Archive for the ‘Becoming’ Category

Continuing on from

Part I


Part II

The past two posts have considered the problem of ethics and organisation through affect in the context of the Creative Industries and Cultural Sectors (CI/CS). Granted, I have yet to really draw out the implications of this more or less well-posed problem of affective ethics for organisation and organising in CI/CS. (As an aside, I am the convener of a new MA in Creative Industries and Arts Organisation, and in that capacity I will be explicitly thematising the overlaps and differences between organisation as static noun and organising as processual verb in the critical discourse of CI/CS in my modules and organisational practices). As I noted in Part I, the formation and critique of the creative industries (Florida, Pratt, Hesmondalgh, McRobbie) and the culture industries (Adorno, Horkheimer, Bennet, Hall, Williams, Spivak) are historically distinct. Acting effectively and politically in the two domains requires we understand these distinct but increasingly entwined histories.

I will develop this line of argument through a consideration of another organisation studies article: Pullen, A., Rhodes, C., & Thanem, T. (2017). Affective politics in gendered organizations: Affirmative notes on becoming-woman. Organization, 24(1), 105-123. Here’s their abstract:

Current approaches to the study of affective relations are over-determined in a way that ignores their radicality, yet abstracted to such an extent that the corporeality and differentially lived experience of power and resistance is neglected. To radicalize the potential of everyday affects, this article calls for an intensification of corporeality in affect research. We do this by exploring the affective trajectory of ‘becoming-woman’ introduced by Deleuze and Guattari. Becoming-woman is a process of gendered deterritorialization and a specific variation on becoming-minoritarian. Rather than a reference to empirical women, becoming-woman is a necessary force of critique against the phallogocentric powers that shape and constrain working lives in gendered organizations. While extant research on gendered organizations tends to focus on the overwhelming power of oppressive gender structures, engaging with becoming-woman releases affective flows and possibilities that contest and transgress the increasingly subtle and confusing ways in which gendered organization affects people at work. Through becoming-woman, an affective and affirmative politics capable of resisting the effects of gendered organization becomes possible. This serves to further challenge gendered oppression in organizations and to affirm a life beyond the harsh limits that gender can impose.

This is an important article that situates affect and ethics in relation to questions of gender, power, and resistance. Let us first, though, draw out some key dynamics of becoming according to Deleuze and Guattari, from the well-known and oft-cited Chapter 10 of A Thousand Plateaus, “Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible.”

D&G begin interestingly with a set of negations, negative determinations: a becoming is not a correspondence between relations, and neither is it a resemblance, an imitation, or, at the limit, an identification. This point goes all the way back to Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition (and earlier work) in which he takes apart the illusions of representational thought. Thus, to become is not to progress or regress along a series, a progressive falling away from an undifferentiated Origin. More negations: becoming “does not occur in the imagination, even when the imagination reaches the highest cosmic or dynamic level, as in Jung or Bachelard. Becomings-animal are neither dreams nor phantasies” (237).

What then is a becoming? They are in fact perfectly real. “But which reality is at issue here?…What is real is the becoming itself, the block of becoming, not the supposedly fixed terms through which that which becomes passes.” Could one say that a becoming is a pure relationality external to its terms? Not quite.

“The becoming-animal of the human being is real, even if the animal the human being becomes is not; and the becoming-other of the animal is real, even if that something other it becomes is not.” For D&G, this is the point to clarify: “that a becoming lacks a subject distinct from itself; but also that it has no term, since its term in turn exists only as taken up in another becoming of which it is the subject, and which coexists, forms a block, with the first. This is the principle according to which there is a reality specific to becoming (the Bergsonian idea of a coexistence of very different “durations,” superior or inferior to “ours,” all of them in communication)” (238). Becomings, then, without analogy or resemblance, form blocs of sensation (as elaborated in the Logic of Sensation and What is Philosophy?) and durations with other becomings, and these becomings are not reducible to fixed, supposedly real terms. Becomings are fully real.

More, becoming is always of a different order than filiation.

It concerns alliance. If evolution includes any veritable becomings, it is in the domain of symbioses that bring into play beings of totally different scales and kingdoms, with no possible filiation. There is a block of becoming that snaps up the wasp and the orchid, but from which no wasp-orchid can ever descend. There is a block of becoming that takes hold of the cat and baboon, the alliance between which is effected by a C virus. There is a block of becoming between young roots and certain microorganisms, the alliance between which is effected by the materials synthesized in the leaves (rhizosphere). If there is originality in neoevolutionism, it is attributable in part to phenomena of this kind in which evolution does not go from something less differentiated to something more differentiated, in which it ceases to be a hereditary filiative evolution, becoming communicative or contagious. Accordingly, the term we would prefer for this form of evolution between heterogeneous terms is “involution,” on the condition that involution is in no way confused with regression. Becoming is involu-tionary, involution is creative. To regress is to move in the direction of something less differentiated. But to involve is to form a block that runs its own line “between” the terms in play and beneath assignable relations. (Deleuze and Guattari, Memories of a Bergsonian, in A Thousand Plateaus, pp. 237-39; my emphasis)

Becomings happen between terms, beneath relations, are communicative and contagious, involving material syntheses and processes of symbiosis (picked up by Massumi, Parisi and Delanda). In sum, becomings are: real, involutionary, material, virtual (I will come back to this term), and composed of blocs of alliances, ecologies of sensation, and interpenetrating durations.

Deleuze elaborates an ontology of the order of essences, the order of relations and the order of chance encounters in Expression in Philosophy (236-38). In these wonderful middle chapters of EiP, Deleuze develops nothing less than a diagrammatic method for an affective ethics of organising.

