.

In an interview in Russia, Derrida described his practice thus: “This may be an adequate description of what I try to do, namely: to construct texts in such a way that by dint of their neutralized communication, theses, and stabilities or contents, and by dint of the neutralization also of their microstructure of meaning, the reader and finally oneself is in the grips of a certain trembling, a new bodily oscillation, so that in the end a new realm of experience is pried open. And this is why some readers react to my text in words such as these: ‘In the end, we understand nothing, we can draw no conclusions from what you say.’ And many confess: ‘Oh, we don’t understand this, it’s too complex, and one cannot understand it, finally we still don’t know whether you agree with Nietzsche [on] the question of woman or not. We don’t get what’s behind the text, what its results or its general conclusions are. This is too brutal and destructive, and we have no way of knowing what kind of person you are and where you want to lead us.’ At the same time, other readers, people who are perhaps not as prepared for this reading, at least no readers of Husserl or Nietzsche, who therefore read my texts barbarically, naively, as it were, are much more receptive to the trembling of the text, the text-effect that in the end has to do with the body, the readers’ body or even my body. From this sense-less text or this microstructure of meaning, they draw an experience which I consider valuable. They are much more open for what I do, more accessible than by comparison those cultivated and hypercultivated people – often we meet both reactions. So readers should [be] either hyperdifferentiated or not learned at all, and this has to do with their experience of the other, and it has to do with how the other is construed […]” (Jacques Derrida, “Philosophie und Literatur,” Orte des Denkens, eds. Ackermann, Raiser, Uffelmann, trans. D. Uffelmann [Vienna: ?, 1995] 173-200; translated from the Russian notes of the interlocutors and the English tape recording in February 1990; re-translated from the German by Peter Krapp; qtd. in Peter Krapp <foreign.body”DECONSTRUCTION.RHEIN.DE>, Multiple recipients of list DERRIDA <DERRIDA”CFRVM…), 12/11/95 5:29pm, “Re: New JD Book?”). This metaphor of the barbaric reader would be a strategic place to open the question of the relationship between deconstruction and postcolonial criticism; thus: Who is barbaric vis a vis the Derridean text? Does the barbaric reader have no cultivation? If so, then what kind of cultivation is the most enabling (and clearly there is an opposition being posited here) for a deconstructive sensibility?

Spivak, in her Translator’s Preface, situates the praxis of deconstruction in terms of reading otherwise: “A reading that produces rather than protects. That description of deconstruction we have already entertained. Here is another: ` . . . the task is . . . to dismantle [deconstruire] the metaphysical and rhetorical structures which are at work in [the text], not in order to reject or discard them, but to reinscribe them in another way.’ . . . How to dismantle these struectures? By using a signifier not as a transcendental key that will unlock the way to truth but as a bricoleur’s or tinker’s tool–a `positive lever’. . . . It must be emphasized that I am not speaking simply of locating a moment of ambiguity or irony ultimately incorporated into the text’s system of unified meaning but rather a moment that genuinely threatens to collapse that system” (lxxv).

Toward the end of his crucial essay, “The Ends of Man” (Margins of Philosophy 109-136), Derrida argues that the question at hand is to determine the possibility of meaning on the basis of a “formal” organization which in itself has no meaning, “which does not mean that it is either the non-sense or the anguishing absurdity which haunt metaphysical humanism” (134); he then goes on to chart two related but disjunctive strategies for deconstruction (note that Derrida is just as concerned to mark the structural lures for each strategy):

“a. To attempt an exit and a deconstruction [of Western metaphysics] without changing terrain, by repeating what is implicit in the founding concepts and the original problematic, by using against the edifice the instruments or stones available in the house, that is, equally, in language. Here, one risks ceaselessly confirming, consolidating, relifting (relever), at an always more certain depth, that which one allegedly deconstructs. The continuous process of making explicit, moving toward an opening, risks sinking into the autism of the closure.

“b. To decide to change terrain, in a discontinuous and irruptive fashion, by brutally placing oneself outside, and by affirming an absolute break and difference. Without mentioning all the other forms of trompe-l’oeil perspective in which such a displacement can be caught, thereby inhabiting more naively and more strictly than ever the inside one declares one has deserted, the simple practice of language ceaselessly reinstates the new terrain on the oldest ground. The effects of such a reinstatement of such a blindness could be shown in numerous precise instances [cf. Derrida, “Cogito and the History of Madness,” in Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978)].

“It goes without saying that these effects do not suffice to annul the necessity for a `change of terrain.’ It also goes without saying that the choice between these two forms of deconstruction cannot be simple and unique. A new writing must weave and interlace these two motifs of deconstruction. Which amounts to saying that one must speak several languages and produce several texts at once” (135). !

In an interview in Points, Derrida says: “A deconstruction cannot be `theoretical,’ beginning with its very principle. It is not limited to concepts, to thought content, or to discourses [see Monster]. That has been clear since the beginning. If the deconstruction of institutional structures [for example, those that contain the academic discourse, but most often outside the university, given the nature of the university or the educational apparatus: they set the rules therefore, sometimes in an all-powerful fashion, for those who occasionally represent themselves as anti-university; but this representation does not prevent them from dreaming of an index, theses, archives, and other academic celebrations of yesterday’s avant-garde; here and there this dream becomes (is there anything more comical today?) compulsive, feverish, hyperactive management], if, then, this political deconstruction is indispensable, one must not overlook certain gaps but attempt to reduce them even though it is for essential reasons, impossible to erase them: for example, the gap between the discourses and practices of this immediately political deconstruction, on the one hand, and deconstruction of a theoretical or philosophical kind, on the other. At times these gaps are so great that they hide the links or render them unrecognizable for many people” (28).

And again, from Points, Derrida on affirmative deconstruction: “I have constantly insisted on the fact that the movement of deconstruction was first of all affirmative–not positive, but affirmative. Deconstruction, let’s say it one more time, is not demolition or destruction. Deconstruction–I don’t know if it is something, but if it is something, it is also a thinking of Being, of metaphysics, thus a discussion that has it out with the authority of Being or of essence, of the thinking of what is, and such a discussion or explanation cannot be simply a negative destruction. All the more so in that, among all the things in the history of metaphysics that deconstruction argues against, there is the dialectic, there is the opposition of the negative to the positive. To say that deconstruction is negative is simply to reinscribe it in an intra-metaphysical process. The point is not to remove oneself from this process but to give it the possibility of being thought” (211).

These passages have obvious relevance for postcolonial criticism, marked, as it always is, by a certain contamination of the inside, regulated by a desire for some transcendent outside. Here’s Spivak on “affirmative deconstruction”: “If it were embraced as a strategy, then the emphasis upon `the sovereignty, . . . consistency and . . . logic’ of `rebel consciousness’ can be seen as `affirmative deconstruction’: knowing that such an emphasis is theoretically non-viable, the historian then breaks his theory in a scrupulously delineated `political interest. If, on the other hand, the restoration of the subaltern’s subject-position in history is seen by the historian as the establishment of an inalienable and final truth of things, then any emphasis on sovereignty, consistency, and logic will, as I have suggested above, inevitably objectify the subaltern and be caught in the game of knowledge as power. . . . It is in this spirit that I read Subaltern Studies against its grain and suggest that its own subalternity in claiming a positive subject-position for the subaltern might be reinscribed as a strategy for our times.

