Reading for November 2016

…This thing still on?

DeLanda and Deleuze/Understanding Society Blog

I have always really appreciated the Understanding Society blog. This, on Manuel DeLanda’s new book on ontology and assemblage theory in the social sciences, is particularly excellent. (Understanding Society started this discussion back here).Although I have Manuel DeLanda’s new book on social assemblages in hand, I haven’t had the time to start reading it yet. I should note that I found his previous book-length attempt at dealing with assemblages to be his least successful work; this new one sounds like a considerable step forward.

I’ve been reading DeLanda for over a decade now, and have always found him to be the clearest exponent and expositor of Deleuze’s philosophy, though calling him an editor and synthesist of that philosophy might be a better description of DeLanda’s relationship to Deleuze.

Despite admiring aspects of Deleuze’s thought greatly, and always enjoying DeLanda, I have never once been genuinely impressed by anyone else’s attempt to apply Deleuzian thought to a social or historical analysis. Likewise, I’ve never seen how one could do it in practice (it was inspiring, but not practicable)

Nevertheless, DeLanda’s diligence seems to be paying off. Little by little, he is making Deleuzian thought seem closer-to-practicable within the academy. I suspect that the best of the Deleuzian socio-historical tradition (often, lately, focusing on military applications in the Middle East) will experience a quantum leap in clarity and reproducibility within the next 5 years.

Symbolic Value of the Safety Pin.

I’ve been an active anti-fascist for most of my adult life, and have a different view of the American right and fascism than most American liberals, I think, as a consequence. The rise of attempts to signify a personal relationship to changed political circumstances, such as with the display of the safety pin, has been interesting. I’m personally grateful to those who rather immediately demanded of the people promoting it whether they were taking any actual steps to help, or whether the mere symbolism of the safety pin was sufficient for their purposes. I think the notion that the safety pin is solely a means of alleviating (endemic levels of) white guilt and fragility, on the other hand, goes a bit far. I think this piece, on Sociological Images, is particularly good at demonstrating that the effect in certain locations – especially conservative, racist, or rural locations – is quite different than pinning on a safety pin in Manhattan after secretly voting for Trump.

Nuance is good.

Renewed Genocide in Myanmar/Burma

The attack on the Rohingya has renewed and intensified. Hundreds of homes and many villages have been razed; people fleeing or homeless as a result of previous violence are made more vulnerable. Here’s just one article

It’s been happening for a few years, and is ramping up again. But the West has been utterly silent on this except for a few sensationalizing pieces. The problem with international assistance is that our distance usually renders us dependent on compromised AID groups. The best thing those of us in the USA can probably do here is to publicize (will require self-education), demand action, lobby (if you’re active in the political system or have special access), etc. Those with money could donate to MSF. Other suggestions?

Higher Ed and “Identity Politics”

I’ve decided this piece on Academe, by Christopher Newfield, titled “Higher Ed and ‘Identity Politics,’ is the must-read piece on Higher Ed this week. It’s a takedown of the  nearsighted piece by Mark Lilla on the cause of the democratic loss in the election, which he identifies largely as campus identity politics. Whew.



Reading Report

No real reviews here, but a short list on what I’ve been reading this Summer, and how I generally feel about the books or articles.  What have you been reading?  Anything I should know about?  Let me know in the comments.

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SOUNDING on Random Theoretical Notions, July 2, 2010

Some things that have crossed my wires (in all senses) recently, that I’m keeping track of:


Capital and the BwO (Body without Organs)

Just a brief reference. The BodyWithoutOrgans (BwO) of Deleuze and Guattari’s thought (anti-oedipus) is notoriously difficult to explain. I’ve discussed this previously, and even mentioned that I thought that Manuel DeLanda’s reading of Deleuze and Guattari does a much, much (much!) better job of explaining the BwO (and most other things) than they do themselves.

