Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Soleil Noir

On May 1 1937 the first and only issue of Soleil Noir, a self-styled ‘post-Surrealist’ publication consisting only of one double-sided mimeographed page, was seized and destroyed by Parisian police on charges ‘obscenity’. The contents of the issue can only be reconstructed largely from a truncated description later found in the files of André Masson and brief (wholly negative) reports in other Surrealist publications.

What is evident is the disturbing content of the texts printed in the issue and especially of a hand-drawn illustration, which appears to have been drawn for each copy. Masson notes the similarity to his style, and is concerned it will be attributed to him, but unfortunately his description of the actual drawing is vague at best – speaking only of a ‘the blackened solar anus’, ‘a technique at once primitive and beyond anything of our time’, and that it ‘burns the eye’. In terms of the texts he, and others note, the extreme violence of the language, its agrammaticality, and a lengthy and scurrilous attack on Georges Bataille. The writer intimates that during his time at Quarr abbey, on the Isle of Wight, Bataille underwent a ‘failed’ initiation and, as a result, was ‘burned by the black sun’. In the most obscene terms Bataille is accused of fatally re-writing his ‘wound’ or ‘burn’ into a political and economic theory of prodigality and excess that has reversed the ‘anti-economy’ of the ‘black sun’ qua ‘extinction’. Again, the descriptions are imprecise and, surprisingly, no mention of the attack has been found in any of Bataille’s letters or papers.

Although the issue was anonymous references have been found that suggest attribution to a provincial ‘surrealist’ (never recognised by Breton), Gaston B. [unfortunately no surname is given or can be reliably reconstructed], supposedly incarcerated in a mental institution for several years in the mid-1930s before he found his way to Paris where he tried, and failed, to meet Artaud. Even more speculatively it is reputed that Gaston joined the Legion of French Volunteers Against Bolshevism, and was later to serve as ‘occult adviser’ to the SS Charlemagne Division, formed in 1944 out of the remnants of the LVF. It is claimed either that ‘Gaston’ was executed out-of-hand by a special Soviet partisan group in Pomerania in February 1945, that he committed suicide in Berlin on May 1 1945 after helping prevent the seizure of the Furher’s bunker on that day, or that he was shot when captured by Free French forces under the command of General Leclerc.

