Jordan Crandall on Tue, 12 Feb 2008 09:19:17 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> On "Readiness"

An Actor Prepares
Jordan Crandall

published on CTheory 2/7/2008

In the midst of ambulances, police cars and emergency personnel, one
man lays motionless upon the hot pavement. His head is swathed in
bandages, as if it were mummified, completely concealing his features,
save for his mouth. His body, remarkably at ease, is placed atop a
stretcher. No one attends to him; he appears to have been carried
on the stretcher for some time and then abruptly dropped upon the
asphalt. His arms are outstretched, falling open to his sides, in a
gesture of surrender or sacrifice. Police, firemen, and emergency
workers circulate around him, but they seem to pay him no attention.
Nearby, a tall woman with a bloody arm drifts about aimlessly, as if
she were between takes in a horror film. A helicopter hovers overhead,
a rescue person dangling from it. From behind the barricades, a crowd
of onlookers gawks. The scene has the quality of a Hollywood stageset.
Everyone moves in slow motion, as if in the midst of rehearsing for a
role. One woman fearfully clutches a baby while gazing skyward, as if
to protect it from some danger looming there. But she stands frozen,
as if modeling for a Madonna-and-child painting. And the baby is fake.

As it turns out, this is indeed a rehearsal. It is an exercise in
preparedness -- designed to simulate, in real time, an actual terror
attack. The major players are real: about two hundred city/county
officials and public safety personnel from the San Diego police and
fire departments, SWAT, HAZMAT, and the Metropolitan Medical Strike
Team, along with emergency room physicians, nurses, and technicians
from the University of California at San Diego Medical Center. The
event was hosted by UCSD and its new technology research center, the
California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology
(CAL-IT2), and occurred on the grounds of CAL-IT2's campus building,
Atkinson Hall. According to the press release, Atkinson Hall was for
this day to "simulate the frontline in the war on terrorism."[1] The
exercise was charged with the air of urgency and importance that such
a role entails, but at a much slower speed, and with a noticeable
degree of self-consciousness due to its uneasy combination of systems
test, trade fair, and disaster simulation, informed by the codes of
reality television.

However, such exercises shouldn't seem so unusual in San Diego. It
is a city that has long been one of the country's most important
military centers, especially for the Navy, of whose facilities it
houses the largest concentration in the world. The university campus
itself was once an Army base, and military-related businesses and
facilities abound in the region. San Diego is a major center for
defense-related manufacturing, home to businesses that contract to
the military for security applications, logistical services, unmanned
aerial systems, and personnel. It is one of the primary arenas for
the flows between academia, industry, and the military, and one of
the global centers for biotechnology research. When considering its
geographical positioning -- bounded by Hollywood just to the north and
the increasingly militarized border with Mexico just to the south --
one could say that the campus is uniquely situated in a region that is
a primary node of the global security-entertainment complex. With all
this in mind, one shouldn't be surprised to happen upon such a terror
simulation. In fact, it is surprising that such simulations don't
happen more often, as part of the university curriculum:

VOLUNTEER TO PLAY THE ROLE OF VICTIMS. Want to become a "volunteer
victim"? You will need to be at Atkinson Hall from 7am to 3pm, and
you'll be given a free t-shirt and lunch. All volunteer victims will
be given an injury script and instructions on how to act disoriented
and panicked. Some victims may be transferred to area hospitals via
ambulance or helicopter. Most victims will wear faux injury make-up
(moulage) to add realism to the day's event. Some victims will be
"decontaminated" by the first responders in tents and with fire
engines. This is a great opportunity to see your first responders in
action in the midst of all the excitement!

-- campus recruitment notice

Perhaps this is what the educational experience will soon become
as university campuses become even further absorbed, structurally,
into the military-industrial complex. It was certainly attractive to
students: about one hundred of them signed up to participate. Such
interactive simulations could well provide a solution for classroom
overcrowding, as well as provide an outlet for aggressive impulses
that could otherwise burst forth in the occasional rampage. They
could provide an attractive study mode for students who are more
used to gaming than reading. Perhaps these students, well-versed in
simulations, reality media, and the development of user-generated web
content, were drawn to this particular exercise as a way to somehow
"inhabit" the war -- to inhabit the war on terror as if it were a game
world or theme park ride.

How to account for this "thrill of inhabitation?" For the most
part, as critics, we usually dismiss it. We can easily fold it into
a general critique of the apparatuses of the war machine -- its
mystifications, its false enticements, its disciplinary functions.
Our line of reasoning might go like this. Within the military- and
corporate-fueled regimes of spectacle, subjects are produced as
docile soldier-consumers, surfaces for the production of a range
of enticements and effects. We are made adequate to the demands of
state and corporate power, seamlessly integrated into the machine,
our perceptual and sensorial faculties adjusted accordingly. We are
victim, like the bound and bandaged man laying before me on the
stretcher, a sad pawn in a larger game for which we do not set the
rules. No sites of invention and performative agency are possible; if
they seem to be, they are illusory, already structurally provided for
by the system. A faux victim like the one in the terror exercise is
not only the "victim" of a (simulated) attack, but of the discursive
institution of terror itself.

Standing there in the midst of the simulation, however, this script
suddenly changed. Or rather, my role in it did. Perhaps, like the
student on the stretcher, I too wanted a new study mode, a new mode of
engagement. I wanted to play a different part: a part through which I
could discover and retool my own victim-ness -- not through analysis,
but through immersion. Yes, I am driven to inhabit the war, play the
roles demanded of me, through technological, discursive, and psychic
apparatuses. Yet these apparatuses are all shot through with desire.
There are pleasures that draw me in, implicate me. I want to account
for these pleasures, and in so doing, discover the transformative
agency that might lurk there.

