Anj — Deleuzian Politics? A Roundtable Discussion

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Deleuzian Politics? a Roundtable Discussion
Éric Alliez, Claire Colebrook, Peter Hallward, Nicholas Thoburn, Jeremy Gilbert (chair)
Nick and Jeremy circulated some general questions to think about before the discussion, which particularly focused on the surprising fact that many casual commentators, and indeed, some self-styled ‘Deleuzians’, seemed to regard Deleuzian philosophy as wholly compatible with an embrace of market capitalism and its tendency to celebrate the ephemeral, the individual, the hyper-mobile, the infantile; while others seemed to think of Deleuze as a wholly apolitical or even anti-political thinker, mired in Nietzschean aristocratic elitism, ineffectual mysticism, or old-fashioned individualism. As such, the first question touched on the relationship of Deleuze and Guattari to Marx.
Jeremy: So – our first question. One of the big questions we want to discuss is ‘what do we make of Manuel DeLanda’s assessment that Marxism is Deleuze’s and Guattari’s “little Oedipus”?’ Nick – you don’t agree with that, I think.
Nick: There are interesting questions about why Deleuze and Guattari declare themselves to be Marxists: it’s not straightforward, and I think this declaration has a number of functions in their work. Some of these would seem to amount to a deliberate provocation in the face of neoliberal consensus, ‘Marx’ being a contentious name to invoke at what was a time of general unpopularity for Marxism. But it is very clear to me that the relationship to Marxism is a point of creative tension, an opening, a disruption in their work rather than a limiting, ‘Oedipal’ factor (which is DeLanda’s claim). So I see their Marxism as dynamic – a kind of ‘virtual Marx’, as Éric has put it – which propels rather than constrains their system.
And certainly whilst they declared themselves to be Marxists they also problematise Marxism quite regularly, as a narrative of development and as a potentially constraining identity-form. Nonetheless, what seems to me really clear is that Anti-Oedipus, at least, is completely traversed by Marx and Marxism. The conjunction of free labour and undetermined wealth; the engineering of social relations through money; the tendency of the rate of profit to fall; the Asiatic mode of production: these are all fundamentally important concepts to their work. So it would be very difficult to just extract Marxism from Deleuze and Guattari, as DeLanda suggests one can do. It appears that the problem with capitalism for DeLanda is simply one of monopoly: so ‘small is beautiful’, and all one needs to do is to abstract labour
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relations from monopoly formations, and that solves the problem that Deleuze and Guattari call ‘capital’.
Jeremy: DeLanda’s formulation is based on Braudel’s distinction between ‘markets’ and ‘anti-markets’, and the consequent claim that capitalism is only defined by ‘anti-market’ monopoly institutions, rather than by the market as such.
Nick: Yes, so the whole analysis of abstract labour or the commodity form just vanishes.
Peter: The way you’ve put it – describing the reference to Marxism as a kind of disruptive, liberating, opening-up kind of dynamic in their work – is already for me an indication of the problem. That there are Marxist elements in Anti-Oedipus, or in fact in much of Deleuze’s work and Deleuze’s and Guattari’s work, is clear. But if you think about the usual, conventional way of using Marx, in someone like Sartre for instance – one of the last philosophers who was able to talk meaningfully about politics in a way that exceeded the limits of academic philosophy – he talks about Marxism in the 1950s as a way to ‘get a grip on history’, and it informed the work that he was doing on Algeria, and a few other places, at the time. A text like Sartre’s ‘Colonialism is a System’ is designed precisely to get a grip on the issue, to analyse it strategically. Such analysis can enable something like a collective determination to take shape in a such a way that it can have a strategic impact and change that situation. It’s all about unifying, solidifying, strengthening, focusing – themes opposed to the general logic of Anti-Oedipus. In that book the emphasis, it seems to me, is on escape, deterritorialisation, disruption, breaking apart, getting out, scrambling the codes. The distinctive contribution of schizoanalysis to a logic of capital concerns how to get out of it, to reach this point where the body without organs is presented as a kind of apocalyptic explosion of any form of limit, where the decoded flows free to the end of the world, etc. There I think people who take some more conventional point of reference from Marx would be confused. They would think: ‘what is this for?’
Nick: The proletariat is itself the party of its own abolition, according to Marx, so these processes of deterritorialisation and destruction are immanent to his own concepts – they’re not a Deleuzian anomaly. I think there’s a danger of presenting Marx as offering an identity to the proletariat, facing-off with the bourgeoisie, when that’s not what is going on in this concept that is intimately concerned with deterritorialisation. But, also, it seems to me that Deleuze and Guattari’s real importance is in talking about composition. A Thousand Plateaus is full of descriptions of processes and techniques of expression, composition, consistency. So deterritorialisation is certainly part of that, but it’s not affirmed in itself: that would be chaos, and that isn’t what they’re about.
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Peter: I think it is affirmed in there ..Claire: The key point that you make there is in your reference to ‘expression’, because if you look at that remark of DeLanda’s when he says that Marx is their ‘little Oedipus’, I am assuming he means that that’s the point of unthinking fixation in their work: that that’s the thing that they didn’t think through, that that’s the bit which they swallowed as dogma.
Now, he has to see it that way because he wants a simple materialism with a simple positivism of relations, instead of thinking about the fact that one of the ways of thinking about Marx philosophically is through the idea of the generation of the immaterial from the material, which is what you’re talking about if you’re talking about ‘expression’. Part of what you’re talking about if you are talking about collectives and collectives of bodies and so on, is the question of how one thinks of oneself as a member, or how one thinks of oneself as an individual.
I think that one way of looking at Deleuze and Guattari’s language of ‘smashing codes’, liberation, ‘making oneself imperceptible’, is as negative, as just ruining big categories. But the positive way of reading them, in line with the legacy that comes from Marxism, is to think about these issues in terms of a logic of expression; which is to say, in terms of the emergence of the immaterial from the material and in terms of processes of individuation. This is the whole question of how one thinks of oneself as a being, without identity politics, or without individualist politics. It’s about how one individuates.