“What good does such a re-inscription do? It acknowledges that the arena of the subaltern’s persistent emergence into hegemony must always and by definition remain heterogenous to the efforts of the disciplinary historian. The historian must persist in his efforts in this awareness, that the subaltern is necessarily the absolute limit of the place where history is narrativized into logic. It is a hard lesson to learn, but not to learn it is merely to nominate elegant solutions to be correct theoretical practice. When has history ever contradicted that practice norms theory, as subaltern practice norms official historiography in this case?” (“Deconstructing Historiography,” Selected Subaltern Studies 16). It seems to me Spivak is elaborating on the following passage from Derrida: “`Operating necessarily from the inside, borrowing all the strategic and economic resources of subversion from the old structure, borrowing them structurally, that is to say without being able to isolate their elements and atoms, the enterprise of deconstruction always in a certain way falls prey to its own work.’ . . . This is the greatest gift of deconstruction to question the authority of the investigating subject without paralyzing him, persistently transforming conditions of impossibility into possibility” (Spivak, “Deconstructing Historiography,” Selected Subaltern Studies 8-9).

Democracy: Here is Simon Critchley on the relationship between democracy, justice and deconstruction: “Derrida’s claim . . . is that deocnstruction is justice and justice is an `experience’ of the undecidable; that is to say, according to my interpretation, to be just is to recognize one’s infinite responsibility before the singular other as something over which one cannot ultimately decide, as something that exceeds my cognitive powers. It is this experience of `justice’ that compels one forward into politics, that is to say, from undecideability to the decision, to what Derrida calls, following Kierkegaard, the madness of the decision. Politics is the realm of the decision, of the organization and administration of the public realm, of the institution of law and policy. . . .

“For Derrida, no political form can or should attempt to embody justice, and the undecideability of justice must always lie outside the public realm, guiding, criticizing and deconstructing that realm, but never instantiated within it. From a deconstructive perspective, the greatest danger in politics in the threat of totalitarianism, or what Jean-Luc Nancy calls `immanentism’, in all its most recent and terrifying disguises: neo-fascism, nationalism, ethnocentrism, theocracy. Totalitarianism is premised upon the identification of the political and the social and would claim that a particular political form and hence a particular state, community or territory embodies justice, that justice is immanent to the body politic. A deconstructive approach to politics, based the radical separation of justice from law, and the non-instantiability of the former within the latter, leads to what one might call the disembodiment of justice, where no state, community or territory could be said to embody justice. One might say that the `experience’ of justice is that of an absolute alterity or transcendence that guides politics without being fully present in the public realm. . . .

If it is now asked what political form best maintains this dis-embodiment of justice, then I take it that Derrida’s response would be democracy: not a democracy that claims to instantiate justice here and now, not an apologetics for actually existing democracy (but neither a dismissal of the latter), but a democracy guided by the futural or projective transcendence of justice–what Derrida calls une démocratie à venir [a democracy still to come]” (“Deconstruction and Pragmatism — Is Derrida a Private Ironist or a Public Liberal” in Deconstruction and Pragmatism 35-36).

Desire: The Subject in Lacan is linked to lack, need, and demand through desire. This is because the subject is linked to an original lack, an absence of being and substance which lies at the very origin of desire, in so far as this is distinguishable from need or demand. To be more specific, what is the difference between need, demand and desire? Whereas need is governed by the interplay of satisfaction and the lack thereof [bodily and nourishment needs], and demand (which essentially is a demand for love) suspends such interplay in order to relocate it in some unattainable though compulsively yearned-for hereafter [originally the breast which then begins to signify “mother” for the infant], desire itself is never brought to a close by any satisfaction of need or demand or failure to satisfy. Desire, by which Lacan means to desire something other than the object required to satisfy a need, finds its completion in that which is not actively wanted–so strictly speaking desire functions through what Derrida terms differance. Where there is a lack, there is also a desire and a subject (and so also difference and deferral). In other words, the subject’s failure to be superfluously present, being more than it is, and looking for guarantees when at bottom there are none to offer (Pradelles de Latour 153). This is how the need-driven behavior of the child becomes more complex. When the breast becomes a token of trust, a sign of love granted or withheld, the child tends to vary its own activities in order to control the comings and goings of its mother; to the infant she becomes the first symbol (present/absent) that it can make its own. If the mother does not succumb to its advances, she lapses in the child’s esteem, but she thereby also proves herself to be a real power, all the more powerful in that the infant’s nutritional and affective life is dependent upon her whims. From this point onwards, needing and wanting love are tightly interlocked, “with the result that the frustrations of love can be compensated for by the satisfaction of needs . . . and the frustration of needs . . . can be used to heighten the value of the love at stake.” It is in this way that the immediate object of a particular psychic drive is subordinated to the search for an ambivalent, simultaneously enchanted and tyrannical, symbolic object — to be found somewhere beyond the mother, within the realm of the Other, in the form of infallible magic objects or omnipotent mythical beings (Predelles de Latour 156).

Weber (Return to Freud 127-28) puts the issue of desire thus: “Desire for Lacan — and undoubtedly for Freud as well — is essentially unconscious in structure. The latter is therefore determined by the unconscious, which in turn, as we have seen, is an effect of the signifying structure of language. . . . Desire is thus structured differentially and as a metonymic movement; it is oriented less by objects than by signifiers. . . . Yet insofar as desire is directed towards something else which `itself’ can never simply be a self-identical object, it is not only desirous of another, but is `itself’ another’s desire. It is the `the desire for the other’s desire’, the desire of a signifier, defined as the signifier of another desire.” And further (136-37): “Desire thus entails not only the difference between the satisfaction of particular needs, and an unconditional demand for love, but difference itself, i.e. `the phenomenon of their splitting’. Desire is the absolute condition insofar as it designates a movement of differential articulation based on the other — on difference. Yet at the same time it preserves the structure `contained’ in the demand-for-love’s `unconditionality’, for desire’s own movement is interminable; as such, desire must also function `unconditional’. The `object’ of desire, signifier of another desire and of the Other’s desire, always points to another signifier. In so doing, it refers not only to its own condition but beyond it as well — to other conditions. . . . Desire thus emerges on the fringes of denial. The Other of desire can thus no longer be located in some kind of code, since a code implies a collection of signs based on a particular system of signifieds. This other of desire is instead the locus of the discourse of the unconscious; it can only be placed as the difference between the `said’ and the `saying,’ between signified and signifying, or more exactly as the movement of signifiers which itself takes place upon `another stage’. This Other locale thus traces the contours of that dislocation, that `transcendental’ locus, where any possible combination or configuration of signifiers must in turn always be another signifier referring to something beyond itself. This Other, like the other of demand, befalls the subject in a variety of ways: for example, in the form of the third `person’ . . . . Yet just as the exemplary embodiment of the Other of demand is the mother, so the Other of desire is personified in the father, for it is he who introduces the law of desire through the incest prohibition and the threat of castration. If we consider the Other as the dislocation of the signifier, it cannot be incarnated in the living identity of a person; here as well, the locale remains closed, barred. What is important is not the person of the father, but his role as guardian of the law. Lacan often stresses the fact that this Other `does not exist’, it is barred, always elsewhere, inaccessible.”

Derrida in his long, complex engagement with Freud (and Lacan) has developed a notion of affirmative desire (as opposed to desire as lack). He terms this desire “bliss” or jouissance and it is based on difference; Derrida says in Points: ” . . . I don’t imagine that any bliss (let’s not speak any more here of desire but of bliss) is thinkable that does not have the form of this pure difference; a bliss that would be that of a plenitude without vibration, without difference, seems to me to be both the myth of metaphysics–and death. If there is something that can be called living bliss or life, it can be given only in this form of painful bliss which is that of differential vibration. No self-identity can close on itself. . . . This “differential vibration” is for me the only possible form of response to desire, the only form of bliss, and which can therefore be only a remote bliss, that is bliss for two or more, bliss in which the other is called; I cannot imagine a living bliss which is not plural, differential. This is marked in a minimal fashion by the fact that a timbre, a breath, a syllable is already a differential vibration; in a certain way, there is no atom” (137). And further: “I rarely speak of loss, just as I rarely speak of lack, because these are words that belong to the code of negativity, which is not mine, which I would prefer not to be mine. I don’t believe desire has essential relation to lack. I believe desire is affirmation, and consequently that mourning itself is affirmation as well” (143). See also Repetition, Signifier, Subject, Symbolic.