Friday, 19 July 2013

'This red sun that comes from the West': Deadwood and the Spectral Proletariat

David Cunningham's excellent discussion of Deadwood as capitalist epic, in which the central subjectivity, in the historical figure of Hearst, is 'capital personified. His soul is the soul of capital. But capital has one sole driving force, the drive to valorize itself...' (Marx) What interests me in Cunningham's reconstruction of this capitalist epic, in which 'heroic' entrepeneurs pit themselves against abstract forces of monopoly and market, is what he notes as the spectral place of the proletariat. If capital is the negativity of pure accumulation then, classically, this would be answered by the negativity of those who have nothing to lose but their chains.
In Deadwood this dialectic is not present or is left hanging; with the Cornish miners and the replacement Chinese workers reduced to mere background. The nascent collective struggles of the Cornish brutally snubbed out as they are reduced to 'bare life' in almost literal forms (as Cunningham details). If Hearst is the figural representative of capital (although the role of his psychopathic assistant Wolcott might be interesting as companion double), then the closest (I think) to a figurative representative of the proletariat is the honest prospector Ellsworth - who is killed by Hearst's men.
This killing, paralleling the assassination of the leaders of the miner's struggles, suggests the elimination of proletarian negativity. Writing on American labour struggles of the 1930s Mario Tronti suggested that 'this red sun that comes from the West' might incarnate a working class defined by the struggle against labour that 'the American class-struggles are more serious than European ones in that they obtain more results with less ideology.'
In this narrative the lack of mediations produces a sharpened struggle, which was, as Tronti notes, defeated. He also remarks on the withdrawal of American workers from struggle: 'Labor struggles are an irreplaceable instrument of self-consciousness for capital: without them it does not recognize its own adversary. Consequently, it does not know itself. And when the contradiction explodes among the parts altogether internal to the mechanism of capitalist development, again the workers do not begin to actively struggle, neither to accelerate the crisis, nor to somehow resolve it.'
What I want to suggest that the double resonance of Deadwood that Cunningham traces in terms of capitalism is also the resonance of the proletariat as absent/spectral in that moment and in the present moment. We could track the present moment of this reflection through the empirical fate of the US working class, traced in Jefferson Cowie's Stayin Alive, or more theoretically through the communization thesis of 'the end of programmatism' (ie, the collapse of the mediating identity of the worker). In either case, if we follow Tronti, we could see the fading of what already were relatively weak mediations. The spectral 'presence' of the proletariat in Deadwood would be this lack of mediation. This would be a dialectic of sharpened negativity, although one that Deadwood raises questions over.
In Tronti's analysis the 'bareness' of the history of the US working class makes possible a new reading of 'this modern sphinx, this obscure enigma, this social thing-in-itself which we know exists but which cannot be known: the American working class.' Of course, as Deadwood indicates, this bareness, this absence, could also be taken as sign of repression, dispersion, and absence, rather than enigmatic sign of future struggle. This would also be true of the tensions of the communization position, in which the absence of programmes opens out new modes of struggle, but seemingly making it hard to conceive a new 'mass' struggle that would cohere or condense the necessary power to achieve victory - what Tronti calls 'organizational strength'.
In Deadwood, itself truncated by its own failure as a TV series (in capitalist terms), this violent cutting off of the proletariat - its death - suggests the difficulty of the present moment. A universe of entrepreneurs, corporate and otherwise, an absent proletariat, the dominance of the forms of service work (prostitution, retail, etc.) all trace our own universe, as confined and wretched as the town of Deadwood itself. Of course the historical Deadwood would burn, which is an apocalyptic 'solution'. The fact that this is deferred by the cancellation of the series leaves us within a world that may or may not burn, a universe of the spectre which is not (only) the commodity form but the proletariat, and a universe without solution.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Intoxication and Acceleration

Presented at ‘Intoxication 2013’, the University of London Institute in Paris Postgraduate conference (28 June 2013

Academia.edu version for download

Aversion to information. Rudiments of a state of rapture. Great sensitivity to open doors, loud talk, music.
Walter Benjamin, first experiment in taking hashish, 18 December 1927[1]

In his interview ‘The Rhetoric of Drugs’ (1989), Jacques Derrida remarks on how the drug user is condemned for their escapism from community: ‘he cuts himself off from the world’ and ‘escapes into a world of simulacrum and fiction’.[2] The drug user is similarly condemned on the grounds of a politics of productivity, as they ‘produce […] nothing’ (236). In line with his tracing of the instabilities and equivocations of this ‘rhetoric of drugs’, Derrida also notes how drugs constantly cross the line of production. The supposedly escapist and unproductive can turn productive. In the case of sports drugs can become, Derrida suggests, the ‘artificially natural’ mode of augmentation that could produce the superior ‘being’ (249). Drugs, as Derrida notes, are a pharmakon (234). In this case the pharmakon lies in the unstable oscillation between escape into the transcendent and immersion in the immanent.[3]

            Here, I want to trace intoxication (and more particularly drug intoxication) as a site of the desire for immanence, production, and the possibility of a new ‘being’. This is intoxication not as unproductive detachment from or dissolution of the social bond, but intoxication as attachment, immersion, and (hyper) productivity. Intoxication is taken not some transcendent experience, some escape from the social or from the body, but a radicalized experience of immanence, of insertion within the social bond to its maximum extent, and of radical intensification. Of course this form of intoxication aims at breaking the social bond, or ‘desocializing’ as Derrida puts it (250), but through a traversal or line of flight into immanence. The ‘social disconnection’ (Derrida 251) that drugs cause works, in this case, by an absolute connection.

            If drugs, and other experiences of intoxication, are taken as paths to an experiential immanence then this immanence can only be achieved through acceleration. In A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari state: ‘All drugs fundamentally concern speeds, and modifications of speed.’[4] We accelerate from beyond the stasis of our existent social position into an intensified experience of immanence that tracks lines of flight. These lines do not lead into a transcendent world, but reconstruct and rearrange the actual world.