So I think one way to think about the positive Marxist legacy, not just in the Anti-Oedipus project but in everything they do, is to think of it in terms of the emergence of the immaterial, the emergence of sense, the emergence of the virtual: which, they say, for good or for ill, is directly political. And that’s Marxist isn’t it? Marxism is about the material emergence of the immaterial, the material conditions of expression. I think they do have little Oedipuses; I think there are bits in the corpus that are unthought through and that are swallowed rather religiously: but possibly the Marxism is the least indigested.
Éric: I think that this quotation from Manuel Delanda is a perfect shifter, because it immediately shows the condition not only for a ‘neoliberal Deleuze’ but for an apolitical (i.e. social-democrat) or anti-political (out of this world) Deleuze as a short-circuit which attacks and denies the hard political core of the ontological project affirmed with Guattari, i.e. a revolutionary (in all the possible senses of the word) political ontology.
Coming back to Anti-Oedipus, let me read this statement of Deleuze about Marx because it goes right to the point and expresses the whole economy of this book provocatively conceived as a book of ‘political philosophy’ because construction commands expression: ‘What is very interesting in Marx is his analysis of capitalism as an imminent system that is constantly overcoming its own limitations and then coming up against them once more in a broader form,
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because its fundamental limit is capital itself.’ I don’t want to comment on it against DeLanda (where machinic
constructions are reduced to the latest expressions of the theory of complexity), but rather, forgetting DeLanda for a moment, to use it to underline the paradoxical situation with which we are apparently confronted in the UK, and more generally in the anglo-american world, where a philosophy that has been one of the very few that took seriously the question of politics after the break of ‘68 – and through an effective historical analysis of the mutations of capitalism developed in a (spinozist) ‘Marx beyond Marx’ avant la lettre – is suspected of being apolitical or, worse, anti-political. This is quite odd coming from these currently extremely powerful philosophies that affirm themselves politically in a systematic anti-Deleuzianism, which is used to assert the most generic ‘communism’ (un communisme de principe), through a commitment to universal of equality that just brackets off any kind of close analysis of the mutations of capitalism.
The second point I want to make comes back to the provisional end of Deleuze and Guattari’s trajectory. In What is philosophy?, the chapter on ‘Geophilosophy’ is extremely important because this is where they are synthesising a final materialist definition of philosophy as such. Their idea is, brutally formulated: philosophy is political, it involves a politics of being, to the extent that it carries the movement of relative deterritorialisations to infinity – but an infinity that takes over from a relative deterritorialisation in a given field. And it is in this materialist (or wordly) connection that philosophy is able to make absolute the relative deterritorialisation of capital … In other words, philosophy, philosophy qua materialist practice of the concepts inscribing thought into the liberation of the world from its capitalistic regulation, is able to go through, to break through what had been the Marxist correlation between the analysis of capitalism and the anti-Hegelian denial of any internal necessity for philosophy to grasp the real (its ‘onanistic’ monopoly of thought) … Following Marx’s critique, there is no internal necessity to philosophy for Deleuze (to answer to Peter’s Sartrian statement), but (in a Deleuzian Marx beyond Marx) a contingent one which necessarily poses revolution as the plane of immanence of a thought that opens, critically and affirmatively, the ‘Now- here’ to the movement of the infinite. At this point, Deleuze and Guattari refer to the construction of the concept of capitalism by Marx, and posit that philosophy is this abstract-real thought that can’t affirm the materiality of its movement without being political philosophy. This is an extraordinarily radical statement that de facto retrojects (another Marxian movement!) this philosophy qua ontology back onto the break with the ‘traditional’, i.e. classical image of thought accomplished by Deleuze in Difference and Repetition. That’s why he declares that all he has done since with Guattari is connected with the ‘Image of thought’ chapter; with the break with this philosophy of truth that supposes that the true concerns solutions in the form of philosophical propositions capable of serving as answers. It is this break that relates the liberation of/in the world from its capitalistic reduction/limitation/normativity to the liberation of
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thought itself: depending on the direct impulse produced by what forces us to think, on these problematic encounters which escape ‘recognition’ and give philosophy the possibility of a real confrontation with its true enemies, ‘which are quite different from thought’…
Talking about ‘Deleuzian politics’ involves necessarily this deterritorialisation of philosophy which constitutively and ‘politically’ opens it to the Outside, in the substitution of problematic agencies for theorematic answers: a substitution into which Deleuze and Guattari, in their Geophilosophical chapter, don’t hesitate to include Adorno’s Negative Dialectic … At this point, it is not surprising, for me and tout court, that Peter brings back, contra Deleuze, a more classical image of thought, which inevitably reasserts the previously-denied centrality of philosophy ‘itself ’. This classical image of thought – maintained in its communicational scope based on a common argumentative sense – is accompanied by a political bad conscience, whereas by contrast Marxism is, after all, invested as a war machine against Philosophy, against the limits of philosophy itself …
Jeremy: I suppose one of the questions which comes up, with regards to what you guys have just said, is ‘how celebratory do we understand Deleuze and Guattari’s account of the mutations of capitalism to be?’ Because one of the readings – both for and against Deleuze and Guattari – that gets circulated is the one that reads them as essentially celebrating the deterritorialising power of capitalism.
I think this touches on Peter’s point in so far as it relates to the question of how far there is a normative dimension to this emphasis on deterritorialisation, the emphasis on freedom, etc. There is one reading of Deleuze and Guattari which argues that there is no normative claim here, and that their emphasis on this deterritorialising dimension of capitalism is merely a correction of the philosophical tradition’s obsession with stasis. Alternatively, there’s another reading which says ‘well, at the end of the day, Deleuze and Guattari are just celebrating deterritorialisation; and because they celebrate deterritorialisation they must celebrate capitalism, because capitalism is the great deterritorialiser …’
Éric: Well, this ‘celebrative’ position is just kind of a joke, because you could then say exactly the same thing about Marx. You could say that Marx celebrated capitalist deterrorialisation because in his analysis communism is coming from/out of the deterritorialisation produced by capitalism’s decoding of labour and wealth, the antagonism of the productive forces versus relations of production, etc. I think that it would not be impossible to show that Deleuze and Guattari’s very notion of deterritorialisation as it emerges in Anti-Oedipus is really coming directly from a reading of Marx – since it firstly supports a ‘universal history’ whose contingent movements can only be understood from
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the new decoding and cooperative necessities of capitalism.
