Posts Tagged ‘foucault’



Joshua Citarella – Blood is Thicker than Water, 2013 (Artist’s Blood, Distilled Water, Museum Glass. 9.5x17x21″)

I prepared this paper for the forthcoming National Communication Association conference for a panel on affect. As with a much academic writing, I followed fairly strict disciplinary constraints; in this case, I am bridging rhetorical theory and advances in affect studies from other fields. The argument is not terribly original, though I make a few important distinctions that weed out inadequate interpretations of affect and establish the political stakes of affect theory (from a Marxist perspective). I will cut out roughly 3/4 of the material (to about 1200 words) to reduce it to a 10 minute talk.

My purpose today is to update the rhetorical studies theory of subjectivity. I argue that ‘affect theory’ should replace the older psychoanalytic model of interpellation. To concretize my argument, I analyze banal rhetoric; namely, the cybernetic subjectivity produced by “stock listings, currencies, corporate accounting, national budgets, computer languages, mathematics, scientific functions, [and] equations” (Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, 80).

Before I dive in, let provide you with a short preview of my argument. I begin by considering an essential axiom of critical rhetoric theory: “rhetoric produces subjectivity.” The prevailing theory is that subjectivity is an ideological effect of an implied audience (Charland, “Québécois”; Delgado, “Chicano Movement”). The most popular explanatory mechanism is interpellation, which draws on Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory of symbolic mediation (Althusser, “ISA,” 162). I argue that this model is no longer appropriate, for as Eugene Holland argues, “what Althusser actually describes is not the ideological constitution of the Subject, but only of the citizen” (“Schizoanalytic Critique”). The consequence of my argument is that rhetoricians explaining subjectivity through interpellation limited their focus to the State and relations of obedience/disobedience.

Second, I explain how banal rhetoric reveals modes of subjectivity beyond the citizen-subject. My claim is that rhetorical power now “speaks, communicates, and acts ‘assisted’ by all kinds of mechanical, thermodynamic, cybernetic, and computer machines” (Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, 29). I analyze “the language of infrastructures” to show how rhetoric solicits subjectivity without constituting a people or even addressing a subject (Pasolini, Heretical Empiricism, 63; Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, 61). As such, I do not celebrate affects as a challenge to abusive power; rather, I follow in the footsteps of Frédéric Lordon, who argues in Willing Slaves of Capital that joyous affects are the very means of our contemporary exploitation.

Lastly, I suggest two consequences from studying banal rhetoric: one, artifact selection need not be tied to rhetoric that hails “the people,” invokes an identity, or provides a symbolic program of action (McGee, “The People”; Charland, “Peuple Québécois”; Delgado, “Chicano Movement”); and two, the political search for rhetorical resistance need not emerge from distinct counter-publics or out-law discourses (Warner, Publics and Counter-Publics; Sloop and Ono, “Out-Law Discourse”).

Briefly restating my roadmap: I begin by discussing interpellation, continue with a discussion of affect, and end with the consequence an affect theory of subjectivity for future scholarship. (more…)

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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] (more…)

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Skull Matchbook

The conspiracy against this world will be known through its war machines. A war machine is itself “a pure form of exteriority” that “explains nothing,” but there are plenty of stories to tell about them.[1] They are the heroes of A Thousand Plateaus – Kleist’s skull-crushing war machine;[2] the migratory war machine that the Vandals used to sack Rome;[3] the gun that Black Panther George Jackson grabs on the run,[4] and the queer war machine that excretes a thousand tiny sexes.[5] “Each time there is an operation against the state – insubordination, rioting, guerilla warfare, or revolution as an act – it can be said that a war machine has revived.”[6] War machines are also the greatest villains of the book, making all other dangers “pale by comparison”[7] – there is the constant state appropriation of the war machine that subordinates war to its own aims,[8] the folly of the commercial war machine,[9] the paranoia of the fascist war machine (not the state army of totalitarianism),[10] and worst of them all, the “worldwide war machine” of capitalism “whose organization exceeds the State apparatus and passes into energy, military-industrial, and multinational complexes” that wages peace on the whole world.[11] (more…)

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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. (more…)

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Beshty - sign of the times

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.”[1] This critique is in part historical, much like Hardt and Negri’s depiction of colonial dialectics, as time “puts truth in crisis.”[2] Derrida explicates how time can subvert truth, whereby the legal order is founded through a violence that is illegitimate under the law.[3] Denouncing states, nations, or races as fictions does little to dislodge their power, however untrue the historical or scientific justifications for them might be.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6] (more…)

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The State as a Virtual Object [[or how Max Stirner can get you hanged]]
Rethinking Marxism 2013
PS: after discussing it w/ Gregg Flaxman, I’ve decided to “deontologize” the whole paper to sharpen the ontology/virtuality divide.

Japanese director Nagisa Oshima’s 1968 film “Death by Hanging” begins with the execution of an ethnic Korean man, R. Miraculously, the hanging does not kill him; in fact, its only effect is that it erases his memory (08:23). Taken by surprise, officials debate the law and decide that execution is only just if a person realizes the guilt for which they are being punished (10:55). In an effort to make R admit guilt for a crime that he has no memory of committing, the officials simulate his crimes, which only leads to an absurd comedy of errors that exposes the racist, violent dimension of the nationalist law and history. R finally admits to the crimes but he maintains his innocence, which motivates him to debate the officials (49:30). “Is it wrong to kill?” R asks. “Yes,” they respond, “it is wrong to kill.” “Then, killing me is wrong, isn’t it?” R replies and then extends his argument “… A fine idea. First we kill the murderer… …then, being murderers, we’ll be killed, and so on and so on.” The official rejoinder is a predictable one: “Don’t say such things! We’re legal executioners! It’s the nation that does not permit you to live.” To which R responds: “I don’t accept that. What is a nation? Show me one! I don’t want to be killed by an abstraction” (52:52).

Less than a decade later, French historian Michel Foucault aired similar frustrations to R, though in the context of the genealogical study of power. Intellectually dissatisfied that “the representation of power has remained under the spell of monarchy,” he claims that long after the rise of the Republic, “we still have not cut off the head of the king” (Foucault, History of Sexuality, 88-89). (more…)

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abstract machine

Marxists Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have a useful illustration of a similar abstraction in their 2000 book Empire. According to Hardt and Negri, colonialism works as an abstract machine, a term synonymous with abstraction or virtual object. The abstract machine of colonialism, they say, creates a dialectic of identity and alterity that imposes binaries divisions on the colonial world (Empire, 128-129). And while differences and identities are created by colonialism “as if they were absolute, essential, and natural,” they in fact function “only in relation to each other and (despite appearances) have no real necessary basis in nature, biology, or rationality” (129). Hardt and Negri do not go as far as to call Empire an abstract machine, but perhaps we should. Customary definitions of Empire usually focus on a polycentric sovereignty of global governance as it intersects with the postmodern production of informatized, immaterial, and biopolitical products. In contrast, I contend that Empire arrives as an entirely incorporeal entity that lacks its own body and is deprived of a material existence to call its own. However devoid of existence, Empire persists as the force behind a concept for organizing and directing the capitalist world market. As a result, Empire operates through management and circulation, but it is not extensive with its products. Perhaps the most powerful example of the incorporeal transformation is the transformation that occurs when a judge declares the accused to be guilty of their crimes – transforming an alleged criminal into a real one (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 80-81).

We can now return to the interrupted scene of Oshima’s film, knowing more about the abstraction that wants to kill R. (more…)

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