Dark Deleuze: disconnectivist theory

I’ve started working through Dark Deleuze by Andrew Culp, currently of the rhetoric department at Whitman college and, like myself, a former college policy debater. Against the emphasis on joy and affirmation perceived in Deleuze studies today, Culp undertakes some ‘philosophical buggery’ of his own and refashions Deleuze into a thinker of destruction and negativity. It’s a very original and fascinating project, and has been very thought-provoking in context of some reading on Badiou that I’ve been doing lately (but more on that another day). Here, I’d like to get some words on the page regarding what Culp terms “connectivism.”

A few weeks ago, my Facebook news feed was filled with commentary on the House Democrats’ recent sit-in on the chamber floor in support of expanded gun control. In particular, several of my friends expressed anger that the GOP shut off C-SPAN coverage of the sit-in; while C-SPAN has access to the live feed of the House, they don’t own the cameras, so when a recess is declared (as it was by the Republican majority), the cameras turn off. Likewise, many trumpeted the success of new media technologies such as Periscope in sustaining coverage following the blackout (“The revolution may not be televised, but it will be streamed, snapchatted, and tweeted,” wrote one friend). I sympathize with the progressive intentions of these folks, and I can respect the political maneuvering even though the bill they were protesting for is pretty bad.

Democrats8217_Gun_Control_SitIn_Sparks-549aaa176054f98825e4a64524587d51Anyway, I’d like to focus for a moment on this confidence in the progressive potential of interpersonal connection through new media. For social media networks like Facebook, the internet’s greatest achievement lies in its ability to open channels of info-sharing between people, across geographic and socioeconomic divides. Facebook in particular has championed a philosophy of openness, exploring ways in which media consumption and social preferences can be networked and indexed to tell users more and more about what’s going on with their friends and colleagues. Where the Enlightenment was in large part an era of revealing the mysteries of nature, the digital age promises to reveal the mysteries of those around us — what movies we like, when we have free time, where we travel to, what we have for lunch, our most mundane thoughts, all easily accessible on a packaged and sorted data feed. Likewise, if the Enlightenment was about tightening up our methods of acquiring knowledge, technology today concerns itself with distribution of information rather than merely acquiring it. It is as if today’s Snapchat revolutionaries position themselves as a support staff for making sure information can achieve what it so badly desires — to be freely circulated — and once that is achieved, the information will take care of the rest. In this way, text, image, and video are all captured and circulated — connected — in the name of ‘openness’ and ‘transparency’. As the secrets of our thoughts and experiences become digitized, the distance between all of us recedes.

I think all of this is a brilliant illustration of one aspect of connectivism, which Culp says is defined by its drive for “world-building” — specifically, to unify all under the auspices of a “single world.” Where geographic, cultural, and linguistic differences once divided us, connectivism summons the innovative strength of media informatics and consumer capitalism to create a baseline code capable of including all in its universe of nodes and relays. A new language — a new world — of “Click, Poke, Like” collapses prior distinctions and renders everything open to accessibility and circulation, all to the benefit of capitalism. Much of this is pretty obvious, as we are all well aware of how much we pay for smart phones that are designed for obsolescence. We also seem to be growing increasingly conscious of the ways in which these technologies function as powerful surveillance tools which make details about ourselves and our lives easily accessible to both private companies and governments. Connectivism really kicks in, however, with what Jodi Dean calls its “injunctions to communicate,” the ways in which we all feel compelled to participate in social media, to stay involved in each others’ lives via our internet avatars, and to share more and more about ourselves and our opinions.

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Now, Marxists, anti-globalization critics, and the like have been keyed into this topic for several years, and there’s a lot of great work that describes the more nefarious elements of social media, cybernetics, the internet, and Google (among my favorites, see “The Cybernetic Hypothesis” by Tiqqun and “Fuck Off Google” by The Invisible Committee). Dark Deleuze takes up a less orthodox (for the left, anyway) position by identifying the predominant reception of Deleuze and Guattari in the English-speaking world as connectivist — specifically, the emphasis on concepts like rhizome and assemblage. For Culp, connection for connection’s sake falls exactly in line with practices of the business world like ‘networking,’ ‘horizontal management,’ and cultivating online presences (for example, in a company’s Facebook page or an employee’s LinkedIn profile — or even a scholar’s Academia.edu page). The problem with concepts such as rhizome lies in the pre-existence or preeminence of geographies of power, which is to say that multiplying connections or affective interfaces should be preceded by questioning what you are connecting to. Without asking these sorts of questions, Culp suggests that we become akin to what Deleuze described in Nietzsche & Philosophy as an “ass” who says only “ye-a” because it doesn’t know how to say ‘no’ — a “false yes.”