Here’s another great summary of the BwO, here linked explicitly (as it always was, in the begininng, for D&G) to capitalism. In Steven Shaviro‘s explication, the BwO becomes almost explicitly cancerous. Worth a read. The beginning is below…

Let us say, then, that Capital itself is the monstrous flesh within which we, the multitude, find ourselves compelled to live. When “the specifically capitalist mode of production” has been well enough developed, Marx says, “capital. . . becomes a very mystical being, since all the productive forces of social labour appear attributable to it, and not to labour as such, as a power springing forth from its own womb” (1993, 966; cited in Deleuze and Guattari 1983, 11). It is by appropriating all the fruits of production, and attributing all this production to itself, that capital becomes the mystical being that Deleuze and Guattari call the socius, the full Body without Organs. This monstrous flesh is the womb, the belly, and the skin of our society. The body of capital is the site of all our encounters, the space within which all our desires are registered and distributed. It is the “fluid and slippery” surface (Deleuze and Guattari 1983, 15) across which money flows as a universal equivalent, enabling all conceivable metamorphoses from one form to another, or one substance to another. And the depths of this flesh also encompass the time that is our horizon. This includes the time of our “lived experience”: clock time, work time, leisure time. But it also includes forms of time that are alien to any subjective experience: the speed-of-light, nearly instantaneous time of electronic networks, the time-scale of what Marx calls the “turnover” of capital, and the future time that is counted and discounted, and made commensurable with the present, in the form of interest rates.

Of course, this monstrous flesh is “really” ours, ultimately ours. The body of capital can only function to the extent that it appropriates to itself, and attributes to its own creativity, what is actually the productive labor of the multitude….[more]


Gift economies and alternating hierarchies (machines of change)

One of Deleuze and Guattari’s favorite techniques is to turn conceive of something that is the sum of its parts that are not usually thought together. (See, especially, Deleuze, Gilles, and Fâelix Guattari. Anti-oedipus: capitalism and schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990 [1983].)

So, we get words like ‘heterogenous assemblages,’ which attempts to point out the connectedness that exists between two different entities. The important thing for D&G is to understand that in these cases, the connection is made possible by the difference between the two: the difference makes the difference.

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Deleuze and Guattari on the State

We’ve been talking in an anthropological study group I’m a part of about the possibility of reformulating a concept of the state that would allow us to tackle problems such as non-territorially based forms of coordinating hierarchy. I’ve been rereading Deleuze and Guattari‘s What is Philosophy this last week, and came across this nugget, which I suggest proposes a good reason for retaining the notion of a territorial state. Here, they identify capitalism with the City, which seems appropriate enough to me:

States and Cities have often been defined as territorial, as substituting a territorial principle for the principal of lineage. But this is inexact: lineal groups may change territory, and they are only really determined by embracing a territory or residence in a ‘local lineage.’ State and City, on the contrary, carry out a deterritorializaion because the former juxtaposes and compares agricultural territories by relating them to a higher arithmetical Unity, and the latter adapts to the territory to a geometrical extensiveness that can be continued in commercial circuits. The imperial spatium of the State and the political extensio of the city are not so much forms of a territorial principle as a deterritorialization that takes place on the spot when the State appropriates the territory of local groups or when the city turns its back on its hinterland. In one case, there is reterritorialization on the palace and its supplies; and in the other, on the agora and commercial networks. ((1 Deleuze and Guattari, What is philosophy? p. 86))

In a nutshell, the insight is that the state binds the forces of capitalism which are always seeking extension: the result is a balance of terror, as Hunter S. Thompson might have put it, in which the leveling effects of the state preserve the duration of capitalism’s hierarchies.
Put another way, if we want to retheorize the state, as so many anarchists want to do today, and as seems necessary, do we really want to throw out territory as one of its necessary components? It seems to me that the territorial component of the state concept is crucial to understanding the state’s relationship with capitalism, which we, as anarchists, are perhaps less interested in retheorizing than, say, Marxists.

Deleuze’s notion here is that the State and the City are both deterritorializing at the same time that they are reterritorializing. The State destroys the territory of the agricultural field by relating it to a unity of territory. The city destroys the territory of its domain by extension and through the incorporation and submission of the new areas and processes to the City (capitalism).

My opinion is strongly that we ought to avoid retheorizing the state without its territorial component: the very role of the State concept is to reterritorialize the deterritorializing effects of capitalism, to contain capitalism’s orgy of production and consumption in order to stablize (or ‘statify’) the hierarchies which capitalism temporarily enables. (pure capitalism would run out of energy quite quickly, and collapse, returning a leveling effect). At the same time, the City’s role is to reterritorialize the deterritorializing effects of the state – the State levels (as does the Nation), but the City (and Capitalism) creates hierachy and function. They need each other in order to remain vital and durable.