Archive for the ‘biopower’ Category

Lois Keidan and Cecilia Wee invited me to participate in this past weekends CAPP final conference (after three years of enquiry, cocreating, meetings, and organisational ‘play’) in Dublin. I had never been, know some people from there, now I know why I like them. This is (mostly) what I said on a panel with Barby and Sarah, chaired by Cecilia (thanks all!).

Privilege is a structure of power that affects radical collaborative art in all its processes. For the past three years I have been working with Lada to engage in action research around the role of privilege in Live art practices; more recently, I have also become involved in a project around ‘Managing’ Radical Artistic Labor that will form Lada’s next RRR. Through collectively exploring questions of privilege and labor, race and emancipation, and bodies queering within and against neoliberalism, with artists and communities, Lada has created new forms of commoning research.

In what follows, I want to ask: In what sense is privilege a question of actual (and potential) organisation? And what does a certain Right to Performance do to privilege, rights, and organisation? To privilege the oppressed, as the Boff brothers in Latin America’s liberation theology movement suggested, is merely to take consistently a preferential option for the poor, the subaltern, the marginal, the refugee, or the neurodiverse. In some contexts, this kind of privilege is bestowed by those in relative power themselves, a kind of sympathy as control or civic integration. It is a controlled redistribution of privilege by those with enough of it to shed.


Now, what of this power itself? Is there a right that exerts itself before the power of privilege? Privilege always comes to norm the democratic intuition of resistance, as when certain rights are granted to sans papier, migrants, and refugees. This is the synthetic domain of the excentric circular flow of capital. The question of power in what the Impossible Glossary has called the ‘new aesthetic’ is indissoluble from two twinned realities: the memory and emergence of autonomous commons (and so power as psychic and collective capacity); and, second, the neoliberal measure of the world (thus power as abstract diagram of control). (While the IG only momentarily touches on this, being much more central to CAPP’s recent Learning in Public I think—we can see how race might be relevant to a conversation linking autonomous commons to neoliberal measure.)


Within and against capital, as the Italian autonomist Mario Tronti once put it, within and against neoliberal control, radical forms of collective enunciation and machinic assemblages have become strategic foci of contemporary radical art practice. My sense is that these resistant collective formations, prior to neoliberal control and its regimes of rights, are constructing what I am calling a Right to Performance. Is there a Right to Performance that precedes everyday life? As much as there is a certain performance of rights in everyday life, in law, and in society, all rights must be performed to be actual. In the sense that I mean it, a Right to Performance would engage the body’s capacity to affect politics and to sense the political.


This Right to Performance is an important part of what LADA affirms through its collaborative practices: a right to refuse, express, or mark the multiplicity of force relations, identities, or desiring production constituting our lives. This Right to Performance will have been actualized in singular events throughout an always already queer world, in intuited, stylised, spontaneous or habituated actions of actual and potential bodies.

First, is the Right to Performance a timeless right? A universal human right? Certainly, this in some sense ‘new’ Right to Performance and recognized rights such as the Right to Movement enshrined in Article 21 of the UDHR would need a rigorous and critical synthesis in order for a new articulation or assemblage between rights, art, and the habituated body to substantively emerge. The common resources that LADA co-creates with artists and communities are mechanisms of such a critical synthesis. Second, can we believe in Rights anymore today, after Trump, after Wilders (Netherlands), After Modi (India), Netanyahu (Israel), and the rest of today’s Populist Thieves of the Commons. These masculinised politics proceed through different kinds of performance; one of the most important is the performance of a Rule of Sympathy through different pornographies of pain that contemporary universal human rights discourse authorises and authenticates (and inherited from colonial and imperialist formations of white supremacy); that these acts of authenticating pain become ideological justification for violent imperialist interventions the world over is something we have seen again and again.


So we should avoid a naive spontaneism in any cry of ‘Right to Performance Now!’ As I noted at the start, if we can say that radical collaborative art practice happens always within and against capital today, we should recognize that to be within capital is already quite a lot. Over the past thirty years what we have seen is the emergence of an increasingly securitized technological regime of measure that has completely transformed (but differentially!) work and spacetime all over the world; the work of creative production or value added is now increasingly seen as central to all types of neoliberal labor. The corporate fetish for ‘Disruptive Innovation’ is nothing other than this: the capture, or what Massumi calls, the gridding of creativity as entrepreneurial disruption. The contemporary rights regime has emerged within this global system. So in this context the performance of collective enunciations has come to mean ever accelerating Twitter or Facebook feeds and that machinic assemblages can be composed in an App store. [I of course don’t mean to suggest that technology is the central problem to be overcome in this dismal history of control societies—nor do I think it is merely about how humans use technology.


Rather, following Gilbert Simondon and Muriel Combes, I would suggest we think of the co-evolution of technology and human labor.] In this world of glowing boxes and neuromarketing, the question of privilege in radical art practice today returns us to the types of power that give access, or grant privilege. In other words, who has access to a Right to Performance? In the Black radical tradition critically affirmed in Fred Moten’s varied work, perform is what the Black body was violently made to do under different necroplantation and media economies. So whiteness has always authorised a certain ‘command performance’. Race in this framework would be a key element in the archealogy of privilege in radical arts practices the world over, an archealogy that would bring various intersections of thought and practice together in a new synthesis of an emancipatory aesthetics of solidarity. More, we see how the concept of social capital—this can be anything from one’s cultural heritage to the schools your family attended (first systematically studied by Pierre Bourdieu)–has come to enter into the policy prescriptions of the creative industries (it’s central to the arts and cultural strategy in UK HEIs, for instance).


Who has social capital in the creative industries, and can this question be the basis of a new ethics of anti-privilege in art organisations? First, we see that before the question of rights is ethics: what ethical practice within arts organisations and between soletraders would create ‘resilient’ cultures of anti-privilege? Privilege is brought to crisis through such ethics of organisation. Second, how does one common social capital? Or is social capital uncommonable? We would have to say that there are gradients of social capital in relationship to contemporary radical collaborative art practice: there is the gradient, for instance, of radicality itself—the more radical the practice in certain contexts the more social capital; there is the gradient of time—collaborative art that is very now and impactful, to live art that has consistently been ten years ahead of its time, and so rendering its impact immeasurable; and then there is the gradient of connectivity—networked connectivity as an accumulation of social capital has increasingly become central to contemporary creative industries over the past ten years. In sum, privilege is connected to gradients of power within different assemblages and ecologies.