Différance: Differance represents the dual process of difference and deferral. Derrida coined this term as the noun form of the verb différer (to defer and differ). As Nancy J. Holland points out in her introduction to Feminist interpretations of Jacques Derrida, “Drawing on the work of linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, Derrida uses differance as a polymorphous tool for deconstructing `metaphysical’ discourse, which is defined here by the fact that all of its foundational concepts are structured in a series of isomorphic hierarchical oppositions [or binaries]: form/matter, subject/object, rational/irrational, but also right/left, light/dark, male/female, and, of course, true/false, good/bad. What differance tells us is that these oppositions have meaning only because of the posited difference between the two terms and, therefore, that neither of the terms has any meaning in and of itself, but always defers its final referent along the trajectory of the series. Since the terms and the oppositions are mutually interdependent, no term can be classified as unmarked (primary) or marked (deviant), but all are equally [this is not quite right: Derrida also argues that every hierarchy is a violent relation, so simply claiming equality could never be a deconstructive strategy] marked, equally secondary to the opposition itself. For Saussure, words exist only in such a system of differance. They always carry an internal reference to the other words in the language of which they are a part and so permanently delay any final arrival at the prelinguistic things themselves that words are supposed to name. Similarly, the modern Subject can be seen as a system of differance, as always other than it is, not as a tragic accident, but necessarily. This would be because it can only the Subject it is by opposition to the material object that it is not (in Descartes), to the thing-in-itself that it is not (in Kant), to the sovereign that it is not (in Hobbes), to the God that it is not, to the madman that it is not, to the irrational laborer or woman [or colonized subject] that it is not, to the id/superego that it is not, and so forth” (5-6).

The process called différance is the radical reason meaning is always deferred; to quote Derrida (cf. Subject): “[Meaning] is an effect of differance, an effect inscribed in a system of différance. This is why the a of differance also recalls that spacing is temporalization, the detour and postponement by means of which intuition, perception, consummation [or meaning]–in a word, the relationship to the present, the reference to a present reality, to a being [or to the meaning of a text]–are always deferred. Deferred by virtue of the very principle of difference which holds that an element functions and signifies, takes on or conveys meaning, only by referring to another past or future element [or context] in an economy of traces” (Positions 28-29).

Derrida puts it this way: “We could . . . take up all the coupled oppositions on which philosophy is constructed, and from which ourl language lives, not in order to see opposition vanish but to see the emergence of a necessity such that one of the erms appears as the differance of the other, the other as `differed’ within the systematic ordering of the smae (e.g., the intelligible as differeing from the sensible, as sensible differed; the concept as differed-differing intuition, life as differed-differing matter; mind as differed-differing life; culture as differed-differing nature. . . .). See Signifier, Repetition.

Discipline: Michel Foucault, in Discipline and Punish, defines this term as a type of power, comprising a whole set of instruments, techniques, procedures, levels of application, targets; it is a technology; used in different ways by prisons, schools, hospitals, families, the police; it assures an infinitesimal distribution of power relations (i.e. disciplinary power infiltrates the most minute and distant elements of society–acting primarily in and through what Gramsci termed “civil society”: see The Prison Notebooks 12; see also Foucault, “The Eye of Power,” Power/Knowledge 146-165). The most generalizable mechanism of disciplinary power can be termed “panopticism.” Foucault tied his analysis of disciplinary procedures to a new way of Aadministering time. For Foucault, two of the Agreat >discoveries of the eighteenth century B Athe progress of societies and the geneses of individuals B were correlative with the Anew techniques of power, and more specifically, with a new way of administering time and making it useful, by segmentation, seriation, synthesis and totalization. Thus, the Adisciplinary methods reveal a linear time whose moments are integrated, one upon another, and which is orientated towards a terminal, stable point; in short, an >evolutive time. At the same time, administrative and economic techniques of control Areveal a social time of a serial, orientated, cumulative type: the discovery of an evolution in terms of >progress.’” (Discipline and Punish 160)–see power.

So the terrain of struggle shifts with feedbacks to strategies. New orderings of the past, the emergence of digital memory — no more liberatory than prior regimes — enmeshed in networked control and capitalist capture (shift from visibility-discipline to neuro-modulation as value management). We affirm an exit from capitalist value that is both collective and involved in the intensive construction of abstract diagrams of political and psychic singularisations. Within and against neoliberal accumulation, its prosumers, and cults of individuality and spectacle, a constant circulation of bodies. Isn’t this why Proust returns, his style, his assemblage? Guattari links assemblages to style. To construct an experimentation in style that queers digital control to the threshold of exit from semiocapitalism (Berardi), pursuing diagrams for an anti-fascist life.

I think of my brother Saleh Asadi, who lives in Palestine-Israel. I think of his family and their relation to Gaza, to Hamas, to struggle and the histories of dispossession and murder. Will there be a shift in policy? By all indications Obama has affirmed zionism. Where will the new media awareness of the ongoing horrors of that death camp they have reduced Gaza to take the different movements for justice and equality? How will the boycott of Israel–economic? cultural?–effect these struggle in Palestine? What infrastructures of hacking can common resources affirming these struggles? Equality understood as sexual, gendered, raced, economic, and material. To turn then our attention to the world. What do we see? The rise of Isis has been decried in the LRB as the birth of a terrifying nation but it is being hailed as an exit from the west by some diasporic Muslims here in East London. We see the disporportionate death and destruction visited upon the people and lived space of Gaza.

This must stop? But how?

Published: April 14th, 2013
Words: 35,000 (approximate)
Language: British English

Alan Cornes has written an interesting book on the ethics, morality, and applicability of what he calls “interculturalism.” Although the definition of this last concept seems rather elusive to me, basically he is writing for a kind of liberal business person type, who does a lot of travelling, doesn’t want to offend foreign hosts, and wants to make killer business deals. But then the book also has another dimension (it doesn’t have many of this last, but two is good enough for me), which is his dabbling with mirror neurons leading to an argument around empathy. He writes:

Empathy is surely the one weapon in our human repertoire able to rid us of the curse of prejudice, racism, and xenophobia. Our evolutionary background makes it hard for us to identify with outsiders, we’re designed to hate our enemies, to ignore people we barely know, and to distrust those who look different from us. Even if we are cooperative team players within our own community we often become different people in our treatment of strangers. If only we could mentally structure the world around us in a way that works with this psychology instead of against it, perhaps we could begin to see people outside of our own groups, yes, even those on other continents, as a part of us, how much easier it would be to form worthwhile relations through empathy so that the process of reciprocity follows naturally thus enabling us to build on our humanity rather than fighting against it. -46

This is admirable stuff, and there is much to admire throughout the book: a commitment to an ethics of liberal care (alas I wish the author had considered a little bit more creatively the history of sympathy as a form of power); a sense of the importance of travel for business and human beings (there is a good sense throughout that wandering a bit from our comfort zones is an excellent way to develop a better “moral me”); a commitment to a kind of relativism of the subjective (finally it is the subject who decides what feels right and makes sense through the process of moral decision making). His redactive use of the mirror neuron research today notwithstanding, what Cornes seems to want through this invocation of all things neuro- is a sense of a kind of scientific clarity of the human condition. But does the mirror neuron system map on to empathy as a human virtue? What if we were to resist this anthropomorphism of the mirror neuron system? We would do well to draw back from the lure of hope, community, love, communion, imitation, and think rather of a machine of conjunction working in and through our neurology, that produces habitual perceptions (always a subtraction from what is), and a plan(e) of ecological potential repeatedly captured both in the habit itself and the capitalist value(s) it generates.

