French philosopher Gilles Deleuze is usually characterized as a thinker of positivity. Consider two of his major contributions: the rhizome as an image for the tangled connections of networks, and the molecular revolution as transform spurred by unexpected quantum drift. These concepts catapulted the popularity of his thought as the digital age seemed to reflect social forms matching each form, namely the world wide web of the internet and the anti-globalization ‘movement of movements’ that lacked central coordination. Commentators marshaled his work to make sense of these developments, ultimately leading many to preach the joy of finding new connections to the material world (New Materialism), evolving the human at the bio-technical level (Post-Humanism), and searching out intensive affective encounters (Affect Studies).
In my new book Dark Deleuze, it is not my contention that such “affirmations” are incorrect. Rather, my argument is that Deleuze was ambivalent about their development, and later in life, became more a critic than proponent. In updating Deleuze for the digital age, I did more than restore a critical stance – I worked out how his lost negativity could be set loose on this world by destroying it.
Here I expanding on the Dark Deleuzian notion of “Death of This World,” a term I introduce as an image of negativity, by rendering it here as “the alien.” Instead of using well-worn digital examples, I instead explore the greatest looming question for the humanities: the Anthropocene.
An excellent contemporary example of cynical ideology can be seen in the reception of Martin Scorsese’s 2013 film, The Wolf of Wall Street. In terms of content and narrative arc, Wolf fits the template of Scorsese’s biggest films, which have always been character studies, promised by name – Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas – and delivered by chronicling the character’s idealistic rise to the top that is ultimately dragged down by the weight of the outside world. Film critics were immediately polarized about The Wolf of Wall Street. The film’s protagonist, Jordan Belfort, was not Scorsese’s standard anti-hero fair – it does not explore the contingencies of history by probing who “could have been a contender” nor does it reveal the ugly hand of justice through “a man who stood up … to the filth.” This is a film about the predatory wolf behind the raging bull of Wall Street.
Predation is depicted in Wolf as a narrative of excess. The film begins with a plucky Belfort showing up to work hard. His first big lesson in exploitation comes at lunch with a coked-up lecture sealed with a chest-thumping ritual – a practice Belfort incorporates into the pep talks he later gives to his own rabid pack of brokers. Within the first few minutes, Black Monday puts a quick end to Belfort’s good faith; in what follows, he learns to promise others the moon, only to steal a small sliver of it for himself and a select throng of followers. Continue reading “Wolf of Wall Street and Cynical Ideology”→
From Chapter 4 of Jonathan Crary’s 24/7, which I just taught:
Chantal Akerman’s film D’Est (From the East), made in 1 992 and early 1993, carries a heightened self-consciousness about the circumstances of this weighty historical moment. Shot mainly  in Poland and Russia in the year and a half following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, it discloses a world in suspension, on the edge of an undetermined future, yet still weighed down by long-standing patterns and habits. Using very long takes, it is an extended portrayal of certain textures of everyday life, sometimes suggesting a Sartrean seriality. In her essay on D’Est, Akerman famously declared that she felt the need to make the film “while there’s still time” (“tant qu’il en est encore temps”).11 In one sense, she meant that she had to finish the project before it was too late, before cultural and economic forces transformed the subject of her work into something different, even unrecognizable. But, given the choices she made ofwhat to record, “while there’s still time” is also a way of saying: while there is still a world of time-in common, a world sustained by a collective inhabiting and sharing of time and its rhythms, in the older sense of the word “quotidian.” Continue reading “The Time of Waiting”→
PS: after discussing it w/ Gregg Flaxman, I’ve decided to “deontologize” the whole paper to sharpen the ontology/virtuality divide.
