Chapter 3 – Disemboweling the Metropolis

metroLeaning back as I took another puff on my cigarette, things went in and out of focus as the whiskey worked its way through my body. Still unable to shake a lingering desire for clarity, I jotted down some notes while playing it back in my head like a movie reel.

Disorientation. Most people’s initial experience of the Metropolis is disorientation. When you first hit the streets, you settle into the strangeness of it as if it was all just a dream. And while you are trapped in its dreamlike embrace, the Metropolis slowly reveals its erotic and morally ambiguous nature, a tempting but repulsive allure set against a background of violence.

Most of the smart ones leave. I hope they’re happy back on the farm. Others try to be good Samaritans. I gave up being a white knight a long time ago. There are some tall tales that shovel the regular bullshit about good detectives. But I’ve never seen one. And if I did, I’d probably hate their guts. Asking someone to get their hands dirty doesn’t work when they think they’re already helping. I don’t want to be a role model, I want to win. “By any means necessary.”

“Step one: ditch the false piety of doing good and start using your feet.”

A lot of red herrings had been thrown my way. The Metropolis makes it hard to trust anyone or anything. There are no longer any good guys, only con men looking for dupes unable to see through their whole nice-guy act. Everyone here has the potential to do bad, and more importantly, everyone has an angle. Nobody is innocent. Neutrality is the sure sign that someone is either playing it close to the chest or too clueless to figure out whose bidding they are unwittingly doing.

The last people to have faith in are the authorities. They lost control of the streets a long time ago. And whatever power they still exercise always plays into the hands of some higher power. Yet knowing the phone numbers of a few bureaucrats and cops is never a bad idea, as long as you don’t get too close – mistaking them for a friend or a confidant makes you worse than a singing jailbird. Information is their greatest weapon; it gives them leverage. It therefore isn’t wise to feed them even a breadcrumb because that’s how people like you and me end up in trouble to begin with. The bottom line: authorities are to be used, never trusted.

“Step two: track down the leads before the trail goes cold.”

The spoils of my stakeout were lying out on my desk like stolen loot. The killer had left a path of dead bodies in his wake. And in my search to find out whodunnit, I had uncovered every one of them. It all started when I stumbled across what remained of the once-terrifying king of the Archaic State after some of his slaves had gotten to him. My hunt continued when I spotted His Benevolence of the Priestly State after his blackmail and extortion racket went south. The Police and Publicity gave away the Modern State next, but the threads only started to unravel. I knew I was close when I spotted what remained of the Social State, broken and half-crazy, having fallen into a crowd of marginals, undesirables, and illegalists.

Just when I thought the trail went cold, I got the call. The anonymous caller told me to meet at an abandoned lot in a rather seedy part of downtown. But when I got there, I was too late. The killer had struck again. This time, however, I knew that the body would give me all I needed to know. But this operation would have to be a full-blown autopsy, for the answer was stuck deep in the veins of the Metropolis.

“Step three: disembowel the Metropolis.”


The Metropolis is the ground on which Empire operates. It exists on its own accord as a material reality, although it is improbable that the Metropolis would last long without Empire to govern it. Despite its material existence, the Metropolis is more a process, the process of composition that brings together material according to a specific set of rules. In particular, the Metropolis operates according to inclusive disjunction.[1] Inclusive disjunction allows the Metropolis to connect otherwise incommensurate subjects, flows, temporalities, and visibilities without suppressing their differences. In assembling them, the Metropolis does not leave those incommensurate things unperturbed. Rather, Empire introduces things into the Metropolis by producing a plane of positivities that unfolds secured elements, exposes them to risk, and eliminates their futurity.

Exploring the Metropolis involves surveying the plane of organization constructed by Empire. Such a survey identifies the veins of the Metropolis and searches for the antagonisms within each one. Such a process is not done from on high, like watching pedestrians swarm like ants from atop the Empire State building. The Metropolis’ veins open only when we walk its streets like strangers, no longer comforted by a place that always seemed to make sense, unsettled and hungry to figure out why everything looks so invincible although we are told it is all crumbling around us.

What flows through the veins comes from an intensification of the two poles of sovereignty found in States – an authoritarian pole and a liberal-contract pole. In the Modern State they appeared as The Police and Publicity, and in the Social State they transformed into Biopower and The Spectacle. Within the Metropolis, Biopower operates through violent machines of subjection and the technical management of flows, and The Spectacle operates through spectacular time and a compulsory system of visibilities. But unlike States, Empire does not command these poles; it is happy to let the Metropolis do most of the work. Yet Empire still induces their operation and reaps its reward. By handing over its duties to the Metropolis, Empire enables the Metropolis to be used against it, though to do so would be a momentous undertaking.  It would require that subjects undermine their own means of subsistence in the process and presupposes that Empire is willing to take the risk. Thus, within every vein exist spaces of capture, which Empire uses to direct the Metropolis, and lines of escape, showing potential antagonisms and escape routes.

The purpose of disemboweling the Metropolis should be clear: to find a new people and a new world. It is not to save everyone as they already are and will fail if it leaves anyone the same. The transformation is nothing short of revolutionary: the complete abolition of everything and the invention of something new in its place.

Vein 1: Violent Machines of Subjection
In the Archaic State, the frightening magician-king ruled through a theater of cruelty. The magician-king knew that humans are more accustomed to lying, forgetting, and all forms of cognitive dissonance than living their life according to one deliberate and coherent plan. His cruelty was not indulgent but followed the notion that “if something is to stay in the memory it must be burned in: only that which never ceases to hurt stay in the memory” (Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality, Book II, §3). To make loyal subjects worth his trust, the magician-king declared with his loud voice that rituals of enrollment must be established to bring each member’s organs into possession of the whole group. And at the center of this system of cruelty was a terrible alphabet cut into the surface of bodies with a steady hand.

Incision appears necessary because bodies, in their infinite variation, resist assimilation. There is no universal measure for an eye to read on the natural body, only birthmarks, scars, or other accidental markings. For the body to fit the binaries of social code, they have to be imposed: life does not naturally split into two neatly-defined sides but exists as “a thousand tiny sexes” (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 213). Thus the construction of a terrible alphabet, word made flesh, written on bodies through scarification and tattooing. Bodies enter as elusive folds of flesh that lack unique identifying characteristics and leave as individuals, inscribed with their own unique semiotic signature, now worthy of alliance because they paid the painful price of membership.

When the same cruel practices are repeated today, they are significant because of their superfluousness. A tattoo may hold meaning for its wearer, but it no longer provides the signature that transforms a body into a member of a society. Papers now authorize one’s official existence, though the possibility of forgery makes the body remain a secondary means for verification. Clumsy documents draw few eyes away from the surface of the body. Rather, bodies are released from the compulsory marking to be made flexible, which is to say, more satisfying. When one’s papers are all that remains permanent, the body can be put under a state of constant transformation, bent to meet every moment’s demand. A freckle, tattoo, or odd mark therefore serves as a counterpoint, allowing permanence to serve either as a playful tell set against a background of uncertainty or a private protest against the desire to make everything negotiable.