So the question of privilege in this context is still the old question of access and gatekeepers: who has access to a certain Right to Performance? (see: Possibly this question can allow another construction of a new discourse and embodied affect of human rights today, a practice situated in relations of and to struggle. If contemporary performance studies (see Foucault and Agamben, Butler, Moten and Harney, Butler, Spivak, Spillers, Puar, Davis, Povinelli, Halberstam, and Clough) has shifted the notion of human rights from mere social constructs to how they are experienced in the psyches, ecologies, assemblages, and bodies (these are not ‘separate’ things) of durational processes.


The social turn in art referenced often this past weekend at CAPP’s final event in Dublin this past weekend (see here). has created practical solidarities with institutional misfits, the neuro-diverse, ‘minoritized’, de-humanized detritus, subaltern hackers, fugitive and unreclaimed, but still within and against neoliberal austerity–this other discourse and affect would refuse the romantic humanism in this cliched image of resistance by deterritorialising the system of complicity relating capital and the nation-state to the performance of any right whatsoever, and specifically to the performance of Human Rights today.

Who has access to Rights?

Who decides?

Does collaborative live art expand the autonomous range of art itself so that autonomy and emancipation become parts of a contagion of resistance through different communities of co-producers, co-performers—within and against the neoliberal regime of rights?

Isn’t this where the question of privilege and rights becomes fully ontological, or fully processual? That the production of art is about the re-production of its labor (the embodied minds of artists), and social reproduction is about care, rights regimes, and logistics, and so what it means to co-produce radical art in collaborative and live art contexts must engage the capacities and social capital of care networks, cutting across public and private enclosures, and digital and analogue activism across the globe (see Learning in Public: TransEuropean Collaborations in Socialy Engaged Art, 46 onward). Of course, as the brilliant entries in the Impossible Glossary (see: highlight consistently, what remains, indeed returns, to haunt and challenge radical art practice is precisely the radical tradition of the Right to the commons not only in Europe but throughout the world.


What Sarah’s work further shows I think is that these informal networks of care emerging under conditions of extreme neoliberal austerity can be strategically integrated into the processes and performances of collaborative radical art. This strikes me as one of the profound propositions of her practice. Barby Asante’s long history in Black collaborative arts practice and education poses another question: what does radical emancipation do to the problem of privilege?


To digress slightly: I have recently returned from five months in India where the strong historical links and the conversation between Dalit emancipatory politics and the Black Radical Tradition has taken on a renewed urgency in different parts of the country. So the question of caste and racial privilege as it has historically been related and divergent is very important to me right now. Barby’s brilliant analysis of diasporic African cultural dynamics attends to the privilege attached to different discourses of abolition and slavery, and within the notion of postblackness in the British art world. In linking it to contemporary practices of the biopolitical control of migrants and refugees, Asante creates conditions where different kinds of solidarity can emerge.

Barby has for some time been co-creating socially engaged projects collaborating for instance with young people living in Nottingham as coresearchers of an interactive online map. Developing a collective vision of the city’s hidden connections, and unconventional centres of local knowledge about art and culture, Barby integrates action research into her collaborative practice. In Barby and Sarah’s practices emancipation becomes an active problem throughout all the organisational processes of radical collborative art. More, something happens to embodiment and habit in and through the processes and events of collaborative radical art, such as Live Art, that allows us to broaden our notion of emancipation beyond the neoliberal regime of rights. Emancipation becomes a kind of contagion in these socially engaged practices.


In Sarah’s work on the neoliberal edufactory in which we find ourselves precarious, through a becoming octopus she suggests ways in which an exit from the regimes of measure and control is a profoundly molecular and political project at once; and Report to an Academy’s workshop and film articulated, shared and re-imagined “bodily experiences of work within institutions of knowledge production” ( bringing to the fore questions of embodied habit (crucial for training neoliberal labor) that I have been suggesting needs more attention, specific consideration. Sarah’s art touches on our very embodied habituations: the ecologies of sensation, affect, and care with and against neoliberal art education. In much of the work collected together in the Impossible Glossary this sense of the dire straights for resistance and radical practices to resonate, to become contagious, is echoed.


There is a deep pessimism here, I think, and one that I share. The conditions of solidarity are weaker today throughout Europe, North America, and South Asia—to limit it to contexts I know—than they were thirty years ago, as pernicious forms of precarity and fascist populisms eat away at our collective capacities and imaginaries for commoning what has been stolen, while our ability to communicate effectively, radically, and together is captured as marketing data. Oddly, as private universities proliferate throughout India, students are finding that there are less and less places to study… Privilege reposes the question of power from the prism of transnnational intersectionality or positionality within a broad framework of cultural and historical and nonrepresentational materialism. Sarah’s collaborative workshops as part of the Report and Barby’s co-archiving Black music on vinyl with young people in Peckham seem very different forms of collaborative practice. How does the question of difference and privilege cut across both practices? Returning to the question of commoning, both live artists work through processes that develop their situated practice, developing networks of young people or creatives, commoning resources and developing communities of conviviality.

As a refusal of neoliberal measure, Sarah’s work poses an allied question to Barby’s practice, a practice through which Barby uncovers both the fissures and historical continuities in Blackness and everyday life. These practices proceed through this affirmation of making common, and making in common.


Responding to the Prompts: How does your practice respond to the ways that we advocate for, contextualize, and problematize human rights today?

My practice is focused on collaborative research into ecological action. This means that the question of rights is secondary to the question of ecologies of solidarity; usually as I noted here ( rights have mystified the relations of force of the capitalist state the world over. We need only point to the stark example of places that deny certain classes, sexualities, castes, races of the very right to rights. But again as with neoliberalism we are within and against rights-based practices. The point is not only to expand rights, but to change the regime of law and legitimacy that gives the nation-state specific political economic values. In that regard, rights are merely a tactic in broader organisational strategies ultimately legitimized by the nation-state. If a lot of what radical art practice is doing is questioning the limitations of human ecologies, calling for a radical departure from the andocentrism and Eurocentrism of Western rationalism, my question is can there be a non-human-centric right to performance today? Why would this be an important question? My intuition here is that such questions could usefully shape how collaborative performance can have material and long-term effect in relation to the lived and built environments of its co-creators.


How has your work as individual artists/cultural thinkers been effected by institutional approaches to representation?