         To be clear my aim is not to validate this coupling of intoxication, acceleration, and immanence. Instead I wish to critically explore what I regard as a particular fantasy of immersive immanence and its correlation with acceleration and production. This is not intended as yet another moralist discourse on drugs. In fact, as we will see, actual drugs are not always at stake. Drugs take on the role of being a simulacra or fiction. What is at stake is a desire. This is a desire for a real production. Contrary to the simulacral discourse of drugs, the simulacrum is put at the service of a collapsing of fantasy in intensification and immanence.


Giving them Drugs, taking their Lives Away

In his review essay on the work of Gilles Deleuze ‘Theatrum Philosophicum’, published in 1970, Michel Foucault suggested LSD and opium might counter stupidity. He concluded:

Drugs – if we can speak of them generally – have nothing at all to do with truth and falsity; only to fortune-tellers do they reveal a world ‘more truthful than the real.’ In fact, they displace the relative positions of stupidity and thought by eliminating the old necessity of a theatre of immobility. But perhaps, if it is given to thought to confront stupidity, drugs, which mobilize it, which color, agitate, furrow, and dissipate it, which populate it with differences and substitute for the rare flash a continuous phosphorescence, are the source of a partial thought – perhaps.

Deleuze remarked in a footnote ‘What will people think of us?’

            Foucault’s remark suggests that in part the effect of drugs is to eliminate a ‘theatre of immobility’. They provide the intensification, mobilization, and acceleration, which offer an experience of ‘continuous phosphorescence’. It is the work of Deleuze and Guattari that takes-up this experience in a mode that links drugs and acceleration. Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus (1972) is relatively silent on drugs, with only a few mentions, in regards to R.D. Laing and American literature. The book is rather more explicit about acceleration, with its suggestion that ‘We can never go too far in the direction of deterritorialization.’[5] The generally ‘trippy’ (to use an appropriately kitsch term) atmosphere of some parts of the book, the selective manner of its adoption, and the milieu to which it appealed, meant that despite its often marked tone of sobriety Anti-Oedipus was taken by some as a license for drug and other forms of ‘accelerative’ experimentation.

            A Thousand Plateaus (1980) reconsiders and recalibrates the discourse on drugs. Deleuze and Guattari still insist that ‘Drug assemblage’ is one of molecular revolution, allowing us to perceive the imperceptible, have a molecular perception, and invest that perception with desire:[6] ‘Drugs give the unconscious the immanence and plane that psychoanalysis has consistently botched (perhaps the famous cocaine episode marked a turning point that forced Freud to renounce a direct approach to the unconscious).’ (284) Drugs don’t turn to the fantasy production that marks the psychoanalytic unconscious as ‘a dualism machine’ (284). Rather than the ‘gross molarities’ of Oedipus, drugs can embark on imperceptible becomings that are constructive and immanent.

            While Deleuze and Guattari insist, in Spinozist style, that drugs must be granted their own causality and can’t be reduced to ‘generalities on pleasure and misfortune’ (283), they also sound a more cautionary note. Drugs may be a matter of speed, but this speed is variable: the time of drugs is at once one of ‘mad speed’ and ‘posthigh slownesses’ (283). That is, what William Burroughs calls ‘junk time.’ Deleuze and Guattari now suggest that acceleration, ‘mad speed’, is not to simply be endorsed, as deterritorialization can run out-of-control. A delinking line, which is only speed, means ‘the lines of flight coil and start to swirl in black holes’ (285). In such cases the drug user does not connect with immanence, but reterritorializes. They reterritorialize on the identity of the user or addict: ‘The causal line, or the line of flight, of drugs is constantly being segmentarized under the most rigid of forms, that of dependency, the hit and the dose, the dealer.’ (ATP: 284) We are no longer, as Deleuze and Guattari say, ‘master of speeds’ (285).

