Maurizio Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, “Introduction”


To say that desire is part of the infrastructure comes down to saying that subjectivity produces reality. Subjectivity is not an ideological superstructure.

At the time of Leninism, the government had to be overturned – the trade unions were economists, traitors – power had to go to the Soviets: in short, there was an idea, there was something. But here, really, there is no idea. There’s nothing at all. There’s the idea of macroeconomics, of a certain number of factors: unemployment, the market, money, all abstractions that have nothing at all to do with social reality.

-Félix Guattari, “Crise de production de subjectivité,”

Seminar of April 3, 1984

In a seminar in 1984, Félix Guattari argued that the crisis affecting the West since the early 1970s as, more than an economic or political crisis, a crisis of subjectivity. How are we to understand Guattari’s claim?

Germany and Japan came out of the Second World War completely destroyed, under long-term occupation, both socially and (8) psychologically decimated, with “no material assets-no raw materials, no reserve capital.” What explains the economic miracle? “They rebuilt a prodigious ‘capital of subjectivity’ (capital in the form of knowledge, collective intelligence, the will to survive, etc.). Indeed,they invented a new type of subjectivity out of the devastation itself. The Japanese, in particular, recovered aspects of their archaic subjectivity, converting them into the most ‘advanced’ forms of social and material production. [. . .] The latter represents a kind of industrial complex for the production of subjectivity, one enabling a multiplicity of creative processes to emerge, certain of which are, however, highly alienating.”2

Capitalism “launches (subjective) models the way the automobile industry launches a new line of cars.”3 Indeed, the central project of capitalist politics consists in the articulation of economic, technological, and social flows with the production of subjectivity in such a way that political economy is identical with “subjective economy.” Guattari’s working hypothesis must be revived and applied to current circumstances; and we must start by acknowledging that neoliberalism has failed to articulate the relation between these two economies.

Guattari further observes capitalism’s capacity to foresee and resolve systemic crises through apparatuses and safeguards that it came to master following the Great Depression. Today, the weakness of capitalism lies in the production of subjectivity. As a consequence, systemic crisis and the crisis in the production of subjectivity are strictly interlinked. It is impossible to separate economic, political, and social processes from the processes of subjectivation occurring within them.

With neoliberal deterritorialization, no new production of subjectivity takes place. On the other hand, neoliberalism has destroyed previous social relations and their forms of subjectivation (9) (worker, communist, or social-democrat subjectivation or national subjectivity, bourgeois subjectivity, etc.). Nor does neoliberalism’s promotion of the entrepreneur-with which Foucault associates the subjective mobilization management requires in all forms of economic activity-offer any kind of solution to the problem. Quite the contrary. Capital has always required a territory beyond the market and the corporation and a subjectivity that is not that of the entrepreneur; for although the entrepreneur, the business, and the market make up the economy, they also break up society.

Hence the long-standing recourse to pre-capitalist territories and values, to long-established morals and religions, and to the formidable modern subjectivations of nationalism, racism, and fascism which aim to maintain the social ties capitalism continually undermines. Today, the ubiquity of entrepreneurial subjectivation, manifest in the drive to transform every individual into a business, has resulted in a number of paradoxes. The autonomy, initiative, and subjective commitment demanded of each of us constitute new norms of employability and, therefore, strictly speaking, a heteronomy. At the same time, the injunction imposed on the individual to act, take the initiative, and undertake risks has led to widespread depression, a maladie du siécle, the refusal to accept homogenization, and, finally, the impoverishment of existence brought on by the individual “success” of the entrepreneurial model.

For the majority of the population, to become an economic subject (“human capital,” “entrepreneur of the self”) means no more than being compelled to manage declining wages and income, precarity, unemployment, and poverty in the same way one would manage a corporate balance-sheet. As the crisis wrought by repeated “financial” debacles has worsened, capitalism has abandoned its rhetoric of the knowledge or information society along with its (10) dazzling subjectivations (cognitive workers, “manipulators of symbols,” creative self-starters and luminaries). The crisis has brought debt and its modes of subjection to the fore in the figure of the indebted man. Now that the promises of wealth for all through hard work, credit, and finance have proved empty, the class struggle has turned to the protection of creditors and owners of “securities.” In the present crisis, in order for the power of private property to assert itself, the articulation of “production” and the “production of subjectivity” relies on debt and the indebted man.

