Andrew Culp teaches Media Theory in the faculty of Aesthetics and Politics at the California Institute of the Arts. He is the author of Dark Deleuze (University of Minnesota Press, 2016), and a range of articles in Parallax, Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, Quarterly Journal of Speech, Affinities: A Journal of Radical Theory, Culture, and Action and Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies. His work deals with questions of digital power, radical theory and media resistance. He is currently pursuing these themes in his second book, Persona Obscura: Invisibility in the Age of Disclosure (University of Minnesota Press; under contract), which pays particular attention to the power of invisibility. He is also a general editor of the journal Hostis.
What might it mean, Andrew Culp asks in Dark Deleuze, to “give up on all the reasons given for saving this world” (Culp, 2016b: 66)? In response, this interview explores the pathways offered by a “dark” Deleuze, a politics of cruelty, Afro-Pessimism, partisan knowledges, destituent power, and tactics of escape.
Thomas Dekeyser: I read your book Dark Deleuze as a two-fold intervention: into Deleuzian scholarship and into radical political thought. I would like to first hone in on the former. You suggest the majority of Deleuzian scholarship has been overwhelmed by a ”canon of joy” that “celebrates Deleuze as a naively affirmative thinker of connectivity,” giving rise to concepts such as “transversal lines, rhizomatic connections, compositionist networks, complex assemblages, affective experiences, and enchanted objects” (Culp, 2016a: 7). By contrast, you mark Deleuze as a thinker of negativity concerned with “negative” prefixes (de-, a-, non-, and in-) and “negative” affects (the monstrous scream, concealment, the shame of being human). But why do you wish to return to Deleuze in the first place, rather than abandoning him, given the weight of affirmation, joyfulness, and vitalism that has been so central to Deleuzian thought, and given that, as you admit, Deleuze himself perhaps did not push hard enough, turning a blind eye to Nietzsche’s more destructive impetus?
Andrew Culp: Theory is in the midst of an interregnum, I think. We are in the midst of a search for what comes after post-structuralism. The theoretical moves that were taken as sacrosanct are slowly being called into question. Deleuze wrote an important essay in 1967, “How Do We Recognize Structuralism?,” that outlines seven characteristics of what would become post-structuralism: the symbolic, local or positional, the differential and the singular, the differenciator/differentiation, serial, the empty square, and from the subject to practice (see Deleuze, 2004). Looking back at developments in the last two decades of theory, each and every one of those terms has been declared exhausted, insufficient, or otherwise overcome. For instance, the Slovenian school of psychoanalysis has challenged the role of the Imaginary and Symbolic in the prevailing Anglo-American interpretation of Lacan since the 1980s, proposing instead that the Real constitutes a decisive yet neglected area of inquiry (Žižek, 1989). Along those same lines, philosophical realism roared back into fashion through Meillassoux (2008), the rise of New Materialisms (feminist and otherwise; see Coole and Frost, 2010), and the Latourian “compositionist” war against critique (Latour, 2010). Curiously, these movements side with Deleuze (and Guattari) in enough of the theoretical controversies sparked by post-structuralism that his thought has become ubiquitous.
What would it mean if we already live in a Deleuzian century (as Foucault would jest)? I would take it to mean that Deleuze’s metaphysics has become the ontology of the present. His Tardean quantum theories of social interaction equally help us understand digital virality and social composition (see Sampson, 2012; Hardt and Negri, 2004). Deleuze and Guattari’s model of a molecular unconscious is not only true but the distinctive feature of our bio-chemical era (Preciado, 2013). Is not capitalism the most extensive assemblage ever constructed (Delanda, 2006)? And has not the affirmation, joyfulness, and vitalism of his reading of Nietzsche, Spinoza, and Bergson synced up with broader cultural trends? By and large, then, his dreams have been fulfilled. Said otherwise: if both a Buzzfeed founder and an Israeli Defense Forces strategist-general count Deleuze and Guattari as an influence, then we are all Deleuzians now.
Such triumph does not put the thinker of the ‘minor’ in a very easy position. We are left with a few choices. “Critique Deleuze” as Peter Hallward (2006) did from his paleo-Marxist perspective, or “forget Deleuze” as Alexander Galloway (Berry and Galloway, 2016: 157) suggests and look elsewhere for a fresh orientation (to name a couple). My suggestion is a bit different, however, as my approach is neither to argue that Deleuze had it wrong nor (on my better days) to accuse Deleuzisms of damnation. I am instead interested in treating the various positions within Deleuze Studies as a microcosm of the world, making our competing interpretations not a matter of fidelity but politics.
Some have recoiled at the sight of Deleuze after sniffing out even the slight hint of his recuperation, finding it fatally contaminating. Those with a more deconstructionist orientation shrug their shoulders and argue that the author cedes control of the sign after it begins to circulate—as if, for better or worse, one ultimately cannot be blamed for whatever hell they unleash upon the world. Neither purity nor apology seems appropriate here, as both put the reader in the position of a judge looking to declare Deleuze guilty or innocent in the eyes of the law. Instead, I propose something not dissimilar to Foucault’s methodological suggestion in The History of Sexuality: An Introduction (1978), that power can be coded through either law or war. As an anarchist, I never really developed a taste for the law, so I choose war.
From Guattari’s diary, we read that after they completed Anti-Oedipus (1983), Deleuze feverishly went to work on what he thought to have been left out of their first book, the two chapters on the war machine that would form the nomadology of A Thousand Plateaus (1987). Is this not also what is missing from most Deleuzian scholarship? How often do Deleuzians mention “insubordination, rioting, guerrilla warfare, or revolution,” “minority warfare, revolutionary, and popular war” as “in conformity with the essence” of the political theory they are advancing (1987: 386, 423, 559)? I happily stand by the few that do.
Some might dissent by pointing out Deleuze and Guattari’s qualification that such actions are essential only as far as they are done “on the condition that they simultaneously create something else” (1987: 423). This concern has its origins in Paul Patton’s Deleuze and the Political (2000), where he characterizes the war machine as a “metamorphosis machine”—an interpretation that has root in political theory, where Deleuze and Guattari are most commonly mobilized as radical but anti-revolutionary liberals (110-111; Connolly, 2005; Tampio, 2015). But I find it useful to invert the formulation, revealing how George Jackson’s line “I may be running, but I’m looking for a gun as I go” serves as a critical reminder of what is missing from Deleuze scholarship today (204). The line is repeated in the anonymously-authored essay “Aprés l’assasinat” in L’intolérable 3: L’assasinat de George Jackson, a booklet put out by the Groupe d’information sur les prisons (1971), most likely written by Deleuze. In it, following lengthy excerpts from a prison communique and Jackson’s Soledad Brother, the author concludes by noting that the line of flight secured with the aid of a weapon, is precisely “where revolutionaries engage” (57).
