Unlike the mythic State, governance today is no longer a question of divinity or even mastery. Empire is instead the force of prevention. What Empire prevents is the future, which it claims is only full of horror, chaos, and disappointment – where apocalyptic monsters or dystopian nightmares come true. The present, we are told, is in crisis. Paradoxically, Empire’s solution is to deepen the crisis in order to save the present. The experience of this drawn-out present is a combination of the profusion of difference paired with the vague notion that nothing is really changing. To achieve this confusing state – where the more that things change, the more they stay the same – Empire undertakes two abstract processes: circulation and management. These two processes are its essential modes of operation. Continue reading “Part 2 – Crisis”
Leaning back as I took another puff on my cigarette, things went in and out of focus as the whiskey worked its way through my body. Still unable to shake a lingering desire for clarity, I jotted down some notes while playing it back in my head like a movie reel.
Disorientation. Most people’s initial experience of the Metropolis is disorientation. When you first hit the streets, you settle into the strangeness of it as if it was all just a dream. And while you are trapped in its dreamlike embrace, the Metropolis slowly reveals its erotic and morally ambiguous nature, a tempting but repulsive allure set against a background of violence.
Most of the smart ones leave. I hope they’re happy back on the farm. Others try to be good Samaritans. I gave up being a white knight a long time ago. There are some tall tales that shovel the regular bullshit about good detectives. But I’ve never seen one. And if I did, I’d probably hate their guts. Asking someone to get their hands dirty doesn’t work when they think they’re already helping. I don’t want to be a role model, I want to win. “By any means necessary.”
“Step one: ditch the false piety of doing good and start using your feet.”
A lot of red herrings had been thrown my way. The Metropolis makes it hard to trust anyone or anything. There are no longer any good guys, only con men looking for dupes unable to see through their whole nice-guy act. Everyone here has the potential to do bad, and more importantly, everyone has an angle. Nobody is innocent. Neutrality is the sure sign that someone is either playing it close to the chest or too clueless to figure out whose bidding they are unwittingly doing.
The last people to have faith in are the authorities. They lost control of the streets a long time ago. And whatever power they still exercise always plays into the hands of some higher power. Yet knowing the phone numbers of a few bureaucrats and cops is never a bad idea, as long as you don’t get too close – mistaking them for a friend or a confidant makes you worse than a singing jailbird. Information is their greatest weapon; it gives them leverage. It therefore isn’t wise to feed them even a breadcrumb because that’s how people like you and me end up in trouble to begin with. The bottom line: authorities are to be used, never trusted.
“Step two: track down the leads before the trail goes cold.”
The spoils of my stakeout were lying out on my desk like stolen loot. The killer had left a path of dead bodies in his wake. And in my search to find out whodunnit, I had uncovered every one of them. It all started when I stumbled across what remained of the once-terrifying king of the Archaic State after some of his slaves had gotten to him. My hunt continued when I spotted His Benevolence of the Priestly State after his blackmail and extortion racket went south. The Police and Publicity gave away the Modern State next, but the threads only started to unravel. I knew I was close when I spotted what remained of the Social State, broken and half-crazy, having fallen into a crowd of marginals, undesirables, and illegalists.
Just when I thought the trail went cold, I got the call. The anonymous caller told me to meet at an abandoned lot in a rather seedy part of downtown. But when I got there, I was too late. The killer had struck again. This time, however, I knew that the body would give me all I needed to know. But this operation would have to be a full-blown autopsy, for the answer was stuck deep in the veins of the Metropolis.
“Step three: disembowel the Metropolis.”
The Metropolis is the ground on which Empire operates. It exists on its own accord as a material reality, although it is improbable that the Metropolis would last long without Empire to govern it. Despite its material existence, the Metropolis is more a process, the process of composition that brings together material according to a specific set of rules. In particular, the Metropolis operates according to inclusive disjunction. Inclusive disjunction allows the Metropolis to connect otherwise incommensurate subjects, flows, temporalities, and visibilities without suppressing their differences. In assembling them, the Metropolis does not leave those incommensurate things unperturbed. Rather, Empire introduces things into the Metropolis by producing a plane of positivities that unfolds secured elements, exposes them to risk, and eliminates their futurity. Continue reading “Chapter 3 – Disemboweling the Metropolis”
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. Continue reading “Part 3 – Conflict”
“Everybody Talks About the Weather, but Nobody Does Anything About It”
Interiority, Dark Appetites and the Desire to Confess
The noises of a public place set the scene as the shot fades from black. Wobbly, droning music overtakes the din of the crowd, capturing the suffocating alienation of the Metropolis where mutual presence is characterized more by mutual separation than social connection.