And so I, too, was hailed by some casting agency -- some amorphous
institutional entity that likewise sought me as "volunteer victim." If
this were a Hollywood film, my role switch might have been occasioned
by a strike to the head, a grand catastrophe, an electrical zap, or an
"act of God." As it was, the only heralding soundtrack was the shriek
of a police siren -- a fake one. No matter: in the next instant,
I realized that I had heeded the casting Call. I am not sure how
to name the role was that I was compelled to play, since we do not
have a critical vocabulary for it. However I do know this: the role
required me to move from a distanced (critical) perspective to a more
implicated one. No more critiques of the war machine from afar: I was
then compelled to account for the thrill of inhabiting it, leaving the
door ajar.

* * *

It was then, in the very moment of my transition, that something very
curious began to happen. As I shifted out of my old role, the man
on the stretcher began to move more deeply into his new one. While
I would like to think that I had approached my new role with some
reserve (we shall see), the man, swept up in the momentum of the
event, had clearly begun to inhabit his part all too well. I'm not
sure to what extent he had been coached -- all volunteer victims were
given an "injury script" -- but I'm sure that he well exceeded what
was expected of him.

The man became increasingly agitated, jostling in his stretcher,
his bandaged face hot and swollen like a match head. His gaze --
though not actually visible through the slits of his bandages --
seemed to dart back and forth across the commons. A "decontamination
engine" fired up nearby, with several actor-victims beginning to dance
gleefully in the spray of a decontamination hosedown. Their heads
thrown back, their arms aflail, they emitted a chorus of giggles,
which mixed with the hissing of the firehoses and the applause of
the appreciative onlookers, who seemed to mistake it for a circus
act. The firemen shuffled uneasily. Against this backdrop -- and
perhaps sensing that he was being upstaged -- the man on the stretcher
began to emit a low, guttural roar, which seemed to rise up from the
depths of his being. The roar vibrated in unison with the mechanical
rumble of the generators and emergency machines. It resounded across
the commons, a strange hybrid of human and machinic discharge. His
guttural emission, having rapidly increased in volume and pitch, then
phase-shifted into a wild screech that cut through the commons like a
knife. At that very moment, everyone in the vicinity froze -- as if a
director somewhere had yelled, "Cut!"

Standing as if in freeze frame -- even arms that were formerly aflail
were now held in suspension -- everyone seemed to sense, at least for
a brief moment, that reality had intervened, and the terror exercise
had somehow transitioned from virtual to actual. With this brief
eruption of the Real, one could have expected to witness a burst of
authentic movement -- a spasm of flow. However, in this case, one
encountered only its opposite: a strangely unmoving tableau.

The blood rushes back in, and one looks to others to quickly establish
the terms of the game. How strange it is that, when someone becomes
drastically unmoored, making recourse only to a kind of primal
screech, one cannot be "caught" looking. Decorum requires a furtive,
sidelong glance. The crowd members shift nervously in their positions
and try to appear to go about their business, while stealing a
quick succession of such looks. I notice that the man's hands are
clenching the stretcher; his bandaged head is vibrating like a power
tool; and his mouth is open in a wild grimace. Is he experiencing
fear or exhilaration? A pleasurable ride or a dance with death? Or
the jouissance of risk itself: the pleasure of the gamble and its
contradictory excitations?

A moment of calm. Perhaps he is gathering his wits? Not so: As he
lies there, periodic shrieks begin to erupt out of him, much to the
dismay of everyone assembled in the vicinity, who could, after all,
do nothing to silence him without "breaking character." There is
no escaping the gravitational pull of the Hollywood disaster film:
when called forth to play the victim, nothing less than a War of the
Worlds-worthy shriek will do. Even the extras inherently know the

The shrieking man, convulsing on the pavement, seemed to be engaged
in a process of literally becoming a victim, rather than mere
role-playing. One immediately thinks of the Rossellini film General
della Rovere, or even the Hirschbiegel film Das Experiment, where
the lead characters, swept up in the roles they are compelled to
play, begin to see these roles as some sort of symbolic mandate,
to the extent that they literally become what they had (formerly)
impersonated. As Slavoj Zizek would say, insisting on the false mask
can bring us nearer to a true, authentic subjective position than
throwing off the mask and displaying our "true face." A mask is not a
false disguise but an agent of realization which determines the actual
place we occupy in the intersubjective symbolic network, and thus our
social role. In other words what is effectively "false" is not the
mask itself, but the inner distance we take from it -- the illusion
that our "true self" is hidden behind it. Perhaps, as Zizek suggests,
the path to an authentic subjective position runs from the outside
inward: first, we pretend to be someone, and then gradually, step by
step, we actually become that person.[2]

If this were taken as an acting strategy, it would no doubt horrify
Constantin Stanislavski who, in his seminal treatise on acting
technique -- referenced in the title of this essay -- fights
against such "representational" approaches.[3] Instead, he offers
a presentational approach where authentic character emotion and
subsequent action do not come from the outside inward but from the
inside outward. Here it is the mask that is false, the true face real
-- something that emerges from interior states of being. One could
argue that these interior states are always-already colonized by
media images and thus subject to their symbolic mandates. However,
more productively, one could situate this dynamic of self-formation
in terms of emergence, where questions of authenticity are replaced
with those involving more complex systems and strata. Here the "true
self," as it coalesces with the intensive and extensive registers, is
always-already an ecology.

* * *

All ecologies have their atmospheres. Needless to say, with the man's
continued shrieks, the collective atmosphere of the terror drill had
changed. Yet the show must go on. Though we don't fully know the rules
of this new game, the disruption is not enough to provoke chaos: there
is still a social contract to which we are beholden. We continue to
avoid gawking at the convulsing man, our heads scanning across the
commons, as if nothing were amiss. Or, our heads lowered, we avert
our eyes -- unsure of how to deal politely with the outburst. (It's
not polite to stare.) Our movements are socially constrained. We
are caught in some kind of elaborate social choreography. Yet this
choreography is not only social: it is also institutional, partly
shaped through the regulatory agencies of education, policing, safety,
and health. It is the product of a combinatory social, institutional,
and technical machinery -- a machinery that traverses bodies, objects,
and social environments.

