Archive for the ‘Deleuze’ Category

FirstPersonShooter

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

James Ash, Architectures of affect: anticipating and manipulating
the event in processes of videogame design and testing, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2010, volume 28, pages 653 – 671:
http://www.academia.edu/4906196/Ash_Architectures_of_affect_anticipating_and_manipulatingthe_event_in_processes_of_videogame_design_and_testing

CAREFULLY.

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

Mezzadra S, 2006, ‘Borders,migrations, citizenship’, translated by Casas Cortes, S Cobarrubias,
http://deletetheborder.org/node/1515
Mezzadra S, 2007, ‘Living in transition: toward a heterolingual theory of the multitude
transversal’, in The Politics of Culture: Around theWork of Naoki Sakai Eds R F Calichman,
J N Kim (Routledge, London) pp 121 ^ 137, http://eipcp.net/transversal/1107/mezzadra/en
Mezzadra S, 2009a, `Italy, operaism and post-operaism’, in International Encyclopedia of
Revolution and Protest Ed. I Ness (Blackwell, Oxford) pp 1841 ^ 1845
Mezzadra S, 2009b, `The labyrinth of contemporary migrations’ European Alternatives
http://www.euroalter.com/2009/sandro-mezzadra-the-labyrinth-of-contemporary-migrations/
Mezzadra S, 2010, `The gaze of autonomy. Capitalism, migration and social struggles’, in
The Contested Politics of Mobility: Borderzones and Irregularity Ed.V Squires (Routledge,
London) pp 121 ^ 142
Mezzadra S, 2011a, `How many histories of labour? Towards a theory of postcolonial capitalism’
Postcolonial Studies 14(2) 1 ^ 20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review of

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the power of the monstrous? Where does it get this power? Jacques Derrida, who in his early work associated the future as such with a certain monstrosity (cf Derrida’s preface to Of Grammatology), said in an interview:

A monster may be obviously a composite figure of heterogenous organisms that are grafted onto each other. This graft, this hybridization, this composition that puts heterogeneous bodies together may be called a monster. This in fact happens in certain kinds of writing. At that moment, monstrosity may reveal or make one aware of what the norm is and when this norm has a history–which is the case with discursive norms, philosophical norms, socio-cultural norms, they have a history–any appearance of monstrosity in this domain allows an analysis of the history of the norms. But to do that, one must conduct not only a theoretical analysis, one must produce what in fact looks like a discursive monster so that the analysis will be a practical effect, so that people will be forced to become aware of the history of normality. But a monster is not just that, it is not just this chimerical figure in some way that grafts one animal onto another, one living being onto another. A monster is always alive, let us not forget. Monsters are living beings. This monster is also that which appears for the first time, and consequently, is not yet recognized. A monster is a species for which we do not yet have a name, which does not mean that the species is abnormal, namely, the composition or hybridization of already known species. Simply, it shows itself–that is what the word monster means–it shows itself in something that is not yet shown and that therefore looks like a hallucination, it strikes the eye, it frightens precisely because no anticipation had prepared one to identify this figure. . . . But as soon as one perceives a monster in a monster, one begins to domesticate it, one begins, because of the `as such’–it is a monster as monster–to compare it to the norms to analyze it, consequently to master whatever could be terrifying in this figure of the monster. And the movement of accustoming oneself, but also of legitimation and, consequently, of normalization, has already begun. However monstrous events or texts may be, from the moment they enter into culture, the movement of acculturation, precisely, of domestication, of normalization has already begun. . . . This is the movement of culture. Texts and discourses that provoke at the outset reactions of rejection, that are denounced precisely as anomalies or monstrosities are often texts that, before being in turn appropriated, assimilated, acculturated, transform the nature of the field of reception, transform the nature of social and cultural experience, historical experience. All history has shown that each time an event has been produced, for example in philosophy or in poetry, it took the form of the unacceptable, or even of the intolerable, of the incomprehensible, that is, of a certain monstrosity” (Derrida, Points 385-87)

There are some key tools for the method of ontogenesis in Derrida’s words. (more…)

What happens when the monster becomes simply a sign-post, but a remarkable one of immanent processes of becoming? Recall what Michael Hardt says of the remarkable in Spinoza,

Here we are confronted with the Spinozian principle of the singularity of being. As a first approximation, we could say that singularity is the union of monism with the absolute positivity of pantheism: The unique substance directly infuses and animates the entire world. The problem with this definition is that it leaves open an idealistic interpretation of substance, and allows for a confusion between the infinite and the indefinite. In other words, from an idealist perspective, absolute substance might be read as an indetermination, and pantheism might be read as acosmism. Deleuze’s reading, however, closes off this possibility. Being is singular not only in that it is unique and absolutely infinite, but, more important, in that it is remarkable. This is the impossible opening of the Ethics. Singular being as substance is not “distinct from” or “different from” any thing outside itself; if it were, we would have to conceive it partly through another thing, and thus it would not be substance. … The distinction of being rises from within. Causa sui means that being is both infinite and definite: Being is remarkable. The first task of the real distinction, then, is to define being as singular, to recognize its difference without reference to, or dependence on, any other thing. The real nonnumerical distinction defines the singularity of being, in that being is absolutely infinite and indivisible at the same time that it is distinct and determinate. Singularity, in Deleuze, has nothing to do with individuality or particularity. It is, rather, the correlate of efficient causality and internal difference: The singular is remarkable because it is different in itself. (Hardt, Gilles Deleuze 62-3)

Let us consider carefully this passage from Hardt. (more…)

Monstrosity problematizes becoming. Monsters have been within me and my ecologies for so long, as an immigrant child learning English in Flushing, New York, in my filmi dreams co-evolving with the pirated Hindi and Bengali VHS library spawned by my mother’s VCR, in the desiring conjunctions of friends and lovers, in the improvised fairytales between father and daughter at bedtime. But when does the monster—a discrete figure—become a vector of mutation across a material, embodied field of force? Monstrosity promises a reorganization of force, habit, and the body, but this promise of a line of flight is always submerged under various products or static entities: the monster, technology, difference.