All relations combine ad infinitum to form this facies [face of the whole universe]. But they combine according to their own laws, laws comprised in the infinite mediate mode. Which is to say that the relations do not just combine in any way at all; any given relation cannot be combined with just any other. Thus we saw how laws of composition were also laws of decomposition; and when Spinoza says that the facies remains the same while changing in infinite ways, he is alluding not only to the composition of relations, but also to their destruction and decomposition. These decompositions do not however (any more than compositions) affect the eternal truth of the relations involved. A relation is composed when it begins to subsume its parts; it decomposes when it ceases to be realized in them. Decomposition, destruction amount then only to this: when two relations do not directly combine, the parts subsumed in one determine the parts of the other to enter (according to some law) into some new relation that can be combined with the first. (236)… When poison decomposes the blood, it does so simply according to a law that determines the parts of the blood to enter into a new relation that can be combined with that of the poison Decomposition is only the other side of composition. But the question of why there should be this other side remains. Why do the laws of composition also amount to laws of destruction? The answer must be that existing bodies do not encounter one another in the order in which their relations combine. There is a combination of relations in any encounter, but the relations that combine are not necessarily those of the bodies that meet. Relations combine according to laws; but existing bodies, being them selves composed of extensive parts, meet bit by bit. So parts of one of the bodies may be determined to take on a new relation imposed by some law while losing that relation through which they belonged to the body…If we consider the order of relations in itself, we see it purely as an order of composition. If it determines destruction as well it does so because bodies meet in an order that is not that of their relations. Whence the complexity of Spinoza’s notion of the “Order of Nature.” We must in any existing mode distinguish three things: its essence as a degree of power; the relation in which it expresses itself; and the extensive parts subsumed in this relation. To each of these orders there corresponds an order of nature. There is in the first place an order of essences, determined by degrees of power. This order is one of total conformity: each essence agrees with all others, all being comprised in the production of each. They are eternal, and none could perish with out all the others perishing also. The order of relations, as an order of composition according to laws, is very different. It determines the eternal conditions for modes to come into existence (237) and to continue to exist while the composition of their relation is maintained. All relations are combined ad infinitum, but a given relation cannot be combined with just any other. We must, in the third place, consider the order of encounters. This is an order of local and temporary partial agreement and disagreement. Existing bodies meet in their extensive parts, bit by bit…Two bodies that meet may have relations that combine directly according to a law (may, that is, agree); but it may be the case, if two relations cannot combine, that one of the bodies is so determined as to destroy the other’s relation (the bodies then disagree). This order of encounters thus effectively determines the moment when a mode comes into existence (when the conditions set by the relevant law are fulfilled), the duration of its existence, and the moment of its death or destruction. Spinoza defines it as at once “the Common Order of Nature,” as the order of “extrinsic determinations” and “chance encounters,” and as the order of passions. (238)


Let’s turn back to the article in question from Organization. Pullen et al level a critique of organisation studies from the view of embodiment and affect. In this vein of organisation studies, they opine, physical, visceral and sensate bodies are “largely absent, and affects are in danger of being akin to the more limited notion of feelings: Kenny’s (2012) emphasis on the linguistic origin of the psyche’s sociality risks ignoring the corporeality of affects by reducing affects to a matter of linguistic expression; the (imagined) bodies in Lohmann and Steyaert (2006) and Vachhani (2013) lack flesh and blood, live expression and visceral experience” (113). I’ve made similar critiques in my first two posts on this topic: there is a tendency to reduce the dynamisms of the body to the grids of social constructionism and the mediation of language and discourse. As Pullen et al go on to forcefully suggest,

As a result, this literature ends up examining the political potential of affect without explicitly considering the bodies who might enact it. In this article, our hope is to extend theories of affect generally and in relation to organizations; to move beyond the realm of conceptual knowledge and to attest to the lived political realities that people inhabit; and to explore the corporeal, social and political intensities of affect in relation to the concrete and everyday conditions in which we live and work. We propose that by introducing affect into the theory of the gendered organization, we can advance a social and political critique of affection and its expressions, which challenges injustice and inequality in current forms of gendered organization. (pp. 113-14)

While there seems to be a nagging sense of a kind of unexamined positivism of the body in this article, the emphasis on affective politics and relations of power within the gendered organisation is salutary. There is also the problem of the relation of affect and politics. Does affect operate on the same order as that of (human) politics? What are these orders? There are three, recall, according to Deleuze, essence as a degree of power, relations, and encounters. “A relation is composed when it begins to subsume its parts; it decomposes when it ceases to be realized in them. Decomposition, destruction amount then only to this: when two relations do not directly combine, the parts subsumed in one determine the parts of the other to enter (according to some law) into some new relation that can be combined with the first.” What is the order of affect, and what is the order of politics, and when, if ever, do they coincide? Is it possibly in processes of becoming that there is a kind of synthesis of the three orders? We cannot yet make that determination.

Pullen et al focus the discussion on becoming-woman: “the affective trajectory of becoming-woman may challenge the oppressive structures of gendered organization. Despite the development of process theory in organization studies and its emphasis on becoming, exponents of this theory have employed it in relatively apolitical and disembodied ways (e.g. Clegg et al., 2005; Linstead and Thanem, 2007). However, becoming-woman urges us to radically reconsider this position by building on the realization that becoming does not merely involve processes of open-ended change but also engages processes that are enacted and experienced through inter-corporeal encounters (Thanem, 2006), which affect our capacity to act upon and be acted upon by others” (115). This still begs the question of which orders are relevant to becoming, and which to ‘inter-corporeal encounters’.

Perhaps we’ve missed a step in Pullen et al’s argumentation? Earlier in the article they present a critique of Massumi and Patricia Clough’s theorization of affect:

We do not feel that these problems are quite resolved in parallel attempts by others to theorize and politicize affect or in later attempts by Massumi (2015) to do so. Clough, for instance, has sought to tune the affective more directly into political economy by interrogating how capital and biopolitical forms of control are entangled with the affective capacities of bodily matter. With reference to affective labour, Clough argues that capital seeks to capture and exploit the human capacity, potential and vitality of the organic body through ‘continuous modulation, variation and intensification of social cooperation’ (Virtanen in Clough, 2005: 23). In the global affective economy, she suggests, the capitalization of affect further works through an augmentation and networking of bodily differences, as when urban children are refined through education while rural migrant workers are exploited as cheap labour. Ultimately, this makes bodies valuable or valueless, hateful and deserving to die. For Clough this is not merely a matter of socialization, subjectification and interpellation, of attributing value and worthlessness according to differences of race, religion and nation, class, gender and ethnicity. Affective forces enable and exceed such sedimented categories, as when urban children as well as rural migrant workers come to fear the ‘threat […] of failing to be a body of value’ (Anagnost in Clough, 2005: 24).

