How does one engage an event?

The event has gone through torsions in this blog. But we shouldn’t confuse an event with a blog. What is happening as I write in Libya is an event that changes the contours of everything, but not for everyone in the same way, or for the same duration, or with the same speed. The event does not take the form of an equality of duration, but rather partakes of the excess of transvaluation.

Libya in flames, bombed out, but what of the becomings that have expressed something powerful but as yet unknown through this event (we hesitate to endorse Hardt and Negri’s hopes of the Arab revolts—see:; the comments are as interesting as the article. Hardt and Negri are assimilating the Arab protests to their own particular war machine, but something else is going on, beyond what they “hope” for). In thinking this through and in affirming our support of the revolts, we should remember not to confuse the two becomings that Deleuze differentiates, a revolutionary becoming and a radical deterritorialization, which can be suicidal (and often fascistic).

In thinking the politics of events as the massacres in Libya we want access to that which exceeds the actual event, the lives of the lives lost, through what processes were they brought to that moment? The machinic phylum, the body without organs, concrescence, ecologies of sensation allow us to pose the transvaluation in and mutation of a given event. In my work on Indian mobile networks and their ecology of sensation, what I have benefitted from thinking is the co-evolution of human capacities with technologies of perception. Part of what needs understanding concretely is the role the mobile has played in these uprisings, it would seem that facebook and the mobile have found a new form of political expression across the Arab world. But how long has this fire been burning, isn’t this, as James Baldwin said once, just the fire next time, isn’t the Arab uprising simply the heir of the last conflagration, the last murder, the last violation? Is the Arab uprising an example of what Hardt and Negri argue is a new form of horizontal organizing for social justice? This is a problem in Hardt and Negri’s analyses: theirs is a proleptic or anticipatory criticism where what emerges always already affirms the powers of the multitude, but they are dealing with people potentialized through both a noncognitive ingression of force and resonance of specifically habituated techno-perceptual assemblages, and a people whose aspirations are also replete with the forces of ressentiment and affirmation. And as always there is a desperate, violent, but most importantly active struggle over the interpretation of events: interpretation becomes directly ontological in such circumstances. So it should not surprise us when on the scale of human politics ressentiment becomes the reigning affective disposition of the new regime. But to make an affirmation of becoming is not to live in the hopes of Western criticism, seeking another aprioritized example (Derrida is very good when it comes to thinking the dialectic of the example—see the analysis of the Derrida-Lacan debate collected in the Purloined Poe) of a multitude, a movement, a becoming. To make an affirmation of becoming is to return thought each time to a political ontology of an infinity of attributes, infinitely variable, the process of concrescence going from potentiality to actual nexus, or assemblage. And it is absolutely not the case that such a political ontology is status quoist, compromised (what is not? But there are gradients…), and ineffectual in the “real” world. A political ontology worth its salt will attain the status of a diagram of becoming.

The fire next time could also be one of those highly improbable, but decisive events that has entered into popular discourse through Gladwell’s The Tipping Point and Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swan. But of course the highly improbable event has been foundational to poststructuralism, which has made many careers defining or engaging with events. Both Derrida and Deleuze had very different kinds of engagements with the revolutionary, critically intensive, symmetry breaking event of becoming. People confuse being a Deleuzian with thinking one is right about ontology or causality. There is nothing right about a diagram, it either works with complexity, compounding and correlating powers, or affects, or dies of its own decomposition.

Without making excuses for quick transitions, I think one way to contribute to a revolutionary becoming is by diagramming vectors of ingression. Ingression correlates directly with potentiality in A. N. Whitehead’s process philosophy, and it is worth quoting here at length (the virtual? I think a close study of the precise differences between Whitehead’s pure potentiality and Deleuze’s virtual is in order—see Tim Clark, A Whiteheadian Chaosmos: Process Philosophy from a Deleuzean Perspective, “(vi) That each entity in the universe of a given concrescence can, so far as its own nature is concerned, be implicated in that concrescence in one or other of many modes; but in fact it is implicated only in one mode: that the particular mode of implication is only rendered fully determinate by that concrescence, though it is conditioned by the correlate universe. This indetermination, rendered determinate in the real concrescence, is the meaning of ‘potentiality.’ It is a conditioned indetermination, and is therefore called a ‘real potentiality.’ (vii) That an eternal object can be described only in terms of its potentiality for ingression into the becoming of actual entities; and that its analysis only discloses other eternal objects. It is a pure potential. The term ‘ingression’ refers to the particular mode in which the potentiality of an eternal object is realized in a particular actual entity, contributing to the definiteness of that actual entity” (Process and Reality 23). One could quite easily loose it in what Whitehead later in the lectures calls the technical language of his project, but I think the sense of real potentiality as a certain movement is very much what Deleuze argues of Spinoza: real distinction is not numerical, but qualitative.



