citation: DELEUZIAN POLITICS? A ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION. By: Gilbert, Jeremy, New Formations, 09502378, Fall2009, Vol. 68
Excerpts below (full disclosure: the excerpts reflect my interests and concerns; they don't attempt to provide a representative segment of the debate).
Peter: Just going back a bit to what you said, Eric. It's absolutely true that Marx and Engels are fascinated by the deterritorialising thrust of capitalism: 'all that is solid melts into air', etc. There is a real point of similarity there. The thing is, though, that having made that assessment, what distinguishes the communist movement in the nineteenth century from, say, the anarchist movement, which would agree on that point, is precisely the strategic conclusion that they draw. The communist conclusion is that we need, in response to this situation, an institution, an organisation, direction, and so on: precisely so that the proletariat can indeed dissolve itself as a class (within the historical constraints of a class-bound situation) but not as social existence, not as 'emancipated labour'. What is required, from this perspective, is the construction of a disciplined working-class political organisation that would be capable oí winning the class struggle that takes shape around this time. Later, people will make roughly the same sort of argument in defence of the mobilisation of national liberation movements, for example. Both sorts of organisation emphasise things like discipline, unity, strategic purpose: certainly at the risk of problematic consequences, but the risk is unavoidable. This is the political legacy of Marxism, if you ask me. It's the combination of these two things: an assessment of historical tendencies and economic logics, articulated together with the formulation of political strategy.
What is original and distinctive about Deleuze and Guattari, on the other hand, is that they substitute for something like the mobilisation of the working class, or national liberation movements, things like schizo and nomad. They do privilege the movement of 'absolute deterritorialisation', however much they might seem to qualify it by adding that all deterritorialisation is accompanied by forms of reterritorialisation. Their political alternative, if that's the right word, is precisely something that unfolds in what they call infinite speed. It is something like a politics of the nomad which they identify with the deterritorialised par excellence, a deterritorialised movement which only reterritorialises on the movement of deterritorialisation itself. That, it seems to me, is what is distinctive and strong in their position. It's not presented as one of several strategic options to choose from, as if here we should do one thing, there we should do another. There is a strong teological moment in their thought. They say: this is the movement of becomings, for example. They say that the thrust of deterritorialisation goes in a particular direction and that we should follow it, basically. And that I think is politically and strategically problematic.
Éric: Ok - trying to get to the core of the question - I do think that what Peter has just described as the political organisation of the working class corresponds, for me at least, and to a certain extent, to what Foucault calls 'the disciplinary society', wherein one is necessarily caught up in this particular figure of the classic-modern conflict, struggle and war. In this context, historically, forms of political organisation have to follow the social form of organisation of society as such in the most dialectical figure of the class struggle. Now, in brief, if Anti-Oedipus tried to answer to the necessity for a new conception of politics which was called for, on the one hand, by 68's worldevent, and on the other, already, by the immediate post-68 counter-revolution (which is not at all a 'Restoration'), it is A Thousand Plateaus which confronts itself with the emergence of what Deleuze would later call the 'control society' (we can find Foucauldian equivalents from his Collège de France lectures on Neoliberalism). And this is the real explanation for its caution with regard to deterritorialisation - with the way capitalism reterritorialises itself on the most deterritorialised ... Conclusion: Never believe that a smooth space will suffice to save us.
In the control society, power no longer operates through enclosure, as in the disciplinary society, but through processes of what Deleuze calls 'modulation' that give an entirely new dynamic to exploitation. So to position oneself as 'Deleuzian' (but I avoid doing this for myself, preferring to think with and from ...) is always to remember, without becoming historicist, the importance of this kind of historical frame and framework for a political ontology of the present. From this perspective, we can't just carry on with the same old forms of political institution, the same modes of working class social organisation, because they no longer correspond to the actual and contemporary form of capitalism and the rising subjectivities diat accompany and/or contest it. That's where I come back to the importance of the systematic enquiry into die mutations of capitalism, which is, fundamentally, through the 'machinic' dystopia which they enact, Deleuze and Guattari's central project. For sure, Deleuze and Guattari suggest that we should 'schizophrenise' Marx; but, my gosh, Marx was writing mid-nineteenth century and look at what is going on since then, and above all since 1968!
Claire: If you think about contemporary politics: all we have to do is move from talking about national liberation movements and workers' movements to looking at some of the most tortured and vexed political situations, such as the relationship between indigenous Australian communities and European settled communities, and we can see that as long as we have a notion of collectivity that's founded on the traditional notion of labour and its organisation, then we will always be necessarily disenfranchising and robbing those people of a potential form of individuation.
This is what this is all about. The key question is how you can take part in some form of collective action without necessarily being identified as or appealing to 'classes' in the old sense. So the 'molecularisation' of politics which Deleuze and Guattari propose is about how to get beyond a situation in which, within a given context of communication, there are things that can't be heard. The question is: how can you have some maximum degree of inclusion with a minimal degree of identification? This is a crucial question if you want a global politics which can allow for notions of contamination, and which can get beyond the limitations of models of politics modelled on opposed pairs of identities: workers vs. capitalists, national liberation struggles vs globalist struggles. You can't have that anymore: you can only have these extremely molecular, local, individuating political gestures.
Last week I had lunch with friend, Dominic. We talked about Steve Jobs and Apple. I tried to express the ambivalence of love for the beautiful gadgets, the fantastic design, the total pleasure of engaging with the machines. Dominic, rarely one to play at out-Bolshevization, was having none of it. Not only does good design a pathetic compensation for the atrocities of the Fox-Conn factories, but the design itself is part of the problem. Dominic sent me this link from Ballard's High Rise:
‘Reluctantly, he knew that he despised his fellow residents for the way in which they fitted so willingly into their appointed slots in the apartment building, for their over-developed sense of responsibility, and lack of flamboyance.
Above all, he looked down on them for their good taste. The building was a monument to good taste, to the well-designed kitchen, to sophisticated utensils and fabrics, to elegant and never ostentatious furnishings – in short, to that whole aesthetic sensibility which these well-educated professional people had inherited from all the schools of industrial design, all the award-winning schemes of interior decoration institutionalized by the last quarter of the twentieth century. Royal detested this orthodoxy of the intelligent. Visiting his neighbors’ apartments, he would find himself physically repelled by the contours of an award-winning coffee-pot, by the well-modulated color schemes, by the good taste and intelligence that, Midas-like, had transformed everything in these apartments into an ideal marriage of function and design. In a sense, these people were the vanguard of a well-to-do and well-educated proletariat of the future.’ (80-81)