Obviously, we are talking about a negative subjection, the most obvious indication that flows of knowledge, action, and mobility, although continually solicited, lead only to repressive and regressive subjectivation. The indebted man, at once guilty and responsible for his lot, must take on himself the economic, social, and political failures of the neoliberal power bloc, exactly those failures externalized by the State and business onto society.

It is no longer a matter of innovation, creativity, knowledge, or culture but of the “flight” of owners of capital whose “exodus” consists in their plundering the welfare state while refiising to pay taxes. In this way, the univocity of the concept of production (both economic and subjective) allows us to see that the financial crisis is not only about economics, it is also a crisis of neoliberal governmentality whose drive to turn every individual into an owner, a business, and a shareholder has miserably run aground with the collapse of the American real-estate market.

Japan is emblematic of the impossibility of resolving the crisis afflicting the country since the 199os without a new model of subjectivity. Like every other country in the world, Japan is now post-Fordist, yet more than any other country it has had the greatest difficulty replacing the Fordist “capital of subjectivity” (full (11) employment, a job for life, the ethics of work, etc.) that made it rich. It is not enough to inject astronomical sums into the economy; it is not enough to stabilize the banks, weaken and destabilize the job market, impoverish workers, and so on, in order to promote growth. To new social, economic, and political conditions, subjectivity must be made to correspond, one cognizant of those conditions and able to persist within them. It is in this sense that the Japanese financial and economic crisis is above all a crisis in the government of behavior. Economics and subjectivity go hand in hand.

The unions and political parties on the “left” provide no solutions to these problems because they too have no alternative subjectivities on offer. The people, the working class, labor, producers, and employment no longer have a hold on subjectivity, no longer function as vectors of subjectivation.

Today’s critical theories similarly fail to account for the relationship between capitalism and processes of subjectivation. Cognitive capitalism, the information society, and cultural capitalism (Rifkin) capture the relationship but do so all too reductively. On the one hand, knowledge, information, and culture are far from suflicient to cover the multiplicity of economies that constitutes “production.” On the other hand, their subjective avatars (cognitive workers, “manipulators of symbols,” etc.) fall short of the multiple modes of subjection and political subjectivation that contribute to the “production of subjectivity.” Their claim to found a hegemonic paradigm for production and the production of subjectivity is belied by the fact that the fate of the class struggle, as the crisis has shown, is not being played out in the domains of knowledge, information, or culture.

While these theories make short shrift of the relationship between production and the production of subjectivity, Jacques Ranciére and Alain Badiou neglect it completely. For them, one (12) simply has nothing to do with the other. Instead, they assert the need to conceive a radical separation between “economics” and “subjectivity,” thereby developing an economistic conception of the economy and an utterly “political” or “idealist” conception of subjectivity.

Despite the rise of public and private apparatuses for the production, adaptation, and control of subjectivity, apparatuses whose authoritarianism has only intensified during the crisis, we must insist with Guattari that subjectivity still has no ground or means for subjectivation. “This is a major crisis. A crisis of what? In my opinion, it is a major crisis because the problem that’s at the tip of everyone’s tongue is the following: Shit, we’ve got to at least have a religion, an idea! [. . .] we can’t leave everything up in the air like this!”

But what does the concept of the production of subjectivity entail? What is meant by subjectivation and, in particular, political subjectivation?

In capitalism, the production of subjectivity works in two ways through what Deleuze and Guattari call apparatuses [dispositfi] of social subjection and machinic enslavement.

Social subjection equips us with a subjectivity, assigning us an identity, a sex, a body, a profession, a nationality, and so on. In response to the needs of the social division of labor, it in this way manufactures individuated subjects, their consciousness, representations, and behavior.

But the production of the individuated subject is coupled with a completely dilTerent process and a completely different hold on subjectivity that proceeds through desubjectivation. Machinic enslavement dismantles the individuated subject, consciousness, and representations, acting on both the pre-individual and supra-individual levels. (13)

Among contemporary critical theories (those of Badiou, cognitive capitalism, Judith Butler, Slajov Zizek, Ranciere, etc.), it is largely a question of subjectivity, the subject, subjectivation, and the distribution of the sensible. But what they neglect is how capitalism specifically functions-that is, through “machinic enslavements.” These critical theories seem to have lost sight of what Marx had to say about the essentially machinic nature of capitalism: “machinery appears as the most adequate form of fixed capital; and the latter, in so far as capital can be considered as being related to itself, is the most adequate form of capital in general.”5

Such is even more the case today given that, unlike in Marx’s time, machinisms have invaded our daily lives; they now “assist” our ways of speaking, hearing, seeing, writing, and feeling by constituting what one might call “constant social capital.”

