Jacques Derrida, “The Ends of Man,” in Margins of Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), p. 118.
Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (London: Tavistock, 1970), p. 387. See Rosi Braidotti, The Posthuman (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013). For a critical discussion of the notion of posthumanism, see Francesca Ferrando, “Posthumanism, Transhumanism, Antihumanism, Metahumanism, and New Materialities: Differences and Relations,” Existenz 8, no. 2 (Fall 2013), pp. 26–32.
Robin MacKay and Armen Avanessian, “Introduction,” in #Accelerate: The Accelerationist Reader, ed. Robin MacKay and Armen Avanessian (Berlin: Merve Verlag, 2014), p. 6.
Posthumanism relates to Nietzsche’s imperative to turn our whole system of values upside down and even rip it apart, a concept to which Foucault’s theories have contributed. See Thanassis Lagios, Stirner, Nietzsche, Foucault. O Thanatos tou Theou kai to Telos tou Anthropou (Athens: Futura, 2012). The end of man (almost synonymous with the death of God) has very pragmatic outcomes, which have been repeatedly described by contemporary theorists such as Maurizio Lazzarato: “Capitalism’s answer to the question [what does ‘truth telling’ mean after the death of God?] is the constitution of a ‘market of life’ in which people purchase the existence that suits them.” Lazzarato, Signs and Machines: Capitalism and the Production of Subjectivity (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2014), p. 228.
Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978–1979, ed. Michel Senellart (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).
Linguist Siegfried Jäger defines dispositif, a term used by Michel Foucault, as “the interaction of discursive behavior (i.e., speech and thoughts based on a shared knowledge pool), non-discursive behavior (i.e., acts based on knowledge), and manifestations of knowledge by means of acts or behaviors. … Dispositifs can thus be imagined as a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk, the complexly interwoven and integrated dispositifs add up in their entirety to a dispositif of all society.” Jäger, “Theoretische und methodische Aspekte einer Kritischen Diskurs- und Dispositivanalyse.” Online: www.diss-duisburg.de/Internetbibliothek/Artikel/Aspekte_einer_Kritischen_Diskursanalyse.htm.
Gilles Deleuze, “Postscript on the Societies of Control,” October 59 (Winter 1992), p. 5.
Franco “Bifo” Berardi, The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2009), p. 24.
Published shortly after the U.S. dollar was declared free from the gold standard, Jean Baudrillard’s most important book, entitled Symbolic Exchange and Death, opens with the phrase “symbolic exchange is no longer the organising principle of modern society.” The basis of all economic theories, whether Marxist or neoliberal, is the belief in the existence of the “referential value” that Baudrillard calls the “commodity law of the value.” But according to Baudrillard’s critique, this law of equivalence doesn’t apply anymore. Our era is determined by the “structural law of value,” which is described by indeterminacy and reversibility. Baudrillard described the moment in which “the real has died of the shock of value acquiring this fantastic autonomy” and independence from social, that is, human labor. Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange and Death (London: SAGE, 1993), pp. 6–8.
The fact that Antonio Negri also suggested in 1971 a disconnection between post-Fordist labor and the general law of value indicates the birth of semiopower as the postindustrial condition of the economy. Negri, “Crisis of the Planner State,” in Books for Burning: Between Civil War and Democracy in 1970s Italy (London: Verso, 2005), p. 23.
Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange and Death, p. 7.
According to Tomáš Sedláček, mathematical equations, computer programs, and diagrams directly generate their own objects of inquiry, making economics “a science about economics rather than about economy.” From using mathematics as a language that describes the world (we shouldn’t forget that economics is a social and not an exact science), economics and indeed its currently most appreciated branch, namely econometrics, begin to manipulate the world, to change it with the use of the computer models of macroeconomics. It is like a meteorologist wanting to change the climate using computer-generated models of weather simulation. Sedláček defines the boundaries, stereotypes, and false ideologies that rule today’s economics by exposing the roots of this thinking in the cultural history of mankind. He describes how economists moved away from topics such as ethics and morals and became themselves a sort of “modern-day prophets.” However, as social scientist Elena Esposito has proved, economists do not actually predict the future but rather twist it (in calculating possibilities) toward a specific scenario, an outcome for the benefit of the investors for whom they work. Esposito analyzes, for instance, the semiology of so-called futures, which are standardized contracts aiming at facilitating trading on a future exchange, basically capitalizing on future transactions. Such strategic variations of possible futures deployed by modern-day economists were once the field of the expertise of prophets. Markets are today’s oracles. It is exactly this “hyperreality” of capitalism—a term used by Baudrillard—that becomes lethal when it “floats” over reality, meaning the actual present. Sedláček, Economics of Good and Evil: The Quest For Economic Meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall Street (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 299, 306, 315; Esposito, The Future of Futures: The Time of Money in Financing and Society (Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2011); Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange and Death, p. 41.