Let's refer to this machinery as an apparatus. The apparatus is
instituted and stabilized by various regulatory domains, which include
the institution of policing and emergency response, but it also
embraces wider discursive contracts through which social and operative
protocols are maintained. The apparatus shapes the legitimacy of our
perspective and positions us as subjects: it conditions the legitimacy
of our identities and the places from which we speak. It generates
somatic adjustments, optimizing the body to perform.

The apparatus is subject to continual modification. The apparatus
runs the programs of its regulatory institutions, yet, since these
are partly social phenomena, these programs will change as they are
instantiated in practice. Change can happen at any point in the
practice or performance of the system. But this change does not happen
only at the level of an abstract body: it happens at the level of
the body's material substrate and within the field of its affective
transmissions, which are not necessarily visible in the field of the
social (or at least the terms by which we account for it). Like the
agitated actor on the pavement, we sometimes squirm as we move and
are maneuvered within the substrates of the machineries. Thousands of
stimuli constantly impinge upon us, embroiling us in a larger sensory
network that overcomes all regulations. Our bodies negotiate this, but
we're not aware of it. We might sense it as "mood." Potential actions
brew inside us, to be expressed outwardly or infolded/repressed
inwardly. Our interior states push at the boundaries of visibility
with the potential to erupt at any moment: someone could sigh, someone
could shout in frustration, someone could gesture abruptly, someone
could leave the room. Like the volcanic, erupting man, someone could
"blow his top."

If power is the site of the repressive, then these considerations
are a site for the excessive. They do not settle for the concept
of a contained body as a convenient abstraction. Disciplinary
power is generally understood to operate through containment and
regulatory force, yet these sensory transmissions and their eruptive
potentials overcome all regulations, unsettling the stability of
the body's confines. If the former operates through signification,
the latter transgresses it. Each, then, requires a different mode
of apprehension. Following the Brazilian theorist Suely Rolnik we
might articulate the distinction as follows: we have two different
ways of apprehending the material world -- either as "pattern of
form" or as "field of force." The first involves perception as it
confronts the world of formal presence -- the world that we negotiate
through representation. The second involves sensation -- the world
of living presence that we negotiate through transmission.[4] These
modes of apprehension certainly work in conjunction with one another;
yet to acknowledge both is to reach the limits of discourse. Rather
than relying solely upon reductive form, or signification, we are
challenged to incorporate resonation and excess -- not speech alone,
but also screech.

An Apparatus Prepares

If the repressive is about position, then the excessive is about
disposition. The body is not only enclosed but also disposed. It
wiggles within the ordering forces that maintain its coherence. By
virtue of its resonances and transmissions it is already outside
itself. It is fixed yet moving, material yet incorporeal. It manifests
what Brian Massumi has described as a "self-disjunctive coinciding" --
a conversion or unfolding of the body that is contemporary with its
every move, which sinks an ontological difference into the core of the
body.[5] Disposition is a position that is already outside itself,
already disassociated from itself. To account for this excessive
dimension within the workings of the apparatus is to look not only
at forms and actions themselves, but also the ways in which bodies
are disposed for action -- "readied." Readiness is not an action per
se, but a disposition toward a specific quality or form of action. As
actors we pose (hitting our marks for the camera, and for the gaze of
the other), but we are also disposed toward certain types of action
within given conditions. An unmoving density, and a moving tendency.

Building on Gilles Deleuze's distinction between disciplinary and
control societies, we might say that the apparatus no longer seeks to
mold so much as it does to modulate.[6] For it does not aim simply
to enclose and determine, but rather to maintain and manage that
which could exceed its determinations. Giorgio Agamben would likewise
make this distinction, while naming the modulating function more
precisely that of security. While discipline isolates and closes
off territories, he writes, security leads to an opening and to
globalization. While the former wants to prevent and prescribe, the
latter wants to intervene and direct ongoing processes. While the
former wants to produce order, the latter wants to guide disorder.[7]
Following from this line of reasoning, this new apparatus of security
is not, as many would have it, "preventive."[8] It is not preventive
since it "can only function within a context of freedom of traffic,
trade, and individual initiative." In this way Agamben suggests,
following Foucault, that the development of security coincides with
the development of liberal ideology.[9]

Rather than being preventive, then, this apparatus of security is
permissive. Unlike disciplinary control, it does not seek to eliminate
the "dangerous" excess that threatens the coherency of a body. Rather,
it seeks to manage this excess, or to produce it as manageable. It
sets forth dispositions as much as positions, works through readiness
as much as regulation. Such a stance involves the incorporation of
uncertainty; if security-modulation is a form of control, it is
one in which outcomes cannot be determined. Note the paradigmatic
changes manifest in the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency
Field Manual, released as a government document in December 2006
and now published by the University of Chicago Press. In the 1990s,
military strategy emphasized force protection; now, in 2006, this
emphasis has been overturned by several paradoxes: "Sometimes, the
more you protect your force, the less secure you may be." "Sometimes,
the more force is used, the less effective it is." "Sometimes doing
nothing is the best reaction."[10] So-called network-centric warfare
strategies replace those which were formerly dominated by the logics
of fixed positionings; territories become less spatially-conscribed
and more determined through flows, critical thresholds, and parametric
adjustments. As Deleuze would say, passcodes replace keys. Acting is
no longer geared toward the theatrical stage or the soundstage so much
as the expanded field opened up by reality media and self-publication
sites. One assumes roles through one's various "profiles." The agency
of the casting Call is a distributed entity, its stages and scripts an
omnipresent scaffolding.

As Vilem Flusser points out, the Latin word apparatus is derived
from the verb apparare, which means "to prepare." For Flusser, the
apparatus is a thing that lies in wait for something: a thing that
exhibits a "readiness to spring into action." The photographic
apparatus, for example, lies in wait for photography: "it sharpens its
teeth in readiness."[11] The apparatus readies itself for action like
a hunter preparing a foray.