Nowhere in their analyses do we encounter these technical and social machines in which “humans” and “non-humans” function together as component parts in corporate, welfare-state, and media assemblages. Ranciere and Badiou have radically elided them altogether. Thus machines and machinic assemblages can be found everywhere except in contemporary critical theory.

Now, capitalism reveals a twofold cynicism: the “humanist” cynicism of assigning us individuality and pre-established roles (worker, consumer, unemployed, man/woman, artist, etc.) in which individuals are necessarily alienated; and the “dehumanizing” cynicism of including us in an assemblage that no longer distinguishes between human and non-human, subject and object, or words and things.

Throughout this book, we will examine the difiference and complementarity between apparatuses of “social subjection” and those of “machinic enslavement,” for it is at their point of intersection that (14) the production of subjectivity occurs. We will trace a cartography of the modalities of subjection and enslavement, those with which we will have to break in order to begin a process of subjectivation independent and autonomous of capitalism’s hold on subjectivity, its modalities of production and forms of life.

It is therefore essential to understand that the subjectivity and subjectivations capitalism produces are meant for the “machine.” Not primarily for the “technical machine” but for the “social machine,” for the “megamachine,” as Lewis Mumford calls it, which includes the technical machine as one of its products.

What are the conditions for a political and existential rupture at a time when the production of subjectivity constitutes the most fundamental of capitalist concerns? What are the instruments specific to the production of subjectivity such that its industrial and serial production by the State and the corporation might be thwarted? What model and what modalities of organization must be constructed for a subjectivation process that joins micro- and macropolitics?

In the 1980s, Michel Foucault and Guattari each followed different paths to arrive at the conclusion that the production of subjectivity and the constitution of the “relation to the self ” were the sole contemporary political questions capable of pointing the way out of the impasse in which we still continue to founder. Each in their own way they revealed a new dimension irreducible to power and knowledge relations. As the power of self-positioning and existential affirmation (Guattari), the “relation to the self” (Foucault) derives-in its double sense of originating in and drawing off – from these relations. The subjective is not, however, dependent on them. For Foucault, taking the “care of the self” as one’s starting point does not mean pursuing the ideal splendor of a “beautiful life” but rather inquiring into the overlap of “an aesthetics (15) of existence” and a politics that corresponds to it. The problems of “an other world” and “an other life” arise together in a politically engaged life whose precondition is a break with established conventions, habits, and values. Nor does Guattari’s aesthetic paradigm call for an aestheticization of the social and political but rather for making the production of subjectivity the central practice and concern of a new way of political action and organizing.

Subjectivation processes and their forms of organization have always given rise to crucial debates within the labor movement and have occasioned political ruptures and divisions between “reformists” and “revolutionaries.”

The history of the labor movement remains incomprehensible if we refuse to see the “wars of subjectivity” (Guattari) in which the movement has engaged. “A certain type of worker during the Paris Commune became such a ‘mutant’ that the bourgeoisie had no choice but to exterminate him. They liquidated the Paris Commune just as they did, in a different time, the Protestants on Saint-Bartholomew’s.”6

The Bolsheviks did not explicitly think of inventing a new kind of militant subjectivity which would, among other things, respond to the Commune’s defeat.7

Examining processes of political subjectivation by foregrounding the “micro-political” (Guattari) and the “micro-physical” (Foucault) dimensions of power does not dispense with the need to address and reconfigure the macro-political sphere.

It’s an either/or: either someone, whoever it is, comes up with new methods for the production of subjectivity, whether Bolshevik, Maoist, or whatever; or the crisis will just keep on getting worse.8 (16)

In his way, Guattari not only remained faithful to Marx but to Lenin as well. Of course, the methods for the production of subjectivity that came out of Leninism (the party, the conception of the working class as vanguard, the “professional revolutionary,” etc.) are no longer relevant to current class compositions. What Guattari retains from the Leninist experiment is the methodology: the need to break with “social-democracy,” to construct tools for political innovation extending to the organizational modalities of subjectivity.