A floor cuts the frame in half, the low shot focusing on people’s feet as they hurry from one side of the frame to another. Some disappear, their presence reduced to nothing before we know anything about them. Others appear, but not as complex characters in a drama but as anonymous subjects, either to be ignored or simply forgotten. In big red text, the words “NADIE ES INOCENTE” are emblazoned on the screen.
A pair of skinny legs appears, and the film quickly cuts to a backlit character walking up stairs with the same placid determination it takes to safely walk big city streets.
In the next shot, we finally catch a glimpse the character as he moves in and out of the shadows. A young punk in a red cut-off shirt and wild hair boards a train and finds a seat. While the train picks up speed, the disorienting music stops and is replaced by the mechanical clanks of locomotion. The punk stares out the window. His thoughts are broadcast through voice-over.
In a meandering tone, the punk gives a wry farewell to Neza City, a slum outside Mexico City. His excitement builds as he says goodbye to pickpockets, the police, and a no-good government. But even in escape, he returns his thoughts to his gang of Shit Punks (Mierdas Punks). Later, he mentions what he thinks makes them unique. Los Mierdas, unlike other gangs, hold no territory and therefore go anywhere they want to go – ”We have no turf, we go from one place to another. Gangs with turfs chase us or we chase them. It’s all the same.”
This journey provides a loose arc for the otherwise haphazard everyday life of his gang. At times, the dull emptiness of description almost finds meaning. The young punk may have a name: Kara? Yet as he travels, he changes his name to Juanillo, which casts a darker shade of doubt. The train itself offers tempting certainty, as its fixed path seems more determined than the rest of the scene. But dizzying jump-cuts and a disorienting trip through the train after the punk huffs something intoxicating undermine his veracity.
Truth would be wasted in this instance, anyway; Los Mierdas are the children of “No Future.” No one is there to mourn their death, only curse their existence. Perhaps the only bit of truth is found in a phrase said in a moment of indifferent reflection on the train. “Yo no quiero ser nadie. Yo no quiero ser nada.”
A decade earlier, Foucault declared that he was driven by the same motivation: “to get free of oneself” (Foucault, The Uses of Pleasure, 94-5). Yet he did not imagine such an escape to occur when someone leaves it all behind by skipping town. For Foucault, one does not shed oneself by shaking whatever authorities may be after you, joining a different gang, adopting a new name, or taking up a completely different lifestyle. Unlike the ancients who are nothing but their visible public acts, we moderns are tied to something much deeper than mere practices: a private self stricken with the poisoned gift of a deep interior. The product of Publicity and the Spectacle, the deep interiority of the self opens like a crack for Empire to plunge into. Escape is only partial as long as it is haunted by a specific desire – confession. Continue reading “Chapter 4 – Affect”
Insinuation, The Underground Current of Incoherence
Radicalism’s tame but dignified existence in the early parts of nineteenth century America was a triumph for well-reasoned order. Immigrant intellectuals spread the heady ideals of socialism across the newly-opened frontier, founding mutualist or collectivist factory towns across Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana and establishing revolutionary societies and educational clubs in New York City, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Allergic to lawbreaking and violence, the communalists set out to foster the best-ordered and most-moral dimensions of utopian society. But as corruption and industry grew inseparable, a new radical energy gathered in the darker corners of society. While the socialists kept outrunning the company mines and industrial looms, a growing underclass either unwilling or unable to escape the greed of indecent men toiled away.
Only a short decade after the Great War, the polite pretensions of American radicalism fell away. This shift was due to two things: first, the Panic of 1873, which threw hundreds of thousands of workers into destitution and unleashed their fury; and second, the arrival of anarchists. It takes the entrance of a protagonist, Johann Most, a fiery German anarchist, to give shape to the turbulence. Inspired by Most, a persuasive orator with scorching rhetoric, anarchists and other radicals brought ‘propaganda by the deed’ to America. ‘Propaganda by the deed,’ an idea on the lips of the European radicals of the time, is derived from the earlier Italian socialist Carlo Pisacane, who argues that “Ideas spring from deeds and not the other way around,” so that “conspiracies, plots, and attempted uprisings” are more effective propaganda “than a thousand volumes penned by doctrinarians who are the real blight upon our country and the entire world” (Graham, Anarchism, 68).
