Prelude

prelude

Escape is the oldest story of freedom, and it is among the simplest.[1]

Half a century ago, an anarchist scholar decided to write a heroic story of peasants.When bodies started piling up in Vietnam, he was intrigued that people actually cared about peasants for once. Even then, his task was not easy, given that peasants usually serve as the stage upon which more dramatic disputes between nationalists and colonizers are performed. However, in the archives he uncovered books and records that he wielded against those who had dismissed his humble peasants.

The heroic peasants were a good start for the scholar. While national liberation struggles claimed that the heart of the nation beat within the peasant, the scholar focused an even more elusive class of people: hill peoples, those who buck authorities with a run to the hills. Through diligent scholarship, he was able to bring together an impressive array of theories and terms to describe why certain peoples are poor materials for state-making.

What the scholar loved most about the hill people was their slash-and-burn culture. Dismissed by others as hillbilly backwardness, he knew that their whole way of life was an elaborate trick that they used to be left alone. But everything is different now, he reluctantly admitted; it had all changed after World War II. Most States developed technologies, both mechanical and human, that eliminated their ‘dark twins’ hiding in the mountains. Space was spanned and the hill sanctuaries were found, he said. The few peoples still in the hills were the last ones to escape; but even they are on the verge on disappearing, he lamented.

Not far away, a similar discovery was made.

A young college student was tired of the usual posturing of campus activism. The daily barrage of manufactured urgency and its politics of guilt did not interest him. What he did have was a plan to fight Reagan’s imperialist interventions in Latin America. So after gaining a little know-how in engineering with a focus on alternative energy, he headed south to make a real contribution to ‘the people who could use help.’

But the student felt out of place after he got there and was nagged by the feeling that this struggle was not his. The projects he worked on were practical, no doubt – computer donations from the States were not hurting the people of El Salvador – but they were not really helping that much either. When he looked for guidance, the El Salvadorians were kind but blunt. Their war torn country did not need engineering solutions to political problems, they said. So the student went back home to ponder.

Look, just go to the mountains, a comrade said while visiting the student. The student shot back an incredulous glance. Look, you have mountains here. Just go to the mountains. That’s what we do. Get some guns, go to the mountains, and wage a revolution. The student responded thoughtfully, agreeing that, yes, there were mountains in Seattle, but he was not sure about the rest of the suggestion. A few moments later, with an embarrassed grin, he admitted that it simply did not correspond to his reality at all.

Though quite different, the two stories agree on a basic point: today, there is no sense in running to the hills. The hills may have previously been a non-place, a u-topia, where a people existed without a history. And while it is said that the history of people is the history of class struggle, it would be at least as truthful to say that the history of the peoples without history is the history of those who escape. But with the great latticework of surveillance and control that now spans most of the developed world, the veil of spatial isolation has been pierced. So today, the hills cannot help make class struggle or freedom a reality.

Even with hill peoples now under State control, however, is it not obvious that escape still does and always will exist? Of course it all depends on context – but there is a political danger in the desire to always want more context. The greatest risk is that providing context becomes a purely academic exercise that defers judgment or action. This deferral is an expression of postmodern relativism, most commonly voiced as the desire for complexity (“well, it’s complicated…” or “let me complicate this a bit first…”). Such an incessant demand for context is to be expected, however, as protesting simplicity is a critical move in today’s dominant ideology.[2] So I will begin there. Yet it is my ultimate aim to demonstrate how a reworked concept of escape is essential to understanding contemporary power. Therefore, after I finish examining the demolition of the distinction between the valley and the hill or the town and the country, I shift to the new paths of escape that have opened up under the towering figure of the Metropolis. Because to escape today, one does not run to the hills but burrows deeper into the dark underside of the Metropolis.

Empire and the Metropolis
Governance continues long after the mythic State breaks its final bond or pact and the social factory produces its last subject. Within The Social, the primacy of ‘states’ was already debatable – as long as the State is only understood as a mere container for sovereignty. But everywhere The Social is in crisis, its demise is on the horizon, and with the death of The Social, what is left of the State will become completely indistinguishable from Biopower and The Spectacle.[3] This transformation often goes unacknowledged because the State is easily mistaken for its relics, as “Winter Palaces still exist but they have been relegated to assaults by tourists rather than revolutionary hordes” (Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection, 45). Instead of the State, one must talk today about Empire and the sprawling form of the Metropolis.

To bring about its form of power, the Metropolis does not stand alone – historians point out that in every political revival there are “always two runners, the state and the city” (Braudel, The Structures of Everyday Life, 511-512). Yet in the race between the lumbering State and the speedy town, the State usually wins and subsequently makes the city its subject. This is the case with capitalism and is evinced by the Modern State, which transformed the greedy ambitions of merchants into the global system of colonialism from which capitalism emerged. This is also true for the Metropolis. As the global capitalist axiomatic subsumes the State, the locus of power has shifted from politics to economics, and the Metropolis replaces the Social State. Governing the bloated space of the Metropolis requires such a proliferation of authorities that the poles of sovereignty have become diffuse. Such diffusion does not cause individual states to disappear but to cede their power to Empire, which exercises its power in the Metropolis. This is how Empire is lived on the ground. Together, Empire and the Metropolis exercise a form of power altogether different than other States: the Modern State made power into a substance by slowing it down enough to find something measurable and therefore pliable or easy to control – territory and population become expressions of the health of the sovereign; and the Social State developed The Social to hold the fragmented body of the king together, extending sovereignty into all dimensions of modern life. Both of those States transmuted the two poles of sovereignty that capture power – the Modern State introduced The Police to take over the functions of conquest and established Publicity to forge a new type of contract, and the Social State generalized The Police into Biopower and expanded Publicity into The Spectacle. Everywhere The Social is in crisis and the Metropolis has taken its place. And what has taken over Biopower and The Spectacle is not a State but the subsumption of all states; it is Empire.