The aim of subjection in the Metropolis is to shape the body. But the violence of subjection is now found in a system that preexists any given body. It is secret the operations of the fog machine and the whirring machinery hidden behind the walls that Chief Bromden senses throughout One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. These machines are never seen, they are only felt through changes in the climate, for they produce small shifts in environmental conditions to make docile bodies that are more likely to behave. Setting the right conditions is an ingenious development, as bodily manipulations are passed off as the triumph of existential liberalism– changes in attitude or diet appear as individual choices even although their actions were predicted far before they occurred. Prediction has long been a part of governance; demographic statistics made the Modern State possible, allowing it to fend off famines and their associated riots, while social insurance and sociological modeling helped the Social State flourish, as it was able to direct society through social engineering. But now, vast assortments of models deliver ideal outcomes without demanding virtuous behavior. These outcomes are made possible by a whole set of machines assembled to produce an environment that is hostile to us.

The Police was not always so atmospheric. Violence is the essence of policing, even when it is at its most preventative. Everything had its place in the Modern State, and The Police did its job to keep that order with violence and deterrent force. The Social State, in turn, introduced everything into mass society. In such a society, The Police made it clear that certain identities are undesirable and invested in masses that extend The Social in good faith. Predicates are thus used as leverage. Through biopolitical investment, The Social State used masses against one another, pitting white homeowners against blacks and business owners against the unemployed. The subjection of The Social thus determined success or failure, freedom or oppression. Yet masses have at least a minimal consistency and often fight wars of position, sometimes even rising up to change who does the policing. But as more enclaves are broken up and thrown into the fabric of the Metropolis, these conflicts become molecular. The greatest tool of The Police in Empire is thus stratification, which results in the Metropolis being polarized into not just two warring camps but a war without a clear enemy. Subjection does not completely evaporate but no longer comes guaranteed. Instead, the pain of inclusion is said to be all that stands between a body and the war of all against all. That way, subjects willingly take on their own subjection even when the system appears to be disintegrating.

The violent machines of subjection hidden throughout the Metropolis pose a unique problem for escape. It is clear that law uses the “blood dried in the codes” to make violence routine (Foucault, Society Must Be Defended, 10). Setting aside the abuses of power that it justifies, the other purpose of law is to delegitimize organized self-defense. Autonomy must then present itself to Empire as either a declaration of war or a harmless indulgence. Declarations of war have, in all but a few instances, resulted in disaster. The death of The Social has led to a fragmentation of mass society and the ability to constitute a mass-in-resistance within it. And in the hostile desert of the Metropolis, popular movements that rise to a mass scale lack militancy and discipline and are repressed with military-style policing. Alternately, autonomous elements that express themselves as harmless are either marginalized or incorporated. The general hostility of the Metropolis does not leave space for virtuous subjects; to exist is a negotiation with exploitation. Some subjects try to contain exploitation by bearing it themselves, but this does nothing to sap Empire’s power and only reduces their own. Others attempt transformation from within a set of rules designed to prevent system-wide transformation. Neither of these two approaches offer much hope for escape.

Escaping the machines of subjection thus requires a form of strike – not just a labor strike, but a strike against all the biopolitical investments that produce the contemporary subjects of the Metropolis. In fact, even the first proletariat began outside of labor and not within it, for the word ‘proletariat’ comes the Latin word for ‘offspring,’ which was used to describe those so impoverished that the only labor they could offer was childbirth (Eagleton, Why Marx Was Right, 169). This is why labor silently assumes reproduction even when capital purchases labor-power for the sake of production. Striking against the hidden tolls of reproduction thus initiates a human strike that begins with a refusal, which is not a literal refusal to be human but a refusal of the biopolitical subjection of the human. “They say it is love. We say it is unwaged work. They call it frigidity. We call it absenteeism” (Federici, Wages Against Housework). Such a strike does not imply that there is a true subject just waiting to be revealed, however. Good humanism has not been suppressed by Empire. Social solidarity has not been demolished by the Metropolis. Virtuous subjects are not awaiting in exile. Subjection is merely the process by which the objects of Empire perform its violence, all under the pretense that they are really subjects.

Human strike uses autonomy to begin the process of self-annihilation. But to launch an assault on one’s self is to misidentify the cause of the collective malaise. “Neuroses, suicides, desexualization” are “occupational diseases of the housewife” and not advances in the struggle (Federici, Wages Against Housework). A biopolitical strike must subvert the conditions that create the human, not any particular identity, until Imperial subjection becomes impossible. Escape is essential to this process, as oppressed subjectivities are worthy of temporary defense but must also set their own paths of escape. “Homosexuality and heterosexuality are both working conditions… but homosexuality is worker’s control of production, not the end of work” (Federici, Wages Against Housework). The abolition of Empire does not occur by taking over Empire but by separating bodies from their Imperial subjection. An autonomous power is then made to grow in that gap, its distance measuring the degree to which the machines of subjection can be used against themselves. This separation may at times appear as a Social struggle but it must end in all-out civil war within the Metropolis. Autonomy is only as good as it is antagonistic. There are no Social solutions to the present situation. No identity or plurality of identities wield enough Social power to entrap all of Empire’s violence. “I never wanted to be anything, I never wanted to be anyone.” Only when enough subjectivizing machines of Empire are jammed will the future begin to flourish.

Vein 2: Technical Management of Flows
Technical machines of management traverse the Metropolis as if it is a giant intermediary. The purview of these machines spans from the basic task of directing of human waste to the complex task of exploiting cultural conflict for profit. To complete these tasks, the machines perch between heterogeneous layers. Their operation begins with the constitution of flows – when Empire peels off heterogeneous layers of The Social, it sets them in communication in the Metropolis. By setting layers in communication rather than limiting them through reduction, the Metropolis thus multiplies their connections. The Metropolis, which reconstitutes the layers as a new assemblage, thus produces new connections whose excretions exhibit emergent patterns. But the products of those connections remain abstract and undetermined flows until they are selected, qualified, or blocked. Empire therefore finds technical objects within those material products, through which its machines operate. Just as a stoplight directs traffic, these machines transform points within the Metropolis into centers of gravity that draw in elements from the exterior and orient them with signs (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 395-402). Foucault spent his career documenting these “sites of veridiction,” spaces constructed at a certain intersection of institution and matter to speak truths as if they were subjects but to be as malleable as subjects (Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics, 33-7). Its crudest form exists in the Modern State where the mad that speak are thought to speak in a deceptive tongue that analysts artfully confine to the objective rules of language. But it is in the Metropolis where the technical objectification of the Social becomes so complete that criminologists, psychologists, and even economists could safely ask ‘who are you?’ instead of ‘what have you done’ and still get answers about killers, depressives, and commodities that reveal more than a simple history of infractions, outbursts, and prices.