This seems to me a reasonable summary of some of Clough’s work. They go on to critique her [all of her very wide-ranging and extensive] work thus:

However, both here and in later writings, Clough largely adds the affective onto the cultural politics of racism, sexism and nationalism and speaks of the affective in rather abstract terms (see, for example, Clough, 2008; Clough and Willse, 2011). This risks trivializing the ontology and politics of affect as well as the politics of culture and identity. It also becomes less clear what difference an exploration of the extra-linguistic, pre-cognitive and unconscious affective makes to the operation of racism, sexism and nationalism. This prevents us from examining in any concrete sense how affect is entangled in technologies of oppression and exploitation; how the indeterminacy and capture of affect is experienced; and how it may reconstitute and transgress the social, political and economic order of racism, nationalism, capitalism and globalism. At the same time, we do not sense that a resolution of these problems lies in theorizations of affect that go too far in the opposite direction. Ahmed’s (2004) psychoanalytical notion of affective economies is one such account, which has been influential in showing how emotions of hate and fear become attached negatively to the bodies of certain racialized people, as when racist western groups differentiate themselves from non-western groups by conflating asylum seekers and terrorists into a fearful, inferior and dangerous other. (111-12)

In late night correspondence with Patricia (I realise this is a bit unfair, but hey, she’s a friend and a co-conspirator in the realm of postcolonial affect), she points out that “affect is not simply about human bodies, so not just too abstract for actual bodies but it is the concept with which to see the transformation of the body as organism, to recognise the body’s originary technicty…Also, the abstractness of affect is not the fault of my theorizing it as such, but of capital accumulation in the domain of affect–processes of accumulation make [an] abstraction of affect and true there is a specific racial history to that which I don’t know if I have done well enough or ever can be done well enough given how [@£$@%] racist our history has been or is…”

Characteristically, Clough brings questions of gender, affect, and capital into a relational ontology that includes a very great number of other relations, the non-human, technicity, and race being only three that she highlights in these extemporaneous and informal comments sent to me after a night of merriment in the West Village. They are, nonetheless, quite instructive in our critical assessment of Pullen et al, who reduce these multiplicities to almost an identitarian rather than affective consideration of gender. Is this a tendency of all organisation studies involved in affect analyses?

Again, for me its a problem of situating affect and politics in terms of the three orders that Deleuze diagrams above, essence-powers, relation-compositions, and encounter-passions. To an extent we can situate affect in different ways in the first two–the degree of power of all modes, relations of sensing and affecting govern the order of relations of modes, as an order of composition according to laws different from conatus, essence, power. The order of relations determines the “eternal conditions for modes to come into existence (237) and to continue to exist while the composition of their relation is maintained.” All relations are combined ad infinitum, but a given relation cannot be combined with just any other. The answer from Deleuze’s point of view is an ethics that strives to organise better encounters! (EiP, 261)

So in some real sense, in Pullen et al’s analysis–and by extension (ha!) much of organisation studies uptake of affect–situates affect in the realm of human encounters. This moors affect to the human, all too human destiny of the capitalist organisation. Still, there is a lot of good stuff in the Pullen et al article, and I hope y’all give it a good read. They conclude thus:

First, if we accept that the affective components of subjectivity are corporeal effects of power, our actions can only influence organizations by ‘engendering empowering modes of becoming’ (Braidotti, 2010: 45) through bottom-up intrusion. In addressing the possibilities of political action in gendered organizations, we must, therefore, continually explore alternatives without just dreaming of a forever deferred and idealized future. Such alternatives might, for example, involve efforts to transform habits and values in organizations, abandon dualistic thinking and craft sustainable 120 Organization 24(1) futures that refuse male-stream norms of individualistic competitiveness and rationalism. Activating these forces can only occur through corporeal encounters with others, which prompt us to think differently about ourselves and relate differently to others. Second, an affirmative politics requires us to reconsider otherness. Gendered organizations are built on the exclusion of those constructed as other and based on restricted understandings of gender. If we are serious about challenging gendered hierarchies and the structural otherness embedded within them, we have to start looking at how otherness can be a site of affirmation rather than negation. Through becoming, otherness emerges as a positive force that activates marginalized groups in organizations while destabilizing the dominance of gendered power relations and structures. Third, an affirmative politics triggers us to reject simple dichotomies between sadness and joy and transform negative affects into positive affects. Negative affects surround gendered organizations. They drag us down, rob us of energy and sap the joy out of our lives. We have learned to endure the gendered organization and its effects on our bodies and ‘sustain[-] the pain without being annihilated by it’ (Braidotti, 2010: 50). But this endurance is what makes a different future possible; it is our endurance of sad negative affects that moves us to recast the body’s capabilities along an affective trajectory of becoming-woman, which subverts, exceeds and combats institutional discrimination and oppression. Hence, an affirmative politics entails mustering this endurance for the purpose of transformation rather than mere survival. (119-20)


Continuing from Ethics, Organisation, and Affect in the Creative Industries and Cultural Sector (I).

In the last post, I raised a slew of issues around ethics, organisation studies, and affect in its relationship to the capitalist capture of creativity. This analysis is informed by work in queer and feminist studies, autonomous marxisms, postcolonial and subaltern studies, and new materialist affect studies.

In this post I want to analyse another journal article in this field: What can bodies do? Reading Spinoza for an affective ethics of organizational life by Torkild Thanem and Louise Wallenberg, in Organization 2015, Vol. 22(2) 235– 250.

Here’s the abstract:

Recent attempts to develop an embodied understanding of ethics in organizations have tended to mobilize a Levinasian and ‘im/possible’ ethics of recognition, which separates ethics and embodiment from politics and organization. We argue that this separation is unrealistic, unsustainable, and an unhelpful starting point for an embodied ethics of organizations. Instead of rescuing and modifying the ethics of recognition, we propose an embodied ethics of organizational life through Spinoza’s affective ethics. Neither a moral rule system nor an infinite duty to recognize the other, Spinoza offers a theory of the good, powerful and joyful life by asking what bodies can do. Rather than an unrestrained, irresponsible and individualistic quest for power and freedom, this suggests that we enhance our capacities to affect and be affected by relating to a variety of different bodies. We first scrutinize recent attempts to develop an ethics of recognition and embodiment in organization studies. We then explore key concepts and central arguments of Spinozian ethics. Finally, we discuss what a Spinozian ethics means for the theory and practice of embodied ethics in organizational life.

Almost point for point, this article is opposed to the article I analysed last time (“The naked manager: The ethical practice of an anti-establishment boss” by Bent Meier Sørensen and Kaspar Villadsen (from the Copenhagen Business School) in Organization 2015, Vol. 22(2) 251– 268). Why? Sorensen and Villadsen proceed from a basic confusion of affect theory with post-structuralism as such. Affect theory, or the political ecology of bodies, is not reducible to the standard tropes of post-structuralism: sign, slippage, discourse, the Imaginary, the Other, etc. Sorensen and Villadsen want to willy nilly combine a Levinasian/Derridean alterity semiotics with what they misconstrue as affect theory. The results are desultory.