            Of course we could and probably should note that this discourse risks returning to the extrinsic moralism Deleuze and Guattari has claimed to avoid. Accusing drug users or addicts of being locked-in anti-social identities and chains of dependency is not so far from the discourse of the police. Of course Deleuze and Guattari would insist that their aim is to suggest the drug addict returns themselves to social orders of control, rather than pursuing a true or real construction that might rupture with the normative forms of territorialisation. This is part of their rejection of fantasy, and their insistence that the collapse of the drug user is one that results in falling into ‘hallucinations, delusions, false perceptions, phantasies, or paranoid outbursts’ (285). What is wrong with these experiences is that they are not ‘rich or full’, they are not ‘passages of intensities’, but result in ‘a vitrified or emptied body’ (285). The problem with this use of drugs is that it is not immanent enough – ‘Drug addicts continually fall back on what they wanted to escape: a segmentarity all the more rigid for being marginal, a territorialisation all the more artificial for being based on chemical substances, hallucinatory forms, and phantasy subjectifications.’ (285)

            Rather than disappearance or immersion, the emphasis now falls on construction. This is an ‘art of dosages, since overdose is a danger’ (160). It is not a matter of blazing a path. Instead it is even a matter of absence of abstinence: getting drunk, but on pure water’, or ‘getting high, but by abstention’. This is a critique of drug use based upon a discourse of immanence: ‘Drugs do not guarantee immanence; rather the immanence of drugs allows one to forgo them.’ (286) While I think this is not particularly satisfactory as a mode of critique, it indicates the priority Deleuze and Guattari give to a ‘molecular’ becoming that folds-in to immanence. Constantly warding off any trace of the negative results in its occulted return, which tries to specify and delimit what molecules we can connect with. This selection, unsurprisingly, in the name of a ‘vital assemblage’ (286). To use the ironic sample of Emperion’s classic track ‘Narcotic Influence’: ‘Giving them drugs, taking their lives away’… Deleuze and Guattari conclude, in seeming contradiction, that drugs don’t lead to the plane of immanence, but ‘in fact the plane must distill its own drugs, remaining master of speeds and proximities.’ (286)

In response, the discourse of Nick Land and the Cybernetic Cultures Research Unit (CCRU), articulated at Warwick in the 1990s, insists on a return to full-blown immanence. Rejecting any holding back, and working in the wake of the mass pharmacological experiment of rave culture, they strip-out the cautionary moralism of Deleuze and Guattari’s discourse. Their motto could have been William Burroughs statement, from The Naked Lunch (1959): ‘The addict regards his body impersonally as an instrument to absorb the medium in which he lives, evaluates his tissue with the cold hands of a horse trader.’[7]
        Here acceleration abandons selection. In Land’s words ‘Logistically accelerating techno-economic interactivity crumbles social order in auto-sophisticating machine runaway.’ The only option is to immerse in the backwash of this runaway process, which in Land’s metaphysics infiltrates the present from its realized future. What Deleuze and Guattari tended to regard as fleeting and asymptotic converges on absolute deterritorialization that has happened, but not now or here: ‘Neo-China arrives from the future.’ Immanence, in this discourse, is perfectly aligned with the trendlines of contemporary capitalism taken as site of absolute deterritorialization momentarily deferred. What we had now, or then (in the ’90s), were traces of that future which we should seize as paths to full future immanence.

            The accelerative beats-per-minute of rave into Jungle and drum n’ bass offered a new passage into lived affective intensity and immanence – ‘text at sample velocity’. This was combined with the drug culture of rave and post-rave, which ranged across the spectrum of pharmaceutical options in the pursuit of catching-up with that speed of the music. Walter Benjamin, writing of his experience on hashish in the 1920s, noted: ‘The music, which meanwhile kept rising and falling, I called the “rush switches of jazz.”’[8] He continues, hilariously, ‘I have forgotten on what grounds I permitted myself to mark the beat with my foot. This is against my education, and it did not happen without inner disputation.’[9] Rave and post-rave dance music cultivated these ‘rush switches’ to an extreme degree. Drug use + Jungle = CCRU, we could say. True abandonment requires the breaking of all bonds, and drugs and Jungle would be two means.

