NonPolitics

A Conspiracy Against the World: Comments on Andrew Culp’s “Dark Deleuze”

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6 Dez , 2016  

“We do not lack communication,” Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari wrote in What Is Philosophy?, their final joint text. “On the contrary, we have too much of it. We lack creation. We lack resistance to the present.”[1] During the course of an interview with Antonio Negri, Deleuze raised a similar point, one that appears to have slipped past the autonomist: “The quest for ‘universals of communication’ ought to make us shudder… Maybe speech and communication have been corrupted. They’re thoroughly permeated by money—and not by accident but by their very nature. We’ve got to hijack speech.” In a similar mode of thought, the philosopher of the rhizome suggested in his infamous “Postscript on the Societies of Control” that the way power organized itself was transforming, moving away from the disciplinary societies that Foucault had so intently studied and towards the figure of the “continuous network”.

Deleuze’s interview with Negri had occurred in 1990, and What Is Philosophy? debuted in 1991. The “Postscript” appeared in the pages of October in 1992. This timing provides crucial context: the fall of the Soviet Union and the victory of a capitalist system entering its globalizing stage. The spread of information-communication platforms and the advent of the Dotcom Economy. This was the time in which the bi-polar world of the Cold War era was dissolving into a multipolar world, steered primarily by the first truly neoliberal regimes in the United States and the European, professing as they did the coming utopia of fluid trade, inter-state co-operation, and unlimited, global communication and knowledge sharing. It was this backdrop that Deleuze suggested to Negri that perhaps the way forward was a rekindling of new forms of resistance, forms that would take the techno-social substrate, deform them, break them, and ultimately “create vacuoles of noncommunication, circuit breakers, so we can elude control”.

For those familiar with Deleuzian thought, that non signals an interesting change in the philosopher’s perspective: it is a looming negativity, one that seems to stand in contrast to Deleuze’s life-long commitment to affirmation, to saying yes, and to cultivating joy. It is from this small glow of negativity, and the dozens of others scattered about Deleuze’s corpus, that Andrew Culp fashions a philosophical figure for our time: a Dark Deleuze.

I have to say it: this is an incredible book, and despite clocking in at a mere seventy pages, it is probably one of the most important books in the Deleuzian canon that I have read in a long time. What makes it stand out so much from other works is not simply its sense of political intransigence (much more on that momentarily), but that it doesn’t treat Deleuze like so many commentators have in the mad-rush to transform Continental, post-structuralist thinking into an academic cottage industry. Deleuze and This. Deleuze and That. Now, Culp’s work can read as part of the academic debate on Deleuzian philosophy and its future, but it is not reducible that. Unlike these other works, it takes up the challenge that Deleuze himself set out – to draw out from a thinker that which is present in the text, but not said, to take a philosopher and give him “a child that would be his own offspring, yet monstrous.” Indeed, Culp excavates the negative buried in Deleuze and brings it fully into the open: the insistence in Anti-Oedipus that the purpose of schizoanalysis is to destroy, Deleuze’s reflection Difference and Repetition that the book constitutes apocalyptic science fiction, his fascination with Artaud and the Theater of Cruelty, his identification of the body’s scream as the very center of philosophy itself. Sometimes we can even glimpse the negative lurking in plain sight by merely shifting perspective: what is becoming but the un-becoming of something else, a small death in its own right?

My politics differ a bit from Culp’s, and perhaps a bit from his Dark Deleuze. Dark Deleuze breaks with the celebration of connectivity and communication, while I believe that connectivity is intrinsic to revolutionary goals – though I fully agree that fighting for such a thing might require a step backwards or two. The ultimate goal of Dark Deleuze, Culp writes, is “full communism”. My position is rooted in anarchism-without-adjectives, with a strong lean towards market anarchism (so when a brief dismissal of ‘Proudhonism’ is offered, I cannot but protest). When he urges a move from “technoscience” to “political anthropology”, I want both – I have cast my lot with technoscience. In a critique of Landian accelerationism, Culp suggests that “Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘accelerationism’ has been too tarnished to rehabilitate”; as an accelerationist I again have to raise my hand in protest.

[I suppose I should point out, however, that my accelerationism stems neither from what was cooked up in the CCRU or aligns absolutely with the social democratic ‘left accelerationism’. If anything, it falls under what Land has recently described as “fundamentalist accelerationism” – and I strongly suspect that Culp’s Dark Deleuze falls squarely in this (non)tendency as well. Sorry, Andrew!]

Despite these perhaps very important political differences, I concur wholly with Culp that cultivating the negative is a task of utmost importance. The ultimate goal of this task, we read, is not the creation of concepts (per the traditional reading of Deleuze), but the destruction of worlds. Some might recoil in horror at such a notion. Worlds are destroyed everyday by the police and the military and even by the do-gooders of capitalism; the world itself may very well be destroyed under the ecological forces we arrogantly signify with the term “Anthropocene”. But these things are of the world as it is, because of the world as it is, and it is for this reason that this world must be destroyed. To talk of the “destruction of worlds” is to talk of the learning how to say no to this world, to refusal that which it offers and that which it stands posed to say. The impulse of negation, the specter of Dark Deleuze insists, is the only reasonable course of action “in an era of generalized precarity, extreme class stratification, and summary executions of people of color.”

