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September 26, 2006


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Great catch! A friend of mine sent me this a few months ago to playfully needle me about my Deleuzianism. I think this article helps to situate a number of discussions we've been having across the "theory blogs" about whether or not there's a politics to be drawn from the work of Deleuze & Guattari. In my quasi-review of your book over at Larval Subjects (http://larval-subjects.blogspot.com/2006/09/zizeks-politics.html), I briefly discuss the relationship between the university discourse, capitalism, and biopower, raising concerns about systems theory, autopoietic theory, complexity theory, etc., as being the most fully developed the forms of knowledge pertaining to biophysical life. That is, these tools are neutral and can be used to both strategically target the organization of social, political, and economic systems or to reinforce them. It seems to me that Deleuze and Deleuze and Guattari's work can easily be situated in terms of these discourses and suffers the same shortcoming of neutrality (not surprising given their Spinozism).

The problem is that these discourses are ontologically neutral, and therefore are only able to describe the dynamics of capital without themselves giving an account of how to intervene in these dynamics. Indeed, at their worst moments, they suggest that no intervention is even possible, as the world is understood to be *nothing but* these dynamics (Spinozism again). That is, ontology in and of itself offers no decision criteria for intervening in situations, and does not even acknowledge that there can be something other than what is or being... I take this to be the greatest weakness in the thought of Deleuze and Guattari. Is it unfair of me to suggest that they seek to draw their political and ethical claims from their ontology?

It seems to me that this is one of the reasons that the work of Badiou, Zizek, and Ranciere is so important. All three of these thinkers seek to show how it is possible for something to intervene in a situation that cannot be deduced or found in the structure of the situation itself. Thus Badiou attempts to show the limits of being and situations, where something like an event and truth-procedures becomes possible. Zizek attempts to theorize an Act that could not be deduced from the prior organization of the symbolic, that explodes the constraints of the symbolic, and that even destroys the subject itself (presumably producing a new subject as a result), thereby introducing something new into the situation. And finally, Ranciere shows the constitutive incompleteness of the "Police", how it always floats on an order that exceeds it, and how it's possible for something to appear that can't be counted according to the criteria of the police order. In each case, these thinkers begin from the standpoint of immanence, and seek to account for how it is possible for something to be introduced into immanence, some norm, law, or new order, that doesn't issue from transcendence, but that also isn't simply another iteration and entailment of the existing structural order. Or put differently, how is it possible to overcome the neutrality of being and make a decision. It is not that the thinkers of dynamic systems are wrong or mistaken, just that complex dynamics is not all there is.

What I wonder, however, is whether these theoretical trends are not indicative of the desire for an angelic moment, desiring something that is without "contamination" by the organization of social and economic systems, and willing an abrupt rupture that would allow us to escape the situation once and for all. Is this realistic or do things really change in this way? When Badiou is interviewed by Hallward, for instance, at the end of _Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil_, we discover that Badiou doesn't vote, that he doesn't seek to change political institutions, etc., etc., as he sees all of these activities as constrained by what he calls the "encyclopedia of the situation" and contaminated by contemporary categorizations and sortings of parts belonging to situations. Given the manner in which our socieites are organized today in terms of communications, do acts that don't engage in those communications systems exist at all? And if they don't exist, do they make any changes? I think, for instance, that this might have been one of the shortcomings of protest strategies leading up to the Iraq War. Even though these were the largest protests in histories, their effect was nearly nil. Paradoxically, I suspect that these protests even tended to reinforce support for the administration by virtue of how they were coded by media systems. Time was when the relationship between protestors and politicians/police was far more direct allowing for genuine effects, but now all of this is filtered through and coded by media systems, such that our message wasn't even heard (we were just "angry youth" trying to reproduce the sixties). Does an Act that doesn't target these communications and media systems register or produce any change at all? It seems that forms of resistance like those found at Dailykos have been far more successful in producing some sort of change-- even though along the lines of party politics and thus still contrained by the logic of the encyclopedia --precisely because they've found a way of communicating with media systems and producing informational events, that wasn't taking place with traditional forms of protest and resistance (increasingly the blogs are the first to break stories disturbing and uncomfortable for the administration and to generate enough communications around these stories through letter writing campaigns and cross-blog communications to catch the attention of major politicians and media outlets, thereby filtering these discussions into the public setting and changing the frames and terms of discussion which leads to changes in action).