Let me explain a little bit what I have in mind here. Take this quote from Lazzarato’s The Making of Indebted Man toward a first approximation.

The independence and freedom that eutrepreneurism was supposed to bring to ‘labor” have in reality led to a greater and more intense dependence not only on institutions (business, the State, finance), but also on the self. This independence might ironically be considered the economy’s colonization of the Freudian superego, since the “ideal self” can no longer be limited to the role of custodian and guarantor of the “morals” and values of society. In addition and above all, it must be the custodian and guarantor of the individual’s productivity. We always come back to the coupling of economics and ethics, work and work on the self. The ferocious critique leveled in Anti-Oedipus against Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis can be read as anticipating the expansion of the “cure” and “analyst/analysand” transference to the management of the labor force in the corporation and to the population in society at large. The increase in psychologists’, sociologists’, and other “self-help” experts’ interventions, the creation of “coaching” for better-off workers and obligatory individual monitoring for the poor and unemployed, the explosion of “care of the self” techniques in society-these are symptoms of the new forms of individual government, which include, above all, the shaping of subjectivity. 94-5

Despite the controversy around Lazzarato and Marx and Deleuze, a debate well-worth having, since what is stake of course are the very categories of analysis and objects of antagonism/contradiction that continue to be of relevance to revolutionary Marxism–despite, I say this controversy, this understanding of the colonization of subjectivity under an infinite temporality of debt in algorithmic capital (Lazzarato doesn’t pay very close attention to the network technologies that provide the infrastructural and logistical support to neoliberalism)–the genealogy of this subjectivity forever in debt is, as Lazzarato notes, thoroughly Western capitalist and Christian. But that this very narrow notion of the subject is becoming global dominant–not through culture and ideology alone but through the ontology of insurance, extraction, logistics, and finance (see–this shaping of the subject through self-help books like Cornes, clothed as they all are now in some transparent neuro-sheen (odd how Damasio and Ramachandran function in this discourse)–this subject is the subject of neuromarketing and financialization. This is finally why the mirror neuron system is important to capitalist extraction: make immediately productive and value generating the subject’s creative encounter with the world.

Account Update

Posted: September 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

Dear Wells Fargo Client,

Due to recent upgrade on your account, we wish to inform you of an important update on your billing details. An update form is attached to this mail, download and fill accordingly.

Note that this update is important and compulsory as failure to do so might lead to service disruption | Fraud Information Center
If you would prefer not to receive these notifications, sign on, go to Messages & Alerts, then Set Up/Modify Alerts, and unchecked the box for the Overdraft Protection Advance option for your checking alerts.
Please do not reply to this email directly. To ensure a prompt and secure response, sign on to email us.


With Sandra Mezzadra and others associated with UniNomade, I want to link dynamics of workers refusal of measure to questions of capital’s specific, if heterogeneous, deployment of affect through a consideration of this passage from

James Ash, Architectures of affect: anticipating and manipulating
the event in processes of videogame design and testing, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2010, volume 28, pages 653 – 671:


As a preface, I should note that I have been reading Being and Time (his etymologism, so valued by subsequent deconstruction as method, tends toward an image of thought as authentic depth; his analysis of equipmentality is profoundly generative), with Hegel or Spinoza (an infinite text), reading Mezzadra’s excellent work:

Mezzadra S, 2006, ‘Borders,migrations, citizenship’, translated by Casas Cortes, S Cobarrubias,
Mezzadra S, 2007, ‘Living in transition: toward a heterolingual theory of the multitude
transversal’, in The Politics of Culture: Around theWork of Naoki Sakai Eds R F Calichman,
J N Kim (Routledge, London) pp 121 ^ 137,
Mezzadra S, 2009a, `Italy, operaism and post-operaism’, in International Encyclopedia of
Revolution and Protest Ed. I Ness (Blackwell, Oxford) pp 1841 ^ 1845
Mezzadra S, 2009b, `The labyrinth of contemporary migrations’ European Alternatives
Mezzadra S, 2010, `The gaze of autonomy. Capitalism, migration and social struggles’, in
The Contested Politics of Mobility: Borderzones and Irregularity Ed.V Squires (Routledge,
London) pp 121 ^ 142
Mezzadra S, 2011a, `How many histories of labour? Towards a theory of postcolonial capitalism’
Postcolonial Studies 14(2) 1 ^ 20

And thinking about methods of worker’s inquiries in different forms of community organising in East London.

Part of this set of researches into ontological methods has led me to consider the role of play in contemporary capital. Hence, James Ash, Architectures of affect: anticipating and manipulating
the event in processes of videogame design and testing, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2010, volume 28, pages 653 – 671.

Let us consider this passage from the phenomenon of its intensities and sensations, as Massumi suggests, that is from an analysis of durations.

The game designers increased the length of the animation that was played every
time the user reloaded the grenade launcher. In the first testing sessions the reloading
process took less than two seconds; in the amended version the same reloading process
took close to four seconds. Although this difference may sound inconsequential to the
casual observer, the extended delay put the user at a severe disadvantage when taking
part in a multiplayer match. The two extra seconds left the user essentially defenceless;
they were unable to fire back if they encountered an enemy. As such, after each shot,
users would have to react defensively whilst the grenade launcher reloaded, and this
gave rival users a chance to enact their revenge. Through alterations made to the delay
between cause (hitting the Y button to reload on the Xbox 360 control pad) and effect
(having a reloaded grenade and the ability to fire again), the designers were able to
alter the potentiality of users’ responses to various contextual events and encounters
within any one match. By extending this delay, the designers were able to reduce
negatively affective encounters–they could minimise the experience of frustration
for the user–and avoid a breakdown in the user’s captivated state. Quite literally the
designers could design out the potential for creating particular visceral states in
users, such as the tense, shifting, agitated bodies described earlier. On the one hand, users waiting for the grenade launcher to reload experienced anxiety and a feeling that
time was passing very slowly as their avatar was exposed during the reload animation.
On the other hand, the other user who had been shot at with the grenade launcher
was given an increased window in which to react, which was experienced as a very
small amount of time to shoot at the other user. By extending the time taken to reload
the grenade launcher, the game designers could avoid the experience of time inter-
vening in and replacing the captivation of users (other than those using the grenade
launcher)…. After it had been altered to be less powerful and to
take longer to reload, users had to focus more closely and try to anticipate the
direction in which they thought the user might head because an indirect hit would
not kill the user. As a process of passing, time became more apparent to the user in the
seconds during which they remained vulnerable as the grenade launcher was reloading.
They were also forced to sense time more minutely because, with a reduction in the
power of the grenade launcher, the user had to track the enemy more closely in order
to successfully hit and kill an opponent. Page 664-65

This shift in the game’s architecture allowed designers to alter the potentiality of users’ responses to various contextual events and encounters within any one match. This consisted of adding two seconds between action and effect. That two second potentialized the play itself in that what happens in the intensive duration is that the possibility of having an effect in the game becomes active, thus what is opened is a kind of possibility space (Delanda’s Emergence of Synthetic Reason), interactivity becomes possibilistic. Why I like and admire this passage is that Ash is able to draw our attention to the minute intensificaiton of game play in First Person Shooter games through design strategy that attends to bodily dispositions and shifts through the process of the game play. His emphasis on the immersive quality of the gameplay is also to the point: through the process players become differentially involved in performing the competitive strategy of killing the enemy player, acting as a unit, marshalling dwindling resources (health, ammunition), keep moving to the pre-set targets. Ash writes, “As a process of passing, time became more apparent to the user in the seconds during which they remained vulnerable as the grenade launcher was reloading.
They were also forced to sense time more minutely because, with a reduction in the
power of the grenade launcher, the user had to track the enemy more closely in order
to successfully hit and kill an opponent.” This is what he calls the process of captivation and its differential modulation across gameplay, proprioceptive engagement (the player’s sense of bodily movement), and staging contingent events/encounters.