            This also had a deliberately anti-political element, derived as from Lyotard’s delirial accelerationist rupture with ‘left moralism’ in Libidinal Economy (1974). In Mark Fisher’s retrospective: ‘The Ccru defined itself against the sclerotic stranglehold that a certain moralizing Old Left had on the Humanities academy. There was a kind of exuberant anti-politics, a ‘technihilo’ celebration of the irrelevance of human agency’. The political and cultural fate of this discourse was not unpredictable. Embrace of the trendlines welcomed self-dissolution, which gained an appropriate accompanying mythology. The retooling of accelerationism in the present moment owes much to repetition of this moment, which indicates the strangely nostalgic form of such a Futurist discourse.

            While more admirably rigorous than Deleuze and Guattari, and less beholden to the minor or molecular ‘good hippy’ (as Lyotard sarcastically put it vis-à-vis Baudrillard), the discourse of Land and the CCRU was deliberately terminal. Immanence achieved, but deferred until its retroactive arrival, could easily generate the same moralisms of adjustment and conformity to acceleration and immanence that we found with Deleuze and Guattari. In this case adjustment and immersion come from the future and the traces of this ‘future’ are prefigurative markers to which we have to conform. This is an inverse moralism of conformity to anti-moralism traced through a delireal sci-fi future that draws its elements from the retro-kitsch of the present.


I’m the Platform

For one recent instance of this form of immersive, immanent and intoxicated ‘acceleration’ I want to consider Beatriz Preciado’s description of being-on-testosterone as a ‘transgendered’ body. I’m not so much interested in the politics of this particular experience in terms of gender, so much as the language and descriptive terms used to analyse this state. Her description is one distinguished from other drugs – coke, speed – to indicate ‘the feeling of being in perfect harmony with the rhythm of the city’. This already suggests the resonant immersion in the forms and forces of contemporary global capital, figured in the ‘rhythm’ of the city.

            This is an experience intimately and explicitly connected with contemporary neoliberal capitalism, which Preciado characterizes as ‘a new type of hot, psychotropic punk capitalism.’ Here capitalism converges and incites ‘molecular’ biopolitical transformation through ‘micro-prosthetic mechanisms’ and new ‘multimedia technical protocols’. What interests me is that, in common with the CCRU, the strategy Preciado pursues is one of identification and immersion with these new forms of power. The ‘drug’ experience, this molecular intoxication, is not a device of transcendence or escape per se, but rather insertion with and within the ‘chains’ of signifiers and ‘materialities’ of the present.

            The result is the common gesture of the immanent and networked litany:

I inject a crystalline, oil-soluble steroid carbon chain of molecules, and with it a fragment of the history of modernity. I administer to myself a series of economic transactions, a collection of pharmaceutical decisions, clinical tests, focus groups, and business management techniques. I connect to a baroque network of exchange and to economic and political flow-chains for the patenting of the living. I am linked by T to electricity, to genetic research projects, to mega-urbanization, to the destruction of forests and the biosphere, to pharmaceutical exploitation of living species, to Dolly the cloned sheep, to the advance of the Ebola virus, to HIV mutation, to antipersonnel mines and the broadband transmission of information. In this way, I become one of the somatic connectives that make possible the circulation of power, desire, release, submission, capital, rubbish, and rebellion.

The conclusion: ‘I’m the platform that makes possible the materialization of political imagination.’

            This is an intoxicated and willed extinction of the self, especially the gendered self, into the mere ‘platform’ for affects, materialities, and signifiers. Insertion is the aim. Yet, this is figured not simply as immanent extinction and immersion at the expense of agency. Instead a strange new form of ‘agency’ is born: ‘I’m both the terminal of one of the apparatuses of neoliberal governmentality and the vanishing point through which escapes the will to control of the system.’ What might be thought to imply the surrender of the self to neoliberal capital is, it is claimed, a ‘vanishing point’ to immanent exit. This is registered in the usual discourse of neoliberal availability: ‘I am a copyleft biopolitical agent that considers sex hormones free and open biocodes, whose use shouldn’t be regulated by the State commandeered by pharmaceutical companies.’

