Connectivity as Inclusive Disjunction

cloudAbstractly, connectivity operates through inclusive disjunction, a process that puts otherwise foreign elements into communication with one another through an encounter that does not require those pieces to operate through a shared logic.[i] Rather than in-folding some common term, such as the introjection of an imperial dictate, The Metropolis unfolds. It exposes interiors through a mutual opening up (to name a few: the privatization of economic risk through increased debt obligation, the removal of tariffs that protect national industries, or the exemption of citizenship rights against government assassination).[ii] In this sense, those who condemn capitalism as a homogenizing force are incorrect – inclusion can spread through divergence. The Metropolis retains differential relations of parts by selecting “a particular zone that varies with each” that will make possible its integration of the “sum of infinitely tiny things.”[iii] Furthermore, by being more than inclusion based on a common term (the law, a nation, a people), disjunction is pure relation, a movement of “reciprocal asymmetric implication,” that expresses only difference itself (and not imposing equivalence, resolving into a general category, or synthesizing into a superior identity).[iv] The Metropolis hence shares Deleuze’s “most profound insight” that “difference is just as much communication, contagion of heterogeneities,” which means, “to connect is always to communicate on either side of a distance, by the very heterogeneity of terms.”[v] The effect of this contagion does not result in a unity, combination, or fusion; inclusive disjunction maintains a “politeness” – “an art of distances.”[vi]

Deleuze is pessimistic about connectivity. With Félix Guattari in What is Philosophy?, he argues for distrusting communication, as “commercial professional training” has made philosophy subservient to marketing and transformed concepts into advertising slogans.[vii] He ultimately argues that “continuous control and instant communication” constitutes a new form of power that must be evaded.[viii] This leads him to find refuge in “vacuoles of non-communication,” which can serve as “circuit breakers so we can elude control.”[ix]

Inclusive disjunction gives the Metropolis a categorically different relationship to difference. It spatializes difference, which allows the Metropolis to outmaneuver the traditional politics of difference, such as liberal freedom or multiculturalism. This is why many metropolitan spaces expand without what appears to be pre-given patterns or rules, such as The Third Italy or Australia’s Gold Coast.[x] The primary strategy of the Metropolis is thus to diffuse differences through inclusion rather than confront them through antagonism. Within this system of inclusion, difference is not a threat but the means by which contemporary power maintains a hold on the perpetual present. The effect of this temporal modulation is that historical time disappears as “contemporary events themselves retreat into a remote and fabulous realm of unverifiable stories, uncheckable statistics, unlikely explanations and untenable reasoning.”[xi] The accelerated speed of media increasingly makes networked media, such as the internet, a breeding ground for conspiracy and insinuation, as the sheer volume of participants and incredible speed of information accumulation means that in the time it takes to put one conspiratorial theory to bed, the raw material for many more will have already begun circulating.[xii]

Such a system of power cannot be escaped by simply celebrating the differences that grow out of life in the Metropolis, for 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, connectivity follows the database logic of positivity that was metaphysically prefigured by Deleuze in Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense.[xiii] Here, things are introduced into the Metropolis through a plane of positivities that unfolds secured elements, exposes them to risk, and eliminates their futurity. Unlike Debord’s “society of the Spectacle,” where the management of society is still dominated by the human eye, we have entered the machine-readable era where information flows circulate outside the reach of human perception. We are thus given the impression that ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same.’ The inclusion and proliferation of difference is thus not a motor for change but stasis. The political potentials made available through inclusive disjunction are the familiar channels of liberal capitalism, such as public influence, legal privilege, and market power. All of these work through a principle of capture often described as “communicative capitalism,” which expands through circuits of exploitation and submission.[xiv]

Resistance to connectivity may require the other side of disjunction, exclusive disjunction: the forced choice between two options. What exclusive disjunction offers is a path for evading the capture as ‘just another difference.’ The first obstacle to exclusive disjunction is liberal pluralism, which is so deeply intertwined with the politics of difference that the very notion of exclusivity may be a tough pill for some to swallow. Forced choice is not the enemy of difference, however, as it does not reduce the world to a simple binary. There are certainly moments of exclusive disjunction that should remain the cause of intense political suspicion, such as the trans-phobic claim that masculinity and femininity are exclusive. Exclusive disjunction does not force a choice between two homogeneous forms, rather it intensifies whatever incommensurability exists between worlds of difference – on each side of a network, on each side of a multiplicity. This is how Deleuze and Guattari can simultaneously affirm “a thousand tiny sexes” and that all radical gender politics begins through “becoming-woman.”[xv] In fact, the illusion that there is only one possible world is a lie perpetuated in the Metropolis to maintain a perpetual present. Exclusion’s difference-making potential only appears paradoxical from the perspective of pluralistic liberalism. If one begins instead from the perspective that the difference of the Metropolis is a repetition of the same, then exclusivity simply clarifies the difference between reform and revolution. To put it suggestively but crudely: instead of convergence culture that puts everything into communication, exclusive disjunction seeks a divergence culture that spins things off to pursue their own paths. There are already instances of this divergence, as seen in various subcultures of glitch and noise, but they do not politicize incompatibility. It is thus post-colonialism that should be our guide, as it has already politicized the incommensurable and has laid a blueprint for global delinking.[xvi]

