Confronting Connectivity

The future is ‘connectivity,’ or so say today’s tech execs. “Soon everyone on Earth will be connected,” they declare, followed by worn promises of increased productivity, health, education, and happiness.[i] On its face, they are simply echoing the old trope of the level playing field repeated by empire builders from Niccolò Machiavelli to Thomas Friedman. What then is new? How connectivity forges horizontal connections between the virtual and physical worlds. As a consequence, the digital logic of combinatorial difference is now used as a tool of governance to “intensify, accelerate, and exacerbate phenomena in the world so that a difference in degree will become a difference in kind.”[ii] In sum, connectivity is the new techno-utopian business strategy that braids the physical with the virtual to create a socio-political empire of difference.

Google’s connectivity thesis is a sign that power is logistical – its authority resides in roads, cellphone towers, and data centers, which are overseen by legislators who keep the flows moving. Continue reading “Confronting Connectivity”

Militancy, Antagonism, and Power: Rethinking Intellectual Labor, Relocating the University

Here is the expanded version of a co-written talk presented at the 2015 MLA Subconference. Thanks to the organizers, my wonderful co-panelists, and the incredibly vibrant follow-up conversation.

“What was once the factory is now the university.” This is the premise the opens the Edu-factory Collective’s Towards a Global Autonomous University–it is also the premise upon which the collective was formed. Co-founded by Gigi Roggero, the collective’s work functions as a road-block to the demands of academic labor. It critiques the foundations upon which academic labor is organized and opposes the hierarchy that commands academic publication. The collective’s conceptual work, forefronted by Roggero’s thought in particular, explains the importance of these interventions.

The number of ways in which in the university is now the factory are perhaps too many to list: increased demand for productivity, an increase in working hours without an increase in pay, the rapid proliferation of contingent positions, and the production of a highly skilled but also an under/unemployed population of workers are perhaps the most recognizable in this list. These and more are addressed in Towards a Global Autonomous University, but they are also enduring sites of struggle. Especially in the US, academics have yet to recognize and mobilize against these issues en masse. Continue reading “Militancy, Antagonism, and Power: Rethinking Intellectual Labor, Relocating the University”

Militancy, Antagonism, and Power: Rethinking Intellectual Labor, Relocating the University


This is the abstract for a co-written presentation I will be presenting at the MLA Subconference in Vancouver, BC in about a week. Perhaps I will see some of you there.

“Above all,” co-founder of the Edufactory collective Gigi Roggero writes, “[The Production of Living Knowledge] inquires into the new production of subjectivity: the category of living knowledge is the attempt to reread the Marxian concept of living labor within the present context.”n1 His project grows out of a collective effort by Edufactory to identify how the university exists as a space of struggle, but also how it serves as apparatus that captures social knowledge to prevent its becoming-common. For them, the politics of the university is “how to collectively re-appropriate the university;” their answer is to “face this problem from within.”n2 Continue reading “Militancy, Antagonism, and Power: Rethinking Intellectual Labor, Relocating the University”

New Writing on Colonialism


Expansions on the earlier State and as a Virtual Object paper. — PS: after discussing it w/ Gregg Flaxman, I’ve decided to “deontologize” the whole paper to sharpen the ontology/virtuality divide.

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.[1] The identity of the European Self, for instance, is produced through the dialectical movement of its opposition to and power over a colonial Other. The prevailing critique of colonialism in the early 20th century responded itself dialectically by revealing that the differences and identities created by colonialism appear “as if they were absolute, essential, and natural” but are in fact incorporeal and therefore function “only in relation to each other and (despite appearances) have no real necessary basis in nature, biology, or rationality.”[2] Hardt and Negri name two conclusions to this dialectical critique: first, that the European Self must continually use material violence against its Other to sustain the dialectical appearance of corporeal power, and second, that such a negative dialectic of recognition is hollow and prone to subversion. But reality itself is not dialectical, only colonialism is, Hardt and Negri contend.[3] And because dialectics is one only mode in which abstract machines operate, they suggest that the effective response to colonialism is not a negative antithesis, such as the negative project of négritude or Sartrean cultural politics. An effective response, they say, is the reciprocal “counter-violence” of Franz Fanon and Malcolm X, which produces a separation from the movement of colonialism. Such violence is not itself political, yet the violent reciprocity of “a direct relation of force” breaks the abstract bond holding together incorporeal colonial power and poses a disharmony that arrests the colonial dialectic while opening a space in which politics can emerge.[4]