According to Berardi’s explication, this current transformation of capitalism, termed semiocapitalism, “takes the mind, language and creativity as its primary tools for the production of value. In the sphere of digital production, exploitation is exerted essentially on the semiotic flux produced by human time at work.” Berardi, The Soul at Work, pp. 21–22.
With psychoanalysis “locating the center of the analytic experience in the fact that each individual is a child,” the Cartesian narratives of both consciousness and individuality are questioned. This has far-reaching implications concerning the anthropocentric conception of humanism—for which anthropos is the adult wo/man. However, in the era of info production, the changes that labor, power, and desire have undergone, and in this regard also the Marxist narrative of consciousness and individuality, can only be understood and theorized through the deployment of novel tools. For that reason, Baudrillard goes on to state something that is very upsetting (notably for different reasons) for both followers of orthodox Marxism and neoliberal Wall Street evangelists: “Labour is not a power, it has become one sign amongst many,” that is, it doesn’t follow the logic of a master signifier, a grand narrative. As Baudrillard suggests, Marxism is the internal critique of a social form, which is called capital, not its ontological opposite. In a rather perverse twist of perspectives, the author suggests that leftist ideologies, instead of fighting against, often safeguard the pervasive doctrines, which sustain the compulsory economization of the political terrain. Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, bk. 2: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, 1954–1955 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1991), p. 41; Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange and Death, p. 10.
David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years (New York: Melville House, 2011), p. 361.
Eva Becker, Carla Rostásy, and Helmut Willke, Systemic Risk: The Myth of Rational Finance and the Crisis of Democracy (Frankfurt: Campus, 2014); Helmut Willke, Governance in a Disenchanted World: The End of Moral Society (Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2009).
Deleuze suggests a posthumanist understanding of subjectivity in relation to power formations, which expands the Foucauldian definition of society. Guattari attested to a crisis of subjectivity and argued that subjectivity is neither the ontological core of the human nor an epiphenomenon: “To say that desire is part of the infrastructure comes down to saying that subjectivity produces reality. Subjectivity is not an ideological superstructure.” Félix Guattari, “Crise de production de subjectivite,” seminar on April 3, 1984. Online: www.revue-chimeres.fr/drupal_chimeres/files/840403.pdf; quoted in Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, p. 7.
Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, “Value and Affect” Boundary 2 26, no. 2 (Summer 1999): pp. 77–88.
Braidotti, The Posthuman, p. 57; Patricia Ticineto Clough and Jean Halley, eds., The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007), p. 2.
See Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007), p. 133.
Eric Shouse, “Feeling, Emotion, Affect,” M/C Journal 8, no. 6 (December 2005). Online: journal.media-culture.org.au/0512/03-shouse.php, §1. For Spinoza, affects are bodily states of mind, of which he says there are three primary kinds: pleasure or joy (laetitia), pain or sorrow (tristitia), and desire (cupiditas) or appetite (appetitus). Affects are distinct from feelings, which are biographical and personal, as well as from emotions, which are social; as Sara Ahmed argues, they are cultural practices, not psychological states. The repetition of words and signs elicits an emotional response that grows on more repetition, so that in the end a cultural web of such signs is created. This semiopower has an affective character and can dictate our modes of life in terms of a materialized rhetoric. Although it is true that we make love with words and also write a lot of poetry on that subject, we cannot neglect the fact that we basically have sex because we have seen others doing it. The automatization and the affective mechanism implied in this social mimicry remarked on by Aristotle is equally important as the communicational and cognitive models that see the human-machine as just a rational agency. Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotion (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004).
Félix Guattari, Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm, trans. Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), p. 4.
Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, pp. 88, 106.
