In the beginning, there is escape. It arrives ahead of thought and vanishes before it can be caught.

And it is in this movement that escape can be brought to a close.

It Begins With Escape… (intensive escape)
Stories like those of the hill people resonate throughout the Metropolis, as many of its residents are restless souls that dream of other worlds just beyond the horizon of their own. There is something American about this craving and it is epitomized by the frontier mentality, which is an outgrowth out of sovereignty’s dual desire for conquest and divine providence. Yet escape exists far before the sovereign captures it for nationalist projects, for the first escape began before humanity or even life itself. In fact, the origins of escape stretch back to the earliest beginnings of the universe and the first differentiation of matter. In that sense, escape is the primordial movement that contains its own cause (Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza, 172). It need not be caused by anything but itself – said otherwise: escape comes first and is superior, ‘escape is,’ and only secondarily does escape exist as a reaction or rebound, as an ‘escape from’ or ‘escape to.’ More concretely, escape is the process of change found in all things, in the indeterminate dance of subatomic particles, the origami folding of proteins, the slow drift of mountains, and the mutant speciation of organic life. In short, escape is becoming, the force of change, but described through its converse: ’unbecoming’ (Grosz, “Bergson, Deleuze, and the Becoming of Unbecoming,” 10-11). Unbecoming can be arrested, restricted, or otherwise limited in many ways; of them, cultural confinements of escape are particularly potent. Capitalism, for instance, clothes itself in cultural representations of freedom, declaring itself as the enemy of slave labor and state control by being the guarantor of ‘the right to work,’ ‘free markets,’ and ‘free trade.’ As anarchists have long shown, these freedoms are not escape routes – the right of the worker to leave an employer does not lead to free existence, for “he is driven to it by the same hunger which forced him to sell himself to the first employer” and thus liberty, “so much exalted by the economists, jurists, and bourgeois republicans” is but a “theoretical freedom” that is “lacking any means for its possible realization, and consequently it is only a fictitious liberty, an utter falsehood” (Bakunin, “The Capitalist System,” 24). Escape suffers an additional cultural confusion that is even more basic: the notion that escape is an odyssey through space. From this perspective, escape is a migration from this place to that – leaving the country, running to the hills, finding refuge. But “some journeys take place in the same place, they’re journeys in intensity” (Deleuze, “Nomadic Thought,” 259-260). These adventures appear motionless because they “seek to stay in the same place” and instead escape by evading the codes (260). And as long as we fail to distinguish between these two uses of escape, extensive change and internal transformation, it remains a confused concept.

When escape is an evasion, and not a departure, it can be a potent political tool. That is not to say that creating distance between oneself and a potential captor is ineffective – exodus and withdrawal have been powerful tools of refusal, especially against the Archaic State. But it is no longer the Pharaoh that is nipping at the Israelites’ heels. Rather, Empire has set out a brutally productive system of control that has enclosed global space through distance-demolishing technologies, leaving behind a few isolated spaces as graveyards for the scattered peoples that remain there. In doing so, Empire internalizes its own outside and reconstructs it as the Metropolis, unfolding as a giant network of exteriorities. This theorization of Empire and the Metropolis owes much to previous scholarly work, namely Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s trilogy of Empire, Multitude, and Commonwealth, and the two journal issues of Tiqqun. Hardt and Negri, who deserve credit for their part in re-popularizing concepts like ‘Empire’ and ‘communism,’ offer a thoroughly intensive theory of escape. The path through capitalism, they argue, is the Common: the plentiful immaterial products of biopolitical production, such as communication and cooperation, which cannot be fully captured by Empire (Hardt and Negri, Empire, 348-349). Yet their version of the Common commits a cardinal offence according to Marx: Proudhonism. Just as Marx criticized social anarchist Jean-Pierre Proudhon of misunderstanding dialectics for thinking that capitalism had a good side that could be expanded and a bad side could be suppressed, one should object to Hardt and Negri’s support of biopolitical production and its product, the Common, as the good side of capitalism. For, if we follow Marx, “it is the bad side that produces the movement which makes history, by providing a struggle” (Poverty of Philosophy, Seventh Observation). And thus the Common is not a ‘good’ form of biopolitical production that can be wrested from the unscrupulous hands of Empire. This is not to say that capitalism will be defeated through a grand dialectical negation, for it certainly will not be, but it clarifies the role of the Common: the Common is the shared efforts of those who oppose the forces of Biopower and the Spectacle. Tiqqun is even more harsh on this point, accusing Hardt and Negri of “an incestuous relationship with imperial pacification” that wants “reality but not its realism” and thus “Biopolitics without police, communication without Spectacle, peace without having to wage war to get it” (Tiqqun, This Is Not A Program, 117). Yet they temper this criticism by concluding, like Marx against Proudhon, that “strictly speaking, Negrism does not coincide with imperial thought; it is simply the idealist face of political thought” (118). In place of Hardt and Negri’s idealist Common, Tiqqun turn to struggle through an ‘ethic of civil war.’ This struggle, however, is not a head-on confrontation with Empire through antagonistic battle but a diffuse warfare against its biopolitical fabric. Intensive escape can utilize this sense of struggle without elevating it an ethic of war, for Tiqqun indicates that struggle emerges from a “movement of separation” that breeds hostility to Empire (55). Some critics have misunderstood this separation, confusing its intensive movement with the extensive escape practiced by back-to-the-landers in search of a new outside. But intensive separation proceeds “through the middle” of the Metropolis by finding points of living and struggling within it (69).[1] Living follows from the reappropriation of space, the Common, violence, and other tools for basic survival, and struggling is the effect of imperceptible war machines that destroys the biopolitical fabric of the Metropolis. Alone, each leads to failure, as living alone softens into a narcissistic focus on difference while struggling alone hardens into an army that desires its own annihilation (69-70). With living-and-struggle together, the movement of separation makes its intensive escape from Empire. And it is this movement of separation that intensifies the distinction between all of the vain attempts to run away from Empire and the event of its defeat.