Just as the production of subjectivity cannot be separated from “economics,” it cannot be separated from “politics.” How must we conceive of political subjectivation? All political subjectivation entails a mutation and a reconversion of subjectivity that affects existence. It cannot only be political in the sense that both Ranciere and Badiou give the term.

Subjective mutation is not primarily discursive; it does not primarily have to do with knowledge, information, or culture since it affects the nucleus of non-discursivity, non-knowledge, and non-acculturation lying at the heart of subjectivity. Subjective mutation is fundamentally an existential affirmation and apprehension of the self, others, and the world. And it is on the basis of this non-discursive, existential, and affective crystallization that new languages, new discourses, new knowledge, and a new politics can proliferate.

We will first examine this question from a specific perspective: the paradoxical relationship that the discursive-that is, what is actualized in language but also within the spatiotemporal coordinates of knowledge, culture, institutions, and the economy-maintains with the non-discursive, as the focal point of self-production, self-positioning, and existential affirmation.

The same critical theories that neglect the machinic specificity of capitalism also fail to problematize the relationship between the (17) discursive and the existential. Indeed, they assign a central role to the former, that is, to language in the realm of politics (Ranciére), “production” (cognitive capitalism, Paolo Virno), and the constitution of the subject (Zizek and Butler).

Structuralism may be dead, but language, which founds the structuralist paradigm, is still alive and well in these theories. To grasp the limits of the new “logocentrism,” we will have to take a step backwards, returning to the critiques of structuralism and linguistics advanced in the 1960s and 70s by Guattari, Deleuze, and Foucault. In different ways, their critiques demoted language from the central role it was made to play in politics and subjectivation processes following the “linguistic turn” in analytic philosophy and Lacanian psychoanalysis. They set forth a new semiotic theory and a new theory of enunciation better able to register how signs function in these processes and in the economy. In particular, we will return to Guattari’s semiotic theory. While affirming that each subjectivation process implies the operations of mixed, signifying, symbolic, and asignifying semiotics, Guattari considers the latter, as they operate in the economy, science, art, and machines, the specificity of capitalism.

What role and function do different signifying, symbolic, and asignifying semiotics have in running and controlling capitalist deterritorialization and reterritorialization? And what is their relationship with the subjectivation process?

Guattari and Foucault do not stop at deposing the “imperialism” of language over other modes of expression and other formations of subjectivity. While emphasizing the strategic importance of different semiotics for steering and controlling capitalist flows and subjectivity production, they argue that in order to bring together the conditions for rupture and subjective reconversion, we must move beyond both language and semiotics. (18)

Further, they enact “a radical divorce” (Guattari) between pragmatic linguistics and existential pragmatics, between the semiotic logic that produces meaning and the pragmatics that produces existence and political rupture.

In the act of enunciation (in the same way as in every act of creation), a power of self-positioning, self-production, and a capacity to secrete one’s own referent emerges, a power which has little to do with Saussurean “speech,” the Lacanian “signifier,” or the performatives and speech acts of analytic philosophy.

A force of self-affectation, self-affirmation, and self-positioning doubles power and knowledge relations, defying the powers and knowledge in place. It provides the conditions for rupture as well as for processes of political subjectivation-indeed, for processes of subjectivation tout court. The rules governing the production of the self are those “optional” and processual ones invented by constructing “sensible territories” and by a singularization of subjectivity (Guattari), by creating the alterity of “an other life” and “an other world” (Foucault). Hence the recourse, not to cognitive, linguistic, and informational methods and paradigms, but to political, ethical-aesthetic approaches and paradigms-the “aesthetic paradigm” of Guattari and the “aesthetics of existence” of Foucault.

Only as a mutation of subjectivity, as the crystallization of a new existence (Guattari), gains consistency can one attempt a new relationship to economic, linguistic, technical, social, and communicational flows.

To produce a new discourse, new knowledge, a new politics, one must traverse an unnamable point, a point of absolute non-narrative, non-culture, and non-knowledge. Thus the (tautological) absurdity of conceiving production as the production of knowledge by way of knowledge. Theories of cognitive and cultural capitalism (19) and the information society, which are supposed to be theories of innovation and creativity, fail precisely to conceive the process through which “creation” and “innovation” occur, for language, knowledge, information, and culture are largely insufficient to these ends.