If we develop this etymology to produce a more active concept of the
apparatus, then the apparatus would not necessarily be a machinery
that lies in wait for something, but rather a machinery that arranges,
or choreographs, acts of preparedness -- a machinery that modulates
readiness. One could certainly see the apparatus of security as that
which lies in wait for a threat. But one could also conceive of this
apparatus as a milieu that prepares its subjects, or calibrates their
tendencies to act. It prepares them for safe and productive movement
against the specter of danger. It prepares them to ward off risk and
inefficiency. Yet, contrary to popular conceptions, this security
apparatus does not traffic only in fear: it traffics equally in
pleasure. For as we shall see, readiness does not simply coalesce as a
state of alarm; it is a state of ambiguous arousal.

In the state of readiness, one is truly ready for anything, be it
danger or desire.

* * *

How then to situate this concept of "readiness"? I want to understand
readiness following certain lines of thinking about the workings
of affect -- notably the analysis opened up by Brian Massumi's
readings of Henri Bergson and Gilles Deleuze, in which affect is
sharply distinguished from emotions and feelings.[12] Far from an
identifiable emotion, affect is a vitality, a pure potentiality
-- an undifferentiated, moving kaleidoscope of sensations and
states. It is a contradictory dimension in which anxieties and
pleasures cohabit before they can be categorized as such. As Philip
Turetzky suggests, affects are becomings (in Deleuze's sense) rather
than structures; they distribute intensities and produce open and
attractive possibilities (in Husserl's sense).[13]

Readiness, like affect, is a form of activation that is not
necessarily available to the conscious mind, but is shared nonetheless
by the synaesthetic perceptual faculties of the body substrate. It
operates through both proprioceptive (the unconscious sensory flow
from the movable parts of the body, through which position and tone of
motion are continually adjusted) and visceral (the deeper excitations
registered by the organs and systems of the body before they can be
processed by the brain) functions. In other words, it is something
that wells up inside the self and is somehow "known" by the body, but
which is not yet necessarily available to conscious thought.

It has been said that today, in a multitasking world, our attention
has become promiscuous: we do not focus our awareness on one thing for
long so much as engage in "continuous partial attention." Motivated by
the desire not to miss opportunities, we juggle objects of interest,
prioritizing one item at a time but continually monitoring several
background tasks just in case something more important or interesting
comes up. Readiness might be understood as the embodied dimension
of this "continuous partial attention" -- or in other words, as
"continuous partial action." It exists somewhere between an internal
bodily state and a conscious opening out onto the world, between
ambiguous bodily arousal and focused alertness. It is the body's way
of preparing itself for expression, a lived interior state that pushes
at the boundaries of activity.

Since external stimuli are filtered and the field of attention
reorganized through the body's affectual capacities, they provide a
port of entry into the body. Readiness could therefore be understood
as a site where affects can be operated upon, produced, or otherwise
stimulated through response techniques and technologies. Understood
historically in this technological sense, readiness could be regarded
as the lived, embodied dimension of vigilance.

In his study of modern psychology, L. S. Hearnshaw claims that the
term vigilance, defined as "a state of readiness to detect and respond
to certain specified small changes occurring at random time intervals
in the environment," was first adopted by Cambridge psychologist
Norman Mackworth in his wartime studies of visual and auditory
monitoring.[14] Following Friedrich Kittler, we could situate a term
like vigilance firmly on its media-technological base -- perhaps at
the advent of real-time tracking (specifically, radar), which was
only as good as the operators who were primed to detect deviation
in its patterns.[15] Jonathan Crary also situates a new formulation
of vigilance in the continuous scanning of radar screens by human
operators during World War II, and thus to the efficient use of new
real-time technology.[16] For our purposes, vigilance is real-time
attentiveness: attention on a heightened state of alert in response
to potential threat, propelled by the demands of instantaneous
detection technologies. Its civilian analogue is the just-in-time
consumer-trader, ever-alert at the computer monitor, finger poised to
click. The consumer-trader who no longer "sees" in the traditional
sense, but rather calculates potentials: the trader-gamer armed with a
joystick, one foot in the future.

* * *

Technologies of bioanalysis are probing more deeply into these
intimate, micro-states of bodily movement and affective disposition,
arraying these states in calculations and simulations, quantifying
potentials in terms of statistical inclinations. These technologies
have revealed that a particular action is already set in motion by
the body about 0.8 seconds before we consciously experience the
performance of it. The body readies itself for action before it has a
conscious experience of the action. Compared to our sense perception,
our thought processes are too slow, and so, especially when it comes
to quick events, nature has routed around them: the parts of the brain
that activate movements are linked directly to the centers for sense
perception. In working with the phenomenon of "readiness potential,"
Benjamin Libet, an American neurologist, showed that consciousness
lags hopelessly behind action: thought follows action, however we do
not consciously experience it in this order.[17]

According to Nigel Thrift, we can expand the time-space of embodiment
accordingly, such that it incorporates a "constantly moving
preconscious frontier." In other words, what we experience as the
immediate presentness of the body is, in a sense, already past.
To incorporate the preconscious frontier in our understanding of
embodiment is to widen the durational expanse of the present moment,
opening up a space between affect and contemplation.[18]

In many ways this space has already become a site of operations. In
an escalating, increasingly competitive consumer-security culture,
everything happens in this gap between action and thought, detection
and engagement. Predicated on shrinking intervals in time and space,
within which there is seemingly less and less time to act, a new
world has emerged founded on multiple, perpetual crises served up
as dizzying arrays of product choice, across which the desiring and
fearing self scans, no longer able to act in any one arena since it
is already "too late." The next crisis, always imminent, demands
full vigilance. This is a world in which genuine action becomes
"unproductive" and a form of perpetual proto-action -- readiness
-- takes its place. One experiences the jouissance of action, yet
one does not act. It is something like action without the action:
transgression without consequence. Preparing for a role, cultivating
its corresponding affects, and to a certain extent rehearsing the
actions that might be required, while never fully bringing forth those
actions in an actual social and political theater. Yet this is not
simply a "virtualization" of action: it is a kind of inactive action,
or an action that plays out along a different scale of measurement,
where it has not yet crossed the threshold of what we may regard as
movement within a social arena.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's color-coded Threat
Level System solicits just this type of proto-action. The current
national threat level is Elevated, or Yellow -- a stage at which
Americans are advised to "continue to be vigilant, take notice of
their surroundings." The focus moves away from genuine action toward
dispositions to act that accumulate just at the horizon of movement.
The apparatus of security prepares its subjects, calibrating their
tendencies to act through a system of coded alerts, readying them
against danger. "Actionability" takes precedence over action,
statistical inclination over language, calibration over containment.
In such a landscape, Paul Virilio has remarked, the emphasis shifts
from the "standardization of public opinion" to the "synchronization
of public emotion."[19]