I consider monstrosity a certain type of event in relations of force. What is important about monstrosity, that is, what is problematic about it from the point of view of radical political practice is my central concern in this essay. I argue that this problematising of monstrosity can only happen through the careful yet ad hoc construction of a pragmatic method of potentializing capacities and returning to what Henri Bergson and Gilles Deleuze call the virtual. In what sense is duration a method of counter-actualizing the monstrous event toward the virtual? What experimental forms of thought, exchange, art, politics, and pedagogy would express this method and remain untimely in relation to the event of mutation itself? Thought revitalized by the body far from equilibrium.

To situate this argument I will contrast two figures of thought: the monster as punctum in space and time, and a thoroughgoing ontology of monstrosity rooted in duration, intensity, and the virtual. For example, in Philosophy and the Adventure of the Virtual: Bergson and the Time of Life, Keith Ansell Pearson analyzes what he sees to be the central difference between Henri Bergson’s notion of creative evolution and Alain Badiou’s theory of the event. While for the latter, the event “has no relation to duration, it is a punctuation in the order of being and time (if it can be given a temporality it is only of a retroactive kind)” (71), for Bergson the repetitions (refrains) that constitute lived duration are generative of difference in itself, a qualitative, self-varying, and distributed difference of correlated processes. As Ansell Pearson puts it,

It cannot be a question of reducing the present to the status of being little more than a mere brute repetition of the past – if it were, it would be difficult to see how time could be given in Bergson’s conception of a creative evolution (there would be nothing creative about it and there would not even be a phenomenon we could describe as evolution), but rather of thinking a duration ‘in which each form flows out of previous forms, while adding to them something new, and is explained by them as much as it explains them . . .’. (71; quoting Henri Bergson’s Creative Evolution, 1983: 362).

This nondialectical difference between on the one hand what I will call an ontology of monstrosity and on the other with what might be termed the punctum of the monster has everything to do with the nature of difference and becoming. Is the monster a discourse, is it a metaphor, analogy for something else, i.e. capitalism, patriarchy, or racism? Is the monster a representation that slides across the surface of discourse, something in the nature of a stain or trompe l’oeil? It will come as no surprise that representational analyses have dominated the thought of monstrosity in contemporary Western criticism. There are several reasons for this, but perhaps chief amongst them is the very fact that the monster has become mechanism of producing humanist value. And so the fixation on the punctum of the monster (the monster as state enemy—i.e. the monster as terrorist—as much as the monster as conceptual abyss, as a figure of abjection and exception—Homo Sacer, differance) in fact in differently positioned critiques ends up taking the monstrosity out of the monster, and after some buffing with this or that discourse is presented as the Other—all with very real effects on the life chances of actual people and populations.

But what if monstrosity comes to reenchant the world, as Prigogine and Stengers once put it? Such a reenchantment would have ontological implications because monstrosity-events are involved in the explication of intensive difference in the world. In other words, and conversely, in what sense is monstrosity an effect of a kind of experimentation or creation within intensive multiplicities? Or is monstrosity merely the cultural trace of a bodily intuition, the method of which must begin and end with duration?

We insist on one thing. Duration.

And the diagram.

And affect.

Ok that’s already quite a crowd, well but isn’t there an entire method in these three vector-concepts: duration, diagram, affect?

What is the duration of a habit, say the habit of smoking or the habit of playing a guitar? Remember what Toscano teaches us about habit:

The stakes of the debate come down to the extension that is to be ascribed to habit. The minimalist option is to relegate it to an operation characterized by acquisition through repetition, by the decrease of intensity and the perfectibility of action. From this perspective, habit itself is not productive of beings. It is only with the second approach that we can begin to consider the idea of habit as an agent or factor of individuation. If, as Lalande and Egger propose, habit as contraction is to be severed from habit as the state or property of a thing, the former can no longer be considered as ontologically constitutive: it merely designates a process that affects or qualifies an already constituted entity, whether this entity be physical, biological or psychic. On the contrary, if we follow the indications of contributors such as Lachelier, habit can be considered both as the general state of being and as the procedure whereby this state is attained, in such a manner that the difference between the dynamics of individuation and the state of the individuated is only relative. Punctuating this debate about the significance of state and process in the definition of habit we encounter three questions, all of which are indicated by the Vocabulaire: the distinction between passive and active habits; the relationship between habit and repetition; the question of habit’s relationship to the organic. The Theatre of Production, 111-12

The most important lesson here to my mind is that a diagramming of habit is both a conceptual and material experimentation on the capacities of the embodied mind, or an affirmation of becoming (same “thing”). We must insist that any such diagram is in fact a practice of assembling with the organic processes, differentiating active and passive habits, understanding the ontogenetic (or materialist, pragmatic) dimension of repetition itself.