For Ash, this argument contributes to contemporary theorisations of the event:

… this paper has added to current debates regarding theorisations of
the event, emphasising what might be termed an ecological rather than absolute
conception of the event. In an absolutist notion of the event, “the event cannot be
reduced to the fact that something happens. It may rain tonight, it may not rain. This
will not be an absolute event because I know what rain is … . The arrivant must be
absolutely other” (Derrida, 2002, page 13). Instead, I have outlined a conception of the
event as a process of ecological emergence. Here an event is the outcome of a material
assemblage of various entities, forces, and rules working together to encourage and
prohibit specific forms of movement and action. Whilst an absolute account of the
event is interesting, framing the event from an ecological perspective is useful because
it allows us to begin to pick apart how the potential for events to happen are being
designed into environments (both digital and physical) and thus begin to understand
how various bodily states (such as frustration and anger or pleasure and pain) can
potentially be produced and controlled through manipulating affective relations in
the environment. This then allows us to interrogate the possible responsibilities the
designers of such environments have in the kinds of affective relations (and thus
bodies) they (potentially) construct. page 667

One must say this is rather modestly put: the implications of this argument seem to me immense. The ecological perspective on affefct is effective in producing (counter-) engineering diagrams. It is processual in that it follows events through a virtual-actual circuit of becoming and being.

What this points to is both the autonomy of affect (Massumi, 2002) and the manifestation of affect as a multiplicity which encounters different bodies in complex ways that cannot be (pre-) resolved as either simply `positive’ or `negative’ for the body that is shaped by an encounter. Rather, what I have shown across this paper is that the `shaping’ of bodies and the `infusion of affective dispositions under the skin’ are not the product of passive exposure to, or reception of, affective images. Instead, I have argued that the body is shaped through the creative responses generated by users in relation to the images they
experience, rather than the images 668

What Ash doesn’t attend to very well, that is not ecologically enough, is the form of subjectivation this event of potentialisation incorporates. As I suggested above, potentialisation is something of the nature of a creative encounter with the world’s necessities/tendencies/capacities/degrees of freedom. We must understand FPS games as tied closely to a form of neoliberal subjectivity: the particular aggressions, anticipations, pauses, bursts (recall the pause-burst structure of Hong Kong cinema analysed by Bordwell, there is some correlation to be drawn out in terms of the modulation of intensity in martial arts films and digital FPS gaming), and so on are all linked in different ways to the sad passions of control. This is to say, that while Ash is quite good at analysing carefully the autonomy of affect (as is Massumi) through an ecological multiplicity, he is less attentive to contextualizing FPS subjectivity as it ties in with forms of neoliberal control. Admittedly that’s not his aim (nor perhaps his interest) in this article, which is focused on a kind of phenomenology of affect in game design. But to write as if the contexts of for instance the hypercompetitiveness of captialist play, the psychopathologies of security, postcolonialism, debt, and precarity, not to mention the wide ranging integration of FPS interfaces across a variety of digital platforms (recall as just one example the penultimate ‘battale royale’ sequence in kickass in which Hitgirl’s nightvision glasses becomes a firstperson shooter perspective)–all these contexts play into the ecology of affect, directly and indirectly.

Which leads us to pose the question of gameplay design from the perspective of an analysis of capitalist subjectivity today, which potentializes affect to the extent that immersive integration is successfully modulated to add value and accumulate brand equity, a kind of accumulation in the realm of affect (Clough). Ash ends his essay by noting that most FPS games don’t in fact do this: they fail at capturing attention.

sinews composite sinews composite[/caption]


There is always betrayal in a line of flight. Not trickery like that of an orderly man ordering his future, but betrayal like that of a simple man who no longer has any past or future. We betray the fixed powers which try to hold us back, the established powers of the earth. The movement of betrayal has been defined as a double turning-away: man turns his face away from God, who also turns his face away from man. It is in this double turning-away, in the divergence of faces, that the line of flight – that is, the deterritorialization of man – is traced. Betrayal is like theft, it is always double. Oedipus at Colonnus, with his long wanderings, has been taken as the prime example of a double turning-away…It is the story of Jonah: the prophet is recognizable by the fact that he takes the opposite path to that which is ordered by God and thereby realizes God’s commandment better than if he had obeyed. A traitor, he has taken misfortune upon himself. The Old Testament is constantly criss-crossed by these lines of flight, the line of separation between the earth and the waters. ‘Let the elements stop kissing, and turn their backs on one another. Let the merman turn away from his human wife and children . .. Cross the seas, cross the seas, urges the heart. Leave love and home.’ The ‘great discoveries’, the great expeditions, do not merely involve uncertainty as to what will be discovered, the conquest of the unknown, but the invention of a line of flight, and the power of treason: to be the only traitor, and traitor to all Aguirre, Wrath of God. Christopher Columbus, as Jacques Besse describes him in an extraordinary tale, including the woman-becoming of Columbus. The creative theft of the traitor, as against the plagiarisms of the trickster. G. Deleuze and C. Parnet, Dialogues II, 40-1.

We must define a special function, which is identical neither with health nor illness: the function of the Anomalous. The Anomalous is always at the frontier, on the border of a band or a multiplicity; it is part of the latter, but is already making it pass into another multiplicity, it makes it become, it traces a line-between. This is also the ‘outsider…” Moby Dick, or the Thing or Entity of Lovecraft, terror. G. Deleuze and C. Parnet, Dialogues II, 4

What would it take to produce a line of flight as pure experimentation in becoming, and one continuous untimeliness? The effervescently cynical amongst us would no doubt insist that it would first off take a lot of money, lots of time, and a certain high threshold for nonsense. If there is nothing I have learned from people such as Erik Empson, Arianna Bove, Matteo Mandarini, Valeria Gaziano, Liam Campling, Camile Barbagallo, Gerry Hanlon, Simon crab, Gini Simpson, and Stefano Harney it is that materialism begins with the betrayal of cynicism.

After displacing social constructivism

Act in thought, think through action.

And above all, it is objected that by releasing desire from lack and law, the only thing we have left to refer to is a State of nature, a desire which would be natural and spontaneous reality. We say quite the opposite: desire only exists when assembled or machined. You cannot grasp or conceive of a desire outside a determinate assemblage. on a plane which is not preexistent but which must itself be constructed. All that is important is that each group or individual should construct the plane of immanence on which they lead their life and carry on their business. Without these conditions you obviously do lack something, but you lack precisely the conditions which make a desire possible. Organizations of forms, formations of subjects (the other plane), ‘incapacitate’ desire: they subjugate it to law and introduce lack into it. If you tie someone up and say to him ‘Express yourself, friend ‘, the most he will be able to say is that he doesn’t want to be tied up. The only spontaneity in desire is doubtless of that kind: to not want to be oppressed, exploited, enslaved, subjugated. But no desire has ever been created with non-wishes. Not to want to be enslaved is a non-proposition. In retrospect every assemblage expresses and creates a desire by constructing the plane which makes it possible and, by making it possible, brings it about. Desire is not restricted to the privileged; neither is it restricted to the success of a revolution once it has occurred. It is in itself an immanent revolutionary process. It is constructivist, not at all spontaneist. Since every assemblage is collective, is itself a collective, it is indeed true that every desire is the affair of the people, or an affair of the masses, a molecular affair. G. Deleuze and C. Parnet, Dialogues II, 96

For Deleuze, the machine groups independent and heterogeneous terms, developing a topological proximity, which is itself independent of distance or continguity. A topological proximity could be across time/scales, perhaps the more complex resonances always are. To define a machine assemblage follow the shifting centre of gravity along gradients, tendencies, speeds, and abstract lines. An abstract diagram runs through it, seriously.