Customary definitions of Empire follow from Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s reintroduction of the term in their 2000 book Empire, and usually focus on a polycentric sovereignty of global governance as it intersects with the postmodern production of informatized, immaterial, and biopolitical products. In contrast, I contend that Empire arrives as an entirely incorporeal entity that lacks its own body and is deprived of a material existence to call its own. However devoid of existence, Empire persists as the force behind a concept for organizing and directing the capitalist world market. As a result, Empire operates through management and circulation, but it is not extensive with its product: the Metropolis. The material reality of contemporary power, which is the lived existence of Empire, is the Metropolis. As Giorgio Agamben suggests, the Metropolis is not an urban phenomena – it replaces the city after the abolition of the distinction between town and country. The Metropolis subsumes both The Social and the Social State, which does not do away with nation-states but annexes them as parts in patchwork of different pieces. To put these otherwise foreign elements into communication with one another, the Metropolis connects through inclusive disjunction, which does not require its pieces to operate through a shared logic but unfolds their interiors through exposure. This harsh opening-up process makes the Metropolis a hostile expanse that is subjectively experienced as deepening alienation.

Most attempts to describe Empire have failed. Those failures usually result from the seductive search for ‘subjects’ behind actions.[4] Kafka laughter’s has only become louder as his mockery of those who hunt for a singular authority of justice turns to recent attempts to place the evils of Empire at the feet of a clear culprit (Kafka, “Before the Law”; Kafka, The Castle). Those lost souls will never find their peace, for Empire is the final step in the full transfiguration of the sovereign head of state into a series of unfortunate situations. Empire is not a conspiracy of corporations, one world state, a congress of states, the IMF, the World Bank, ‘polycentric sovereignty,’ or grassroots power. “Empire does not confront us like a subject, facing us, but like an environment that is hostile to us” (Tiqqun, Introduction to Civil War, §66). Furthermore, Empire is not a new positivity – it is not a new world power, an ideological innovation, or a fresh set of laws. At most, Empire is not even an event but the devices used to prevent the event. And thus at its limit, Empire is nothing but the summation of all the reactionary forces of the present; it is everything that prevents the future from breaking with the present.[5]

Although it would be a mistake to identify Empire as a positivity, the evidence of its existence is everywhere.[6] The essential attributes of Empire do not exist in extension because they are incorporeal, which are causes that produce intensive transformations, while the Metropolis is the lived form-of-life corresponding to Empire’s network of incorporeal transformations. The traces of existence are the daily reminder that intensive abstractions have a real existence through their extension as concrete deployments of an abstract diagram. This extension, the Metropolis, extends through physical space with a recklessness Empire is careful to avoid. Moreover, the Metropolis provides the territorial horizon on which the forces of Empire operate and the world that the citizens of Empire inhabit. Empire itself does not exist, for Empire is circulation and Empire is management.

This calls for an important caveat: challenging Empire over its extension, whether showing how it causes short-circuits rather than the smooth flows or revealing its penchant for unjust incarceration and stratification, only indirectly influences the intensity of Empire’s abstraction, which does not exist but subsists and insists. Better circulation and good management would only trade one actualization of Empire for another one. Even though the forces of Empire cannot go unchallenged, it is only when circulation and management are drained of their obviousness that Empire loses its intensity. To abolish Empire then, circulation and management must be made unthinkable, irrelevant or, at the very least, something to be played with “just as children play with disused objects, not in order to restore them to their canonical use but to free them from it for good” (Agamben, State of Exception, 64). For in the end, the products of Empire will live on far after its intensity fades.

The Emergence of the Metropolis
The predecessor to the Metropolis is the city. Without industrialism, which is also to say modernism, two types of cities punctuate the landscape: the central place city and the gateway city. Central place cities gather in and build up. These cities are hierarchical centers that seize outlaying (usually agricultural) surplus that is stacked on a central point after heterogeneous material is sorted and consolidated into homogenous layers that form a towering stratified block. Alternately, gateway cities extend out in overlapping patches. These cities are knots in trading networks that form into nodes, dense nests of interlocking local articulations between foreign flows that acquire a certain stability (DeLanda, A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, 37-9; 59-67). The Metropolis is not simply stratified like the sandstone giant nor networked horizontally like the granite node. Rather, the Metropolis is a space of capture, a ground prepared by Empire to act out control.

But the Metropolis is not just a big city, it is an exteriority (Lefebvre, The Urban Revolution, 50-59). This follows from the original manifestation of the Metropolis, the Greek mother city and the whole network of colony-cities it dominated (Agamben, “Metropolis”). Today, Metropolis is worldwide rather than Mediterranean, and it is no longer an arrangement of cities but a collection of all the relays in the circuit of global capital. It is not centered, a center of accumulation, a center of exchange, a hierarchy, or even a homogeneous culture. Rather, the Metropolis is a pure exteriority that abolishes the line between the town and the country. For a time, cities were defined in opposition to their outlying lands although the urban elite was dependent on the import of resources only available from an autonomous rural peasantry. But that one-way flow of dependency has transformed into a single continuous system (23-44). With farmers text-messaging at the wheel of their GPS-controlled tractors and squatters living off guerrilla gardens nestled in the heart of downtown, the breakdown of the barrier between the two has begun. What is left, if anything, is a zig-zag without a clear inside or outside, leaving behind a delirious mix of high-rises and slums (Negri, “On Rem Koolhaas,” 48). The Metropolis therefore performs the same essential function of cities: polarization, as in the intensity produced between differentials. A consequence of this transformation is that escape routes become less apparent, for distance-demolishing technologies such as ultra-fast transit, satellite imaging, and communication networks make previously remote hideouts easily accessible to the Metropolis. Therefore, escape will not be found while eking out an existence in whatever is left of the countryside but in the tactical distance afforded by the density, saturation, and noise of the Metropolis.

