Part 3 – Conflict

The point is not just to understand Empire but to destroy it. At least for a time, the walls of the State were under siege by critique, which mustered an army of reason targeting sovereignty’s mythical foundations. But rationality became a tool of governance as the State found ways to capture reason for its own purposes. The Spectacle packages every product through cynicism, and critique has become just another means to spread detachment and fatalist alienation. Yet even if Empire’s pervasive use of cynical reason does not completely damn the future of critique, it does serve as a cautionary tale for those engaged in the politics of truth and warns of the declining efficiency of forces backed by critique alone. It is then the destructive power of critique that should be recovered, its critical function, as it realizes a particular type of force – the force of conflict.

Conflict remains essential – it is not enough to turn one’s back on Empire, for it persists regardless of how much one denounces, refutes, or scorns it. And even if Empire can withstand critique, its forces can be opposed. Fortunately, opportunities for struggle are numerous within the Metropolis, as there is much that escapes the grasp of Empire, if only partially. Two forces in particular are already sites of conflict that have the potential to expand into general revolt: affect and anonymity. Affects emanate from the residents of the Metropolis as they manage their conflicted sense of self to secure survival in a hostile environment. Frequently felt as a negative reaction to alienated existence, affects usually confine subjects to a dark interiority, yet a handful of political groups have demonstrated that these affects can serve as resources for action. Anonymity abounds amidst the glitch, noise, and clutter ubiquitous to the digital culture of the Metropolis. Furthermore, while those aspects of digital culture can frustrate the coherence required for many political projects, they also expose advantages for anonymous action. But it is not enough to merely describe affect and anonymity – they must be intensified. And to do so, the conflicts should be dramatized and given their own consistency, which requires breaking through the false dilemma between spontaneity and organization.

On their own, concepts are bloodless things begging to be brought to life. And as long as they remain pure knowledge, we remain ignorant of the conditions that give concepts their force. When dramatized, however, concepts spring alive with the quality and intensity of actors in a play, transmitting an array of sensations not communicated by the conceptual personae of the script itself.[1] Therefore, dramatization is not a superficial ploy but an integral part in the practical, artistic, and critical expression of concepts: practical, because a dramatic script calls out to be picked up and animated with force; artistic, because each director stages a new version of concepts and each actor puts their own slant on their character; and critical, because many foreseeable dramas are imagined but only one is acted out, leaving many potential sensations unexpressed or even forgotten (Mackenzie and Porter, “Dramatization as Method, “ 485-488). Moreover, the aim of dramatization is not the establishment any particular state of affairs or a set of exemplary models to be imitated but blocks of sensation that inspire further movement.[2] In fact, its power is greatest if expression persists even when the expressed thing is no longer there.

Each of the following chapters is centered on a concept, first affect and then anonymity, and is dramatized by their own set of conceptual personae struggling against Empire. Some of the dramatic scenes of conflict are later identified or even unpacked, while others are not. The result is a tenor that carries through each chapter, even when it causes the narrative to appear disjointed. The intent is to create movement through sensations which escape the hegemonic sociology of social movements that stamps out cookie-cutter forms to be repeated ad nauseum as well as to open up new paths of becoming that subvert the Metropolis. And the method is to play out, to dramatize, some of the differences that express the quality and intensity of our conflict with Empire.

Life and Strategy
Radical politics was plagued for a time by the dilemma of spontaneity and organization. Central to Lenin, the opposition of organization to spontaneity assumes that revolt is routine like a force of nature. Accordingly, spontaneous forms of revolt exist as a seemingly natural reaction to the horrible circumstances of violence and tyranny – often leading to slave uprisings, peasant revolts, or political exodus. Jealous of the elegant geometry of the Modern State, Lenin suggested a science of revolution to turn natural instincts into an objective force. Sharing in this belief, his comrade Trotsky illustrated the scientific model with the metaphor of a steam engine, explaining that the powerful energy of the mass mobilizations driving the Russian Revolution would have dissipated if not for the piston-box of the party, which compressed the people’s energy like steam at the decisive moment (History of the Russian Revolution, xix).

But this science of organization and its subsequent iterations – Marxist-Leninism, Luxemburgism, and more contemporary resurrections of the party – are all based on an unfortunate error of thought that holds substance to be hylomorphic, that is to say, that matter lacks order (the spontaneous actions of a people) and must have laws imposed on it from the outside to give it form (the organization of the party). At least two strong objections should be made to a hylomorphic model of politics: first, its emphasis on unity and coherence gives ways to today’s hegemonic sociology of social movements, which extends the gaze of the Spectacle to all matter, representing it as abstract, unspecified, passive, and in need of form (Simondon, The Physico-Biological Genesis of the Individual, 47-48); and second, it treats the whole world as the Archaic State treated labor: as a master commanding his slaves, whose activity appears as the result of an effective technical operation but whose success is actually due to “a socialized representation of work” (49).

Even Lenin realized this error, and after August 1914, he considered the question of organization in both form and content, which he used to differentiate between “an objectively conservative organization” and “an objectively revolutionary one” (Mandel, “The Leninist Theory of Organization,” 96). Though such a refinement worked for a time, it was doomed to replicate its error on a larger scale by way of the statist dialectic of recognition whereby the image of politics is only seen through its photonegative, depicting only what the narrow vision of the State has already captured. Empire has done away with this lifeless dilemma, subsuming the State, which was unable at last to repel what it could not identify. It is time for radical politics to respond in kind. In place of spontaneity and organization, we can thus look to escape, which poses questions of life and strategy.

Life and strategy can evade the false dilemma of spontaneity and organization. Even though both life and strategy are often represented hylomorphically in preparation for capture by nascent State-forms. Life, for instance, is often cast into the torturous depths of a subjective interiority so that subjects willingly seek out relief, even from their tormentors. Strategy, similarly, is repeatedly reduced to a question of coherence and identity for the sake of easy reproduction regardless of circumstance. But here, life is presented as the process of becoming-otherwise whose movement of constant undoing generates a set of felt relations – affects. Though affects are usually registered as feelings, positive, negative, and everything in-between – joy, anxiety, sadness, exhilaration, anticipation, sympathy, fear – they also live an autonomous existence, embodying spontaneous and passive processes that can be drawn on as a political resource against Empire. Strategy also isolates forces that can be used in political struggle, foremost among them the power of anonymity. Of the previous strategies of anonymity, one installed anonymity and escape as decisive principles: guerrilla warfare. The theory of guerrilla warfare thus suggests how certain strategic advantages can be exploited by anonymous forces constituted against the Empire, which are fighting deep within the Metropolis. Ultimately, affect and anonymity reveal a new conceptual terrain beyond spontaneity and organization that is populated by negative affect, feminist killjoys, political illness, insinuation, glitch, clutter, and noise – all forms of escape essential for surviving Empire and subverting the Metropolis.

[1] “We distinguish Ideas, concepts and dramas: the role of dramas is to specify concepts by incarnating the differential relations and singularities of an Idea,” Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, 218.

[2] In his book The Transversal Thought of Gilles Deleuze: Encounters and Influences, James Williams argues that sensation is “movement in itself, an inner resistance to identification” (48).


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