Do Thanem and Wallenberg provide a way out of this confusion? I think they do. For Thanem and Wallenberg bodies are related in our strivings to affect and be affected by others, and ethics involves enhancing our affective capacities to do so. This is not unproblematic, nor is it linear. “While this appetite leads individual bodies to seek to enhance their power and freedom, Spinoza suggests that joyful and powerful ethical relations can only be crafted and sustained by communities of reasonable individuals who take responsibility for honouring and nurturing the difference and freedom of others. As we embody terrains within and beyond organizations, this compels us to try and understand the limits of our freedom, take responsibility for how we affect and are affected by others, and pursue encounters that enhance our own and others’ bodily capacities” (pg. 248). There are aspects to this project that are quite compelling; the image of thought in it harkens back to the Beautiful Soul, however.

They begin by critiquing Levinas, and his obvious misinterpretations of Spinoza.

It now seems virtually impossible to engage critically with ethics in organization studies without engaging Levinas’ embodied ethics of recognition. Meanwhile, Levinasian ethics is itself an ethics of impossibility. In pursuit of a proto-ethics, that is, an ethics of ethics, Levinas sought to draw up the limits of ethics and establish the primacy of ethics (Jones, 2003). For Levinas, the ethical encounter between self and other is primordial, preceding ontology and politics. Ethics is a matter of fully recognizing the other, and it is the self’s embodied encounter with the other that enables it to do so—to be unconditionally open to the other, to put the other before the self, and to exercise infinite responsibility for the other without being polluted by politics and without first being-in-itself and being-for-itself. Placing infinite demands on the self to be for the other, Levinasian ethics is an ongoing and impossible project because it can never be fully realized and finally completed. (pg. 236)

An open ethical project of incomplete becoming is also certainly compatible with a Spinozist ethics, but the hinge is different. For Levinas/Derrida/Butler (till about maybe 2000?–certainly Judith Butler has been affected by and has affected the ontological turn?) it is the Other that forms the hinge, or lever for ethics. The Other grounds the self in an always open, never ending negative dialectic. It is irreducibly idealistic and transcedent (all things emanate from the Other/God). For the Spinozist tradition (we know who you are, but do you?), the lever is of a material, durational, empirical, and transcendental nature. Affect is immanent to ecological processes (a very great number of feedback loops), pointing to a transcendental empiricism as method. Affect–which is both qualitative and quantitative at once–is a durational passage from one affection to another (Deleuze, 1968).

Noting that Spinoza was knife-attacked on the steps of the local synagogue and excommunicated for his ‘monstrous deeds’, and that Spinozist organisation theory remains both rudimentary and still under attack (Spoelstra, 2007; Thanem, 2011; Lloyd, 1996; Popkin, 1976), Thanem and Wallenberg argue that

From an affective ethics of the good, powerful and joyful life, Spinoza offers radical ways to rework the possibilities and limits of embodied ethics: to reconsider basic assumptions regarding the relations between rationality and embodiment, ethics, ontology and politics; to rethink key ethical concepts of freedom, responsibility, difference and affectivity; and to re-imagine ethical practices within and around organizations. Rather than a moral rule system or an infinite duty to recognize the other, Spinoza asks what bodies can do. However, this does not imply an unrestrained, irresponsible and individualistic quest for power and freedom, but suggests that we enhance our capacities to affect and be affected by relating to a variety of different bodies. (pg. 236)

This has the virtue of clarity, which we need more of not less. So affect grounds an ethics of capacities to affect and be affected by a very great number of different bodies. But what is affect? I return to that question, but the authors usefully summarise the uses of Spinoza in organisation theory and business ethics:

…we argue that Spinozian ethics, which is inseparable from ontology and politics, enables an affectively embodied ethics of organizations more realistic and sustainable than any ethics of recognition. Doing so, we extend our reading of Spinoza into the philosophical works of Balibar, Deleuze, Gatens and Lloyd. This is no obvious choice. Spinoza’s convoluted style and contradictory arguments have enabled several competing interpretations: (i) Spinoza’s geometric method of logical deduction and discussion of the virtues of reason has led mainstream historians of philosophy and analytic philosophers to view Spinoza as a rationalist (Bennett, 1984; Hampshire, 1951; Koistinen, 2009); (ii) liberalist commentators in political philosophy have taken Spinoza’s emphasis on the freedom of thought as a precurse to the 18th century Enlightenment (Israel, 2007) and economic liberalism (Feuer, 1958; Smith, 1997); (iii) neo- Marxists have celebrated Spinoza’s implicit emphasis on class antagonism (Althusser, 1970) while post-Marxists have reiterated the Spinozian multitude as a subject of political resistance and transformation (Hardt and Negri, 2004); and (iv) the affective turn in cultural and social thought has, among other things, utilized Spinoza to theorize social affect beyond the dualism of personal feelings and collective emotions (Seyfert, 2012) (pg. 237)

This is quite helpful, actually, and I’ve emphasised what seems to me of decisive import. Moving affect beyond feeling, into the preindividual (this is the implication, although the authors don’t engage substantively with Simondon or others on Simondon–Deleuze, Massumi, Manning, Shaviro, Parisi–except Balibar, 1997), through a consideration of antagonisms in politics and resistant forms of organisation in the multitude (we should not loose site of the fact that Hardt and Negri’s 2004 book on the subject has been roundly criticised for its various romanticisms of resistance), Thanem and Wallenberg shift our understanding of affective processes by relating it to ‘another reason’ and the politics of embodiment in actual organisations. (I’m glad I’m blogging again, I’ve missed writing necessarily long, multiply parenthesised, turgid English sentences that really want to be in German/Sanskrit. Ah well.)

Arguing against the normative organisation studies separation between ethics, ontology, and politics, Thanem and Wallenberg argue for an affective ethics, and here we can get a better sense of what they mean by both. “…Deleuze (1992: 41-51) teases out how Spinozian rationality, reason and ethics is entangled with materiality, embodiment and passion, from a starting point where everything is generated by and expressive of one and the same primordial substance (EIP11, P15), the source of all things and ideas, which Spinoza called God but possibly meant Nature (Lloyd, 1996)” (pg. 240). Or as Nicholas of Cusa in On Learned Ignorance put it: “God is the universal complication, in the sense that everything is in him; and the universal explication, in the sense that he is in everything” (qtd. in Deleuze, EiP, pg. 175). Deleuze draws out the implications for a philosophy of immanence, which is the vertigo of philosophy itself, with characteristic brilliance:

Expression comprehends all these aspects: complication, explication, inherence, implication. And these aspects of expression are also the categories of immance. Immanence is revealed as expressive, and expression as immanent, in a system of logical relations within which the two notions are correlative. (EiP, 175)

The authors note what’s at stake for Deleuze in all this: a rejection of the mind-body dualism in favour of a strict parallelism between thought and extension, merely two attributes of an infinite God, or nature; a reformulation of ethics as a “theory of power” (Deleuze, 1988, pg. 104) linking essence to a given organisation of capacities in an embodied assemblage.