Technical machines’ primary function is to frame, which regulates how things arise within that frame.[2] Much like organisms, which evolve by internalizing aspects of their external environment, assemblages produce products within themselves. Further extending the analogy of the organism, it could be said that these products are mere extensions of the assemblages, as organisms may appear as the mere accretion of flows rhythmically circulating between the bodies and environment: material flows of food and energy, social flows of bonding and reproduction, and psychic flows of perception and cognition. But between the interior and exterior lies a regulatory mechanism, a membrane, which negotiations connections separating the organism from its surroundings. The function of the membrane is regulative and therefore introduces tendencies, but it is not constitutive and thus provides neither determinism nor a total picture. And within this small fold of the outside created inside the organism, the separation is consummated when an autonomous power grown from its own organs allows it to double the outside, freeing the organisms to seek out different milieus.

Within Empire, Biopower operates as such a membrane. Yet Imperial Biopower does not act on behalf of organisms and each individuated life, Biopower modulates the general environment. Empire’s technical machines reverse the flow of life, tearing open The Social’s protective organs, exposing the contents of institutions to the Metropolis. And with this exposure, even transgression and sexuality become open secrets. Bankers fondle their money on reality TV, the bourgeoisie fuck the proletariat in public, and the citizens of Empire get aroused watching political assassinations on the ‘net (Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, 293). The terrifying power of Empire’s technical control of flows arrives under a libertine guise. But Empire provides allowances and not freedom, as it tolerates deviations only as long as they return more productive results. Otherwise, allowance is a thinly veiled excuse for technical abandonment. And once Empire abandons The Social’s project of sustaining certain forms of life, its technical machines simply set general environmental conditions for any life whatsoever to benefit so long as it is dependable for Empire when it counts.

The technical machines of Empire focus on a specific type of connection: inclusive disjunction. This disjunction forges a connection that transforms through the addition of a created difference rather than reducing through essentialization. Yet the effects that Empire is looking for are found in the Metropolis itself rather than any particular new subject or object of governance, which should not be confused for any individual product. Technical machines create a passive ongoing introduction of difference as “distributions and of co-ordinates that serve as points of reference” that allows Empire to capture all production according to all of the potential “permutations between differences that always amount to the same as they shift and slide around” (Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, 4, 12). The management of Empire thus functions as a conductor for a dissipative system whose far-from equilibrium state requires a constant introduction of external energy to maintain self-organization. This constant predation on the outside often appears as ‘mere propensity’ for equal exchange, but expansion is essential to its survival, as evinced by dead zones in the Metropolis where Empire either short-circuited or burned out. So while disjunctive inclusion assures that Empire regulates everything and everywhere in the Metropolis, it is also true that Empire does not extend equally into every street corner or subjectivity. This blurring of the boundaries is not meant to obscure, as there are apt metaphors to describe Empire’s movement: it hops without covering like a blanket, which makes the world spiky and not flat. It is Lyotard’s description of the unfolding of the social body that perhaps best illustrates how technical machines unfold The Social in an effort to make every part of the Metropolis be able to connect to any other:

Open the so-called body and spread out all its surfaces: not only the skin with each of its folds, wrinkles, scars, with its great velvety planes, and contiguous to that, the scalp and its mane of hair, the tender pubic fur, nipples, hair, hard transparent skin under the heel, the light frills of the eyelids, set with lashes–but open and spread, expose the labia majora, so also the labia minora with their blue network bathed in mucus, dilate the diaphragm of the anal sphincter, longitudinally cut and flatten out the black conduit of the rectum, then the colon, then the caecum, now a ribbon with its surface all striated and polluted with shit; as though your dressmaker’s scissors were opening the leg of an old pair of trousers, go on, expose the small intestines’ alleged interior, the jejunum, the ileum, the duodenum, or else, at the other end, undo the mouth at its comers, pull out the tongue at its most distant roots and split it, spread out the bats’ wings of the palate and its damp basements, open the trachea and make it the skeleton of a boat under construction; armed with scalpels and tweezers, dismantle and lay out the bundles and bodies of the encephalon; and then the whole network of veins and arteries, intact, on an immense mattress, and then the lymphatic network, and the fine bony pieces of the wrist, the ankle, take them apart and put them end to end with all the layers of nerve tissue which surround the aqueous humours and the cavernous body of the penis, and extract the great muscles, the great dorsal nets, spread them out like smooth sleeping dolphins. Work as the sun does when you’re sunbathing or taking grass . . . it is not this displacement of parts, recognizable in the organic body of political economy (itself initially assembled from differentiated and appropriated parts, the latter never being without the former), that we first need to consider. Such displacement, whose function is representation, substitution, presupposes a bodily unity, upon which it is inscribed through transgression. There is no need to begin with transgression, we must go immediately to the very limits of cruelty, perform the dissection of polymorphous perversion, spread out the immense membrane of the libidinal ‘body’ which is quite different to a fume. It is made from the most heterogeneous textures, bone, epithelium, sheets to write on, charged atmospheres, swords, glass cases, peoples, grasses, canvases to paint. All these zones are joined end to end in a band which has no back to it, a Moebius band which interests us not because it is closed, but because it is one-sided, a Moebian skin which, rather than being smooth, is on the contrary (is this topologically possible?) covered with roughness, corners, creases, cavities which when it passes on the ‘first’ turn will be cavities, but perhaps on the ‘second’, lumps. But as for what turn the band is on, no-one knows nor will know, in the eternal turn. The interminable band with variable geometry (for nothing requires that all excavation remain concave, besides, it is inevitably convex on the ‘second’ turn, provided it lasts) has not got two sides, but only one, and therefore neither exterior nor interior (Libidinal Economy, 1-3).

Technical machines produce technological objects to assist their operation. The machines produces two different types of objects, although they are nearly identical and generally convertible: tools and weapons (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 395). The difference between the two can be distinguished through use and concept; first by their orientation of force, and second in their relationship to movement. In their orientation of force, tools are introceptive, they centripetally draw forces inward toward a center of power – the net or hunting. Alternately, weapons are projective, they send forces on accelerating paths outward – the missile or martial arts (395). And in terms of speed, a tool is relative to a substance it seeks to dominate, as in a hunter who arrests the movement of their prey. On the other hand, a weapon has unlimited speed, as its speed is not pegged to anything and is thus free to pursue acceleration for its own sake (396).

The technical machines of Empire aim to transform every object into a tool. With tools, Empire is able to construct introceptive compositions of desire that expand subjects’ capacity for sending and receiving direction. Empire thus establishes gravitational centers amidst the growing exteriority of the Metropolis. And from those points of power, Empire not only directs flows but also puts them to work. Unlike free action, which powers the conceptual motor of weapons, work uses tools to capture and direct force (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 397-403). By framing the Metropolis as a problem of work, Empire actualizes a specific model for producing force that operates on an exterior, meets resistances during incorporation, loses its cause at the completion of every task, and requires renewal for each use (397). The hallmark of the so-called neoliberal turn of Empire reduces production to the work of expropriation – a new rentier class emerges, as developers draft artists as homesteaders in the new urban frontier; and the paradigm of securitization and risk now sets best practices for business, government, and family. This expropriation will continue as long as the tattered remnants of The Social exist, with Empire squeezing dry every institution of The Social, privatizing its capital and emptying the subjects of its enclosure, only to hop to the next in the dwindling stock of holdouts to eke out whatever surplus might be left.

