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<nettime> Deleuze, and (Which) Politics?
Stevphen Shukaitis on Wed, 6 Oct 2010 10:39:14 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Deleuze, and (Which) Politics?


Deleuze, and (Which) Politics?
Stevphen Shukaitis
 From Culture Machine (http://www.culturemachine.net)

If, somewhere out in the world, there was a social-political theory- 
marketing firm, its CEO would have to conclude that the Deleuze brand  
has done exceptionally well. Over the past four decades it has moved  
from marginal Francophone export to a near hegemonic discourse that  
has infiltrated multiple academic disciplines, areas of political  
discussion, and sections of the art world. Moreover, it has attained  
this status, spawning various cottage industries, while continuing to  
hold the interest of many people involved in social movement politics.  
It is this sense of Deleuze’s work as connected to radical politics,  
even if there is still a lingering uncertainty about the nature of its  
radicality (Buchanan, 2000), that continually renews interest in his  
ideas and facilitates their circulation.

Thus we come to Deleuze & Politics, a collection edited by Nick  
Thoburn and Ian Buchanan, as part of the ever-growing flagship line of  
the Deleuze brand, the “Deleuze Connections” series. It is a series  
that takes seriously the much quoted injunction of Deleuze to move  
from an ontology based on the notion ‘or’ (this or that) to one of the  
multiplicity of ‘and’ (this and that, and that, and that). And this  
has been followed through quite literally, spawning a whole series of  
collections connecting Deleuze and an immense array of topics: Deleuze  
and… Contemporary Art (Zepke and O’Sullivan, 2010), Feminist Theory  
(Buchanan and Colebrook, 2000), Geophilosophy (Bonta and Protevi,  
2004), History (Bell and Colebrook, 2009), Literature (Buchanan and  
Marks, 2000), Music (Buchanan and, Swiboda 2004), New Technology  
(Savat and Poster, 2009), Performance (Cull, 2009), Philosophy  
(Boundas, 2006), Queer Theory (Nigianni and Storr, 2009), Space  
(Buchanan and Lambert, 2005), The Contemporary World (Buchanan and  
Parr, 2006), The Postcolonial (Bignall and Patton, 2010), The Social  
(Fuglsang and Sorensen, 2006), as well as the Deleuze Studies journal.  
And one would not want to forget forthcoming titles in the series  
including ones on Ethics (Smith and Jun, 2011) and The Body (Guillaume  
and Hughes, 2010). At times it seems that the assemblage of Deleuzian  
theory is capable of proliferating in almost absurdly expansive ways,  
recombining itself with almost anything and everything.

Such concerns aside, what does this collection tell us about the  
relation between Deleuze’s ideas/approach and politics? And in what  
ways could these insights be used for rethinking ongoing political  
questions today? First and foremost there is a strong effort to show  
that Deleuze is a political thinker in his own right, and not just in  
his collaborations with Guattari. While this might seem not all that  
surprising argument, it is a good counter to the tendency to strip  
Delueze’s work of politics (often but not just through the stripping  
away of Guattari), rendering it into a clever machine that can be  
endlessly recombined with almost any topic to say interesting but  
relatively harmless things. But more important than the affirmation of  
Deleuze as a political thinker, what we find in this collection is a  
wide range of topics which can both enlighten and be enlightened by  
the concepts and questions found in Deleuze’s work.