I don't know where I'm going with all of this. I suppose I'm trying to frame a question or problem. Apologies for the free association.


I checked the link, but there wasn't anything there. I also tried to read the comments on the irritation post but they weren't there either. I'm puzzled that you find me non-responsive on I Cite. I think of myself as responding more often than not. I don't respond to everything. For different reason--sometimes lack of time, sometimes I don't have anything to say. It's also been the case that discussions have flourished when I don't respond and when folks don't expect me to respond to everything.

Above you write "these tools are neutral" and "these discourses are ontologically neutral". You also write, "ontology in and of itself offers no decision criteria for intervening in situations." I think the last statement is true and non-controversial. I reject the other statements. This rejection, though, hinges on how we understand neutral. If one thinks that neutrality means "does not affect the outcome" or "has no effect on what follows" then it seems clear that tools and discourses are non-neutral. That they can be deployed in left or right ways, in ways that contest or serve capital, in ways that can be reappropriated does not speak to their neutrality in this sense; they do impact their outcomes/effects, making some more likely than others.






Hi Jodi,

Not to worry on the comment remark. That's a generalized symptom, that has little or nothing to do with you yourself.

You make a good point about discourses. I think what I'm trying to get at is the point that where you conceive being as completely affirmative, you're left without any real selection criteria as to why one form of being should be preferred to another. Anything that is, is just the way being happens to actualize itself. Nietzsche makes a point along this lines in _Beyond Good and Evil_ (I think), extolling the virtues of criminals, tyrants, etc., as all contributing to the functioning of nature.

You seem to be making a point along the lines of Zizek in the Parallax View, where, early on, he contests the idea that there's any sort of neutral view from nowhere, underlining the way in which being is always approached through a frame.

It seems to me that Deleuze and Guattari's dialectic of deterritorialization and reterritorialization, just is the logic of capital (which they don't deny). So we can choose on behalf of deterritorialization, fine. But what seems prohibited is the idea that that logic could itself be upset or transformed.


S - I'm not buying the neutrality thing, especially given the discussion of the war machine, state and the apparatus of capture. Or, as Foucault might put it, discourses and technologies are "polyvalent" and can't be restricted to their original use, purpose, invention, etc. That doesn't seem to amount to neutrality; neutrality doesn't seem to mean that "something can be used for good" and that "it can also be used for ill" - biopolitics comes to mind.


Craig, Deleuze & Guattari are quite clear on this. They argue that there are microfascisms and that the molecular will not save us. As such, they do not argue that "molecular = good" and that "molar = bad", or that the molar is what is repressive and the molecular is what is liberating. These principles would hold across the board to all those terms that hold for the molecular: nomads, war machines, rhizomes, lines of flight, etc. Take Deleuze and Guatarri's most famous example of deterritorialization-- the orchid and the wasp:

"The orchid deterritorializes by forming an image, a tracing of a wasp; but the wasp reterritorializes on that image. The wasp is nevertheless deterritorialized, becoming a piece in the orchid's reproductive apparatus. But it reterritorializes on that image. The wasp is nevertheless deterritorialized, becoming a piece in the orchid's reproductive apparatus. But it reterritorializes the orchid by transporting its pollen. Wasp and orchid, as heterogeneous elements, form a rhizome. It could be said that the orchid imitates the wasp, reproducing its image in a signfying fashion (mimesis, mimicry, lure, etc.). But this is true only on the level of the strata-- a parallelism between two strata such that a plant organization on one imitates an animal organization on the other. At the same time, something else entirely is going on: not imitation at all but a capture of code, surplus value of code, an increase in valence, a veritable becoming, a becoming-wasp of the orchid and a becoming-orchid of the wasp. Each of these becomings brings about the deterritorialization of one term and the reterritorialization of the other; the two becomings interlink and form relays in a circulation of intensities pushing the deterritorialization ever further" (TP, 10).