I am writing on day two of the jury deliberations after the trial of George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, in the politically charged murder case of Trayvon Martin. A white man racially profiled and shot dead an unarmed African American boy. There are race riots warnings all over the country. On CNN they are asking what’s going on in the deliberations of the jury. The system has transparency says the correspondence. Correspondent: Index of evidence, here is how it could have happened. We don’t know if it was a fight, the defence said that it was a fight. Zimmerman got punched, we know that much.

Martin, who lived in Miami, was walking back to the house of his father’s fiancée at the Retreat at Twin Lakes gated community carrying a soft drink and sweets he had bought at a local convenience store. Zimmerman, who worked as a mortgage underwriter, said he spotted the hoodie-wearing youth as he was on his way to buy groceries, then called police to report a “suspicious male”. Somehow, the two ended up in a fight.
Zimmerman was released without charge on the night of the shooting. After a campaign by Trayvon Martin’s parents prompted nationwide protests, Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, appointed a special prosecutor to re-examine the circumstances of the case. Zimmerman was arrested in April last year, 44 days after the shooting. The case hinged on the conflicting testimony of witnesses and the key issue of whose screams were heard on a recording of a 911 call made by one of Zimmerman’s neighbours, which also captured the fatal shot. Martin’s mother, father and brother all testified that they were certain it was the teenager who was pleading for his life. Zimmerman’s parents and a numbers of friends and neighbours took the stand to insist that it was Zimmerman. The earlier call, made to a non-emergency police line by Zimmerman, caught the defendant using profanities that were repeated by the prosecution to try to show he acted with spite, ill-will and hatred, the benchmarks for a second-degree murder conviction. “Fucking punks. These assholes, they always get away,” assistant state attorney John Guy said as he began his opening argument on the first day of the trial. “Those were the words in that grown man’s mouth as he followed in the dark a 17-year-old boy that he didn’t know.” He concluded by telling the jury: “George Zimmerman did not shoot Trayvon Martin because he had to. He shot him for the worst of all reasons, because he wanted to.”

What was the role of race in the murder? The media returns to 1991, and Rodney King, revolving the present into the past of upheavals, as if the populations were trapped in a tragedy/farce dialectic. We of course remember Mark Duggin as well (how can we not after Fahim Alam’s provocative film, Riots Reframed—and I affirm once more, as I did to Fahim the critique of power that is and affirms a revolutionary practice is one that functions in the complexities of topological proximities, not in the arbitrary sign that is identity—we need a practice that while speaking directly to the lived conditions, experiences of value, and algorithmic life of capital can, through that practice, affirm with Gabriel Tarde that to exist is to differ, and in that seize the resources for the untimeliness of revolutionary becoming. “Total madness is losing all identity. Nijinsky constantly asks himself whether he has really gone mad, he makes it the stakes of a wager. The subject who wonders whether it is mad can neither be classed as mad or rational. Such writing goes on to act as gauge in a topology of the mind that cna no longer be localized from that point on” (Kuniichi Uno, The Genesis of an Unknown Body (27).

Back to Emmet Till, and further still. But media spins it positively, rationally, peacefully. But there has always been a race war in Amerikkka, and it is classed and gendered as well, but those are not all the same wars. The movement of movements—their quite specific and yet universal revolutionary becoming—runs, through them, as throwing up new abstract diagrams of an intensive pragmatism that is both transcendental and empirical. “Everything I have written has been vitalistic, at least I hope it has,” said Deleuze. I want a practice that can do more than nod agreement.

Many writers and activists have been attending to this problem of the movement of movements and its relation to revolutionary becoming (not, we should note as a program for a successful revolution, but as a necessary decolonization of the embodied mind). We merely add some observations in the aims of creating diagrams of morphogenesis in radical politics.

[Commnet: To move thought toward the diagrammatic, through experimental diagrams of topologies changing form and expression. Deleuze/Parnet:

But the essential point, in the end, is the way in which all these regimes of signs move along a line of gradient, variable with each author, tracing out a plane of consistence or composition which characterizes a given work or group of works: not a plane in the mind, but an immanent real plane, which was not preexistent, and which blends all the lines, the intersection of all the regimes (diagrammatic component): Virginia Woolf’s Wave, Lovecraft’s Hypersphere, Proust’s Spider’s Web, Kleist’s Programme, Kafka’s K-function, the Rhizosphere … it is here that there is no longer any fixed distinction between content and expression. We no longer know if it is a flux of words or of alcohol, we are so drunk on pure water, but equally because we are talking so much with ‘materials which are more immediate, more fluid, more burning than words’. G. Deleuze and C. Parnet, Dialogues II, 122

What is the abstract diagram that runs through race lived as an affirmation of the body’s capacities in intensive ecologies of sensation (blocs of sensations, durations of mood, patterns of rhythms, a network of assemblages) and the actuality of race as white supremacy (with its own blocs of sensations, social relations, durations of mood, patterns of rhythms, war machines)?

One of the fundamental capacities of the body is to exit. The exit is important in an age after psychoanalsysis. But how to resist spatializing the exit? Follow the movements of the exit. This movement of bodies, their trajectories, tendencies, capacities, resonances, rhythms, and speeds—singularly populational, collectively assembling/enunciating. To leave the scene, which is what Martin was aiming to do. This is one of the capacities of the body that racism has always sought to control, ‘watch,’ modulate, turn into a sad passion, saturate with resentment: To begin again somewhere else, again in the middle, to continue the body’s experiment of the universal implication and the universal explication—this has been the tragedy of joy in Western ethics, politics, philosophy. Hegel accused Spinoza of a certain oriental derivation (not genetically, but genealogically, in his conceptual filiations, as Heidegger might have said), and Deleuze asked what if the West had a grain of Zen added to its mixture. At this stage, it is difficult to say where Zen as a basic philosophy of art-in-life has not affected, let us not forget its ideological resonance with wofe—the collapse of work and life—cf Tim Edkins. But as a practice, Zen is the overthrow of capitalist control of value. (I should mention that I have just begun to read the work of Uno Kuniichi, but I feel already in proximity with his conceptual filiation).

From Andrew McFeaters via Facebook: A couple of thoughts in anticipation of a verdict on Zimmerman: Police are prepared to establish First Amendment Zones so that impassioned protestors can freely express themselves behind fences. Ahhhh, what? Secondly, the media have already foregrounded that any collective actions by people will be viewed as riotous. Language matters: riots, protests, and marches are different categories. By calling something a riot, you are denying the legitimacy of the political actions and expressions of the assembled people.

The jury found Zimmerman not guilty of all charges.

If today we return to the question of race in radical democratic politics, we draw practical, historical, and theoretical topologies of virtual-actual revolutionary becomings. This is not a happy phrase. It is not meant to roll off your tongue, its not meant to be aspirated, but tasted quite literally.

I have been experimenting with Scotch Bonnett peppers. Two peppers, whole cumin, garlic, onion, tomato, brown sugar, and your favorite vinegar, ‘materials which are more immediate, more fluid, more burning than words’ (recipe thanks to Saskia Fischer). The sensation lingers on your tongue while dissolving your tastebuds. Its good, you should try it.


Review of

Tejaswini Ganti, Producing Bollywood: Inside the Contemporary Hindi Film Industry. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012.

