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From Logocular Anthropotechnics to Posthuman Dispositives: Toward a Manifesto of the Postdiscursive Era

We can choose who we wish to become when we have decided on in principle undecidable questions.
—Heinz von Foerster

What is the future of the human, and what is the role that art has to play in determining this future? After philosophical thinking has determined the “end of man,” or as Jacques Derrida aptly put it, the possibility to “imagine a consciousness without man,” such questions seem to be at the core of current discussions regarding the era of posthuman(ism), as well as the conceptual aporias and ontological impasses of neoliberal globalization.1 Nevertheless, because man is “an invention of a recent date. And one perhaps nearing its end,” as Michel Foucault suggests, the discussion about art after the end of man should rather begin with a particular denouement.2 Bringing to an end the hegemonic significance of wo/man, its politics and its art, that is, to go beyond anthropocentrism means to feel impelled to conceptualize humanity’s future while navigating “outside of traditional critiques and regressive, declarative or restorative ‘solutions,’” as Robin MacKay and Armen Avanessian ascertain.3 That said, this essay aims at discussing how the process of subjectivation has changed in the previous decades due to neoliberalism and the further development of the society of the spectacle as a way to pose the following question: What artistic responses are possible as a means of resistance to such a politics? The concepts I will be exploring in the investigation of this question are not unknown, and most of them already have their own legacy in critical theory. But they do remain somewhat unfamiliar in the sense that they are often disjoined from theories that speculate on the future of contemporary art. And it is perhaps contemporary art itself, or this human(ist) practice that has been called art so far, that has a role to play in this conversation.

In order to illustrate how this complex era advances and to add some thoughts to the endeavor of critical posthumanism, I turn to Foucault’s archaeological analysis of the human discourse of knowledge and power. Notably one of the first scholars to think about the so-called end of man, Foucault and his concept of the dispositif, or dispositive, present us with an adequate epistemological tool to examine the current situation of “the so-called man” and the European humanistic subject that was built on it.4 The dispositives, in his thinking, are sexual, political, legal, educational, religious, and gendered patterns of behavior and schemata of knowledge that do not merely reflect or represent the world but actually constitute it. They enhance and maintain the exercise of power within the social body while describing, explicating, and constructing its subjects. Foucault’s notion of governmentality—a term that denotes organized practices, that is, the mentalities, rationalities, and techniques that sustain the permanent governmental intervention into society—begins by distinguishing three modalities in the history of power relations: the legal system, disciplinary devices that serve modern societies of discipline, and apparatuses of security that are characteristic of our time. Power is not simply constraining by nature but also constructive, as it is the main force behind the constitution of “meaningful” experiences in life, systems of belief, and, in particular, subjectifying desires. In this sense, dispositives are fundamentally biopolitical in nature. They always aim at a process of “normalization,” as Foucault maintained in a lecture in January 1975, during the course of which he used the term dispositif for the first time. Power understood as biopolitics is in this regard a process of internalization, a notion that already entails the active participation of the psyche.5

Foucault thinks of dispositives or apparatuses as mainly architectural and visual systems: consider the panopticon, for example, or the mental hospital. However, these spatial-optical settings of various spaces of enclosure (or diagrams of power, as Foucault terms them in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison) depend primarily on language in order to function. And it is always pastoral language—the priest’s, the psychiatrist’s, or the educator’s speech—that informs these discursive practices and techniques of power and subjectivation. They historically constitute the era of man, with psychoanalysis being the ultimate tool in the hands of capitalism’s subjectivation techniques, as Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari point out in their Anti-Oedipus. Foucault’s juridical discursive model of power informs his understanding of apparatuses as preliminary linguistic, architectonic, and optical—one is tempted to say logocular—enframings.6 Plato’s famous cave allegory in the seventh book of his Republic, a Socratic dialogue concerning the definition of justice and the Archimedean point of the juridical discursive model of power, can be seen as the preeminent example of such a space of enclosure and the best description of a Foucauldian logocular apparatus. The allegory explains the Foucauldian theory of governmentality well and accurately portrays disciplinary societies, a concept to which Foucault dedicated the majority of his groundbreaking research and to which Plato’s Republic might also belong.

Societies that operate at the current stage of financial capitalism, however—that is, in its postindustrial, mediatic phase—don’t operate simply via interpellating actors, normative utterances, and a belief in the freedom of human agency, with all the allegedly rational and objective choice-making found therein. The application and impact of power on all aspects of human life is not discursive in nature but rather technonumerical, as Deleuze suggests in his “Postscript on the Societies of Control”:

The numerical language of control is made of codes that mark access to information or reject it. … Individuals have become “dividuals” and masses, samples, data, markets, or “banks.” Perhaps it is money that expresses the distinction between [disciplinary and control] societies best, since discipline always referred back to minted money that locks gold in as numerical standard, while control relates to floating rates of exchange, modulated according to a rate established by a set of standard currencies.7 

When “every fragment of mental activity must be transformed into capital,” per Franco “Bifo” Berardi, an assessment of this condition has to be done within a novel episteme, which turns societies that invest in security and discipline into societies of control.8 It is not that we have transitioned from a security society to a control society, leaving the former behind us, but that we have progressed to a palimpsest that contains both. Instead of referring to biopolitics to describe our current social condition, the term semiopolitics might be employed, accurately capturing as it does the management of our cognitive and affective life/time through semiotic operations extending beyond the intelligibility of symbols, concepts, and language. On an epistemological level, this change can be seen as a move beyond deterministic models that trace phenomena that organize life back to hegemonic discourses, social structures, and technological effects, and in this regard claim to master contingency.

