Escape is the oldest story of freedom, and it is among the simplest.[1]

Half a century ago, an anarchist scholar decided to write a heroic story of peasants.When bodies started piling up in Vietnam, he was intrigued that people actually cared about peasants for once. Even then, his task was not easy, given that peasants usually serve as the stage upon which more dramatic disputes between nationalists and colonizers are performed. However, in the archives he uncovered books and records that he wielded against those who had dismissed his humble peasants.

The heroic peasants were a good start for the scholar. While national liberation struggles claimed that the heart of the nation beat within the peasant, the scholar focused an even more elusive class of people: hill peoples, those who buck authorities with a run to the hills. Through diligent scholarship, he was able to bring together an impressive array of theories and terms to describe why certain peoples are poor materials for state-making.

What the scholar loved most about the hill people was their slash-and-burn culture. Dismissed by others as hillbilly backwardness, he knew that their whole way of life was an elaborate trick that they used to be left alone. But everything is different now, he reluctantly admitted; it had all changed after World War II. Most States developed technologies, both mechanical and human, that eliminated their ‘dark twins’ hiding in the mountains. Space was spanned and the hill sanctuaries were found, he said. The few peoples still in the hills were the last ones to escape; but even they are on the verge on disappearing, he lamented.

Not far away, a similar discovery was made.

A young college student was tired of the usual posturing of campus activism. The daily barrage of manufactured urgency and its politics of guilt did not interest him. What he did have was a plan to fight Reagan’s imperialist interventions in Latin America. So after gaining a little know-how in engineering with a focus on alternative energy, he headed south to make a real contribution to ‘the people who could use help.’

But the student felt out of place after he got there and was nagged by the feeling that this struggle was not his. The projects he worked on were practical, no doubt – computer donations from the States were not hurting the people of El Salvador – but they were not really helping that much either. When he looked for guidance, the El Salvadorians were kind but blunt. Their war torn country did not need engineering solutions to political problems, they said. So the student went back home to ponder.

Look, just go to the mountains, a comrade said while visiting the student. The student shot back an incredulous glance. Look, you have mountains here. Just go to the mountains. That’s what we do. Get some guns, go to the mountains, and wage a revolution. The student responded thoughtfully, agreeing that, yes, there were mountains in Seattle, but he was not sure about the rest of the suggestion. A few moments later, with an embarrassed grin, he admitted that it simply did not correspond to his reality at all.

Though quite different, the two stories agree on a basic point: today, there is no sense in running to the hills. The hills may have previously been a non-place, a u-topia, where a people existed without a history. And while it is said that the history of people is the history of class struggle, it would be at least as truthful to say that the history of the peoples without history is the history of those who escape. But with the great latticework of surveillance and control that now spans most of the developed world, the veil of spatial isolation has been pierced. So today, the hills cannot help make class struggle or freedom a reality.

Even with hill peoples now under State control, however, is it not obvious that escape still does and always will exist? Of course it all depends on context – but there is a political danger in the desire to always want more context. The greatest risk is that providing context becomes a purely academic exercise that defers judgment or action. This deferral is an expression of postmodern relativism, most commonly voiced as the desire for complexity (“well, it’s complicated…” or “let me complicate this a bit first…”). Such an incessant demand for context is to be expected, however, as protesting simplicity is a critical move in today’s dominant ideology.[2] So I will begin there. Yet it is my ultimate aim to demonstrate how a reworked concept of escape is essential to understanding contemporary power. Therefore, after I finish examining the demolition of the distinction between the valley and the hill or the town and the country, I shift to the new paths of escape that have opened up under the towering figure of the Metropolis. Because to escape today, one does not run to the hills but burrows deeper into the dark underside of the Metropolis. Continue reading “Prelude”


Chapter 5 – Anonymity


Insinuation, The Underground Current of Incoherence
Radicalism’s tame but dignified existence in the early parts of nineteenth century America was a triumph for well-reasoned order. Immigrant intellectuals spread the heady ideals of socialism across the newly-opened frontier, founding mutualist or collectivist factory towns across Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana and establishing revolutionary societies and educational clubs in New York City, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Allergic to lawbreaking and violence, the communalists set out to foster the best-ordered and most-moral dimensions of utopian society. But as corruption and industry grew inseparable, a new radical energy gathered in the darker corners of society. While the socialists kept outrunning the company mines and industrial looms, a growing underclass either unwilling or unable to escape the greed of indecent men toiled away.

Only a short decade after the Great War, the polite pretensions of American radicalism fell away. This shift was due to two things: first, the Panic of 1873, which threw hundreds of thousands of workers into destitution and unleashed their fury; and second, the arrival of anarchists. It takes the entrance of a protagonist, Johann Most, a fiery German anarchist, to give shape to the turbulence. Inspired by Most, a persuasive orator with scorching rhetoric, anarchists and other radicals brought ‘propaganda by the deed’ to America. ‘Propaganda by the deed,’ an idea on the lips of the European radicals of the time, is derived from the earlier Italian socialist Carlo Pisacane, who argues that “Ideas spring from deeds and not the other way around,” so that “conspiracies, plots, and attempted uprisings” are more effective propaganda “than a thousand volumes penned by doctrinarians who are the real blight upon our country and the entire world” (Graham, Anarchism, 68).