Subjects unable to think outside the motor of work often turn to a naive escapism. This naive escapism looks for places outside the reach of the Metropolis, as if Empire could be starved to death. But such fugitives are usually trapped in a struggle over the same surplus as Empire and are in danger of transforming their autonomy into a tool of work. A few truly autonomous subjects have established forms of life outside of Empire’s networks of dependency, the most recognizable being the peasant. The peasant’s engagement with Empire is a take-it-or-leave it proposition, as they can always rely on their preformed way of life to provide. But most citizens of Empire can only take partial leave, if any at all, because Empire has established the Metropolis as the transcendental condition for life. And with few exceptions, life without the modes of association, subsistence, mobility, and communication provided by Empire is unimaginable. Even the most ambitious attempts to live autonomously from Empire’s influence still requires that these free spirits find flows to latch onto, like in guerrilla warfare, “that little war in which you have to find allies in fog, damp and the height of rivers, in the rainy season, the long grass, the owl’s cry, and the phase of the moon and sun” (Genet, Prisoner of Love, 125). Withholding from Empire does not deny it of anything and only fuels its campaign of abandonment. Only when the alienated separation of the Metropolis is turned into an offensive force against Empire does autonomy reappear as a threat to Empire. Rather than hiding out in pockets adjacent to the Metropolis, as if they did not operate under the precepts of technical management, effective modes of escape must then take their lead from the guerrilla, who uses aspects of the Metropolis against Empire to undermine its obviousness and necessity

Weapons are one way to expropriate the expropriators; they are former tools freed from the chains of work. Free action exploits the convertibility of technological objects by selecting, converting, or even inventing speeds that exceed work’s gravity. Changing the usage of an object is not an individual choice, however, but an effect of the whole ensemble of forces in which the technology is deployed. In contrast to work, free activity is powered by perpetual mobility and thus does not overcome resistances, as it joins with already present forces to orient and provoke additional acceleration (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 396, 395). To the extent that weapons account for their origin as tools, weapons assume production, resistance, expenditure, and displacement and then exceed all these aspects with the exercise of speed (398). Weapons are thus the effect of unworkable flows. Following Nietzsche, Empire understands that “work is the best policeman,” but even work in unable to rein in certain automatically generated dimensions of the Metropolis (Daybreak, §173, 105). There are four problematic flows in particular that work is incapable of resolving: matter-energy, population, food, and the urban (468). Weapons are the consequence of assemblages that frame these problems, and others, as reservoirs of free activity. Behind the doomsday scenarios of energy crisis, sobering analyses of social stratification, forecasts of spreading food riots, and lament over the explosion of global slums lies a motor perpetually inventing new weapons against Empire.

Yet the mere existence of irresolvable flows does not itself cripple Empire. In fact, Empire benefits when certain problems appear irresolvable for all time – permanent crisis calls for technical management in perpetuity. The recurring issue of crime makes The Police an inevitable but incomplete response, while urban decline forever opens up new opportunities for developers. Radicals looking to establish a platform against Empire usually identify an especially egregious instance of management to condemn or block, but political interventions premised on short moments of voluntary action mistake political mobilization for the movement of perpetual flows. The defense of a single house against foreclosure or even a whole neighborhood against gentrification does not dislodge urbanization.

Empire’s general environment of hostility can be successfully confronted. But only the weapons joined with the centrifugal speed of Empire’s irresolvable flows are sufficient to overcome the tools of its technical machines. Empire claims that food shortages are problems in distribution and is happy to help you organize a charity food drive, yet The Black Panthers launched a revolutionary party on the premise that there was more than enough food go to around. Empire claims that unemployment is the result of glitches in the economy and assists everyone looking for a job, yet youth across the world launch revolutions having realized that Empire has abandoned them, but also because they have better things to do than work. Empire claims that peasants degrade valuable land by living too simply and shows them how to grow cash crops, yet peasants in Mexico and Bolivia rose up against the government when their way of life was threatened and established their own self-governed municipalities (Esteva and Prakash, Grassroots Post-Modernism; Zibechi, Dispersing Power). Empire claims that gangs pose a threat for its citizens and encourages neighbors to ‘say something when you see something,’ yet marginalized urban populations control their neighborhoods by setting up informal networks and other markets in their struggle against the degradation of Empire. None of these paths are ideal, few have succeeded in subverting the Metropolis, and some result in violence and domination as brutal as Empire, but they all demonstrate examples of weapons that arise in the movement of flows. Ultimately, the great hope of escape is to find weapons powerful enough to destroy Empire’s motor of work, to reveal the world of free activity behind the Metropolis.

Vein 3: Spectacular Time
The Metropolis appears timeless, but the timelessness does not represent a utopia where time has been overcome – only the reign of the perpetual present. Empire set up the Metropolis as the transcendental condition for anything to emerge but presents it as a transcendent absolute. The future is thus abolished from the Metropolis, even as a horizon, to be revived only as fantasy.

To the extent that time still exists in the Metropolis, it is simply a variable measured by tools for limiting and controlling time as something to be saved (Lefebvre, The Production of Space, 95). In its measurement, time is isolated and drained of intensity so as to be integrated into a field of all possible extensions of the present. This prevents lived time from becoming historical time. Such an economic awareness of time, as something wasted or spent, sets time against itself with the appearance that all time emerges equally from the same source and is thus subject to universal comparison and substitution. Moreover, in a world where every moment is like any other, historical time disappears as “contemporary events themselves retreat into a remote and fabulous realm of unverifiable stories, uncheckable statistics, unlikely explanations and untenable reasoning” (Debord, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, 16). Even though it brags of its resplendent potential, the Metropolis is therefore a boring place where nothing conclusively new ever appears.

Empire arrests time through separation. Time is stolen in the Metropolis as capital steals from the proletariat, with alienation: subjects are divided against themselves and their activity, allowing the producers to be separated from their products. Alienation and estrangement are the present condition. Yet even more important than the initial theft is the mode of compensation used to complete the deception. Neoclassical economists repeat Adam Smith’s founding myth of money, rooted in the double coincidence of wants, whereby an orange farmer may not want apples from his neighbor but is happy to make the sale if he receives money, which is not a product but a medium of exchange. This just-so story makes a capitalist labor arrangement appear to be a simple exchange of the products of labor for money, which is infinitely more convertible than labor’s product and should be appealing to labor. Yet workers do not sell products to their employer but their time, which is a commodity that is sold for less than the value it produces. The real theft of capital and the key to Empire’s exploitation is thus the alienation of subjects from their time. Moreover, just as money’s operation as a medium of exchange hides the exploitation of labor, the future is masked within the Metropolis.