Empire cannot be defeated by a subject but only by the force of the outside. In the struggle against Empire, the most powerful forces do not strike like lightning but gradually tear open the Metropolis and cause it to leak. By liberating flows from the veins of the Metropolis, the byproducts of Empire are thus used against it. Against the violence machines of subjection, resistance takes the form of a human strike, which negates the forced reproduction of identity. By either evading or annihilating versions of the self, the human strike liberates the conflictual force of life. In revolt against the technical machines of management, technical objects are transformed from tools to weapons. When detached from their intended purpose, these weapons operate with newfound speed and intensity unavailable to Empire. As a rebellion against spectacular time, finitude brings together the dislocated times of the Metropolis. These odd times have limited lives but only need to be used to find unusual rhythms that break the monotony of the perpetual present. And in defiance of the system of compulsory visibility, the forces of anti-humanism, insinuation, and illegalism feed the hidden undercurrent of struggle. Spreading the chaotic effects of confusion, they work to make the Metropolis ungovernable. Unified only by a shared enemy, these subversions illustrate the potential of intensive escape: a new Common, not found in property but forged in struggle. It is difficult to say what will emerge from the ashes of the Metropolis. Yet what is certain is that the problems it addresses must cease to be problems at all. Just as Marx and Engels identify communism as the real movement that abolishes the present, sweeping away the State, private property, the exploitation of labor, and the class relation, the common struggle against Empire will dissolve the perpetual present, escaping the problems of governance, subjective interiority, the stratification of difference, and the fragmented self.

Escape Precedes Thought… (sensational politics)
Some things can only be sensed. These things perplex the soul, troubling, prodding, and pushing it into movement as though they “were the bearer of a problem” (Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, 140). No amount of good will prepares one for them, for these sensations are awakened through a violence that carries faculties “to their own limit,” which fries nerves and murders souls (145). Yet this violence brings sense and memory into a discordant harmony that can provoke an even more important faculty: thought. That is because thought only emerges under constraint. Thought is painful, and it is easy to rely on the idiocies and falsehoods of ‘what everybody knows,’ that is, until the event when one is forced to think. This is the thought of “philosophers of passion, of pathos, distinct from philosophers of logos” – they do not sing, but scream (Deleuze, “Cours Vincennes: Leibniz,” 7). The reason for the scream is that the force of thought comes from sensations – from how much they poke and prod – and these sensations defy preconceived recognition, which means that the persuasive force of concepts must be communicated through sensation as well (Williams, Transversal Thought, 23-24). And unlike the music of the scream, which surrenders the scream to other sounds to make an accord, these philosophers create concepts that depict only the effects of the scream, which builds a relationship with the forces of the scream without presenting them. These concepts thus impart thought with “invisible and insensible forces that scramble every spectacle, and that even lie beyond pain and feeling” (Deleuze, Francis Bacon, 60). To think, then, one does not calm the body to make it receptive to dispassionate information. Thought only comes after the body is made to spasm, opening it up as a plexus with the force of the scream to liberate “interior forces that climb through the flesh,” which ends in “the entire body trying to escape, to flow out of itself” (xi; xii).