A determined Most found propaganda by the deed straightforward and published fiery celebrations of the growing practice of anarchist regicide – and these writings often landed in him jail. After a year and a half stay in an English jail for praising the assassination of Alexander II of Russia, Most immigrated to the United States and soon published a pamphlet entitled Science of Revolutionary Warfare–A Manual of Instruction in the Use and Preparation of Nitroglycerine, Dynamite, Gun-Cotton, Fulminating Mercury, Bombs, Fuses, Poisons, etc, etc. Among these tools of destruction, he had a clear weapon of choice: dynamite. Writing in the Parsons’s Alarm, Most declared his love: “Dynamite! Of all the good stuff, that is the stuff! Stuff several pounds of this sublime stuff into an inch pipe (gas or water pipe), plug up both ends, insert a cap with a fuse attached, place this in the immediate vicinity of a lot of rich loafers who live by the sweat of other people’s brows, and light the fuse. A most cheerful and gratifying result will follow. … It is a genuine boon for the disinherited, while it brings terror and fear to the robbers. A pound of this good stuff beats a bushel of ballots all hollow – and don’t you forget it!” So with the arrival of Most, his dynamite, and propaganda by the deed, the anarchist siege against robber barons and the forces of the State commenced.

Striking fear in hearts of the three enemies of classical anarchism – The Church, The State, and Capital – radicals committed a remarkable number of regicides and other assassinations from the late 1870s through the early twentieth century. Yet the practice was not universally accepted in radical circles: pacifists, social democrats, and pragmatists hotly debated the principles and effectiveness of attacks on power.  Paul Rousse, French socialist and the first to coin the phrase propaganda by the deed, plays down violence when describing the concept’s realization. “Propaganda by the deed is a mighty means of rousing the popular consciousness,” he writes, because it serves as the pragmatism of the possible: as the masses are naturally skeptical of any idea as long it remains abstract, one must actually start a commune or a factory and “let the instruments of production be placed in the hands of the workers, let the workers and their families move into salubrious accommodation and the idlers be tossed into the streets,” after which the idea will “spring to life” and “march, in flesh and blood, at the head of the people” (Graham, Anarchism, 151). Echoing Rousse’s possibilism, Gustav Landauer argues that “no language can be loud and decisive enough for the uplifting of our compatriots, so that they may be incited out of their engrained daily drudgery,” and thus the seeds of a new society must be prefigured in actual reality to entice others the join (139). Propaganda by the deed thus has two intentionally distinct valences as either creative violence or persuasive prefiguration; one masks its anonymous force to avoid capture while the other loudly boasts about itself.

Our contemporary times are replete with radicals who have found their own boastful propaganda. Anarchists such as David Graeber speak about a new generation of activists that came of age during the anti-globalization movement who practice propaganda by prefiguration that ‘builds a new society in the shell of the old’ (as the popular IWW phrase goes). These ‘New Anarchists,’ as they are called, practice social justice and deep democracy although they cannot hum even a bar of The Internationale. Yet missing from this description are many radical tendencies that draw on the first valence of propaganda by the deed – to name a few, there are civilization-hating anarcho-primitivists, destruction-loving anarcho-queers, democracy-averse nihilists, and anti-organizational insurrectionists. There are many reasons why those elements are often disavowed or even denied by their radical relatives but one is obvious: these dissident tendencies draw their power from a dangerous source that resists legibility. Rather than constructing their propagandistic appeals on images of a well-ordered society constituted by a moral majority, these hidden elements draw on deeper and darker desires of nonexistence and disappearance. However, this opposition – the reasonable proposals of social anarchists and the excesses of their darker offspring – is stale, so perhaps there is a way to break through.

Is there a power of truth that is not just the truth of power? asks Gilles Deleuze (Foucault, 94-95). Written alternately in the language of anarchism: what is the propaganda by the deed if it is not just the deed of propaganda? The answer is found in a mode of communication whereby actions ‘speak for themselves’ – actions that need not be owned, named, or explained. Actions as expression without speaking subjects. Expressions that speak reason but do not prefigure. Expressions that speak passions but are not feelings. The expression that lingers when the thing expressed is nowhere to be found. In short: the force of anonymity. That is today’s dark propaganda by the deed. Continue reading “Chapter 5 – Anonymity”



In the beginning, there is escape. It arrives ahead of thought and vanishes before it can be caught.

And it is in this movement that escape can be brought to a close.