Drawing on Guattari, Lazzarato accesses the current stage of capitalism and maintains that “capitalism depends on asignifying machines.” “Asignifying semiotics (stock listings, currencies, corporate accounting, national budgets, computer languages, mathematics, scientific functions and equations, as well as the asignifying semiotics of music, art, etc.) are not beholden to significations and the individuated subjects who convey them. They slip past rather than produce significations or representations.” As capital tends to “overcode all other semiotics, [it] allows economic production as well as the production of subjectivity to be administered, guided, adjusted and controlled.” Lazzarato maintains, for instance, that “symbolic semiologies function according to a multiplicity (‘n’) of strata or substances of expression (gestural, ritual, productive, corporeal, musical, etc.), whereas semiologies of signification bring together only two strata (signifier/signified).” He draws on Guattari, who interprets Danish linguist Louis Hjelmslev’s linguistics—a possible alternative to the dominant Saussurean linguistic paradigm—as “semiotics which are, precisely, not based on the bipolarity of signifier and signified.” Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, pp. 40, 80, 68f (my emphasis); Félix Guattari, “The Place of the Signifier in the Institution,” in Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics (London: Penguin Books, 1984), p. 74.
Steven Shaviro, Connected, or What It Means to Live in the Network Society (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), p. 31; Martijn Konings, The Emotional Logic of Capitalism: What Progressives Have Missed (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2015), p. 33; Maurizio Lazzarato, “From Capital-Labour to Capital-Life,” Ephemera 4 (2004), pp. 187–208.
Konings, The Emotional Logic of Capitalism, p. 34. Networks, rather, govern the public over public opinion through interpretation and transmission of catchphrases in mass communications (television) and in allowing for freedom of speech and expression. Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, pp. 143, 147.
Maurizio Lazzarato, Les Révolutions du capitalisme (Paris: Les empêcheurs de penser en rond, 2004); Bernard Stiegler, Taking Care of Youth and the Generations (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010); Braidotti, The Posthuman.
Braidotti, The Posthuman, p. 50.
These operations are directly related to the notion of the spectacle. Debord defines spectacle as the commodity and capital that has reached such a degree of accumulation worldwide that it becomes mediatic image. In this regard, we are delivered to semiopolitics, as we are delivered to capital. Our deep enchantment with digital technology and its applications relies on its inherent spectacle. From there it devolves into futuristic techno-utopianism, which is the only horizon of social expectations, dreams, and plans nowadays. Obviously, the notion of semiopolitics doesn’t refer to the overtly optimistic, and for that reason reductive, notions of cognitive economy, information society, and cultural capitalism.
Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, pp. 31, 65.
Matteo Pasquinelli, “What an Apparatus Is Not: On the Archeology of the Norm in Foucault, Canguilhem, and Goldstein,” Parrhesia 22 (2015), pp. 79–89.
Berardi, The Soul at Work, pp. 192, 196.
Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, p. 54.
Braidotti, The Posthuman, p. 27.
The classical response of an image to its referent (based on Nelson Goodman’s axiomatic of similarity, described in his Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols), which establishes the relation between a portrait and a person depicted on this portrait (described and explicated in Jean-Paul Sartre’s L’Imaginaire), is now inverted. The image doesn’t refer to its referent (let’s say a passport photograph to a person), but the referent is constituted by means of that image, much like the case of photographs circulated by the police that mark a person as wanted. We know how this person looks, although we have never met him or her in person. The cinematic avatar builds on this relational condition. Identification with an icon, in this regard, doesn’t mean to assimilate aspects and attributes of the model provided, nor be consequently transformed by it. It should be seen within the broader concept of an antagonism between the Imaginary and the Real as theorized by Jacques Lacan. The difference between the perception of the actual I and the imaginary I (in Lacan’s terminology, the “me”) functions as a never resolved antagonism. This concept describes not only a formative moment in the life of the infant (mirror stage) but a permanent structure that is constitutive of subjectivity—Lacan made this clear in a later text of 1960. This antagonism, which is always characterized by illusions of similarity and recognizability, is the motor behind the psychological and social development of an individual. This dual relationship between the Imaginary and the Real is not based on an actual reciprocity, but quite the opposite, on a structural noncomplementary and incongruity. The language-mediated image cognition (symbolic) is the ground of our structural iconic misrecognitions: “Speech is mother to the misrecognised (meconnue) part of the subject.” To put it bluntly, we identify with the superhero not because we believe that we are the same, but rather because we are different and because we will always remain different. Lacan, The Ego in Freud’s Theory, p. 43.
Peter Sloterdijk, You Must Change Your Life: On Anthropotechnics (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013).
Berardi, The Soul at Work, p. 96.