In a society of control, we are no longer restrained by enclosure structures (the school, the factory, or even the gym) but are driven to continuously use our “free time.” This activity is not surveilled from a centralized point (the Panopticon principle), but rather through a diffused network of information that tracks and encodes behaviors, needs, desires, and, most significantly, temporalities. While, on the one hand, freedom seems to be increased, the control of our activities interpreted into patterns expands, on the other. Such a transformation reflects a change in our understanding of both knowledge and power, which support and justify this novel condition. 

Perhaps this recent development into control societies is best described by Jean Baudrillard’s thesis of the destruction of the symbolic by the semiotic order (a significant scission between two eras in history) and his concept of the transition from the sign to the code. While the symbolic maintains the equivalence between the signified value and the sign (wage for labor, for instance), the semiotic order is based on relativity and undecidability between them.9 Both classical semiotics and economics create a link between a sign and a meaning, or the economic value of a good or service and the total amount of socially necessary labor required to produce it. This analogy constitutes the quasi-theological arche of all mainstream social, economic, and political-philosophical discourses.10 However, as Baudrillard notes, in the new era, “capital has freed signs from this ‘naivety’ [to signify, to stand for something] in order to deliver them into pure circulation.”11 A clear proof of the validity of such a statement is the contemporary international banking system, which has been developed since the 1980s as the grounding force of financial capitalism. This development has been based on the virtual, ultra-rapid, and boundless transactions of capital in digital networks. Such operations around the globe are characterized by a lack of transparency and dependable obscurity even for the best-informed experts in the financial sector (in this regard, “shadow banking” is more than a metaphor).12 

Christos Karakepelis, Back Focus Greek History, film still, from Raw Material (2011), 78 min.

The operative notion of semiopower helps us to further analyze our post-2008 world in the grips of neoliberal globalization. Semiocapital exceeds any representational order, that is, it transcends any systematic discursive intelligibility, being inherently obscure in meaning.13 On the contrary, intelligibility is still intact in Foucault’s account of biopower, or in the Marxist description of labor power, or even in the Freudian justification of libido—all of which constitute supreme paradigms of signification.14 In fact, what Baudrillard calls simulation is what Guattari calls asignifying semiotics, while both refer to a novel condition in the development of capitalism, which emerged around 1971, a year that anthropologist David Graeber, in his recent and celebrated analysis of how debt rules the world, emphatically calls “The Beginning of Something Yet to Be Determined.”15 The notion of semiopower not only suggests a different understanding of economics, one that cannot be identical to chrematistics, but, more important, a scission between the humanist era, which operates within the semeiosis of language, economic exchange, accumulation, and power, and the posthuman “order of the hyperreal,” which is itself defined by reversibility, replication, and novelty. This novel order of semeiosis and the new era of man follow neither the classical episteme nor any principles of communicative rationality and democratic political reasoning (to which we might henceforth look back on with a certain nostalgia). Indeed, the decline of these principles in the postdiscursive era brings forth dilemmas concerning political order, legitimacy, and expertise.16 

Guattari’s major contribution to this ongoing discourse is his inquiry into all heterogeneous components of the configuration of bodies, technology, and matter that partake in the production of subjectivity (and power).17 That the sign has become a code has further repercussions for the analysis of how pre-individual bodily forces, linked to autonomic responses, which augment or diminish a body’s capacity to act or engage with others, or, in other words, to affect and be affected, constitute an affective dispositive of socialization, subjectivation, and production of value.18 This novel epistemology, one that Rosi Braidotti refers to as the “matter-realist” development, theorizes affect “in relation to the technologies that are allowing us both to ‘see’ affect and to produce affective bodily capacities beyond the body’s organic-physiological constraints,” as Patricia Ticineto Clough notes.19 However, being able to “see” these technologies doesn’t necessarily adhere to practices of signification within the paradigm of representationalism, which will go hand in hand with the transcendental vision of the (humanist) subject.20 In other words, such an understanding of subjectivity doesn’t accord with the famous Aristotelian notion of the human being as zoon logikon—the animal that possesses language—but rather with another (and less noticed) Aristotelian notion: the human being as zoon mimetikotaton, the animal that learns and passes on this know-how by mimicking, by emulating. With this idea, Aristotle heralds the contemporary affective turn and exposes a basic rule of affectivity, later to be analyzed by Spinoza and theorized by Deleuze and Guattari, among others.21 

According to Guattari, the exercise of power and the production of subjectivity in a universe of affective apparatuses includes both signifying semiotic components and “a-signifying semiological dimensions” that work “in parallel or independently of” any signifiying function they may have.22 As thinkers such as Maurizio Lazzarato maintain, “asignifying semiotics and machines [in my terminology, non-logocular dispositives] operate in the same way in the preverbal world of human subjectivity, inhabited by nonverbal semiotics, affects, temporalities, intensities, movements, speeds, impersonal relations, non-assignable to a self, to an individuated subject, and thus, again, difficult for language to grasp.”23 In this regard, the postdiscursive era of asignifying machines promotes a particular type of governmentality in control societies that produces subjectivities in an actually increasingly machinic and affective way.24 Accordingly, the Aristotelian concept of the zoon mimetikotaton, which applies to both machines and the asignifying aspects of human behavior, comes to replace any notion of politics based solely on discursivity and linguistic imperatives. This conflation of the nonverbal part of experience and that part of experience converted into words should be taken into account by any political theory. (Lenin’s dictum “a lie, told often enough, becomes the truth” acquires a novel meaning if we see the repetitive as an action of mimicking that creates its own reality.)