According to John Armitage, the "Be Ready" campaign, also put out by
the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, operates in this space of
imminent mobility. The readiness it promotes has no real object, but
is simply perpetuated in an endless cycle. The individualized "desire
for mobility" -- the consumerist impulse -- is recoded and displaced
onto the theaters of threat.[20] It is a theater where desire and
fear cohabit, suspended at the threshold of action. Action, as such,
is funneled into the arena of shopping, which functions as both
pleasure and defense. At the affective level of readiness, combat and
shopping, or fear and pleasure, work in conjunction. They constitute
an interlocking mechanism of stimulation that is contradictory only at
the level of language.

Since readiness can be transmitted, it is a powerful social force.
It can transform, traverse form, and overcome thought in a sweep of
delicious delirium. Like the screeching actor on the stretcher, people
transmit affective resonances to each other and transform the vibe of
rooms and situations. Through these transmissions, actors -- people,
things, spaces -- become mutually attuned, sync with each other, or
variously coincide. Or not. (I use "attunement" here rather than
"relation" because it implies synchronization, hookups, coincidings;
and unlike relationality, it does not imply distinction and spatial
separation. With readiness, we are prompted to speak of attunements as
much as we are of relations.)

These transmissions can accumulate into something like a collective
good will (as in a rally), or an excruciating anxiousness (as with the
volcanic man-out-of-bounds on the pavement). Moving across and between
bodies, they generate a sense of coincidences between subjects and
objects. Examples abound. In times of trouble, a feeling of solidarity
binds groups together and turns them against other aggregates. When
we want to complain, we search for allies. Captivated by a familiar
mix, we move together to the beat, infusing the atmosphere with
cadence, emitting and inhabiting rhythmic codes with the entire body
sensorium. If the moment is right, we can "lose ourselves" in the
collective energy and its waves of sensation. Such energies can also
turn aggressive: we can lose ourselves in a violent protest or a
barroom brawl. These affective transmissions act at multiple scales of
organization, from the individual to the crowd, and they carry with
them the potential of redistributing energies and reassigning roles.
What we understand as individuals and multiplicities can be understood
in terms of relatively stabilized states that can be identified, even
though they can quickly recombine in other levels of organization for
which we do not yet have a shared terminology.

The Modulating Formula

Often more forceful than ideas, readiness can be replicated to a
certain degree -- as in advertising, or the tried-and-true mechanisms
of "rallying the crowd" in political speech. So it is with DJ-ing,
religious ritual, and drill. In this sense it can be formulized. Yet
readiness can also emerge in an unplanned way; it can self-organize.
It can be generated collectively and polyrhythmically -- emerging
from the interactions of various forces and practices, and out of
individually- and collectively-acquired patterns of response. In this
"emergent" sense, too, it can be replicated -- as with a certain
move or gesture that propagates across a dance community. Its source
can (simply) be a critical mass of affective transmissions that
begin, over time, to bond a community and set the stage for a shared
practice, intensifying the accumulation of knowledge, technology, and

Something is said to be emergent when it exhibits the capacity to
demonstrate powers at higher levels of organization that do not exist
at other levels. Understood as a system of complex interactions,
properties of the combination as a whole are more than the sum of its
individual parts. (As such what is emergent can't only be grasped
with a top-down analytical approach -- i.e., begin with the whole
and dissect it into constituent parts.) Something like this is to
be found in Manuel DeLanda's concept of nonlinear history, where
historical transformation is not a linear advance up the ladder of
progress but a crossing of nonlinear critical thresholds. As DeLanda
explains, "Much as a given compound (water, for example) may exist in
several distinct states (solid, liquid, or gas) and may switch from
stable state to stable state at critical points in the intensity of
temperature (called phase transitions), so a human society may be
seen as a 'material' capable of undergoing these changes of state as
it reaches a critical mass in terms of density of settlement, amount
of energy consumed, or even intensity of interaction."[21] One can
posit multi-layered, resonating levels of organization, temporarily
stabilized in form (or material states). These levels may have very
different logics and rhythms. Even though they may be locked in
resonation with each other, they always contain the potential for
variation or emergence -- spontaneous or triggered generation of a
new level of reality. Between these regions of potential there are no
boundaries, only thresholds.

Yet while readiness is an emergent phenomenon, it is one that can,
at least in part, be directed through compositional forces and
delineations. These "formulizers" bring in considerations of language.
(Even though readiness itself can be understood as sub-symbolic --
as field of force rather than pattern of form -- considerations
of language must be introduced when considering its structuring
dynamics. Readiness, like affect, is not a linguistic phenomenon,
but its "formulizers" are, in part.) These compositional forces and
delineations are not forms so much as they are form-machines. They are
structuring chords that operate at multiple levels of organization
and stability. When they cross a certain threshold of organization,
and are enacted in practice, they can eventualize forms. In this
sense they are not things but enactable capacities -- enactable
capacities-to-structure. They are activation-shapers, understood
through their various instantiations.

Readiness is a state of affective organization that is stable enough
to be "formulized," then, and replicated or applied as a template,
regardless of whether this formulization is planned or emergent.
Such formulizations could be applied as technologies of control,
where the "formula" is a kind a control-script. Or perhaps they
simply constitute an implicit stage direction. Yet readiness is
inherently an unstable phenomenon. Its expressions in practice are not
predictable. The modulating formula can change at any time by way of
its instantiation in practice.