The Metropolis could also be described as the space of ‘There Is No Outside.’ But this phrase mystifies too much, perhaps, as the Metropolis always come up short. More accurately then, it is everywhere where there is no longer a visible Outside, for the Metropolis appears as if it is composed of nothing but exteriorities. Overcoming the State’s fear of outsiders, the Metropolis embraces a basic maxim of The Spectacle: “Everything that appears is good; whatever is good will appear” (Debord, Society of the Spectacle, §12). By integrating The Outside rather than defeating it, whole worlds otherwise recognized on their own terms are made into parts of a single system.[7] Madness, delinquency, criminality, and perversion – all of which were once causes for concern and therefore excluded or ‘cured’ – are more than allowed to exist among us, they are things that everyone is now capable of. With spaces of enclosure turned inside-out and made into different neighborhoods of a single exurb, the Metropolis appears simultaneously as an expanse of limitless possibilities and a space where nothing new seems to happen. There are three concrete conclusions that can be drawn from this: first, the Outside still exists, but it exists either in what is indiscernible or on the inside; second, the giant exteriority of the Metropolis is too saturated to manage all at once, so governability works through increasing speed and extension by means of improvements in selection and efficiency; and third, escaping the Metropolis does not occur by dropping out but by ‘dropping in,’ a clandestine form of sabotage that uses density to take cover while simultaneously undermining the reliability of the herd and utilizes clutter to throw up interference to both disrupt the enemy and make an escape.

The Metropolis is not a uniform sheet but a mesh, or better yet, a sieve or a net full of holes. Yet those holes are by design, as Empire needs a torrent and not a trickle, although the maximum porosity of open space is not as stable or consistent as that provided by enclosure. Even as rogue traders leak money through unauthorized transactions, Empire expands with every dollar invested. Even when undocumented cooks work in the kitchen, Biopower grows with every diner through the door. And even though laptops ‘fall off the truck,’ The Spectacle shines brighter with every facebook post. In the ruins of the good society, the Metropolis stitches a fabric of unlikely connections that holds everyone together while The Social collapses around us. And although illegalism and subversion have long helped people get by in spaces of exclusion, the Metropolis introduces bad behavior into every form of life. And for that, we should hate it, as the Metropolis registers these protests against the indignity of The Social only so they can be turned against us.

Even the desire to destroy what destroys you, which would call for the abolition of the Metropolis, would be futile if the end of the Metropolis translated into a return to the town or the country. That is because, echoing contemporary communists, the Metropolis is to us as the factory was to the industrial proletariat, which is to say: a profoundly ambivalent form that is both the cause of exploitation and the means for revolution (Hardt and Negri, Commonwealth, 250). The factory did not contain a revolutionary kernel because it caused modernization, as in ‘soviets plus electrification,’ or cruel triumph, as in ‘work will set you free,’ but because it defined the terrain of struggle. And the revolutionary elements of the proletariat did not fight for only time, pay, and conditions, but for everything that exceeded and promised to end those things – dignity, freedom, and ultimately their own self-abolition as a class. Only when we understand this ambivalence can we truly appreciate liberated women’s demand to both hold a job and end capitalism, or the solidarity between a maquiladora worker’s struggle for dignity on the job and the secret desire to see her factory burn. The Metropolis therefore sets the stage for the most important social and political dramas of our time. And while it paves the path for exploitation, it simultaneously opens up lines of flight, many of which hold the potential for a better world.

The Metropolis is causing the slow death of The Social. Contemporary communists Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt welcome this change. The Metropolis, they say, is a diagram for organizing encounters. And if this is the case, it taps into a long history of theory – Baruch Spinoza and the encounter, Georg Simmel and the city, Walter Benjamin and the flânuer, the Situationists and the dérive. Following the Situationists with a twist of their own, the communists détourn the phrase ‘beneath the paving stones, the beach,’ instead declaring ‘beneath the Metropolis, the Common.’ It is not worth quibbling with the intellectual history they draw on – I also argue that the body of the earth is stratified by The Metropolis, define its operations as a diagram, and describe its process of connection as an encounter – yet it is worth disagreeing with the celebratory thread sewn through their works.

In the piece “The Common in Communism,” Hardt makes his strongest presentation of the Common. The import of his argument is that capitalism has entered a phase where its primary mode of production does not actively organize production as industrial capitalism does, where direct management was needed for laying out capital, proletarianizing workers, and establishing commodity markets as their only means of subsistence. The hegemonic form of contemporary production, Hardt claims, now relies on the feudal action of collecting rent whereby a landowner collects a portion of the self-organized activity of the landless peasant class as payment; he calls this hegemonic form “the becoming-rent of capital” (Hardt and Negri, Commonwealth, 451) Instead of a common land, which organized production in feudalism, Hardt argues that production is now organized by a new Common formed from the substance of human communication, cooperation, and knowledge. In this process, he argues that capital is now external to the production of the commons, and when it intervenes, it reduces productivity (“Common in Communism,” 351). If Hardt is correct, then capitalists do not contribute to the production process and have thus made themselves expendable, leaving the plentiful Common of the Metropolis after their elimination.