Drawing on both Baudrillard and Lazzarato, it becomes clear today what Baudrillard meant forty years ago when saying that capital has moved into simulation. In this regard, the indebted man is capitalism’s reserve army. The indebted figure is exactly this individual. This doesn’t mean that he or she loses individuality altogether, but it is rather, as Lazzarato observes, that the status of the individual is assigned according to the context. For the bank or the state, the indebted is just one number among others. Still, he or she feels guilty for being just a number, wanting to defend the status of the responsible individual, something that is impossible. The schizophrenic relation to him- or herself is just the beginning symptom of this capitalism seen as disease.
Sedláček, Economics of Good and Evil, p. 246.
Berardi, The Soul at Work, p. 96.
Lazzarato explains what money is in context of the asignifying semiotics through the concept of the “impotentization of the sign.” The author differentiates between two stages or aspects of the sign, the impotentized and the power sign, echoing Baudrillard’s concepts: “Money is an impotentized sign when it functions as exchange value, a means of payment, in other words, as simple mediation between equivalents. … Power signs, on the other hand, express money as capital and the role of money as credit.” Lazzarato is clear: “Unlike the referential function, there is not one reality but a multiplicity of heterogeneous realities: the reality of the ‘real’ economy, the reality of forecasts about the economy, as well as the reality of share prices and the reality of expectations of these prices rising or falling.” In the main trading room of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, where trading is currently completed solely through computers, digital clocks can cut a second into a quadrillion pieces. Selling and buying equities at this novel speed, unprecedented to human culture, means generating a parallel reality of capital formation, to which we humans have no access. With our biological sense of time, we are simply in a different time zone compared with the time reserved for our digital monetary transactions. Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, pp. 76, 85, 96; for further discussion, see my essay, “Image Wars: For a Radical Redistribution of Semiopower,” in Quest of Query: The Menace of the Obvious, ed. Eszter Szakács (Budapest: tranzit.hu, 2014), pp. 56–63.
Werner Hamacher, “Guilt History: Benjamin’s Sketch ‘Capitalism as Religion,’” Diacritics 32, nos. 3–4: “Ethics” (Fall–Winter 2002), p. 81.
Paulinian moralization seems to guide contemporary EU politics. If Greece currently serves as a laboratory for exploring just how far austerity, privatization, and other neoliberal measures can go, it also serves as the testing ground for how to manipulate political reflexes and affects based on the replacement of politics with ethical, almost spiritual doctrines. Indeed, it is not simply a coincidence that it is also at the Greek borders, which coincide with the EU’s external borders, that in the recent state of emergency, brought on by the humanitarian crisis of refugees, migrant workers, who under EU policy have no rights whatsoever, have made an effort to reinstitute themselves as political subjects. It is precisely the twofold figure of contemporary biopolitics, that is, the indebted man or woman (from this side of the EU borders) and the migrant (from the other side of those borders), that reconstitutes the political subject of the early twenty-first century, while restating the question of moral/economic obligation and guilt.
Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, p. 10. Money, for example, creates deterritorializing effects insufficient in themselves. The economic imperatives that result from them (reducing the debt, cleaning up government accounts, imposing “sacrifices” on the dominated, etc.) must be interpreted and translated into discourse, thought, and action by the media, political parties, unions, experts, and state administrators and addressed to public opinion, to each social group and every individual. The state, the media, and experts ceaselessly produce narratives, stories, and statements that continually reinfuses meaning into the asignifying operations of credit money, which, in its specific function (diagrammatic, asignifying), has no use for subjects or objects, persons or things. Money and profit recognize only an abstract and deterritorialized subjectivity and an equally abstract and deterritorialized object (Marx): any subjectivity whatsoever and any kind of object whatsoever without territory, existence, or subjectivity. Subjections attach this deterritorialized subjectivity to roles and functions in which individuals in turn become alienated. Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, p. 123.
Giorgio Agamben maintains that the providential unfolding of history (oeconomy) is distinguished from politics in not being law-governed, but always remaining an arcanum, understood in its theological connotation as both a secret and a mystery. The Christian church’s ban on usury up to the beginning of modern times means that no speculation on future time is allowed, exactly because the future belongs to no man, but to God alone. It is remarkable that this protocapitalist concept of a secularized oeconomy goes hand in hand with its canonization as the only thinkable model of handling with time during absolutism. For a genealogical account of the term oikonomia, see Agamben, The Kingdom and the Glory: For a Theological Genealogy of Economy and Government (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011); Marie-José Mondzain, Image, Icon, Economy: The Byzantine Origins of the Contemporary Imaginary (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004); Susan Buck-Morss, “Visual Empire,” Diacritics 37, nos. 2–3 (2007), pp. 171–98. On the theological dimension of economics, see Jochen Hörisch, Man muss dran glauben: Die Theologie der Märkte (Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 2013).
