Archive for the ‘Time’ 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.


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

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

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

Here’s the abstract:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanem and Wallenberg quote Spinoza thus:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They set the stage thus:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the nature of a connection? I have been influenced by Franco Berardi (Bifo) recently. He points out that definitions have to be approached through multiple strategies because what is important is shocking thought by the reconstitution of a virtual field of sense and sensation. In other words, part of what is at stake in understanding marketing is the creation of new concepts commensurate with marketing’s specific ecology of media and perception, and new affects that work toward an untimely experience of marketing. What is an untimely experience of marketing?

Considering the untimely is why this module has become something of an extended meditation and experimentation on habits. Habit is both an achieved state and a process in itself. Habit, in short, is productive of intensive difference through its repetitions. This is not a difficult notion. But wait.

If differences are produced in processes of repetitive reconnection or refrains, ethics becomes in fact both a diagramming of refrains and a counter-actualization of the forms of habituated duration that are miring us in their spectacles. Bifo again:

The refrain is an obsessive ritual that is initiated in linguistic, sexual, social, productive, existential behaviour to allow the individual – the conscious organism in continuous variation – to find identification points, that is, to territorialize oneself and to represent oneself in relation to the world that surrounds it. The refrain is the modality of semiotization that allows an individual (a group, a people, a nation, a subculture) to receive and project the world according to reproducible and communicable formats. In order for the cosmic, social and molecular universe to be filtered through an individual perception, in order for it, we may thus say, to enter the mind, filters or models of semiotization must act, and these are models that Guattari called refrains.
The perception of time by a society, a culture or a person is also the model of a truly temporal refrain, that is, of particular rhythmic modulations that function as modules for accessing, awaiting and participating in cosmic temporal becoming. From this perspective, universal time appears to be no more than a hypothetical projection, a time of generalized equivalence, a ‘flattened’ capitalistic time; what is important are these partial modules of temporalization, operating in diverse domains (biological, ethological, socio-cultural, machinic, cosmic …) , and out of which complex refrains constitute highly relative existential synchronies. (Chaosmosis, 16)
What is the fundamental passage through which the anthropological transformation of modern capitalism is determined? This passage consists in the creation of refrains of temporal perception that invade and discipline all society: the refrain of factory work, the refrain of working hours, the refrain of the salary, the refrain of the production line. The postindustrial transition brings along with it the formation and imposition of new refrains: the refrain of electronic speed, the refrain of information overload, the refrain of digitalization. My feeling of personal identity is thus pulled in different directions. How can I maintain a relative sense of unicity, despite the diversity of components of subjectivation that pass through me? It’s a question of the refrain that fixes me in front of the screen, henceforth constituted as a projective existential node. My identity has become that of the speaker, the person who speaks from the television. (Chaosmosis, 16–17) In communication, obsessive and fixated types of nuclei are determined; certain refrains thicken and solidify, entering into resonance and producing effects of double bind. When the existential flow gets rigidly brought back to logical, mythological, ideological or psychic refrains, behaviour tends to become paranoid. For example, when the money refrain becomes the structuring element of all social and communicative life, this engenders behavioural paradoxes, paranoid anticipations, social double binds, and depression.

To work counter to our time, and so to work on our time, in the hopes of a time to come. That is, ethics would be a recomposition of a body’s habituated durations.

So in answering the question about the connections this course is making for you, define this course through your habits. What connections between information, neurology, matter, energy, perception, chemistry, habits, speeds, intensity, joy, desire, capital, discipline/control, and becomings do your habits make in its existential being. As should be clear from the syllabus (available here), the connections I am bringing together is a critique of capital in the Marxist tradition of revolutionary becoming, new untimely lifeworlds through radical practices of aesthetics, love, friendship, kinship, and community dwelling. In other words, the creation of untimely ecologies of sensation, that is ecologies that work counter to our time and thereby work on our time by reorganizing the set of refrains (habit) that lull us in blocs of dominant temporalities.

We are reading Kline No Logo, watching It Felt Like a Kiss, by Adam Curtis, reading Guy Debord, and reading Wark’s The Beach Beneath the Street, listening to Bifo on Mp3, we are taking photos, making videos, creating webpages, we dream of situations and apps that will disrupt the accumulation of data-in-marketing, we drink, smoke (too much, too much), but keep excerising. Trying to live a resonance that would be plastic enough to affirm a practice while also making that practice an affirmation of becoming. An ecology of sensation.

We are thinking information in terms of the untimely. As should be clear from all I have said, ethics for it to affirm becoming must work in the service of a time to come, not a time of freedom and equality, but a practice of assemblages of temporal blocs (a minute, a summer, an afternoon are singularities as Deleuze and Guattari remind us in What is Philosophy?).

Sundaram writes in the mode of the postmedia postcolonial critic. But it was Guattari, as Bifo notes, who saw the infinite potentiality of information society. This is not an affirmation of informational capital, it is not a capitulation to the desires of consumer society, it is not the production of spectacles. In some sense, it is merely a return to the virtual that is at stake. The virtual in so far as it is fully real, but not actualized (affects and tendencies are fully real, but their most important characteristic is that they remain ontologically tied to a phylum that is purely potential). Isn’t that why information, and more specifically practices that gradually diagram the ontological (the composition of multiplicities along gradients of intensity), informational dimensions of data, energy, attention, perception. Information can then be thought of as a cut into affect itself, a cut in time, both a measure (in order to be information very specific critical thresholds of noise must be exceeded) and intensive (or semio-chemical) flow.

Regardless, I return to the question of connections. What is marketing today? What are the refrains of marketing? Its habituations? Its attractions? The emergence of the brand that Kline writes about is rooted in a history of radical politics, from anti-colonial, feminist-socialist, to postcolonial movements against the grain of capitalist globalization, or integrated world capitalism. Over the weekend, thousands and thousands of people the world over participated in occupations of public and private space. This practice of occupation you know is very interesting. Dan Moshenberg tells the great joke, and Dan does this again and again, whenever he sees students at GWU sitting around together he asks them, Are you with the occupation?

Well are you?