I have been involved in diversity initiatives at all the universities I have taught at since 1995. The enclosure of multiculturalism is based on notions of ‘representative’ or authentic identity that precisely try to suture the fissures that Barby’s work puts into conversation, and that Sarah’s practice makes visible as well. In that sense, we should pose the prior question: where did these institutional approaches to ‘diverse’ representation come from? They came from the resistance of social movements, sometimes limited to campuses of HEIs, sometimes tied directly to a broader formal civil rights movement, and lived in the everyday violence of societies structured in dominance. So that history is what is being institutionalised, i.e. captured in these organisational strategies of managing diversity by administering art, or administering diversity and managing art. What types of challenges and changes need to take place within the arts, thinking of the objects, subjects and locations of representation? Today, identity matters in a way that highlights several things at once: we live in a technologized ecology in which public and private can no longer be contained within stable borders; identity is immediately tied to power, without mediation, but susceptible to its controls; ecologies of identity are always also nonhuman, and so co-evolving with their relations. Rights discourses must come to terms with the anthropocene in a more radical way. But then maybe we need something other than rights?

What needs to happen to the arts in the face of this management of diversity through the administration of the arts—the on-going revolution of self-organisation in radical art, one that LADA is part of and has taken a prominent role in, needs to be affirmed from organisational practices (supervision, management, innovation, marketing communications, programming, etc) through to Board of Trustee approved risk assessments. So what I’ve learned at LADA and my time at Phakama is that the question of social impact, diversity, and self-evaluation must be part of on-going collaborations that sustain the resilience of the ecologies of the organising forces. Key here is to think intensively and strategically of the capacities involved in these organisational processes both in each person and of the ecologies mobilized in each collaboration. Psychic and collective transindividuation, or revolutionary becoming is still a really good idea. It is a common notion: a notion common to two or more multiplicities.


From your experiences, how are dynamics of power held between participants?

Especially given different types of knowledge and experience?

This is one of the important lessons I learned in reading the Impossible Glossary, that participation and collaboration are ontologically, that is qualitatively different processes. But of course there are dynamics of power in both participatory and collaborative practices.


This can be handled in better or worse ways, and this depends on several factors: 1. An ethical acknowledgement of unequal power relations and their entwined histories within and beyond the organisation/creative assemblage; 2. The politics of attention on the Board of Trustee; 3. The democratic and transparent actualisation of the (ethical) mission of the organisation; 4. The de-fetishisation of ‘expert regimes’ and the binary between intellectual and manual labor. Here the Right to Performance becomes a kind of critical tool in which management, organisational behavior and artistic labor are understood in their performative dimensions, so that they are denaturalised and defetishised in the affirmation of everyone’s equal access to a Right of Performance. This can subvert bullying in the workplace. Finally, I would say that these four areas of practice and organisational behaviour—ethics/power; activist board; mission/organisation; and expert regimes—all these overlapping areas would need to be worked on simultaneously for the question of privilege and power dynamics to be an opportunity rather than a threat to radical arts practice.


The Library of Performing Rights expresses a radical politics in both space and method. The physical space of the Study Room within which an unprecedented archive of performance and live art has bodied forth different collective assemblages, different kinds of expression of the performance of rights (the right to rights, the right to expression, the right to solidarity, the right to art…the Right to Performance?)

In terms of method, as a concept or approach to research and practice, rather than a distinct collection, the Library of Performing Rights is nothing less than an affective experimentation in practices of archiving live art, and an organisational ethics of becoming collective. “It is available as a place of action, a place of knowledge exchange, a repository of experience, and a context that others can use to support and advance their own work both at LADA and elsewhere.” This method, in other words, repeats with innumerable differences the practice of ‘performance’ and the practice of ‘human rights.’

Is there a Right to Performance? As much as there is a certain performance of rights in everyday life, in law, and in society, all rights must be performed to be actual. But a right to Performance would find another vector in the body’s capacity to affect politics and to sense the political. This Right to Performance would constitute a kind of parallel project of the LofPR: a right to mark, through the intuited, stylised or spontaneous or habituated actions of the bod, a certain right to resist. Is the Right to Performance a timeless right? A universal human right? Certainly, this in some sense ‘new’ Right to Performance and the older Right to Movement enshrined in Article 21 of the UDHR would need a rigorous and critical synthesis in order for a new articulation or assemblage between rights, art, and the habituated body to substantively emerge. The resources of the study room are the proper conditions for such a critical synthesis.

But can we even believe in Rights anymore today, after Trump, after Wilders (Netherlands), After Modi (India), Netanyahu (Israel), and the rest of today’s Populist Thieves of the Commons. These masculinised politics proceed through different kinds of performance; one of the most important is the performance of a Rule of Sympathy through the pornography of pain that contemporary universal human rights discourse authorises and authenticates; that these acts of authenticating pain are precursors for violent imperialist interventions the world over is also something we now know all too painfully.

Is there something (un)Timely in the Library of Performing Rights? Something that is necessary just now, just in this way, in this expression of an urgent Yes! And an insistent, No! …but something that runs counter to our time, against it, and in solidarity with, for the benefit of a time to come? A vector of an indiscernible becoming In the performance of any right whatsoever, and in the right to performance first and foremost? Rather, what Aram’s moving piece “The Work of a Mother” shows is that the will to the Universal, which is what Rights discourse is always based in, is at best a heuristic, a stepping stone, toward another practice. This Other practice would work at the intersections of solidarities as her ethical and aesthetic practice suggests.

The Library of Performing Rights then would perhaps be another way into the construction of a new discourse and embodied affect of human rights today, a practice situated in relations of struggle. If contemporary performance studies after Foucault and Agamben, Moten and Harney, Butler, Spivak, Spillers, Puar, Davis, Povinelli, Halberstam, and Clough, has shifted the notion of human rights from mere social constructs to how they are lived in the psyches, ecologies, assemblages, and bodies (these are not ‘separate’ things) of those who find themselves misfits, neuro-diverse, ‘minoritized’, post-de-humanized detritus, subaltern hackers, fugitive and unreclaimed, this other discourse and affect would refuse the romantic humanism in this image of resistance, and so then diagram the ethical system of complicity relating capital and the nation-state to the performance of any right whatsoever, and specifically to the performance of Human Rights today.