The world is nothing but gradients of potential. Strictly speaking there is nothing in the world that is fully determinate, from animate to inanimate, from carbon- to silicon-based life, from minor to dominant, all these poles of becoming and differentiation emerge from pure potentiality. (We should never lose site of Derrida’s critique of the ethic of purity in his early writings…That dialectical critique will always bring us back to that paragon of ressentiment, fascism.)

Deleuze writes, “The identity of power and essence means: a power is always an act or, at least, in action. A long theological tradition had asserted the identity of power and act, not only in God, but in Nature. At the same time, a long tradition of materialism in physical theory asserted the actual character of all power in created things themselves: for the distinction of power and act, potentiality and actuality, was substituted the correlation of a power of acting and a power of being acted on or suffering action, both actual. The two currents meet in Spinoza, one relating to the essence of substance, the other to the essence of modes. For in Spinozism all power bears with it a corresponding and inseparable capacity to be affected. And this capacity to be affected is always, necessarily, exercised. To potentia there corresponds an aptitudo or potestas; but there is no aptitude or capacity that remains ineffective, and so no power that is not actual… A mode’s essence is a power: to it corresponds a certain capacity of the mode to be affected” (Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza, trans. Martin Joughin (New York: Zone Books, 1990) 93).

This capacity of a mode to be affected suggests some definite things about the nature, or essence of the mode. In other words, affect actualizes the potentiality of the mode, affect enables the mode to “flourish.”

Quoting Thrift from Non-Representational Theory (61-62):

How might we begin to understand the structure of this domain of flourishing? One manageable and useable account has been offered by Gil (1998). Gil argues, as I would (see Thrift 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000a), that we need to escape the constructionist notion of the body as simply an inscribed surface, in which the body is reduced to what Gil (1998) calls a ‘body image’, an individual unitary, organismic body which can act as a surface upon which society can construct itself. This interpretation is mistaken in at least three ways. First, the body becomes a static signified to be filled with signs of society. Second, the body is divorced from other things, from the object world. Third, the body is located in space, it does not produce space. But, there is another, non-representational view (Thrift 1997, 2000a). In this view, the body is ‘not about signs and meanings but about a mechanics of space’ (Gil 1998: 126) brought about by the relation between bodies and things. Thus:

the space of the body has limits that are not those of the body image, if we understand by that the limits of the body lived in a unitary fashion. The limits of the space of the body are in things. In movement, for example, the body places changing limits on these things. To the extent that they are ‘subjective’, these limits constitute the end result of the integration into the body of the relations (of distance, form, and so on) that it holds with things in objective space. To the extent that they can be pinned down topologically, these limits are no longer ‘lived’ but are properties of space itself. (Gil 1998: 125)

In turn, and following a Deleuzian interpretation:

the body ‘lives’ in space, but not like a sphere with a closed continuous surface. On the contrary, its movements, limbs and organs determine that it has regular relations with things in space, relations that are individually integrated for the decoder. These relations imply exfoliations of the space of the body that can be treated separately. Relations to a tree, a prey, a star, an enemy, a loved object or desired nourishment set into motion certain privileged organs including precise spaces of the body. Exfoliation is the essential way the body ‘turns on to’ things, onto objective space, onto living things. Here there is a type of communication that is always present, but only makes itself really visible in pathological or marginal experiences. Nevertheless the ordinary experience of relations to things also implies this mode of communication. Being in space means to establish diverse relationships with the things that surround our bodies. Each set of relations is determined by the action of the body that accompanies an investment of desire in a particular being or particular object. Between the body (and the organs in use) and the things is established a connection that immediately affects the form and space of the body; between the one and the other a privileged spatial relation emerges that defines the space uniting them as ‘near’ or ‘far’, resistant, thick, wavy, vertiginous, smooth, prickly. (Gil 1998: l27)

In other words, the space of the body consists of a series of ‘leaves’, each of which ‘contains’ the relations of the body to things and each of which is more or less related to other spaces. Correspondences are not, at least initially, conceptual but result ‘from the work done by the body spatialising space’ (Gil 1998: 130).

There is a lot to affirm in all this, but there is this sense that Thrift, by sticking almost too narrowly to spatial analysis, misses what is in fact of ontological importance in terms of criticism: temporality, duration, movement, becoming (this may be unfair: in some of the other essays gathered together in Nonrepresentational Theory Thrift does pay close attention to temporality and duration). This leads to a very different kind of diagram of a morphogenetic body, it is a diagram in which forms express directly specific capacities to be affected.

