Biopolitics, Lexicon



3 Nov , 2016  

Like Moliere’s Monsieur Jourdain, who was so surprised to learn that all these years he has been speaking prose, people are often shocked to learn that they think in concepts. It’s not just us theorists who make up funny meanings for funny words.

Take the word individual. It seems ordinary enough. Only, why is it a word modified by a prefix? How come we take an individual to be a primary thing, a given thing, when the word itself suggests otherwise? For there to be individuals presupposes there are dividuals. The form of the word itself insists on it: there’s dividable things, but then by adding a prefix, there are not-dividable things.

It seems timely to ask about what is dividable and what isn’t. It’s a sort of ideological given that the individual is the basis of bourgeois democratic liberalism. And yet we keep getting divided up by the powers that seem to actually govern it these days. We all know we are resonant in a great host of databases, each of which only concerns itself with a tiny slice of us: the slice that is devoted to fluctuating credit ratings, or cholesterol readings or threat assessments.

On a bigger scale, it seems common sense to imagine we are a population of individuals who add up to a free market buying and selling individual things to each other, based on rational preferences, and mediated by money. Yet on top of that market is another one, which slices up those individual transactions, grades they by some measure of risk, bundles them up again and sells them as derivatives.

Perhaps then this matter of the dividual – the divisible nature of things, actions, people – needs a closer look. That is the mission of Gerald Raunig’s book, Dividuum: Machinic Capitalism and Molecular Revolution, (Semiotext(e), 2016). Having read his earlier book Art and Revolution (Semiotext(e), 2007), I was initially a bit surprised by this one, but together they actually make a lot of sense. The earlier book draws a line through an alternate history of the twentieth century, connecting the constructivists, Vienna actionists and situationists. This more recent book provides a longer and more conceptual frame for thinking about forms of collective action. What if we took away our assumptions about individuals and communities, parts and wholes, and looked for other concepts? Here the concept of the dividual might have some uses.

The first thing that comes up once we head down this path is the question of the authorship of books themselves and their relation to other books. By habit we think of books as written for the most part by individuals, climbing up a rung on what Raunig calls a lineage ladder, the rungs below all being other individual authors.

Against this, we might like Franco Berardi and Maurizio Lazzarato see behind the conceit of the authorial signature the figure of the general intellect at work. For those writers, the act of writing itself a communitarian rather than an individual process. In a very different vein, Franco Moretti’s computationally assisted distant reading might be a technique for discovering the general intellect at work.

Raunig wants to carve out a third line, which diverges from both what he calls the individual-one of the bourgeois author and the all-one of the communitarian general intellect, and is rather what he calls the singular-one. He sees the communitarian approach as no better than the individualist one, and in some ways its conceptual double. One posits the individual subject of exchange as the model; the other the social subject of labor.

Like the word individual, the word community and all its cognates hides a concept. The problem with the communitarian as a practice of writing, or of anything else, is that it calls for a sacrifice to the munis.  One has to give something up to it. Raunig: “The entire conceptual line of the commune, the community, the common, even communism itself, to the extent that dogma and pressure to confess have been and are practiced in its name, are then cast in the dubious light of a double genealogy of identitarianism and reduction.” (82) For Raunig this is no less true of those attempts, by Jean-Luc Nancy, Maurice Blanchot and Giorgio Agamben, to modify the concept, to write instead (of and as) the unworkable, unavowable or coming community.

For Raunig there’s two problems: community is a term of closure and identity; also community requires an obligatory bond that binds singulars in what is common. After all, munus means gift, but in the sense of an obligation to sacred duties. The munus is about accepting an individual into the community on the basis of duty and debt. “Community is grounded on sacrifice and debt, relinquishment, rendering, surrendering. The band, the binding, the bond decreases singular capabilities. In the desire to become more, community implies becoming less. The munus is a minus.” (84)

Can the individual be contrasted with something other than the communal? What if one opens up the relation of the individual to the dividual instead? Rather than the terminal points of individual and communal, one might think the dividual as all the points in the middle, as any point along the line that could be divided. But as I was hinting with the examples of big data and derivatives, and as Raunig acknowledges, the dividual is no less coopted by machinic capitalism than the individual. “How will, in machinic capitalism, the middle become newly noncompliant?” (18)

To stick just to the problem of writing, Raunig is suggesting that there could be an alternative to the two great paths writers took in the modern period. One was a heightened individuality: the writer as public intellectual. From Emile Zola to Jean-Paul Sartre and Pier Paolo Pasolini, the writer could be a heroic individual. Or so it seemed. As Berardi suggests, maybe this was just a temporary appearance, and the writer was really on the way to becoming just a component part of the general intellect at work. The other path, about which not much is said any more, by Raunig or others, is the writer who joined the party, who indeed sacrificed to the communal. But could there be, instead, a dividual writing (or art, or anything), which neither inflates individuality nor sacrifices it? In retrospect, this appears as the problem Raunig was already working out in his earlier book.