This explicit marking of systems of complicity, turning the tools of domination into the conditions of a repurposed emancipation, seems to my mind missing from a lot of contemporary identity work in the arts. This is an important place to begin a conversation. I have done fieldwork in a place called Chor Bazaar, where Dalit men expose their unprotected hands to harsh chemicals in the process of “stressing” jeans down to a murderous chic–all to be exported to the Global north. Thus, part of the system of complicity (as is noted in Aram’s Work of a Mother), running through the practices of the garment industry in California, Chicago and Mumbai links race, gender, and labour exploitation to an international supply chain of disposable clothing the world over.

So how does the The Official Unofficial Voting Station that Aram Han Sifuentes has created relate to what I have been constructing in terms of the Right to Performance, and the Performance of Rights?

The installation is itself a performance of a Right desired and denied–the right to vote and/or the right to (self)representation. In its performative repetition of the tragedy of contemporary Fortress Europe/Trumpeted (un)democracy, the Official Unofficial Voting Station stages in a kind of farcical and critical way the paradoxical and agonistic relation of organisations of resistance (e.g. LADA, independent arts practices, radical activist assemblages) to institutions that would grant access to or deny a Right to Performance. As I suggested above, for me what remains ethically crucial in performance practices that take rights as method and target is that the relations of complicity be explicitly marked; the correlation, even syllogism among rights, performance, and the individualised property-owning citizen of the capitalist nation-state. Thus, when we appeal to the language of rights especially in radical contexts such as LADA, the paradox of the ground, or guarantor of rights becomes legible: is it the commons or the bourgeois nation-state that grounds a radical assertion of rights, eg the Right to the City, to the World or even to Performance? In heterogeneous live art practices, such as the Official Unofficial Voting Station, the role of the white capitalist state becomes (re)markable in ecologies of both universal rights and singular performances.

The recent refugee “crisis” affecting nation-states across Europe has a history rooted in Imperialism + UN Human Rights + Racism + Islamophobia + neoliberalism. Rights discourse, in this regard, is part of the problem, but not necessarily part of its solution. In resonance, Nevins shifts the contemporary conversations on rights and justice by arguing for a “Right to the World” (2017) which would expand rights both as entitlements and sites of struggle: “the right to the world is particularly concerned with freedom of mobility across global space and with a just, sustainable share of the planet’s resources for all” (2017: 1351). While acknowledging that many heroic acts of solidarity and mercy have been performed across Europe daily by white Europeans, Nevins also insists that “the thousands of migrant deaths on Europe’s periphery in recent years—among other manifestations of violence—suggest that there is a crisis of a different nature that is paramount: not what Europe is experiencing, but, among other things, what the migrants have had to endure in trying to reach and pass through the continent. As reports, news articles and media images have made clear, the upsurge in irregular migration both manifests and has resulted in great amounts of human suffering among those fleeing their homelands…the dominant response on the part of the European Union, national elites, and the West and prosperous countries broadly, has defaulted to the bounded, exclusionary logic of nation-states via a strengthening of the boundary and immigration policing apparatus….Regardless, migrants continue to move and to challenge the putative right of nation-states to regulate their boundaries and the human content (in terms of non-citizens or “foreigners”) of the territories they claim. And in a world of growing inequality, persistent violence (of multiple sorts), and increasing ecological instability, there is little doubt that migration by those living on the global margins of stability and wellbeing will continue to attempt to move, climate and environmental refugees being one example” (Joseph Nevins, (2017) The Right to the World, Antipode Vol. 49 No. 5 2017 ISSN 0066-4812, pp. 1349–1367, 1350)

For Nevins, and many others, there is something fundamentally wrong if one embraces human rights. “After all, given high levels of physical, direct violence, environmental depri- vation, and profound socio-economic insecurity that plague many countries (violence, deprivation and instability in which the world’s most powerful nation- states are often implicated), the realization of human rights often requires the ability to go to spaces where the necessary resources are located. These sorts of inequal- ities and restrictions likely compelled Hannah Arendt to speak of the “right to have rights”. If having human rights is part of being human, denying people freedom of movement and residence—and thus the effective ability to access a host of other rights—is to essentially deny their humanity…” Similar arguments have been made from the perspective of postcolonial struggles and queer homonormativity. This right to have rights is reflected in the multiplicity of causes presented to Aram when she would ask her parents why they emigrated from Korea to the United States:

Their ambivalent answers, tinged with both sadness and hope, suggest to me the many ways in which human rights have become a set of predominantly nation-centric practices and discourses that work to “discipline human bodies in ways that contain them within national territories” (Nevins, 2017: 1353-1354).

Aram’s work links specific struggles through a practice of transnational, intersectional, and artistic solidarity. Her work explicitly politicises by relating sites that would otherwise remain mere monads, economic anamolies for a post liberal capitalism that can write these subaltern and postcolonial sites of struggle off as fodder for corporate social responsibility initiatives and neoliberalism’s externalities. Her work speaks to those who have not yet arrived, to those who are outside, those who may need or would like the right to move to “the city of Universal Rights”. In other words, her work allows us to understand the politics of mobility between place through a notion of place as processual, heterogeneous, and unbounded in that a place acts upon, and is acted upon by, other places (Levins, 2017: 1356).


The Official Unofficial Voting Station: Voting for All Who Legally Can’t

Aram notes that there are “91 million people in the United States and its territories who cannot legally vote. This includes: youth under 18, non-citizens, incarcerated, ex-felons, residents of US territories, and people without state IDs. This means that 1 in every 3 people cannot legally vote. 1 in 10 people 18 years old and over cannot legally vote.” This is important from the perspective of the Right to Performance that I argued for above: even prior to the right to vote, political expression is itself and must itself be performed.

As Aram’s Official Unofficial Voting Stations make clear, this performance of the right to vote is especially ironic from the perspective of the undocumented, the discontented and the disenfranchised. No easy Universalism here: “Each station is different. They range from taking ballots into prisons to museum installations to performative events.”