* * *

Again, the apparatus, as shaped by its regulatory domains, is that
which runs programs and choreographs movements. At all points, its
activities are threatened by excess, as with the agitated actor
on the pavement whose interior states push at the boundaries of
stabilization. Resonances are transmitted across bodies that carry
the potential to transgress them. The body is not only enclosed
(regulated) but also disposed (resonated). The apparatus, then, is
that which moves beyond its functions that were formerly understood as
disciplinary, toward those of control in Deleuze's sense or security
in Agamben's sense. It is not preventive but permissive. It becomes an
active machinery that arranges, or choreographs, acts of preparedness.
A machinery that modulates readiness. A machinery that does not
endeavor to control actions and outcomes so much as to calibrate
tendencies to act.

This modulating apparatus does not seek to eliminate the "dangerous"
excess that threatens the coherency of a body (at whatever scale of
organization). Rather, since change can happen at any point in the
practice or performance of the system, it seeks to manage this excess,
or to produce it as manageable -- modulating densities, speeds,
intensities. It sets forth dispositions as much as positions, works
through readiness as much as regulation. The modulating apparatus runs
the programs of its regulatory institutions, yet, since these are, in
part, social phenomena, these programs -- or formulae -- will change
as they are instantiated in practice.

The modulating formula exists in time, providing a calibrating
infrastructure through which things move, or beat, rhythmically. It
is not a mechanism of control since it can always be disrupted and
transformed. Yet it has effects: it shapes action-tendencies. It
carries with it compositional imperatives both material and rhythmic.
It sets out formal dynamics, interweaving programs, actors, parts, and
tendencies. It is a formalizing machine that works through the shaping
of potential.

In a sense, any number of forms will do, as long as the formula is
in place. Consider popular entertainment: in the soap melodrama
or the Hollywood action-adventure movie (including the disaster
genre from which the terror exercise and the screeching man on the
pavement draw), it doesn't matter who the characters are, or where it
takes place, so long as the formula holds. A bad movie, predictable
and transparent, is referred to as "formulaic." When someone finds
a productive way of doing something, one is said to have found a
"formula." Even tragedy itself could be understood as a formula. The
objects are ultimately interchangeable, their status fluid. They
can change from hostile to friendly, object of attack to that of
acquisition, prompted by the dispositions of the embodied agents that
mobilize them.

To grasp the operation of the modulating formula, we cannot focus
on meaning alone. Following Suely Rolnik, once more, we can speak
of resonance as much as representation; living presence as much as
formal presence. What is central to the operation of the formula is
jouissance, the kind of perverse enjoyment that both attracts and
repels us -- something like a "morbid curiosity" about the direction
and objects of our looks, and what we don't want to see, as we
find with images of war or catastrophe. Here scopophilic pleasures
and surveillant anxieties cohabit. (If the screeching man on the
pavement should destabilize in any public setting, he would surely
draw a fascinated crowd, assembled not only through concern for his
well-being, but for the audience's voyeuristic thrill.) To acknowledge
this domain is to admit danger and conflict as constitutive elements
of attraction -- manifest in the unpredictable, perilous web of
intrigue that pulls us into the narrative world, and which compels us
to inhabit the drama (as with the actor-victims who heeded the Call).
In the next moment, we could be the victim. We do not know what danger
lurks ahead, but we must continue at our peril. At any moment, desire
could meet its constitutive other -- death. As Bataille would say,
what compels us is the possibility of union.[22]

The modulating formula cannot be deciphered or interpreted: we
miss its resonance if we engage it only within the field of
the ideological. Ultimately, no one can control the formula's
manifestations and effects: it seems to take on a life of its
own, like the silly pop tune that you can't get out of your head,
propagating across a community and, at least at some level, developing
social bonds. A dance move; a repetitive behavior; a conspiracy
theory; a religious ritual; a catchy phrase; a celebrity fascination;
a gambling addiction; a design preoccupation; an erotic compulsion;
a fetish. The modulating formula takes root to the extent that it
connects with something "in you" -- in Lacanian terms, something that
is in you more than yourself. In this sense the readying formula
is something of the order of the "sinthome" -- that variation on
the concept of the symptom that pertains to enjoyment rather than
meaning.[23] It is something like a perverse motif, a propagating
pattern that generates excitations and structures disposition, yet at
its core is meaningless.

The modulating formula, then, is an agile, aformal form that can
maneuver between the affective and symbolic registers, or between
dispositions and concepts. It traffics between the intensive
and extensive registers, acting as a structuring component or
activation-shaper. It functions at once as an actor, a conductor,
and a surface-effect. It can locate objects and make them potential
objectives; yet it manifests a deformational affective potential that
upsets the order of the grid and thereby opens up new assemblages
of agency.[24] Here one does not seek to represent so much as
engender and traverse. One must look to relays between the levels,
transversal mixings, redistributions of energy and meaning -- how
modification of potentials (whether intentional or emergent) are
conducted; how they globally reconfigure in ways that might result
in amplification or dampening. The form/content bifurcation and the
signifier/signified duality are avoided. Not to mention the old
oppositions -- real/artificial, nature/culture, body/other.[25] What
emerges instead is something like a distinction between form and
substance -- or matter, content, and expression. What we understand as
"content" is formed matter, codification its order.

Emergent Identities

Cut to the shrieking man on the pavement, who seemed to be engaged in
a process of literally becoming a victim, rather than just playing
the role of one. Does the "false mask" that he wears bring him nearer
to a "true" subject position -- determining the place he occupies in
the intersubjective symbolic network (his social role)? Or does it
somehow emerge from within? Does the path to an authentic subjective
position run from the outside inward, or from the inside outward?
Is it representational or presentational? Repressive or excessive?
Positional or dispositional?