Raunig provides a fascinating sketch of the history of the concept of the dividual, of dividuus, the divided or separated. It first appears in connection with slavery and sexual violence, in the plays of Plautus and Terence. There the dominus, the master of the house, presides over the division of the spoils. Good government is the proper apportioning the parts. Wealth is accumulated by partition, although the plots of these plays turn on fictional versions of the real-life phenomena of attempts to flee, on the part of women or slaves. In the margins even of Roman popular entertainment are aberrant lines, exceptions, singularities, multiple or protean selves, moments that are queer, or twër, a word that comes not from the Romans but from those wild German barbarians.

The concept of dividuum lurking in the plays appears again in Cicero, where individuum begins a long career of (mis)translating from Greek philosophy. This part of Raunig’s book is way beyond my competence, but I’ll do my best to pick a line through it to return us to the problems of the present. Cicero uses individuum to translate atomos in Democritus, but also for the indivisibility of being in Plato, and for the logical figure in Aristotle, which will in turn have a long career in attempts to conceptualize the trinity, as we shall see.

When Lucretius rendered the term than for Democritius and Epicurus was the atomos, it became corpora prima, whereas they are corpora individua to Cicero. He draws attention to their indivisiblity rather than primacy. Dividual and individual are in Cicero going to be different kinds of matter, one divisible, one not, but where the atom is going to lose its primacy.

This subsequently becomes useful raw material for thinking the trinity. How can God be one and yet also divided? Are the three aspects not so much a division into three as three different kinds of division? Perhaps there is a self-identical, indivisible being which in another aspect is a bunch of dividual matter in becoming, but where these two very different states are mediated by a third.

What transpires is a subordination of the divisible to the indivisible, becoming to being, disorder to order, perception to reason. For Lucretius, everything is divisible ‘down’ to the indivisible atom, but this is not the main line out of ancient thinking. Rather, everything is divisible ‘up’ to an indivisible being, a totality present in everything. Raunig: “In order to bring the divisible-many under the rule of the indivisible-one through the procedure of partitioning, the most diverse and bizarre operations become necessary: the creator god first takes a part from the whole, then takes double the first part as the second part, as the third part one and a half times … This partitioning functions in a thoroughly regular way, attempting to drive out multiplicity…” (49)

Here’s where the mediating third comes in handy, to thread together the total and eternal with the particular and created. Tertullian offers this metaphor for the trinity: the father is the source, the son the river, the spirit the irrigation canal, and substance of all three is water. From Boethius on, this Christian dogma will be elucidated with Aristotle’s categories. One of which will be the concept of the person as an individual substance of a rational nature. Another will be the seemingly paradoxical concept of the trinity as a Threeness without number. In god there is no diversity, plurality, multitude or accident, and hence there can be no number. Say the name of God three times, and that’s not three things, it’s one thing. There are not three things in God, but three divine personae.

Raunig has a particular fondness for Gilbert de Poitiers who used the minor or dividual form of the commentary as a writerly means to draw a novel line. In Gilbert there’s a radical distinction between the secular and divine worlds. The secular can then be described as a world of the singularity, concretion and immanence of all that subsists. In this secular realm there is no universality, only singularity. The divine has a completely different rationality and is not analogous to the secular. Unlike secular subsistence, divine essence is form without matter. Multiplicity does not emerge from singularity, the realm of the secular is strictly immanent and multiple.

Raunig: “Gilbert finds a concept, which he places next to the individual. It is not universals, generality or community that are posited opposite individuality here, but the term dividuum. With this Gilbert describes a non-individual singularity, which is not distinguished by the properties of individuality – wholeness and dissimilarity. The concise ‘invention’ of the term individuum can thus certainly be attributed to Gilbert…” (64) And some centuries before the Renaissance.

In the wake of Gilbert, dividual can mean divided, but from other dividual things. “Even though dividuum is in diverse single things, it does not one-sidedly stand opposite the individuum as a universal.” (65) The parts of a non-whole can have transversal relations. Multiplicity does not start from a unity or return to it. The individual is dissimilar, in that it is defined and composed in a specific way. The dividual is similar, meaning that it is not-whole, not-same, not-unified, but rather is divided and co-forming. A dividual singularity is always one among others.

Raunig wants to make some divisions among our senses of what it means to divide, between partition, participation, and division. (A secular trinity, perhaps). With a partition, the parts assigned to appropriate places, rightful owners, as is going on at the surface level at least in those old Roman plays. Territories are partitioned and law holds the parts in position, separating and classifying.

With participation, the whole is the starting point and goal. Beyond it is a principle of being, which communicates with all otherness via external participation. Participation is about the constant production of an organic whole, with the parts as organs with dependent functions.