In a Mother’s Work, Aram writes movingly, “My mother and I both sew as a profession but our worlds are vastly different. I constantly question our differences: What is the difference from an artist who sews to reference immigrant labor versus an immigrant laborer who sews as work? I think a lot about our differences in relation to time, economy, access, agency, and the value of our work and labor…Grace Kwungwon Hong in her book The Ruptures of American Capital: Women of Color Feminism and The Culture of Immigrant Labor, breaks down the episteme of domestic space and women’s work as privileged white spaces that are exclusionary spaces, particularly for immigrant women of color. She starts the conversation with the question of who has access to privatized domesticity and who are these possessive individuals? How can we broadly apply concepts of this fantasized domesticity when women of color historically do not have access to private property and have been dispossessed? Or when women like my mother, are absent from the home because she is working twelve plus hour days, and when she is home, she’s sewing other people’s clothing? How does the notion of women’s work apply to my mother when domestic space is built upon it being a private space outside of the surveillance of capitalism, when work for capital and industry enters, contaminates, and infects the home? When the entire family that lives in this supposedly private space has to also participate in sewing other people’s clothing to make money?” In “A Mother’s Work” Aram touches upon what I take to be one of the central projects of both feminism and Marxism: the critique and practical overthrow of contemporary regimes of social reproduction in vastly different but directly or indirectly linked contexts; she shows that the twined circuits of capitalist logistics and ideologies of white supremacy necessitated that women of color literally and creatively develop ‘hacking ecologies’ of social reproduction that were by and large outside of capitalist social relations. There is a lot to say about this, and many many feminist and postcolonial scholars have unpacked the politics and the experimented with the method of this praxis of a postcapitalist social reproduction. I will instead leave you with an ambivalent but insistent image:

“We’d sit in the living room after dinner and watch TV as my mom would work on her alterations. Spending time with my mother meant sitting and sewing with her, so we would all contribute by ripping seams, ripping out bad zippers, sewing on buttons, and mending rips and holes of other people’s clothes. This is where I learned to sew. And it is here, from the beginning, where sewing became political for me and linked to my identity. And I will always see sewing from this place, inside this living room, sewing with my family to make a living as immigrants in this country.”

What Right is being Performed even in its denial? What performance would actualise this right?

Why I am not a Brahmin. A dialogue.


Q. [Krodhit svar mein:] Why is it that you think it matters that you are not a Brahmin? The Brahmins certainly are not trying to claim you! And by saying that all you do is hurt the sentiments of one, quite class stratified community? You do nothing to caste Hinduism and its many oppressions through such a meaningless declaration.


A. [Garv ke sath:] I am not a Brahmin, I will say it again, I am not a Brahmin. I am a mixed caste, hybrid, anomaly born of the desire to overthrow Brahminism in all its forms.


Q. That’s a lot of ideological posturing! What does Dalit emancipation matter to you—you who grew up so privileged in your gender conformity?


A. Unlearning caste and heterosexist privilege through caste suicide: these are some of the processes of total emancipation.


Q. Caste suicide? Kya okard loge? [What will you uproot?] The caste question is secondary to the class question, don’t you know that yet?


A. All that is solid has been okarofied. It’s the end of the world, don’t you know that yet? It’s the end of the world, don’t you know that yet? There is a civil war that has been burning, sometimes raging across centuries in different forms, and with different effects, within and against different ecologies of what Ambedkar called custom, and for the benefit of what Du Bois argued was a matter of ‘real’ revolutionary change, for the benefit of a time to come. It is a caste, racial, and class war; its domain is psychic, affective, organisational, and social reproductive.

Here’s Du Bois at the Rosenwald Conference in 1933:


[T]he matter of greatest import is that instead of our facing today a stable world, moving at a uniform rate of progress toward well-defined goals, we are facing revolution. I trust you will not be as scared by this word as you were Thursday [Du Bois was referring to the audience’s reaction to a speech by Dr. Broadus Mitchell of Johns Hopkins University]. I am not discussing a coming revolution, I am trying to impress the fact upon you that you are already in the midst of a revolution; you are already in the midst of war; that there has been no war of modern times that has taken so great a sacrifice of human life and human spirit as the extraordinary period through which we are passing today. Some people envisage revolution chiefly as a matter of blood and guns a


nd the more visible methods of force. But that, after all, is merely the temporary and outward manifestation. Real revolution is within. That comes before or after the explosion—is a matter of long suffering and deprivation, the death of courage and the bitter triumph of despair. This is the inevitable prelude to decisive and enormous change, and that is the thing that is on us now. We are not called upon then to discuss whether we want revolution or not. We have got it. Our problem is how we are coming out of it. Qtd. and annotated by Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism, pp. 234-35.

Q. What of the question of revolutionary unity?


A. No unity without solidarity and no solidarity without radical equality. All emancipatory unity is more and less than itself.



Q. That’s sheer mystification, surely…


A. First, don’t call me Shirley. [Q: Groans.] Second, to continue: Because a preindividual Solidarity is first, all revolutionary subjects mobilized through the multitude constituting a free, insurrectionary, processual democracy assembled through a non-coinciding resonant unity, sometimes a Party and sometimes just a party, an emancipatory transindividuation, or what Deleuze and Guattari called a revolutionary becoming.



[…the conversation had gone on along this way for some time. Back and forth, fort/da, thesis/antithesis, seemingly locked in an abyssal blah blah. These conversations, our frank and open discussions, they made me sick and nervous, I had to eat pickles to get through them. And drink, how much we drank ya? S/he thought: All of It revolves around the complexities of how suvarna domination and non-suvarna ecologies co-exist in locked but graded antagonisms, hatreds, degradations, violences, intersections of emancipatory and caste power, and processes of expropriation and value capture, synthesising the different kinds of debilitations necessary for caste, gender, and racial inequality to reproduce itself. But the night was wearing on. We had both had our large and small packs, there was just time for ‘one for the road…’…Captain Jack will get us through this seemingly endless night…]


Q. [Refreshed and relentless:] Why do you insist that identity and authenticity are not crucial for non-suvarna aesthetics (is there even such a thing? Its like saying subaltern culture? What is THE culture of the non-elite? Surely, its multiple, internally and always divided from itself…identity is only the minimal degree of difference–Gabriel Tarde)… and what of the potential of identity politics for radical emancipation itself and more generally? Why this obsessive focus on technology and the distinction between intellectual and manual labor in Brahmanical life? Why this naïve negation [ahem] of mediation?