Coming full circle to your remark on radical political thought, the word “revolution” still sounds to many (as the Situationists would say) like we are speaking with a corpse in our mouth. Yet look at the widespread popularity of zombies, alien apocalypses, and all varieties of dystopia. I see revolution reappearing today just as Marx described (as the Old Mole of Hamlet’s ghostly father) that, after growing strong, “bursts asunder the crust of earth which divided it from the sun, its Notion, so that the earth crumbles away” (Hegel, 2004: 547). And who better to get us there than Deleuze, who described Difference and Repetition (1994) as a sort of “apocalyptic” book of “science fiction” with the dramatically cinematic opening and closing shots of a black abyss and a single voice endlessly being carried out to sea (xxi; xx; 28; 304)?
TD: The science-fictional aspect of writing, Deleuze (1994: xxi) tells us citing Nietzsche, involves “acting counter to our time and thereby acting on our time and, let us hope, for the benefit of a time to come.” This begs the question: how does the contemporary moment inform our understanding of how we might think of getting to this revolutionary world? Your essay, “Confronting Connectivity: Feminist Challenges to the Metropolis” (Culp, 2015), offers inspiration here. In the essay, you take up the notion of “inclusive disjunction” as an operation of power which diffuses differences through processes of inclusion. In the meantime, a series of Deleuzian scholars, “Google Deleuzians” as Galloway provocatively termed them in a recent interview, “see the world as a vital assemblage, proffering untold bounties of knowledge—and riches. From clouds, to humans, to molluscs, to molecules, the world is nothing but systems. Lines of flight slice through assemblages, creating new living landscapes. Systems are open, dynamic, and robust. Networks produce value” (Berry and Galloway, 2016: 157-158). Instead, you point towards the need to learn to become contrary and take up a hatred of this world. What are some of the difficulties of pursuing Deleuze and a politics of affirmation on positive terms in times of “inclusive disjunction?”
AC: Inclusive disjunction, that is really getting to the formal heart of the matter! Bear with me while I show my work. Inclusive disjunction is first presented by Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus as the “correct” uses of the disjunctive synthesis of recording, one of the three syntheses that they say constitute the unconscious (1983: 12-14; 20; 38-40). If we just stop there, then Anti-Oedipus is just a critique of those Lacanians who treat power as fundamentally sovereign because of the legislative and prohibitive symbolic function of the “name-of-the father,” and a proposed model for “properly” thinking the disjunctive movement of molecular unconscious as inclusively open-ended (either… or… or…) in the service of both production (the satisfaction of producing a product) and anti-production (the satisfaction of breaking old habits to establish new connections) (75-84). And for a long time, that was the argument: the book is not so much the anti-Oedipus as much as the anti-Lacan. This characterization totally misses the point, and more importantly, it misses the second half of the book.
I contend that chapter three of Anti-Oedipus endures as its most important chapter. In it, Deleuze and Guattari present a “universal history” of capitalism by way of the comparative analysis of three social formations, those of non-state peoples (the “savage”), despotic sovereignty (the “barbarian”), and capitalism (the “civilized”) to reveal a path to the outside (139-271). Surprise, surprise, each one of them deploys the inclusive disjunction of recording in a different way—the first two use the disjunctive synthesis exclusively: non-state people use strong inside-outside social coding to establish kinship relations (and thus debt) coextensive with the whole social field that institute relations of anti-production based on prohibition (159-162), and the despot uses the naked domination to establish subservient caste relations (and glorious expenditure) that institute relations of anti-production based on the law (192-200). Sorry for all the lead up, but here we are at the big question: is capitalism similarly to be condemned for being exclusive, binaristic, and authoritarian? On a formal level, Deleuze and Guattari say “mostly no.” In fact, capitalism is always threatening to undermine even the minimal juridical logic of sovereignty necessary to keep itself afloat. So set on reinvesting all aspects of the social field into circuits of production, sovereign functions are routinely sold off as the production of production is its highest goal (224).
This is not big news to scholars of power as this account of power is perfectly compatible with Foucault’s account of biopower in The History of Sexuality: An Introduction (1978) and his Collège de France lectures (most notably ‘Society Must Be Defended’  and Security, Territory, Population ). But it led theorists such as Michael Hardt (1995) to argue that there is a “becoming-immanent” of power whereby the state does not stand outside society (contrary to the mediations of natural-civil-political society used by Gramsci) because institutions exert control by producing more than they repress (the disciplinary power of incentives and negligence rather than outright punishment) and capitalism functions as a difference engine (not a homogenizing force). To see it coming to fruition in a concrete case, consider the case of the New Right. The so-called Alt-Right became a topic of general discussion after the Trump election, but the European New Right stretches much farther back and boasts intellectuals who write on Nietzsche, Heidegger, Schmitt, and Foucault. Both are the realization of Deleuze and Guattari’s argument that fascism is fundamentally molecular, a resonance machine that connects the focal points of “band, gang, sect, family, town, neighborhood, vehicle fascisms” (1987, 215). The consequence is that most of our models of resistance are based on the wrong forms of power. Democratic engagement, citizen dissent, and creative alternatives to capitalism’s monotony get outmaneuvered at every turn. The obvious response would be to look to an alternative like rhizomatics for the answer. But we need to be careful to engage in rhizomatic analysis rather than act as cheerleaders for rhizomes. It was not just the anti-globalization movement that was rhizomatic, so was globalization; the radical left has benefited from becoming-rhizomatic, but so has “the groupuscule right” of resurgent fascisms (Griffin, 2003). Deleuze and Guattari’s famous warning in A Thousand Plateaus says as much, “Never believe that a smooth space will suffice to save us” (500). While some readers read this alongside the line from the bodies without organs plateaus as a call for moderation, I instead see it as a methodological clarification— rhizomes are not the answer, rhizomatics creates a new category for analysis.