Many critics begin analysis with power (at times in particular ways, Foucault’s problem). But what is the ontological status of relations of power? Of domination?

If in the 1920s the avant-garde had been an elite phenomenon, by the 1970s it was becoming a mass experiment in creating a semiotic environment for life. Thanks to the radios, thanks to the autonomous zines spreading all over, a large scale process of mass irony was launched. Irony meant the suspension of the semantic heaviness of the world. Suspension of the meaning that we give to gestures, to relationships, to the shape of the thing. We saw it as a suspension of the kingdom of necessity and were convinced that power has power as far as those who have no power take power seriously. Indeed when irony becomes a mass language, power loses ground, authority and strength. (Berardi, Precarious Rhapsody 21)

This strikes me as a little too optimistic, but it is so much better in terms of capacities to begin with the ironization of power. Foucault does this brilliantly, ruthlessly, hilariously, without romanticism. Yet, the gesture that starts with power (the State [a return to governmentality would do this tendency good] or the Law [Autonomista zindabad!], etc. etc.) is also, generally, a gesture simultaneous with a genuflection to a particularly stupid figure of contemporary criticism: the subaltern. Kill the subaltern, and criticism can instead become subaltern, become minor through all your becomings. Remember what Deleuze says of minorities:

The difference between minorities and majorities isn’t their size. A minority may be bigger than a majority. What defines the majority is a model [norm] you have to conform to: the average European adult male city-dweller, for example. A minority, on the other hand, has no model, it’s a becoming, a process. One might say the majority is nobody. Everybody’s caught, one way or another, in a minority becoming that would lead them into unknown paths if they opted to follow it through. Deleuze, Control and Becoming 173

Not minorities as preconstituted categories of a population segmentation mechanism generated by the Googlezon. Contemporary marketing in a particular irony that only they seem unaware of considers contemporary segementation merely an extension of VOP – the Voice of the People!! Consider:

In this study, we propose to harness the growing body of free, unsolicited, user-generated online content for automated market research. Specifically, we describe a novel text-mining algorithm for analyzing online customer reviews to facilitate the analysis of market structure in two ways. First, the VOC, as presented in user-generated comments, provides a simple, principled approach to generating and selecting product attributes for market structure analysis. In contrast, traditional methods rely on a predefined set of product attributes (external analysis) or ex post interpretation of derived dimensions from consumer surveys (internal analysis). Second, the preponderance of opinion, as represented in the continuous stream of reviews over time, provides practical input to augment traditional approaches (e.g., surveys, focus groups) for conducting brand sentiment analysis and can be done (unlike traditional methods) continuously, automatically, inexpensively, and in real time.

This is from an article in the European Journal of Marketing by T. Lee and E. Bradlow, entitled: “Automated Marketing Research Using On-line Customer Reviews” (Vol. XLVIII (October 2011), 881 –894, 881-82). What is the aim of market structure analysis? It is in fact much broader than segmenting a market.

Abstract: market structure analysis is a basic pillar of marketing research. classic challenges in marketing such as pricing, campaign management, brand positioning, and new product development are rooted in an analysis of product substitutes and complements inferred from market structure. in this article, the authors present a method to support the analysis and visualization of market structure by automatically eliciting product attributes and brand’s relative positions from online customer reviews. First, the method uncovers attributes and attribute dimensions using the “voice of the consumer,” as reflected in customer reviews, rather than that of manufacturers. second, the approach runs automatically. Third, the process supports rather than supplants managerial judgment by reinforcing or augmenting attributes and dimensions found through traditional surveys and focus groups. The authors test the approach on six years of customer reviews for digital cameras during a period of rapid market evolution. They analyze and visualize results in several ways, including comparisons with expert buying guides, a laboratory survey, and correspondence analysis of automatically discovered product attributes. The authors evaluate managerial insights drawn from the analysis with respect to proprietary market research reports from the same period analyzing digital imaging products.

This Voice of the People bullshit is particularly revolting when you consider that by voice of the people they really mean an automated algorithm-driven process of auditing, and eventually modulating and controlling various semiotic flows (online reviews, but the semiosis of computer code as well, the semiosis of “managerial judgment” and traditional marketing structure analysis) and bodily dispositions and assemblages.

Which returns us to thinking control and marketing. If we could say that habits are like clichés or refrains of our life, we must consider the integration of our habits with contemporary forms of capitalist valorization (the production and accumulation of profits). Something has happened to the world since the days of discipline described by Foucault in Discipline and Punish. What is this something? It is the shift from capitalist production of commodities to the rise of the precariat of cognitive labor, which more simply can be understood as the informatization of all aspects of capitalist life, such that capital no longer wants labor, as much as packets of time that are flexible, intermittent, modular, informatized-digitized, and networked (see Berardi:

When we move into the sphere of info-labor there is no longer a need to have bought a person for eight hours a day indefinitely. Capital no longer recruits people, but buys packets of time, separated from their interchangeable and occasional bearers. Depersonalized time has become the real agent of the process of valorization, and depersonalized time has no rights, nor any demands. It can only be either available or unavailable, but the alternative is purely theoretical because the physical body despite not being a legally recognized person still has to buy food and pay rent. (Precarious Rhapsody 32-33)

).

And yet discipline persists, normality exerts enormous pressures on us all the time, and we make compromises with forms of power that generate through us bad compositions of matter, information, desire, bodies, and value. It’s the source of the shame of being human. How can we cast off this shame? This shame being an effect of badly analyzed composites?