For many scholars, the emblematic figure of our contemporaneous control society that deploys affective apparatuses is the network itself, as Martijn Konings has written:25

In a densely interconnected society, control operates on an immanent level, through constitutive associations and the logic of emotional investment. Power does not repress, homogenize, or discipline, but it modulates, working through the ways in which identities evolve through association. … It is discipline equipped with feedback mechanisms, permitting authority to function fully automatically. The network becomes a “smooth,” seamless social space that effortlessly extends its mechanisms of control in response to changing circumstances, having us voluntarily enact our own oppression.26 

Power and knowledge are inscribed on bodies through technological frameworks such as mass communication and informatics interfaces, which possess a tangible technonumerical materiality that operates in all areas of social life while intervening in the biological materiality of bodies. We don’t have to conjure a prosthetic human being or biologically enhanced cyborgs in order to illustrate this thesis. Amid a global war on terror, the commodification of human and other genomes, the disjointing of social interaction from the physical body due to virtual “social” media, and the shift of production toward an attention economy, biopolitics can only be understood within an expanded notion of the Foucauldian dispositive. Thus do authors such as Lazzarato and Bernard Stiegler attempt to investigate how biopower operates in an approach that designates the “noopolitical” (Lazzarato) or “psychopolitical” (Stiegler) or even “zoopolitical” (Braidotti) character of the postdiscursive era.27 Semiopolitics operate within this double nature of the late-modern social apparatuses: they are both sign and machine; that is, they are both a semiotic tool and a techno-sign, which manipulate affectivity and, thus, living matter, or what Braidotti calls zoe.28 

It is in this sense, of course, that political economy is becoming mainly media theory, as theories concentrating on the conventional agency of political subjects are simply not vast enough to grasp such complex ways of life.29 Drawing on Ludwig Wittgenstein’s terminology, these ways of life constitute “language games.” However, semiopolitical dispositives or vectors of subjectivation are rather precognitive and preverbal or extralinguistic.30 But they are also biotechnological and cybernetic in nature.31 Such dispositives call for a critical apparatus that might elucidate their function and unravel their importance. Indeed, the novel condition of dispositives is characterized by the network, which is emergent, consisting of unreliable elements, fragile, and rather closer to the system of second-order cybernetics of evolving feedback. Berardi assesses the situation as follows: 

Ever since Fordist discipline was dissolved, individuals find themselves in a condition of apparent freedom. Nobody forces them to endure subjection and dependency. Coercion is instead embedded in the technicalities of social relations, and control is exerted through the voluntary yet inevitable submission to a chain of automatisms. … Microsoft deals with products and services only apparently. In reality, it deals with a form of cybernetic organization that—once installed—structures the flows of digital information through the nervous system of all key institutions of contemporary life.32 

For Lazzarato, though, “the aim of capitalist machines is to furnish individuals with patterns of ‘conscious’ or ‘unconscious’ behaviors that compel them to submit to the ‘rites of passage’ and ‘initiation’ of the business, the welfare state, the consumer and media society and so on.”33 The asignifying semiotics and the chain of automatisms that these behaviors entail account for the existence of something that can be called a “technical unconscious,” linked to Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s groundbreaking idea that there are perceptions that might pass completely unnoticed in a subject’s mind, because they are too weak, too confused, or too drowned out by quantities of other additional perceptions to be conscious. This technical unconscious is automatized, acognitive, lacking responsiveness, and inscribed in the socially acceptable modes of human behavior. Its effects go beyond the effects of the Marxist-Althusserian social unconscious. Dispositives constitute forces, which act much like info viruses, like sub-mnemonic nodal points, placing emphasis on bodily experience.

What is the most common type of such an updated subjectivity produced by such a technical unconscious? Well, it is definitely not the enlightened Homo universalis defended by the humanist philosophical tradition. Can we instead celebrate the arrival of the exceptional “entrepreneur of the self,” as those of the late 1990s proclaimed? Perhaps it is in the fictional and cartoonish superhero character of Tony Stark, alias Iron Man—a successful CEO, millionaire, genial inventor and programmer, and womanizer with an artistic impulse—that we find the perfect candidate for this position. The abstract ideal of Man (“and his second sex, Woman,” per Braidotti)34 as a symbol of classical humanity is now embodied in a series of demigods and supernatural heroes brought to life by Marvel Comics and Marvel Studios, owned by the Walt Disney Company. English-speaking, handsome, able-bodied, with no obvious signs of belonging to a particular social class or gender, often desexualized, without money problems or tax struggles, these “heroes” live in a constant euphoria: perfect icons of the cultural logic of late neoliberalism.35 This is the entrepreneur of the self—for whom “labor” coincides with “work on the self.” It is one of the avatars of the modern individual, that which Peter Sloterdijk in his account of anthropotechnics has revealed as a practicing, training being, one that creates itself through exercise and thereby transcends itself. Farmers, workers, warriors, yogis, rhetoricians, musicians, models, managers, info workers, and writers of all kinds (to which we all potentially belong) embody this mode of existence most clearly.36 

That said, why has the transition from the industrial to the postindustrial era (or, in other words, from security societies to control societies) not resulted in the happy existence of the entrepreneur of the self, but rather in “armies of creative engineers, of libertarian programmers and artists” who soon became “the proletarians of intelligence, people who owned nothing but their cognitive forces”?37 Instead of becoming satisfied info workers, why have we experienced the emergence of the accidental, depersonalized, and gloomy “indebted man”?38 Economist Tomáš Sedláček puts it clearly from an economic point of view: In the postcapitalist condition, capital has been transformed into debt for the majority of people, while being converted into an accelerated accumulation of assets for the very few. If today’s economy works by the “artificial stimulation of growth through debt,” contemporary governance is mainly governance by debt, and, notably, debt at interest39—its only legally acceptable form. 