Space is Empire’s mechanism for the concealing its theft of time. The Spectacle seeks to replicate the pile-up of atoms that occurs every time it rains in Epicurus’ metaphysical universe to facilitate accumulation in its space of encounter, the Metropolis (Althusser, “The Underground Current of the Materialism of the Encounter”). The challenge for Empire is that each drop has a lightness that bends toward many potential paths. Other State-forms use the weight of accumulated space to synchronize the pace of differentials. The disciplining procedures of the Modern State demonstrate some of the elemental forms of spatial control of time, as in the economy of time of eighteenth-century warfare, where objects’ time is controlled by articulating them with a body and setting the body’s gestures to a timetable – “Bring the weapon forward. In three stages. Raise the rifle with the right hand, bringing it close to the body so as to hold it perpendicular with the right knew;” “the duration of the marching step will be a bit longer than one second. The oblique step will take one second; it will be at most eighteen inches from one heel to the next…” (Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 135-169, 153, 151). This form of disciplined time synchronizes speeds through enclosure and measure, which sets a single common time.

But even as the factory bell still rings in many of Empire’s schools and an economy of motion can be found throughout the Metropolis, the time of The Spectacle is not disciplined time. Empire is less concerned with restricting space and time within manageable blocks of the barracks or factory, which treat space as a container and time as means for coordination. Rather, just as capitalism abstracts labor by proletarianizing workers, which begins with removing them from their means of subsistence and reducing them to absolute poverty, The Spectacle abstracts time through dislocation, which treats it not as an object but as a source of power; moreover, just as labor’s potential is displaced by an artificial medium, currency, that translates qualitative labor into a quantitative measure, the abstract potential of time is similarly displaced but through a different countable medium, space.[3] For abstract space, The Spectacle produces a quantitative and formal space, stripped down to mere object – “a set of things/signs and their formal relationships: glass and stone, concrete and steel, angles and curves, full and empty” (Lefebvre, The Production of Space, 49). Interestingly, because this abstract system has shed the social shell of representation, it need not be universally apprehended, let alone understood or believed. All abstract space must do is operate.

The novelty of abstract space is how it simultaneously facilitates spatial differentiation and temporal closure. At first glance, abstract space appears to produce differences itself, but upon closer inspection it is obvious that abstract space expands by appropriating difference from the outside (Lefebvre, The Production of Space, 389-391). Yet in its means of appropriation, such as unfolding spaces of enclosure, abstract space maintains a differential field – everywhere in the Metropolis, laughter, music, sex, dance, language, and film mutate and change despite certain restrictions. Amidst this flourishing difference, however, the present expands like a vast desert. The halting power of space comes from its heterogeneity, which The Spectacle uses to homogenize time into the never-ending present by translating quality into quantity. As the power of money is to command labor without relinquishing the fruits of labor, the power of abstract space is to control time without releasing the future.

Empire’s dislocation produces time that is “a time of times,” “a complex time that cannot be read in the continuity of the time of life or clocks, but has to be constructed out of the peculiar structures of production” that exists as an “‘intersection’ of the different times, rhythms, turnovers, etc.” apprehended only “in its concept, which, like every concept is never immediately ‘given’, never legible in visible reality” (Althusser and Balibar, Reading Capital, 101-2). The result of this complex intersection of time is not an underlying time by which all other times are set or even measured but a mediating circuit of abstract space and the temporalities it issues and revokes (Lefebvre, The Production of Space, 95-99). Moreover, The Spectacle leverages time against space by charting a path through the cycles of the Metropolis before committing to their extension. Time enables Empire to lay out a structure to overdetermine the contingency of the Metropolis’s space of encounter. Just as “a spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells,” Empire’s worst architects triumph over the best bees because “the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality” so “at the end of every labour-process, we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the labourer at its commencement” (Marx, Capital, Volume 1, Chapter 7). Recognizing the implication of this argument – that it is time being gutted and not some idealized version of the human – Marx further clarifies the distinction with the declaration that “time is everything, man is nothing; he is at the most time’s carcass” (The Poverty of Philosophy, Chapter 1.2). Empire thus mocks the search for authenticity, which holds that lived time as the only authentic experience, an illusion that the Spectacle can provide without threatening its iron grasp on the future.

Whatever living time The Spectacle preserves, it presents it as memory or meaningless abstractions. While the present passes as one continuous line, the past and future do not (Deleuze, Bergsonism, 53). The past exists as a collection of the present after it has passed; these past-presents then gather like a photonegative to be projected onto the now-present. Alternately, the future already existing in the present as anticipation, which is not the future itself but ideas of the possible futures. To freeze the vitality of time in the Metropolis, The Spectacle translates each side of time into the permanent nostalgia of relics and the infinitely malleable but empty code of calculus; captured in photographs as moments already passed and traded as the variable potential of commodity futures (Internationale Situationniste, 57). Locked into abstract space and made visual, time is experienced through either loss or interchangeability – as either a string of departed moments or a set of equivalences within an economy of differential space. The result is that images of futures that depart from the present are so overburdened by cynical ideology that they are sold for cheap thrills and every politician comes of age by denouncing ‘utopian thinking.’ The only believable future is painted from the same palette as the present, subject to the same rules and relations, and objectively constituted by the same things, only with duller colors.

Covering up the alienation of time with the permanent spatial extension of the present is not Empire’s original sin. Neither non-futurity nor quantitative abstraction need to be treated as wound in need of healing. Or to put it another way, “the more we contemplate, as spectators, the degradation of all values, the less likely we are to get on with a little real destruction” (The Situationist International, Leaving the 20th Century, 102). When considered from this perspective, alienation should not be subject to melancholic lament, which would only birth political formations that court moments that never come. Rather, the alienation of time raises different questions: what can be done with alienation? how can finitude and dislocation be turned into strategic resources?

The Sex Pistol’s prophetic exclamation of “No Future!” is not an admission of defeat but a rallying cry. It is spoken by those who find finitude refreshing, delivered in a reassuring tone to those who want nothing to do with the future presented to them, and offers a common refrain for those who reject any reproduction or extension of the present. It directly addresses reactionaries who label their enemies as harbingers of the apocalypse, such as hate-mongers who claim that queers “so hate the world that will not accept them that they, in turn, will accept nothing but the destruction of that world,” by promising follow-through (Worthy, The Homosexual Generation, 184). It breaks with alternativism, which only thinks about a future that stands on the shoulders of the past. Instead, it pronounces that whatever indiscernible time subsists outside the Metropolis must be better than all the past, presents, and futures made visible by The Spectacle. The exact details of how to live without a future is contentious, but everyone seems to agree that it begins when one stops being a good citizen (Bersani, Homos, 113).