It’s not too much of a leap from the classic Deleuzian focus on cultivating joy to developing hatred for this world. Joy and hatred are not necessarily elements on the opposite end of some spectrum. “His teeth were ground down to points”, Greil Marcus scrawled in Lipstick Traces, mashing up Johnny Rotten’s mouth, the Dadaist parody of the savagery of war, and the Situationist’s declaration the great town planners of the Fordist era were nothing more than builders of ruins.[2] Even though each has long since been recuperated, the affective register emanating from the negative runs through all, each reflecting a disgust with the world that became a hatred of the world, ultimately becoming a refusal of the world and steps to actively changing it. “We are here”, they answered in their own ways, to the question posed by Deleuze 1977: “who are our nomads of today?” To this, Culp adds that “[t]he nomads that will dissolve capitalism will are not cowboys but barbarians.” Barbarians indeed! Musty history aside, we find that joyous barbarism, that will to be against alive and well today. It’s present every time a mask donned, a window deliberately broken, a police force stymied, a fascist rally disrupted.

I don’t want to give the impression that Culp’s work operates merely at the affective level (though affect, as anyone familiar with Deleuze will tell you, is vitally important to developing political processes). In order to cobble together Dark Deleuze, it becomes essential to carry out a critique of the more common bearers of the Deleuzian flame. Chief amongst these are those that collapse A Thousand Plateaus’s celebration of the rhizome, the self-organizing principles of the war machine, and the dynamic geophilosophies into little other than a coded discourse on complexity theory. Such is the case with the tendency running from Manuel DeLanda down through the so-called “new materialisms”; while these works – and complexity theory writ large! – often do pose valid insights, they often interface with Deleuzian thought in a way that sheers off the sharp, political edge. Beyond this, however, there is an unfortunate tendency towards the sort of naturalistic thinking akin to that I have diagnosed in the works of Lewis Mumford. Culp writes that the slippery metaphor of complexity frequently “culminates in a ‘flat ontology’… [that] often leads to a ‘uniformization of diversity’ and “equalization of inequality”. The new materialisms, in other words, fold everything together into the same processes, and thus eliminate difference.

Dark Deleuze’s solution is an asymmetry between the elements or forces working in a system, or between relations of multiple systems. The purpose of this asymmetry is to allow difference to proliferate – and also to allow us to carry out critical separations between things. The immediate concerns of Dark Deleuze aside, such a notion would serve as quite useful a device in navigating the murky waters of complexity and emergence in general, as a kind of second-order mechanism that allows us to remain partially embedded in a system (say, a regional ecology, insofar as we can actually talk of such things) while also working against beyond it and against it (the movement of society at the infrastructural level). Such a mechanism would serve as “an indivisible asymmetrical relation”, to quote Deleuze from Difference and Repetition, “established between series of heterogeneous terms and expresses at each moment the nature of that which does not divide without changing its nature.”[3]

Also to be warded off are the democratic Deleuzians, a banishing that formally brings the figure of Dark Deleuze into the canon of delicious Negri-bashing that had been innovated by Tiqqun and their conspiratorial offshoot, the Invisible Committee. One doesn’t even have to read deeply into Deleuze and Guattari to put the silly notions of Deleuze-as-liberal to rest, and it is worth quoting Culp at length on this matter:

Deleuze and Guattari viciously criticize democracy in their collaborations, usually by calling it the cousin of totalitarianism. They discuss democracy, fascism, and socialism as all related in Anti-Oedipus. In A Thousand Plateaus they discuss “military democracy”, “social democracy” as the complementary pole of the state to “totalitarianism”, “totalitarian-social democracy”, and a poverty-stricken “Third World social democracy”. In What Is Philosophy? they speak of Athenian “colonizing democracy”, hegemonic democracy, democracy being caught up with dictatorial states, a social democracy that “has given the order to fire when the poor come out of their territory or ghetto”, and a Nazi democracy, which all lead them to conclude that their utopian “new people and a new earth… will not be found in our democracies”. Together, they can be neatly summarized: no matter how perfect, democracy always relies on a transcendent sovereign judgement backed by the threat of force.

Thus what Dark Deleuze ultimately draws out is what Deleuze and Guattari always were all along, but seemed so recalcitrant to admit it: anarchists of the most radical form. The figure of Dark Deleuze itself is not one of the future society, nor even the revolution which could deliver it; it is a ghost of an anarchist conspiracy haunting our current society. Anti-Oedipus was itself a great book of conspiracy, drawing its energy the Nietzsche that was revealed by Klossowski: the Nietzsche that formed a conspiracy “not only against his whole class, but also against the existing forms of the human species as a whole.”[4] It goes without saying that this conspiracy against humanity is not one of extermination, but of a Death of Man to follow the Enlightenment’s Death of God. The proclamation “God is dead” illustrates how under the march of civilization, the former power of theology was unmoored and lessened; with the proclamation “Man is dead!”, the dissolution of the power relations that set humans over humans.

In its short space, Dark Deleuze moves through these concepts and many others very rapidly. Just when one begins to feel out the argument being made, the next argument is already being deployed. Such treatment makes for fast reason, and is well suited for the excellent aphorisms that Culp drops along the way (I’m very jealous of “temporary autonomous zones have become special economic zones”). But I do hope we get a larger and more in-depth treatment down the line – yet perhaps this is precisely the sort of academic navel-gazing that Dark Deleuze intends to avoid. Culp tells us that “the ultimate task of Dark Deleuze is but a modest one: to keep the dream of revolution alive in counterrevolutionary times.” It is a book for the barricades.

[1] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari What Is Philosophy? Columbia University Press, 1994, pg. 108

[2] Greil Marcus Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century Harvard University Press, 1990, pg. 27

[3] Gilles Deleuze Difference and Repetition Athlone Press, 1994 pgs. 237-238

[4] Pierre Klossowski Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle Continuum, 2005, pg. xiv

 

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