Agamben, The Kingdom and the Glory, p. 44.
Franco “Bifo” Berardi, “Info Labour and Precariousness,” trans. Erik Empson. Online: www.generation-online.org/t/tinfolabour.htm.
Temporality should thus be freed from the law of equivalence, meaning, the law of exchange in capitalism and the notion of value, which is fashioned based on the labor force. As in Christian feudalism, in which labor was an offering to the divine, from which all value emanates, the economy of early societies was not founded on exchange, but on other practices such as barter, the making and receiving of a gift, theft, and appropriation. In this respect, value derives from natural order.
See Karl Löwith, Weltgeschichte und Heilsgeschehen: Die theologischen Voraussetzungen der Geschichtsphilosophie (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1953), pp. 12, 15. See Félix Guattari, “The Group and the Person,” in Molecular Revolution, pp. 41f.
It was again Walter Benjamin who made the early diagnosis of our time, arguing that looking is not a biological fact, but a cultural variable. Drawing on Benjamin’s diagnosis of the “poverty of experience” of the modern age, Agamben remarks on the loss of subjective experience and the rise of a novel subjectivity: “The question of experience can be approached nowadays only with an acknowledgement that it is no longer accessible to us. For just as modern man has been deprived of his biography, his experience has likewise been expropriated. Indeed, his incapacity to have and communicate experiences is perhaps one of the few self-certainties to which he can lay claim.” Agamben, Infancy and History: On the Destruction of Experience, trans. Liz Heron (London: Verso, 2007), p. 13.
Like every application on a smartphone, such an iconic, cybernetic apparatus, which is based on algorithms, does produce subjectivity and promotes subjectification in a parallel fashion to bureaucracy—or advertising, one of the most vicious apparatuses of modernity—however in a more pleasant way, until it becomes boring, obsolete, and has to be replaced. This is, of course, not to say that the older apparatuses disappear altogether; on the contrary, they are solidified, territorialized. Bureaucracy today, for example, is both architectonic and machinic, both linguistic and affective, and in this regard extremely robust. Still, an additional clarification is needed. This techno-sign (much like Baudrillard’s code) is not one-dimensional; to use again Baudrillard’s terminology, it is free-floating; it means many things, and for that reason can be manipulated, twisted, altered, transformed, exchanged. This has consequences for the dimension of media. You now need just one multitasking computer; not many machines performing just one task. This might sound abstract, but it becomes almost self-evident when applied to contemporary notions of political extremism, for instance, contemporary jihadism. Social networking in the case of Islamist terrorism is used not simply as a means of propaganda, but as a dispositive of subjectification. It allows for a passage to happen: from the state of a virtual terrorist who acts out on the Net to the state of an actual one, who operates in the real world. For a further discussion, see Eric Jenkins, “My iPod, my iCon: How and Why Do Images Become Icons?,” Critical Studies in Media Communication 25, no. 5 (December 2008), pp. 466–89.
Konings, The Emotional Logic of Capitalism, p. 27.
See Diedrich Diederichsen, Eigenblutdoping: Selbstverwertung, Künstlerromantik, Partizipation (Cologne: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 2008), p. 37.
Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (London: Rebel Press, 1992), chap. 1, thesis 34.
Jonathan Beller, The Cinematic Mode of Production: Attention Economy and the Society of the Spectacle (Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England, 2006), p. 1.
The predominance of images over text doesn’t mean the eclipse of textual information, but rather the subordination of the text, and thus, discourse under the hegemonic rule of the visual, hence described with the logocular disposition. This is served at best in the case of infographics. Actually, the very definition of infographics, “graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge intended to present information quickly and clearly” (Wikipedia), shows the temporal nature of such a demand. Infographics becomes the applied version of Derrida’s notion of ocularcentrism. See Martin Jay, “The Rise of Hermeneutics and the Crisis of Ocularcentrism,” Poetics Today 9, no. 2 (1988), pp. 307–26.