The essays in this collection address a wide variety of areas  
including questions of micropolitics, war, friendship,  
theromodynamics, political militancy, ethnicity, the European Union,  
mythmaking, cynicism, as well as others. As Thoburn and Buchanan  
describe in their introduction, if the events of May 1968 resulted in  
a kind of failure that rendered strategic thinking impossible (a  
debatable argument), Deleuze and Guattari’s work responds to this  
challenge, tracing out genealogies of how desires are formed and  
invested within particular configurations. From there, they explore  
how the reconfigurations of these social relations and associations  
are possible. From this perspective, the dizzying array of ways that  
Deleuze’s work can be thought in relation to politics is not a fault,  
but rather a key concept: political strategies are not formed within a  
particular isolated realm of the political, but through the spaces  
created by conjoining and carving out spaces within these realms.	It  
is the varying nature of these conjunctions, or creating of space in  
an area, that is of the most crucial important. It is how the ‘and’ of  
the Deleuzian connection becomes more than a grammatical operator and  
indeed becomes a properly conceptual one. This becomes more complex as  
it put to different uses. This can be seen in Buchanan’s assertion  
that Deleuze and Guattari’s approach to understanding social  
formations through the flows of desire that structure them as “though  
complex in its details, is in fact relatively simple and not  
unfamiliar in its thrust” (18). One encounters a similar argument in  
the essay by Isabelle Garo, in which she comments that the political  
dimension of Delueze’s work is “as evident as it is allusive”(68). For  
Garo the political dimension of Deleuze’s work is indeed real, but  
more problematically, and interestingly:

that does not mean that political analysis or even a political  
perspective can be found in a strictly defined way in his work. And  
the paradoxical feeling that his thought does have a specifically  
political contemporary relevance perhaps stems from the fact that what  
was in the process of disappearing when he wrote his work is,  
precisely, in the process or re-emerging today: in both cases a figure  
becomes blurred and persists at the same time, the very idea of  
politics dissolves and is redefined, as that which never ceases to  
haunt philosophy and also to escape it. (71)

Perhaps it is this blurred persistence that makes Deleuze’s work and  
its applications both useful, but at the same time occasionally  
frustrating, in their proliferation. For instance, you could argue, as  
Paul Patton does on the relation between Deleuze and democratic  
politics, that because Deleuze and Guattari do not directly address  
the normative principles that inform their work, or how they might be  
articulated within present social conditions, “their machinic social  
ontology remains formal in relation to actual societies and forms of  
political organization” (183). Conversely one could see this, far from  
being a weakness, as the foundation of why Deleuze’s ideas remain  
relevant: in their open relation to rethinking questions and political  
strategy and forming new concepts. Phillipe Mengue seems to hint  
towards this in his essay on political fabulation when he discusses  
Deleuze’s often-quoted statement that the people are missing. For  
Mengue, the absence of the people as pre-given formation, far from  
eliminating the possibility of politics, “makes possible not only a  
new concept of politics but also a new function for the people,  
essentially and exclusively the function of resistance” (225). This  
could just as easily be said about Deleuze himself: that his absence  
as a fixed pre-given form within this area known as “Deleuze  
studies” (or work inspired by or using Deleuzian ideas) is so  
productive precisely because of its absent center, around which other  
forms can be generated. It is thus both a limitation and possibility,  
or a proliferation of endless possibilities (and, and, and) that might  
also conversely be an unrealized limitation. After all, there is a  
limit to what a body of work can do.

Let’s broadly say, then, that there are three main approaches to how  
the conjunction between Deleuze and politics is understood and  
developed, both within this collection and more broadly. Rough they are:

- Deleuzian politics: working from Deleuze’s particular engagements  
with ideas or politics, or elaborating the politics argued to be  
inherent to a concept or set of ideas.
- Deleuze & politics: using Deleuzian concepts to analyze given  
political phenomena.
- Deleuze in & against politics: working from within the entangled and  
mutated bastardizations of concepts that start from, drift around and/ 
or through a Deleuzian landscape.

This is obviously a rough typology, to say the least, but one that is  
still useful. For the most part it is the first two modalities that  
are prevalent within academic work and writing. These approaches  
attempt to fix, whether precisely or not, an object that is identified  
as Deleuze, and then seek to develop a politics directly out of those  
concepts or by applying them to analyze other phenomena. These are  
approaches that maintain the theoretical real estate of the proper  
name. And indeed work done from such perspectives can be quite useful.  
But it runs into two problems. First, a limit might be reached to the  
theoretical creativity of a body of work. Second, there might be a  
problem with pinning down a relation for long enough to work with it.   
Closure and the lack of closure can have the same effect: they can  
both limit the productivity of engagement.