A division, on the other hand, divides an indeterminate and diffuse multiplicity. A division is a re-singularization, a selection of a line. Division is not partition, classification, or domination. Division is not participation, a relating of parts to wholes. Drawing a line is not an identification, as a line can separate but need not enclose. Raunig finds this figure of division already in Plato’s Statesman, but that Platonic division erases multiplicity. Except in the margins, where wildness appears. The division that interests Raunig is between the civilized and the wild, for what is on the other side of the line marking off the wild is not an identity but a refusal of it.

What will come to characterize the ‘civilized’, as Nietzsche would have it, is a desire for self-division, self-denial, self-sacrifice. Christian morality is about worshipping a part of oneself as god while the other part is rendered base and abject. Christian theology and its philosophical successors reduce multiplicities to a unified and always same substance. It wants an a priori government of the whole and its singulars. Against which Nietzsche speaks for the amoral, disengaged individual who stands aside (and above) from the individual produced by pastoral power. The individual made by pastoral power supposed to move along from being self-dividing to self-governing and self-taming.

Yet both Nietzsche on pastoral power and the self-division of man, and Foucault on disciplinary power and compliance, tend to get stuck with the individual. For Deleuze, pastoral power proceeded towards a disciplinary regime that was about the individual’s capacity to sign for themselves, and something else. This other thing is more about the enumeration of attributes, and it points beyond the disciplinary. It counts dividuals rather than makes individuals. The third regime is one of control.

Everything that has a body is divisible, and hence mortal. Perhaps one could say that the body really does work through participation. As Judith Butler stresses, bodies are about dependency, vulnerability, ontological insecurity. For Isabell Lorey, bodies are about precariousness, about relations existentially shared with others. Raunig too wants to think these fragile bodies of participating parts, but not as an ontological or existential given, as that is a little too unifying. But rather as subject to a third kind of line. They may be bound up in partitions of law, property and subjectivity. They may be vulnerable to the failure of their parts to participate as wholes. But they may also be able to make or be made via other kinds of division.

This is hardly an unmixed virtue. Bodies can be alienated from themselves, disciplined, and these days also controlled at the level of their components. They are subject to what Maurizio Lazzarato calls machinic enslavement. Or in Raunig’s terms, they mesh with machinic capitalism. He does not think this is a new phase. Capital was and is always machinic, and the machinic has three phases. The first is about sovereignty and leverage. The second is disciplinary and energetic. The third is about control, and “machines of a third type.” (109) Machines that use algorithms to process information to subordinate things to a logistics. It presents itself to us via an interface, a visible appendage to an invisible envelope. (On which see Alex Galloway).

Which brings us, of course, to Facebook. It’s a machinic version of pastoral power, of the compulsion to self-division and yet also confession. As Raunig wryly notes, “In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught machinic subservience and self-compliance, confessional communication and self-division.” (115) Facebook encodes it. “Here everything revolves around machinic subservience, the will to confess, the desire to communicate.” (116) There is always supposed to be a truth waiting in an inner nature, to be uncovered. ‘Privacy’ just means data protection, the self must still be divided and served up in chunks.

Raunig: “The under-exposed side of social networking is the desire to publicly communicate oneself, to render (up) one’s data, to divide oneself.” (118) Facebook habituates its users to the machinic and to sharing through it. “Facebook is based on invoking the liberating effect of confession, on the figure of privacy as a deficiency to be avoided and on the presumption that machinic confession is not compelled, but instead implies voluntariness, desire, pleasure, and – with Nietzsche – ‘vanity.’” (120)

Raunig: “Crowds, multitudes, dispersed masses – their modes of existence and living are captured, stretched, appropriated and exploited beyond the realm of paid labor…. Free labor in free association, but to the advantage of the enterprises of the New Economy.” (124) Individuals are now enjoined to measure themselves to produce dividual body data of one kind of another. Or to let it be automatically tracked. “The algorithm sparks capital’s old fantasies of ending its dependence on living labor at last.” (125)

This is the world of operations management, or as I call it in Gamer Theory, logistics. The human and inhuman components of production can be continually tracked and adjusted, on the fly. The assembly line expands, opening out into the world. Line managers keep it moving, routing around recalcitrant labor if need be. For other workers, labor on the line also means an obligation to help improve it.

As Randy Martin argues, it’s no longer a business of assembling everything in one place to mass produce a commodity. Financial engineering disassembles the production process, disbursing and recombining its constituent parts. Both the individual home and the individual home owner become dividual slices of risk. They can be reassembled in derivatives, parts that are no longer parts of wholes. The result: “Dividualization of economy in every magnitude. Commensurability and comparability must be established in order to valorize the dividual exchange.” (147)

As a consequence: “If derivatives execute the dispossession of the self and property, then good old possessive individualism is also put in the grave.” (154) Martin and Raunig then ask a similar sort of question to the one I proposed in A Hacker Manifesto: “How then can economy be envisioned as not based on individual property, on the dis/possession of each and every individual, but as using the abstract-dividual line to compose new forms of sociality?” (149) If we can ask first about the kind of strange terrain we find ourselves in the middle of, then we can ask subsequently about the distinctive affordances of this situation. That might be more productive than lamenting lost opportunities.