This development can only be assessed through what Paul B. Preciado calls “a somatopolitical analysis of world-economy,” which is identified as the “pharmacopornographic regime.” Preciado, Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era (New York: Feminist Press, 2013), pp. 25, 33.
Berardi, The Soul at Work, p. 113. Lazzarato adds to this debate with the following: “A political battle has unfolded and continues to unfold around cinema for control of the effects of subjectivation and de-subjectivation that the non-human semiotics of the cinematographic image produce on the individuated subject. … But instead of eluding dominant subjectivations, film images can, conversely, chain us to them.” Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, pp. 108, 111.
Ken Hillis, “The Avatar and Online Affect,” in Networked Affect, ed. Ken Hillis, Susanna Paasonen, and Michael Petit (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015), pp. 75, 81.
Ibid., pp. 82–83.
Jorge Luis Borges, The Book of Imaginary Beings (London: Penguin, 1974), p. 68.
Steven Shaviro, Post Cinematic Affect (Winchester: Zero Books, 2010), pp. 2–3. Such an account complements early diagnoses of the ways in which the lenses of the camera generate the role models with which we identify ourselves. See Susan Sontag, On Photography (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1973).
Michel Foucault is clear on the emancipating options that such an understanding of subjectivity entails: “Maybe the target nowadays is not to discover what we are but to refuse what we are. We have to imagine and to build up what we could be to get rid of this kind of political ‘double bind,’ which is the simultaneous individualization and totalization of modem power structures. The conclusion would be that the political, ethical, social, philosophical problem of our days is not to try to liberate the individual from the state, and from the state’s institutions, but to liberate us both from the state and from the type of individualization linked to the state. We have to promote new forms of subjectivity through the refusal of this kind of individuality that has been imposed on us for several centuries.” In this regard, it is telling that, as Roberto Esposito suggests, the concept of the person (which derives etymologically from the Roman legal term persona) rather than indicating the human being is in itself a dispositive. Foucault, “The Subject and Power,” in Essential Works of Foucault, 1954–1984, vol. 3, Power, ed. James D. Faubion (New York: New Press, 2000), p. 336; Esposito, Persons and Things: From the Body’s Point of View (Theory Redux) (London: Polity Press, 2015), p. 5.
David Harvey, Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism (London: Profile Books, 2015), p. 13.
Félix Guattari, “Balance Sheet—Program for Desiring Machines,” Semiotext(e) 2, no. 3 (1977), pp. 117–18. However, the later Foucauldian concept of biopower (that is, practices for achieving the subjugation of bodies and the control of populations; often to be devised on the bipolar conjunction of the normal-abnormal) might be as well seen within the larger framework of the mechano-affective (or cybernetic) turn, which has been established by Deleuze and Guattari, among others.
Félix Guattari, Schizoanalytic Cartographies (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), p. 2.
Such an endeavor brings to mind the analytic framework of German media theory: What Deleuze and Guattari describe with the “assemblage of human and non-human flows” that dehumanizes desire should be seen in a parallel reading of the Foucauldian dispositives in relation to Friedrich Kittler’s “cultural techniques” (Kulturtechniken), “a complex term that combines an attention to media technologies with a focus on elementary physical and mental skills, including, most prominently, reading, writing, and computing”; a school of thought aiming at reevaluating the notion of culture and its applications. Echoing the Foucauldian enterprise to dismantle essentialist notions of both subjectivity and power, German media theory (termed as such by Anglophone readers) departs on a journey for which “the critique of reason becomes the critique of media.” Technologies of knowledge (like typewriters and index cards), pedagogical media (such as blackboards and the piano), and disciplining techniques (for instance, alphabetization) function as dispositives, which clearly designate how close these two domains are. To focus on the “material conditions that constitute semantics” but not on the representation of meaning itself means to follow a parallel path to that Foucault has taken. In Bernhard Siegert’s words: “Objects are tied into practices in order to produce something that within a given culture is addressed as a ‘person.’” German media theory is related to other versions of material semiotics such as the theory of l´acteur-réseau (actor-network theory or ANT), developed by science-and-technology-studies scholars, which proposes the capacity of nonhumans (machines, objects) to act on or participate in social systems. For ANT theorist Michel Callon, the individual human agent embedded in institutions, conventions, personal relationships, or groups expands into sociotechnical agencement (disposition, arrangement), which is made up not only of human