An excerpt from my forthcoming article “Confronting Connectivity: Feminist Challenges to the Metropolis” in Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies.

[i] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R Lane (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1983).

[ii] Gilles Deleuze, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, trans. Tom Conley (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 136-137.

[iii] Ibid, 130-131.

[iv] François Zourabichvili, Deleuze: A Philosophy of the Event together with The Vocabulary of Desire, trans. Kieren Aarons (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012). 168.

[v] Ibid, 121.

[vi] Ibid, 121.

[vii] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What is Philosophy?, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell (Columbia: Columbia University Press, 1994), 12.

[viii] Gilles Deleuze, “Postscript on Societies of Control,” trans. Martin Joughlin, Negotiations 1972-1990 (New York, NY: Columbia University Press), 174.

[ix] Ibid, 175.

[x] Manuel DeLanda, A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History (New York: Zone Books, 2000); Patricia Wise, “Australia’s Gold Coast: A City Producing Itself,” in Urban Space and Cityscapes: Perspectives from Modern and Contemporary Culture, ed. Christoph Lindner (New York: Routledge, 2006), 95-120.

[xi] Guy Debord, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, trans. Malcolm Imrie (New York: Verso, 1990), 16.

[xii] Esther Dyson, “End of the Official Story,” Executive Excellence 175 (2000).

[xiii] Manovich, Language of New Media; Deleuze, Difference and Repetition; Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester and Charles Stivale, ed. Constantin V. Boundas (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1990).

[xiv] Dean, Blog Theory.

[xv] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 213; 275-280.

[xvi] Homi Bhabha, “Location, Intervention, Incommensurability: A Conversation with Homi Bhabha,” Emergences 1 (1993); Kenneth Surin, Freedom Not Yet: Liberation and the Next World Order (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009).

3 thoughts on “Connectivity as Inclusive Disjunction

  1. Hey Andrew,

    I was just rereading this post next to an interview with Frank Wilderson on the Ferguson riots. The largest impression I’m left with after Wilderson’s talk is that the reckoning of difference necessary is far, far more severe than I think I’m capable of thinking/feeling thru at the moment. I mean, Wilderson seems to frame it as a reckoning for which coherence is impossible – the ending of the world etc.

    The difference between inclusive & exclusive disjunctions, as you use them here, seems analogous (loosely) to Wilderson’s sense of the irreconcilability between non-black activist struggles (the building of a better world) and black struggles (the destruction of the world). At the center of the latter is the forcing of a choice, the destruction of the human (whiteness/slavery etc) not in action but in being.

    Insofar as the metropolitan is the (as yet) unrealized, tho paradigmatic, form of life in the western empire, I’m curios as to how inclusive disjunction might be a mechanism of anti-blackness in the city. At more than one level of abstraction, as W likes to say. I mean, the inclusive drive of humanism, who’s motor is the exclusion of blackness. And exclusive disjunction as the sort of horizon of legibility, beyond which is the antihumanism Wilderson (and you) speak of.

    Less abstractly, gentrification and the distribution of violence and legibility in a city like Chicago seems to function thru these terms. I mean, could the metropolis truly incorporate (positively) the totality of it’s parts?