In order for political subjectivation to occur, it must necessarily traverse moments in which dominant significations are suspended and the hold of machinic enslavements is thrown off. Strikes, struggles, revolts, and riots constitute moments of rupture with and suspension of chronological time, of the neutralization of subjections and dominant significations. Immaculate, virginal subjectivities do not then appear but rather focal points, emergences, the beginnings of subjectivation whose actualization and proliferation depend on a constructive process that must articulate the relation between “production” and “subjectivation” in a new way.

But are the struggles, revolts, riots, and strikes that have spread around the globe in response to the violence of the crisis sufficient for instituting a political rupture with capitalism?

The analysis of the Soviet Revolution, which returns like a refrain in Deleuze and Guattari’s work, oflers certain, even if only formal, insights which help to understand the limits of the current political situation. In their work, the modes of subjectivity production are translated into politics. Under capitalism, processes of political subjectivation must both enter and break from economic, social, and political flows. The two operations are indispensable: start from the hold machinic enslavements and social subjections maintain over subjectivity and produce a rupture, which is always at the same time an invention and constitution of the self.9

“Revolution” erupts from history, that is, from economic, political, and social conditions while it simultaneously leaves these (20) causes and conditions behind by creating new possibilities. It derives and, paradoxically, does not derive from history.

Viewed through the lens of post-May ’68 struggles rather than as a historical reconstruction, the “Leninist rupture” is characterized by the coexistence of different orders: the order of causes and the order of desire (the existential, non-discursive dimension), the order of “preconscious investments” governed by causes and aims and the order of “unconscious revolutionary investments” which have as their cause a rupture in causality, the condition for opening new possibilities.

Such an opening, “prepared by the subterranean work of causes, aims, and interests,” only becomes real through something of another order, by “a desire without aim or cause.”‘°

Revolutionary possibility can always be identified by the impossibility it makes real, and by the fact that a process erupts secreting other systems of reference at the very place where the world was once closed. As in all creation (whether artistic, scientific, or social), the suspension of the ordinary course of things first of all affects subjectivity and its forms of expression by creating the conditions for new subjectivation. This process must be problematized.“

Although the forms of Leninist organization are today neither possible not desirable, the “break with causality,” the turn from the expected course of things, the impossible that becomes real, the organization and metamorphosis of subjectivity-these remain the burning questions of all revolutionary movements.

And even though one can and must assign the objective factors within causal series that made such a rupture possible, the Bolshevik group becomes aware of the immediate possibility of a proletarian revolution that would not follow the anticipated causal order of the relations of forces.”12 (21)

Today it is easy to identify the chain of causes, aims, and interests at work in the present crisis. The choices are endless. What is lacking are precisely the characteristics of revolutionary action: the “rupture with causality,” the possibility of inventing a politics, like that of the “Leninist rupture,” that does more than follow the chain of causes, aims, and interests already in play. In order to take on consistency, in order to install its modes of organization and metamorphose subjectivity, the revolutionary event, in its break with causality, must transform the social, economic, and political conditions from which it arises and ward off the action of the State, the medias, reactionary forces, and so on. It is the complexity of this process that seems, for the moment, to escape political movements. We have in fact a proliferation of political experimentations that appear then just as quickly fade because they are unable to initiate the modes of macropolitical, reproducible, and generalizable subjectivation.

For its part, capital is also in a “subjective” impasse which forces it to suspend democracy and adopt forms of authoritarian governance.

The current crisis now produces only negative and regressive subjections (the indebted man), and capitalism is unable to articulate production and the production of subjectivity other than by reasserting the need to protect the owners of capital. The crisis is nowhere near the end. Given this, the theoretical tools we intend to develop here will hopefully prove useful for conceiving the conditions of political subjectivation, one which is at the same time an existential mutation antithetical to capitalism, whose crisis is already of historic proportions.

The problem in the 19605 was overturning the two behemoths of the party and the union, which prevented all political innovation and blocked the emergence of new subjects and new ways of (22) conceiving and practicing politics (micropolitics: young workers, minorities, the women’s movement, etc.). Today, with the party gone and unions completely integrated into capitalist logic, macropolitical action and its forms of organization, based on an irreducible multiplicity of subjectivation processes, are at the heart of our urgent underlying question: “What is to be done?”

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