More pessimistic minds argue that the Metropolis is a desert that separates us from the Common.[8] They do not disagree with Hardt and Negri on the point that the Metropolis is the dominant form of social organization. Moreover, they even agree with the claim that “the Metropolis is to the multitude what the factory was to the industrial working class” (Hardt and Negri, Commonwealth, 250). Where they disagree with Hardt and Negri is on the rapport between Metropolis and the Common. These pessimists argue that Metropolis is a form of separation, that it divides and prevents access to a Common in the same way that money and other abstractions prevent unmediated access to everyday life. The Metropolis is not a place of taxed plentitude but a hostile environment that slowly poisons and destroys its residents. For them, the Common is not constituted through the Metropolis but against it (Plan B Bureau, 20 Theses on the Subversion of the Metropolis, Theses 6-8; Theses 19-20). This echoes Deleuze and Guattari’s claim that there is only one class, the bourgeoisie, and that political division is found between the servants and the saboteurs of the machine (Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, 255). Thus the insurrectionists do not turn away from the Metropolis but view it as a site for seizing weapons.

In sum, two positions hold that the Metropolis stages a conflict over a new earth, the Common. One holds that the Metropolis is “the space of the common,” with “people living together, sharing resources, communication, [and] exchanging goods and ideas” (Hardt and Negri, Commonwealth, 250). The other has nothing but disdain for the Metropolis, identifying it as a hostile enemy that must be collectively opposed. And while some communists say that the Metropolis should be embraced as a progressive force to find the Common, the most intense commonality is found in shared struggle.

Before a deeper inquiry into the struggle against Empire can commence, however, it is necessary to prepare the reader on a few issues of method unique to this investigation: first, a challenge to the rather stale concepts in the study of social movements; and second, an explanation of the status of examples in my project.

Lenin’s Shadow
Radical politics still lives under the shadow of Lenin – and to its detriment. Lenin’s legacy stands first and foremost for the primacy of organization in political strategy.  And in spite of the recent turn away from Marxism in state policy, after the fall of the Soviet bloc and in China’s pro-capitalist Dengist reforms, this legacy hangs over social movements. No doubt, Lenin’s successes should not be denigrated, for he accomplished feats that radicals today can only dream about, yet the relevance of Lenin to today’s problems needs to be seriously reexamined.

Lenin’s historic triumph took place in the age of massification. The forces of the day were two great hulking masses, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, that confronted each other on the field of battle. The Leninist strategy was to forge the iron discipline of a single party to seize the organs of the State through mass mobilization. But that was before the intensifications in ideology in the aftermath of World War II that made Lenin’s revolutionary solution obsolete. In particular, more advanced forms of ideology have made it unthinkable to simply gain control over the army and police to establish ownership of the means of production as a whole.

Yet even today, a hegemonic sociology of social movements casts Lenin’s long shadow over politics. Most generally, this sociology looks to theories of organization for the key to unlock a singular path to political success. Its sociological method evaluates the potential for political success in three categories, all leftovers from Lenin: structure, cohesion, and the definition of objectives. When those categories are operationalized, social movements are analyzed according to organizational forms, collective identities, and types of mobilizations. Specifically, the sociological approach seeks to build political hegemony by empirically identifying social actors with clear organizational characteristics and communication strategies that develop a repertoire of social actions used to achieve strategic objectives by capitalizing on monumental events (Zibechi, “The Revolution of 1968,” 3).

Under Empire, the world has exploded into trillions of molecular parts barely responsible to a whole, which is to say that it is increasingly rare for historic upheavals to either start from the top or be occur in a single epic event.  Of course it would be a misunderstanding of terms to say that large-scale transformations no longer occur, for they surely do – just look to recent internet consumer revolts, the revolutions of the Arab Spring, or the sudden shift in American public discourse provoked by Occupy Wall Street. But today, the effects of world historical events are not the result of a group of a few committed individuals, as the tired Margaret Mead maxim would have it. Rather, historical changes arise out of dense webs of a networked society that relies on a wide variety of inputs.

The concrete effects of the hegemonic sociology of social movements on politics are markedly disappointing. Ossified political groups that continue to deploy organization-heavy approaches have seen mixed results, at best. The American anti-war movement, both in its big tent liberal (United For Peace and Justice) and post-Leninist varieties (The Revolutionary Communist Party, The ANSWER Coalition, and The International Socialist Organization), serves as the paradigmatic example: the February 15, 2003 global protest against the Iraq War was, by the numbers, the largest protest in history: organizers turned out more than fifteen million people, and even got them all to echo a common refrain. But even with a cohesive organizational structure, a unitary message, and a truly mass mobilization, the Bush Administration embarked on its invasion just the same.

Alternately, simply dispersing power should not be confused for a radical shift away from the politics of the past. Even though the counter-cultural revolution was molecular, Empire’s response was also molecular. The rise of informationalization, in a computer-driven digital society that promotes integration and differentiation of even the most unwanted subjects, has been part of the overall shift of the leading capitalist economies toward strategies of flexible accumulation that began in the 1970s. This regime of accumulation builds upon the already existing infrastructure of capitalist modernization that used the architecture of the factory as a diagram for all sectors of society. But informationalization provoked a passage in the leading architectures of society away from the self-contained walls of the factory to the open system of the network. The effects have been drastic. Rather than a small set of institutions determining the direction of the whole in the last instance (‘as goes the military, so goes the nation’), the whole of the social body has been mobilized, and is now governed according to whatever patterns emerge from the distributed system. Or as post-Foucauldian governmentality scholars put it, governance has shifted from producing good citizens to controlling virtuous and un-virtuous subjects alike by patterning their space of potential and disciplining their aftereffects (Dean, Governmentality, 184-5).

