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. Continue reading “Maurizio Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, “Introduction””


Jamming the Symbolic Machine of Empire: The Body in Direct Action

In his response to Butler in Contingency, Hegemony, Universality, Žižek challenges Butler’s notion of re-signification.  Žižek notes that it’s not that re-signification is never effective, it’s just that both the two imaginaries on the left – the democratic welfare state imaginary and the ‘really-existing-Socialism’ – have been all but exhausted (325).  Rather than resignify the symbolic coordinates of a particular identity, Žižek argues that one should transform the universal ‘principle’ that structures the existing symbolic order.  Žižek is not shy in suggesting why he thinks a full-scale re-structuring is necessary because “it is the very focus on the notion of Real as impossible that reveals the ultimate contingency, frailty (and thus changeability) of very symbolic constellation that pretends to serve as the a priori horizon of the process of symbolization (221).  On the next two pages, as well as in the last chapter, Žižek reiterates that his political project is one of hegemony, however.  To be more explicit, one part of Žižek’s strategy is to sacrifice all attachments and identifications in an ethical act so the ethical figure is not required to compromise her desire, draining the Symbolic’s ability to hold the subject hostage – mirroring the famous line from David Fincher’s Fight Club “It’s only after you’ve lost everything are you free to do anything” (Revolution 249-53).

While I agree with Žižek that the constitutive Real provides a possibility for going beyond resignification, his strategy of hegemony sidesteps the Foucaultian conception of productive power. An analytics of power changes if the productive effects of power are taken into account.  In a post-sovereign society, there is no longer a singular referent for all relations of power.  The production of power is relocated to a multiplicity of sites.  Instead of relying on a naïve humanism that would assume essential aspects of human rationality, desire, and sociality, productive power allows one to create a social topology that accounts for reproducing life (HS 92-100).  Additionally, productive power shifts the terms of debate away from freedom and repression.  Freedom implies that social, political, economic and cultural forces inhibit an otherwise unfettered subject.  Instead, productive power proposes that different potentialities are to be increased or restricted as they are produced (increasing efficiency or productivity at performing certain tasks, added responsiveness to certain discursive pronouncements), but in a manner that is always radically circumscribed by its conditions of possibility because they rely on their conditions of possibility for their reproduction.  Put another way, freedoms are produced, not liberated.

Continue reading “Jamming the Symbolic Machine of Empire: The Body in Direct Action”