Claire: It comes before that though. The emphasis on deterritorialisation is normative to an extent because they see deterritorialisation as immanent not just to capitalism but to life itself. This means that capitalism isn’t just an accident that befell us, such that if we had been smarter or better it wouldn’t have happened. There is a tendency towards both territorialisation and deterritorialisation in life itself, which is always a positively marked term for Deleuze and Guattari. That means I think the emphasis on deterritorialisation is strictly normative. According to their model, biological life only proceeds by differentiating itself and making connections that, as it were, do away with identity; but in order to create new identities. This process is going to create certain political formations.
So then, from this perspective, the problem with capitalism is that it’s not ‘capitalist’ enough, it is not deterritorialising enough, and that’s why that quotation about how it comes against its own limit is so important. That’s where we find the possibility for analysis. For example, this framework would enable us to consider the political ambivalence of the situation wherein a capitalist organisation moves into an Aboriginal community in outback Australia. The people are completely destitute, and then there is this massive influx of benefit and material goods. But at the same time we see the complete evacuation of anything indigenous that would resist the system. At those points then you don’t need a stupid, reactive, anti-capitalism, which would say ‘it’s capitalism and therefore it’s bad’. You don’t need a distinction between good and evil. You need a very fine-tuned analysis of the relation between deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation and the ways in which, under conditions of accumulation, it all gets turned back into an axiom of profit, or capital.
Nick: I do think that there are dangers in that notion of pushing capital beyond its limits: which, I agree, is their position at times. The danger is that you then start affirming the market against the state, the market being the deterritorialising pole of capital, and the state being its constraint or limit, its reterritorialisation. That position is evident to some extent in Anti- Oedipus, but it drops out of Thousand Plateaus, and in What is Philosophy? it’s gone completely. And you find that the speed of capital in What is Philosophy? is actually associated with the banalisation of promotional culture: with a kind of universal equivalence generated by the speeds of communication, which they have no sympathy with at all. So deterritorialisation becomes a much more complex figure: sometimes a kind of stillness, sometimes the speed of thought, and so on. And the specific political articulations of deterritorialisation become much less positively alloyed with the general movement of capital.
Claire: But that’s because capitalism is an instance, an example of deterritorialisation, of which it is a tendency: so it exemplifies something,
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but it’s not responsible for it and it doesn’t exhaust it. That’s the whole point of A Thousand Plateaus as different from the Anti-Oedipus, because in Anti- Oedipus, the historical and political analysis is made in traditionally Marxist terms, telling a story about society and social bodies; whereas in A Thousand Plateaus you get on to the stuff about organisms, works of art, cellular systems, and so forth. It all becomes more complicated, and we get to the idea that deterritorialisation is in life, which can help us to explain capital but which also means that we can’t reduce deterritorialisation as such to the rhythm of capital.
Peter: Just going back a bit to what you said, Éric. It’s absolutely true that Marx and Engels are fascinated by the deterritorialising thrust of capitalism: ‘all that is solid melts into air’, etc. There is a real point of similarity there. The thing is, though, that having made that assessment, what distinguishes the communist movement in the nineteenth century from, say, the anarchist movement, which would agree on that point, is precisely the strategic conclusion that they draw. The communist conclusion is that we need, in response to this situation, an institution, an organisation, direction, and so on: precisely so that the proletariat can indeed dissolve itself as a class (within the historical constraints of a class-bound situation) but not as social existence, not as ‘emancipated labour’. What is required, from this perspective, is the construction of a disciplined working-class political organisation that would be capable of winning the class struggle that takes shape around this time. Later, people will make roughly the same sort of argument in defence of the mobilisation of national liberation movements, for example. Both sorts of organisation emphasise things like discipline, unity, strategic purpose: certainly at the risk of problematic consequences, but the risk is unavoidable. This is the political legacy of Marxism, if you ask me. It’s the combination of these two things: an assessment of historical tendencies and economic logics, articulated together with the formulation of political strategy.
What is original and distinctive about Deleuze and Guattari, on the other hand, is that they substitute for something like the mobilisation of the working class, or national liberation movements, things like schizo and nomad. They do privilege the movement of ‘absolute deterritorialisation’, however much they might seem to qualify it by adding that all deterritorialisation is accompanied by forms of reterritorialisation. Their political alternative, if that’s the right word, is precisely something that unfolds in what they call infinite speed. It is something like a politics of the nomad which they identify with the deterritorialised par excellence, a deterritorialised movement which only reterritorialises on the movement of deterritorialisation itself. That, it seems to me, is what is distinctive and strong in their position. It’s not presented as one of several strategic options to choose from, as if here we should do one thing, there we should do another. There is a strong teological moment in their thought. They say: this is the movement of becomings, for example. They say that the thrust of deterritorialisation goes in a particular
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direction and that we should follow it, basically. And that I think is politically and strategically problematic.
Éric: Ok – trying to get to the core of the question – I do think that what Peter has just described as the political organisation of the working class corresponds, for me at least, and to a certain extent, to what Foucault calls ‘the disciplinary society’, wherein one is necessarily caught up in this particular figure of the classic-modern conflict, struggle and war. In this context, historically, forms of political organisation have to follow the social form of organisation of society as such in the most dialectical figure of the class struggle. Now, in brief, if Anti-Oedipus tried to answer to the necessity for a new conception of politics which was called for, on the one hand, by 68’s world- event, and on the other, already, by the immediate post-68 counter-revolution (which is not at all a ‘Restoration’), it is A Thousand Plateaus which confronts itself with the emergence of what Deleuze would later call the ‘control society’ (we can find Foucauldian equivalents from his Collège de France lectures on Neoliberalism). And this is the real explanation for its caution with regard to deterritorialisation – with the way capitalism reterritorialises itself on the most deterritorialised … Conclusion: Never believe that a smooth space will suffice to save us.
