Lazzarato, Signs and Machines Outline, Intro-Chp 2

money is just paperHere is an outline of Maurizio Lazzarato’s Signs and Machines that includes his Intro, Chapter 1, and Chapter 2. It is here that he develops his essential distinction between signifying/asignifying linguistics and their subsequent subjectivites of social subjection/machinic enslavement. A better formatted version is available in the downloads section of this blog. Enjoy!




23 – 1. Social subjection and machinic enslavement

29 – 2. Human/machine vs humans/machinies

32 – 3. Egyptian megamachine

34 – 4. The functions of subjection

39 – Capital as a semiotic operator

43 – 1. The concept of “production”

49 – 2. Desire and production

52 – 3. The failure of “human capital”


57 – 1. The remains of structuralism: language without structure

66 – 2. Signifying semiologies

68 – i. The Political Function of Semiologies of Signification

72 – ii. Reference, Signification, Representation

80 – 3. Asignifying semiotics Continue reading “Lazzarato, Signs and Machines Outline, Intro-Chp 2”

Affective Critique: Mediation as a Response to Cynical Ideology (Paper Proposal)


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”).

In contrast to these three alternatives, I propose contemporary theories of affect as replacement for the diagnostic and effective functions of ideology critique. Continue reading “Affective Critique: Mediation as a Response to Cynical Ideology (Paper Proposal)”

Streaming Feminism


Three examples highlight the stream as a space of encounter between otherwise disparate elements: Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar’s We Feel Fine, Lukaza Branfman-Verissimo and Zoë Ozma’s East Bay Crying Coalition, and Tomas Durkin, Lawrence Lu, Javad Moghassemi, and Naomi Satake’s Urinal Stream.[1] Each project gathers information and organizes emotional content into streams meant to provoke future encounters. The significance of these examples is that they dramatize the politicization of streams through the amplification of the affective forces associated with them, as seen in the emerging culture of streaming feminism, which exemplifies what Sara Ahmed calls cultural politics of emotion. In this way, the projects counteract the aggressive, violent, and conspiratorial climate pervasive to digital culture by disseminating an alternative archive of feelings that act as an encoded repository of the practices that surround their production and reception (Cvetkovich, Archive of Feelings, 7). And by sharing in feminist project Public Feeling’s goal of transforming private emotions into a public resource for political action, streaming feminism speaks to the importance of a philosophy of the encounter (The Promise of Happiness; Cvetkovich, Depression: A Public Feeling). Continue reading “Streaming Feminism”

Media & The Materialism of the Encounter

Akihito Takuma, Lines of Flight, op.389, oil on canvas, 2013
Akihito Takuma, Lines of Flight, op.389, oil on canvas, 2013

“It is raining,” French philosopher Louis Althusser writes as an introduction to the underground current of materialism that runs through the history of philosophy (“The Underground Current of the Materialism of the Encounter,” 167). But Althusser’s apartment window and the drops that inspired him to write manuscript that is “before all else, a book about ordinary rain,”[1] have been displaced by an even more ubiquitous window – the screen – and a new rain – the digital stream.

This article repeats Althusser’s materialist philosophy of the encounter. It is a materialist philosophy that arrives late in Althusser’s career to combine electric readings of Deleuze, Derrida, and Epicurus not present in his earlier writings on ideology, the state, and determinism. In repeating Althusser, however, this paper is not a return to Althusser – his conjuncture: debates within the French Communist party over Stalinism and the role of class struggle, or the philosophical legacy of Machiavelli and Hobbes – but rather, it chases the current of materialist philosophy as it flows into the field of media studies.[2]

Continue reading “Media & The Materialism of the Encounter”



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”

Bergson’s Critique of Crude Materialism


All questions concerning the mode of the survival of the past will dismiss from the outset any psychological theory trying to locate recollections within the cerebral matter of the brain.To say, with Bergson, that the brain is a mere “central telephonic switchboard” transmitting movements is also “to say [that] it is in vain to attribute to the cerebral substance the property of engendering representations” (ibid.). In fact the final conclusions of Matter and Memory run as follows:“Questions relating to subject and object, to their distinction and their union, must be put in terms of time rather than of space” (ibid., 74/71, emphasis in original). As Frédéric Worms insightfully points out, we are here witnessing a crucial reversal of the relationship between the body and memory.Whereas from a practical point of view, the body is occupying the foreground in the theory of perception, it gets relegated to the background in the theory of memory. Similarly, while memory remains secondary from a practical point of view, it returns as primary with the reintroduction of time, which is to say, of becoming.Worms writes,“At bottom, the stakes are the following: the body, whose existence had been posed as an absolute in the first chapter, now depends on memory for its conservation in time!”26 This is the key to the Virtual informing the Bergsonian unconscious.

Valentine Moulard-Leonard, Transcendental Experience and the Thought of the Virtual, 31