owner-nettime-l on Fri, 10 Oct 1997 23:32:58 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Re: Remaking Social Practices

Re: db takes on Monsieru Guattari's ghost

Since Mr. Bennahum addresses the late Guattari in the present tense as a
"you", I cannot help but suspect that he is not aware of Guattari's passing
(in which case he probably read the essay quickly, seeing as this info was
tacked on the bottom of the post). One possible though unlikely explanation
for this is that Mr. B doesnt have a clue who Guattari is, which is of
course perfectly acceptable, but might explain a bit why his tone seems so
jarring (I for one have such enormous respect for Guattari that even though
I disagree with some of his points I would feel far too humbled by his
labors to take such a brash stance -- but perhaps Mr. B is a more punk-rock
when it comes to idol-bashing than moi).

Yes, Guattari's piece does have a slightly annoying elegaic tone (Im
surprised Bennahum did not lay into the fisherman and farmer stuff), and he
uses some familiar tropes in a surprisingly mainstream way for a writer who
is often, frankly, impenetrable. But this must be seen in the context of an
intellectual heavyweight consciously turning towards a more public voice
(this was for Le Monde, remember) in order to address the pressing issues
at hand. One finds this move as well in some of Deleuze's late essays
(perhaps to better effect), and even to some degree in Derrida. This
public, almost "middle-brow" context should be taken into account when
judging this essay, or at least should be set against Guattari's other
work, which makes the essay's points seem vastly less naive than what
Bennahum reads. One can de-territorialize common myths as well, as an
attempt to grab the large energy invested in conventional
paradigms/images/tropes and redirect them. This is not unrelated to what
the later work of Guattari did regarding "ecology" -- and what he and
Deleuze were always doing with "machines."

Seen from some nitty-gritty points of view, much of what Mr. B says seems
valid or even "true." "What do you mean exactly?" is always an excellent
question, especially when dealing with French intellectuals. But that is
not really the point here. Seeing that Guattari is unlikely to respond from
his lotus of bliss in Tushita heaven, it seems important to attempt to
expand on a few of the points in his essay that Bennahum reads so
simplistically. Obviously, I am not claiming to be channeling Guattari, and
I am hardly an expert on his work, solo or otherwise. Nor do I agree with
everything in the essay.

>>We cover our eyes; we forbid ourselves
>>to think about the turbulent passage of our times, which swiftly thrusts
>>far behind us our familiar past, which effaces ways of being and living
>>that are still fresh in our minds, and which slaps our future onto an
>>opaque horizon, heavy with thick clouds and miasmas. We depend all the
>>more on the reassurance that nothing is assured.
>This is such a tiresome trope, and so totally absurd when placed in the
>context of history....[timeline here]
>Are you seriously saying that the period from 1991-present (post-cold war)
>"swiftly thrusts far behind us our familiar past,"  "slaps our future onto
>an opaque horizon," and that "we depend all the more on the reassurance
>that nothing is assured"-- and th at this is a remarkable, new,
>unsettling, worrisome state of affairs?

What a reductive mind Mr. B has: the looming horizon of social subjectivity
that an intellectual perceives must measure up to an objective "historical
disorientation" device before it is allowed through the gate. It is as if
the conditions of thought, perception, and subjectivity dont have their own
histories, qualities and vectors, within which our tangled moment seems, if
not unprecedented, than at least mighty bizarre in its velocity, rate of
mutation, interdependency, global perspective, technological penetration,
and post-humanist verve.

Of course this is a rhetorical strategy on Guattari's part, but it is
hardly a naive opposition whose historicist deconstruction somehow
dismantles the validity of what is to follow. As Benjamin suggested, modern
civilization is in a perpetual state of collapse -- a moving apocalypse
without redemption. But to attempt to speak from the edge of that immanent
chaos, to take up the moment in all its unpredictable flux (for I do not
aggree with Mr. B's suggestion that somehow that the persistence of
capitalist disorientation makes it somehow less disorienting) is not some
hack cannard; it is to insist that we cannot grapple with the fundamental
issues of the day by taking a "business as usual" stance -- or an overly
historical one either, especially one which is weighted down by the very
left/right dichotomies that Guattari's chaotic ecosophy is attempting to
move beyond.