bodies but also of prostheses, tools, equipment, technical devices, algorithms, etc. In this regard, ANT assumes a post-anthropocentric understanding of sociomaterial reality as it extends the word actor—or actant—to nonhuman, nonindividual entities. Interesting terminological convergences between Foucault, Deleuze, and ANT occur when, for instance, Callon brings together the term agence (agency) with agencement, both deriving from the dispositif. In this regard, the intertwining of German media theory, ANT, the further developed actor-media theory, the machinic thinking of Deleuze and Guattari, and Foucauldian discourse analysis culminates in a continental posthumanist culture of thought. Being part of that should be seen as the actual epistemological goal for any contemporary academic discourse on the future of humanities, including visual studies. In this regard, it is pertinent to introduce the proposed epistemology and advance it to a praxis of political action. It is the interrelating complexity of this process, which seems to escape, at least for the moment, the focus of various progressive political movements. Geoffrey Winthrop-Young, Kittler and the Media (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010), p. 3; Bernhard Siegert, “Cultural Techniques: Or the End of the Intellectual Postwar Era in German Media Theory,” Theory, Culture & Society 30, no. 6 (2013), pp. 49–50. Online: tcs.sagepub.com/content/30/6/48; Callon, “Why Virtualism Paves the Way to Political Impotence: A Reply to Daniel Miller’s Critique of ‘The Laws of the Markets,’” Economic Sociology: The European Electronic Newsletter 6, no. 2 (2005), p. 5; Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, p. 27.
Italo Calvino, Why Read the Classics?, trans. Martin McLaughlin (London: Penguin Books, 2009), p. 242.
Gilles Lipovetsky, “Power of Repetition,” in #Accelerate, p. 230.
The relevant bibliography relating to the entanglement between looking and desire is colossal. One can mention just one of the early classical studies on that theme: Christian Metz, The Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis and Cinema (London: Macmillan, 1982).
Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, p. 95.
Löwith, Weltgeschichte, p. 198.
This distinction restates Deleuze’s major philosophical thesis, meaning his attempt to conceptualize “difference-in-itself” in relation to “difference between,” which is the way in which philosophy always understood difference with reference to self-identical objects. The mode of transformation relates, on the one hand, what has been transformed to its previous state and, on the other hand, all previous and subsequent states of transformation to an original. The difference exists, though, only in relation to the identical. A transformation creates, according to Deleuze’s terminology, “copies” and is a “difference between.” On the other side, there is no ontological difference between loops. A loop is a “simulacrum,” a fake, which, however, exists “in and of itself,” without grounding in or reference to a model, a Platonic idea: its existence is “unmediated,” and, thus, it is authentic without ever claiming authenticity. Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), p. 29; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Online: www.iep.utm.edu/deleuze.
The posthuman dispositive is not static, but rather dynamic, almost similar to a “feedback mechanism”—that is, “making a system turn back or twist back on itself, thus forming a loop.” According to pioneering neuroscientist Douglas Hofstadter, this self-referential quality of a perceptual looping constitutes the “Germ of I-ness.” Hofstadter sees consciousness as the emergent phenomenon of an endless looped self-perception, which includes sensations and thoughts: “In the end, we are self-perceiving, self-inventing, locked-in mirages that are little miracles of self-reference.” Hofstadter, I Am a Strange Loop (New York: Basic Books, 2007), pp. 60, 72, 363.
Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Philosopher (New York: Routledge, 1992), p. 163.
Félix Guattari, “Towards a Micro-Politics of Desire,” in Molecular Revolution, p. 98. Nevertheless, Lazzarato clarifies that “Guattari turns to the aesthetic experience, not as productive of the work of art, but as a pragmatics of the relation between the discursive and the existential [in Guattari’s terminology, this applies to the extralinguistic, the nondiscursive], the actual and the virtual, the possible and the real.” Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, p. 211.
See Mackay and Avanessian, #Accelerate, p. 12.
Berardi, The Soul at Work, p. 127.
Guattari’s understanding of the process of subjectivation is one constantly measuring itself against chaos. “Art is not chaos but a composition of chaos that yields the vision or sensation, so that it constitutes, as [James] Joyce says, a chaosmos, a composed chaos—neither forseen nor preconceived. Art transforms chaotic variability into chaoid variety. … Art struggles with chaos but it does so in order to render it sensory.” Gilles Deleuze und Félix Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, trans. Graham Burchell and Hugh Tomlinson (London: Verso, 1994) p. 204.
Gilles Deleuze, “What Is a Dispositif?,” in Michel Foucault, Philosopher, pp. 159, 162.