Here lies one of the most powerful noopolitical or psychopolitical dispositives: Governing by debt has become the contemporary form of biopolitical automatization, the most effective type of free-floating control that replaced the old disciplinary operations. Fluctuations of the stock market, “financial flows generated by net trading, the advertising cycle, venture capital and retirement funds” have become the affective forces that prescribe behavior, including how to dream about the future.40 This brings us to the thematic of subjectivation in the context of neoliberal capitalism, in which the main way of constructing subjects (mental conceptions and affective perceptions of the world) is the semiotic regime of debt at interest.41 As in the Greek of St. Paul, the word khréos expands the word’s original pragmatic meaning (to denote “necessity”: katà to khréon)42 to now imply a financial obligation as well as an obligation toward God; the indebted man thus stands for both an economic conduct and a moral behavior.43 The indebted wo/man is the contemporary apparatus of subjectivation as “the production of subjectivity relies on debt,” while “the class struggle has turned to the protection of creditors and owners of ‘securities.’”44

This development of governance by means of debt has a deeper root, however, one that goes back to the formation of the Occident itself. Giorgio Agamben has created a significant archaeology of this novel machinic mode of semiotization by tracing back the Foucauldian notion of the dispositive both analytically and philologically: In The Kingdom and the Glory, Agamben reveals the theological economic nature of contemporary societies by examining how social control operates via financial speculation. The ultimate goal of his inquiry is to show that economy is not rational but a barely ideologically connoted and historically emerged condition that defines and manipulates relationships between people and their environment, while inscribing them in a systemic and highly ideologized world order. Governmentality constitutes, in his definition, the political appropriation of theology—a secularized version of religious eschatology and social control via chrematistics, or the art of getting rich.45 Through the eschatological design of oikonomia, or oeconomy, debt becomes a reserve of potential and future meaning, an obligation to be stated and value to be acquired.46 

Christos Karakepelis, Back Focus Greek History, film still, from Raw Material (2011), 78 min.

Debt at interest fundamentally addresses the modern concept of economy at its ontological core, that is, economy understood as the management of scarcity in view of the anticipated “end of the world.” As unorthodox as it sounds, time—and, in this regard, the time to come—is the most precious and scarce good; thus economy is the monetary management of current time (as in the case of wage labor) and the capitalizing of future time (investment banking). The dystopian science-fiction film In Time (2011), by Andrew Niccol, features a society in which people stop aging at twenty-five. They have a clock attached to their arms that exchanges time and functions as the ultimate currency. “You live as long as you accumulate time.” The film illustrates what Berardi identifies as one of the key aspects of capitalism: “Capital [that is, semiocapital] no longer recruits people, but buys packets of time, separated from their interchangeable and occasional bearers. De-personalised time has become the real agent of the process of valorisation, and de-personalised time has no rights, nor any demands either.”47 Biopolitical control becomes chronopolitical. 

This unexplainable doctrine of the supernatural ability to master time is the mythico-conceptual foundation of the Occident and the autopoietic focal point of economics and thus of capitalism.48 Scarcity of resources, control of the human and other genomes, deprivation of land rights and land grabs, even famine and privation, can be seen as the epiphenomena of an artificial condition in which time scarcity is imposed. In this regard, modern economic science constitutes not only the dispositive of normalizing human behavior in relation to monetary systems and their ideologies but also the means to manage and control time. Economy signifies in this sense a purely theologized form of futurism not by postulating probable or preferable futures (futurology) but by anticipating and working toward only one possible future. By ritualizing eternity, capitalism turns historical process into an eschatological plan proceeding with an exact plan of bio-chronopolitical control.49 

The management of temporal flux, which is at the core of semiocapitalism’s speculation, is produced by the current merging of economy and technology (the definite expression of the Heideggerian Gestell). This brings us to another major apparatus of subjectivation, as well as to a second instance of anthropotechnics, which is directly linked to signifying technologies of time and their iconic meanings: the (postcinematic) avatar.50 Cinema and our machine-mediated perception operate as one of the leading apparatuses providing subjects with identities and models of behavior. The logic of subjectivation is directly linked to the notion of the icon, those networks and nodal points that produce meanings and operate through the mundane practices of everyday life. Social media, for instance, constitute such machines of self-generating iconicity, which directs a repertoire of patterns of association and imaginary connections—all libidinal in nature but also applicable in everyday life.51 An icon, as Konings has noted, 

enjoys universal and immediate recognition yet its meaning has deep personal resonance, is capable of addressing the particularities and messy mediations of our own lives. It is fully public and objective and yet easily tugs at the strings of our subjective experience, organizing the complex networks of lines that connect our lives to hegemonic order. It is the pivot of the economic logic through which the self and order are internally connected.52 

The impact of mediatic image dispositives (such as the cinema and the television, as well as the software and machinery of networked information and communication) on the formation of subjectivity has been widely attested to. The selfie is the emblem of our new culture, and in this respect, it is no coincidence that Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2006 was “You.” This “You,” however, doesn’t refer to an actual person, but rather to the iconic value of a disembodied, generic, ideal self. This recalls, to my mind, the fictional figure of Jake Sully, a paraplegic former marine who featured in James Cameron’s science-fiction blockbuster Avatar (2009) and who operated a biomechanical hybrid in order to enter the paradisiacal extraterrestrial world of fantasy. The capacity to shape-shift (metamorphosis), so common in mythology, folklore, and contemporary mainstream fantasy film, designates a type of change that allows for the subject’s alteration while retaining its intrinsic and indispensable (human) quality. For us moderns, self-styling exists in an endless series of reenactments, remixes, and recycling of preexisting scenarios often put to use by means of our technology.53 The anthropotechnics of transformation acquire an almost mythical significance, as they always imply modernity’s and, in this regard, Enlightenment’s promise of linear and teleological progress toward a future end. Being inscribed in the capitalist technoscientific market mentality, which offers an ersatz choice of the same services in different packaging, makes it difficult to imagine alternative forms of existence. Does such a continuous desire for morphing indicate our inherent fear of coping with fleeting time? Or does this consumption of icons actually constitute a labor-intensive activity, in which our attentive presence becomes essential for the construction of corporately branded pseudoworlds?