One common response to outmoded politics is to encourage participation by way of decentralization, a fairly simple logic espoused by anarchists, anti-modernists, progressives, and far right-wingers alike. The primary tactic of decentralists is to slow down the speedy indifference of capitalist imperialism by setting up roadblocks constructed from insider-only combinations of group identities and subcultural rituals. These roadblocks are potentially valuable for temporarily constructing autonomous zones for use as both defensive rest stops and opaque spaces of attack. However, when slowing down becomes the sole weapon against a system built on speed and intensity, decentralists get outmaneuvered by a system that operates at variable speeds. Moreover, roadblocks without strategic value become routinely maintained out of habit, which transforms them into anchors. For example, melancholic calls for ‘re-localization’ usually produce homogenous enclaves that espouse conservative restorationist principles (‘I could never trust food made by foreigners’); and while many re-localized communities may provide a future for their residents, if each is less diverse than a random sample of Wal-Mart shoppers, how do they constitute a response to capitalism for the other seven billion people of the world?

The fatal flaw of the hegemonic sociology of social movements, at its most basic level, is not that it is for or against organization as such. The approach’s major failing is that although organizational issues are hardly the only blockage to political problems, it presents logistical wars of resource deployment and rhetoric as the single corrective. In its most disabling form, this Field of Dreams guarantee – ‘if you build it, they will come’ – remains indifferent to the actually existing forces that constitute any given political context. Additionally, the processes they advocate usually mirror the familiar faces of sovereignty: conquest or contract. This is manifest by Leninists who read State and Revolution not as Lenin’s “concrete analysis of the concrete situation” in Russia but a universal formula for revolution. Perhaps it is more common to see anarchist direct-democracy advocates argue that the process of building consensus will inevitably end in a mutually beneficial solution for all, or to see even more moderate organization enthusiasts suggest that establishing process is the prior condition to any possible action. Anyone who has been to an anarchist meeting knows how often process creates internal roadblocks instead of forward momentum by starting wars of attrition clothed as ‘consensus-based’ conversations that are dominated by those with the most time on their hands or with expertise in the technical skills of process maneuvering.

Ultimately, radical politics will only step outside the shadow of Lenin when the question of organization is forgotten. Yet this claim is definitely not anti-organizational, which itself would be a reactionary fixation on negating organization; nor does it even suggest non-organization as an option. Rather, the task of leaving organization behind means replacing the dominant paradigms of voluntarism and determinism (‘agency and structure,’ ‘subjectivism and objectivism,’ ‘the individual and society’) with more productive categories of analysis. To be more specific: forgetting organization would end enslavement to the hoary category of ‘the will,’ whether it be the will of the militant[9] or the vague sense of ‘the will of the people’ that rubber-stamps liberal democratic statecraft. Alternately, forgetting organization would end the strong certainty of deterministic models, and a major casualty would be the certainty of revolution, for even if capitalism may produce its own “gravediggers,” no one model can definitely deliver us its cold dead corpse (Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, 51). Such a perspective has already been adopted by some of the French Ultra-Left who argue that “whoever believes that 1848, 1917, 1968… were compelled to end up as they ended up, should be requested to prophesy the future — for once. No one had foreseen May ‘68. Those who explain that its failure was inevitable only knew this afterwards. Determinism would gain credibility if it gave us useful forecasts” (Dauvé and Nesic, “To Work or Not to Work?,” 17). Yet such audacity is not a new revisionist spin – it comes from Marx himself, who wrote that the rise of political economy, which is elevated to the status of science by the bourgeoisie, is not answered with a new political economy but a critique of political economy. But critique is not enough by itself and it must be accompanied by a politics. This dissertation suggests that escape is the first step to actualizing such a politics.

The Alchemy of the Example
One fear of writing an academic book today is that it is like whispering to yourself in the woods. Such concern arrives with the advent of the internet, which was followed by the rise of a digital culture overburdened by too much information rather than too little. Academic writing risks adding to an already towering stack of books that few have the time to read or at least not very closely. The related risk is the ease of getting lost in the heavens or trapped underground, which is to say that our contributions have long peddled in heady abstraction and hidden truths.

Idealism, which sometimes parades as rationalism, assumes that ideas are what drive change. This approach suggests impossible feats that even those who propose them never hope to achieve while still providing some sense of satisfaction in their failure. Most of what passes as democracy promotion or democracy theory follows this idealist trajectory. The idea of democracy is posed as a regulative ideal or some perfect principle that we should aspire to even if its full potential can never be fully realized. Or alternatively, in its more cynical variety, it poses as ‘the least worst of nothing but bad options.’

The drawback of such idealist approaches is that they rarely ever touch ground. Movement for these stargazers happens through an ascent and conversion; with their necks craned toward the sky, they ponder the details of a far-off universe purified of earthly difficulties. At best, these idealist systems function as possibility-generating ‘thinkability’ machines. The idealists maintain, like in the case of Columbus’s Egg where “it’s easy once you’ve thought of it,” that ‘possibility’ is opened up in a single stroke of genius that lays the groundwork for the dull, obvious realizations that mirror the initial idea (Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 206; Foucault, Surveiller et Punir, 208; reference omitted in translation).[10] Realization becomes application, as if the theory has already done all the heavy lifting, and particular cases are brought in to simply confirm general suspicions.

But while the idealists have their heads in the heavens, others are stuck plumbing the depths. These miners look for a submerged structure locked beneath the surface. The appeal of such a system is undeniable: there is no mightier feeling than the certainty that comes with knowing a truth hidden from everyone else, making them dupes. Behind the quest for concealed truths lies the problem of esoteric knowledge, where any new revelation could replace, invert, or cancel out every truth that came before it. These are the perfect conditions for producing mining moles that slowly go blind because they cannot stop digging deeper and never know when to surface. And even if they do return to the surface, these approaches rarely equip anyone for decisive action.