A. The white boys will always berate you with mediation, just like the Brahmins for not being Indian enough. But that doesn’t mean they can’t know how resonances become. What does Dalit and feminist emancipation in India have to do with technogenesis, that is, a nonlinear co-creation of becoming between material life and social practice, volatile bodies and vibrant matter? This is especially relevant in thinking through the material history of Dalit exceptionalisation and social reproduction: tools, the making of tools, the relegation to tool use, and the exclusion from certain other tool milieus (those associated with ritual and caste purity), the extemporaneous, necessary, and virtuosic stylization of tool-use: technology has been both a poison and a certain cure in Dalit history. It is the materialist tendencies of Dalit studies today that bring out this question of emancipatory technogenesis as a radical ecologism, this critique of and ontological overcoming of the singularly oppressive formation in India of the radical separation between manual and intellectual labor. As always, the question turns on habit and the customs that naturalize and mystify it. A politics beyond mediation is heralded in and indeed practiced throughout this long history of Dalit emancipation, of Black emancipation, even the emancipation of the body. This is Aishwarya Kumar on Ambedkar:


…he frequently replaces “fraternity” [solidarity??] with maitri (“friendship” or “fellowship”) in his final writings and, in an All India Radio Broadcast in 1954, equates fraternal sharing (which included the sharing of belief ) with religion itself. But traces of this shift are already evident in Annihilation of Caste. The fearless claim for a politics without territory or ground is already present in that lecture. There is no equality, he argues, without the sharing of freedom (and vice versa), no immortality of politics without a collective respect for the immeasurable singularity of every creature’s mortality. The irrefutable truth of impermanence alone lends politics its immortal value. The moral sovereignty of democracy over all other political forms and activities (or at least, the lack of adequate alternatives that might take its place) stems only from its promise to establish the everyday, even mundane, realm of “communicated experience” as the ethical and political ground of existence. In such a realm, argues Ambedkar, the social exists “by communication, indeed in communication,” and one’s failure is considered as justly sharable with others as one’s success. In true democracy, then, the sovereignty of the self is always mediated by one’s “reverence” toward the neighbor. Any other mediation of the multitude’s action by representatives, agents, priests, philosopher-kings, or demagogues of class war, compromises the spiritual sovereignty and task of the revolutionary subject. There was something profoundly insurrectionary and anarchic in this conception of the political. For here, the political subject came into existence only through incandescent acts of force and martyrdom, through its immeasurable freedom to posit a republic unmarked by the logic of transcendence. (138)



Inspired by Ambedkar, Dalit movements in postcolonial India have questioned the preformed categories of political theory: individual and society, caste and state, force and morality. A nonlinear counter-memory of these and other emancipatory movements would develop revolutionary diagrams of the preindvidual processes constituting both categories of thought and material reality.


Q. This Western High Theory you use–it is so foreign to India. Here, don’t you see, the struggles are about 2019, and only a foriegner like you wouldn’t understand that!


A. Spoken like a true authentikit curator.  I understand India by trying to invent a political philosophy that discovers as it composes. Let’s talk movement politics. The Dalit movements in the 20th century—not only under the ostensible, if rather lacklustre organizational leadership of Ambedkar—developed transversal solidarities. And transversal to this context of Dalit emancipation, the question of mediation takes on a charge different from that which it operates in Hegel’s negative dialectic. But more on Hegel another time… Let’s return to Ambedkar at Mahad, Aishwarya Kumar writes:


“I may seem hard on Manu,” [Ambedkar] concedes, “but I am sure my force is not strong enough to kill his ghost.” This affinity for force and forcing— and the invocation of ghosts and specters—is not merely semantic or rhetorical. Its sources are Shakespearean, but for that reason alone its logic cannot be seen to be any less concerned with Ambedkar’s politics and ethics than it clearly is with his literary and poetic sensibilities. Quite to the contrary, force was an irrevocable constituent of Ambedkar’s emerging ethics. In 1927, four years after his return from London, he publicly burned at a Satyagraha Conference in Mahad, a town just over a hundred miles south of Bombay, a copy of the Manusmriti. The ghost was now being exorcized by fire in classic satyagrahic fashion. “The bonfire of Manusmriti,” Ambedkar recalled, “was a very cautious and drastic step . . . taken with a view to forcing the attention of caste Hindus. If you do not knock at the door, none opens it. It is not that all parts of Manusmriti are condemnable. . . . We made a bonfire of it because we view it as symbol of injustice . . . because of its teachings we have been ground down under despicable poverty, and so we made the dash, staked all, took our lives in our hands and performed the deed.” (131)


Q: You see there is this minimal degree of mediation even here in this ‘event that exceeds Ambekdar’s own actualization’ as you might put it—mediation even if only as a kind of diffuse cultural genealogy of social action. Identity itself is always mediated by the social…

A: Identity has reality effects, it shapes what we think is possible. But it doesn’t really help us to compose with potentialities in mind. All of life’s plasticity makes it infinitely spongy, and if understood through an ethics of joy, infinitely giddy. Identity is also a habit of thought. Identity, Gabriel Tarde once said, is the minimal degree of difference. You just said that? It’s Tarde right? Yes, that same Gabriel Tarde that Ambedkar studied and wrote about. Tarde and Ambedkar: a Dalit monadology? It doesn’t matter, what matters are those hiccups in identity, when a sensory motor habituation goes caput for a moment or forever, when things break down or phase transition, that’s when identities are in flux. The tendencies, parameters of change, and capacities of identities always suggest a preindividual phase space that is better characterised as a non-coinciding resonant unity for singular and collective ontogenesis. Revolutionary ecologies of sensation.


Muriel Combes, in her brilliant study, Gilbert Simondon and the Philosophy of the Transindividual puts it in this way:


Being “does not possess unity of identity which is that of the stable state in which no transformation is possible: being possesses transductive unity” (IG, 29; IL, 31). That being is more-than-unity does not mean that there is never any unity: rather, it means that being one occurs within being, and must be understood as a relative store of the “spacing out of being,” of its capacity for dephasing. We will call this mode of unity of being, across its diverse phases and multiple individuations, transduction. This is Simon- don’s second gesture. It consists in elaborating this unique notion of transduction, which results in a specific method and ultimately in an entirely new way of envisioning the mode of relation obtaining between thought and being…. (p. 6)


Q: There is an ontotheology behind this…pure ideology as they used to say.

A: No, there is an ontogenesis in the thought of this…


Transduction is first defined as the operation whereby a domain undergoes information—in the sense that Simondon gives to this term, which we have discussed in the example of molding a brick: “By transduction, we mean a physical, biological, mental, or social operation, through which an activity propagates from point to point within a domain, while grounding this propagation in the structuration of the domain, which is operated from place to place: each region of the constituted structure serves as a principle of constitution for the next region” (IG, 30; IL, 32). The clearest image of this operation, according to Simondon, is that of the crystal that, from a very small seed, grows in all directions within its aqueous solution, wherein “each molecular layer already constituted serves as a structuring base for the layer in the process of forming” (IG, 31; IL, 33). (Coombes, Simondon, pg. 6)


In his forward to Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, Reda Bensmaia relates this to the context of the politics of Kafka’s writing–illuminating as well for a critical consideration of the politics of something like a Dalit aesthetics: “But rather than ascending to some singular—transcendent—figure or signifier, it is a matter of defining a space, a metastable force that does not refer to a subject but designates a vection, a movement of translation that belongs to preindividual forces. These forces seem to have already been traversed by an immemorial forgetfulness that makes it impossible to reduce the saying to the said and that refers to an experience for which only a collective enunciation can take responsibility…” (xii).