In the control society, power no longer operates through enclosure, as in the disciplinary society, but through processes of what Deleuze calls ‘modulation’ that give an entirely new dynamic to exploitation. So to position oneself as ‘Deleuzian’ (but I avoid doing this for myself, preferring to think with and from …) is always to remember, without becoming historicist, the importance of this kind of historical frame and framework for a political ontology of the present. From this perspective, we can’t just carry on with the same old forms of political institution, the same modes of working class social organisation, because they no longer correspond to the actual and contemporary form of capitalism and the rising subjectivities that accompany and/or contest it. That’s where I come back to the importance of the systematic enquiry into the mutations of capitalism, which is, fundamentally, through the ‘machinic’ dystopia which they enact, Deleuze and Guattari’s central project. For sure, Deleuze and Guattari suggest that we should ‘schizophrenise’ Marx; but, my gosh, Marx was writing mid-nineteenth century and look at what is going on since then, and above all since 1968!
Claire: If you think about contemporary politics: all we have to do is move from talking about national liberation movements and workers’ movements to looking at some of the most tortured and vexed political situations, such as the relationship between indigenous Australian communities and European settled communities, and we can see that as long as we have a
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notion of collectivity that’s founded on the traditional notion of labour and its organisation, then we will always be necessarily disenfranchising and robbing those people of a potential form of individuation.
This is what this is all about. The key question is how you can take part in some form of collective action without necessarily being identified as or appealing to ‘classes’ in the old sense. So the ‘molecularisation’ of politics which Deleuze and Guattari propose is about how to get beyond a situation in which, within a given context of communication, there are things that can’t be heard. The question is: how can you have some maximum degree of inclusion with a minimal degree of identification? This is a crucial question if you want a global politics which can allow for notions of contamination, and which can get beyond the limitations of models of politics modelled on opposed pairs of identities: workers vs. capitalists, national liberation struggles vs globalist struggles. You can’t have that anymore: you can only have these extremely molecular, local, individuating political gestures.
Peter: Well it depends on the situation. There are contexts where something like an indigenous mobilisation verging on identity politics, grounded in an indigenous tradition – as in parts of Bolivia and parts of Guatemala, and other places – has been politically significant and is today politically significant. The same applies to contemporary forms of class struggle. Of course things are changing all the time, but the basic logic of class struggle hasn’t changed that much over time: the dynamics of exploitation and domination at issue today are all too familiar, and remain a major factor in most if not all contemporary political situations.
Claire: That’s why the model of political engagement needs to be re-thought, why in a Deleuzian register one always refers to a ‘becoming-x’. Because yes, there is a strategic need for molar or identifiable movements. But if they start to think ‘OK – this is our movement, this is what we are identified as, and this is the only way it’s going to work’, then apart from the philosophical problems of identity that run there, such a movement is also going to destroy itself precisely by being identified and stable. The only way a transformatory political project is going to work is if it has a notion of redefinition that is inbuilt.
Peter: It’s not a matter of identity, it’s about collective self-determination, or what Gramsci used to call ‘collective will’, a tradition that goes back to Rousseau and the Jacobins. The question here is: what kind of social body or ‘social organism’ (this is Gramsci’s phrase from ‘The Modern Prince’) is capable of a militant collective will that is grounded in a dialectical understanding of the situation as it actually is (and not in some kind of abstract ideal of sufficiency), and that is able to intervene and to act effectively?
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intervene to the extent that it realises that it is itself constantly in a process of redefinition: that’s what the molecular is.
Peter: Becoming and dialectic aren’t the same thing. Molecular becoming isn’t a dialectical process, and it isn’t concerned with the consolidation of strength. It is, on the contrary, non-dialectical, rejecting any broad dialectical conception of historical negation and historical determination that makes sense to me, and placing an emphasis precisely, one way or another, on the dissolution of specific political groups.
Jeremy: Forgive me for intervening. In relation to Gramsci, who you mentioned, Peter: for me one of the most important ideas in Gramsci is that the key point in the hegemonic struggle is that moment when the class or political grouping transcends what he calls its ‘corporate’ character, when it begins to take on a different political role: you could say ‘when it enters into a process of becoming’, because, at this moment it necessarily transforms itself and puts at risk its established identity. That’s Gramsci’s re-working of Lenin’s account of the shift from trade union consciousness to revolutionary consciousness.
Claire: It becomes virtual. It’s not staying in the same body, with just this body of collective will, which we all decide to become part of; it has the potential to become any body whatever. It’s displaced from the present to some possible body.
Peter: But you have that in Rousseau already, in the sense that you already have a movement from the particular to the universal: what would be gained by substituting the universal for the virtual there?
Claire: The important notion here is potentiality: one doesn’t just speak of ‘any man whatever’, ‘any subject whatever’, or ‘any individual’ whatever, but of a pure potentiality.
Nick: It seems to me that what is at stake here is precisely the problem of composition that Peter has raised in relation to the problem of class struggle. I would say, Peter, that Deleuze and Guattari are with you on that: they also see that as a key issue, but they’re addressing the problem of the party form after the failure of the vanguard party and after the experience of the authoritarian state form of the Soviet Union. They are just as much concerned as Peter with questions of the composition and organisation of groups, and out of that interest they produce a very variegated sense of the different dynamics – consistencies, expressions, modes of appearance – of political formations.
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would take the form of becoming-imperceptible, of modes of sabotage, of certain types of literary production, all having almost no apparent political identity. Others would be consolidations of social forces engaging in precisely the kind of frontal manoeuvre that might actually lead to a revolution. It’s just that there is a variegated field here, in relation to which the Leninist party signifies a dogmatic and anti-inventive contraction of possibility. So I think that this is where the tension between, for instance, Peter’s position and Deleuze and Guattari’s might lie. But it’s not that Deleuze and Guattari are unconcerned with organisation; organisation – in all its tactical, semiotic, libidinal registers – is one of their principle concerns.
Peter: I agree that that is the best way to work within this tradition. If you aim to use Deleuze politically then this is the best way to do it: to think about what kind of resources he and Guattari give us for understanding how political composition works, how capitalism works, how political organisations might become more supple and inventive, and so on. All I would say is that for me it’s an extremely mixed picture: what they contribute is, in my opinion, undercut by the things that they undermine. Certainly it’s important, for example, to politicise issues such as the Stalinisation of the Leninist legacy, but everybody was doing that.
Éric: Ah, the Maoist destalinisation of the Leninist party … Peter: Right, the Maoist project is precisely that, entirely so, explicitly, from
the beginning.
Nick: But Deleuze and Guattari’s critique isn’t Maoist at all.
Peter: No, it’s not.
Éric: I have to agree on this point.