Embracing finitude turns the alienation of time into a political position. Its politics uses alienation as a fulcrum to pit the exploited products of Empire against its beneficiaries. This process begins by abandoning forced austerity and its measured scarcity. Finitude turns away from reproduction, both as an aim and a source of power. Cynicism, depression, and hopelessness fill reservoirs unleashed against Empire in revenge for the wounds it causes. Dangerous emotions pose a threat, not just to those who bear them but their source, Empire – the political imperative is to channel them. This should not be understood as an uncritical celebration of alienation or a politics of ressentiment. But these dangerous emotions are not unhealthy reactions to a sound world; they should be everyone’s natural reaction to the terrible situation facing us all. To throw them away would only rob some subjects of the only thing Empire has ever given them. So instead of avoiding their terrifying energy, dangerous emotions can be made political by giving them an orientation (Bergen, “Politics as the Orientation of Every Assemblage”). This politics can become reactionary, as when it is used to restore a lost time or attack abstraction with stubborn disbelief. But once politics is freed from the demands of preservation, reproducibility, and repetition, innovation, difference, and singularity begin to flourish.

Unfettered from scarcity, finitude takes on an excessive quality, precipitating a future otherwise made unavailable. Enveloping their finitude, subjects become unresponsive to risk, debt, and other tools designed to temporally limit their behavior and begin living futures not possible in the present. These lives are no longer punctuated by the same reference points as the citizens of Empire, which gives them access to potentials that they are expected to withhold from themselves. The political test is whether subjects engaged in a politics of excess will exhaust Empire by releasing temporalities that make the Metropolis ungovernable or only condemn themselves to a bleaker reality in the process.

Dislocation contains a different set of potentials. Rather than treating the loss of time as an enabling condition, as finitude does, the politics of dislocation attends to the non-simultaneity of the simultaneous. Even if time is subjectively experienced in The Spectacle as a never-ending present, that present is not a single time but a collection of times. The uneven process of dislocation thus constitutes a peculiar present where:

not all people exist in the same Now. They do so only externally, by virtue of the fact that they may all be seen today. But that does not mean that they are living at the same time with others. Rather, they carry earlier things with them, things which are intricately involved. […] Times older than the present continue to effect older strata; here it is easy to return or dream one’s way back to older times. […] In general, different years resound in the one that has just been recorded and prevails. Moreover, they do not emerge in a hidden way as previously but rather, they contradict the Now in a very peculiar way, awry, from the rear. The strength of this untimely course has become evident; it promised nothing less than new life, despite its looking to the old (Bloch, “Nonsynchronism and the Obligation to Its Dialectics,” 22).

Thus the only thing synchronous about the many times of the present is their simultaneous appearance. As a consequence, differential elements migrate in and out of the shared space of the Metropolis, remaining unified by Empire’s constitution of a common present. Their contrasting temporalities are made evident – but only as dislocations within the present and visualized in abstract space.

Empire does not control those times like a State. States present static images of themselves as eternal and unchanging. But Empire does not seek to monumentalize the Metropolis, which is pregnant with disjointed times sprung from the folds of other social formations. Empire does not strip those times of their force or march them to a single cadence. Rather, Empire draws on the power of differentials, alienating that power from its source by cloaking the Metropolis in false cyclical time (Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, Theses 148-163). Made cyclical, time is given a false movement that always returns time to the same moment. Thus, even as the Metropolis takes on a differential appearance in space, it presents every new moment as a simple repetition of the last.

Empire’s movement proceeds by way of rhythm. Coordinating the various cycles of the Metropolis, Empire creates a vibration that builds correspondence between space and time. This is not the well-drilled marches that Foucault found so interesting, though Empire does maintain them to dazzle subjects wistfully searching for authoritarian order in an age of chaos. Dislocation instead demands that Empire produce an odd rhythm:

Even in biology, the movement of feet, while they alternate when walking, represent a mutually engaged dance and not a friction-generating struggle. Sometimes there is hopping, and both feet move simultaneously parallel. An alternating gate does not represent movement at cross-purpose. In jazz, a syncopated rhythm does not produce dissonance. Movement is first and foremost transgression. It is not transcendence or synthesis (Anonymous).

A radical politics of dislocation therefore targets Empire’s rhythm, which reframes the power of antagonism. Antagonism cannot form a grand counter-rhythm, as the molecular potential of the Metropolis is neither decisive nor precise enough to muster a finely-coordinated counter response. The greatest potential for antagonism within the Metropolis comes from times that never fall into step.

Time leaks from the present, providing the material for a politics of dislocation. By a first approximation, as liquid escapes from holes in a pipe – inefficiencies in a system that remain forgettable as long as small puddles never turn into massive torrents. But following a more illustrative example, the Metropolis leaks time as moles and whistleblowers release information. There is plenty to leak, as the relations of externality that constitute the Metropolis makes it so Empire governs through inconsistencies, contradictions, hypocrisy, double-talk, and unfair treatment rather than in spite of it. The error emerges from the assumption that revealing these inconsistencies somehow neutralize their power. But the uneven ground of the Metropolis ensures that Empire will never be consistent, and Empire itself appears less concerned with containing or preventing these leaks than turning them to its own advantage. This is because Empire has internalized the Maoist lesson that the two sides of a contradiction need not end in compromise when both sides can be used to one’s advantage.

Rhythm is fortunately grounded in “the rhythm of feet,” which, “whether intentionally or not,” produces a rhythmic sound that cannot help but generate difference, as “two feet never strike the ground with exactly the same force,” “can be larger or smaller according to individual constitution or mood,” and because “it is also possible to walk faster or slower, to run, to stand still suddenly, or to jump” (Canetti, Crowds and Power, 31). The power of this difference is felt in the crowd. “The means of achieving this state was first of all the rhythm of their feet, repeating and multiplied, steps added to steps in quick succession conjure up a larger number of [people] than there are” (31). The effect is not a single coordinated mass, but a rhythmic or throbbing crowd, a disjointed crowd motivated by the sound of footsteps. This sets the stage for a politics of rhythm, which emerges from “steps added to steps in quick succession” that “conjure up a larger number of [people] than there are” (31). Rather than disrupting Empire’s rhythm, these movements are a creative production of their own, ecstatic rhythms that beat to tempos independent of the ones that pervade the Metropolis (Tiqqun, The Cybernetic Hypothesis). These rhythms have the potential to disrupt the temporality of the Metropolis, but to do so, they must dislocate the present in both space and time so it can never be returned to.