In Producing Bollywood, Tejaswini Ganti argues that Hindi cinema has gone through a process of ‘gentrification’ from 1996 to the present day. Gentrification in this media context is a “manifestation of the film industry’s quest to manage unpredictability in the arena of film consumption, the process of rationalization is its counterpart, addressing uncertainty in the production process” (11). Overall, her research shows that a certain kind of class war has been conducted through the codes, exhibition and distribution practices, and financial and organizational infrastructure of Hindi cinema. The corporatization of Bollywood has since around 2000 introduced economies of scale, allowing for the development of multiple revenue streams, and a restructuring and rationalizing of the work cultures throughout the industry (264). Through a corporate-style risk management buttressed by the infusion of “previously unheard of amounts of capital into the Hindi film industry, making available consistent finance, so that the risk of a film not being completed has decreased drastically” (11), an abject figure of exclusion has been produced, policed, and quarantined through the gentrification of Hindi cinema. This mass figure of abjection is that of the atavistic, sensation-driven, illiterate Bihari or North and East Indian peasant. His (and it is definitely a paan-chewing, ma-bahen [mother-sister] swearing, boisterous adult male that is the vehicle of this stereotype—think Arshad Warsi in Ishqiya [2010]) Other is the newly globalized consumer-citizen whose brand-frenzy expends itself every weekend in those mushrooming, securitized playgrounds for the rich and aspirational, the Indian malltiplex. As Ganti writes, “the gentrification of Hindi cinema is part of a broader socio-historical conjuncture where urban middle classes are celebrated in state and media discourses as the main agents, as well as markers of modernity and development in India” (17). In that sense, we should mark that the abjection of the multitude (as the young Marx might have said)* concerns not merely discourses and stereotypes of the illiterate peasant, but more crucially the very biopolitics of filmic populations in India today.

One of my interests in this book is the limits and possibilities of Ganti’s method. She claims to be interested in “practice, experience, meaning-making, and social life,” and through this multi-focused lens she examines filmmaking and filmmakers rather than specific films, per se. Departing from the clichéd notion of “films as texts” Ganti regards them “as social and discursive object that come to possess their meaning through practice and social life, which leads me to concentrate on how filmmakers interpret, discuss, and assign social as well as cultural significance to particular films” (21). In other words, she turns the filmwallas own words (and there are a lot of them given that her fieldwork extended from 1996-2010: “producers, directors, actors and actresses, writers, distributors, exhibitors—and those who shape the discourse about films, filmmaking, and filmmakers—journalists” [25]) into her interpretative text. What method is behind this sleight of hand? Basically, Ganti operates explicitly through a kind of post-deconstructionist discourse analysis of the social construction or mediation of meaning, which at times means little other than ideology critique (43).

Yet there is something else operating in her text, which, without deconstructing it per se, belies this explicit commitment to a banal social constructivism. We might call it a kind of media materialism, or media assemblage analysis, whose primary force is not critique but ontologies of becoming through organizational and aesthetic mutations in media form. Ganti writes, “Sippy’s reflexivity about this period [late 1980s and early 1990s], along with his own representation of his internalization of the constraints imposed by the changing technological and economic landscape for filmmaking, is an example of how the subjectivity of a commercial filmmaker is forged in concert with figures of the imagined audience, mediated through box office returns and new technologies of distribution such as video” (86-7). Mediations notwithstanding, this complex understanding of the interplay and imbrication between filmmakers’ subjectivities and the material world runs throughout her analyses and makes the book well-worth reading. For another example, during the course of her analysis of the “horrible” 1980s, Ganti notes that the peculiarly bad aesthetic of that decade had less to do with the influence of South Indian cinema and “more to do with the introduction of videocassette technology and its concomitant problems of video piracy and changes in the patterns of film consumption” (82). Ganti’s consistent attention to the materiality of the “altered media landscape” that Hindi filmmakers operate in today includes the presence of satellite television and new digital media (93). This media materialism draws Ganti on to analyzing the qualitative shifts from the late 1990’s onward, in the viewing experience for Indian film audiences (definitely one of the strongest aspects of this book): “middle and upper classes, who were seeing all of the films on video anyway. With the steep increase in ticket rates, the ‘front-benchers’—who according to the press were ‘extending to the dress-gallery’ by the early ‘90s—had been priced out of these areas and put firmly back in their place in the cinema hall; therefore, the celebrated ‘return’ of audiences to theatres in the mid-199s was really about reinforcing social hierarchies and re-inscribing social distance into spatial distance with the public space of the cinema hall” (97).

One of Ganti’s most interesting methodological moves is her use of a fictionalized sketch of a routine day on a film set—common practice in cultural anthropology, of course. Yet through it she is able in an exemplary way to tease out the multiple layers of the “decentralized and fragmented nature of filmmaking in India,” showing the relative ease with which individuals with access to capital can become filmmakers (this was the case until the late-1990s, it is unclear if that is true any longer, given new global standards of financing, accounting, marketing, and management throughout the Indian film industry—162), even as she shows how kinship relationships and personalized social networks often have the effect of both granting an immediacy to interactions and serving as a form of gatekeeping throughout the industry (176). Crucial to this process of teasing out the multiple, even haphazard nature of Bollywood, and what makes her analysis at times quite compelling, is the renewed significance of the film distributor, especially with the rise of the Overseas Territory as the most lucrative distribution domains, as well as the continued centrality of male stars to the production process (208).

The gentrification of Bollywood has affected its erstwhile shady financial management. So-called black money from various organized crime schemes has been central to Hindi film production at least since the 1950s if not earlier, and gained in importance and notoriety throughout the 80s and early 90s; circuits of racketeering were one of the few ways that producers and ‘proposal makers’ could access enough cash to even begin thinking of making a film. Ganti notes that black money refers to “unreported, untaxed income that could be generated from legal enterprises, the intensely cash-based nature of the financial dealings of the film industry until the early 2000s made it possible for the world of organised crime to be involved with filmmaking. References to the underworld-film industry ‘nexus’…began in the late 1980s” (181). The gentrification of Bollywood has also meant that black money in Bollywood has diminished in quantity, and probably also changed its processes within the film industry (given the grave state of banking worldwide and the widespread prevalence of banking fraud, are all the finances now simply grey?).

Probably the best chapters of this rather long, at times repetitive book, is Ganti’s turn to a kind of political economy of film production. There she usefully delineates the three main types of distribution arrangements common in the Hindi film industry. The ‘MG’ or minimum guarantee system, the most common, enables the distributor to bid for and guarantee the producer a specific sum that is disbursed in instalments from the onset of production. In the commission system, distributors bear the least risk because the most they may invest in a film are in its publicity and print costs; distributors in this system deduct between 25 and 50 percent of box-office receipts as a commission and remit the rest to the producer. In an outright sale scenario, distributors pay producers for the right to distribute their films for a given time period, during which all expenses incurred and all income earned are solely the distributors’. The MG auction system for allocating films often produces a kind of “winner’s curse”: “the distributor who wins the rights has the highest chance of having overestimated what a film will gross and therefore has the highest chance for a flop. As the buyers of films, distributors occupy the structural position of consumers—albeit a specialized one—which the filmmaking process, but they are rarely implicated in the wide ranging discussions about the commercial outcome of a film carried out in the film industry, the media, and among viewers. Instead, box-office performance is discussed by filmmakers in terms of audience composition, tastes, and desires. Hits and flops are interpreted and represented as indices of audience subjectivities rather than of distributors’ commercial predictions” (190-91). There is then a kind of objective illusion, as Deleuze might say, operating within the film industry: the reified, actual, and/or proleptic tastes of segmented audiences are assumed to be the driving force of filmic value, when in its material processes the forms of value emergent from such modalities as distributors’ auctions or the emergent trade in distribution rights (277) and their relative importance remain covered over by the fetish of class/mass taste. This results in what Ganti usefully calls an erasure of the economic, which means basically “the absence of attention to exhibition conditions (decrepit cinemas, not enough cinemas), regional economic variation, state taxation, diverse rates of admission, and the role of distributors’ pricing decisions” (313).