In Dark Deleuze, I bring up the coincidence between digitality and the molecular. There, I do it in service of critiquing Deleuzians who promote their own version of Google’s “connectivism,” which provides the tech giant political leverage to become a major player in geopolitics and a whole anthropological philosophy. Its importance is hard to overstate as a whole range of tech companies used connectivism as their business mantra during the first ten years of Web 2.0. Yet most critiques seem to fall flat. Why? They tend to accuse connectivism as violating liberal possessive individualism (privacy, security) or failing to deliver on promises of efficiency (and other engineering challenges related to their technical specifications). Few take into account how connectivism is molecular, Tardean even, with an emphasis on quantization. Sure, there are a few romantic laments about the loss of the molar. But the heart of the critique is to be found in an open-eyed look at the quantified self as the fantasy of transforming life into one enormous cybernetic circuit. It is these interconnected networks (circuits, clouds, assemblages, entanglements…) that are the target of Deleuze’s control societies essay (1992), in which we see Deleuze at his most self-critical, speculatively outlining a new form of power, “cybernetic control,” that mirrors the molecular metaphysics proposed in Capitalism and Schizophrenia. And it has all basically come true. An important entry in this debate is Maurizio Lazzarato’s book Signs and Machines (2010). He argues that we live in the age of a new Mumfordian megamachine with capitalism integrating us through “machinic enslavement” rather than “social subjection.” This form of subjectivity is a socio-technical process that targets our affective, pre-personal, pre-cognitive, and preverbal forces in order to bypass humanist checks on exploitation.
How far does it go? There is a popular flat-footed reading of Deleuze as a French Carl Sagan—offering up a philosophy of “the pale blue dot,” “we’re made of star stuff, we are a way for the cosmos to know itself,” and “every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious.” This cosmic materialism is the other side of connectivism. It is most prevalent in the ecological perspectives of many new materialisms and sometimes even overlapping with Silicon Valley futurists, e.g. The Californian Ideology. A big part of the project is a focus on “perspective,” such as the cosmic perspective seen in the Eames educational film The Powers of Ten (1977), usually accompanied by an ontology with an embedded preference toward harmony. So in the film Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance (1982), human and machine are depicted as the forces behind ecological devastation, whereas James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis suggests that humans can make amends by syncing up with the complex systems that support life on Earth. The trouble with some of these perspectives is that their low-theory narratives hypostatize nature into a sort of “noble savage.” There is already a bit of a mismatch given Deleuze and Guattari’s famous formula that god = nature = industry, leading them to say “we cry out, ‘More perversion! More artifice!’”—to a point where the earth becomes so artificial that the movement of deterritorialization creates of necessity and by itself a new earth’ (1983: 321). The lesson we are meant to take is that when we put material under the microscope, it may be active (in the vitalist sense) but that does not mean it need to be treated with any special reverence. My response, a line that I take from Tiqqun, is a materialist perspective that apprehends challenges like the Anthropocene or Empire not “like a subject, facing us, but like an environment that is hostile to us” (Tiqqun, 2010: 171).
Taking it a bit further: maybe we are already molecular. Financialization, informatization, and algorithmic culture name a few of the already-talked about forms of molecular regulation. Behind them are digital methodologies that claims to get a more complex picture slice of the world, both in gradiance and scope. One appeal of the molecular, then, is its attention to complexity. And is this not a popular appeal in seminar rooms? “It’s more complex than that.” Same old story of the information-gap. But it is exactly wrong because we are in an age of oversaturation. The craving for more information is born out of a libertarian impulse for transparency, which is connected to the pornographic drive to overexposure that feeds network culture.
art by Zach Blas
TD: I would like us to dig a little deeper into the distinction between production and anti-production that you made. Your work follows Marx and Engels’ belief in the capitalist forces of production as “an uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation” (Culp, 2016b: 41). Rather than turning, in response, towards deceleration, you suggest: “Capitalism is to be criticized for falling short—it pairs the conductive power of unfolding with the rhizomatic logic of accumulation. A communism worthy of its name pushes unfolding to its limit” (ibid.).
And still, you are careful to distinguish your conceptions from current movements towards (left/right) accelerationism in the social sciences and humanities, preferring instead a politics of escape. At what point, at which speed, does acceleration shift into escape, and vice-versa?
AC: The path toward pure deterritorialization has to be posed anew today. After the events of May 1968, the novelty of unexpected connections between all sorts of minorities, students, and oppressed peoples was not only intellectually profound but the reality of it was revealed as an event in the streets. Deleuze and Guattari’s initial thoughts were that a Marxo-Freudian synthesis was the best theory for elaborating what was going on. Part of the explanation is biographical—Guattari had been working at La Borde, Jean Oury’s clinic and utopian social experiment, since 1955. The other portion can probably be explained by many of the defining characteristics of the events in May, which the ’68 industry continues to allegorize sexually as a romance full of exploration, passion, and heartbreak (recently: Bertolucci’s The Dreamers , Garrel’s Regular Lovers , and Assayas’s Something in the Air). By the time Deleuze and Guattari write A Thousand Plateaus, psychoanalysis is no longer a priority. Their brief homage to Freud in the second plateaus on wolves gives way to a Geology of Morals through an ambitious reworking of materialism that intentionally takes leave of psychoanalytic models of causation such as condensation and displacement that would continue to influence structuralism for decades.
Accelerationism is an attempt to rethink deterritorialization outside of the schizoanalytic model of Anti-Oedipus. Deleuze and Guattari are less used than abused in the early accelerationism proposed in Nick Land’s “Machinic Desire” which fundamentally relies on the opposition between humans and machines—a distinction that is nonsensical within Deleuze and Guattari’s post-naturalist framework (something demonstrated quite cogently in Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto”). There is also an odd “boomerang dialectic” interpretation of accelerationism that borrows the affective tonalities of Land’s misanthropy. According to the boomeranger, things have to get worse to get better. Similar to the physics of a pendulum, energy is introduced in one direction to break stasis, with the eventuality of it swinging back in the opposite direction. While Deleuze and Guattari do use a certain energetics, even at their most destructive, their critique of dialectics makes them fundamentally allergic to any strategy based on assisting the opposition. This is why the accelerationist citation of Anti-Oedipus is so perverse. No one more vehemently disagrees with boomerang-dialectical propositions—such as Žižek reciting Oscar Wilde that “the worst slave-owners were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the horror of the system being realized by those who suffered from it, and understood by those who contemplated it” (1891)—than Deleuze and Guattari. When they say that “no one has ever died of contradictions,” Deleuze and Guattari are not flippantly egging on bad things— they are arguing against those Marxist crisis theorists who say that there is a point at which things will be so bad that people must revolt (151). So when they say that “we haven’t seen anything yet,” we should also take it as a warning: there is no floor to how terrible things can get.
As for Land’s more recent right-accelerationism based in a libertarian obsession with markets, private property, and a corporatist state—that critique is even easier. Those three things do not represent maximum deterritorialization but the inverse, they are the absolute essentials of any mode of capitalist reterritorialization. Until they are eliminated, reterritorialization will always reign supreme.