A determined Most found propaganda by the deed straightforward and published fiery celebrations of the growing practice of anarchist regicide – and these writings often landed in him jail. After a year and a half stay in an English jail for praising the assassination of Alexander II of Russia, Most immigrated to the United States and soon published a pamphlet entitled Science of Revolutionary Warfare–A Manual of Instruction in the Use and Preparation of Nitroglycerine, Dynamite, Gun-Cotton, Fulminating Mercury, Bombs, Fuses, Poisons, etc, etc. Among these tools of destruction, he had a clear weapon of choice: dynamite. Writing in the Parsons’s Alarm, Most declared his love: “Dynamite! Of all the good stuff, that is the stuff! Stuff several pounds of this sublime stuff into an inch pipe (gas or water pipe), plug up both ends, insert a cap with a fuse attached, place this in the immediate vicinity of a lot of rich loafers who live by the sweat of other people’s brows, and light the fuse. A most cheerful and gratifying result will follow. … It is a genuine boon for the disinherited, while it brings terror and fear to the robbers. A pound of this good stuff beats a bushel of ballots all hollow – and don’t you forget it!” So with the arrival of Most, his dynamite, and propaganda by the deed, the anarchist siege against robber barons and the forces of the State commenced.
Striking fear in hearts of the three enemies of classical anarchism – The Church, The State, and Capital – radicals committed a remarkable number of regicides and other assassinations from the late 1870s through the early twentieth century. Yet the practice was not universally accepted in radical circles: pacifists, social democrats, and pragmatists hotly debated the principles and effectiveness of attacks on power. Paul Rousse, French socialist and the first to coin the phrase propaganda by the deed, plays down violence when describing the concept’s realization. “Propaganda by the deed is a mighty means of rousing the popular consciousness,” he writes, because it serves as the pragmatism of the possible: as the masses are naturally skeptical of any idea as long it remains abstract, one must actually start a commune or a factory and “let the instruments of production be placed in the hands of the workers, let the workers and their families move into salubrious accommodation and the idlers be tossed into the streets,” after which the idea will “spring to life” and “march, in flesh and blood, at the head of the people” (Graham, Anarchism, 151). Echoing Rousse’s possibilism, Gustav Landauer argues that “no language can be loud and decisive enough for the uplifting of our compatriots, so that they may be incited out of their engrained daily drudgery,” and thus the seeds of a new society must be prefigured in actual reality to entice others the join (139). Propaganda by the deed thus has two intentionally distinct valences as either creative violence or persuasive prefiguration; one masks its anonymous force to avoid capture while the other loudly boasts about itself.
Our contemporary times are replete with radicals who have found their own boastful propaganda. Anarchists such as David Graeber speak about a new generation of activists that came of age during the anti-globalization movement who practice propaganda by prefiguration that ‘builds a new society in the shell of the old’ (as the popular IWW phrase goes). These ‘New Anarchists,’ as they are called, practice social justice and deep democracy although they cannot hum even a bar of The Internationale. Yet missing from this description are many radical tendencies that draw on the first valence of propaganda by the deed – to name a few, there are civilization-hating anarcho-primitivists, destruction-loving anarcho-queers, democracy-averse nihilists, and anti-organizational insurrectionists. There are many reasons why those elements are often disavowed or even denied by their radical relatives but one is obvious: these dissident tendencies draw their power from a dangerous source that resists legibility. Rather than constructing their propagandistic appeals on images of a well-ordered society constituted by a moral majority, these hidden elements draw on deeper and darker desires of nonexistence and disappearance. However, this opposition – the reasonable proposals of social anarchists and the excesses of their darker offspring – is stale, so perhaps there is a way to break through.
Is there a power of truth that is not just the truth of power? asks Gilles Deleuze (Foucault, 94-95). Written alternately in the language of anarchism: what is the propaganda by the deed if it is not just the deed of propaganda? The answer is found in a mode of communication whereby actions ‘speak for themselves’ – actions that need not be owned, named, or explained. Actions as expression without speaking subjects. Expressions that speak reason but do not prefigure. Expressions that speak passions but are not feelings. The expression that lingers when the thing expressed is nowhere to be found. In short: the force of anonymity. That is today’s dark propaganda by the deed. Continue reading “Chapter 5 – Anonymity”
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. Continue reading “Coda”
Agamben, Giorgio, “Metropolis,” lecture, trans Arianna Bove (Nov 2006), web. http://www.generation-online.org/p/fpagamben4.htm
Agamben, Giorgio, State of Exception, trans Kevin Attell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005)
Ahmed, Sara, The Promise of Happiness (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010)
Althusser, Louis and Étienne Balibar, Reading Capital, trans Ben Brewster (New York: Pantheon Books, 1970)
Althusser, Louis, “The Underground Current of the Materialism of the Encounter,” Philosophy of the Encounter: Later Writings, 1978-1987, trans GM Goshgarian, eds François Matheron and Oliver Corpet (New York: Verson, 2006), 163-207
Anderson, Benedict R, “The Idea of Power in Javanese Culture,” Culture and Politics in Indonesia, eds Claire Holt, Benedict R Anderson, James T Siegel (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1972), 1-69 Continue reading “References”