Defining the Virtual Concept: An Idea that “Does Not Refer to the Lived”

state-conceptThis is an excerpt from my forthcoming essay in parallax that provides a Deleuzian theory of the State by way of cinema, cultural studies, and rhetorical theory.

Defining the state as a virtual concept requires an explanation of the virtual in Deleuze’s work. Deleuze does not mean simulated, as in ‘virtual reality’, in fact: ‘the virtual is opposed not to the real but to the actual’.[1] The virtual and the actual together make up two mutually-exclusive sides of the real.[2] The actual is a given states of affairs that is populated by bodies. The virtual is a ‘pure past’ of incorporeal events and singularities that have never been present, which have ‘the capacity to bring about x, without (in being actualized) ever coming to coincide or identify itself with x, or to be depleted and exhausted in x’ while ‘without being or resembling an actual x’.[3] In this sense, the virtual includes all potential worlds, everything that inhabits them, all of their really-existing potentials, and their every potential to differ that coexists with he actual.[4] To illustrate the complex character of the virtual, Deleuze is fond of quoting Jorge Luis Borges, whose ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’ includes a fictional book of Chinese philosophy that creates an opening ‘to various future times, but not to all’. [5] ‘In all fiction, when a man is faced with alternatives he chooses one at the expense of others’, he writes, ‘in the almost unfathomable Ts’ui Pên, he chooses – simultaneously – all of them’ and thus ‘creates various futures, various times which start others that will in their turn branch out and bifurcate in other times’.[6] In fiction, the book is able to depict the virtual as ‘an infinite series of times, in a dizzily growing, ever spreading network of diverging, converging and parallel times’ that creates a ‘web of time’ – ‘the strands of which approach another, bifurcate, intersect, or ignore each other through the centuries’ and thus ‘embraces every possibility’.[7] Continue reading “Defining the Virtual Concept: An Idea that “Does Not Refer to the Lived””

Lazzarato’s Virtual Communism

Lazzarato is able to distinguish his approach from traditional historical materialism with a few key reversals. The first is an elaboration on an argument he shares with Read: production is ‘greater’ than reproduction, which is just a translation of D&G’s claim that the virtual is richer than the actual. But rather than remaining within the capitalist mode of production, which treats it as a de facto totality, Lazzarato uses Tarde to make a move that detaches his analysis from capitalist production almost completely:

invention, as the creation of the possible and its process of actualisation in the souls (of consumers as well as workers), is the real production, whilst what Marx and the economists call production is, in reality, a reproduction (or a manufacture of a product or a management of a service even if in this case the things are a bit more complicated). (CLCL: 192)

In place of the totality of the mode of production, Lazzarato posit an original dynamic multiplicity. It is from that multiplicity that everything is constructed. Lazzarato then fully integrates a Foucaultian analysis within this metaphysics of the multiple.

Continue reading “Lazzarato’s Virtual Communism”

On Strategizing the Dispositif

What replaces the archive of archaeology?  Or put another way, what is the philosophical ‘object’ of genealogy?  The dispositif.

Quoting from my MA thesis:

A dispositif, for Foucault, is a heterogeneous system that connects its constituent elements through relations of power and knowledge (Power/Knowledge 194-6).  Foucault notes that his method follows the counter-intuitive claim that the phenomenon he’s examining doesn’t exist.  And instead of trying to establish the facticity, truth, or cause of its emergence, he asks how events and practices can be organized around something that never existed (Birth of Biopolitics 3, 33).  Drawing from the range of notes Foucault made about his methodology, we can surmise that the connections between its elements are not be based on linear or expressive causality, but are be based on partial, multiple, and indirect immanent relationships.  A dispositif has no essential constitutive elements, it is only the product of numerous contingent forces in an encounter.  As the elements and their force are intensified, reproduced, diminished, or replaced, the characteristics of the dispositif also change.  The concept was developed in order to describe formations, at any given historical moment, while maintaining a commitment to the radical contingency, indirect causal relationship, and weak ontology of its constituent elements.[1] While similar to his work in Archaeology of Knowledge, dispositif is put to use in more capacious ways.  Unfortunately, Foucault never developed his account of dispositif in any detail, making it difficult to find specifically articulated ways to distinguish it from the forms developed according to his archaeological method. The concept of strata, which Deleuze uses when translating archaeology into his own conceptual system, works as a bridge between archaeology and dispositif.  The use of strata is an attempt to make explicit the super-lingusitic semiology that is present in Foucault’s work that often gets ignored when systematized.  The two critical elements in strata are its forms of content and expression that establish a complex set of relations between discursive and non-discursive elements (Foucault 48-51).  Later, Deleuze argues that the archaeological task is to open up the discursive and non-discursive content of strata, making visible what and who is being spoken (52-60).  As Reid’s analysis shows, Foucault’s later work retained but also moved beyond the problematics of archaeology’s focus on what is being spoken.  Therefore, it may be useful to buttress Foucault’s dispositif with Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of an assemblage.  Similar to the dispositif, an assemblage is a collection of disparate elements, what in physics is referred to as a multiplicity.  Assemblages never make up a totality, there is always too much or too little, yet there are usually some elements that have cohered enough to create a contingently stable form.

The alternative I propose is tracing lines of force, following a topological mapping of strategic points of intervention within a dispositif or assemblage.   Continue reading “On Strategizing the Dispositif”