Communism has a rather orthodox definition including the abolition of private property, the cessation of class relations of domination, and the withering away of the state. Left-accelerationism is a total non-starter on this issue for me because it remains a technocratic state socialist project rather than communist one. As informed by their principled opposition to the state, the contribution of Deleuze and Guattari to this idea seems clear to me. In contrast to the process outlined by Lenin in The State and Revolution (1917), namely establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat through the seizing of the organs of the state, Deleuze’s metaphysics suggests that there are non-legislative processes that could passively produce the conditions of communism. The suggestion by the post-Autonomia Marxists was a new post-scarcity version of the commons. I like the idea, but there is a clearer picture suggested by Tiqqun, The Plan B Bureau, and the Invisible Committee: a communism of all of those forces that struggle against Empire. The text I like on this point is Twenty Theses for the Subversion of the Metropolis (The Plan B Bureau, 2009), which proposes blocking, sabotage, and ungovernability as a shared exodus from an Empire that operates according to communication (the precise cybernetic system that left-accelerationists advocate). The speed of such revolt may actually be experienced as a slowing down, as the complicity between cybernetics and capitalism is that both speed things up because they perceive most problems to be an issue of efficiency. Ultimately, a phrase that Deleuze and Guattari take from R.D. Laing is all that matters: the task of the revolutionary should be to provoke a breakthrough and not a breakdown.
TD: One of the tenets of this breakthrough, in your work, seems to involve a distancing from “productivity.” Rather provocatively, perhaps, you suggest we need to get rid of the “body,” or rather, of the body put to use for “useful labor” (Culp, 2016b: 61) in the form of capitalist labor or species reproduction. In his critique of the productivism central to Antonio Negri’s work, Giorgio Agamben seems to follow a similar movement. The notion of “inoperativity” he draws on to this end “does not mean inertia, but names an operation that deactivates and renders works […] inoperative” (Agamben, 2014: 69). The aim of the “inoperative operation” is to open works (bodies, words, ideas, spaces, times) to a new use without pre-determined end (what he phrases as “means without ends”).
Yours entails a movement towards “interruption,” Agamben’s towards “inoperativity.” Perhaps a central difference between these two is that an inoperative operation involves returning “work” to the potentiality from which it operates (its pure potentiality), whilst “interruption” departs from the belief that a better world might be found in the ruins of our own, finding instead inspiration in “the outside?”
AC: The body remains an essential touchstone for feminism, and among the many things feminism provides, I think it serves as an essential gut-check. If something feels anti-feminist, we must go back to the drawing board. That said, there is quite a debate raging right now about bodies in transfeminism, critical disabilities studies, black studies, and other areas that study power established through the marking and control of bodies. A crystallization of this controversy is espoused by Elizabeth Grosz, who claims that transgender identity is a mistaken belief about the ability to bypass the material limits of bodies (a claim initially made in Volatile Bodies , reiterated in Becoming Undone , and elaborated on in an interview with Esther Wolfe ). Obviously I find these remarks indefensible and I think that this is the unthought kernel of Grosz that needs a dose of her own molecular method—why not further multiply Irigaray’s sexual difference to the point where the categories of male and female are simply molar relics? Grosz fortunately makes charitable remarks toward actually-existing trans* people and I have not seen her align herself with the odious politics of trans-exclusive radical feminism, but I am at a loss for the value of advocating a materialism that can so easily dismiss transfeminism and queerness more broadly. My ultimate concern is that such remarks reveal a conservative undertow to the appeal to bodies-as-established-fact. This is why I think the negativity of Dark Deleuze is meant to advance the feminist cause, even as it must deal with some disagreements stemming from certain Spinozist feminisms (I therefore see the Dark Deleuze project as extending recent developments in feminist thought, such as C.E.’s Undoing Sex: Against Sexual Optimism )—what is more in line with queer theory and transfeminism than “saying no to those who tell us we should take the world as it is?”
You are right that the question of labor remains at the heart of my analysis. On this question, I remain Marxist in a way more dogmatic than kneeling and repeating the psalms of Capital (1974): labor is the sole source of surplus value (and not, for instance, vibrant matter or the cosmos). To be clear, I am only talking about capitalism in this instance, and within it, I include unremunerated labor such as reproduction. Why defend labor (and labor-power) as Marx defines it? Adhering to his reworking of the labor theory of value is absolutely essential if we are to derive a political theory from Marxist analysis. Where we go with it is not obvious, as from it, a number of different political strategies have been developed. The theory advanced by Negri is that proletarian labor as “living labor” is the motor of history and a self-directed revolutionary force. I instead align with certain elements of value-criticism, such as Endnotes, that take Marx as providing a negative critique of capitalist society and not an affirmative blueprint for the liberation of labor in any form (unions, a socialist state, as a revolutionary class, etc.). And if fidelity to the father means much here, it is a position very similar to the one advanced by Marx in the first chapter of his Critique of the Gotha Program. That said, I ultimately part with specific political stances Marx took at his time, which I feel like I have license to do this and still call myself a Marxist of a sort because Marx did not produce a coherent political theory in his time. I also believe that in spite of Marxism’s universalist aspirations, we should not confuse it for a swiss army knife, as other approaches are often a better fit in instances where labor is not at the heart of the matter.
When trying to recruit allies for the labor question in Dark Deleuze, at first blush, someone like Giorgio Agamben may not seem to synthesize well with Deleuze. Most of Deleuze’s thought is dedicated to taking a distance from the German phenomenological tradition in which Agamben is marinated (as a regular attendee of Heidegger’s seminars at Le Thor in Provence in the late ’60s). That has not stopped Agamben from thinking with Deleuze and Foucault across his many works. Such a method is instructive to how I use Agamben, whose many concepts have to be reworked to fit within a Deleuzian framework.
The Agamben question is further muddied by his middle period, such as the two side-by-side pieces that addresses labor from The Man Without Content (1999), “Privation is Like a Face” and “Poiesis and Praxis.” He begins the second essay with a bold homo faber-like statement that only a philosopher steeped in the Greeks would make: “man has on earth a poetic, that is, a productive, status” (68). His subsequent argument revolves around three distinct terms: poiesis, praxis, and work. After quoting Plato from the Symposium, Agamben writes that “every time that something is pro-duced, that is, brought from concealment and non-being into the light of presence, there is ποίησις, pro-duction, poetry’ (59-60). Praxis, he defines as willed productive human activity. And work, tied to bare biological existence, he says has gone through a transvaluation from contemptuous activity reserved for the worst-off to the joyful creativity of the artist. Curiously then, we see a sort of productivism in Agamben’s theory of poetry-as-poiesis, though not an uncomplicated one, as he marshals Nietzsche to posit the work of art as an exercise in redemptive nihilism (as “negation and destruction of a world of truth” having “traversed its nothingness from end to end,” it ends in a will to power that “reigns” [87; 93]).