Jeremy: Let’s try to specify the difference between their position and the Maoist position as you understand it.
Peter: The Maoist position maintains that the work of avoiding something like bureaucratisation and Stalinisation has to come from within the party structure, using its own forms of discipline: the instrument of radical political change shouldn’t be thrown away or destroyed, but has to develop its own capability to renovate itself, renew itself and avoid this kind of bureaucratisation. That’s what the Cultural Revolution was designed to do, whether or not you think it succeeded.
Nick: But in the Chinese case that you hold up, Peter, renovation is complicit with economic development and the intensive exploitation of labour, which is
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far from a revolutionary project. And it develops into its own kind of mania, in the case of the Cultural Revolution.
Peter: I don’t think it’s now a matter of going back to the Cultural Revolution as such, or even of going back to party in the strict Leninist sense. So of course there is work to be done, of inventing new political forms, of discovering what might be, in Gramsci’s terms, our political ‘organisms’, our organisational forms which are capable, to some extent, of sustaining a collective determination or a collective will to force through political change, in the circumstances in which we now find ourselves. And I think that’s what people have been trying to do in places like South Africa or Bolivia, or Haiti, or whatever example you want to pick. And it’s also what people have been trying to do, mostly unsuccessfully, in what’s left of organised labour in countries like the UK or the US. But if that’s your criterion, if that’s what you’re looking for, then in my opinion, Deleuze and Guattari don’t add very much.
Claire: But if Deleuze and Guattari’s direct equation is ‘desire = revolution’, that means it can’t have the kind of framework that you’re talking about, as in the idea that revolution needs to occur within some sort of institution and programme. Your problem with them seems to be due to the fact that their idea of revolution has in it something that’s absolutely extra-institutional, absolutely extra-collective.
The molar, for Deleuze and Guattari, might be required as some sort of passing stage through which to achieve revolution, but the criteria for its success ultimately has not just to lie outside of molar formations, but to be defined against them, even if not negatively; they have to be working in some way to mutate. The ‘desire is revolutionary’ requirement seems to me to mean that there is something prima facie desirable and normative in mutation, which means that it’s not just slightly different from what Peter is describing as the Maoist position: it has to be absolutely opposed to the idea that revolution has to occur through some collective organism. Actually, ‘organism’ is an interesting phrase, because that’s a body. But for good or for ill it seems to me that Deleuze and Guattari’s conception answers well to our historical situation, in which no one revolutionary organism or body is ever going to do any work. It’s going to belie the actual political conditions and also not be suitable to them.
Éric: I would like to briefly return to the important question of the universal, not least because I think it is sustaining substantial ‘cultural’ differences around this square table. If we think about the political tradition that asserts the exclusive value of universal equality: nobody, absolutely nobody, is denying the importance of the fight for equality which has been so important to struggles such as the women’s liberation movement. That importance is absolutely obvious. Now, the question is: if you don’t think about equality only in formal terms, in terms of formal democracy, but in terms of the processes
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of the real immanence of the social and the political, then what are all the material and mutant composites of this so-called ‘equality’? And this is where we can see that the fight for equality, the determination to fight for equality, implies necessarily a certain kind of becoming, of singularisation, etc, that cannot anymore recognise itself in a unitary figure. And this is true historically and ontologically of the women’s liberation movement, for example, when it affirms a ‘post-identary’ becoming. The same could be differently affirmed of the ‘sans papiers’ mobilisations: in France, they want less and less a pure and simple integration to the republican order!
So for me it’s really based on a caricature, this critique which reads Deleuze and Guattari as only interested in escape, deterritorialisation, getting ‘out of this world’ [the title of Hallward’s critical book on Deleuze], and which asserts that if you problematise the universal as such you cannot engage in any fight for equality and in politics tout court. That’s not the way it works and the way ‘differences’ are at work in the creation of new worlds: it’s a defiguration that tries to ‘escape’ the real political questions for today. A Thousand Plateaus is still important precisely because it is constantly problematising the relationships between the molar and the molecular, between deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation, and trying to make a very precise social and historical analysis the key for any revolutionary praxis that refuses the constituted disjunction between the social and the political.
Peter: I don’t think that Deleuze and Guattari are much interested in equality. You seem to take that as a given.
Éric: It is rather that equality can’t work for real as any kind of given universal, beyond a strategic point of departure …
Claire: If you take Deleuze’s books on Bergson and on Hume, which would at first glance seem to be his least political gestures, the book on Hume is actually all about the production of social sympathy. That is: it’s about the idea that I can feel close to those bodies that are next to me because there’s some form of self-interest and partial affection involved, but that the real notion of politics is to have sympathy for a body that is not directly before me. That’s Bergson’s two sources of morality and religion, isn’t it? The idea being that you move beyond morality to the spiritual when you free movements of social control and organisation, beyond self-interest, towards some notion that ‘any body whatever, any subject whatever, any life whatever’ has an individuating power. That formulation might not use the word ‘equality’, but that’s because it doesn’t mean equality in the ‘equal-to’ sense; it means equal potentiality. So I think, actually, it’s interesting that Deleuze and Guattari don’t use the word, because they’re anti-equalisation, but their thought is actually more equalitarian or egalitarian insofar as it’s about equal potentiality. What Éric was saying about the women’s movement was right because that movement is partly about liberation from notions of humanism; it starts off with the
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assertion ‘we’re as human as you’, but it has to develop to the point where it doesn’t want to have to answer to that standard. So I think this approach is more equalitarian.
Nick: I’d support that completely, and I’d also say that it’s almost a kind of provocation not to use the word ‘equality’, because as soon as you do, you’re back on the terrain of formal equality and social democratic consensus, and I’d argue that they’re actually radically opposed to all of that.
Éric: ‘Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité’ – even Sarkozy uses that language … And Hobbes’ Leviathan, this Liberalism’s Monstruous Father, proposes a kind of equalitarian model too …
Peter: Well here we really do disagree, but it’s an interesting disagreement. The kind of equality that I’m talking about is not the equality of liberal democracy. It’s the equality that is implicit in something like the constitution of a general will or something like a Jacobin conception of politics – which takes shape in a very specific kind of conjuncture – or the equality that’s implicit in a generic set, which is in my opinion a far more coherent way of talking about ‘anyone at all’, because it provides a very clear conceptual analysis of what exactly that involves, and is exactly antithetical to a tradition which comes out of, say, Hume and Bergson (a slightly obscene combination), and which is based on ‘sympathy’ and ultimately on a kind of mysticism. Who are they, these people who are capable of having sympathy for the people who are not part of their immediate situation? It’s the Great Souls, the rare Great Souls – the elite. Much the same thing applies to Spinoza and in Nietzsche, two other key philosophical sources for Deleuze.