The powers of the false are what cause the science of governmentality and the philosophy of abstraction to part ways. Deleuze, following Nietzsche, argues that “the ‘true world’ does not exist, and even if it did, it would be inaccessible, impossible to describe, and, if it could be described, would be useless, superfluous.” This critique is in part historical, much like Hardt and Negri’s depiction of colonial dialectics, as time “puts truth in crisis.” Derrida explicates how time can subvert truth, whereby the legal order is founded through a violence that is illegitimate under the law. Denouncing states, nations, or races as fictions does little to dislodge their power, however untrue the historical or scientific justifications for them might be. Deleuze is intrigued by these “not-necessarily true pasts,” and in particular, the founding mythologies that fictionalize the origin of states and nations of people. Recognizing power in the indistinguishability between the true and false does not mean the loss of value or that the world is a sham – in place of the model of truth, Deleuze poses the real. Put in these terms: disputing the truthfulness of an abstraction does not limit its power but in fact reiterates the real capacities of even false abstractions (to name two: that illegal violence can and has been used to found new legal orders, and that now-debunked science once justified eugenics and that new scientific paradigms will necessarily invalidate those currently used in social policy). To draw a sharp boundary between the state as a historical set of practices and “a mythicized abstraction,” as Governmentality Studies does, then turns a blind eye to the reality of the state. Continue reading “The Powers of the False”→
The role of critique in contemporary cinema has been displaced. Consider the story of Chicago gang member Danny Toro, who would watch Scarface almost every day for 10 years despite the film’s heavy-handed critique of its gangster protagonist Tony Montana. Perhaps as equally perplexing, the film American Psycho is popular among many yuppies even though its point is to critique the masculinity and violence of a financial culture much similar to their own. Or even more striking: fraternities across the country hold “Fight Club” events inspired by David Fincher’s adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s book although the film is an in-your-face condemnation of preppy social climbing.
Diagnosing this problem, Slovenian philosopher and critic Slajov Zizek writes that we no longer live in an age where “they know not what they do,” but rather: “they know very well what they are doing, but still, they are doing it.” To make his argument, Zizek echoes the theory of German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, who argues that we have entered the age of “cynical ideology” whereby the demystifying correction of ideological camera obscuras no longer motivates social action – or in the words of French sociologist of science Bruno Latour, the critique has “run out of steam.”
The alternatives suggested by all three are disappointing, however: Zizek proposes empty political doctrines (“signifiers without a signified”), Sloterdijk recommends a return to the irony and sarcasm of the Greeks (“kynicism”), and Latour calls for a “stubborn realist attitude” (“empiricism”).
Following the 2001 explosion of Tiqqun,* a debate raged. How could Tiqqun be explored by other means? The entanglement of ideas found in previous iterations of the journal describing Tiqqun were dense, almost impenetrable at times. As far as an experiment or an investigation, ‘writing the tiqqun’ made serious interventions – incompleting a whole series of academic relays, causing many machines to splutter, break down, or gain new life in different contexts. But despite its wide intervention, the audience produced by the text could only speak the high language of the academy, a contaminated discourse tinged with ivory. Comrades and allies are still separated by the deep chasm of training received to speak with a tone of (author)ity still present in the author-less text.
“Tiqqun 3 should be a film!” But if the committee that had been writing about the Tiqqun was no longer in (commun)ication – what would follow?
Bernadette Corporation hits the scenes with a narrative about the cannibalism of the summit protests. It speaks volumes when contrasted with American Anarchist naval-gazing like “Breaking the Spell”. What was the showdown in Seattle about anyway? Is it about expressing moral outrage, radicalizing the Marxist notion of ‘accelerating the contradictions’ or smashing capitalist ideology — or is it something deeper, less containable, an unleashing of collective desire? And how quickly, and in what ways does that collective desire just fold back into the capitalist axiomatic or the state-form? To be facetious, why will we win, by doing ‘security’ better than the state, by being more destructive than capital, by being more willing to give up moralism? And most frightening, could we simply be rehearsing lines given to us by the subjectivizing processes that put us in this place to begin with (hint: Chloe’s got an answer for you).