As we all know, the device of simplifying the existing state of affairs and
then offering a partial solution -- "we need a new X" -- is a tried and
true op-ed formula -- and recall that this was for Le Monde, written with
the intention of reaching a much wider audience than reads philosophical
journals or cranky highbrow elists. To mistake this device for the
substance of his argument (which is more about the existing tendencies
which need to be nourished than the total novelties that need to be
hatched) is especially surprising coming from Mr. B -- someone who, like
myself, earns his bread by writing very different kinds of things for very
different outlets, and thus must recognize how one tailors one's thought
for different audiences -- I mean, presumably the "David Bennahum" that
appears in Spin and Wired is more than a crass, money-making doppelganger
of the "David Bennahum" of Meme and Nettime.

>>It is thus of primordial importance that, alongside
>>the capitalist market, there appear territorialized markets that rely on
>>the support of substantial formations, that affirm their modes of
>>valorization. Out of the capitalist chaos must come what I call
>>"attractors" of values: values that are diverse, heterogeneous, dissensual
>So for the "layman," you know, the person who is actually working, what
>lesson is to be gained from this diagnosis?  What is a "territorialized
>market"? Do you mean a market based on geography, like the phrase, "the
>French market," or do you mean somethin g else?  What is an "attractor" of
>values?  And why do you say "capitalist chaos"?  Do you mean that
>capitalist markets are chaotic, or do you mean that they are just so
>complex, that their "order" is incomprehensible to us? Isn't "chaos"
>consistent with the nouns you use: "diverse, heterogeneous, dissensual."?

If Mr. B is unhappy with the vagaries of theoretical language, I can hardly
argue with him. Like many French intellectuals, Guattari speaks in glowing
but slippery abstractions -- in fact, this essay is unusually grounded. For
fans of D&G, "territorialize" has many meanings and many vectors, a number
of which are often considered somewhat "bad" in the face of the more
exuberant "deterritorialize." (this is particularly true for the Nick
Land/Warwick school of pedal-to-the-metal Deleuzian deterritorialization).
All this makes the appearence of "territorialize" here something of a
turnaround, a "cautious" move if you will, reminding us of one of the great
lessons of _Mille Plateaus_: never believe that a smooth space will save

Yes, I would guess that Guattari, as an "ecosopher", is thinking of
physical territories to some degree here, although hardly ones organized
along state lines! (perhaps, as some anarcho-ecologists in the US suggest,
according to  bio-regions). What is more important is that he is
acknowledging that capital has achieved such a frightening degree of
deterritorialization that we will severely blow it if we attempt to align
all the facets of the real to that particular abstract machine -- to avoid
daring to reterritorialize the social and ecological field in a way that
localizes, materializes, and arrests that particularly vehement flow of
abstract, ever-translatable value (the example of two currencies is
pertinent here -- not a replacement, but another fold).

Using the admittedly dodgy lingo of chaos theory, Guattari seems to be
saying that capitalism is a chaos in the sense of a system far from
equilibrium, moving through a continuous series of bifurcations and yet
maintaining relatively low dimensions (profit, growth,
recapitalization,etc).  Guattari is hoping to mobilize new attractors of
value within this system, attractors which do not arrest the chaos of
capital but hang it up around divergent and heterogenous points that add
new and multiple dimensions to the "phase space" of the real. These points
would be divergent and heterogenous in their fundamental values, as opposed
to the now nearly absolute value of profit; in this sense, perhaps, the
relatively clean air of a city or the existence of public spaces or the
non-extinction of animals would no longer be a question resolved within the
chimeric frameworks of GNP or profit and loss, but would present themselves
as positive and productive value-attractors with their own diverse and
intrinisic momentum.

>>        An essential condition for succeeding in the promotion of a new
>>planetary consciousness would thus reside i n our collective capacity for
>>the recreation of value systems that would escape the moral, psychological
>>and social lamination of capitalist valorization, which is only centered
>>on economic profit. The joy of living, solidarity, and compassion with
>>regard to others, are sentiments that are about to disappear and that must
>>be protected, enlivened, and propelled in new directions.
>Is this really a new argument?

Does that matter? Do we only get points for novelty, as if we were
competing for the intellectual version of Wired's "Gadget Fetish"?

I mean, didn't, for instance, the French
>clergy vehmently oppose the social consequences of industrialization in
>the 19th century, for similar reasons-- namely that capitalism's only
>value is "economic profit," and that this tends to destroy traditional
>social order?