Vein 4: A System of Compulsory Visibility
Once the plague appeared in the seventeenth-century Modern State, certain measures were ordered to be taken. It began with shuttering the town, locking residents into their homes, and emptying the streets of anyone but officials. After segmenting the town so it could be swept section-by-section, inspection became the norm – all functionaries were deputized as monitors, and sentinels were appointed to watch every gate and street. Daily, a legion of syndics were dispatched to review the health of all residents. Their inspection began with a syndic stopping by every house; the inhabitants were required to appear in the window before him, he called each by name, recorded the health of each person, and if an inhabitant did not appear, the inspector determined why. “Everyone locked up in their cage, everyone at their window, answering to their name and showing themselves when asked – it is the great review of the living and the dead” (Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 196, modified to be gender neutral). From these daily reports, the duties of the lowliest of syndics produced a system of reports that became a “system of permanent registration” good enough for even the magistrate or mayor, for it contained the age, sex, and condition of everyone within the town (196). While it is unlikely that the actual task was undertaken with the precision outlined in the general order, it was no doubt executed carefully enough to indulge the fantasy it creates: a world where regulation utterly pervades all aspects of everyday life that every individuals was laid bare by power, so that control acted not on “masks that were put on and taken off,” but through “the assignment to each individual of their ‘true’ name, their ‘true’ body, their ‘true’ disease” (198, gender modified).

At its most basic level, the plague city’s system of permanent registration is a mode of communication. As communication, registration constructs a strange type of connection because it connects anomalous pieces, such as bodies to a voice and appearance, and not other bodies, drawing a transversal thread through organs – thus hunger is expressed not by forcing another’s stomach to growls but in pleading them for food or showing them the emaciated angles of one’s body. As a mode of communication, registration is also a type of transmission, yet one that returns in the final instance to a subject. Famine or disease are thus centered on an active subject, communicated with the declaration, ‘we need food!’ or ‘he is stricken.’ And even in the event of circumlocution, there is still a subject, even if it is carefully avoided. This communication is unlike circulation, however, because registration communicates only after affixing attributes to the subject. Ultimately, the connections that registration forges through communication are not kept internal to the subject but facilitate transmissions between a definite subject and its outside. In these openings, pierced by the outside, registration splits the subject open to soliciting sights and sounds for observation, recording, and intervention. Registration therefore demonstrates how a mode of communication can also function as a mode of control.

Even after the plague was treated and gone, the Modern State retained the system of permanent registration. Maintaining such a system for all aspects of life proved overburdensome, so Modern States ultimate abandoned so-called Police States where registration would control existence down to the smallest detail. The Social State developed an innovative approach to permanent registration that triumphs over the problems such a system posed for the Modern State – selective use. The selectivity of the Social State enabled exclusion, which results in the differential treatment of subjects and flows whereby it regulates them with less surveillance, not more. And unless the excluded become nomads able to find an autonomous way of life, Biopower leaves them to flounder if not die. So while the Social State constructed the massive system of The Social on the basis of permanent registration, it did so as a ‘frugal state,’ which posits that governance works best when it is efficient and offered only to subjects that have won its favor.

Empire, however, is unwilling to support even the subjects willing to compete for its favor. At most, it provides the means to ‘help them help themselves.’ And it is for that purpose that Empire preserves the system of permanent registration. Each of measures set up for the plague city can be found in the Metropolis: there are bodies that are treated as individuals, locations where they are registered, places where they are commanded to appear, names to which they must respond, and records that report their condition. And yet, while the compulsory system of appearance that arose in the Modern State still exists in the Metropolis, the treatment regimen it was constructed for does not. Empire makes exposure mandatory, enjoining subjects to reenact the drama of the plague, but it modifies the ending by withholding the cure. And due to this mandatory exposure, all the residents of the Metropolis are given a voice – but only to confess why they are not already dead.

As a consequence of Empire’s use of registration, life in the Metropolis is not required to understand anything. Subjects are not required to understand what they do or why things operate the way they do. This is because it is not necessary to dupe anybody when it is easier to confuse them. The Metropolis is thus full of clutter, filled with enough incomplete theories, half-truths, and distracting stories that meaningless habits seem preferable to the difficulties of thought. In spite of these confusing surroundings, subjects are still expected to profess investments, intentions, and beliefs. To compensate, Empire experiments with forms of knowledge so it can still reliably trust confused subjects. For a time, psychoanalysts dominated marketing firms and ad agencies, selling secret codes for unlocking consumer deepest urges. After a while, survey teams replaced the mysteries of the unconscious with scientifically-designed studies, hoping that buyers act in the market just as they act in the lab. And now marketing has entered the age of neuromarketing: psychologists armed with brain scanners search for autonomic responses strong enough to circumvent humans’ rational faculties altogether. What these different approaches have in common is that they identified visibilities similar to the ones made available through compulsory registration.

Empire demands that every appearance exist as a positivity, regardless of how it is generated. While only the seeable and sayable determined how subjects received treatment in the plague city, absolutely anything that can be recorded is gathered in the Metropolis. This marks a revolution in the permanent system of registration whereby speech and writing are replaced by code. Through code, the Metropolis becomes the fulfillment of the fantasy of unlimited presence. Even negation is recorded as a positivity, and whatever cannot be recorded is treated as if it does not even exist. Moreover, while speech and writing is intended for humans, code is intended for humans and intelligent machines. By translating the Metropolis into the language of intelligent machines, Empire augments human system with the computational power. Empire thus sets codability as the condition for appearance in the Metropolis, dispatching less refined forms of control to deal with whatever escapes the codes.

The positivities of the Metropolis make possible Empire’s adaptive system of control. In systems such as the Modern State, division operates through a general binary whereby everything in a particular category marked for exclusion. Even in floating system of The Social, where exclusions are under constant revisions, division occurs by relegating subjects to the outside. In the Metropolis, however, positivities are treated as intersections of multiple appearances, enabling Empire to differentially handle elements within a single shared category. Furthermore, the sea of positivities that constitute the Metropolis also changes how articulation functions. The Modern State considers each part to be a representative of a greater whole, a stand-in with access to the same resources as many other similar parts. Empire, however, selects visibilities for their composability – their ability to relate to and interact with other visibilities to form a composite, and the power that is produced in such fabrication. Thus, when Empire makes additional selections, it does not do so to produce the same effect but a differential one. By affording visibilities the ‘democracy’ of appearance whereby they all appear different but they all appear in the same way, Empire differentially and selectively administers division and articulation while claiming to have done away with the ills of exclusion and representation.

Empire’s democracy of appearance demotes humanity by opening the aperture of control to gain a wider grasp of the sensible. This ecological expansion of the senses listens to screaming yeast, surrenders bodies to their bacterial overlords, and looks for the Michelangelo of the stars. And the change of scenery empties the luster from the more arrogant forms of human expression they have grown accustomed to by overturning habits of thought wedded to bodily wholeness and psychic mastery. Yet Empire’s rigid anti-humanism does not follow from a project of liberation but enslavement; it changes its way of looking so as to tap into a wider array of material forces. Thus the widening of Empire’s gaze trades off the fine-tuned expressiveness of language for the force of code. As one programmer notes, language is useful for inventing poetry because its complex constructions grasp at nearly inexpressible things unavailable to code. In the end, code is not make for good reading because it only has one meaning: what it does; “its entire meaning is its function” (Ullman, “Elegance and Entropy”). The same goes for Empire, it produces effects in the Metropolis that are worth appreciation or even study, but behind Empire lies only one thing: the total domination of everything that appears.