Claire: I agree with you – in Bergson it’s the saint, and in Hume it’s the good polity that creates the right social fictions: but I think you have to address the question of why one would not want to refer to a ‘universal will’ or a ‘collective will’. That vocabulary still implies, as the concept of the generic set does, a collection that will then have a clear identity, which will become the standard for equality; which is very different from a perspective that recognises that even equalisation/equalitarianism/egalitarianism has continually to change itself.
Éric: … in the lived and multiple temporalities of the event as production of subjectivity in-becoming. The question, then, is no longer necessarily to start from a kind of standard common humankind as a transcendental- real support for a Jacobin general will, assumed to express politically the unitary excess of the ‘people’ with regards to the mere bourgeois foundation of individual rights. There is no organic unity that the revolution restores ‘in a generic set’, by subtraction of the real social movement in its largest objective and subjective amplitude. And it is from the starting point of the constructivist ‘schizoanalysis’ of capitalism in Anti-Oedipus that Guattari can
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reassert, with Negri, the Marxian breakthrough : ‘We call Communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence’ … Premises that identify the development of the productive forces with the affective and cognitive development of humankind as a kind of cyborg, which is the real plane of social forces unthinkable in terms of the fixed identities of ‘citizenship’. It is this development that prevents the integration of equality into identity and unity, at the very same time as it makes possible and necessary its non- totalisable realisation.
Peter: I’m not talking about fixed or specified identities, but you still need some criterion for individuation: even Deleuze still talks about a life, a line of flight etc.
Claire: In those cases, it’s not a question of having a criterion for individuation: individuation is the criterion.
Peter: But on that score, a general will has the same kind of individuality, except that it includes its own self-determination. And likewise I would say, coming out of the Hegelian tradition (Hegel basically adopts this from Rousseau at the beginning of the Elements of the Philosophy of Right), that it’s a collective individuation which includes something like a conscious self-determination. And that’s the part that’s missing in Deleuze, and that can be understood (along neo-Jacobin lines) as egalitarian, as opposed to the Deleuzian metaphysical points of reference, which are all explicitly anti- egalitarian. So is his ontology. His ontology is a differential, anti-egalitarian ontology: everything is in univocal being and unequally so, right?
Claire: That’s anti-egalitarian if you only understand egalitarianism in terms which require something like a political organism, a representative body or a collective will. You’re right that that is one form of individuation, but it neither should be nor is the politically-focussed notion of individuation. Deleuze’s is a form of politics which, for good or for ill, is trying to get away from homogenising collective forms of individuation, to ask whether you could have a politics that wouldn’t be about a general will or a people. And I think about that not only in terms of the collapse of the validity of a notion of something like humanity: one has to think in terms of non-human kinds as well.
Peter: Okay, so what do you mean by all this? Can you give an example?
Claire: For me the most tortured situation I face as a white Australian is this: we have an indigenous people, and actually it would be an act of violence for them to form a collective body because it is only a fiction of the West that there is something like an ‘Aboriginal community’. It would be like them referring to
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Japan and the UK as ‘the West’: it has about as much individuation as that. So on the one hand you have a body of people trying to enter the political debate, but the condition for them doing that at the moment is to remove all of their capacity for collective individuation, and I think this just goes back to one of the questions which was on the value of communication and consensus in politics. Either you say ‘this is great because there’s a differend’, or you have to find means of political communication that don’t rely on the formation of a ‘collective will’. I think that is the only way that it’s going to work because otherwise one is imposing a model of individuation – i.e. the collective political body – on other forms of individuation that I think have as much political purchase and right as Rousseauist traditions of a general
Peter: My own country Canada has a roughly similar history, as you know, but still in some sense when you talk about something like the relationship between white Australia and the indigenous, however multiple and fragmented that term ‘indigenous’ is (and it’s equally so in Canada, perhaps even more so), you can still say, I think, that there is enough of a structured conflict between these two general groups to make sense of it as a conflict.
Claire: You can’t remove the molar: that’s why for a certain point in the political debate, you’re always going to have a gathering together for a body, but that also has to remain completely provisional and completely open to the multiple forms of individuation which might constitute it.
Peter: Completely open and completely provisional – who has an interest in that? In my experience, if you talk to people who are engaged in labour struggles – for example trying to organise a group of immigrant workers in California – or to people who are fighting to strengthen the social movements in Haiti or Bolivia, what they constantly say is: ‘we are too weak and what we need is some form of continuity and strength, and our enemies are constantly trying to bust it up, to break it up, to fragment it, to divide us, to make it provisional, to reject any kind of consolidation of the instruments that we need to strengthen our hand.’
Nick: But even then there are variable articulations. It’s complex, isn’t it? Such collectivities don’t derive from a general notion of their specific coherence – they emerge in response to a particular problem or a particular event – so I don’t see how your examples are at all in opposition to a Deleuzian understanding of the formation of collectivity as imminent to its situation.
Éric: I think that an important question at this point is the question of minority as it superimposes itself onto exploitation in a non Marxist way. The usual criticism is to say: ‘these minorities are fighting in a necessarily identitarian way, for the recognition of their particularities’. I think it is important to note a
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key aspect of the Deleuzo-Guattarian schema (and this is where the Badiouian treatment of this question, in Saint Paul for example, is really out of focus since it reduces the production of connective singularities to mere identitarian particularities): of course you have the majority, a redundant majority, and you have minorities, but Deleuze and Guattari write explicitly that the minorities regress to subsets as soon as they lose their quality of nondenumerable and cancerous flow. There is then a third term which is ‘becoming-minoritarian’, and which redefines politically the minorities as open multiplicities-in-becoming, through the molecular revolutions which they develop and spread, before and beyond the antagonistic struggles they become engaged in. This means that the minorities are a kind of middle-ground, where constantly the question, the negotiation, the tension, is between the aspiration towards a kind of will (and social necessity) to become ‘recognised’ through the majoritarian rules (‘to be counted among the majority’) and something else, which brings the creation of new liberatory and experimental agencies at a time when the proletariat does not offer any longer a form of universal consciousness of the history of struggles. Deleuze puts the matter brutally: ‘the question for minorities is to destroy capitalism’. So it is clearly not, for Deleuze, a question of giving to the minorities a kind of multicultural status as respected subsets of the market society.
