Empire & The Grid

Yesterday, Matt asked a wonderful question about my theory of subjection in Empire and its relevance to Massumi’s use of “the grid” in the introduction to Parables For the Virtual.

Let me first preface this by saying that I believe Empire has already overcome the problem of the grid. It’s now just a problem for cultural studies and other disciplines that linger on old models of social analysis. In contrast to Empire, subjection in The Social State is absolutely indicative of a grid-type model of power, as are parts of the Modern State. ***Therefore: struggles against hierarchy and binary exclusion may benefit Empire rather than confront it.***

At the beginning Parables, Massumi claims that most cultural studies uses a social model premised on structural positions (“feminine,” “black,” etc). This is an application of an argument he inherits from Anti-Oedipus, where Deleuze and Guattari develop an elaborate critique of certain Fruedo-Lacanian psychoanalytic models that use a grid. They spare Lacan himself (Guattari was once the heir-apparent to Lacan’s ecole freudienne and remained under analysis even after the publication of AO), but are not so kind to his more dogmatic followers, such as Serge Leclaire.

Continue reading “Empire & The Grid”

Leading By Example, or, the power of a good example

Brian Massumi suggests in the introduction to his 2002 book “Parables For The Virtual” that the most Bergsonian form of argumentation follows from an “exemplary method,” by which he means supporting an argument through an example. There are three major arguments, which, while not stated explicitly, forms the subterranean structure by which Massumi makes his case for the example: singularity, detail, and connectability.

Continue reading “Leading By Example, or, the power of a good example”


Affect, like many other psychoanalytic concepts, was stratified by ego psychology. Just another box to check or a short line to scribble one- or two-word phrases — “Affect: __flat___”. Little did these clinicians know that they suffered from the same condition: “blunted affect.”

Massumi injects a little Bergson into cultural studies in an attempt to extend Foucault’s archaeological project — assume motion not arrest (or in Foucaultian shorthand: “assume discontinuity, explain continuity”). Continue reading “becoming-affective”

Constructing an Event

Reading notes for Massumi's Parables for the Virtual, esp chapter 3, 'The Political Economy of Belonging and the Logic of Relation.'  Cross-posted to my PhD reading list blog.
If complexity theory gives insight into a world where relatively simple structures emerge from the complex interaction of parts of that system, how can it be put to use in politics?
First and foremost, it provides an in-between approach to the political strategies of anarchist de-centralization and socialist party building.  Sidestepping both myopic localism and the impulse to seize power, a radical deployment of complexity theory would gravitate toward the insight that  local interventions induce qualitative global transformation.  The principle underlying this strategy is that some effects can be greater than their causes -- small tweak, big effect.  This approach isn't without caveats.  If a system is too chaotic every slight perturbation would cause drastic changes without ever settling on a relatively stable state.  If a system is too stable, it is so resistant to perturbations that the local intervention approach may never work.
Take the now classic example of the soccer game.  Its pre-history was likely marked by massive variations before it settled into a more less uniform but still informal sport.  All it took to transform the proto-sport into a formal sport was the codification of a few simple elements that emerged to induce play.  But even as the formal codification of soccer contains variation, a few of them took flight and spun off into other sports (add the hands and limit passing, you have rugby; add the forward pass and the lateral, you have American Football).
So what makes the game?  The ground works as a field of play where the event occurs.  Goals serve as attractors to polarize the field and induce movement.  Bodies function as part-objects individuated by their differential relation but unified in collective play.  At each moment, only specific parts of bodies are important (the foot kicks that ball, the arm that must be restrained from use), coordinated even more by the rhythms of teams and plays than the will of individual players.  In fact, consciousness should be cut out completely - the surest way to flub is to 'think' instead of 'act'.  And then there's the ball, which is a virtual object indexing the effects of the collective co-ordination of play, but also a part-agent [doesn't have affect, or even intuition, so its an agent...] that catalyzes rather than induces play.  It doesn't have affect or intuition, so it can't be the subject, but is the focal point of all the action.  The ball is the element where local change constitutes an event and produces global transformation.  Every movement of the ball results in a reconstitution of the forces looking to affect it.
But the most important effect of a complexity approach to soccer is not its description of what happens on the field,fn1 but 'outside' it.  The key is to leave the land of metaphor behind and build in transformation as the becoming of an event.  As the event propagates, it extends and mixes into milieus outside its origin, connecting layers that resonate together.  For instance, the TV broadcast of a game.  As the event-space is layer onto the home-space, the game tranductively converted into the politics of the home, charging the space.  The relatively immobile spectator doesn't go through a corporeal change.  Rather, with the game beaming into the space of the home, affect is ramped up that changes the distribution of intensities.  If nothing's happening, its the perfect time for a bathroom break.  But as the ball reaches a goal, everything else fades into unimportance.
Or take soccer firms, fanatical clubs that often take on a life of their own.  When an assemblage of fans gains autonomy, it has a direct but transversal connection to the game.  The event-space of the game serves as a staging ground for the firm, an affective site of intensity they work to capture for their own ends.  And even if the firm folds their affect directly back onto the field, it spills intensity out into the stands and beyond, starting hooligan brawls or even sparking political revolutions.  [check out real football factories on youtube!]
For politics, the aim would then to construct events with an eye to their transductive potential.  Experimenting with the 'long tails' of local change as they're transmitted into other milieus.  Or alternatively, insulating a milieu from the change catalyzed inside it by external forces.
fn1. there are those who have, and its quite illuminating.  For instance, Serres, Levy on collective intelligence, and Massumi in Parables.