It takes the Homo Sacer project to disabuse Agamben of these gestures toward creation, ultimately ending in The Use of Bodies (2016), which finishes with a political theory of inoperativity that he calls destituent power. Agamben discusses Negri in the original Homo Sacer (1998) book in terms of Negri’s study of Abbé Sieyès’s “constituent power” introduced in the essay “Constituent Republic” (2006) and further developed in Insurgencies (2009). Negri argues that constitutionalism grows out of a Machiavellian idea that the proper degree of arms and money constitute a people and establish the basis for a sovereign society. Instead of establishing the formal document of a constitution to establish a people through juridical power, he suggests the development of material forces to set the conditions for the “objective emergence” of new Soviets that would “express immediately potentiality, cooperation, and productivity” reminiscent of council communism (2006, 221). The result would be a constituent Republic without a constitution. Such a new republic would be the effect of a constituent springing forth from material conditions not constituted by the decree of a sovereign authority, and therefore for him, a qualitatively different form of power.
The epilogue to The Use of Bodies is “Toward a Theory of Destituent Potential” (originally published in translation by Society and Space in 2014). He opens it with a deeply retrospective comment about what was at stake in his inquiry into “the ‘Homo Sacer’ project,” lending it a sense of finality, not just to a single book, but as the last words of a nine-volume project (263). It serves as a definitive answer to Negri although Negri’s approach to constituent power never occupies the same centrality to Agamben as other thinkers, such as Carl Schmitt. (Parenthetically, I should also note that Agamben was a sort of patron to the Tiqqun project and remains an unmentioned inspiration for the writings of The Invisible Committee, both of which have lengthy screeds against ‘Negriism’.) In section 5, Agamben writes that theories of constituent power misunderstand the contemporary situation. Constituent power takes today’s fundamental ontological problem to be one of work whereas for him, it is an issue of inoperativity. He presents a fatalist picture of constituent power that recalls the events of recent revolutions, such as those sparked in the Arab Spring, stating that “power that has only been knocked down with a constituent violence will resurge in another form, in the unceasing, unwinnable, desolate dialectic between constituent power and constituted power” (266). The alternative, destituency, is for him a question of neutralization—a potential that cannot resolve back into constituent power (268). Like most of Agamben’s work, his discussion of destituent power operates at the level of language, deep textual references, and brief allusions to historical events. So we get a discussion of destitution as a paradox in Aristotle’s impotential (adynamia) (276), in Latin grammar (277), as remaining open to a relation that is not a relation at all (271), as causing a contact that renders relations destitute and interrupted (war?) (272), and in Paul’s description of how the messiah reacts to law without being constituent or destructive (273). He does provide two elaborations that are more concrete with discussion of Benjamin’s proletarian general strike and anarchy (268-269; 274-276).
It might serves us better to study destituent power where it has taken root. Fortunately, The Invisible Committee has a whole chapter-long elaboration on destituent power in their book Now (2017) called “Let’s Destitute the World!” (69-89). The actual proposals are very similar to what they already suggested in The Coming Insurrection and To Our Friends, namely: build commonality with others, get organized by building consistency, and fuck the police as well as all forms of governance. They suggest that destituence occurs in building alternatives that cut governance out of the pictures—”to destitute the university is to establish … places of research,” “to destitute the judicial system is to learn to settle our disputes ourselves,” “to destitute government is to make ourselves ungovernable” (81). Although much more concrete than Agamben, it is here that I disagree with their strategy, which strikes me as another iteration of the anti-globalization movement’s take on prefigurative politics.
In contrast, I think we can generalize a politics of destitution from left-communism and communization. For them, the power of the proletariat is found in its ability to bring forth its own abolition. Such self-abolition is seen in the work of Jacques Camatte, Gilles Dauvé, Endnotes, Aufheben, and Theorie Communiste. They owe much to the older legacy of Marxist feminism and the politics of refusal encapsulated in the famous epigraph to Silvia Federici’s Wages Against Housework (1975: 1):
They say it is love. We say it is unwaged work. They call it frigidity. We call it absenteeism. Every miscarriage is a work accident. Homosexuality and heterosexuality are both working conditions…but homosexuality is workers’ control of production, not the end of work. More smiles? More money. Nothing will be so powerful in destroying the healing virtues of a smile. Neuroses, suicides, desexualization: occupational diseases of the housewife.
Negativity and interruption here is about tactics that fit into an overall strategy. For me, this is a project for partisan knowledge. This follows the Fanonian tradition of developing knowledge not meant to argue or persuade, but for others are who already fighting alongside you in struggle. There’s an underappreciated essay from the anti-globalization period that develops this approach quite brilliantly—Crisso and Odoteo’s Barbarians: The Disordered Insurgency (2006). Most of the piece is dedicated to a polemical critique of Hardt and Negri’s Empire, which is spirited and fun, but not what I take from it. Instead, I like their proposal for becoming barbarians who refuse to speak the language of the polis and whose actions are so uncivil that they are dismissed as obscenely violent.
TD: Your work starts from a particular Deleuzian empiricism that is open to “abstractions from the outside.” Perhaps putting it too simply: on the one hand, this empiricism runs counter to understandings of the real as the sensory given (as in science) and that which needs to be detailed; on the other hand, it promotes a philosophical approach that creates images through abstraction that are just as real. Only philosophy, on this account, can enable “a formally asymmetric relationship with the world as it is presently constituted” (Culp, 2015: 438).
Offering further insight into the implications of “symmetrical” thinking in political terms, The Invisible Committee warns us of the “curse of symmetry” (2015: 156): to constitute oneself on the same model of what one is hoping to destroy. But they also note that an understanding of capitalist technologies “brings an immediate increase in power, giving us a purchase on what will then no longer appear as an environment, but as a world arranged in a certain way and that we can shape” (125). How “distant” must a politics of refusal be then? Can one understand what one opposes without describing it (perhaps a scientific function) and without making it part of one’s situation, of one’s world? In my own ethnographic work, I am intrigued with how “subvertisers” (those illegally intervening into outdoor advertising spaces through removal, replacement, reversal, supplementation and destruction) are simultaneously repelled by, seeking distance from, and drawn to advertising space. This gives them a perspective of proximity regarding the workings of advertising power, but it is perhaps also here, on these grounds, that they collapse most deeply into apparatuses of capture.