Another important contribution Ganti’s research makes to the burgeoning field of South Asian film and media is the at times stark, not to say binaristic contrast that filmwallas make between the Indian and Hollywood systems of film production. Although she doesn’t dwell at any length on this fact, yet one of the major differences in the organizational form of the two industries is the relatively higher degree of effective unionization of Hollywood workers, and the involvement of unions in most labor struggles around work time, benefits, and working conditions. This last, as Ganti shows, is a site of constant contestation in the Hindi film industry, and given the relative low-level of unionization in this industry, trying to get the film industry management, government, and power brokers to attend to the everyday working hazards (no toilets, interminable and ever changing working hours, physical violence, sexual harassment and sexual assault) for day laborers in the industry has been an uphill task to say the least (221). Other important differences between the two industries are in terms of the oral agreements of contracts and the lack of bound scripts (222-23). In short, for most Bollywood filmmakers Hollywood is “…more organized, more disciplined, more efficient, and more professional than the Hindi film industry” (223); more positively, Bollywood until around 2000 was best characterized by its “flexibility—by which I mean the ability to make impromptu decisions, the capacity to adapt to uncertainty, and a willingness to change the course of action—that is characteristic of Hindi filmmaking” (156). Layered onto these distinctions within the B/Hollywood opposition is the fact that, “rather than increasing, the total number of screens in India appears to be declining, as it has been for a number of years. According to statistics compiled by the Government of India’s Ministry of Statistics, the number of permanent cinema halls in India decreased approximately 27 percent between 1999 and 2009, from 9, 095 to 6,607. Of these, about 300 are multiplexes with a total of 900 screens, which leads to an estimated total of 7,207 screens for all of India in 2009—a 20 percent decrease in the number of screens from the previous decade” (71).

Then there is the submerged question of the Nation in Producing Bollywood. Ganti writes that Jawaharlal Nehru’s statements about film as basically operator of debauched sensation machines “have been a consistent feature of the discourse surrounding cinema in postcolonial India…Since Nehru, what has been operating in state discourses toward cinema, especially with respect to the relationship between entertainment and quality, is the ‘logic of deferrence’, where entertainment has been viewed as something that a postcolonial, ‘developing,’ nation-state like India cannot afford” (48, 51). In some sense the postcolonial pedagogical vocation for film has haunted Indian filmmaking until very recently. ‘In their very objectified and elaborated representations of Indianans,” as Ganti has it (63), Bollywood has explicated its codes, narratives, clichés, and sensory-motor circuits (images) in complex imbrication with the desires of national belonging. But what has happened to this secular socialist and paternalistic commitment to the ‘masses’?

One of the most consistent explanatory figures in Ganti’s analysis is what she terms the binary between masses and classes inhabiting the ambivalence at the heart of nationalist filmmaking. This binary opposition of the ‘masses/classes’ is the primary mode for filmmakers to make sense of the vastly diverse audiences for Hindi cinema, although for the past ten years it has become in a sense de-sedimented from its supposed fixity. For Ganti, the underlying hierarchy naturalized through this binary is that “the masses and classes are fundamentally different, and their tastes and world-views are completely incommensurable. Despite this incommensurability, Hindi filmmakers, for much of the industry’s history, strove to make films that would appeal across these divides” (35; see also 298). This binary is tied closely to the fate of nationalism within the Hindi film industry. Nehru’s statements about the pernicious effects of commercial cinema on the (supposedly ignorant) masses, went hand in hand with a pedagogical model for beneficial, socially relevant cinema. But is this the binary that social constructionism hunts for in the ambivalences of textuality? The Italian philosopher Lucio Colletti’s adaptation of Kant’s distinction between a dialectical contradiction and real opposition (Realrepugnanz; “a relation of mutual repulsion” [6])** is useful here. If in India “most state governments also stipulated that movie theaters could not be constructed near schools, colleges, places of worship, residential areas, and government offices,” (54) what was ontologized through this social and spatial differentiation was not a binary opposition but rather a material and multifarious process of producing a real opposition and biopolitical strategy between lower caste, working class film cultures and postcolonial national and now today globalized “middle class” values.

These processes of gentrification have an aesthetic correlate in film form. Indeed, since 2000 we can speak of something like a thoroughgoing morphogenesis of Bollywood film—in terms of codes, address, apparatus, exhibition, and organizational and financial structures, Hindi filmmaking has departed both from its own clichés and its own postcolonial socialist commitments (however paternalistic and narrowly nationalistic these were). Throughout its history right up to around 2000, filmmakers would “try to encode into their films what they [saw] as some shared cultural norms, common to everyone in India” (314).
Consider the stereotypical song-dance sequence, for instance: non-lip-synched songs continue to have a presence in most films today, however, now they frequently express the “psychological state of a character or the emotional tenor of a particular situation. As music’s narrative significance has diminished with the decrease of lip-synch songs in many contemporary Hindi films, it has arguably taken on an even greater commercial significance within the industry, for it is primarily created for marketing, promotion, and ancillary revenue purposes” (258). The gentrification of Bollywood has translated into a baleful (but nationally consistent) shift from mass inclusion to radical exclusion. Thus, in 1996 well-known director Aditya Chopra could celebrate a filmic vision of class inclusion: “You just realize that you’re making a film for people who are going to be different, and you have to try and thread them in some way, link all of them together. That is actually what Dilwale was—this belief that, even if they come from different classes, this guy might ride an auto-rickshaw and we might go in a Mercedes-Benz—but he’s also going to cry if his mother dies, he’s also going to react when his sister gets married. Okay, so what you need to do is get to the essence of being Indian and strike that chord that will somehow or the other have a place in everybody’s heart” (303). This has been entirely eroded in the subsequent decade of dot com booms and busts, service economies, call centres, and business operations outsourcing. As Ganti puts it, “While filmmakers earlier had located themselves along the class-axis of the masses/classes binary, they were clear that the bulk of their audience was on the mass side of the binary. Bhatt’s statements not only indicate a change in target audiences, but also reveal how changes in the Indian media landscape—his reference to satellite television and corporate production companies—have had an impact on filmmakers’ understandings of their audiences” (324-25). This then is finally the lasting contribution of Ganti’s fairly comprehensive study of Producing Bollywood in the form of a familiar filmi lament and political warning: the abjection of the masses will return to haunt the global ambitions of Bollywood.

* Marx, “Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature – Doctoral Dissertation,” 118. Thanks Bue.

** Colletti writes: “So in real opposition too there is negation, annulment, but of a kind that is quite different from contradiction. Real opposites are not, as in contradiction, negatives in themselves and hence only the Negative of the other; on the contrary, they are both positive and real. In this instance, says Kant, ‘both the predicates A and B are affirmative.’ The negation which each exerts on the other consists only in the fact that they mutually annul their effects. Briefly, in a real opposition or relation of contrariety (Gegenverhältnis), the extremes are both positive, even when one of them is indicates as the negative contrary of the other” (L. Colletti, “Marxism and the Dialectic,” New Left Review I/93, September-October 1975, 7). I am wary of taking this logical discussion too far in social analysis, as I am aware of Colletti’s problematic political shifts, but I find here a useful ontological resource to move beyond the dead-ends of social constructivism.

Image  —  Posted: August 20, 2013 in Uncategorized