Thanem and Wallenberg quote Spinoza thus:

…no one has yet determined what the body can do, that is, experience has not yet taught anyone what the body can do from the laws of Nature alone, insofar as Nature is only considered to be corporeal, and what the body can do only if it is determined by the mind. For no one has yet come to know the structure of the body so accurately that he could explain all its functions […] This shows well enough that the body itself, simply from the laws of its own nature, can do many things which its mind wonders at. (EIIIP2S; pg. 240)

The authors note that Spinoza highlights the dynamic capacities of the body to affect and be affected by other bodies through preindividual, non-conscious processes. Perhaps too quickly, they relate these dynamics to the good, powerful, and joyful life (Nietzsche showed us clearly why the Good is in fact more often than not a sad passion–cf Beyond Good and Evil and the Genealogy of Morals, etc.). They clarify: ‘the body is not striving towards the good, but striving is itself good’ (pg. 241). While this is resonant with aspects of Spinoza’s ethics, my sense is that Spinoza was more concerned with individual and collective (the two are inseparable) emancipation from the sad passions, not a liberation from the body, but rather a strategic, political experimentation with what the body can do to turn passive into active affections.

…there are no causes external to God; God is necessarily the cause of all his affections, and so all these affections can be explained by his nature, and are actions. Such is not the case with existing modes. These do not exist by virtue of their own nature; their existence is composed of extensive parts that are determined and affected from outside, ad infinitum. Every existing mode is thus inevitably affected by modes external to it, and undergoes changes that are not explained by its own nature alone. Its affections are at the outset, and tend to remain, passions. Spinoza remarks that childhood is an abject state, but one common to all of us, in which we depend “very heavily on external causes.” The great question that presents itself in relation to existing finite modes is thus: Can they attain to active affections, and if so, how? This is the “ethical” question, properly so called. But, even supposing that a mode manages to produce active affections, while it exists it cannot eliminate all its passions, but can at best bring it about that its passions occupy only a small part of itself. (Deleuze, EiP, pg. 219)

It is this ‘play’ (but not a Derridean play–see the next post where I discuss Deleuze’s notion of relations and encounters) between active and passive affections as a domain of action that defines a Spinozist ethics, and often the way they are knotted together, interrupting each other, in habits that are not entirely of our own making, is what is crucial it seems to me.

Thanem and Wallenberg point to the important political dimension to this play:

The underlying politics here cannot be exaggerated. Not only is a body’s capacity to exist a result of its power (EIP11S3-4): ‘every right of each one is defined by his [sic] […] power’ (EIVP37; our emphasis), and ‘every natural thing has as much right from Nature as it has power to exist and to act’ (TP2/3). However, this further suggests that power, right and the capacity to affect and be affected is unequally distributed. And since the power of each body is ‘infinitely surpassed by the power of external causes’ (EIVP3), bodies seek to persevere by entering into affective relations with other bodies that enhance their capacities (EIVP38). (pg. 241)

This resonates with Deleuze’s notion of ethical becoming through active passions, but with some caveats. Deleuze points out repeatedly (one wonders how the performance of repetition functions as differentiation in Deleuze’s texts, there’s a literary dissertation in that) that the expressive triad corresponding to finite modes (specific bodies with a very great number of extensive parts) comprises 1. an essence as a degree of power; 2. a characteristic relation in which it expresses itself; 3. and the extensive parts subsumed in this relation, which compose the mode’s existence. In the Ethics, Spinoza develops a strict system of equivalences that leads to a second triad related to the first: 1. an essence as a degree of power; 2. a certain capacity to be affected in which it expresses itself; and 3. the affections that, at each moment, exercise that capacity. (Deleuze, “What Can a Body Do?”, Ch. 14, EiP, page 217).

Thanem and Wallenberg draw out political implications of this ethics of the active affections quite different from a Levinasian ethics, “which defines ethical communities as a pre-rational outcome of embodied difference and alterity” (241).

In contrast, the powerful, joyful and ethical life and community Spinoza outlines requires agreement, harmony, and reason: bodies contrary to our nature cause sadness and diminish our power (EIVP30); bodies that agree with our nature are good and useful to our power (EIVP31). However, it is only by living in accordance with reason that people can agree (EIVP35), ‘live harmoniously’ and ‘be of assistance to one another’ (EIVP37, P40). (pg. 241).

This strikes me as a normalizing ethics striving toward a teleology of balance and equilibrium (even though earlier in the essay the authors explicitly reject teleology in ethics). They acknowledge this danger.

The bodily, social and political aspects at play here are significant. First, a body is reasonable insofar as it knows itself and the diverse bodies in its surroundings. Second, reasonable bodies are able to join with other bodies, despite some disagreement, and compose larger, more powerful, yet more heterogeneous bodies, which incorporate the capacities that made them different in the first place (EIVP38): “For the more the body is capable of affecting, and being affected by, external bodies in a great many ways, the more the mind is capable of thinking.” (EIVApp27) (pg. 243)

I find the search for a composition of reasonable bodies hard to stomach. Spinoza, and certainly Delezue (and Guattari, and many others drawing from this tradition), does something to Cartesian reason. Certainly by rejecting the mind/body dualism, but further by bringing reason into the multiplicity of bodies mattering (as Butler and Cheah have it), Spinoza births forth another reason, a materialist and nonlinear diagrammatics of the composition of bodies with different degrees of power.

Whence these degrees of power? Are they given by God, or nature? Are they ‘naturalised’ degrees of power? This is precisely what Spinozist ethics works against, the supposed transcendence of ethics (pg. 244). While Thanem and Wallenberg, drawing on Gatens and Lloyd (1999), go on to elaborate ‘freedom and responsibility’ as key dimensions of a collectively oriented Spinozist ethics, I want to turn to their consideration of affective ethics in actually existing organisations.