AC: Tiqqun and The Invisible Committee define ethics as the art of distances. It is a curious combination of the partisanship of Schmitt’s friend-enemy distinction and a theory of power from Spinoza’s composition of bodies whereby friends build power by finding each other and enemies distance one from one’s own power. The point then is to refuse the dialectic of recognition, which inadvertently causes one to take on attributes of the enemy in an attempt to combat them. While I have strategic disagreements with The Invisible Committee, I think the art of distances is a wonderful way of posing the problem “how does one relate to the enemy?”
The relation Deleuze and Guattari propose in the nomadology of A Thousand Plateaus is one of non-relation. This is the key distinction between Foucault’s theory of power and that of Deleuze and Guattari. For Foucault (1978: 98-102), power produces an internal resistance (not dissimilar to electricity) that leads to him presenting four rules of power: immanence, continual variation, double conditioning, and tactical polyvalence. We can say that he presents a theory of power with two internally-related terms, “power” and “resistance.” There is no outside. For Deleuze and Guattari, the nomad war-machine exists outside the state and the state has two poles that exist in a dialectical complementarity—as clearly outlined in the Axioms and Problems of the nomadology. As such, they present a tripartite theory of power with the state as two internally-related terms, “Mitra” and “Varuna” (the liberal jurist and the authoritarian emperor), and a third external term, the war machine. Two for Foucault and three for Deleuze and Guattari. This helps explain why Foucault makes audacious remarks like “the point is recuperation” while Deleuze and Guattari declare that “escape is our only hope.”
Even then, Deleuze and Guattari’s line of flight is often mistaken. I initially pitched my dissertation under the title of Escape as a corrective. In it, I opened with an elaboration on anthropology of Pierre Clastres by way of James C. Scott and other work on early states. Something I found out early on in the writing process was that our relationship to states are far different than that of a peasant. Those who produce their own means of subsistence can refuse the state in a somewhat uncomplicated way. The biopolitical fabric of contemporary life imbricates us in a whole complicated web of power that we cannot easily take leave of. So while the non-state peoples of Clastres can anticipate the state and ward it off, that very question has to be posed differently to make sense for us. One concept remains absolutely essential: Deleuze and Guattari define the state as an apparatus of capture. This leads them to make the claim that societies should not be defined according to their mode of production but their mode of anti-production, which is to say, how they manage lines of escape (“It is not the State that presupposes a mode of production; quite the opposite, it is the State that makes production a ‘mode’” – 1987: 429). There are at least two important insights to take from it: first, that the state’s primary function is one of the katechon as restrainer of chaos and general prevention; and second, that opposition to state power is ultimately a question of distance. An important recent exploration of both points is Grégoire Chamayou’s Manhunts: A Philosophical History, in which he outlines how hunting natives, blacks, slaves, the poor, foreigners, Jews, and illegals provide special insight into the history of sovereignty institutionalized in modern policing (2012: 149-152).
The Situationist International is important here. They offer a sophisticated account of recuperation in terms of its risks and potential rewards (e.g. détournement). Of course, most of their interlocutors seem to focus on the latter. Maybe Malcolm McLaren is to blame? A more properly Situationist position is Tiqqun’s genealogy of The Spectacle that locates it as an intensification of The Public, that political concept so uncritically lauded by contemporary thinkers. There is even incredibly slippage between public, publicity, and advertising (see, for instance, Voyer, 1975) as well as older sovereign understandings of publicness not unrelated to Louis XIV’s statement that “L’État, c’est moi.”
art by Hito Steyerl
The politics of asymmetry is a certain formalization of the ethics of distance. There is something a little obscene about someone so indebted to Deleuze talking about forms in this way—it feels a bit too Hegelian, especially since Deleuze and Guattari critique the traditional form-content distinction via Gilbert Simondon as having an embedded “socialized representation of work” that “imposes a form on a passive and indeterminate matter” that makes it “essentially the operation commanded by the free man as executed by the slave” (Simondon, 1964: 48-49). In contrast, there is an analysis of forms that comes out of materialist media studies that I feel more comfortable with. Of course there is the eminently quotable Marshall McLuhan concept that ‘the ‘content’ of any medium is always another “medium.”
Exciting contemporary media studies of the politics of asymmetry are Alexander R. Galloway and Eugene Thacker’s The Exploit: A Theory of Networks (2007), Hanna Rose Shell’s Hide and Seek: Camouflage, Photography, and the Media of Reconnaissance (2012), Zach Blas’s Facial Weaponization Suite (2013; and other works on queer opacity), and Hito Streyel’s How Not to Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Education .MOV File (2013). They all analyze media and technology as a form of information warfare in which network logic is just one strategic form. I am standing alongside them when I make the claim in Dark Deleuze that networks hardly generate asymmetry. Looking to the corporate world, for instance, having experimented with “flat organization structures” since at least the 1970s, horizontality became a business mantra in the early 2000s, as seen in the popular writing of Thomas Friedman (2007) and Malcolm Gladwell (2000; Chapter 5). The consequence is that the old immanent-transcendent, flat-hierarchical, horizontal-vertical distinction is no longer a viable strategy—Fréderic Neyrat’s recent book A-Topias: Manifesto for a Radical Existentialism (2018) is really great on this point. What is called for is a new series of forms that re-establishes the art of distance and politics of asymmetry on different terms.
There is also another piece here about the outside. Very briefly: the metaphysics of nomadology turns inside-out the slogan popular to the Autonomists, “There Is No Outside,” as it is the State that produces insides while the nomad war machine always operates at the speed of escape velocity. This is why the outside is the great unthought of so many fields, especially those invested in techniques closely associated with state power and governance (International Relations, Political Science, Economics, Sociology). There is also a very specific sense in which I use the Outside as the force of the intolerable—one of the only moments I engage Heidegger, though already transformed through Maurice Blanchot’s Great Refusal. I am sure we will get to it in a further question, so here I will just say that Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism is filtered through a reading of Hume that has nothing to do with the subject’s experience, which results in a very structuralist approach to ethnography that is quite foreign to most in the Anglophone social sciences.