Of course, Culp is not the first to note a confluence between capitalism and a certain style of Deleuze — Zizek’s Organs Without Bodies is a famous example which he cites early in the book, and the analogy between Google and Deleuze is made explicitly in this interview of Alexander Galloway from last year. There, Galloway called for us to “forget Deleuze,” criticizing specifically the “Google Deleuzians” (which I think would be the connectivists for Culp), the “Carl Sagan Deleuzians” who gaze passively at the ontological wonder of the universe (something like Culp’s productivists, perhaps), and the “wet diaper Deleuzians” who prioritize the pure liberation of counter-culture desires. Identifying these Deleuzian characters with an emphasis on the D&G scholarship of the 70s, chiefly Anti-Oedipus, Galloway points instead to a different Deleuze, the Deleuze who wrote “Postscript on the Societies of Control,” who held little optimism towards globalization’s multiplication of differences and powers of networking. In this way, Galloway sets the good Deleuzian apart from the bad by where in the oeuvre they draw from: 1990s good, 1970s dated (this is, of course, an interview, so Galloway gets to be a little polemical).

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I think Galloway is great, but here I want to key in on two ways in which Culp’s book could be seen as building upon those interview remarks. First, Culp shows that it doesn’t have to be a question of 1972 versus 1990; the critical, negative Deleuze has been there all along, from the ‘principle of selection’ in Nietzsche & Philosophy to the gloss on ‘escape’ in “Five Propositions on Psychoanalysis.” What I really love about this project is how much it seems to resonate with Deleuze’s own ‘philosophical buggery,’ how it cuts across the entire oeuvre to create something that feels new while still sourced in what we already have — and this is clearly a goal Culp had in mind for this project. Clearly, when you read those mid-70’s and eary 80’s works, your first impression leans toward the dominant reading of rhizomes, assemblages, and liberation of desire. The introductions and prefaces all point you in that direction, and most of the secondary literature (all those “User’s Guides” floating around these days) does as well. What’s remarkable about Dark Deleuze is the philosophy that it unearths under that facade of horizontalism and smooth spaces — a hidden dungeon of negativity, unfolding, un-becoming, and destruction.

 

A second point of divergence lies in Culp’s dedication not just to tearing down a prior reading of Deleuze but in spending just as much, if not more time building developing his alternate reading. This is not to say that other folks have failed to contribute anything ‘productive’ (a mantra that Culp takes to task in his section titled “The Task”). Rather, I think it’s illustrative of a particular kind of ‘destructive creation,’ a particular method of “destroying worlds.” Culp couples his diagnostic of a co-opted Deleuzianism with an escape route, a specifically asymmetrical alternative that re-frames the critical question in a new light. In support of recovering “Deleuze the communist,” as Galloway says, Culp shows us the path to a materialist (rather than a realist) ontology, an explicitly anti-democratic ethics, and a “cataclysmic” politics in place of molecular revolution. The text’s structure almost seems inspired by Laruelle pieces like “Deconstruction and Non-Philosophy,” where an element of philosophy is isolated and pair with its non-philosophical counterpart in a neat and ordered fashion.

To move against connectivist philosophy, Culp calls on us to move “from the chapel to the crypt,” away from the project of casting light on the dark and unconnected corners of existence, and into the “catacombs.” This is more than mere contrarianism or dialectical negation; not an “arcane message” that replaces angelic enlightenment. Here, I think we find the most difficult section of Dark Deleuze:

This raises an important question: what is an appropriately cryptic language? Deleuze and Guattari note that “the man of war brings the secret: he thinks, eats, loves, judges, arrives in secret, while the man of the state proceeds publicly” (TP, 543–44). Fortunately, in our conspiratorial world of phantasms, one does not hold a secret but instead becomes a secret. Even if she ends up spilling everything, it turns out to be nothing. Why? The secret first hides within dominant forms to limit exposure, yet what it smuggles inside is not any specific thing that needs to evade discovery. Rather, it is a perception of the secret that spreads under the shroud of secrecy: perception + secret = the secret as secretion. Conspiracies do not remain limited to a few furtive missives; their creeping insinuations are part of a universal project to permeate all of society (TP, 286–89). The best conspiracy is when it has nothing left to hide.

The point, I think, is to try something like moving below and within society at the same time, to pollute the ‘within’ with the ‘below.’ Muddling the society of connectivity with interruptions is more effective than trying to log yourself out completely. The difference is between what The Invisible Committee calls “an experience of disconnection” and what Galloway has referred to as “militant withdrawal,” where one removes themselves from a system of representation but remains in view as scrambled or unintelligible.

 

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