Berardi, The Soul at Work, p. 130.
Parrhesia (frank speaking or truth telling), which in Foucault’s late work was a major theme of investigation that complemented his genealogical method, constitutes this conceptual transversal in the production of sense, the production of signification, and the production of subjectivity. Foucault developed, in his last lectures, the concept of parrhesia as a mode of discourse in which one speaks openly and truthfully about one’s opinions and ideas—however, and this is the decisive difference from other forms of speech, neither with the deployment of rhetoric and manipulation nor within a protected situation, dependent on citizenship or the legal or social status of the speaker, but rather also in the case of unequal relations of power. Parrhesia, by definition, cannot apply to politicians, journalists, or even academics. As Lazzarato remarks, parrhesia “is a risky and indeterminate act”; it moves from the mode of political subjectivation from which it derives to the sphere of personal ethics and the constitution of the ethical subject. Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, pp. 229–30.
See Friedrich Kittler and Cornelia Vismann, Vom Griechenland (Berlin: Merve, 2001).
Lazzarato rightly identifies the genealogy of this politics in the tradition of the Cynics. Parrhesia and indifference to the vicissitudes of life (adiaforia), as well as shamelessness or impudence (anaideia) that defaces the laws, customs, and social conventions that people take for granted, can be contemporary equivalents. “Rather than of the stage [Jacques Rancière’s stage of political speech and reason], the Cynics make us think of contemporary art performances, where public exposure (in the double sense of manifestation and risk of danger) is not necessarily carried out in language, in speech, nor through signifying semiotics, nor even through a dramaturgy with characters, interlocution, and dialogue. … The Cynics are not only ‘speaking beings’ but also bodies that say something, even if the enunciation is not initially expressed through signifying chains. … In Cynic ‘performances’ language has more than a denotative and representative function; it has an ‘existential function.’” And he concludes: “The examination of the Cynics’ way of understanding bios, existence, and ‘militant’ subjectivation can provide the weapons for resisting the powers of contemporary capitalism, which makes the production of subjectivity the primary and most important of its effects (Guattari).” In this regard, Lazzarato maintains that Foucault’s parrhesiastic enunciation is not Hegelian, Marxist, Habermasian, or even Lacanian, but rather machinic in nature, that is, Guattarian. Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, pp. 207, 242–43, 246.
Shouse, “Feeling, Emotion, Affect.”
Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002), p. 28.
However, one should also remark that this extralinguistic act of signification finds its equivalent, for instance, in the invention of metacinema, which discloses a reality without representation or linguistic mediation. Deleuze’s call for a cinematic metaphilosophy targets exactly this impasse of critical theory, which chooses to neglect the impact of corporeal affective dispositions.
Guattari maintains: “Speech remains an essential medium, but it’s not the only one; everything which short-circuits chains of signification, postures, facial traits, spatial dispositions, rhythms, asignifying semiotic productions (relating, for example, to monetary exchange), machinic sign productions, can be implicated in this type of analytical assemblage. Speech itself—and I could never overemphasize this—only intervenes here inasmuch as it acts as a support for existential refrains.” Guattari, Chaosmosis, pp. 127–28.
During the Byzantine iconoclastic controversy, at the moment when Christianity was establishing itself as a universal religion (a cath-holic church), that is, when oeconomy and government over every other aspect of social life became dominant, the neologism eikonomia, or iconomy, was coined. It secured the position of art in the divine order, with the image denoting a semiotic state of exception. Iconomy was able to semiotically impose the authority of the sign over the sovereign; that is, the image over existing political power. The avant-garde’s iconoclastic or anti-mimetic attitude actually reiterates the laws of iconomy, now (and at least since Romanticism) to be understood as a particular form of art’s autonomy. This is often seen in its Kantian understanding, in which works of art are devoid of any instrumental or practical value. However art’s autonomy (understood as iconomy) means that art aspires to ground the totality of the social/political/ethical on the aesthetic, elevating the work of art to the foundational instance of every meaning and value. For a discussion of iconomy in the contemporary context, see my essay, “Eikonomia: Notes on Economy and the Labor of Art,” e-flux Journal 35 (May 2012).
Stephen Zepke, Art as Abstract Machine: Ontology and Aesthetics in Deleuze and Guattari (New York: Routledge, 2005), p. 4.
Jean-François Lyotard, The Inhuman: Reflections on Time (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1993), p. 2.