For this final act, let's think of Spinoza. Hovering in the
background, he is now to be lowered into the scene. In contrast to
Descartes, who believes that the world is composed of two substances
(extension and thought), Spinoza believes that the world is all of
one piece. Nigel Thrift writes that "in Spinoza's world, everything
is a part of a thinking and a doing simultaneously; they are aspects
of the same thing expressed in two registers."[26] For Spinoza, human
psychology is "continually modified by the various encounters taking
place between individual bodies and other finite things."[27] For him,
the stuff of these encounters is affect. Understanding affect as both
body and thought, he defines it as "the modifications of the body by
which the power of action on the body is increased or diminished,
aided or restrained, and at the same time the idea of those
modifications."[28] As with modifications of the body, modifications
of thought occur in the same way, through ideas which may be more
or less adequate and more or less empowering. So affect, "defined
as the property of the active outcome of an encounter, takes the
form of an increase or decrease in the ability of the body and mind
alike to act." It structures encounters so that bodies are disposed
for action-thought in particular ways.[29] Therefore affect is about
modification and concept: a modulation that is both about preparedness
and meaning, disposition and position.

A body can be anything: it can be an animal, a body of sounds, a
book, a mind or an idea; it can be a social body, a collectivity.
The outcome of each encounter depends on what forms of composition
these encountering bodies are able to enter into. To understand
an object as the level of such modulation, one does not look to
the object, but also to the things with which it functions in
combination, and to the things with which it transmits intensities,
and with "which other multiplicities its own are inserted and
metamorphosed."[30] Such an approach is integral to new concepts of
media ecology, especially in the work of Matthew Fuller -- ecologies
that include, again following Vilem Flusser, active collections of
actors, programs, parts, and tendencies. Such ecologies could be
understood in terms of compositions (aggregates, assemblies) as well
as transformational processes (transmissions, flows). We can think
of multiple levels of organization, from the minimal to the maximal,
and the ongoing translations between higher order and lower order
states or aggregates. (For Spinoza, affects become something larger
than individuated internal responses, and become greater or lesser
forces of existing in nature at large. They exist on the same order as
natural phenomena such as storms or floods. It is just a question of
change in degree or kind.) What we recognize as form is a temporary

Subjectivity is a complex body that emerges out of an alliance of
many simple bodies. It's all one mix -- no a priori differentiation
between body and other, or subject and object, or thought and action.
These are not given but emergent: a material state, and a condition
of subjectivity, emerges out of the mix. Positions are adopted; roles
emerge; identities coalesce. Actors prepare. Certainly we can regard
self-affection -- the affective experience of one's self, one's
vitality -- as part of a process of subjectivation, yet affective
resonance plays out within the field of the transcorporeal or social.
It is not a matter of either/or, but of different registers and
circuits of identity- and role-emergence.

* * *

What about my own role here -- just how deeply have I been able to
move into my position of "volunteer victim"? As I defined it, the
role required me to move from a distanced, critical perspective to
a more implicated one. I was compelled to account for the thrill of
inhabitation, trafficking in the murky fields of sensation, less a
voyeur than an active participant -- one who did not write from afar,
but who seductively left the door ajar. My rhetorical orientation
might be a distant one, but the landscape that I've sketched here
certainly doesn't lend itself to the traditional critical approach --
an approach that, in its day, has been useful for debunking beliefs,
powers, illusions, essentialist truths. It doesn't promote such a
deductive orientation. Rather, it would seem to promote the opposite.
Its goal, following Bruno Latour, is not to reduce the dynamic, but
to extend it further.[31] It calls for a need to move beyond the
disciplinary, enclosing and managing contained arguments, and instead
find ways of incorporating extension -- that is, ways of producing and
managing excess. For with the modulating apparatus, there is always
more not less. This does not involve only the changing of roles; it
involves the rewriting of the terms of the script.

Is it possible to construct a network of interpretation that is
nonreductive? What would it be called?

Many years ago, Walter Benjamin called for a criticism that could
function like advertising, affecting the reader with intensive,
visceral projections that would circumvent any form of contemplation.
He advocated for intensities that, like a "burst of energy," affect
the very life of the subject.[32] Yet this is now precisely the aim
of contemporary power. Are we then to play the same game? On the same
stage? With the same roles?

The task is difficult, because one doesn't want to dispense with the
valuable critical tools that we've inherited. And neither do we want
to participate immersively in the anti-analytical orientation of
consumer society, with its perpetual expansions and permissions. In a
world of product placements, politics-as-entertainment, revisionism,
reality-hacking, and perpetual spin, we need all the critics we can
get. The challenge is not to dispense with critical tools, but to
expand the language of cultural analysis in order to account for this
compositional dimension -- moving beyond an understanding of power
solely in terms of its ideological effects, toward one that addresses
its ability to formulize and transmit affects. This necessitates
the development of unwieldy, combinatory approaches: "expansive"
strategies that must also incorporate the function of critique. These
strategies compel us to try to reveal the terms of the modulation --
that is, the structuring of the modulating formula -- not only an
additive or "excessive" endeavor but a deductive one, even though our
mobilizations of it may be otherwise. Such expansive orientations
could well be used to generate an expressive, performative politics.
This would be a critical practice that is less "oppositional" than
compositional: a form of political action that confronts affective
modulation with affective modulation.

One could well ask: is this not also the aim of political violence?
The crucial question, according to Massumi, is whether there are
ways of practicing such an affective politics that doesn't rely on
violence and the hardening of divisions along identity lines that
usually accompany it. Productive lines of action are suggested by
Stephen Duncombe, who calls for a politics that speaks to the entire
range of people's fantasies, passions, and desires -- a kind of
ethical spectacle[33] -- and Stevphen Shukaitis, for whom the task
of politics is "the composition of common space through processes of
intensive engagement not bound by the closure of already understood
identities and positions."[34] As Brian Holmes notes in his reading
of Suely Rolnik, such an expressive or performative politics requires
an understanding of political resistance set out not only in terms of
sterile confrontation with an objectified other, but also in terms of
a transformational dynamic of reknitting, even reinventing, relations
with others.[35]

It's a daunting task, to think about how to approach such a
desolidification of identity -- and further, to do so in a way that
does not vanquish political agency. A distributed or emergent self
need not be one that, following some readings of postmodernist theory
as advocating a kind of moral nihilism, diminishes responsibility to
others. As Judith Butler shows, a self that can incorporate otherness
into its very constitution -- a rethinking of the self as always
interrupted by the other and therefore dispossessed in relation to
the other -- is a form of selfhood in which ethical questions become
newly primary. Its basis for morality is no longer to be found in
self-identity. As Butler writes, "my very formation implicates the
other in own foreignness to myself is, paradoxically, the
source of my ethical connection to others."[36]

One quickly realizes that the metaphor of the theater -- as I've put
forth here -- only goes so far. However, when thinking politically,
one thing is evident: there is no solution that does not involve


[1] UCSD Campus Press Release, "Operation College Freedom," Atkinson
Hall (CAL-IT2), University of California San Diego. For more
information please see:
(Accessed January 17, 2008).