The logic of expression seems to be one of duplication: Spinoza is too careful a grammarian to allow us to miss the linguistic origins of “expression.” Attributes are, as we have seen, names: verbs rather than adjectives. Each attribute is a verb, a primary infinitive proposition, an expression with a distinct sense, but all attributes designate substance as one and the same thing. The traditional distinction between the sense expressed and the object designated (and expressing itself in this sense) thus finds in Spinozism direct application. The distinction necessarily generates a certain movement of expression. For the sense of an initial proposition must in its turn be made the designatum of a second, which will itself have a new sense, and so on. Thus the substance they designate is expressed in the attributes. Attributes express an essence. Then the attributes are in their turn expressed: they express themselves in modes which designate them, the modes expressing a modification. Modes are truly “participial” propositions which derive from the primary infinitive ones. Thus expression, through its own movement, generates a second level of expression. Expression has within it the sufficient reason of a re-expression. (Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza, trans. Martin Joughin (New York: Zone Books, 1990) 102-04).

The attributes of substance express an essence, a force/power, or capacity. Attributes express themselves in modes that give them their verb-becoming, modifying the attributes, and finally changing the quality of substance itself. Notice that modes are not analogies of attributes, attributes are not formed by a transcendent substance. The causality here is immanence itself. “Spinoza’s doctrine is rightly named ‘parallelism,’ but this because it excludes any analogy, any eminence, any transcendence. Parallelism, strictly speaking, is to be understood neither from the viewpoint of occasional causes, nor from the viewpoint of ideal causality, but only from the viewpoint of an immanent God and immanent causality” (Deleuze, Expressionism 109). Deleuze’s analysis gives us a method of counter-actualizing toward the virtual. The viral event taken to the n-th power. As Ansell-Pearson puts it: “Deleuze was never a student ‘of’ philosophy, but he was always philosophical. The ‘critical’ task of ‘outside’ thought, a task that is always untimely, is to untangle the lines which cut across, like a machine, the recent past and the near future. The thinker of the ‘outside’ uses history excessively for the sake of something ‘beyond’, or alien to, it, thinking out of time for the sake of time, which amounts to becoming something other than what history has made us and wishes to make of us… The evolution of Deleuze’s complex adaptive system of thought, however, is deeply paradoxical, in which we necessarily get caught up in the complications and implications of his foldings. We make differences, but in turn these differences are monstrous. Deleuze is the philosopher of the pure empty form of time, of the event (the time of Aion), of pure becoming and of pure differences. But he is also the thinker of contamination, of contagion and of viroid life.” (Keith Ansell Pearson, “Deleuze Outside/Outside Deleuze: On the Difference Engineer,” in Deleuze and Philosophy, Keith Ansell Pearson, ed. (London: Routledge, 2002) 2-3; Pearson seems to avoid addressing two key aspects of Deleuze’s thought: the univocity of being, and actual bodily indetermination).

When forms express capacities to affect and be affected it is impossible, without a great deal of stupidity, to confound capitalist consumption and diagrammatic ethics. That is because affect precedes the value-form, the value-form expresses the more or less ineffectual capture of affect, its modulation. This is what Thrift’s analysis, drawing on many of the figures who have crowded together in cacophony and resonance in this blog, points to I believe. And yet one finds a conflation in Thrift between capitalist desiring-machines and the virtual itself. The virtual is infinite, transcendental, immanent, expressive, and capacious. Capitalist desire is one, currently dominant, but profoundly limited dimension of that infinity. It does have real effects, as well as the effect of changing the trajectory or quality of virtuality itself. Capitalist desire invests itself in innovations that yield values which are immeasurable and immense but susceptible to control, as Negri puts it. Capitalism effects modifications in modes that express a limited set of attributes of a substance that itself has an infinity of attributes. It is not that modes can become substance, but that modes through an ethics of capacities and becomings affirm-involve-evolve substance As soon as the shock of scale enters thought—where capitalism’s 600 year history written in blood and fire is placed against the backdrop of molecular biology and the evolution of the microbe, the question of ethics is affirmed of becoming, not of human justice (although no injustice is immune from change). Deleuze writes of this in many places—Difference and Repetition, Nietzsche and Philosophy, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy and Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza—that anthropomorphic ethics is a blockage in both thought and practice. I have therefore experimented around one thing consistently since I began writing this blog: that human existence for it to attain the nth degree must intensify its experimental practices of sensation.

Becoming is an affection of substance, Deleuze shows in Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza (110); forms or modes are affections of attributes, while modifications, or ontologies of sensation are affections of substance. An ontology of sensation differentiates from itself through an immanent causality.

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