They set the stage thus:

It is more helpful to consider how the questions discussed above are not impossible but real questions with practical implications for embodied ethics in organizational life. They are certainly given a practical and organizational guise in Spinoza’s political writings. Spinoza opens the Political Treatise by promising to show ‘how a community […] should be organised […] if […] the Peace and Freedom of its citizens is to remain inviolate’, and by critiquing political philosophers for ‘conceiv[ing] men [sic] not as they are but as they would like them to be’ and for ‘never work[ing] out a political theory that can have practical application’ (TP1/1). Meanwhile, Spinoza’s Ethics was never ‘just’ an ontological or proto-ethical exercise, but, as Balibar (1998) argues, a foundation and elaboration of his political writings. (pp. 244-45)


Viewing Spinozian ethics in light of these arguments is helpful when considering the implications of Spinozian ethics for the theory and practice of embodied ethics within and around organizations. This does not mean that bringing Spinozian ethics into organizational life is unproblematic. First, Spinoza pursues a dual emphasis on power—as capacity (potentia) in the Ethics (EIP11D2, EIIP3S, EIIIP7Dem) and as authority (potestas) in his political writings (TTP16; TP2) (see Terpstra, 1993)—and it may be argued that applying Spinozian ethics to organizations takes bodies into a setting where power is a matter of authority, of exercising power over others, which undercuts the capacities of bodies to more openly engage in affective relations with others. Second, it may be argued, with Deleuze, that this involves a move from the expressive to the representational, which restricts the expressive capacities of bodies to affect and be affected by others. (pg. 245)

With Deleuze? Where does Deleuze suggest that organisation involves a shift from expression to representation? Indeed, following Hardt’s brilliant Gilles Deleuze: An Apprenticeship in Philosophy (1993) (who the authors cite!), we might say that, for both Spinoza and Deleuze, the question of organisation is precisely and primarily a question of the ontology of capacities distributed through interpenetrating multiplicities and their resonant/disjunctive processes. So Thanem and Wallenberg are pursuing a false problem, or at least a poorly posed one, with a dichotomy that doesn’t come from Spinoza or Deleuze but from inside the confused field of organisation studies itself. This can quickly become ideological obfuscation:

There is no illusion that the self will feel compelled to be completely open to the other, fully recognize the other and take infinite responsibility for the other. Instead, the pursuit of a joyful organizational life requires us to enhance our powers in ways that enhance the powers of more or less agreeable others, for instance by striking alliances with unlikeable colleagues against more unlikeable managers, or getting to know and learn from someone who at first seemed to have nothing in common with us. This may put limits on openness and difference, but also on domination, exploitation and exclusion. (pg. 246).

What does the pursuit of the joyful organisational life mean under heteronormative, patriarchal, and racist capitalism? It’s as if for these authors the problem of Spinozist organisation can be neatly disentangled from the structures of domination and exploitation tied to contemporary capital. Nowhere do they actually mention capital as such, as far as I can tell. Encounter, then, tends to be narrowed to the face to face meetings of individuals, understood precisely as bourgeois ideology would have it, i.e. as isolated atoms colliding. Spinozist categories are abstracted from history, from the material ecologies that give them force and effectivity.

Yet what is maddeningly interesting about this article is that Thanem and Wallenberg seem fully aware of these pitfalls in their own argument! So I’ll end this already too long post in their own, somewhat optimistic, somewhat inspirational, and somewhat naive words.

If Spinozian ethics is misread as a one-way process of crafting harmonious relations by minimizing difference or a selfish quest for freedom, and if too much emphasis is put on his occasional claim that unreasonable people must be forced into reasonable behaviour (TP3/8), it is unlikely to offer much advice for ending unjust practices in organizations. However, if we take seriously the collective responsibility to mutually enhance our own and others’ embodied capacities to affect and be affected, it convinces us that domination, exploitation and exclusion, like individualistic freedom, are not just unethical but unsustainable. As organizations dominate, exploit and exclude people, they treat people in reductionist ways that cut off organizations and those they exclude from opportunities to exercise their full capacities. And as individual employees and managers insist on an unrestrained freedom to do whatever they like, they undermine any fruitful social relations. Excess power and freedom causes harm and suffering and provokes disagreement and resistance, which inevitably decomposes relations between people and organizations. Hence, connections between organizations and people neither can nor should be maintained at all cost. Although excluding initially peaceful others might create further harm and suffering, disagreement and resistance, those same people might gain more power, freedom and joy from cutting or re-negotiating the link. The current resistance against big business, financial institutions and oppressive governments cries out that people are fed up and ready to cut the link with dominant, exploitative, harmful and sad forms of government and organization. And without denying the significance of discursive forms of resistance, it is likely that resistance in organizational life may be reinforced as people feel the pain that these regimes inflict on our bodies—through the poverty they generate, the natural resources they appropriate and pollute, the landscapes they destroy, and the health problems they cause. There are even signs that people again pursue joyful encounters and harmonious relations independently of organizations, whether growing our own vegetables, bartering old clothes and furniture, or exchanging household favours. At the same time, Spinozian ethics sits well with an argument for more diverse organizations— at least insofar as they enhance the capacities of traditionally marginalized groups to affect how things are organized, managed and decided, and not least because marginalized groups tend to have different bodily experiences of joy and suffering, from life, work and organizations. However, such a move is not sufficient to create more joyful and more differently embodied organizations. Institutions and organizations can only become more joyful and sustainable if those who manage them and work in them open ourselves up to be affected by people whose bodies and embodied experiences are truly different from our own. Impossible in homogeneous groups, this instigates us to develop embodied forms of reason in concert with others, which enhance our capacities to remember, critically reflect about and take responsibility for transforming ourselves as well as the conditions that have enabled us to dominate, exploit and exclude others within and around organizations. (pg. 247)

What are the implications of the set of arguments from Part I and Part II of these posts for Creative Industries and the Cultural Sectors? Are the implications the same for both sectors, and if not what is the nature of their differences in regards to ethics, organisation, and affect? Till next time.

Ethics forecloses Politics.

Capitalist Organisation captures subaltern biopolitical production.

Affect as an embodied and infinite capacity to affect and be affected can help to disrupt both.

These are working hypotheses. What do they have to do with the Creative Industries and cultural sectors in the UK?

I am reading academic journal articles in the fields of creative industries, organisation studies, business ethics, and affect studies. In this post I want to address some recent journal articles that seem to be using affect in a way that challenges both disciplinary boundaries and the body’s ontology (whose body, which body, where, when?).

My interest here is in understanding better (that’s an intensive quantity!) the state of play in organisation studies–and in specifically creative organisations–around the materiality of affect, posing questions of affect’s ontology, its ecological processes, its relations of motion and rest, its non-human becomings (Deleuze, 1990, Expressionism in philosophy: Spinoza). Why has organisation studies turned to affect in the past five to seven years? Which aspects of affect theory are they most likely to rehearse or reassemble? What does affect do in the discourse of organisation theory? Do we know yet what affect can do in organisations?

The first article is: “The naked manager: The ethical practice of an anti-establishment boss” by Bent Meier Sørensen and Kaspar Villadsen (from the Copenhagen Business School) in Organization 2015, Vol. 22(2) 251– 268.

