Archaic State Pt. 7 Escape (from production)

This post contained an draft version of a dissertation section. A more recent version is now available on the works page.

2 thoughts on “Archaic State Pt. 7 Escape (from production)

  1. I rewrote enough of this post to justify providing my new version, but I didn’t want to delete the previous post. Here is the rewrite:

    Escape in a world without magic is simply a question of strength, and usually geography. Either the State is able to maintain what binds the captured to a person or a place, or it does not. The struggle to escape this State is the struggle to resist the direct influence of sovereign might. Opportunities to thwart this State power are numerous, either by identifying a rhythm that works against the routine ebbs and flows of State technologies of governance, or by establishing an elusive way of life that the State determines to be too costly to pursue. And as in the lightbulb example, evasion depends on distance. Escape from the Archaic State is therefore a spatial problem of nearness or farness from the source.

    As a particular orthodox Marxism goes, societies are the result of the type of production going on in that society, which requires proper political economy to know how societies emerge and transform. Scott’s intellectual project, for instance, is centered on this Marxism, even though his work explicitly departs with Marxism. To specify, the picture Scott draws of the anarchic peasant focuses on the anti-State production practices that ‘hill people’ use to ward off state encroachment. He dedicates whole chapters to show how high-altitude crop cultivation and slash-and-burn ‘swidden’ agriculture techniques allow hill people to maintain a lifestyle that makes capture both difficult and undesirable. But escape, when considered more generally, shows that production need not be the centerpiece of a way of life. Those who make evasion a way of life offer an image of existence that either fundamentally reshapes or even abandons the need for analyzing modes of production.

    Now outmoded anthropological theories argue that the State is an inevitable and positive development that accompanies a natural drive among humans to increase their productive capacities. But there are peoples who have found that the plentitude of the earth can provide more than enough productive capacity to sustain life. Production is not the defining characteristic of these societies, but circulation. The primacy of production of any form only emerges from the State; so much so, that we can say that the State is not the result of a mode of production, but rather, it is the State that makes production a mode.

    We can therefore make the following clarification: all societies are organized by anti-production, while only some are organized according to production. By anti-production, we mean the anticipation and warding off of certain forms of production. The paranoid chatter of managers, from kingly courts to the office buildings of bureaucrats, whose efforts are focused on finding the next challenge to their power. Slash-and-burn agriculture should be conceived of not as a mode of production, then, as it would look inferior to the the outside observer comparing it to the efficiencies of the wet-rice cultivation undertaken by a State down in the valley. Rather, as a type of anti-production, slash-and-burn agriculture is perfect tool for providing crops while discouraging capture and preventing a State from emerging.

    While States mutilate bodies to put them to work, societies of plentitude mark bodies to make the means of life circulate. Outside the State, marking bodies is not for display, but to circulate the means of life. Bodies are coded against temptation, which bans the immediate consumption of the earth while provoking social connections. The marks that impose a ban on directly appropriating the means of life one helped secure (“you, as marked by this particular family line, can eat all except what your family have caught”) are the initiative that drive alliances with other lines of filiation. The State transforms this mode of circulation, which is enabled through direct mutilation of bodies, into a mode of production commanded by the terrifying voice of the despot. Further State advancements displace the actual marking of bodies (like slaves, who bore the marks not only of whipping, but sometimes branding) by moving the wound inward by creating psychic pain of bodies (national trauma).

    State production therefore changes the function of code from a direct code branded into the flesh of the body to an overcode of the written decree that introduces the voice of the despot in his absence. The State does not operate through the group ritual of inscription, where the whole community would establish the gaze of authority by festively watching a tattooing, but through a legion of bureaucrats that interpret the absent voice of the despot under the threat of death. But overcoding is not the simple process of replacing the old (taboos) with the new (sovereign decrees). Rather, overcoding is a two step operation: first, it captures groups that operate according to differing codes and puts their lines of affiliation and filiation under a common denominator; and second, it releases most of their codes to reorient group obligations upward in infinite debt to the sovereign. State overcoding also differs in kind from coding, as it intersects codes by means of translation. In contrast to biological codes like RNA, for instance, language makes codes polyvocal and therefore interpretable, which enables expression to be independent of both content and substance (ATP 62). But overcoding still stands on the ground created by codes. For the State to overcode, some codes are eliminated, but the rest are deterritorialized and mostly recaptured to constitute the intermediary milieu that is the State. The State is built through the intersections of previously separate codes and operates as a grand irrigation that connects the flows previously held apart by differing code. Yet, the dazzling power of the emperor’s glory that emits signs to capture from a distance also frees a large quantity of flows that can be turned against the State.

    Magic escape …..

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