            The aim is to ‘produce a new sexual and affective platform’ in which ‘T is only a threshold, a molecular door, a becoming between multiplicities.’ The reference to the ‘threshold’ and ‘molecular door’ echo the weird fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, or Lovecraft channelled via Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus. The choice is, however, of what I’d call the hippy Lovecraft. This is the Dunsanian Lovecraft of transformation and metamorphosis, of Through the Gates of the Silver Key, happily consonant with Deleuze’s Jungian roots. What is displaced is the Lovecraft of horror. The molecular door is affirmed and positivised as exit and escape, traversing the platform-being of contemporary capitalism, rather than the negative horror of loss and dispersion.

            This is the strange logic of holding-on at work, in which immersion is disappearance but one that pushes or nudges immanence beyond the supposed limits of the capitalist form. True to Deleuze and Guattari’s anti-oedipal formulations it traces agency and possibility as modes of ‘hypertrophy’.[10] The primary target is the State, as symbol of control of fluxes and flows, which makes the usual correlation of power with planning, capture, and transcendent control. Immanence flees beneath, in terms of riding, supposedly, the lines of capitalist flight. The conformity of this strategy with neoliberal capitalism’s own imaginary is not commented upon.

Closing the molecular door

The problematic core around which these discourses turn is one of absorption into actuality as the site of transformation. The stakes here turn on the right choice of molecule to enter into molecular becomings. This is a metaphysics of self as platform to insert the self into ‘real’ production. ‘Real’ here is not the usual sense of ‘real production’ as manufacturing, etc., versus ‘financial or fictional capital’. Obviously this distinction doesn’t hold up. Instead ‘real’ here has the Lacanian sense, vectored through Deleuze and Guattari, of immersion into a machinic production that encompasses all the flows and fluxes, simulacral and ‘real’, in one metaphysics of differentiated production. Of course, I’d suggest, lurking within this metaphysics is a suspicion of the fictional or simulacral, which is rapidly displaced by the productive virtual.

            In the moment of capitalist crisis this immersive acceleration refigures the triggering of production, of creative destruction directed against the ‘bourgeois ego’, as we immanently inhabit our own potential or actual obsolescence. Drugs or intoxication are not matters of insulating or cushioning against this loss, but active choices to intensity and inhabit this process. The ‘platform being’ of the present moment is the being of creative destruction. What is welcomed here is not the accelerative force of capital, which has dispersed into intractable crisis, but the future possibility of restarting that acceleration through stripping out the ‘residues’ of humanism and the remnants of the welfare State.

            This is the peculiar intoxicated acceleration of our moment: a capitalist ostalgie that retools the search for transcendence through drugs into immanence that selects only overload. The inadequacy of this discourse should be self-evident. The fading of dreams of jouissance in counter-culture is turned into a nihilistic inhabiting of the superior force of the only actuality we have: capitalism in crisis. What is lost is any negativity, any displacement or resistance, as that negativity is hyperbolically reinscribed as the negation of the self. It’s enough to make you want to take drugs.


[1] Walter Benjamin, On Hashish, intro. Marcus Boon, ed. Howard Eiland (Cambridge, Mass. and London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006), p.20.
[2] Jacques Derrida, ‘The Rhetoric of Drugs’, in Points: interviews, 1974-1994, ed. Elisabeth Weber (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995), pp.228-254, pp.235-6.
[3] The exception to this structure, in fact an exception at the origin, is Thomas De Quincey. His Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821) not only insists that opium is not intoxicating, but that is also serves a transcendental function. Opium increases the capacity of the intellect to subsume content under form; in the language of Kant it augments the transcendental schematism.
[4] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi (London: The Athlone Press, 1988), p.282.
[5] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus [1972], trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), p.417.
[6] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p.282. Further page references in text.
[7] William Burroughs, The Naked Lunch [1959] (London: Paladin, 1986), p.63.
[8] Benjamin, On Hashish, p.55.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Alexander R. Galloway and Eugene Thacker, The Exploit: A Theory of Networks (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), p.98.