It Begins With Escape… (intensive escape)
Stories like those of the hill people resonate throughout the Metropolis, as many of its residents are restless souls that dream of other worlds just beyond the horizon of their own. There is something American about this craving and it is epitomized by the frontier mentality, which is an outgrowth out of sovereignty’s dual desire for conquest and divine providence. Yet escape exists far before the sovereign captures it for nationalist projects, for the first escape began before humanity or even life itself. In fact, the origins of escape stretch back to the earliest beginnings of the universe and the first differentiation of matter. In that sense, escape is the primordial movement that contains its own cause (Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza, 172). It need not be caused by anything but itself – said otherwise: escape comes first and is superior, ‘escape is,’ and only secondarily does escape exist as a reaction or rebound, as an ‘escape from’ or ‘escape to.’ More concretely, escape is the process of change found in all things, in the indeterminate dance of subatomic particles, the origami folding of proteins, the slow drift of mountains, and the mutant speciation of organic life. In short, escape is becoming, the force of change, but described through its converse: ’unbecoming’ (Grosz, “Bergson, Deleuze, and the Becoming of Unbecoming,” 10-11). Unbecoming can be arrested, restricted, or otherwise limited in many ways; of them, cultural confinements of escape are particularly potent. Capitalism, for instance, clothes itself in cultural representations of freedom, declaring itself as the enemy of slave labor and state control by being the guarantor of ‘the right to work,’ ‘free markets,’ and ‘free trade.’ As anarchists have long shown, these freedoms are not escape routes – the right of the worker to leave an employer does not lead to free existence, for “he is driven to it by the same hunger which forced him to sell himself to the first employer” and thus liberty, “so much exalted by the economists, jurists, and bourgeois republicans” is but a “theoretical freedom” that is “lacking any means for its possible realization, and consequently it is only a fictitious liberty, an utter falsehood” (Bakunin, “The Capitalist System,” 24). Escape suffers an additional cultural confusion that is even more basic: the notion that escape is an odyssey through space. From this perspective, escape is a migration from this place to that – leaving the country, running to the hills, finding refuge. But “some journeys take place in the same place, they’re journeys in intensity” (Deleuze, “Nomadic Thought,” 259-260). These adventures appear motionless because they “seek to stay in the same place” and instead escape by evading the codes (260). And as long as we fail to distinguish between these two uses of escape, extensive change and internal transformation, it remains a confused concept. Continue reading “Coda”

[Audiobook] Daniel W Smith – Deleuze’s Politics: Psychoanalysis, Anthropology, and Nomadology in Anti-Oedipus & A Thousand Plateaus (2009)

smith-deleuzeI just uploaded these lectures, which I listened to a couple years ago. They are perhaps the best introduction to the politics of Deleuze and Guattari but is also rewarding for more advanced scholars. I’m sorry for the quality – I tried to clean them up, but they’re not perfect. awc

Also available here.

Daniel W Smith discussed Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s works Anti-Oedipus & A Thousand Plateaus at the Collegium Phaenomenologicum 2009. Smith, a professor of philosophy at Purdue University, is a leading expert of Deleuze and Guattari’s work. In these lectures, he lucidly outlines the theories and implications of the most political sections of Deleuze and Guattari’s work while giving special attention to the primary source materials and philosophical arguments that the authors utilized to make their argument.

Day 1: Anti-Oedipus & Desire
In this talk, Smith discusses Deleuze and Guattari’s ambitious reworking of psychoanalysis, especially with their notions of desire and the unconscious.

Day 2: Anti-Oedipus & The Human (missing part 2)
On this day of talks, Smith describes the anthropology chapter of Anti-Oedipus. In the first lecture, Smith covers the Savage and Despotic formations. Unfortunately, the second lecture, in which Smith described the Capitalism formation, was not recorded.

Day 3: A Thousand Plateaus & Nomadology
On this day, Smith presents Deleuze and Guattari’s nomadology from A Thousand Plateaus, with an eye to their description of society without a state. The second lecture is dedicated to question & answer.

The reading materials for the lectures was
– Deleuze & Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, “Savages, Barbarians, Civilized Men,” 139 – 271 Continuum Version, 141 – 164 Minnesota Version.
– Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, “1227: Treatise on Nomadology–The War Machine,” & “7000 B.C.: Apparatus of Capture,” 387 – 522 Continuum Version, 351- 473 Minnesota Version.

The original recordings picked up substantial feedback that punctuated the lecture with high-pitched pinging noises that made it nearly unlistenable. I tried to eliminate as much of the feedback as possible, but ended up thinning out Smith’s voice.

I have uploaded the originals as well, but would not suggest trying to listen to them.

References to Time in Lefebvre’s Production of Space


***– nietzsche: 22
— abstract space: 49
— passivity of time: 50
— rediscover time through space: 91
— time thru space: 95
— expulsion of time thru modernity: 96
— reducing time to variable: 108
— genesis: space v time: 130
— bergsonian/neitzschean coconstitution bs: 181
***– spatial control of time: 218-219
— ritual time “orienting” or “punctuating” space: 267-268
— industrialization of time: 277-278
— critique of hegelianism, which sees state as master of space: 279-285
— dialectics = time: 292
— reduction of time to space: 296-300
— Marx’s reduction of time in political economy: 322-326
— echoes of Marx’s reduction: 331, 333
***– capital’s visualization of time through commodities: 337-340
— appropriation as time: 356
— time as resistance: 393
— finitude: 409
— temporality of knowledge: 414
— time’s “trial by space”: 416-418
Continue reading “References to Time in Lefebvre’s Production of Space”