Posts Tagged ‘Debord’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

)

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

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

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

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

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

ASR: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He responded during an interview:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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