And this brings us to the third category, namely the area of  
bastardization, mutation, and recombination. At first sight, this area  
would seem to be properly Deleuzian, even if the continual  
transformation and encoding was precisely serving to avoid being fixed  
as this or that, or this and that. This flux seems to cause problems  
for how something like a Deleuzian politics is understood. Take for  
instance Peter Hallward’s Out of this World (2006), which employs an  
approach very much like Deleuze’s to the history of philosophy to  
tackle Deleuze’s work itself. Hallward centers his book around the  
idea of creation, arguing that Deleuze’s work is based on the endless  
power and possibility of the virtual over the compromised capacity of  
the actual. This results in a politics that can only lead out of this  
world, because the potential of the actualized world is always  
compromised in comparison to the virtual. Therefore, Deleuze’s  
concepts and politics are insufficient for the demands of radical  
politics precisely because of how they lead one out of the world  
rather than through the pressing tasks and demands of the present.  
There is substance to this book and it is worth reading and  
considering. One could take issue with Hallward’s understanding of how  
the virtual and actual are coupled, but the issue here is more  
pressing: Hallward never considers the ways that people engaged in  
political movements use Deleuze’s concepts. It is curious that a book  
claiming that Deleuze’s concepts are insufficient for engaging with  
politics in the world spends little time actually looking at what  
happens when such ideas are mobilized in politics. In other words, an  
argument made about the politics inherently contained in a set of  
ideas is then used to make an argument about what potential they have.  
Hallward makes an argument about the political usefulness of a set of  
ideas or approach without giving almost any attention to how they are  
actually used.

One could offer as a counter to this kind of argument many of the  
pieces found within this collection. These chapters illustrate clearly  
that Deleuzian concepts do not necessarily mean a flowing out of the  
world. Perhaps they refocus the task of exiting from this world, or  
plotting an exodus to a more liberatory form of social relations  
contained within the virtual potential of the present. But going out  
of this world need not be interpreted literally, but in terms of  
finding escape routes from the domination of the present to reshape,  
or to find weapons and concepts in that fleeing that would be useful  
for reshaping the present. For instance one could take as a prime  
example Radio Alice and the Italian autonomist movements of the late  
1970s. The first broadcast of Radio Alice in February 1976 invited  
people to stay in bed and make musical instruments and war machines.  
The activities of Radio Alice (as well as its name) were based around  
a playful reading of Deleuze’s The Logic of Sense, and thinking about  
the effects of language, of breaking communication and meaning, and  
how these ideas could be fused with the tactics of the historical  
avant-garde into a strategy for media politics and confrontation.  
These ideas spread to other autonomous movements of the time, such  
that there were demonstrations that included slogans based on the  
ideas of Anti-Oedipus.(1)

Or to approach this another way, when considering the relation between  
Deleuze and politics (or any other thinker), the politics of that  
conjunction do not necessarily follow from characteristics inherent to  
the concepts employed but in how they are employed. This is another  
way of saying that a great part, perhaps even the majority, of the  
politics of any concept is in how it is enacted within social  
relations of that enactment rather than in and of concept itself. As  
Hakim Bey once observed, it is not necessary to fully or properly  
understand a concept in order to use it. And this is why the  
bastardized, mutated forms of how ideas are employed become important  
(often without proper reference at all), particularly with theorists  
such as Deleuze and Guattari whose influence is key within social  
movements and radical politics. This conjunction of Deleuze and  
politics, of Deleuze in the movement of the political, is much more  
difficult to track with any certainty.(2) To give an example of this,  
the work of someone like Bey has been quite influenced by the ideas of  
Delueze and Guattari, which have in turn been translated into concepts  
(such as the idea of Temporary Autonomous Zones) that have been quite  
influential within anarchist politics during the past two decades. But  
even as Deleuze’s ideas influence someone like Bey (he once described  
his politics as based around “non-hegemonic particularities in a  
nomadological or rhizomatic mutuality of synergistic  
solidarities” (Bey, 1996), a phrase inflected with more than a degree  
of Deleuzian influence), he very rarely cites Deleuze directly. In  
this way, much of the influence of Deleuze’s in political social  
movements, flowing and developing in minor and subterranean  
modalities, gets passed over or not noticed.