I am in full agreement that deterritorializations of code take place all the time and that these deterritorializations are not simple imitations. For instance, as I argued on a post here a few weeks ago, conservative fundamentalist Christians have deterritorialized a bit of code from movements in identity politics, by situating Christian identity in the position of victimhood in the United States... They've stolen a bit of code in one discourse, and pushed it in the direction of very different ends. As such, there's nothing inherent to deterritorialization, the rhizomatic, the nomadic, etc., that is politically emancipatory. These are just processes that take place, producing ever different codes and networks.

What is required is something additional that distinguishes those "good" deterritorializations. Deterritorialization is just a fact of being, it's something that happens. One can have a preference for it, but it is not necessarily emancipatory or liberating. Sure, it's creative, but I don't see that the creative is necessarily emancipatory. Sure, we can quibble and say "no, deterritorialization emancipates us from a territory or a despotic code", snatching a bit of code and pushing it in a different direction; but then I'm pushed back to deterritorializations in Christonationalist movements, and find myself wondering what's emancipatory about these movements. So what is this additional "something" that defines the emancipatory line of flight? By neutral I simply mean that ontology doesn't give one a program or any indication of what *ought* to be done. It just presents a model of what does, in fact, take place. I take it that this is one reason Badiou has been so emphatic on the necessity of making a decision and unfolding the consequences of that decision.

McKenzie Wark

How to turn critical theory into hypocritical theory in one easy lesson:

Identify some other theory. Posit a homology between this theory and capitalism. Other theory bad; therefore, one's own theory -- good.

How to turn hypocritical theory back into critical theory. Ask the question: in what way are the conditions under which one does *any* theory 'implicated'?

Follow up question for advanced students: how might being 'implicated' actually be useful for developing critical thought?


McKenzie, Cute. Of course, it couldn't have anything to do with the question of whether a particular set of tools are really the best tools for the job, or whether they take into account central features of the social system, or with a request for an account of how a theoretical edifice proposes to accomplish the aims it suggests when this is not immediate obvious... No, it must be simply a desire to champion one's own theory over another, just like any criticism of the administration in the United States is "politics" undertaken out of a desire to establish the power of one's own party and is borne of a hatred of the preznant.

I think I've put in more than enough time with Deleuze and Guattari and have done more than enough legwork as an apologist for their work to raise a criticism here and there. But perhaps I should obey the Oedipal imperative, and bow to papa-D and G, never giving nary a peep.


Further question, for beginning students, how do worries about one's own implication in the context of theories' production facilitate intensive navel gazing?

Anthony Paul Smith

I love how some Zizekian and Badiouians (oh how loathesome we all are!) are using this as a kind of condemnation. Peter Hallward uses it to similar effect in his new book on Deleuze.

I don't really see how it follows though. If you were to learn that advertisers read Baudrillard or Zizek, would that make you question their worth for revolotionary projects? Or that capitalist economists loved Marx?

I'm not saying you are doing this and the article is interesting.


APS--I'm wondering whether it makes more sense to refine the question. It doesn't seem to me to be one of 'reading' these folks but of applying them. But, now that I say that, maybe this is wrong. In One Market Under God, Thomas Frank describes in detail advertisers' reading and application of postmodern theory. Maybe this: these appropriative readings and applications speak against misreadings of the theorists in question. They remind us not to presume in advance an emancipatory/revolutionary dimension inhering in the concept (say, deterritorialization, nomadic, etc). In most cases of trendy philosophers, fans/accolytes overinvest all their hopes in these notions.

Anthony Paul Smith

"They remind us not to presume in advance an emancipatory/revolutionary dimension inhering in the concept (say, deterritorialization, nomadic, etc). In most cases of trendy philosophers, fans/accolytes overinvest all their hopes in these notions"

Well, yes, of course! But, I don't think that this is endemic to Deleuzians only (and there are, surely, many annoying cultural studies Deleuzio-Guattarians who take really stupid positions based on really stupid readings). And I also don't think it's really a smart move to use this to condemn the philosophy of Deleuze. If anything he knew something like this would happen (see his Nietzsche book on the becoming-reactive of all active force).