With neuromarketing we see how these continuous multiplicities (preindividual fields of multiphased potentialities) are immense and immeasurable, but susceptible to control. This phase space is both aesthetic and ethical—there is no distinction between the two.


Q: [Aside: I’ve got him soliloquising, time to pour us another round…] Go on, I’m listening.


A: [Watchful, but absent minded svar mein…] This won’t do, this won’t do at all. [Withdraws his glass.] Are non-suvarna peoples freer today that in Ambekdar’s time? This is impossible to say categorically because of the vast class and gender power differences within non-suvarna communities, but there are indications across India that Brahmanical caste hierarchies are as strong today as they ever were, and worse: if seen in linked contexts with the increasing precarity, indebtedness, and extractionism of neoliberal India (Mazzadra, 2014, 2018) which exacerbated already existing hierarchies and tendencies of suvarna accumulation and corporate-focused privatization, we can say that there has been a ramification and intensification of caste prejudice and discriminatory organisational practices. If we take the question of authenticity to be central or most important—as in: are you an Authentic Dalit/Feminist/Queer/Marxist/Indian/Hindu—then the problem of solidarity must be seen as central to any articulation of an emancipatory authenticity or an authentic emancipation. No one is free unless and until we are all free. The individuation of one ecology is bound up with the emancipatory ontogenesis of many others, indeed of all others…


Q. [With a rising screech like Arnab Goswami, in prime bullying mode:] This is all well and good, but you haven’t gotten to the crux of the problem, you seem to be skirting the real issue: what is the nature of politics to you? How is a radical and effective politics possible without an insistence on mediation: we want state power, don’t we? We need a revolutionary vanguard for that, don’t you see?


A. Why do you bring in the question of mediation, its still too early in the processes we are discussing. Think of Ambedkar, within and against Gandhi’s satyagraha ethics, burning the Manu Smirti at Mahad. How did that event exceed its own actualization, what in other words did that event actually do? It brought the question of power and capacity together for millions of Dalit and non-suvarna peoples in showing the poison at the origins of custom. What power do ‘we’ want? Who is this we? Where? Which power? Why this one and not that one? What is power—the vote, a voice, freedom, but also capacity, affect, affordance, force, movement—after Ambedkar, after his elaboration throughout his works of a profoundly radical concept of political force… Force for Ambedkar and Gandhi was radically embodied; for Gandhi in the service of the simple virtues of a romanticized and mythologized Man of God –harijan—the force of truth and the force of justice came together only after his decisive encounter with Ambedkar’s political ecology. But Ambedkar was a far more complex thinker than Gandhi; he thought of power in its material gradients (the famous thesis of the gradients of Brahminical power), and practiced emancipatory power as insurgent experiments in radical equality.


Aishwarya Kumar writes movingly:


Custom is not the antithesis of positive law; it is simply that which comes before the law. It is, Ambedkar argues in Annihilation of Caste, the ontological foundation of all authority. For custom, whose ubiquity gives it the appearance of an innocuous (and even civic) restraint, is in essence a regime of injunctions in which law takes its most surreptitious, enduring, and compelling form. Custom, he argues in a classically republican vein, is violence without the police, domination without interference. Custom gives the sovereign’s wish the form of voluntary acquiescence; in truth, it is voluntary servitude maintained by the invisible threat of ostracism and (if need be) police power. In a discussion of the pernicious longevity of the Manusmriti or the “Dharma of Manu [ancient India’s most significant lawgiver],” Ambedkar thus makes a subtle distinction between custom and law, between moral norm and police power. They are, he says, heterogeneous but inseparable. “Custom is no small a thing as compared to Law. It is true that law is enforced by the state through its police power; custom, unless it is valid is not. But in practice this difference is of no consequence. Custom is enforced by people far more effectively than law is by the state. This is because the compelling force of an organized people is far greater than the compelling force of the state.” Here, “the people” (in its organized, juridical sense) is a collective that acts surreptitiously, beneath and beside the state, without a display of force. And in this seeming nonforce of the juridical domain of everyday life are hidden the most visceral, intimate, and measured operations of law over life. Custom, its unsaid obligations and injunctions (dharma), is that through which law passes into life and life becomes inseparable from the law. Ordinary ways and acts of being human are thus made to pass through a maze of punitive ordinances. Touching, the sensory and most radiant core of humanity, the source of its most mundane feelings and sympathies, its greatest gift, is circumscribed within norms of intimacy and distance, approachability and unapproachability, its ethics and humanity sequestered from the shared spaces of civic and municipal life and put under the invisible (but always threatening and compelling) watch of police power. One henceforth touches the other only in the threatening shadows of the law. In fact, writes Ambedkar in a tragic fragment of Waiting for a Visa, the “untouchable” and the Hindu are touched constantly, even (and especially) at death, albeit not by each other but by the law alone. The custom of “not touching,” the norm of keeping distance, thus becomes sovereign among all Indic injunctions, an ironic marker of Hindu etiquette and civility (sadachar), at once mystical like the law and immeasurable like suffering. No God is sovereign enough to override this injunction, no mathematics precise enough to register this catastrophe. (118)


You know of course that Ambedkar radicalized Bergson? Ontologized him in a certain (post)colonial theatre of individuation…


Q: Solipsisms and blusterings, if not outright blunderings! Ambedkar himself—don’t you know this?—he acknowledged the mystical tendencies of Bergsonian thought. But invoking Ambedkar’s colonial-modernist intellectual genealogy doesn’t get us anywhere. And don’t turn him into a postcolonial critic a la Spivak avant la lettre! At that time, everyone who was thinking was reading Bergson, getting fired by his naive vitalism—–it made it big in SoCal, in fact its apotheosis was the mysticism of the California hippies for whom intuitive self-actualisation became overconsumption. See Adam Curtis’s Century of the Self… In fact, that’s where you should turn to for the great theorist of the 20th century, not Bergson or Heidegger but Edward Bernays, nephew of Frued and the person who came up with branding. We should think about how Ambedkar and Dalit emancipation itself has become a social justice brand, competing with Modi’s Svachch Anand brand…



A: Certainly, yes. But the question of what kinds of resonances Ambedkar found and with which ones he [but already he was part multitude] was able to compose a constituent power, the complex ways that his political theology of emancipation negotiated the romantic tradition of European thought–this is what is decisive, what made a difference both in the history of India and in the development of emancipatory thought and practice. But you are right: let’s return to the problem at hand: Why am I not a Hindu, sorry a Brahman. Hinduism is India’s First Brand—see the adds for Patanjali (pure, organic, Ayurvedic) products…First…


Q: Actually, I think the question has now become….