In light of such questions, Guy Debord’s epistemological paradigm—summarized in his famous thesis that “the spectacle is capital to such a degree of accumulation that it becomes an image”—remains valid.54 Jonathan Beller preserves the political force of Debord’s notion and maintains that “cinema and its succeeding (if still simultaneous) formations, particularly television, video, computers, and the internet, are deterritorialized factories in which spectators work, that is, in which we perform value-productive labor. … [W]e labor in the image. The image, which pervades all appearing, is the mise-en-scène of the new work.”55 With this in mind, Foucault’s panopticism extends into a mediatic pan-laborism by means of value-productive images that capitalize on our attention.56 The main focus of these images is unquestionably our affective life, with sexuality in the forefront becoming the main object of political and economic activity and control. The animated postcinematic avatar exemplifies the point of convergence of advanced technocapitalism and global mnemo- and pharmacotechnologies, and culminates in the quest for “more and pure” pleasure.57 As Foucault diagnosed, subjugation via pleasure is the most advanced form of capitalist labor; the labor one performs on one’s pleasure constitutes its emblematic figure. This cultural development embodied by media, and their endless info-productive stimulation of attention, has been attested to in a rather apocalyptic tone. It has been understood as a political battle acting on our psychology, sensibility, and language.58 The labor of one’s pleasure is a matter of technologically enhanced valorization of his or her own identity.

In his discussion of MUVEs (multiuser virtual environments) and MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) such as Second Life and World of Warcraft, Ken Hillis remarks that online avatars have come not only to represent but also to supersede the individual operator, while suggesting the development of a “sign/body occupying networked virtual space.”59 For Hillis, “avatars are body doubles that can seem to constitute a kind of individuated virtual public as they move about the ersatz spaces they appear to populate at will. In so doing, these avatars accrue intense affect as they perform an imagistic body politics.”60 These body doubles not only recreate the illusion of presence but, more importantly, erase the psychological distinction between represented and physical reality, while suggesting an experience of the sensible that promises greater mobility, more intense and deeper communication, increased control over social life, better self-esteem, and, in the end, more opportunities for self-realization. To that end, the online double becomes more real than the actual, due to the phantasmatic augmentation of its potential, that is, not yet actual (but virtual) qualities. In a conjoined and affective world, the postcinematic avatar capitalizes on the virtual, the possible. The deployment of the postcinematic apparatus, meaning the experience of synthesized, digital images and the mimetic adoption of these images at the core of subjectivity, is not only a characteristic of online avatars but a condition of posthuman temporality in general. And it has been targeted in Stiegler’s explication of the “cinematic constitution of consciousness,” as well as in his thesis that culture is essentially a mnemotechnical condition of temporal flux.

In one of his fable-like stories, Jorge Luis Borges writes of two worlds, the world of mirrors and the world of men, and how the peoples of the specular become enslaved within their own mirror. Through a magic spell, “the task of repeating, as though in a kind of dream, all the actions of men” was forced on them.61 Borges’s story suggests how we are captured in our own image, reduced to mere slavish reflections. Yet another virtual world can be glimpsed in the depths of Borges’s mirrors, a day on which the magic spell might be shaken off and a postsignifying world might emerge, in which the specular and the human will live in harmony.

If with cinema it becomes possible to rediscover the features of presignifying semiotics, it should also become possible to use the asignifying aspects of various mediatic dispositives (Foucault’s logocular apparatuses, Debord’s image-as-capital, or Stiegler’s mnemotechnical settings) beyond their intended purpose, so as to counteract such one-dimensional and iconic subjectivations. Even if performing the value-productive, immaterial labor by means of the image results in producing contemporary avatars, such a production doesn’t necessarily have to conform to stereotypes and icons. In a discussion of recent film and music video production, Steven Shaviro concludes:

These works are symptomatic, in that they provide indices of complex social processes, which they transduce, condense, and rearticulate in the form of what can be called, after Deleuze and Guattari, “blocs of affect.” But they are also productive, in the sense that they do not represent social processes, so much as they participate actively in these processes, and help to constitute them. Films and other music videos, like other media works, are machines for generating affect, and for capitalizing upon, or extracting value, from this affect.62 

I would argue that, conversely, affect doesn’t have to be inscribed and valorized within an existing techno-mediatic matrix. If mediatic dispositives can both generate subjectivity and contribute to semiocapital, they might also transgress semiocapitalism’s fallacies, contradictions, and absurdities, as well as offer another way to conceptualize the self. For this to happen, we will probably have to change our attitude toward the pleasure that we derive from our own self effectuated by these ever-present iconic images: Narcissus, who always assigns meaning to the reflection of his own image, will have to look aside for a while.63 Nevertheless, the exaltation of narcissistic anthropotechnics is clearly observed in the transhumanist tendency of both technoscientific research and financial investment, with biomedical and genetic engineering, human enhancement with prosthetic technologies, and development of artificial intelligence at the forefront.64 Thinkers such as Braidotti have proposed a comprehensive account of this development toward techno-transcendence; it might actually be termed a modern development of ancient Gnosticism, for which the demiurgic “creator” of the material world entraps humans in a fundamentally flawed world, from which a redemptive change might take place through man’s own action. 