TD: Thinking here further about the force of the intolerable, in your project I am struck by the central position of the notion of “cruelty.” In your essay on connectivity, you speak of “the cruel forces of development: displacement, polarisation, and stratification” (2016a: 178), and “the cruel thrill that comes from exploiting others with the self-destructive delights of being oppressed, bossed around, hopelessly addicted, completely dependent, and knowing your place, which creates a split subject that desires happiness but only experiences limited pleasure” (177). In Dark Deleuze, I was intrigued by a reverse attendance to “cruelty.” Here you speak of cruelty as a disruptive affect capable of shaking up dominant modes of thought and sensitivity—one of Deleuze’s “dissociative forces.” Cruelty here is not a “strong feeling,” but something more akin to an asubjective, nonhuman shock of thought that comes from the outside. What both instances seem to share is an understanding of cruelty as that which gathers force towards different forms of dislocation.
Is the difference in cruelty here between a question of speed, of kind, of degree, of intensity, of immediacy? How do we “escape” cruelty-as-exploitation (in struggle, in the contemporary Metropolis) whilst cultivating its political potential? In other words, what is a desirable ethical orientation of cruelty? Deleuze has commonly been taken up, by Levi Bryant (2011) and others, as promoting a Spinozist ethics that evaluates an action by tracing its capacities to create or destroy relations. In those moments, Deleuze is frequently cited: “an act is bad whenever it directly decomposes a relation, whereas it is good whenever it directly compounds its relation with other relations” (1988, 35). There is perhaps a binarism at play here that might be at odds with your approach of contraries (the introduction of a third term from the outside), and perhaps cruelty must not increase capacities to act for it to serve a political force.
AC: My thinking on cruelty has evolved. My article on connectivity includes uses of the term closest to how Lauren Berlant uses in Cruel Optimism (2011). For her, cruelty is about psychic satisfaction and its discontents. Cruelty in that sense is a pleasure associated with disempowerment often seen in punching down—the bully’s joy, the troll’s fiendish lulz, the bigot’s sexist one-liner. Berlant’s book but also Sara Ahmed’s study of the sexual contract, The Promise of Happiness (2009), present such cruelty psychoanalytically. Feminized subjects, for them, are always split-subjects because they gain social recognition by acceding to a sexual contract that demands performances of happiness but provides only fleeting moments of satisfaction. These form the theoretical backing for my discussion of women’s negative experiences in the city, such as street harassment, to synecdochally discuss the city as a diagram for power’s more advanced operations. I still hold it to be true, and I am pleased to see coincidences between it and the chapter on weather in Christina Sharpe’s recent In the Wake (2016).
You are right that in Dark Deleuze, I present a very different account of cruelty. There, as you say, I see cruelty as an affect that provokes thought. It is not about cruelty in the interpersonal sense. It is a version of cruelty that comes directly from Deleuze in Difference and Repetition (1994), in which he advances a “cruel ontology.” The spark for my idea of the term did come from Levi Bryant, but from his early book Difference and Givenness (2008) and James Williams’s The Transversal Thought of Gilles Deleuze: Encounters and Influences (2006). My reading is that the “shock of thought” in Deleuze is not knowledge as any type of information whatsoever, but the (Heideggerian) realization that “we are still not yet thinking.” The shock occurs when the habits of thought that we create to navigate the world (one of the types of bodies without organs) break down and their insufficiency becomes evident. And the genesis of the shock is an encounter with something in the world that strikes us as utterly intolerable. Therefore, there is something cruel about ontology in its ability to generate events that unsettle us, how it reveals that everything we have done to address the present has failed, and ultimately robs us of all our faculties but thought itself to break us through the deadlock.
The shocking call of the outside is a realism of a sort, but as a cruel ontology. Instructive here is Isabelle Stengers’ version of Gaia (2015). Most versions of Gaia are New Age cosmic paeans to harmony, understanding, and peace on earth. Although she calls her image of the earth Gaia, Stengers’ conception is much closer to the Medea Hypothesis, which states that over the long run, the planet will tend toward killing off its multicellular children in a return to its longer microbial past. Less teleological, Stengers reminds us that Gaia is “she who intrudes.” Most of the stories about ecological devastation are wrong, it is not us destroying the Earth but precisely the opposite: life on Earth will no doubt survive us, it is we whose life on Earth may be running out. In terms of the pragmatism of intervention, it should not be taken in anthropocentric terms of ecological disasters calling us to intervene, but rather, ecological disasters are signs from Gaia that cannot help but intervene in our lives. As further elaborated in her piece Gaia, The Urgency to Think (and Feel) (2014), Stengers shows how such realism is not an invitation to make this-or-that connection but an example of Gaia’s disruptive power to induce thought. The most powerful ingredient here is not objects or their relations but fiction, which “is not meant to defend itself against critique or to demand adhesion” (2014: 12). The coincidence between her suggestion and the ethics of distances should be obvious: the Gaia’s urgency to think is just another mode of the partisanship of knowledge.
There is an essay on Spinoza that I found incredibly clarifying, Susan Ruddick’s piece on “The Politics of Affects” (2010). In it, she distinguishes between Negri’s purely compositional account of affects and Deleuze and Guattari’s critical use. Negri’s joyful reading of Spinoza seems to operate through a logic of accumulation—in with the good, out with the bad; the more the connections, the better. It is as if subjects are composition-greedy! Deleuze and Guattari instead see affects as subject to hijacking. This is why that famous quote from Anti-Oedipus about masses at a certain point began to desire their own repression is a Spinozist question. Deleuze himself does not seem to resolve this issue in his own readings of Spinoza, though he does allude to some potential issues in his short Spinoza book, such as the problem of tyrants and even the fact that it took the liberal democratic nature of early colonial-capitalist Holland for a thinker such as Spinoza to flourish (1988). I want to introduce one more provocation: Deleuze and Guattari use Spinoza’s geometric-axiomatic method to define the state in the nomadology plateau and argue in a section on method that axiomatics is state thought. Could there be a chance that Spinoza is a state thinker in the final instance? Returning to Ruddick, she argues that Deleuze and Guattari have a critical use of affects, and she returns to Deleuze’s remarks on Francis Bacon to argue that the critical faculty of the philosopher is their scream. It is truly amazing to see how she puts it all together. Moreover, there is a wonderful convergence between her use of the scream and the opening to John Holloway’s Change the World Without Taking Power: The Meaning of Revolution Today (2012):
In the beginning is the scream. We scream.
When we write or when we read, it is easy to forget that the beginning is not the word, but the scream. Faced with the mutilation of human lives by capitalism, a scream of sadness, a scream of horror, a scream of anger, a scream of refusal: NO.
The starting point of theoretical reflection is opposition, negativity, struggle. It is from rage that thought is born, not from the pose of reason, not from the reasoned-sitting-back-and-reflecting-on-the-mysteries-of-existence that is the conventional image of ‘the thinker’.