Deleuze and politics, therefore, becomes a composition that animates  
and underlies the social configuration that embodies an elaboration of  
politics using Deleuzian concepts. This is what Nick Thoburn suggests  
in his essay on political militancy and subjectivity when he suggests  
that if Anti-Oedipus was a book of antifascist ethics (as Foucault  
claimed), then A Thousand Plateaus is “precisely concerned with the  
exploration of modes and techniques of intensive composition, often of  
a most experimental and liminal kind” (114). This is how Thoburn  
frames Deleuze and Guattari’s work in terms of thinking through  
questions of militant subjectivity, of finding ways around the  
hardening or ossifying closure of political possibility, or a diffuse  
form that becomes untenable. The question of militant subjectivity as  
composition is precisely one of unfolding subjectivity within a  
broader process of social movement, or the reconfiguration of the  
social world. Very much the same question is taken up by Jason Read in  
his contribution to the volume as he explores questions around the  
production of subjectivity within capitalism, arguing that every mode  
of production is at the same time inseparable from a form of  
subjection that is necessary to its operation. For Read, this  
illustrates the ways in which capitalism is both a revolution in  
production and subjectivation, as revolution that appears as  
liberation, one that Deleuze and Guattari explore to show how it  
constantly tries to constrain and make productive that which escapes it.

This focus on questions of composition and subjectivation within  
capitalism picks up on some of the most fruitful directions for the  
development of Deleuzian concepts, by hybridizing them with concepts  
and arguments coming out of autonomist and post-workerist traditions  
of politics and analysis. The composition of subjectivity is  
understood both as a form of political composition, but also in  
relation to the changing technical composition of capitalist  
valorization. Perhaps it is the lingering effect of Empire, where  
previously there seemed to be an implicit divide between using ideas  
developed by figures such as Deleuze and Foucault at the same time as  
drawing from the Marxist tradition. This, thankfully, has fallen away.  
This sort of autonomist-Deleuze influence approach to politics and  
social theory can be seen in the work of Thoburn (2003), Read (2003),  
Terranova (2004), DJ Spooky (2004), Bratich (2008), Papadopoulos,  
Stephenson, and Tsianos (2008), as well others. To the same tradition,  
we can add a recent issue of Deleuze Studies which takes up the  
relation between Deluze and Marx (Jain, 2009), an issue of New  
Formations (Gilbert and Nigianni, 2010) on Deleuzian politics, and the  
work of the Team Colors collective (2010).  All of these elaborate a  
compositional approach to similar questions.

Paolo Virno once described the miracles of the multitude as being the  
awaited but unexpected events that radically change and transform the  
political configuration of the present (1996). Over the past several  
decades the work of Deleuze has become seemingly indispensable in the  
ongoing task of analyzing the transformations and mutations of  
capital, subjectivity, ethics, aesthetics, and an almost endless list  
of topics and areas. Indeed, at times the proliferating assemblage of  
politics taking up Deleuze’s ideas nearly stretches beyond a point  
that would hold them together with any sense of coherence. At the same  
time, enacting a precise closure or delimitation of these  
proliferations in any particular configuration would shut down the  
very productivity that makes them interesting. This is the problem and  
possibility that lingers in the question of Deleuze and politics: how  
far can this relationship be stretched without breaking, or held  
together without losing its vitality? While this collection is not  
likely to answer that question conclusively (and it is doubtful  
whether it could or if this would be desirable), it does provide a  
number of tools, weapons, and routes for teasing out this conjunction.  
If we take up the idea that “desire belongs to the  
infrastructure” (139), which is central to Jason Read’s piece, we  
might conversely say that the imagination of a Deleuzian politics, in  
so far that there is one, belongs to the infrastructure of politics  
that compose that infrastructure, constantly folding over and  
recreating itself in new mutations.