Peter: But who’s talking about that?
Éric: I’m afraid you know perfectly the answer, mon cher: Old Marxists yesterday, and Badiou today in his henceforth constituent contra Deleuze! But beyond this point, I think this is one of the major political questions at stake in our discussion. It would oblige us to come back to the question of the universal: is it possible to explore alternatives to the notion of the universal as transcendental category constitutive of political philosophy? The investigator of ‘Deleuzian Politics’ could then interestingly explore Deleuze’s works before 1968, before what he presents as his passage to politics, in his work with Guattari, before the moment of constitution of what he presents simultaneously as ‘My Philosophy’, philosophy, political philosophy in his own double name; because this later work marked by the passage from a biophilosophy to a biopolitics doesn’t come from nowhere. We would have to understand what Deleuze did before, from his perverse early studies of other philosophers, subtracted from the History of philosophy, to the synthesis of Difference and repetition, as constituting an inquiry into the non-representative determination of ontology as such, and into an ontology which was being precisely defined against the philosophy of representation through the concepts of difference and multiplicity as a global alternative to a dialectical philosophy.
Peter: I’d love to talk about that, but as we’re leaving the question of identity behind, I want to make clear that the tradition of politics that I’m talking
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about is nothing to do with an identitarian attempt to get respect for hitherto under-appreciated or marginalised minorities inside of an existing society. This tradition coming out of Rousseau, Robespierre, and then later Fanon, Sartre and Badiou, all in their own way, is completely indifferent to that. It’s not about ‘given this identity, how do we then get better representation for ourselves within the existing system?’ For Fanon, yes, the constitution of a national liberation movement is at stake, but precisely at a distance from anything like a bourgeois investment in the particular history of a place (Algeria, for example) or tradition or essence. The question is precisely: ‘how can something come together, something whose identity emerges, if it has one, through its self-determination, not through some existing predicates or existing particularities, that is then able actively and forcibly to engage with the things that oppress it and dominate it. The civil rights movement, the UDF in South Africa, Lavalas in Haiti: these are the sort of movements I have in mind. The general question is what can and will actually undermine the domination of a ruling elite, or a form of capitalist exploitation, or of discrimination: what will do that? Something like a discourse of minority, which is to say a force of becoming? Or will that merely tend towards the dissolution of any kind of strategic grip on the situation?
Claire: All the language you use, Peter, is a language of decision, will, self- formation which seems to imply a sort of voluntarist notion of politics.
Peter: That’s right: absolutely.
Claire: Well maybe this voluntaristic form of will and human intentionality would be good, but this account of politics doesn’t seem to take account of all the affective and even suicidal tendencies in collective behaviour. Nothing is more obvious than that people often do not act in their own best interests. So any notion of politics has to take into account movements, desires, etc: factors beyond intentionality, decision, will-making and self-formation. This seems to me to be, again, what these broader notions of political analysis are for; they’re for dealing with the question of why political movements do not form themselves properly, why they form themselves rigidly, why they become, to use Deleuze and Guattari’s metaphor, ‘cancerous’. How does something which starts to act in terms of self-identity and self-formation also start to rigidify itself and to form itself in such a way that it undoes itself?
Nick: I entirely agree, and that seems to be precisely Deleuze and Guattari’s question: how to prevent those cancerous bodies emerging out of progressive organisational formations, and how to affirm distributed processes of composition against authoritarian models that would separate the function of leadership from the mass political body.
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But they also provide very interesting analysis of specific revolutionary modes of organisation. I’m thinking of the 22 March movement in 1968: Guattari has a lovely analysis of its forms of libidinal transference, as a collective organisation that remained part of the wider uprising – it didn’t solidify into a separate movement – whilst also functioning as a point of transference in the political body, allowing distributed and self-critical struggles to emerge. Or there’s his work on the party, asking what exactly was the Leninist break, what kind of semiotics did it have, what affects did it create, how did it work to effect ruptures and continuities in the social formation of the time?
Claire: And that’s why desire, which looks like a de-politicising term (as soon as you talk about ‘desire’ rather than ‘power’, it looks de-politicising) is actually part of a politicising problematic. It’s a way of looking at what used to be called ‘interests’ – but that term is still to voluntarist and too cognitivist. We’re supposed to be going through an ‘affective turn’ in cultural theory at the moment, which again looks depoliticising at first glance, but it shouldn’t be: it should be about how bodies desire their own complicity, and it’s about the production of political formations against the manifest aims of power. I think the problem is the use of the word ‘decision’, as though to see something as a politically ‘good thing’, to know that one wants this, could ever be enough in itself; as though the decision these days would be enough either for oneself or for a collective body. We all know that that’s not how political movements work or could work these days.
Jeremy: You’re referring to the elevation of the decision as the defining act of a democratic process?
Claire: Yes.
Peter: Any kind of will is of course preoccupied with all the things that weaken it, divide it, defer it, undermine it. Much of Rousseau’s work on the general will is concerned with the issue of how to engage with the factions, with private, particularising interests. The mobilisation of an actively and sustainably general will is a rare thing.
Claire: Isn’t that why, following Deleuze, one refers to a passive vitalism? In What is Philosophy? we see two traditions of vitalism. There’s an active, voluntarist vitalism which goes back to Kant and then there’s a passive vitalism which runs from Liebniz to Deleuze and Guattari, according to which there might be the will and there might be the decision, but then there are all those other factors that aren’t decided, within one’s own body or within the social world or wherever.
Peter: It doesn’t disprove this voluntarist tradition, just to say that there all these other factors to consider. First of all, will isn’t primary – it emerges – and
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decision is never primary either. Needless to say, in many or most situations it makes no sense to talk about collective decision. But there are some situations in which something like a decision can crystallise, if people are determined to make it. In August 1792, after enduring years of repression and betrayal, the people of Paris force a decision about the king and about the way the French revolution has to go; after which you are either for or against this decision and there is no more middle ground. It wasn’t like that before and later it won’t always be like that, but in that moment, and in the immediate future it opens up, that is the case.