Clearly, this action has accounted so far for many disasters, resulting in the historical era of the Anthropocene, in which the human has become a geologic force capable of affecting all life, as well as earth, water, and air on this planet, while the thanatopolitical dimension of biopolitics changes living matter. Here Marvel’s contemporary superhero films come in handy yet again in illustrating this development. In X-Men: Apocalypse (2016), the superhero Magneto acquires extraordinary ability in mining and terraforming, while Professor X advances as an expert in networked communications and extreme persuasion strategies, including mind control. Notably, this current propensity in the Hollywood film industry for science-fiction, cyberpunk, and Armageddon-like blockbusters—of which the X-Men films are part—turns into pulp fiction what is already present: a dehumanized subjectivity and a subjugated nature.

Christos Karakepelis, Within the City: Behind the Steel Factory, film still, from Raw Material (2011), 78 min.

The predicament of living in a postdiscursive era requires us to put aside the transhumanist fantasies of the cinematic avatar, or the inhumane state of the indebted person, deprived of time and future. Both of these figures are ways to describe capitalism’s temporal loopings of the present, which function either as a reinstatement of a stereotypical identity that always precedes the body/face/speech (the cinematic avatar) or as a continuous instantiation of the present time in the eschatological future (the indebted). Nevertheless, when considering the present moment, a Foucauldian theory of subjectivation ought to be complemented with a Deleuzian-Guattarian component of asignifying affectivity, in order to move beyond the anthropotechnics that still define our time. For Guattari, machinism does not oppose man and machine; machinism doesn’t mean to succumb either to a technophobic frenzy or to a transhumanist euphoria.65 The Deleuzian notion of the “dividual,” or what Guattari calls “modular subjectivity” or “partial subjectivity”—that is, subjectivity without a universalist concept of (humanist) subject—should be seen as an update of the language used to describe the concept of anthropos, that is, to rethink humanism in its post-Anthropocene condition.66 Even if intelligence, affects, sensations, cognition, memory, and physical force are no longer unified in an “I,” and even if “they no longer have an individuated subject as referent,” such an assemblage doesn’t have to be appropriated by corporations, media, public services, and various other logocular anthropotechnics.67 If we insist on continuing to look on our own image (Lacan’s mirror stage) and its symbolic regime, we might never understand how affect understood as a nonlinguistic, bodily “intensity” constructs us. A psychoanalysis of the skin and not of the eye is yet to be formed. Which, then, are the posthuman dispositives yet to come that will act against the narcissist living on the verge of collapse? 

This is where semiotic producers such as visual artists, choreographers, filmmakers, composers, writers, language makers, designers, hackers, social entrepreneurs, and other creators of media-based dispositives of temporality should be able to play a key role. These aesthetic dispositives of temporality, which sometimes previously have been called “works of art,” should disrupt the linear time flow. In other words, the posthuman dispositives-to-come should be able to change the cinematic codification of space and time, and to deconstruct the noo/psycho/semiopolitical strategies that are built on it. In the postdiscursive era, the technonumerical language of control, as well as iconic meaning, demands novel types of semiotic production, a novel language that does not just use existing technologies but invents them. This production should seduce the code of temporality and counteract the homogenizing temporal matrix of semiocapital. Such anticipated temporal loopings, which disturb the linear narration and the iconic significance of language, emerge in, for instance, Italo Calvino’s concept of the hypernovel, for which the idea of “an infinity of contemporary universes, in which all possibilities are realized in all possible combinations,” is one of the leading principles.68 There is, of course, little need to mention that loopings and concepts of open form are an essential element and structuring device of contemporary new music and experimental composition, with pioneers such as John Cage, Earle Brown, and La Monte Young at the forefront. Drawing on Gilles Lipovetsky’s assertion that the “supposed ‘contradictions’ of capital are actually a question of configurations of time,” one should call attention to the fact that such “contradictions” should be seen as disrupters of the info-temporal and affective flux created by a semiocapitalist production of iconicity.69 

Cinematic tropes of the attention economy are inherently libidinal, as they provide the space for the reorganization of desire itself.70 One should embrace Jean-François Lyotard’s concept of dissimulation, then, which suggests that all structures, all setups, all dispositives contain libidinal energy, which is an underexploited potentiality, waiting to be released so as to flow into new structures. It is clear, for instance, for Lyotard that channeling intensities into a stable system, and disrupting a system by destabilizing it through intense investment, constitute two sides of the same coin. Embracing affect means promoting a nonlinear, autopoietic complexity that includes living (and nonliving) matter, as well as its temporal enfoldings. Posthuman dispositives should form blocks of compound affective time, deploying what Lazzarato calls “mixed semiotics,” those “which are at once signifying, symbolic and asignifying.”71 It is not about maintaining the separation between the affect system on the one hand and intention or meaning or cognition on the other, but it is rather about integrating them. In this regard, one might say that dispositives of temporality should be able to create time, something like the time that occurs in meditation, or the recursive time of psychoanalysis, or, even better, the impossible time of being in love. 