Endnotes
1. For more on the use of Deleuze’s work in Italian autonomous  
movements see Beradi (2009) and Berardi, Jacquemet, Vitali (2009).
2. Hopefully the forthcoming post-anarchist reader (Rousselle and  
Evren, forthcoming 2011) will at least partially address this.

References
Bell, J. and C. Colebrook (eds) (2009) Deleuze and History. Edinburgh:  
Edinburgh University Press.
Berardi, F. (2009) Precarious Rhapsody: Semiocapitalism and the  
pathologies of post-alpha generation. London: Minor Compositions.
Berardi, F., M. Jacquemet, G. Vitali (2009) Ethereal Shadows:  
Communications and Power in Contemporary Italy. Brooklyn: Autonomedia.
Bey, H. (1996) Millenium. Brooklyn: Autonomedia. Also available at http://hermetic.com/bey/millennium/index.html
Bignall, S. and P. Patton (eds) (2010) Deleuze and the Postcolonial.  
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Bonta, M. and J. Protevi (2004) Deleuze and Geophilosophy: A Guide and  
Glossary. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Boundas, C. (ed.) (2006) Deleuze and Philosophy. Edinburgh: Edinburgh  
University Press.
Bratich, J.Z. (2008) Conspiracy Panics: Political Rationality and  
Popular Culture. Binghamton: SUNY Press.
Buchanan, I. (2000) Deleuzism: A Metacommentary. Edinburgh: Edinburgh  
University Press.
Buchanan, I. and C. Colebrook (eds) (2000) Deleuze and Feminist  
Theory. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Buchanan, I. and J. Marks (eds) (2000) Deleuze and Literature.  
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Buchanan, I. and M. Swiboda (eds) (2004) Deleuze and Music. Edinburgh:  
Edinburgh University Press.
Buchanan, I. and G. Lambert (eds) (2005) Deleuze and Space. Edinburgh:  
Edinburgh University Press.
Buchanan, I. and A. Parr (eds) (2006) Deleuze and the Contemporary  
World. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Cull, L. (ed.) (2009) Deleuze and Performance. Edinburgh: Edinburgh  
University Press.
DJ Spooky (2004) Rhythm science. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Fuglsang, M. and B.M. Sorensen (eds) (2006) Deleuze and the Social.  
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Gilbert, J. and C. Nigianni, Eds. (2010) New Formations: a journal of  
culture/theory/politics, Number 68, Deleuzian Politics?
Guillaume, L. and J. Hughes (eds) (forthcoming 2010) Deleuze and the  
Body. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Hallward, P. (2006) Out of This World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of  
Creation. London: Verso.
Jain, D. (Ed.) (2009) Deleuze Studies Volume 3 Supplement Issue,  
Deleuze and Marx.
Nigianni, C. and M. Storr (eds) (2009) Deleuze and Queer Theory.  
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Papadopoulos, D., N. Stephenson, and V. Tsianos (2008) Escape Routes:  
Control and Subversion in the 21st Century. London: Pluto Press.
Read, J. (2003) The Micro-Politics of Capital: Marx and the Prehistory  
of the Present. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Rousselle, D. and S. Evren (forthcoming 2011) Post-Anarchism: A  
Reader. London: Pluto.
Savat, D. and M. Poster (eds) (2009) Deleuze and New Technology.  
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Smith, D. and N. Jun (eds) (forthcoming 2011) Deleuze and Ethics.  
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Team Colors (eds) (2010) Uses of a Whirlwind: Movement, Movements, and  
Contemporary Radical Currents in the United States. Oakland: AK Press.  
Also, www.warmachines.info.
Terranova, T. (2004) Network Culture: Politics for the Information  
Age. London: Pluto Press.
Thoburn, N. (2003) Deleuze, Marx, and Politics. London: Routledge.
Virno, P. (1996) “Virtuosity and Revolution: A Political Theory of  
Exodus,” Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics. M. Hardt and  
P. Virno (Eds) Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Zepke, S. and S. O’Sullivan (eds) (2010) Deleuze and Contemporary Art.  
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

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