Claire: But these are threshold points to which a thousand decisions have contributed. Of course you’re right, and the same was true of the English revolution, when they beheaded a king; of course it’s got a date, it’s got a time and it could have happened otherwise. But there’s a thousand indecisions which lead up to that which have to do with completely material versions of contingency and stupidity.
Peter: That’s one side of it: but there are also principles, there are reasons, there is a sort of political logic. The emergence of something like the UDF in South Africa in the 1980s is no doubt a hugely complicated thing. You could have described it, I suppose, in some ways, as a sort of rhizomatic complex of assemblages. But it was also animated by very clear decisions, and commitments, and principles: one man, one vote, the freedom charter, etc – and there is an element of straight decision and engagement, just as there could have been around the prescription to stop the war that we’re waging today.
Claire: That’s true, and Deleuze and Guattari’s position is that philosophy will, at the end of the day, create a concept; and there’s something active in that idea and in the idea that philosophy, and its concepts, can do something. But we also have to take into account their rich analysis, according to which the condition of possibility of that emergence is completely dispersed, and not within the scope of one’s intentionality.
Peter: I don’t see it in those terms at all. People fighting for these things see it straightforwardly and immediately as a matter of principle that they have been fighting for, often for as long as they can remember, and there’s something very clear about these kinds of engagements.
Éric: This reveals one of the difficulties with our discussion, because effectively we are all motivated by a ‘cultural’ background which involves certain kinds of philosophical and political ‘decisions’; for you, Peter, there is no escape from a rationalist philosophy of the Subject (that you re-embody ‘humanistically’ beyond Badiou) and a pre- and overdetermined definition of politics from this ‘universal-subjective’ theory of foundation. You know what a subject is and
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must be, and you know what politics is when it is – a motivated purification of the social guided by a general will – and between the two there is that which you and your post-cartesian tradition call Decision. That’s fine, absolutely coherent, but personally I feel closer to another tradition, more ‘objectively’ problematic and less ‘subjectively’ axiomatic, believing more in transversal multiplications than in voluntarist unifications as reality conditions under which something new can be created. But let me simply add this: it is fifty years of contemporary philosophy that disappear in your neo-sartrian ‘engagement’. And when I say fifty years of contemporary philosophy, I mean also a whole alternative tradition, a whole counter-history of philosophy that disappears (from Spinoza to Nietzsche, and so on …). You can insist that ‘everybody’, with you, simply know what politics is when it happens in its evental rarity, but the real problem, ultimately, is that we are confronted with an intensive ‘de-definition’ of politics with regard to its formalist as well as its decisionist definition – invalidated by the ‘real subsumption’ of the entire social world under the biopower of capital. And the new kinds of antagonisms and divergent subjectivities that emerged/escaped from it have been less inspired by the Rousseauist legacy of the French Revolution which they would radicalise than they have been determined by the very mutations of capitalism; along with the radical democracy experimented-with by the mobilisations and ‘coordinations’ of those social forces which it cannot stop, and which continually shatter the deadly conditions of reproduction of capital.
Claire: It’s not just about the last fifty years of philosophy – we’re looking at humans facing extinction at the moment. There might be self-conscious political movements that want to save themselves, but it’s also the case that we’re destroying ourselves precisely through the constant re-taking of the decision to survive: we want to survive and we’ve got these resources so we’ll use them, and in the process we’re destroying the ecosystem. It’s the straightforward fact of the ecological future, isn’t it? Contemporary capitalism functions such that the condition of the possibility for individual survival is destruction at a much broader level. This means that one has to go beyond the mere immediate question of one group’s or individual’s self-constitution and survival: even if, as you say, these movements don’t see themselves as problematic in those terms. There I agree with you: you enter a women’s collective and they don’t see themselves as molar aggregations. But the condition for the survival of all such groups and the bodies which compose them is not to see themselves that way, precisely because we’re in a historical phase of self-destruction, and our hopes for emerging from it can’t rely on things like the subject and decision.
Jeremy: I’m glad you’ve raised this, Claire, because it brings us to an interesting question. Although I’m probably more broadly in sympathy
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with your perspective, I think that Peter’s tradition is entitled to ask of the Deleuzian perspective: on what grounds do you even recognise it as a problem that the human species might destroy itself? I have actually had people say to me, claiming Deleuze (and, admittedly, Delanda) as authorities: ‘who cares? who cares about the destruction of the human race? why should we care? let the capitalist movement of deterritorialisation carry on to its logical conclusion …’
Peter: ‘Let the desert grow …’
Éric: Do we have to answer this Pseudo-Deleuzianism? It’s a patently hallucinated and pathologically interested interpretation. Politically absurd, and philosophically so weak, so ignorant of what it is supposed to know! An Embedded Deleuzianism!
Claire: I think this is a problem with taking some of Deleuze and Guattari’s language in a literalist manner – which is always the problem with DeLanda. When you talk about becoming-imperceptible, if you take it absolutely literally, then this does strictly follow, and it follows that if there is a tendency in life towards deterritorialisation then prima facie that deterritorialisation is a good thing, so the human being can deterritorialise itself, life goes on, and that’s okay.
But there’s also a fold-back movement in their thought. If you look at What is Philosophy?, you can see that they are fascinated by the fact that from the production of material processes something immaterial can emerge, which is philosophy. And there seems to me to be a normative prima facie value attached to that as well, because it’s a higher deterritorialisation – it’s an example of life creating something which somehow has gone beyond life. From this normative perspective, insofar as humanity is a subject, if humanity can create a virtual body beyond itself, like the philosophical archive, then it ought to. And it seems to me that there’s no stronger defence of human life than that because everything else is probably dissolved by such a perspective.
Nick: To follow on from that: if labour is the metabolism between the human and nature – and Marx talks about the ‘inorganic body’ of the Earth here in terms that resonate strongly with Deleuze – then you can start to think about the possibility of a certain denigration of the human that is actually an affirmation of the capacities of human life. So I don’t see the critique of