As a concept, escape is filled with the screams of millions who protest the indignities of life in the Metropolis. It follows from a refusal to recite the psalms of purely philosophical discourses on politics, which have “always maintained an essential relation to the law, the institution, and the contract, all of which are the Sovereign’s problem, traversing the ages of sedentary history from despotic formations to democracies” (Deleuze, “Nomadic Thought,” 259). Rather, escape takes leave of ‘right,’ ‘peace,’ and ‘law’ to find the blood and corpses that cemented the foundation of the State. And in this journey, which began with the slaves of the terrifying magician-king and the devout followers of the merciful jurist-priest, escape highlights the importance of a cultural theory of the State. The significance of such a cultural theory expands beyond a typology of State-forms, however, as it fills out other accounts of the rise of liberalism. Michel Foucault’s historical account in Society Must Be Defended, for instance, considers the role that the philosophical-juridical discourse of sovereignty played in displacing the historico-political justification of State rule (57-58; 98-99). Through his investigation, Foucault shows how liberalism stands at the end of the Modern State’s long struggle to discursively erase its violence, which it does by inventing legal and rational discourses that deduce sovereignty through reason alone. While Foucault’s historico-political account of the triumph of governmental reason is persuasive, it pits the discourse of reason against the discourse of conflict and thus glosses the points of contact between them. This is where a cultural theory proves itself to be essential, as it can seal this connection with the concept of complementarity. Drawing from the cultural dimension of sovereignty, complementarity demonstrates how conquest and contract, each a pole of the State, work together to animate the State with its curious rhythm. Accordingly, the triumph of philosophico-juridical discourse over a historico-political one was not the result of a battle for and against the State but a squabble between sovereignty’s two poles. The cultural theory of the State therefore suggests that Society Must Be Defended should not be interpreted as a lament for a historico-political discourse of the State but as a genealogy of its absences. Moreover, as a genealogy, Foucault’s book skillfully demonstrates how historico-political discourse was taken up in specific, local acts of resistance to the State, which can erupt again in an insurrection of subjugated knowledges. What he fails to complete, however, is a history of cultural forms of escape that mobilizes the force of the outside. Only a cultural theory of escape, then, dares to dream beyond the horizon of the State.

Escape’s insurrection against State reason need not avoid discourse but must incite movement that carries thought far beyond it. Empire’s attempt to poison the cultural politics of emotion intensifies the dark appetites of the soul. Fragmented, discordant bodies now haunt the Metropolis, many of them aching to find a release for their negative affects. Most often, subjects only consume themselves in a slow gnawing misery or burn up in a single outburst. Yet a growing band of troublemakers have shown how to turn these dangerous forces against their source. Moreover, deep within the codes of digital culture, a new strategy has materialized. Borrowing from the strategies of bomb-throwing anarchists and the urban guerrilla, agents of subversion have found new ways to combat Empire. They exploit glitches, overload the circuits, and hide in the noise, turning the sprawling network of the Metropolis against its creator. Yet there is something even more monumental at stake than Empire. Digital culture has triggered an anthropological transformation nourished by underground forces that are hard to trace. This shift is occurring faster than we can theorize, and its effects are irreversible. There are those who resist these changes but perhaps they should be pushed to their limits. Negative affects fuel a human strike against the soul, whose dim interiority is a prison for the body. Tearing down its walls liberates the body, but only to cast it into a whole new universe of pleasures. Worrying about the particular pains and ecstasies that this new world will bring is not foolish, but it is impractical. Instead, we should dare to dream beyond measure, indulging in hallucinatory fantasies where our bodies have lost their interiors altogether and float like the stars, at one with the universe.

And Then It Vanishes… (beyond appearances)
At the height of its power, escape does not appear but disappears. And because it draws on the same power of unbecoming as the scream, its forces are also expressed best through relation rather than direct presentation. Invisibility and absence, disappearance and nonexistence, anonymity and illegibility, indistinguishability and indiscernibility all express its force.[2] In contrast, Empire derives its power from making things appear. Confronted by the Spectacle and its system of compulsory visibility, every thing is required to give an account of itself, which is broadcast through confession and the public display of preferences. Those accounts are then treated as positivities and managed by Biopower, reducing politics to order and movement in the space of appearance. Together, the Spectacle and Biopower carry out the two operations of Empire, circulation and management, and in turn administer the life of the Metropolis. To complete this process, however, Empire commands more than what it sees. In fact, Empire operates by maintaining a particular relationship between space, time, and appearance.