Yet Empire does not tear humanity from the heavens all at once. The processural incompleteness of Empire’s anti-humanism produces potentials from pitting humanity against itself. Internet commenting exists as a powerful example of this conflict. When the complexity of human appearance is reduced to a handle or simply a timestamp, it becomes difficult to determine whether the commenter is even human at all. But even more interestingly, without the terrain of bodily appearance, modes of communication shift to regain traction. Particularly thorny aspects of human appearance such as gender or race reappear, but emerge from more dubious locations – gender-identity is inferred from self-reported tastes and race extends from the user’s location. But following in the footsteps of marketing, internet commentators often forgo facts for obvious inaccuracies, weird associations, or apparent nonsense. These commentators replace information transmission with affective charges, sending explosive missives simply meant to provoke rather than be understood. In this mode of communication – insinuation by association –messages are transmitted, but not as carriers of meaning between two easily identifiable subjects. This is not new to the Metropolis, as it is also found in anonymous pamphlets or unsigned images popular in other times and places, but it suggests a political power specific enough to disrupt the present configuration of the system of permanent registration. The system of registration has been called upon to launch a counter-attack against the dangers of arbitrary self-presentation and anonymity, requiring forms of authentication that tie accounts to verified identities. Despite those controls, insinuation has only grown and permeates most forms of online communication.

At a higher order of magnitude, Empire’s mode of communication produces another escape route: illegalism. Anticipating the coming unreliability of humanist veridiction, which assumes helpful subjects willing to provide dependable information based on thoughtful self-reflection, The Spectacle finds other avenues for generating visibilities. Empire extends the limited ‘truth of the market’ that was turned into a form of governance by the Social State into a regime of veridiction for all of the Metropolis. In turn, Empire is able to release its hold on The Social, letting it die a slow death, while opening up subjects and flows to other forms of registration. At its most extreme, Empire allows neighborhoods of the Metropolis to decline into a seedy underworld of degenerates, illegals, and cheats to complete its metamorphosis into a crime syndicate that finds a way to always take a cut, whether it be through skimming off the top, running protection rackets, blackmail and extortion, or outright theft. In abandoning the registration of The Social for less humanist systems, Empire taps into far greater reservoirs of value – from the inorganic body of the earth to the slowly-accumulated evolutionary wealth of living species – but in turn gives up on its most powerful mechanisms of social control. As visibilities shift and the Metropolis gnaws through what remains of The Social, fraud, piracy, and other anonymous behavior will only rise. The political challenge is to leverage the anti-humanist potential in modes of communication that undermine the system of permanent registration in the service of liberation, not exploitation.


[1] In their critique of psychoanalysis, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari argue that the unconscious is composed of desiring-machines that operate according to three syntheses: the connective synthesis of recording, the disjunctive synthesis of recording, and the conjunctive synthesis of consumption-consummation. Furthermore, they argue that each synthesis has legitimate and illegitimate uses, with illegitimate uses leading to errors of thought that impede the immanent flow of life. These syntheses are not limited to the operation of the unconscious, however, but are essential to the function of society, as every society is the result of social-production, which codes and directs the flows of desiring-production. It is my contention that the Metropolis is an effect of the legitimate use of the disjunctive synthesis of recording. In its illegitimate use, exclusive disjunction, the disjunctive synthesis creates an ‘either/or’ forced choice. In its legitimate use, however, the disjunctive synthesis of ‘either… or… or…’ whose effect is an intensive milieu that accesses the infinite of the virtual (Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, 12-13; 76-77).

[2] Despite widely divergent approaches, the frame is a concept that Deleuze and Derrida utilize similarly. For both of them, the frame is how bodies select their engagement with the exterior world. For Derrida, following Heidegger, metaphysics provides a structure, a frame, for the unveiling world that should be loosened. For Deleuze, following Bergson, life expands through an experimental deterritorialization of the earth. The implication of both approaches is that technical management temporally limits ontology (Dasein/becoming) but also provides a path for its undoing (deconstructive différance/lines of flight). Bernard Stiegler’s unification of the two approaches develops André Leroi-Gourhan’s concept of technical object in Technics and Time, 1: The Fault of Epimetheus far beyond Deleuze and Guattari’s use in A Thousand Plateaus, but it often comes to often startlingly conservative conclusions. In particular, his normative project to reverse the exteriorization of the human, central to the technics series but clearly stated in the For A New Critique of Political Economy, can be read as restoriationist conservation of a traditional image of the human. It is the intention of this work to provide a radical counterpoint.

[3] Bergson argues that space, which he calls extension, actualizes quantitative extension through a discontinuous multiplicity that forms an assemblage, while time, which he calls duration, is the qualitative intension of a continuous multiplicity as virtual potential.

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5 thoughts on “Chapter 3 – Disemboweling the Metropolis

  1. “The transformation is nothing short of revolutionary: the complete abolition of everything and the invention of something new in its place.”

    I’m always torn about the notion of a ‘total’ liberation – is it a necessary poetic turn of phrase, wherein we, like archers, aim high above our far-off target in order to generate enough arc to allow the arrow to strike true? Or is it a Christian theological (eschatological) kernel that still generates an unattainable perfection in our dreams – and as such, generates our despair?

    1. thanks for the comment, matt.

      I too find the logic of liberation troubling sometimes. I’m willing to consider the eschatological implications of it, though only if we de-theologize it. Karl Mannheim’s Ideology and Utopia has left an impression on me, where he basically says that all revolutionaries are eschatological. The consequence for Mannheim as well as me is not that we need to address our theological roots – in contrast to Agamben’s constant dredging of Christianity – but of the truly earth-shattering consequences of revolution. Unlike prefigurative anarchists or actually existing socialism, which only seem to tweak a few things here and there, I believe in the grandiosity of utopia.

      What do you think?

      1. “It comes to us from the future, a simple, elegant dream machine that spins as an orienting point of contact, offering to us what we wish and will to be possible, encouraging, powering, driving. In dreaming, we bear machinations of time. But this, our teleologic, is no inevitable calculation, it is no clockwork god or demon who pulls us as if on a leash through the wild and wonderful tumult of our earthly lives, it is not a deity who knows us beyond our own ken and will always be the external force who determines us, thought or action. A gardener’s dreams are not so real as that. A gardener’s dreams are not survival. They are life, bathed in blooming flowers, the strange majesty of growth, morning dewdrops scattering the sunlight and sunlight scattering the dew, the joking and irascible weeds, the humming drone of bees gathering nectar and pollen, territorial birdcalls and bungee-jumping caterpillars, the endless pilgrimage of the butterflies, the ceaseless feast of the annelids, waves of leaf and grass, combinations of soil nutrients and water, timing and chance, cycles within cycles within cycles. A gardener’s dreams are the promise an experiment, of dirty hands in the soil…”

  2. Yes, it comes from a story I’ve been working on. Glad you found something in it. I’m glad to share it here, too, as I’ve been moving through your dissertation and finding a lot of very important questions. Thanks for making it as accessible as you have!

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