Marx’s menagerie includes such a miner: Hamlet’s mole of a father, a ghost who reappears when the time is right. For Marx, revolution goes underground from time to time, only to reemerge wearing the clothes of the old yet ready to create a new world. And there is no better way to turn old moles blind than with hermeneutics and deconstruction. These scholarly methods largely maintain a fealty to their ascetic origins, slavishly testing the limits of presence as if responding to a challenge to see how long they can tunnel through their underground system of references. But even worse than its de-intensifying searching, “beneath [its] appearance of complacency, deconstruction has a very specific political function” because “it tries to pass off anything that violently opposes Empire as barbaric, it deems mystical anyone who takes his own presence to self as a source of energy for his revolt, and makes anyone who follows the vitality of thought with a gesture, a fascist” (Tiqqun, Introduction to Civil War, 147). These scholarly techniques are valuable only if revolutionaries make quick journeys into the depths to find lost objects and immediately plug back into circuits of struggle.

Fortunately, some contemporary Marxists have suggested that the burrowing mole no longer adequately describes the cycles of revolution and propose in its place the undulating coils of a snake.[11] Revolution in this view always appears on the surface as a continuous network of control. The leading forms of empiricism appear to follow this approach. Positivist and even post-positivist empiricists catalogue the different configurations of the world ‘as they actually exist.’ One version is the Chicago School of Anthropology, which identifies all of the different ways that people inhabit the world. But as a rule, they are resistant to theory not derived from the concrete case, claiming that ‘if we have not observed humans already doing it, it cannot exist.’ Though this stubbornness provides excellent weapons in their battle against the just-so stories used by the Chicago School of Economics and their hyper-liberal conservatism, it necessarily forecloses the creativity of the future. [12] Because strict empiricists limit their thinking to already-observed phenomenon, they have a narrow basis from which to imagine the world becoming otherwise. We thus need a much more elaborate speculative engine than the one provided by these empiricists if academics are to help create a future open to radical change.

To radicalize empiricism, one can follow Gilles Deleuze, who suggests that works of philosophy should be “a very particular species of detective novel, in part a kind of science fiction” (Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, xx). The key to this radical empiricism is its philosophical definition of experience. According to this approach, experience is not the subjective lived experience of self-reflection or even the consciousness found in exposés on madmen and eccentrics. Rather, this philosophical empiricism posits an impersonal world of “a draft, a wind, a day, a time of day, a stream, a place, a battle, an illness” that is not immediately perceived, with subjects always coming late to the scene, and is therefore experienced and experimented with a-subjectively (Deleuze, Negotiations, 141). Like good detectives, writers should then develop theories to address these immediate situations, and those theories should evolve with the situation. If constructed well, these theories can open a window of perception for apprehending elements of experience otherwise indiscernible to the subject and forge the tools necessary to assemble the elements into something useful. And when successful, those assemblages should gain consistency, yet not in order to produce universal knowledge from simple logical propositions but in writing apocalyptic science fiction of the given world. That is because fictionalizing the present, according to Nietzsche, acts “counter to our time and thereby acting on our time and, let us hope, for the benefit of a time to come” (Untimely Meditations, 60). Ultimately, such an approach seeks out the indiscernible elements of experience, not as an exercise in uncovering something that has been hidden, but to tap into wells of intensity that are never fully represented. And by accessing that intensity, we gain the power to be affected by the world, and in turn, to affect it.

I make use of this radical empiricism with my own method: the alchemy of the example. For too long there has been a ‘gospel choir of the example.’ Outside of ‘amen’ and a few ‘halleluiahs,’ examples have rarely added much. In contrast, alchemy brings the example back into the creative process. To transform the example into the raw material for alchemy’s art of mastering fire, however, examples must be released from their usual role in empiricism. There are two roles in particular that the example has traditionally filled: first, examples are often abstracted from to identify positivities that confirm the validity of general rules and are therefore treated as particular cases; and second, examples are also chosen to find historical positivities used to determine the historical actuality of an event. Formal logic seeks out clear examples, and historical surveys hunt down timely ones. For alchemy, though, the example is not selected for its positivity or historicity but for its singularity. The complexity of detail is what makes an example good for alchemy, and the best examples turn out to be equal participants in the creation of theory, which means they are not just part of the supporting cast but instead change the trajectory of the theory as it unfolds and sometimes even steal the show.

There are three tasks that guide forging theories with examples:

The first task is to restore internal contestation. For alchemy, examples have proper names: Foucault’s Biopower, the Archaic State, the Metropolis. But these examples are not exemplary, as if lying behind each proper name there is a subject that is a good guy who should be imitated or an evil villain who needs to be avoided. Rather, I follow military strategists and meteorologists, who give every operation and hurricane a proper name. Those names do not describe subjects but a-subjective individuations that are birthed from an ecology of forces, like Nietzsche’s lightning bolt, emerging from charged fields of intensity often unseen. Examples are therefore the effect of a given force-field of speed and intensities without being equivalent to it. Alchemy is then the working out of an example that taps into the movement and power of a milieu. To put it another way: each example is a unique response to a problem, e.g. an organism is a solution to the problem posed by its milieu. Yet regardless of how the organism responds, it does not solve once and for all the problem of the milieu. Similarly, examples present singularities that neither empty the field of intensity they emerge from, nor prevent alternative “counter-effectuations of the event” whereby the example is abstracted from its place of origin in order to be reenacted elsewhere to produce different effects (Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy?, 159-160).