Empire intensifies its power with the assertion of space. And as a consequence, Empire freezes time. Stuck in a perpetual present, time slows to a standstill. As the veins of the Metropolis cover the earth, difference flourishes but things the same. Never before has so much changed without anything actually happening. Unlike the State-forms that precede it, Empire itself does not exist; it gives up material existence to become an incorporeal diagram whose intensive power only insists and persists in management and circulation. This control is extended in the Metropolis through space and the spatializing of power, which internalizes the force of the outside and renders bodies incapable of distantiation (Jameson, Postmodernism, 47-48). Moreover, spatialization taps into the foreign or otherwise incommensurate worlds of past and present, with their exotic rituals and eccentric rhythms of life, by relating them through space, which makes them concurrent. The effect of this spatialization is not the deadening of space, however, but of time.  And with all of the disjointed times of the Metropolis being re-captured in this way, Empire accelerates difference under the assurance that they will all result in the same perpetual present.

The State-forms the came before Empire dealt with the future through depth. The Modern State, paranoid of outside influence, ordered The Police to surround its subjects in enclosed blocks of space-time and commissioned Publicity to fill them with projective interiorities. The Modern State thus produced subjects whose power increased directly with the depth of their discipline. Yet this process is costly, so other States developed more frugal ways to abate external forces. The Social State, through a bargain with its outside, created The Social as an intermediary that exchanged between surface and depth to defend the present against the future. Two states exemplified this process, the Welfare State, which followed the triangle of Keynesianism-Fordism-Taylorism, and the Socialist State, which elevated The Social to a science. But Empire does not protect depth. In fact, its power comes from invading depth. Empire constructs the Metropolis with the force sprung from the spaces of interiority when they are unfolded. This makes the Metropolis a space of exposure and exteriority.

The power of escape does not come from occupying space. Rather, escaping the Metropolis requires that one exist but without appearing. It was the guerrilla hiding in the jungles of Brazil. In the Metropolis, one does not vanish through isolation; to escape, one dissolves and fades away by becoming indistinguishable from everyone else. It was the members of the Red Army Faction, who resembled all the other disaffected citizens of Empire. And rather than shrinking until one is too worthless to be seen, this form of escape increases potential by amplifying intensity to the point of opacity, for the strategy is not to occupy territory but to be the territory (Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection, 108). It was Autonomia, who formed a barely-visible tear in the Metropolis with each protest, rally, riot, squat, social center, radio station, and newspaper. Finally, the concept of escape can be elevated to the level of strategy, which uses escape to exploit weaknesses in the Metropolis. It is the cyberpunk hacker who hides in the codes.

The politics of the perpetual present may operate through appearances but the politics of the future does not. The dislocated times of the Metropolis, snatched, and communicated through the anonymous force of insinuation. These times are embodied, if only for a moment, and then captured again by Biopower or the Spectacle. Yet in that short time, they give life to differences that reach beyond the present. For even in its absence, the persistence of escape powerfully affirms the force of liberation. It is the voice of a silent struggle already underway against Empire, crying out, declaring the ongoing conflict, “A war without a battlefield. A war without an enemy. A war that is everywhere. A thousand civil wars. A war without end” (Soohen and Rowley, Fourth World War, 0:04-0:17). “It is hard, now, to remember what life was like back then,” it continues, “I believed them when they told me that I was alone in the world, and that this place and time were invincible… Before that day in September, in April, in December, in May, in November, when this city’s veins opened, and we lived a hundred years of history in one afternoon. The world has changed and we have changed with it” (0:21-0:46). This voice speaks for all the forces that evade Empire’s grasp, fueling a clandestine rebellion within the Metropolis. They are dramatic stories that flow like water to feed the underground current of revolt. They are incoherent attacks that gather like clouds to cast shadows over Empire. And they are strategies for escape that shift with the changes in the weather. Escape does not negotiate. Escape is the legend of FOXFIRE that burns and burns. It does not demand political representation. It is the group agitations of the Socialist Patients Collective that turns illness into a weapon. It makes no demands. It is the terrifying excess of ‘the birds’ that interrupt normalcy. It does not make a claim to power. It is the deadly dance of the guerrilla’s minuet making mobility lethal. It does not want to be. It is the flood of digital noise that destroys and horrifies.

[1] Deleuze suggests finding revolutionary war machines here, stating that, “just as the despot internalizes the nomadic war-machine, capitalist society never stops internalizing a revolutionary war-machine. It’s not on the periphery that the new nomads are being born (because there is no more periphery)” (“Nomadic Thought,” 261). Tiqqun further advise “going through the middle,” warning against the dangers of seceding “from above” into “golden ghettos” of the hyper-bourgeoisie or “from below” in the “no-go-area” of the hyper-exploited (This Is Not A Program, 68).

[2] There is also a less noble tale of escape where disappearance follows the lonely path of isolation, solitude, exile, defeat, and annihilation. This is the common sense story told by the Spectacle, which is not so much untrue as it is far too common to deserve anything more than a passing footnote.


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