[2] Slavoj Zizek, Enjoy Your Symptom!: Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and
Out, 2nd ed., New York and London: Routledge, 2001, pp. 33-34.

[3] Constantin Stanislavski, An Actor Prepares, Elizabeth Reynolds
Hapgood, trans. New York: Theater Arts Books, 1936.

[4] See Brian Holmes, "Emancipation," nettime mailing list, 5 July
2004. Available online at (Accessed January 17,
2008). Also see Suely Rolnik, "The Twilight of the Victim: Creation
Quits Its Pimp, To Rejoin Resistance," Zehar 51 (Fall 2003). Available
online at (Accessed
January 17, 2008).

[5] Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual, Durham and London: Duke
University Press, 2002, pp. 5 -17. Massumi's work, reading through
Spinoza, Bergson, and Deleuze, is essential in these discourses.

[6] Gilles Deleuze, "Postscript on the Societies of Control",
October 59, Winter 1992, pp. 3-7. Available online at (Accessed January 17,
2008). For an excellent discussion of the shift from disciplinary
to control societies and the concomitant rise of the "dividual,"
see William Bogard, "The Coils of a Serpent: Haptic Space and
Control Societies," CTheory, November 2007. Available online at (Accessed January 17,

[7] Giorgio Agamben, "Security and Terror," Theory & Event
5:4, 2002. Translation by Carolin Emcke. Available online at
(Accessed January 17, 2008).

[8] I owe this insight to Louise Amoore, who generously pointed it
out to me in personal correspondence. See Louise Amoore, "Vigilant
Visualities: The Watchful Politics of the War on Terror," Security
Dialogue 38 (2007): 215-232 and "Biometric borders: Governing
mobilities in the war on terror," Political Geography 25 (2006):

[9] Agamben. "Security and Terror."

[10] U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 2007. As cited in The New York Times Book
Review, 29 July 2007, p. 9.

[11] Vilém Flusser, Towards a Philosophy of Photography, London:
Reaktion Books, 2000, p. 21.

[12] Massumi, pp. 27-28.

[13] Philip Turetzky, Time, London and New York: Routledge, 1998.
Thanks to Retort for this quote.

[14] L. S. Hearnshaw, The Shaping of Modern Psychology, London and
New York: Routledge, 1987, pp. 206-209, as cited in Jonathan Crary,
Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle, and Modern Culture,
Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1999, p. 34.

[15] Friedrich Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, Stanford:
Stanford University Press, 1999.

[16] Crary, p. 34.

[17] Benjamin Libet et al, The Volitional Brain: Towards a
Neuroscience of Free Will, Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2000, as cited
in Stefan Klein, The Secret Pulse of Time: Making Sense of Life's
Scarcest Commodity, Cambridge, Mass.: Marlowe & Company, 2006, pp.

[18] Nigel Thrift, "Intensities of Feeling: Towards a Spatial Politics
of Affect," Geografiska Annaler 86 B (2004). I am indebted to Thrift
for many insights around affect and affective politics.

[19] Paul Virilio, "The Visual Crash," [CTRL]SPACE: Rhetorics of
Surveillance from Bentham to Big Brother, Thomas Levin, Ursula Frohne,
and Peter Weibel, eds., Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2002, p. 112; and
Paul Virilio, "Cold Panic," Cultural Politics 1 (2005): p. 29.

[20] See John Armitage, "On Ernst Juenger's 'Total Mobilization': A
Re-Evaluation in the Era of the War on Terrorism," Body & Society,
Vol. 9(4), 2003, p. 204.

[21] Manuel De Landa, A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, New York:
Swerve, 1997, p. 15.

[22] Georges Bataille, Erotism: Death and Sensuality, Mary Dalwook,  .
trans San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1986                         .

[23] Thanks to Gary Farnell for making this connection between the
modulating formula and the sinthome. See Slavoj Zizek, Looking Awry:
An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture, Cambridge,
Mass.: MIT Press, 1991, pp. 125-140.

[24] As articulated by Brian Holmes in a personal conversation.

[25] One does not want to emphasize one dimension over the other
-- as if affect had the potential of "freeing" the materiality
of technology or the body from the constraints of discourse and
representation. One does not want to enter into the thorny territory
of essentialism/constructivism debates or, even worse, inflammatory
oppositions between science and religion. One doesn't want to appear
to feed into the anti-Enlightenment currents that rear their heads in
the realms of marketing, "spin," religious propaganda, and political

[26] Thrift, pp. 59-60.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Spinoza, Ethics. III, def.3, as cited in Thrift, p. 60.

[29] Thrift, p. 60.

[30] Matthew Fuller, Media Ecologies: Materialist Energies in Art and
Technoculture, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2005.

[31] For an important argument in this regard, see Bruno Latour, "Why
Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of
Concern," Critical Inquiry 30 (Winter 2004): pp. 225-248.

[32] As cited in Menachem Feuer, "If This Space is For Rent,
Who Will Move In?," CTheory, February 2006. Available online at (Accessed December 11,

[33] Stephen Duncombe, Dream: Re-imagining Progressive Politics in an
Age of Fantasy, New York: New Press, 2007.

[34] Stevphen Shukaitis, "Affective Composition and Aesthetics:
On Dissolving the Audience and Facilitating the Mob,"
Journal of Aesthetics and Protest 5. Available online at (Accessed
December 11, 2007).

[35] See Holmes and Rolnik.

[36] Judith Butler, Giving An Account of Oneself, New York: Fordham
University Press, 2005, p. 84.

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