If we are undergoing the most intensive acceleration of everyday life through networked information, how have such habits been affected at the level of the assemblage of durations and desires? Berardi and others speak of an attention economy, the simplest expression of which is if you are paying attention money can be made on that attention itself. Can we develop habits of occupying spaces such as the protestors have done at St Paul’s Cathedral? It would be a good habit to encourage in all of us. Collective occupation of privatized space. But why have these protestors merely settled for occupying cold, cold stairs. Why not take the occupation inside the cathedral itself? Impossible to conceive at the moment, as the occupation experiences itself winding down due to various internal and external forces.

What does the Occupation have to do with Marketing? What does it have to do with what Foucault called Panopticism, and to what Deleuze called Control?

Franco Berardi asks,

What is the market? The market is the place in which signs and nascent meanings, desires and projections meet. If we want to speak of demand and supply, we must reason in terms of fluxes of desire and semiotic attractors that formerly had appeal and today have lost it. In the net economy, flexibility has evolved into a form of fractalization of work. Fractalization means the modular and recombinant fragmentation of the time of activity. The worker no longer exists as a person. He or she is only an interchangeable producer of microfragments of recombinant semiosis that enter into the continuous flux of the Net. Capital no longer pays for the availability of a worker to be exploited for a long period of time; it no longer pays a salary that covers the entire range of economic needs of a person who works. The worker (a machine endowed with a brain that can be used for fragments of time) becomes paid for his or her occasional, temporary services. Work time is fragmented and cellularized. Cells of time are for sale on the Net and businesses can buy as much as they want without being obligated in any way in the social protection of the worker. The intense and prolonged investment of mental and libidinal energies in the labor process has created the conditions for a psychic collapse that is transferred into the economic field with the recession and the fall in demand and into the political field in the form of military aggressivity. The use of the word collapse is not as a metaphor but as a clinical description of what is happening in the occidental mind. The word collapse expresses a real and exact pathological phenomenon that invests the psycho-social organism. That which we have seen in the period following the first signs of economic decline, in the first months of the new century, is a psychopathic phenomenon of over-excitation, trembling, panic and finally of a depressive fall. The phenomena of economic depression have always contained elements of the crisis of the psychosocial equilibrium, but when at last the process of production has involved the brain in a massive way, psychopathology has become the crucial aspect of economic cycles. The available attention time for the workers involved in the informatic cycle is constantly being reduced: they are involved in a growing number of mental tasks that occupy every fragment of their attention time. For them there is no longer the time to dedicate to love, to tenderness, to affection. They take Viagra because they don’t have time for sexual preliminaries. They take cocaine to be continuously alert and reactive. They take Prozac to cancel out the awareness of the senselessness that unexpectedly empties their life of any interest. Franco Berardi, Precarious Rhapsody

Could a kind of resonance potentially form between post-Prigogine/Bohm-inspired physics and critical management studies? Both share a commitment to materialism and realism. But this assumes the continual transformation of both physics and CMS, given the temporal aspect of both matter and reality. In one sense I would like to argue that at their best, at their most challenging and revolutionary, both intensive science and radical critiques of business practices converge in a diagrammatics of beings-in-becoming. What are the immanent forces of self-organizing, dynamical systems far from equlibrium. The diagram of practices, power (force), objects, bodies and their relational sensations, group dynamics, material and intensive flows that divide only by changing in kind (qualitative duration, critical thresholds of becoming) brings contemporary business practice to consider—almost always from the point of view of normative measurments, speculative finance, and the sovereignty, or police of property—how best to manage, given statistically stable (over a given duration), the inevitably stochastic flow of contemporary information, and the emergence of groupuscules that are transversal to identities of race, sexuality, gender, class, religion, and ability.

What I find heartening in contemporary critical management studies—for instance, in the practice of residencies, or travelling performances in experimental individuation and self-organization that Stefano Harney has suggested—is that it must by necessity begin with the question of effects. An effect is the force of one body on another. It is an index of the capacity of that force to affect and be affected. How will an experiment in forms of intellectual and political production confront the event of a world best described by what Ravi Sundaram calls Pirate Modernity? What models of feedbacked dynamism shall we use to think through the composition of one multiplicity with another, or even what David Bohm (who was a theoretical physicist) called the implicate order? Alberto Toscano, in the Theatre of Production, writes, “The philosophy of difference really confronts the problem of individuation only when the movement of internal difference is defined as an ‘indi-different/ciation’; that is, as a process that requires the dramatization of internal multiplicity in intensive systems and spatiotemporal dynamisms” (175). This process of dramatization is directly a question of effects, a question of the ontogenesis of events, capacities to affect and be affected, subjects, communities, viruses, sensation, sense, and habits. David Ray Griffin in Physics and the Ultimate Significance of Time, writes of Whitehead (himself a mathematical physicist), “The event in itself is a subject. It does not enfold the influences from the environment the way a cabinet receives canned goods, but the way a moment of experience receives influences from its body and the greater world. It does it with feeling. In fact, Whitehead refers to each local event, each “actual occasion,” as an “occasion of experiences.” Every true individual (as distinct from aggregates of individuals, such as sticks and stones) has (or is) a unity of experience in which a vast myriad of influences are synthesized. This reception of influences, and self-determining synthesis of them into a unified experience, is what an event is in itself. This internal, self-determining process is called “concrescence,” which means “growing together.” This notion corresponds with Bohm’s attribution of an inner formative activity to events in their phase of enfolding” (140). Perhaps, then, here in the assemblage of speculative philosophy and intensive science a million Alices, or resonance machines can be created?