The second task is to open up paths of becoming – becoming as the production of a new world and not the re-presentation of same world all over again. This process should not be thought of as the measured change from a starting-point to an ending-point but an away-from movement that has multiple potential trajectories without a set endpoint.[13] Becoming should therefore be understood as an ongoing series of production, with things and states as products of that becoming. One effect of this change in perspective is a dynamic image of time where all of the past fuses together into a single block that casts a shadow over the present, and that present is seen in a moment and only later felt again through the weight of history. Even more importantly, however, the future appears as a source of plentitude that opens into many different worlds. Within this alchemy, examples offer a strategy for negotiating the complex structure of time but also for reintroducing a future foreclosed by the present. When examples are made through fabulation, which brings incompatible worlds into existence together within a single universe, they tap into the power of becoming. This dissertation undertakes such fabulation, as I weave together examples from literature, politics, history, culture, and mythology to operationalize the maxim that ‘fiction destroys reality,’ both inside and outside of literary contexts.[14]

The third task is draw on the persuasive force of concepts. Even if the brightest post-structuralist stars of textualism are waning, text is still king. One reason is that a considerable amount of theory is written in the form of commentary and therefore requires texts, no matter how broadly they are defined, as objects of analysis. This partly results from theory’s early home in literary theory, whose stark author/commentator divide has relegated many scholars to the role of mere commentators separated from a world authored by others. Moreover, scholars in other fields, in particular the social sciences, build arguments from the raw materials of the peer-reviewed work of their ‘community of scholars’ through a citational method that requires fidelity to a particular author or text. In contrast, my approach builds constellations out of concepts that have acquired enough consistency to survive outside of their original context – analogously to how sensations become art, which occurs when they acquire enough consistency to break out of their immediate context of production. Ideas may be the product of a given author or the result of work within a particular historical context, but when those ideas gain enough consistency to meet, interact with, and contribute to the reinvention of other ideas, they have become concepts. A conceptual approach must therefore provide concepts enough room to move and breathe without destroying the consistency that animates them.

The recent scholarly turn to theories of affect explores how concepts develop and circulate this animating force. Affect describes both (i) the power of bodies to combine and (ii) the felt effects of power in the body. Bodies, the content and expression of affecting and being affected, combine in a very concrete sense, as with nourishment or poison, to produce sensations of joy or sadness. Affect is caught like one catches a cold, through contagion. Moreover, it resists quantification. Yet most people think of affect through a categorical grid, which merely points to the effects of affection as they are fit into pre-assigned discrete emotional categories of perception – excited, shocked, irritated, pissed. So any measurement of qualified affect comes out dull and ignorant of its cause. In contrast, alchemy uses examples the way one would use art – to construct mobile armies of sensation and not as devices for measuring the world. This follows from the notion that any body or thing can envelop affective potential: a sculpture, a sonnet, or a salsa all hold and release energy through folding and unfolding force much like a spring. The task of alchemy then is to activate the affective potential of examples.[15]

The Ambivalence of Escape
Escape is not an innocent concept. While I present escape as especially relevant in the current moment, it is neither entirely new nor always good. In fact, theories of escape have motivated settler colonialism, American exceptionalism, and far-right populism. Yet dreams of freedom have also enabled global liberation struggles, the political elements of dropout culture, and revolutionary projects. Escape, as I use it in this dissertation, is not a goal but the process by which societies change. Contrary to orthodox Marxists, who propose that every society is characterized by its mode of production, my analysis follows from Deleuze and Guattari’s contention that societies are characterized by how they manage their paths of escape. Yet shifting the analysis to escape does not reveal a single path to liberation. Serfs escaped the hierarchical system of feudalism only to be thrown into the factory. Early European nation-states escaped to the New World only to expand the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and deepen all of the other horrors of the age of colonialism. So escape is therefore not itself preferable, because it is a bundle of processes that point toward different social forms, some better and some worse than the one we live in now. Yet it is my contention that certain forms of escape point to forms of internal struggle that defy the caged politics of the State and thus suggest new zones of contestation that contain the best potential for revolution within the Metropolis.

Although escape is not new, it is ‘now,’ as theories of right, entitlement, and the social good that pervade contemporary political rhetoric are slowly being replaced through the force, dispossession, and stratification endemic to a world controlled by Empire. One attempt to clarify this shift is the scholarship on neoliberalism, which emphasizes the increasingly permissive character of contemporary power and hence an increased prevalence of escape whereby deviance and perversions that were previously unthinkable are no longer prohibited but sold at a profit. The question raised by such general permissiveness is whether the ubiquity of escape speaks to its growing potential or its irrelevance. To clarify escape today, I therefore distinguish it from other forms of escape. The point of clarifying through distinction is to identify what is singular about contemporary escape. Most acutely, escape is faced with the challenge of the Metropolis, which evaporates potential antagonisms by incorporating them through inclusive disjunction. Within this system of inclusion, difference is not a threat but the means by which Empire maintains its hold on the perpetual present. Empire cannot be escaped by simply celebrating the differences that grow out of life in the Metropolis – they must be made political, so that life is just as fast, but it is more rhythmic; strategy is just as collective, but it is more selective; and sensation is just as intense, but it is more consistent. Evading the incredibly permissive form of capture, it must then proceed by way of exclusive disjunction: the forced choice between two options. Such a forced choice is not the enemy of difference, however, as it does not reduce the world to a simple binary – difference flourishes in both incommensurate worlds – the distinction is that the Metropolis uses a dull repetition of difference to maintain a perpetual present while exclusive escape opens the door to a new world of difference where there’s no going back.

The concept of escape is presented here in three parts. The first part provides a cultural description of the State. The second part outlines why the present is in crisis. And the third part shows brewing conflicts.

In the first part, I follow Nietzsche, who argues that philosophers can act as cultural physicians, diagnosticians who separate out vague groupings of symptoms into discrete, identifiable illnesses. This is the diagnostic function of culture, which uses myth, literature, film, and other creative products to identify general cultural conditions. To undertake this diagnosis, I build on Georges Dumezil’s work on the mythological origins of the two heads of Indo-European sovereignty, which roughly match the contemporary notions of Conquest and Contract. Then this cultural description is extended to various types of States, each having a signature that can be derived from the rhythm, speed, and intensity of the interaction between the two poles of sovereignty. Isolating those signatures, I identify five types: the Archaic State, the Priestly State, the Modern State, the Social State, and Empire.