We start from negation, from dissonance. The dissonance can take many shapes. An inarticulate mumble of discontent, tears of frustration, a scream of rage, a confident roar. An unease, a confusion, a longing, a critical vibration.
art by Claire Fontaine
TD: Through an engagement with your work, specifically Dark Deleuze, I have become increasingly intrigued by work on Afro-Pessimism, particularly R.L.’s notion of “ontological absence.” In phrasing black existence as an ontological absence, he is concerned with black subjects as “exiled from the human relation, which is predicated on social recognition, volition, subjecthood, and the valuation of life itself” (R.L., 2013).
In hearing your thoughts in this interview on a politics of refusal, “a scream of refusal” in that compelling Holloway quote, I can not help but think of “ontological absence” as not only a threat, but equally as a source of inspiration. Those overwhelmed by daily drudgery, you write, are also those who might most likely carry secret dealings on the side. In becoming a realm of conspiracies, does ontological absence become a source of inspiration for undoing our compromises with the present? How does one trace the withdrawal from the social, as a political investment, with regards to those for whom such withdrawal is a form of oppression, a form of “social death,” as Jared Sexton (2011) has referred to it?
AC: Afro-Pessimism has received a lot of deserving attention, in part because it has captured the hearts of a younger generation who have combined Black Study with time at the barricades. This exact coincidence, between thinking and fighting, remains crucial for how many of us are able to carve out space within the often-hostile space of the contemporary university. The importance of struggle in the story of Black Study is especially pronounced. The early wave of departments of Black Studies in the United States were founded through sustained protest, and many continue only under administrative duress, making struggle not just an intellectual interest but an everyday necessity.
We also have to avoid talking about blackness with a certain detachment. French intellectuals like Alain Badiou are especially guilty of this, his Black: The Brilliance of a Non-color (2016) is a study on how not to write about blackness. Personally, I briefly came in contact with Afro-Pessimism through a graduate committee member, only to be reacquainted with it in anarchist circles while doing anti-police and prison abolition work. The politics of citationality is especially important here, which curiously, wraps back around to the work of the Prison Information Group (that included Deleuze and Guattari, among many others) whose trans-Atlantic connections with black militants makes it an important touchstone for people working in the black radical tradition (see, for instance, James, 2007). Who we talk about is essential to how we talk about blackness. So my first suggestion is to pay Frank B. Wilderson, III and Jared Sexton their due, which is deep, but not let Afro-Pessimism become a shorthand for the two of them. So in addition to shared reading of Hortense Spillers, Saidya Hartman, and Sylvia Wynter, it is absolutely essential to hold in conversation the work of Joy James on black death, Christina Sharpe on the hold, and Sharon Holland on death’s relationship to subjectivity (to name just a few). Additionally, we need to acknowledge how Afro-Pessimism has been nourished in South Africa, Germany, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere, especially as its significance is tied directly to the centrality of black social death in contemporary struggles from the Baltimore Rebellion to Rhodes Must Fall.
As a theory, I read Afro-Pessimism as a theory of violence. In many ways, it is defined by its specificity, which is another way of saying that it is defined by what it is not. It is not a general theory of race, as a key idea is that antiblackness should not be analogized. It is a non-colonial reading of Fanon, as it is interested in the subject position of the slave and not the colonized. It is avowedly non-Marxist, as it is a critique of the socialist model of the subject premised on shared humanity. It is anti-political, as in its project is not to secure a place within white civil society but to bring about the end of the world. I find Dark Deleuze perfectly commensurate with these major aspects of Afro-Pessimism, but I should also note, the dialogue about how each project informs the other is only just beginning—each was developed in isolation from the other and the coincidence between the two must be built in struggle rather than assumed. To start, a good starting point would be Deleuze’s use of Black Panther George Jackson to define the line of flight, his most important political concept, and substantial afropessimist writing on blackness in armed struggle (e.g. Wilderson, 2011).
an image of the Rhodes Must Fall protests
I appreciate where the RL piece is coming from, but its method is to fold Afro-Pessimism back into Marxist categories. Cedric Robinson and others who write about racial capitalism have my deep respect, and I think that there are meaningful debates about how race fits within Marxist analysis—see, for instance, debates around David Roediger’s most recent book Class, Race, and Marxism (2017). However, the whole point of Afro-Pessimism is that antiblack violence exceeds economic logics such as labor exploitation. Afro-Pessimism also challenges key assumptions about the subject as theorized by socialists who presume certain shared interests based on economic benefit. Afro-Pessimism is critical of socialists who argue that race is a divide-and-conquer tactic imposed by capitalists, and that politics should take the form of a coalition of common interest that puts differences aside. Even for the self-abolition faction of communists who are not into coalition building, the question remains: are they assuming an artificial commonality with others based on their own theory of the subject? That said, ontological absence is a good starting point. The afropessimist point would be that blacks are structurally positioned in permanent ontological absence. So while the proletarian subject, for instance, has the political potential of self-abolition, the black subject has been living it every day for centuries. This is why the chapter on the lived experience of the black in Black Skin, White Masks (1966) is so important—it documents ontology when trapped “between nothingness and infinity.” It poses a question of survival, which is not an unimportant one. The ability to survive even in social death proposes a number of different answers. Are strategies for survival a resource? Is the bare existence of survival something to be overcome? Does it offer a path through? In that way, work in Black Study provides a map of applied nothingness. It is literally on the bleeding edge of inoperativity.
Dark Deleuze has a very philosophical approach to death. It seems vulgar to even mention something so abstract in the same context as black social death, except that there is an unintentional overlap between them. In Dark Deleuze, I follow Gregg Flaxman’s proposal in Gilles Deleuze and the Fabulation of Philosophy (2011) to see Deleuze as proposing the third in a series of deaths: Nietzsche’s Death of God, Foucault’s Death of the Human, and Deleuze’s Death of the World. Afropessmism, interestingly enough, takes on Sylvia Wynter’s critique of the human as genre, and Fanon’s (through Cesaire) call for an end of the world. The world has been marshaled to justify all sorts of violence (here, I am thinking of Rey Chow’s wonderful Age of the World Target ). The reason I think the end of the world has so much appeal right now, both in popular culture and politically-charged intellectual inquiry, is that many of the problems we face exist at the world-scale. Few of us seem satisfied anymore with the long reign of the politics of the everyday. We want our thinking to rise to the occasion of current “world problems” rather than the traditional “minor” ones of post-structuralism. There is a growing hunger for the revolutionary proposition of complete upheaval. As recent graffiti has suggested, une autre fin du monde est possible.
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