I’m teaching Debord’s Society of the Spectacle to my first year undergraduates at Queen Mary. It’s a course on Marketing (ahem) and Communication.

UNDERSTOOD IN ITS TOTALITY, the spectacle is both the outcome and the goal of the dominant mode of production. It is not something added to the real world not a decorative element, so to speak. On the contrary, it is the very heart of society’s real unreality. In all its specific manifestations – news or propaganda, advertising or the actual consumption of entertainment the spectacle epitomizes the prevailing model of social life. It is the omnipresent celebration of a choice already made in the sphere of production, and the consummate result of that choice. In form as in content the spectacle serves as total justification for the conditions and aims of the existing system. It further ensures the permanent presence of that justification, for it governs almost all time spent outside the production process itself… –Debord, Society of the Spectacle

Debord raises the on-going concerns in a radical project that seeks to transvaluate all values in capitalist society. Despite an at times debilitating dialectical critique obsessed with contradiction hunting, Debord’s discourse registers what remains intolerable in post-spectacle society. The spectacle shares some key elements with Deleuze’s notion of cliché in Cinema Two: the spectacle become habit not only bodily but also in terms of the processes of media assemblages—in the case of the spectacle-cliché the bodily and the technological form correlations of habit. (I will return to the question of habit in a subsequent post, but I have also addressed it here: http://wp.me/peizY-3X). The spectacle-cliché is involved in the production of pleasure and its control within acceptable parameters of experience and material flows; it is everywhere, not because it is total in its effects, but because it is immanent to formations of habit across silicon and carbon-based life. Finally, Debord pushes us to think and practice a style of living that remains untimely, a work on both the habituations of spectacle-cliché and its temporal organization. Franco Berardi (Bifo), in his book on Felix Guattari, quotes Deleuze from Difference and Repetition on the Untimely thus:

Once again, as in the book on Nietzsche, the concept of difference is proposed in a framework that explicitly diverges from that of Hegel. The process of becoming is not understood in a finalistic direction; the event cannot be overcome by a totality that encompasses it – rather, the event can only be understood as untimely.

Following Nietzsche, we discover, as more profound than time and eternity, the untimely; philosophy is neither a philosophy of history, nor a philosophy of the eternal, but untimely, always and only untimely – that is to say, ‘acting counter to our time and thereby acting on our time and, let us hope, for the benefit of time to come’. (Difference and Repetition, xxi; citation from Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations, 60) The temporal perspective within which we can understand the event is that of an uninterrupted discontinuity that cannot be totalized because it can only be represented from within.

Eternal return cannot mean the return of the Identical because it presupposes a world (that of the will to power) in which all previous identities have been abolished and dissolved. Returning is being, but only the being of becoming. (Difference and Repetition, 41) (Bifo, Guattari 64)

It would be a needless violence to assimilate Debord to Deluze-Guattari-Bifo, as if Debord was fundamentally interested in experiments in becoming. Yet, clearly an argument can be made that such an element is active in Debord and the practice of the Situationists. What did the Situationists want? What were their tools?

The Derive — Drift, Loiter, Swerve, Clinamen, discovering the uncanny, untimely city
Detournement — Assemblage, Combination, Collage
Unitary Urbanism — Integrated City creation, Games in the Urban space
Psycho-geographies — Play as free and creative activity

These strategies (and more!) clearly highlight the experiments in space-time that channelled the creativity and anger of Situationists. In that sense, the Situationists give us a practice that would help radical organizers (and whoever else) to riot better, in which the distinction between riot and carnival becomes non-pertinent and a contact zone (cf. Mary Pratt’s Imperial Eyes) or border of individuation becomes active and volatile. Play is contagious. Like media piracy.

The police shot a black guy in suspicious circumstances. Feral kids with no jobs ran amok. To Tony’s mind, this was a riot waiting for an excuse. In the hangover of the violence that spread through London, the uprisings seemed both inevitable and unthinkable. Over a few days in which attacks became a contagion the capital city of an advanced nation has reverted to a Hobbesian dystopia of chaos and brutality. Mary Riddell, London riots: the underclass lashes out, 08 Aug 2011, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/

Feral kids with no jobs (but with Blackberry instant messengers)—the stupidity of the statement shines forth, if nothing else. Thomas Carlyle, himself no stranger to stupidity (see his “The Nigger Question”), said in a nonetheless prescient passage from his 1829 essay “Signs of the Times,”

Meanwhile, we too admit that the present is an important time; as all present time necessarily is. The poorest Day that passes over us is the conflux. of two Eternities; it is made up of currents that issue from the remotest Past, and flow onwards into the remotest Future. We were wise indeed, could we discern truly the signs of our own time; and by knowledge of its wants and advantages, wisely adjust our own position in it. Let us, instead of gazing idly into the obscure distance, look calmly around us, for a little, on the perplexed scene where we stand. Perhaps, on a more serious inspection, something of its perplexity will disappear, some of its distinctive characters and deeper tendencies more clearly reveal themselves; whereby our own relations to it, our own true aims and endeavours in it, may also become clearer. (http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/carlyle/signs1.html)

What are some of these fundamental or ontogenetic (i.e. being of becoming) tendencies in contemporary global capital? We should keep in mind that tendencies like affects are always both purely potential and actual simultaneously. So a tendency is a potential vectorial flow (cf. Deleuze on Spinoza in Essays Critical and Clinical, and Delanda, Deleuze, Science, History), but also an organization of disparate factors into something like a present or actualized state. Piracy is an actual state of affairs, but also a potential trajectory of all information. Consider Sundaram’s excellent formulations:

The parasitic, adaptive mode that piracy set up made it difficult to produce it as a clear “outside.” The emergence of the raid was an acknowledgment of the viral nature of piracy. The raid attempted to manage the swarm-through tactics that were like filters and temporary firewalls, slowing down the endless circulation of pirate media through pincer-like violence, and securing temporary injunctions in court. As I have shown, these actions were limited and temporary, giving way to new pirates and new raids. Piracy was a profound infection machine, taking on a life in heterogeneous spaces, and overcoming all firewalls. For the media industry the dominant strategy seems to be that of a dream-escape from the pirate city to secure zones of authorized consumption – malls, multiplexes and online stores. Direct-lo-air (DTH) is now promoted for more elite customers as part of this strategy of escape from the pirate city. Piracy’s non-linear architectures and radical distribution strategy rendered space as a bad object; the media industry’s yearning for secure consumption ghettos is in many ways an impossible return to the old post-Fordist days. Sundaram, Pirate Modernity, 135

Piracy is that practice of proliferation following the demise of the classic crowd mythic of modernism. Piracy exists in commodified circuits of exchange, only here the same disperses into the many. Dispersal into viral swarms is the basis of pirate proliferation, disappearance into the hidden abodes of circulation is the secret of its success and the distribution of profits in various points of the network. Piracy works within a circuit of production, circulation, and commerce that also simultaneously suggests many time zones – Virlio’s near-instantaneous time of light, the industrial cycle of imitation and innovation, the retreat of the commodity from circulation and its re-entry as a newer version. Media piracy’s proximity to the market aligns it to both the speed of the global (particularly in copies of mainstream releases) and also the dispersed multiplicities of vernacular and regional exchange. Sundaram, Pirate Modernity, 137

This proliferation of near-copies, remastered versions, and revisions refract across a range of time-space shifts, moving between core and periphery of the media city phenomenologically, rather than spatially. Versions of popular numbers are produced by the pirate market, fade from the big city and return in devotional music, local videos from Bihar, Haryana, and Western UP – and back to the city, brought by migrants and travelers. Piracy does not dwell only in objects or spaces, It enacts them momentarily. Its materiality consists in its mix of place, time, and thing, a mix that dissolves and reconstitutes itself regularly. Piracy an sich seems to have no end, just as it had no particular point of beginning. Piracy therefore produces a surplus of cultural code, which fractures the surfaces of media spectacle through a tactic of dispersal. As a phenomenon that works on a combination of speed, recirculation, and dispersal, pirate products are consumed by the possibility of their disappearance – by more imitations and versions. This is a constant anxiety in small electronic enterprises; the first past the post stays there for only a few months. New copies follow, from rivals and former collaborators. The doctrine of the many is haunted by its own demise – all the time. Just as Marx once wrote that the only limit to capital is capital itself, so piracy is the only agent that can abolish piracy. Sundaram, Pirate Modernity, 138

Its unclear what Sundaram means by this last flourish. The problem with his entire text is the lingering hangover of a dialectical understanding of piracy (State vs. piracy, the contradictions of piracy, its aporias) and the affirmation of the rhizomatic, nonlinear, and ontogenetic virality of piracy itself. Yet, one of the most striking resonances in Sundaram’s researches with contemporary theories of media assemblages is the question of contagion. (There is a new movie out in London called contagion…I want my students to at least see the trailer on Youtube now, you can piratebay the film later! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YUSJbRjXXU&feature=pyv

)

How does a contagion work? In what way are images contagious? Deleuze never forgot Burrough’s singular intuition that language works virally. Indeed he took it toward Spinoza’s theory of the sign, in which a sign is the effect of one body on another, in other words signs are affective dispositions, and with such a conception a new typology of signs and a-signifying traits, an entire semio-chemistry changed the theory and practice of criticism (Bifo, Thought, Friendship and Visionary Cartography 93). This is part of what Debord misses in his static conception of the spectacle. The spectacle has a certain life (that is not to say it is an ethically good life—understood in the Spinozist sense of ethics as the composition of two or more multiplicities toward an increase or intensification of the capacity to affect and be affected). This life is simply a set of tendencies and affects that are more or less correlated with populations of bodily, perceptual, informatic, material, economic, commercial, desiring processes. Bifo, again, is not only clear on this, but he is downright inspiring.

Words are viral agents, as are images and sounds. This does not exclude the possibility that they ‘mean something’, that they remain within a signifying sphere. When we look at them insofar as they have meaning, they are transparent. This sign interests us because it points to a referential sphere. But at another moment we can consider the sign as a replicant, a mutagenic agent, an event that is assembled with other events. In this case, we cannot seal off separately the sphere of words from the sphere of things because words act as things through other things, place processes into motion and create communication. They are not limited to signifying; they communicate. As viral agents, they produce mutations. Semiochemistry is the process through which signs produce effects of decomposition and recomposition in the social psyche, in the imaginary, in the wait for different worlds, in desire. This double articulation allows us to understand also how thought functions, and the thought of Deleuze-Guattari in particular. It functions, of course, as abstraction and interpretation of symbols through other symbols. But at a certain point, the interpretative machine leaves the field to neologisms and contaminations, and the words of philosophy become pop discourse. Alongside argumentation, another kind of functioning is revealed, one that is much more material, dynamic and teeming with life. (Bifo, Thought, Friendship and Visionary Cartography 95)

Your definitions of ethics addressed the consumer’s ethics as opposed to the marketer’s ethics.