The complexity of the temporal flux, which determines us and is currently being forced on us in practice by large financial and media corporations (both to be understood as voracious consumers of our time and looters of human attention), can only be assessed when taking into consideration a novel collective ethos. Let us not forget that it is Nietzsche who asserts the cyclical dimension of time not as a metaphysical doctrine but as a moral imperative, opposing in this way modernity’s foundational myth of eternal progress—which is actually a veil over modernity’s need to consume the future.72 Looping means to do the same thing at least twice and at different moments. However, if we discard our common sense understanding of time, that is, time as a linear succession of moments, but rather follow Heraclitus and his famous dictum that no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man, then a loop acquires a totally different quality.73 It implies a type of change, which is different from the modus of transformation, as it allows for more complexity to emerge precisely because it is selfreferential.74

Time should thus be seen as the emerging ethico-political paradigm of subjectification and world-making. This new ethos should be able to: a) liberate processes of aesthetic expression from the mortifying anxiety of representation (per Deleuze’s notion of continuous creation); b) reacquire the polyvocality and multi-referentiality of symbolic semiotics in aesthetic processes, that is, the sensual and sensuous expression including the disruption of the fixed-value equivalent to which every work of art is attached; and, finally, c) transform works of art into potential bearers of asignifying semiotization. Of course, this presupposes no universal aesthetics that appeal to transcendental values but micro-aesthetics “to be assessed according to immanent criteria.”75 On the posthuman aspects of this novel affective and ethico-political paradigm, Guattari notes: 

The establishment of a non-signifying semiotic machinism, bound up with the various processes of de-territorialization, technological, scientific, artistic, revolutionary etc., also results in destroying modes of representation that are humanistic, personological, familialist, patriotic and so on. It implies a continual broadening out of desiring production towards the totality of a-signifying semiotics, and their machinic surplus-values. But this does not therefore mean a return to the myth of a “natural” semiotic. On the contrary, it means getting beyond semiotics centering upon human beings and moving irreversibly towards semiotics involving technological and theoretical systems that are ever more differentiated, more artificial, and further from primitive values.76 

Christos Karakepelis, To Whom Did Prometheus Give the Fire?, from Raw Material (2011), 78 min., production still by Yiannis Lascaris and Semira Manolaki

Multiplying such dispositives results in neither defending any essence of the human nor substantiating capital’s “universal” truth. (In this respect, we should read Marx neither as a “prophet of the decline of capital” nor as a Cassandra auguring the decadence of the human.)77 These novel abstract becomings—which can be also understood as “political reducers of complexity, semiotic translators of sensibility, conceptual transformers,” per Berardi78—should be able to contribute to the constitution of, as Guattari describes it, “a chaosmos, a composed chaos.”79 These dispositives allow for alterations of the human project, precisely because they have a cartographic dimension; they are like drawing a map, surveying unknown landscapes, per Deleuze: “The productions of subjectivity escape from the powers and the forms of knowledge [savoirs] of one social apparatus [dispositif] in order to be reinserted in another, in forms which are yet to come into being.”80 If we agree with Berardi’s statement that “aesthetics is the discipline through which the organism and its environment become attuned,”81 then art should maintain its parrhesiastic dimension but actually expand it in incorporating matter-realist, asignifying, postdiscursive, and utterly affective worldviews.82 We are so much infused with language that it would have been difficult to imagine, for instance, how any judicial proceedings and law administration could proceed without the assistance of language (philosophical, rhetorical, juridical, or scientific). Such cases do exist, however, if one thinks of the famous example of Phryne’s trial narrated by Pseudo-Plutarch, according to which the prosecution’s speech against the extremely beautiful courtesan was defeated by a single act of deixis: the evidence provided by exposing her own beauty.83 This is clearly another type of nonverbal and affective parrhesia, not if beauty is held as truth, but because of the public exposure of a body deprived of language.84 

Society is composed not only of rational discourses and its enunciation practices (Foucault’s episteme) but also of different libidinal intensities and body grammars.85 Affects are structured in systems made up of libidinal dispositions or setups, which constitute nonsignifying, “irreducibly bodily and autonomic”86 processes that take place below the threshold of conscious awareness and meaning. Such a deixis allows the pre- and asignifying modes of expression to take hold of reality, for instance in bodies that publicly act, an action that is not necessarily carried out in language. Accordingly, Phryne is a posthumanistic monstrum, a portent, an omen that, even if it looks to be similar to television’s pornographic exploitation of the sensible, is different from it, as it is reality signified all by itself.87 Thus does deixis constitute another kind of a feedback loop. It differentiates itself from the actually sterile iconicity offered by the society of the spectacle, precisely because it constitutes an act that establishes emerging selves (to be found, for instance, in the often provocative but also seductive mutant subjectivations and proto-enunciation of Dada and the autopoietic focal points of the Situationist International).

Christos Karakepelis, Melting Point of Substances, from Raw Material (2011), 78 min., production still by Yiannis Lascaris and Semira Manolaki

Here is where the work of artists is located today: To create dispositives of parrhesiastic affectivity that are able to oppose the iconicity and fixed values, that is, the semiotic apparatuses in power, which produce the cinematic avatar and the indebted subject. Art’s vocation ought to be to alter the ways in which we grasp the economy to fit our aesthetics, not to change subjects to conform with semiocapitalism’s imperatives (the so-called art made and circulated within a logocentric consensus, established rules of behavior, social conventions, and global commerce).88 This novel ethos to come originates from a particular type of semiosis, an ingenious semiotic coup d’etat against the theological/political/mythological concept of semiocapitalism, which was described with the neologism eikonomia, or iconomy.89 Artists who produce samplings, sketches, looped narratives, détournements, and dadaisms—the “schizo” or the “minor” becomings of Deleuze and Guattari come to mind—might be able to provide us with the foundational principles of a clandestine ethics of art beyond semiocapitalism and the vicious circle of spectacular display. An argument can be made for a turn to an immanent aesthetics of sensation against auratic exaltations, a “pragmatic practice of onto-aesthetics,” as Stephen Zepke writes.90 This should be understood as the invention of new modes of producing the sensible as well as the thinkable—notably not a romantic religion of the sublime in art but an antiessentialist and rather matter-realist, or even machinic, iconomy. This approach should be able to counteract the instrumental and hard-nosed notion of semiocapitalist iconophilia without, however, having to sacrifice the autonomy of art—an act that would have resulted, for instance, in art’s militant politicization. By going against the standardized and homogenizing consensual hedonist totalitarianism of mnemotechnics, which rules both semiocapitalist economics and mainstream art discourse, we might be able to comfort our “symbolic misery” and give art back to its contemporary vocation against the eschatology of managing any time whatsoever. This means we must allow for autopoietic complexities to emerge within the entire domain of the visible and the audible without asserting any ultimate foundational origins as legitimating fictions. Indeed, abandoning the semiotic system of art, that is, the system of aestheticized economics, for the parrhesiastic paradigm of a novel affective iconomy/autonomy means to establish posthuman dispositives of subjectivation of yet unformed and unstructured potential. Finally, it is again Lyotard who reminds us of art’s vocation: “In 1913, Apollinaire wrote ingenuously: ‘More than anything, artists are men who want to become inhuman.’ And in 1969, Adorno, more prudently: ‘Art remains loyal to humankind uniquely through its inhumanity in regard to it.’”91 The question is how to find the strength to follow this testimony, probably accompanied by a leap of faith. The predicament is not just how to produce theory but how to communicate and apply it, so as to be able to come and go through these Borgesian mirrors.