In the second part, I identify what constitutes the Metropolis. This operation begins with the institutions that organize metropolitan life, Biopower and the Spectacle, which are intensifications of The Police and Publicity that develop out of conquest and contract. These two poles evolve into four key veins: violent machines of subjection, the management of flows, the perpetual present of spectacular time, and a system of compulsory visibility. Next, I outline the mediums through which they work, and find that in spite of the bleakness of life in the Metropolis, or perhaps because of it, these veins produce lines of flight useful in the struggle against Empire.

In the third part, I pinpoint two conflicts that come from a dramatization of the desire to escape the Metropolis: negative affect and guerrilla warfare. Escape dramatizes the forces of life and strategy, which transforms affect into negative emotions and anonymity into a political struggle. Expanding the radical potential of each, I theorize how political emotions and tactical withdrawal must be adapted for the Metropolis. In the case of affect, I demonstrate how groups have turned alienation and depression into weapons against their cause. And in the case of the guerrilla, I suggest ways that guerrilla advantages can be established within digital culture.

After its passage through culture, crisis, and conflict, a new concept of escape surfaces. It no longer drips with the cold sweat of those who fear the tyrannies of State power or the terror of appearing before the law. This escape burns with the hot fire of revolt sparked by secret complicities that smolder in the streets of the Metropolis. It is an escape that does not find respite in distance but a movement of separation, whose intensive power brings the power of the outside to bear against Empire. While this escape may communicate certain facts, it is delivered through the force of the sensations, which turns the alienating power of the Metropolis against its source. In the final instance, however, best escape disappears as soon as it arrives, dissolving into every feeling, image, and slogan that evades capture.


[1] Stories serve as key touchstones for the critical project presented in this dissertation. I explain the use of mythic, literary, and historic content first in the ‘alchemy of the example’ as elaborated in this prelude and later in short excurses on the diagnostic function of culture, dramatization, and sensation.

[2] For more, see Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, 65-6.

[3] On origins of The Social and the development of Biopower and The Spectacle as the two poles of sovereignty deployed by the Social State, see Chapter 2.

[4] See Nietzsche’s withering critique of the linguistic prejudice for active subjects in Genealogy of Morality, Essay 1, §13

[5] This reactionary force is temporal and not spatial. As already emphasized, biopower enhances the power of its subject but through a process of limiting their aleatory (or kairotic) temporality, which is the basis of revolutionary innovation, creativity, and difference.

[6] These transformations are said to ‘insist,’ ‘subsist,’ or ‘persist’ but only exist in their effects. See Deleuze, Logic of Sense, 52-54. A helpful demonstration in the field of cultural studies is Lash, Intensive Culture: Social Theory, Religion, and Contemporary Capitalism.

[7] The Metropolis has no center, rather it is composed of isometric forms that extrinsically coexist in consistency, yet this consistency is not the trans-consistency of homogeneity or even heterogeneity but an “exo-consistency,” which gains its own expression through the interactions of the aggregate (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 434-437).

[8] Pessimists include recent ‘insurrectionary’ authors popular within anarchist, communist, and ultra-left milieus, such as Tiqqun, The Invisible Committee, and Plan B Bureau.

[9] Such as in Žižek’s fusion of the Terror and the Act or Rousseau’s general will, whose best Marxian variant is seen in Gramsci’s “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.”

[10] As the story goes, Christopher Columbus was dining with Spanish nobles when one spoke to him, saying “Your lordship, if you had not discovered the New World, certainly a Spaniard would have completed the journey, for we are a land full of learned men with skills in navigation and mapmaking.” Columbus did not respond directly but instead asked for an egg to be brought to the table, and he issued a challenge: “My lords, I wager that none of you can stand this egg on its end without help or assistance.” Try as they could, none of the noblemen were able. Once it was clear that he had outsmarted his critics, Columbus took the egg and gently cracked one end of the egg, flattening it enough to rest calmly on the table. The lesson was immediately apparent: once a creative act has been demonstrated, everyone knows how to do it.

[11] The most notable being Deleuze, “Postscript on Societies of Control,” and Hardt and Negri, Empire.

[12] Perhaps the most relevant here is Chicago School-trained anthropologist David Graeber, whose economic anthropology of debt and money, Debt: The First 5,000 Years, outlines an anthropological theory of money that undermines key neo-classical assumptions. Due to his unwillingness to theoretically extrapolate much beyond the anthropological evidence, Nietzsche’s account of debt is an early casualty. Moreover, Graeber’s account of communism is entirely prefigured by already existing communal societies.

[13] The usual structuralist measurement of difference begins with an immobile field in which a subject in becoming is nothing but the transition between two points; normal becomes deviant, straight becomes queer, pure becomes miscegenated. Such a characterization of change is an error of thought that follows from a method that identifies difference through isolating it as a variable, which first subtracts movement from the field of action, as if the world began with primal and differentiated stillness. This philosophical problematic is at least as old as its formulation in “Zeno’s Arrow,” which the contemporary notion of becoming was constructed to address. Within the philosophy of science, Henri Bergson’s Creative Evolution remains the crucial reference. For those interested in its operationalization: in Parables for the Virtual, Brian Massumi outlines fifteen consequences to introducing Bergsonian becoming to the field of cultural studies (6-13).

[14] As Ronald Bogue notes, fabulation is the fabrication of “larger-than-life giants” and “hallucinatory visions of future collectives” (Deleuzian Fabulation and the Scars of History, 19). Yet such work is not “merely a form of experimental modernism,” whose engagement with history would be “solely disruptive,” but legends that undue memories of past and present for the sake of a people to come (30).

[15] There are two risks that accompany this task: the actualized affect can be too fast and fly off into irrelevance, or too slow and get weighed down by the status quo.

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