    I guess I’m wondering if you have done any work in this area. The only text I’ve found that tries to reconcile Wilderson’s stance with something like insurrectionary anarchist thought/praxis is Kieran Aarons’ “No Selves to Abolish”. I’m under the impression that y’all know one another, but I’m not sure!

    with gratitude,


    1. Hi J,

      Really appreciate the question, as I think it’s incredibly important. I read but didn’t comment on Wilderson’s work for a long time. Why? On it’s face, there is an irreconcilable disagreement between Wilderson and the Deleuzian minor/molecular at the level of their theory of the subject. It was only through my work on this paper (“Confronting Connectivity”) and Dark Deleuze that I came up with a way that the two could be reconciled. To see how someone else identified this tension and concluded in favor of a traditional reading of D&G, consult:

      Just to outline what’s at stake a bit more before delving into your question: Anti-Oedipus is strongly in favor of inclusive disjunction as ‘the answer’ to the political problem of transcendence. This reading leads to what Alex Galloway has jokingly called the ‘wet diaper Deleuzians,’ who always affirm ‘that thing’ that resists calculation. Personally, I agree that a politics of the incalculable is not an especially good one. And in fact, I think it’s the reverse of the coin to the concrete things D&G dislike about molar identities, e.g. “my existence is resistance”-type politics.

      Now to the question of anti-black inclusion. Here, we might actually learn a lot from whiteness studies. There is a lot of whiteness studies that feels bullshitty, like giving space to white people to find their own racial consciousness narratives, doing detailed genealogies of whiteness to demonstrate how it’s an unstable category (duh), or once again trying to say that race is nothing but a white conspiracy or a conspiracy of capital (which once again… duh duh duh… puts whiteness at the center of the analysis & thus everything).

      But a key idea from whiteness studies is that whiteness should not be thought of as phenotype but a structure of power (such as Cheryl Harris’s “whiteness as property”). If that’s true, then there are ways that blackness is always at risk of investing in whiteness. This type of analysis is nothing new, though there are a lot of interesting angles to explore. For instance, is history white? Given that black people had their history stolen from them, do that make blacks a tragic people who need to recover their history, or does that position them to be a people who live without a history in a radical sense? (Toni Morrison once suggested that black people were the first modernists, having lived through spatial and historical displacement far before Euro-Americans thought it was radical.)

      Now to return to the question of inclusive disjunction. What if our prevailing paradigm of power now was not one of simple inclusion/exclusion? We’ve already seen some good thinking on this by theorists of migration, e.g. ‘inclusive exclusion’ & ‘exclusive inclusion’ via refugees and other border methods:

      But I also think we can retain some of D&G’s molecular theory of the subject but prevent it from coming in conflict with “molar” theories of blackness, etc. The first way I do this is through Galloway and Thacker’s politics of asymmetry, which is from The Exploit. The clearest exploration, however, is Jackie Wang’s essay “Against Innocence” from the LIES Journal. In it, she develops an idea popular in whiteness studies that innocence = whiteness. Therefore, appeals to the innocence of certain ‘victims’ of structural violence (I’m thinking here of Michael Brown and police execution, though she’s writing pre-Ferguson; but it also works for gentrification) draw a border between the good black (“they complied,” or more) and the bad black.

      How might this apply to gentrification? Gentrification is a complicated issue. I live in a majority-POC neighborhood in LA with a large Filipino population that was originally settled as a whites-only suburb. A few miles over in Boyle Heights, there’s a super militant fight against gentrification using the strategy of ‘making whites/art gallery owners afraid’ that’s working, but a number of the groups behind it have draped themselves in Maoist discourse in a strange way that could problems down the road. LA is also a city that takes its racial politics seriously, in that it takes strong stances against ICE cooperation and does a lot to serve various races that make up its metropolis. This is all to say, the Metropolis doesn’t include all of blackness, not can it, but it is happy to include anyone who speaks in the language of civility politics (willing to point the finger toward ‘the real bad ones’), poses demands that can be incorporated (body cameras!), and runs as a politicians looking to ‘work with others’ (reformists).

      But perhaps there is where we find the key difference between race and anti-blackness. Afro-pessimism is explicitly a theory of violence and not a racial theory of peoples, their culture, or their relative access to positions of power. Like a number of major US cities (including Chicago), LA has diverse racial representation in politics, business, and other sites of power. Yet does such placement prevent anti-black violence? I think we’d all agree that the LAPD is one of the worst perpetrators of anti-black violence. I’m not deeply connected enough with groups like BYP100, Movement for Black Lives, etc to do a close analysis, but I can guarantee you that those working to combat anti-black violence have a very different analysis that identifies a contrary set of problems, a separate means to address them, and a separate political horizon that *prevents* them from engaging in the same sort of politics proposed by progressive advocacy groups dedicated to the placement of people of color in higher positions of power.

      So on the theoretical side, my proposal would be to keep developing the notion of innocence that causes a split within blackness. Why some elements of blackness get excluded, and why others don’t. And like my critique of traditional Deleuzians who say that there something mystical that ultimately cannot be calculated/incorporated, to offer a compelling alternative theory to the undigestible kernel.


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