Raunig banks on the possibilities also of some different aspects of a metaphysical inheritance. “What if Deleuze and Foucault were wrong, if similarity could be tipped again, if it were not eternally marked as betrayer of the measureless difference and as transition to measurability, but rather as the potential of a resistive form of dividuality?” (149) Remember that in this scheme, the individual is dissimilar; the dividual is similar, meaning that it is not-whole, not-same, not-unified, but rather is divided and co-forming. Raunig’s interest is in “tipping of similarity from the compulsion to comply into something non-pliable.” (150)

How could dividuals relate to each other? As in Harney and Moten’s luminous text about the undercommons, Raunig is interested in a kind of queer debt, or mutual indebtedness. What could be elaborated a little more here is how this would be different to the Blanchot –  Nancy – Agamben line of thought about community. Raunig makes a start on this by bringing in Marilyn Strathern’s thinking about the gift. While hardly a utopian theory of the gift, Strathern does open a way of thinking about gift-giving as something other than a giving-away by the subject. For her, dividual flows that do not function through subject / object relations at all. Domination in a gift economy among dividual components is then a matter of where and when connections and disconnections can happen. Or in Galloway’s terms, domination is a form of protocol.

As in Donna Haraway (another reader of Strathern) there’s a way here to think partial relations: parts that connect partially, without invoking an alienation from either a disfigured individual or a lost totality. This is also an alternative to those who like Tim Morton want to insist that while objects have partial relations, there is a hidden whole of the object that cannot be perceived but which is available to philosophical thought uniquely to know. Strathern, Haraway and Raunig are in different ways students of, and theorists of, partial relations, but for whom a theory of the part-object without its whole is theory enough. Gilbert still needed to posit a parallel realm of divine indivisible being, but in making it so radically distinct from the world of divisible being, enables us finally to discard it.

But one way of thinking about Gilbert is to see him as grappling with what we would now think of as the relation between materiality and information, figured respectively as the secular and the divine. The properties he attempts to assign to divine being seem less of a mystification if one thinks of them as attributes of information. The problem is in insisting on a radical separation between materiality and information, and a kind of immaterial being to information independently of materiality (and indeed vice-versa). How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? It turns out not to be a ridiculous question if you interpret it as: does information necessarily have materiality?

Strathern and Haraway are strongly of the camp that it does: the word made flesh cannot be made without it. But perhaps this misses part of the picture. What emerges historically out of the age of the scriptoriums is the ability of information to entertain arbitrary relations to materiality. Take a codex; copy it by hand. Now you have two. But the text copied is (more or less) the same. It is in a particular sense similar. You divided it and yet it stayed the same. And what was once a laborious procedure in the scriptorium is now a daily occurrence: copy and save. You can divide a file into two files – but they are the ‘same’ file.

So on the one side, machinic capitalism interacts with bodies as ensembles of dividuals. There’s a machine connecting to your health records, another one to your credit rating, yet another to your web browsing preferences. But on the other side,machinic capitalism produces vast databases that could in principle be copied again and again at very low cost: a vast socialization of information outside of both the individual subject and the property form. Or potentially so at least. It’s a question of protocol: who or rather what decides what information can pass where and to what end? Not you; not me. We have no part in it. As I argued in A Hacker Manifesto, information founds a new kind of class power – that of the vectoralist class, beneficiaries of asymmetrical flows of information.

Machinic capitalism thrives on a desire for self-division. The burden of the individual self is too much, and is willingly given up, that our parts might play, and yet yield information for capture and control. Perhaps this double side of dividual life is what leads to paranoid and reactionary compensations, attempts to restore a bounded and impenetrable self under the gaze of the strong ruler, and all that. Raunig: “Whereas the individual component recedes into the background in machinic capitalism, the patriarchal logic of partition is by no means suspended under dividual conditions.” (148)

What would be a form of dividual regulation that might point to a release of the capacities of such forces of production? Raunig draws on Boaventura de Soussa Santos and instances of indigenous or informal law. Perhaps there are already precedents for dividual law, that can’t be captured in property, territory, individuality. A law that could be an abstract line moving through things but not individuating them. “Whereas dispersion, multitude and cooperation have prevailed at the level of modes of production in the form of a dividual communism of capital, the multiplicity of political organizations has seemed to lag behind…” (186) Could there be a form of law for parts of a not-whole posited in non-universal relations? Could there be similarity without measure? Such questions might mark a distinctive line through the times.


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