But, yes, I think anyone worth their salt should make sure they recognize that nothing is a for sure thing, and that goes especially for liberation and revolution and good government, etc.


APS Writes: "I don't really see how it follows though. If you were to learn that advertisers read Baudrillard or Zizek, would that make you question their worth for revolotionary projects? Or that capitalist economists loved Marx?"

And JD writes: "Maybe this: these appropriative readings and applications speak against misreadings of the theorists in question. They remind us not to presume in advance an emancipatory/revolutionary dimension inhering in the concept (say, deterritorialization, nomadic, etc)."

I think this is what I was trying to get at with my comments about "neutrality" earlier in the thread. Zizek gives the nice scenerio of the advertising guy reading Deleuze and Guattari, recognizing himself and his own work in concepts like desiring-machine, deterritorialization, nomadism, multiplicity, war machine, etc., etc. This article gives a very real example of that sort of paradox. The point isn't that this somehow delegitimates D&G or undermines these notions, but that perhaps these concepts don't necessarily have the emancipatory dimension they're often thought to have.

Ever reading a plateau like the "Treatise on Nomadology" seems to suggest this. Not only do D&G constantly emphasize that the nomad and "minor science" are not better than the State apparatus, just different (cf. ATP 358 & 372, examples could be multiplied), but they also give numerous examples of nomadic war machines that, I think, should make anyone interested in emancipation and egalitarianism raise an eyebrow: For instance, they favorably cite "high-society" and "great families" as a war machines that maintain a relationship of "exteriority" to the State Apparatus (pg. 358).

Is this grounds for condemnation? No, I don't think so. I think D&G are there looking at all those things that escape the constraints of the State and function according to different principles. However, given the wide array of things list-- I can't say I'm particularly enamoured with the idea of adopting the model of Ghengis Kahn or great families or high-society --it seems to me that while the nomadic, rhizomatic, deterritorialization, and so on, have a great deal to contribute to thinking through the "withering away of the State" and revolutionary politics, the question of Politics is nonetheless distinct and needs to be addressed more directly. It often seems that D&G see creation/creativity as ends in themselves or as the aim of politics, but I think there's more to it than this.

At any rate, the obvious "schizoanalytic" argument against those who would dismiss D&G on the basis of an article like this is simply to point out that they themselves argue that the State Apparatus always appropriates a war machine and the techniques of the nomad for its own ends, as in the case of appropriations of armies.


For what it's worth, another blog discussion of this question...


McKenzie Wark

By all means 'peep' if you want to, sinthome, but why waste your time on this? yes, one tool may be better than another, so why not just use the good tool? Here you are just complaining about bad tools. (And a bad craftsman always blames his tools). Why not just be the good craftsman and give us the good critique of contemporary capitalism with the tool of your choice?

Jasper Bernes

This is a really interesting thread. I came across this article a couple of months back myself, and had a number of dissatisfying conversations with people about it. The most common reaction was: oh, that's not interesting. Or, worse: I don't believe that. So, it's nice to see some people taking this seriously; the article made me question, and want to further specify, my committment to Deleuze and G. I've since found numerous passages in which D and G, and D on his own, seem to foretell just these kinds of appropriations/cancerous "deterritorializations."

There's a excerpt about the same subject--a theory-reading Israel army--in this month's issue of Harper's; from the wonderfully quirky magazine Cabinet. I haven't checked out the original yet.