As Hardt and Negri go on to describe Empire, they do not call it an abstract machine, but perhaps we should. Continue reading “New Writing on Colonialism”

The State as a Virtual Object – Full Paper


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). Continue reading “The State as a Virtual Object – Full Paper”

Colonialism as an Abstract Machine

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. Continue reading “Colonialism as an Abstract Machine”

Chapter 2 – The Modern State & The Social State

mod-st8The Modern State
The machine emitted strange buzzing, whirring, and clicking sounds. The noises unsettled casual observers, but to the technician, it made beautiful music. She had listened to its movements so many times that she did not have to look at the monitor to pick out the slow set of clicks that marked the beginning of each cycle. Tck… Tck… Tck… Tck…

The machines had been a triumph over the archaic technology that came before it. It took the dreams of stargazers and a few steady hands to crank out the first prototypes. Even the wildly imperfect geometry of the early models still hypnotized onlookers.

She was charged with maintaining a machine from a newer line. The introduction of this version of the machines had ushered in a new era. In her land, authorities were crushed under the feet of rebelling peasants. As nobles bickered with the monarchy, a new class claiming to “represent the people” had seized power. But instead of quelling the waters, wars became more bloody. And there are still dissident factions trying to destroy the machines through sabotage or even cruder methods.

It is her task to keep the machine running. The rules are clear. Polarize the field. Alternate poles. Keep everything in orbit. She had been trained in basic geometric correction, which usually entailed resetting the aperture but sometimes required redacting elements. While no one told her how to control for the creeping tide of noise, she had come up with some makeshift bypasses. But if a long-term solution was eluding her, her fellow technicians were probably in just as much trouble…

Forging a Strange Complementarity
The political power of sovereignty goes through cycles. Imperial hymns sing of terrible kings’ conquests as well as the reigns of the great kings that follow. But let there be no mistake, terrible kings are only as stupid, brutish, ineffective, or disliked as good kings are inept, violent, and unpopular. That is because those labels merely indicate which of the two poles of sovereignty each ruler personifies. Horrible sovereigns are terrorizing magician-kings, and benevolent ones are jurist-priests. Much as the diplomat gets his way by switching between the carrot and the stick, sovereignty alternates between the two poles to maximize power. “Thus two kings in succession, by different methods, the one by war, the other by peace, aggrandized the state. Romulus reigned thirty-seven years, Numa forty-three: the state was both strong and well versed in the arts of war and peace” (Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 27). But the opposite is also true. A-cephalous societies evince a similar two-headed structure to ward off rather than reinforce State power. In the Americas, for instance, some groups had two chiefs, a war chief and a peace chief, whereby only one ruled at a time. Whenever one leader became too zealous, the people would mock him and follow the other leader. Especially in combination with the generalization of the ‘powerless’ titular king and the ritualization of war to disperse power rather than annihilate or enslave an opponent, these societies exemplify how the oscillations of sovereignty can be used against an accumulation of forces (Clastres, Society Against the State; Clastres, Archaeology of Violence).

Given the contrasting examples above, we can generalize by saying that the two poles of sovereignty form a complementarity. But the form and effects of that complementarity differ. Fortunately, the rhythm of the alternating poles produces a signature: the expression of the world that stands as the backdrop behind each State.[1] A Roman ritual produces the clear signatures of the Priestly and Archaic States by repeating the practice of only allowing a single pole of sovereignty to rule at any given time: once a year, the flamen-dialis priest turns a blind eye for a day so that the naked Luperci can run wild and belt women with leather straps in a reenactment of the conquest of the Sabine women (Dumézil, Mitra-Varuna, 27-30; 96-97). Obversely, the two poles can maintain independent signatures while remaining mutually reinforcing; for example, Varuna and Mitra nearly always exist as a pair in Vedic hymns. While the two gods are contemporaneous, or even co-present, they are still distinct and separate. So “Mitra may fasten you by the food,” but if a cow were bound without any special formula, “then she would be a thing of Varuna” because “the rope assuredly belongs to Varuna” (Dumézil, Mitra-Varuna, 97; Satapatha Brahmana III 2, 4, 18). Yet the complementarities formed when the poles turn a blind eye, exist contemporaneously, or are a mixture of the two express a basic structure that can be easily extrapolated by elaborating on the Archaic and Priestly States. Other complementarities, however, produce State forms that do more than combine the poles: they pursue different effects by transforming the poles themselves. Continue reading “Chapter 2 – The Modern State & The Social State”