What’s this article trying to do? Here’s their succinct abstract:

“This article explores how an allegedly ‘non-hierarchical’ and aestheticized managerial practice reconfigures power relations within a creative industry. The key problematic is ‘governmental’ in the sense suggested by Michel Foucault, in as much as the manager’s ethical self-practice—which involves expressive and ‘liberated’ bodily comportment—is used tactically to shape the space of conduct of others in the company. The study foregrounds the managerial body as ‘signifier’ in its own right. Empirically, this is done through an analysis of video material produced by the film company Zentropa about their apparently eccentric Managing Director, Peter Aalbæk. Contrary to much of the literature discussing embodiment and ethics in organization studies, we do not identify an ‘ethics of organization’ dominated by instrumental rationality, efficiency and desire for profit which is ostensibly juxtaposed to a non-alienating, embodied ethics. Rather, when the body becomes invested in management, we observe tensions, tactics of domination and unpredictability.” (p. 251)


First, what’s methodologically interesting is that they are using documentary film for analysis of organisational behaviour. They make clear in the article that film — indeed, any visual evidence — has been a dismissed and marginalised source of ‘data.’


Arguments for the legitimacy of films as data source have varied, but most of them view films as components in the construction of organizational reality alongside narratives, symbols, images, charts and other representations. Hence, visual artefacts may ‘create, transform, or stabilize particular “versions” of reality’ (Meyer et al., 2013: 509). Taking inspiration from Derrida and Lacan, Foreman and Thatchenkery (1996) argue that there is no fundamental reality of ‘the real’ organization, but merely a set of signifiers, simulacra or representations of it (p. 46). In this perspective, the pictorial elements in a film are signifiers that take part in the system of signification, the symbolic structure that makes up the unconscious. In a similar manner, Gagliardi (1996) conceives of films as representing in a very straightforward manner organizational artefacts which, as such, partake in the ‘aesthetic landscaping’ of the organization. Such artefacts may be practices enacted in ‘real time’, such as management activities that the employees experience, but may also, perhaps at the same time, be reproducible images, such as films and marketing material, which in this way gain force and significance into a wider collective, potentially becoming part of a generalized ‘social imaginary’ (Taylor, 2000). Common to these views is that visual modes of meaning construction are capable of materializing, organizing and sustaining organizational representations by constituting systems of signs. (p. 256)

So note the interpretative frame for treatment of films as visual modes of meaning construction that are capable of materializing, organizing and sustaining organizational representations by constituting systems of signs. Pretty standard 70’s era film criticism + critical management studies = ?

So films are signs. Is a manager a sign/ifier? Yes, according to the authors, managers are also sign/ifiers. What of the manager’s body? In this view, the body is always already in language and symbolic/imaginary: the authors thus dodge the difficult question of mediation in affect studies. Note, then, that the authors have set out that film as data is a way in to organizational signification. The signs are symptoms, not of a body, but of the nervous ticks on the face of ideology, as Bhabha once witheringly put it.

This is what I mean:

Taking Derrida’s lead, our objective is not to give a final judgement of the meaning of each image, but to insert it into a play of significations by explicating and intensifying the image’s internal contradictions. Hereby, we hope to open an avenue to question and contest the self-evidence and readily received narrative of the images…Eschewing hermeneutic and phenomenological approaches, our analysis proceeds by observing our central ‘actor’, the manager’s body, as a signifier, ‘in that punctuality in which it appears’ (Foucault, 1972: 25). This non-reductionist approach to a bodily statement (whether verbal or by gestures) does not look for any subjective intentionality or hidden motives but observes it as a ‘pure discursive event’ (Foucault, 1972: 27). (pg. 256-57)

I spent a good portion of my professional life as a researcher and writer and teacher doing some version of the above (although we would be hard pressed to find anywhere in Derrida’s oeuvre in which he describes deconstruction as the explication and intensifying of an image’s internal contradictions; nor can I find anything in Foucault to authorise such a reduction). Today, I feel that this method obscures affect rather than composes with it.

What’s happened to affect? What’s the relation of affect to signification/signs/signifier? Although the authors dutifully cite Deleuze, Spinoza, and Massumi, nowhere do they actually register what is at stake in Deleuze and Massumi’s insistence that affect is not emotion (feeling, mood), nor socially constructed.

I suppose I should’t complain. That organisational studies is taking up the question of affect in a fairly serious way should be a cause for celebration (albeit a very low-key, one-drink kind of fete). But I suppose as well that, politically, which affect becomes hegemonic in organisational studies will have everything to do with the capture of affect in capitalist organisation, mostly in the service of private accumulation, branding, worker control, indebtedness, productivity squeezing (precarity), and continuing and in some ways deepening forms of racial and gender inequalities in the creative and cultural sectors. So those are political stakes: the reduction of affect to emotion to control creative labor, and further entrench an already well established whiteness in the creative industries and cultural sectors (I’m paying specific attention to the UK in this post; in future posts I hope to turn my attention to Cape Town, South Africa and Mumbai, India.)

Lets turn to ethics in this essay. The authors write:

How do we study the body as a vehicle for managerial performance? Of course, even the ‘rationalized’ organization’s ‘rational’ managers have bodies, but those bodies were conceived more as uniforms or at least as disciplined by uniforms (Harding, 2002). In contrast, in what has become known as the ‘post-bureaucratic organization’ (Grey and Garsten, 2001; Maravelias, 2007), the knowledge-intensive, creative sectors reveal new types of managerial practices. These new practices not only express what we may term ‘postmodern’, decentred and anti-hierarchical imageries but also echo wholly new configurations of management. Indeed, these complex configurations have been termed ‘soft bureaucracies’ (Courpasson, 2000), where more flexible structures are being deployed by an elite, who bypass the (shrinking) middle management with a softer, seemingly more humane, managerial practice without annulling the functioning bureaucratic forms. (p. 252)

The body as instrument and target of managerial performance is a question of ethics (and politics?). This is a forced, artificial embodied ethics and its violence is starkly apparent in the creative industries as the analysis of Peter Aalbæk shows. The new types of managerial practices in the creative sectors focus specifically on the ethics of embodied affect. As the authors note,

In this article, we wish to pursue this embodied/incarnated perspective by problematizing what we view as an increasingly urgent obligation in contemporary management to perform an ‘embodied ethics’. By embodied ethics, we refer to bodily acts that are performed in order to display a practical ethos. We assume this ethos to be particularly pronounced in the so-called creative sector. (252)

So the aims seem to be to resist the demand for organisationally appropriate affect as worker subjectivation in the creative industries. What does that mean exactly? The work of Camille Barbagallo, Sylvia Federici, Emma Dowling, and many others including Hardt and Negri all point to affective labour or carework as a specifically gendered and increasingly widespread form of worker control. That much is certain.