McKenzie, well, perhaps because I've drawn a number of useful tools from Deleuze and Guattari and am deeply influenced by the work (I went to the trouble to write a book on Deleuze's transcendental empiricism, that defends the position, so I must see something of value in their work) and because such critique is part of the process of building new tools... Or, at least, that's how I operate. Dissatisfaction with part of something is part of what leads me to develop that thing or is part of how my own thought develops. Perhaps you are like Baron von Munchausen and simply pull yourself out of the swamp by your own feet, sprouting concepts in magical gestures without grappling with anything beyond your own thought process, but I certainly don't proceed in that way. You seem to understand these sorts of discussions as an all or nothing affair. Your remarks are a bit like getting angry at a scientist who points out that principles of Newtonian physics don't do a very good job accounting for chemical reactions, so we need to form new tools for understanding chemical reactions. The chemist doesn't reject the physicist in making this observation, and there's a both/and way of thinking about these issues. Unless D&G are somehow a "theory of everything" like Hegel's system, there's no reason to suppose that similar principles hold with their work... Though your tone and rhetoric seem to suggest that you do feel they give us a theory of everything and anyone who worries over certain aspects of their position is "betraying" them or is a creature of "ressentiment".

I'm struck by how often this sort of attitude comes up among enthusiasts of Deleuze and Guattari as it's so strikingly at odds with their own theoretical positions and commitment to inventiveness and critiques of Oedipal structures of identification. It's also odd that enthusiasts of the philosopher who emphasizes, more than anyone, the importance of how questions and problems are posed, would be so resistant to the posing of questions and problems.

Anyway, three points:

1) Impressions to the contrary, I am not dismissing D&G. Go to my blog, take a look around, and see whether you're left with the impression that I simplify their work, dismiss their work, or am not in constant communication with their work.

2) As Jaspers points out, on nearly every page of ATP and AO, D&G talk about cancerous deterritorializations, microfascisms, the double edged nature of lines of flight, and so on. It's astonishing that these remarks are almost universally ignored and that a BINARY MACHINE BETWEEN DETERRITORIALIZATION (= GOOD) AND RETERRITORIALIZATION (= BAD) is endlessly suggested, if not explicitly, at least in practice. The worst part about this is that it is completely contrary to the principle of immanence D&G rigorously develop, as it intruduces a UNIVERSAL and TRANSCENDENT standard for selecting and sorting among what is, not unlike Platonic forms. This should be obvious, but somehow it escapes notice.

3) Given point 2, it follows that deterritorialization is not a sufficient condition for thinking the political. Does this mean that deterritorialization is false or should be reject? NO! Does this mean that D&G should be cast to flames and that all the marvellous observations they make about the nature of the State, rhizomes, deterritorialization, individuation, problems, haecceities, affects, semiotics, language, etc., should be commited to flames? NO! All it means is that given that the emancipatory potential of the rhizomatic, the nomadic, the deterritorializing, etc., is ambivalent at best, it's necessary to raise questions of what, specifically, constitutes an emancipatory politics. Is it sufficient to say that it's simply deterritorializing from the State? Are there other important factors? Are their deterritorializations that are just as despotic in their own ways as the State apparatus? Is it clear that it's desirable to completely abolish the State form?

Unless you're some sort of supporter of the sovereignity of the subject, holding that the *subject* just somehow knows how to distinguish between emancipatory deterritorializations and despotic deterritorializations, then these issues can't even be addressed without looking carefully at the theoretical edifice itself. However, it's tremendously odd for anyone who's influenced by D&G to advocate such a notion of the subject as a sovereign (whether as a cogito or an inventor) as the subject is, for D&G, just an actualization, not itself a problematic field.


Jasper, thanks for joining in. And, thanks for the heads up re Cabinet. I think your emphasis on specification is right on the mark. For me, writing as a political theorist, I find that too often there arise debates among political theorists that are little more than partisan bickering. One side might quickly accuse the other of orthodoxy and dogmatism, and in this vein invoke rhizomes. Or they might quickly dismiss 'theorists of the lack' in favor of 'abundance. It's easy to say, here among the bloggers, that such remarks are trivial, no good, not worth considering. And that's true. But it doesn't diminish their performative efficacy in certain contexts--like meetings or symposia.

That said, I think there is something mightily interesting about the ways that theorists can produce worlds, can call worlds into being in ways that even as they might predict them they cannot of course control or determine them. I think about this with respect to the Israeli army walking through walls. It's fascinating, a model of urban interaction I had only encountered in urban game and urban game design projects.

As someone currently preoccupied with Zizek's work, I wonder, might there not be far worst futures possible on the basis of his thought?

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