A: …first, there is no Hinduism beyond Brahminism, that’s why Kancha Illaiah’s thesis in Why I am not a Hindu continues to have radical implications for how we understand the forces that is re-organizing caste and class exploitation in India today. Why is there no Hinduism beyond Brahminism? All the terms—euphemisms, to me—that Gandhi came up with (sometimes collectively) for Hinduism were merely ideological mystifications of the primary role of purity in Brahminism. And isn’t this critique glaringly missing in Tharoor’s Why I am a Hindu? It is this organizing tendency toward purity—linked to the one-drop rule of racial purity in the USA not by simple analogy or sameness of the material conditions of struggle, but through a radical and materialist genealogy of social purity in solidarity with both Black and Dalit emancipatory queerontogenesis.

But purity has several aspects today in caste politics and globalized consumerism that overlap and intersect. What are these aspects? Let us return to a simplified notion of purity. Purity is tied to the health of the body (yes that same body-metaphor of Manusmirti infamy). To expel and keep external ‘impurities’ or elements and tendencies that decompose the body would a practice of a kind of [narrow] ecologism. It is this seemingly ideological neutral discursive formation that is the master sign of India’s New BrahmanismTM: The Ayurveda Man.


[Long pause, deathly silence, a gap in relating wherein the impossibility of ‘full’ communication becomes awkwardly obvious. Reeling in the years of feeling foreign…]


Q. [Sighing, sipping, wearyingly:] You have missed your second point.


A: [Unperturbed, and indefatigable:] …my second point—and this may seem contradictory—is that there is no one Hinduism. Thus, Brahminism becomes a capture-extraction-enclosure regime as protean as capital…the Sufi inspired Protestant Hinduism of the Bhakti tradition so important to the subsequent development of the force of Dalit theology, expresses a broader point: from Sikhism, to Jainism, to Bhaktism, to Buddhism these movements multiply the spiritual sources of purity itself (it is immediately ruptured beyond the enclosure of Brahminical mediation) but also produce ethical diagrams for organising the material resources for protest, insurrection, revolt, and refusal, bringing a crisis of difference (in practice, in processes, in ecologies of sensation) to the purity of Brahmanism. These emancipatory mobilizations were thus in their own ways both epistemological counter-memories and ontological emancipatory practices. For Ambedkar as well, the concept-force of purity was decisive in his radical ‘historiography of force’ (Kumar’s felicitous phrase) in the development of Brahminical domination. So then no Hinduism without Brahminism, but no unified Brahminism without the proliferation of innumerable sites of difference, refusal, and revolt. See the work of Sharad Patil…


Q: And so this is why you are not a Hindu? Because Hinduism is Brahminism (invented purity) and Brahminism is a violent unity?


[It was almost dusk, an owl hooted outside, as if in waiting.]


A. [Startled, as if brought back to attention:] I’m no Minerva, but yes we could say that. Pour another shall we? I was watching an episode of Shat up ya Kunal ( in which Kunal interviews an activist from JNU, Shehla Rashid, and Dalit activist and recently elected Independent MLA representing Vadgam in Gujurat, Jignesh Mevani. Rashid notes we are fighting over crumbs, but still we are fighting over 8000 seats at JNU that the state has a legal responsibility to administer as partly reserved. Having worked in the corporate sector, she sharply observes there is of course no reservations in the corporate sector. Corporates want people with a good personality, by which they mean good English speaking, non-famished bodies. Bodies of privilege. Mevani argues that we need an alternative politics, which will emerge from the people’s movement. Modi comes with karma yogi, he says that street sweepers forcibly working in the gutters get spiritual happiness [anand] from their work. [This is a paraphrase:] “Why doesn’t he come down to the gutter himself and get some spiritual happiness? Our fundamental problem is Brahminical mindset, not Brahmins. It is the caste system that is our problem. The caste system is against the very idea of merit…” This doesn’t stop Brahminical forces from claiming a kind of reservation, elsewhere; Rashid point out that the right wing VHP is stopping the movement to outlaw caste discrimination in the UK by claiming multicultural protections…The two make strong cases against the caste system, but both are wary of how always Brahminism always obscures its own privilege by claiming victimage.


The interview poses another question, obliquely, however. When Mevani says why doesn’t Modi come down in the gutter and get him some happy vibes, he precedes that by asking why doesn’t the suvarna state develop technology to ‘humanize’ this demeaning work? So the question of technogenesis and emancipatory ontogenesis in radical anti-caste and feminist politics is linked, and in complex ways. The problem will still remain crucially about the limits and possibilities of human ecologies embedded in emancipatory, but not entirely human ontogenesis across life, matter, and force. The hand, Gandhi’s fetish, became a symbol of ‘honest work’ a celebration of the virtues of simplicity and of use vale (as opposed to the artificial commodities of exchange capitalism—he takes this directly from Ruskin’s Unto this Last!)—the Hand and its intensive sensibility of touch or hapticity is also a reminder of the relegation of certain populations, non-suvarna, ‘broken peoples’ to all kinds of ‘impure’ and hereditary servitude (See Gopal Guru, Patil, Ambedkar, Omvedt), and thus the ritual performance of the caste labor of social reproduction becomes a direct means of reproducing Dalit untouchability, forever sacred and impure. In fact, it is the Dalits of India who invented both aesthetics and technogenesis, in Dalit movements the two are synthesized. Jugaad practices throughout Dalit ecologies synthesize this mixed history of technology and ethics in a non-emancipatory ontogenesis. I say non-emancipatory because there is nothing that wills a free and equal commons in jugaad practice; the will of jugaad is certainly fugitive and extra-legal, but seeking a pure dynamism of connectivity…


Q. I must stop you here…


A. Why is it getting late?




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)

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?