Christos Karakepelis, Away from Here, film still, from Raw Material (2011), 78 min.

1 Jacques Derrida, “The Ends of Man,” in Margins of Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), p. 118.

2 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.

3 Robin MacKay and Armen Avanessian, “Introduction,” in #Accelerate: The Accelerationist Reader, ed. Robin MacKay and Armen Avanessian (Berlin: Merve Verlag, 2014), p. 6.

4 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.

5 Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978–1979, ed. Michel Senellart (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).

6 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.

7 Gilles Deleuze, “Postscript on the Societies of Control,” October 59 (Winter 1992), p. 5.

8 Franco “Bifo” Berardi, The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2009), p. 24.

9 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.

10 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.

11 Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange and Death, p. 7.

12 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.

13 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.

14 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.

15 David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years (New York: Melville House, 2011), p. 361.

16 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).

17 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.

18 Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, “Value and Affect” Boundary 2 26, no. 2 (Summer 1999): pp. 77–88.

19 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.

20 See Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007), p. 133.

21 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).

22 Félix Guattari, Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm, trans. Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), p. 4.

23 Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, pp. 88, 106.

24 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.

25 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.

26 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.

27 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.

28 Braidotti, The Posthuman, p. 50.

29 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.

30 Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, pp. 31, 65.

31 Matteo Pasquinelli, “What an Apparatus Is Not: On the Archeology of the Norm in Foucault, Canguilhem, and Goldstein,” Parrhesia 22 (2015), pp. 79–89.

32 Berardi, The Soul at Work, pp. 192, 196.

33 Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, p. 54.

34 Braidotti, The Posthuman, p. 27.

35 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.

36 Peter Sloterdijk, You Must Change Your Life: On Anthropotechnics (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013).

37 Berardi, The Soul at Work, p. 96.

38 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. 

39 Sedláček, Economics of Good and Evil, p. 246.

40 Berardi, The Soul at Work, p. 96.

41 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.

42 Werner Hamacher, “Guilt History: Benjamin’s Sketch ‘Capitalism as Religion,’” Diacritics 32, nos. 3–4: “Ethics” (Fall–Winter 2002), p. 81.

43 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.

44 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.

45 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).

46 Agamben, The Kingdom and the Glory, p. 44.

47 Franco “Bifo” Berardi, “Info Labour and Precariousness,” trans. Erik Empson. Online: www.generation-online.org/t/tinfolabour.htm.

48 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.

49 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.

50 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.

51 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.

52 Konings, The Emotional Logic of Capitalism, p. 27.

53 See Diedrich Diederichsen, Eigenblutdoping: Selbstverwertung, Künstlerromantik, Partizipation (Cologne: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 2008), p. 37.

54 Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (London: Rebel Press, 1992), chap. 1, thesis 34.

55 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.

56 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.

57 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.

58 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.

59 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.

60 Ibid., pp. 82–83.

61 Jorge Luis Borges, The Book of Imaginary Beings (London: Penguin, 1974), p. 68.

62 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).

63 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.

64 David Harvey, Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism (London: Profile Books, 2015), p. 13.

65 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.

66 Félix Guattari, Schizoanalytic Cartographies (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), p. 2.

67 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.

68 Italo Calvino, Why Read the Classics?, trans. Martin McLaughlin (London: Penguin Books, 2009), p. 242.

69 Gilles Lipovetsky, “Power of Repetition,” in #Accelerate, p. 230.

70 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).

71 Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, p. 95.

72 Löwith, Weltgeschichte, p. 198.

73 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.

74 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.

75 Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Philosopher (New York: Routledge, 1992), p. 163.

76 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.

77 See Mackay and Avanessian, #Accelerate, p. 12.

78 Berardi, The Soul at Work, p. 127.

79 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.

80 Gilles Deleuze, “What Is a Dispositif?,” in Michel Foucault, Philosopher, pp. 159, 162.

81 Berardi, The Soul at Work, p. 130.

82 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.

83 See Friedrich Kittler and Cornelia Vismann, Vom Griechenland (Berlin: Merve, 2001).

84 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.

85 Shouse, “Feeling, Emotion, Affect.” 

86 Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002), p. 28.

87 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.

88 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.

89 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).

90 Stephen Zepke, Art as Abstract Machine: Ontology and Aesthetics in Deleuze and Guattari (New York: Routledge, 2005), p. 4.

91 Jean-François Lyotard, The Inhuman: Reflections on Time (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1993), p. 2.

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