ASR: Not at all! There is only one ethics. That ethics is an ethics of habituation and becoming. So the markerter’s ethics is continuous with the ethics of the consumer. Except for one thing: the marketer’s ethics is a strategy in profit maximization in the long term. Morality is about power, truth, goodness, and ultimately God. What I am certainly forwarding is an ethics that makes no reference to a God analogically understood as an extension of patriarchal religious traditions. The ethics that I am drawing on, ironically from a deeply theistic text by the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, is an affirmation of infinite and continuous multiplicities. The feedbacked composition of multiplicities is an ethics when we realize that the emergent capacity of two multiplicities feedbacked together can move toward decomposition, poisoning, sadness, illness and/or toward composition, modulation, resonance, joy, and increased capacities to affect and be affected. But as my favourite philosopher Deleuze says joy and sadness can also be mixed together, simultaneously entwined…

Although I’m fairly sure that you would say that, marketers are bound by both types of ethics as well.

ASR: Yes.

I want to argue that in contemporary marketing, they are mostly judged by their power to affect consumers.

ASR: What are you basing this argument on? Read all of the Levy and Grewal, and then read other marketing textbooks, and you see that both types of ethics are operative. But morality is the predominant form of ethics in marketing, habituation is seen as a strategy of profit maximization.

They have lost complete sense of ethics in the sense of good and evil.
ASR: Not at all. Consumer relations management, corporate social responsibility, etc. etc. are all clear indications that morality is still the organizing framework of marketing discourse.

Which is why I think that marketers have no trouble exploiting consumers’ psychological needs. For example, by charging ridiculous prices, such as thousands of pounds for a pair of shoes. Although consumers agree to pay such an amount and think they need to pay such amounts to gain social acceptance and thus satisfying their psychological need. Presumably though, this type of society was created by marketers themselves.

ASR: Marketers don’t create society but exploit it under conditions directly found and transmitted by the past. All the dead generations lie like a nightmare on the brain of the living, as that brilliant stylist Karl Marx once wrote (cf. the 18th Brumaire of Loius Bonaparte). This is as true for corporate marketers as for situationist revolutionaries.

A society where people are in fierce competition with each other to satisfy needs created by marketers. I think therefore that situationists such as Banksy attempt to hold marketers by ethics in the sense of good and evil.

ASR: Yes I think you are right. Banksy is both moralistic and also a habit-shocker. Habits of walking the street, the habitual associations of children, a street, a wall, Mona Lisa, police, monkey, the Queen, etc. etc. are shocked by banksy, and so a general destabilization of habit is always at stake, that is always potentially active in his work.

To get them to abide by these ethics and at the very least to consider them before shaping a whole society, nay, the whole world potentially. One way of doing that is by having a riot in the form of consumers not responding to marketers and breaking down the society and environment formed by them.

ASR: Yes this has been tried in the past, although it is unclear in what sense it would be a riot as such. Adbusters and the groups that are associated, allied, or in solidarity with that formation of resistance to corporate pollution of the ‘mental ecology’ (Cf Guttari) have often called for days, weeks, of no buying, no consuming…etc. It is unclear how successful, how classed, and raced such a strategy is. The idea of a single mother living in Hackney of whatever race not buying anything for a week, well it would take a lot of planning not anticipated by the call against consumption. So strategies have to be polyvocal, multiple, tactical, durational, bodily, and yet mentally clarifying.

This is the message I believe Banksy and other situationists are trying to tell the world. To acknowledge that they are nothing but puppets in a spectacle run by marketers.

ASR: Maybe that’s where they are too totalizing in their vision of consumer society. We don’t need pessimism or hope, we need new tools to further the project of what Nietzsche called the transvaluation of all values. Never forget the forms of self-organizing, piracy networks, hacktivism, adbusting, culture jamming, bazaar-carnival, computer viruses, cyber-squatting, peer to peer networks, new forms of organizing work in a post-workerist society, community media, experiments in the general deformation of all the senses–the Situationist promise. It is as Donna Harraway realized years before a Promise of Monsters. The French philosopher Jacques Derrida has given us the strongest statement of a practice of thought and sensation that affirms the becoming monster of consumer society.

He responded during an interview:

Q.: I would like to talk about the paths followed by your writing.
During an interview, you once said that you were trying in certain
of your texts to produce a new type of writing: “the text produces a
language of its own, in itself, which, while continuing to work
through translation, emerges at a given moment as a monster, a
monstrous mutation without tradition or normative precedent.”5
This was referring to Gtas, but it could also refer to texts like The
Post Card There is no doubt that philosophical discourse does
violence to language. Does the “monster” mean to indict this
violence while augmenting it, would it even like to render it inoffensive?
Elsewhere, you have recently said that we are all “powerless.”
Permit me to quote you again: “Deconstruction, from that
point of view, is not a tool or technical device for mastering texts or
mastering a situation or mastering anything; it’s, on the contrary,
the memory of some powerlessness . . . a way of reminding the
other and reminding me, myself, of the limits of the power, of the
mastery-there is some power in that.”6
What is the relation between what you call the monsters of your
writing and the memory of this absence of power?
J.D.: If there were monsters there, the fact that this writing is
prey to monsters or to its own monsters would indicate by the same
token powerlessness. One of the meanings of the monstrous is that
it leaves us without power, that it is precisely too powerful or in any
case too threatening for the powers-that-be. Notice I say: if there
were monsters in this writing. But the notion of the monster is
rather difficult to deal with, to get a hold on, to stabilize. A monster
may be obviously a composite figure of heterogeneous organisms
that are grafted onto each other. This graft, this hybridization, this
composition that puts heterogeneous bodies together may be called
a monster. This in fact happens in certain kinds of writing. At that
moment, monstrosity may reveal or make one aware of what normality
is. Faced with a monster, one may become aware of what the
norm is and when this norm has a history-which is the case with
discursive norms, philosophical norms, socio-cultural norms, they
have a history-any appearance of monstrosity in this domain
allows an analysis of the history of the norms. But to do that, one
must conduct not only a theoretical analysis; one must produce
what in fact looks like a discursive monster so that the analysis will
be a practical effect, so that people will be forced to become aware
of the history of normality. But a monster is not just that, it is not
just this chimerical figure in some way that grafts one animal onto
another, one living being onto another. A monster is always alive,
let us not forget. Monsters are living beings. The monster is also
that which appears for the first time and, consequently, is not yet
recognized. A monster is a species for which we do not yet have a
name, which does not mean that the species is abnormal, namely,
the composition or hybridization of already known species. Simply,
it shows itself [elle se montreJ-that is what the word monster
means-it shows itself in something that is not yet shown and that
therefore looks like a hallucination, it strikes the eye, it frightens
precisely because no anticipation had prepared one to identify this
figure. One cannot say that things of this type happen here or
there. I do not believe for example that this happens purely and
simply in certain of my texts, as you said, or else it happens in many
texts. The coming of the monster submits to the same law as the
one we were talking about concerning the date. But as soon as one
perceives a monster in a monster, one begins to domesticate it, one
begins, because of the “as such” -it is a monster as monster-to
compare it to the norms, to analyze it, consequently to master
whatever could be terrifying in this figure of the monster. And the
movement of accustoming oneself, but also of legitimation and,
consequently, of normalization, has already begun. However monstrous
events or texts may be, from the moment they enter into
culture, the movement of acculturation, precisely, of domestication,
of normalization has already begun. One begins to repeat the
traumatism that is the perception of the monster. Rather than
writing monstrous texts, I think that I have, more than once, used
the word monster to describe the situation I am now talking about.
I think that somewhere in Of Grammatology I said, or perhaps it’s at
the end of Writing and Difference, that the future is necessarily
monstrous: the figure of the future, that is, that which can only be
surprising, that for which we are not prepared, you see, is heralded
by species of monsters. A future that would not be monstrous
would not be a future; it would already be a predictable, calculable,
and programmable tomorrow. All experience open to the future is
prepared or prepares itself to welcome the monstrous arrivant/ to
welcome it, that is, to accord hospitality to that which is absolutely
foreign or strange, but also, one must add, to try to domesticate it,
that is, to make it part of the household and have it assume the
habits, to make us assume new habits. This is the movement of
culture. Texts and discourses that provoke at the outset reactions of
rejection, that are denounced precisely as anomalies or monstrosities
are often texts that, before being in turn appropriated, assimilated,
acculturated, transform the nature of the field of reception,
transform the nature of social and cultural experience, historical
experience. All of history has shown that each time an event has
been produced, for example in philosophy or in poetry, it took the
form of the unacceptable, or even of the intolerable, of the incomprehensible,
that is, of a certain monstrosity. (Derrida, Points 385-7).

Hence, the only way out is by not listening to the messages and signs that make you part of that spectacle.

ASR: But it is a mistake to stop paying attention to them as well.

To communicate this message, they ridicule the society that marketers have created through means such as; graffiti, media and literature. This will not directly get marketers to abide by the ethics of good and evil but it will however take away their power to dictate and shape society. This could then potentially lead to marketers adapting a more ethical way of marketing, in terms of good and evil, when trying to regain the trust of the people whom they have corrupted.

ASR: Sounds full of paradoxes and contradictions. The aim of a radical project of affirming the pure potentiality of becoming—something of a Buddhist ideal—cf. Suzuki’s Zen Mind beginner’s mind, and Franco Berardi’s Felix Guattari, Friendship and Visionary Cartography—is not to inhabit contradictions in an ironic, self-reflexive gap of affect, but to affirm with all the joy one can muster a set of processes that form the domain of your own intervention. A field of experimentation with senses, sensations, habits, and ecologies.

In summary, when judging marketers by the ecological sense of ethics, they do a tremendous job and have succeeded exceptionally well to affect consumers. Therefore, exploitation of consumers’ psychological needs as a question of good and evil is not a question of ethics in the ecological sense. Rather, the question must be asked in the sovereign sense of ethics.

ASR: What is the sovereign sense of ethics? You mean ethics as morality, right?

As analysed in my argument, they did exceptionally well to ignore this type of ethics in its entirety. This means that exploitation of consumers’ psychological needs would pose a serious question of ethics.

ASR: Yes because marketing and marketers tend to confirm the worst kinds of habits of people—poor eating habits, sexism, racism, classism, ablism all of these isms are just dominant habits that have colonial, imperialist, mysoginist, and violent histories.

The discussion would presumably be based on finding the culprit who created these insane psychological needs.

ASR: There is no one person who creates needs for a population. They form over time and through much blood and bombast.