This is where the distinction between affect and emotion/care becomes difficult to maintain rigorously. And sometimes I wonder what’s the point in trying? Wouldn’t it be better if affect were embraced as this more even all- encompassing concept, and wouldn’t that be a “more bodily” way of framing affect?

My short answer is that something else is at stake in maintaining the distinction: affect as the variable material capacity to affect and be affected is preindividual (Simondon), ecological (Guattari), non-human (Grosz, Haraway), and non-capitalist (Hardt and Negri, et al). As such, emotion is a capture and organisation of actual and virtual intensities of affect, and Massumi and Manning in their various works make clear why this is important not merely conceptually, but in terms of experimental practice. We get a better sense of this capture of affect in this passage from a textbook on therapeutical practice with troubled adolescents:

There are two broad categories of emotion: emotions that are easy to cope with and promote productive behaviour, and emotions that are extreme, difficult to manage and block productive behaviour. Unrealistic interpretations are the cause of many of the second class of emotion; a more realistic interpretation of events for the child can free them from the difficult emotion. Understanding the links between events, the interpretation of events and the emotions that follow is an important key to resolving emotional difficulties. Parenting style, how much structure, nurture, time, attention, playfulness and challenge a parent or carer brings, is crucial. (Taylor, 2010, A practical guide to caring for children and teenagers with attachment difficulties, pg. 103)


Experimental practice is central to the Creative Industries and Cultural Sectors, but in very different ways. Having had substantive conversations with Lois Keidan, Director of the Live Art Development Agency (I’m a Board of Trustees member) and with Keiko Higashi, Director of Project Phakama (I’ve been Chair of the Board for the past three years) over the past year, the distinction between creative industries practices and cultural sector practices seems very real. The Creative Industries in the UK (as elsewhere) have largely been dominated by software production and new media entrepreneurship (going by percentage of gross value added). It is thoroughly neoliberal, and unabashedly so. The cultural sector however comes out of very different formations, some of which Andrew Ross discusses in ‘Nice Work if you can Get it’, where he specifically contrasts John Maynard Keynes the first director of Arts Council England, who had an almost nonchalant view of arts policy, with today’s New Labour Tories and their austerity agenda.

As far as cultural policy went, almost every feature of the old dispensation was now subject to a makeover. When the Arts Council was established in 1945, its first chair, the serenely mischievous John Maynard Keynes, described the evolution of its famous ‘arms length’ funding principle as having ‘happened in a very English, informal, unostentatious way – half-baked, if you like’. Keynes would have us believe that Britain acquired its arts policy, like its empire, in a fit of absent-mindedness. In truth, it was simply falling in line with every other Western social democracy by acknowledging that the market failure of the arts should be counteracted through state subsidies. Keynes’s batty boosterism – ‘Let every part of Merry England be merry in its own way. Death to Hollywood’ – was a far cry from the regimen of requirements demanded fifty years later by Chris Smith, the first DCMS minister, who declared ex officio that he did not believe in ‘grants for grants’ sake’. Wherever possible, the 13 industries included in the government’s 1998 mapping document (film, television and radio, publishing, music, performing arts, arts and antiques, crafts, video and computer games, architecture, design, fashion, software and computer services, advertising) had to be treated like any other industry with a core business model. While it was acknowledged that some institutions and individuals would still require public support to produce their work, this would be spoken of as an investment with an anticipated return, rather than a subsidy offered to some supplicant, grant-dependent entity. Moreover, much of the arts funding would come through a source – the National Lottery – widely viewed as a form of regressive taxation. (Ross, ‘Nice Work if you Can Get it: The Mercurial Career of Creative Industries Policy’, pp. 23-24)

I am not arguing that the cultural sector is atavistic and the creative industries are the future. Hardly. I think what the hinge is between the two in the UK is precisely a question of biopolitics; or, ethics as embodiment, organisation as composition, and affect as power. Partly this has to do with very different business models–public funding, private investment, theatre ticket sales, IP and monopoly rents, crowd funding, self-funding (i.e. indebtedness).

Let’s return to Sørensen and Villadsen, The naked manager. They analyse the documentary about a day in the life of Aalbæk by following ‘focus points’: “1. The CEO’s body, including his pose, context, behaviour, dress and verbal utterances. 2. The intertextuality of images, that is, explicit or implicit references to managerial mythologies, figures, ideologies, utopias and so on. 3. The inherent paradox of authenticity versus the invocation of familiar conventions or ‘styles’ around which many of Aalbæk’s performances seem to revolve” (258). This is little more than a semiotics of film images. But what then is an image, a sign?

Spinoza therefore sets apart two domains which were always confused in earlier traditions: that of expression and of the expressive knowledge which is alone adequate; and that of signs and of knowledge by signs, through apophasis or analogy. Spinoza distinguishes different sorts of signs: indicative signs, which lead us to infer something from the state of our body; imperative signs, which lead us to grasp laws as moral laws; and revelatory signs which themselves lead us to obey them and which at the very most disclose to us certain “propria” of God. But whatever its sort, knowledge through signs is never expressive, and remains of the first kind. Indication is not an expression, but a confused state of involvement in which an idea remains powerless to explain itself or to express its own cause. An imperative sign is not an expression, but a confused impression which leads us to believe that the true expressions of God, the laws of nature, are so many commandments. Revelation is not an expression, but a cultivation of the inexpressible, a confused and relative knowledge through which we lend God determinations analogous to our own… (Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy, pg. 181)


A sensorimotor circuit. Not a sign, not signifier, but a customary, expressive and habituated assemblage of intensive quantities (light, movement, synaesthesia, muscle memory, shade, focus, sound, montage, anticipation, rhythm, action-potentials, etc.) that constitute what Spinoza called multiplicities with a very great number of parts. (I’m playing a little fast and loose here, and Deleuze’s analysis of Modal Existence in Expression in Philosophy (EiP), pp. 200-03 would need to be unpacked much more carefully for this to be rigorous as an addition to Deleuzean image theory). Note that the quantity, power or affects of the multiplicity do not proceed from the various parts, but ‘rather because it is infinite that it divides into a multitude of parts exceeding any number’ (Deleuze, EiP, 203). This certainly at a point involves what Lacan called cathexis and what Althusser called ideology, but in its affective ontology, an image immediately affects neurological circuits. This immediacy scares dogmatic dialecticians. It can be the organising point of radical affective politics that experiment and compose in ecologies of sensation.

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?


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.