And is the entirety of an enemy's argument damned because it is voiced by
an enemy? Doesnt the constantly shifting conditions of life, world, and
thought mean that all arguments in some sense shape themselves anew, and
that it is a failure to  stamp thoughts according to a specific, pre-judged
origin (the evil 19th century French clergy) instead of weighing the
different vectors and velocity of thoughts as they are recombined and
redeployed in changing historical conditions. (This style of critique is
often leveled at "ecological"  positions, which are often damned because of
the -- often rather tenuous -- rhetorical overlap with fascist propaganda).
Perhaps we can still dare to think that there is something morally and
socially destructive about organizing  the real along the lines of economic
profit alone -- and that "traditions" that arrest or block the logic of
market (say, the traditional use of the holy and
now-attempting-to-be-patented neem tree in India by subsistence farmers)
are not necessarily evil for being traditions -- Mon dieu! I have become a
reactionary before my very own eyes!

 Why, after say 150 years of various permutations of
>capitalism, should we believe that its value of "economic profit" is any
>more corrosive than it was, say, in 1830?

Do you really believe that the relationship between the
social/technological forces invested in the profit motive and the myriad
other cultural, ecological, institutional, philosophical, and subjective
dimensions of the real is the same today as it was in 1830? or even in
1950? Do you really not see the profit motive universalizing itself to an
unmatched degree in the globalized post-Cold War era, such that it
increasingly determines the "micro-politics" of our lifes, making it sees
quaint and naive to wonder or even care if the joy of living, solidarity,
and compassion for others are on their way out?

>>The suggestive power of the theory of information has contributed
>>to masking the importance of the enunciative dimensions of communication.
>>It leads us to forget that a message must be received, and not just
>>transmitted, in order to have meaning. Information cannot be reduced to
>>its objective manifestations; it is, essentially, the production of
>>subjectivity, the becoming- consistent [prise de consistence] of
>>incorporeal universes.
>Again-- loads of metaphor, but where's the point?  What are the "objective
>manifestations" of information?  And how is this related to the
>"production of subjectivity"? What are you talking about here?  Again,
>let's try some real examples. When I send an e-mail message, are you
>saying that the people getting it "forget that a message must be
>received"? I guess this is supposed to mean that people hear each other,
>but don't actually listen to what's said. They get so into the seduction
>of fiddling with the tools of transmission and reception that the content
>becomes irrelevant.  Okay?  But isn't that stunningly condescending?  I
>mean, perhaps then this nettime list is just an orgy of de-massified
>virtual tweaking, hundreds of people clacking at nifty computers and
>jabbing on their send buttons? Stop reading this now, and immediately go
>change your desktop pattern.

I'm sure all the subscribers of nettime appreciate your spirited defense of
their keyboard-klattering and eye-straining etext consumption, but I am
afraid that Guattari is offering something a bit deeper than a
condescending Luddite condemnation of email addiction. What he is
describing is the significant philosophical, social, and institutional
fallout from the universalizing of the "scientific" language of
information. Within information theory, "information" receives an objective
and logically consistent definition, a definition which works really great
when it comes to compression algorithms, signal processing, and bouncing
Baywatch off of satellites into the homes of subsistence farmers in New
Guinea. But information theory has nothing really to say about semantics --
and certainly nothing about cultural context. This leads to a myth of
information as "stuff;" as objective material that can do its magic simply
by being manipulated, hoarded, made available -- in a database for example.
Why for example is the US under the delusion that simply putting computers
into classrooms is going to improve education? So now we do have shitloads
of information at our Web-weaving fingers, and for many that is a good in
itself; it is making us smarter, when it may simply be narrowing our focus,
reducing the dimensions of subjectivity (I don't necessarily agree with
that, but I am certainly compelled by such arguments.)

What Guattari is pointing out is that subjectivity, including its semantic
vectors, remains an irreducible part of the information equation (and this
is true even if you get into the nitty-gritty details of probability as it
relates to the status of the receiver in info theory). This subject is
marked less by the objective content or presence of reified information,
than by the performative condition of enunciation. Guattari is concerned to
bring attention to the subjectivity involved in any communications circuit,
because it is precisely in ignoring or attempting to overright that key
locus that we flatten its own potential to actively engage, resist, and
reformat the objective institutional manifestations of information.

...>What ex actly is so horrible about

That Mr. B would accuse the inventor of much of the machinic jargon of
_Anti-Oedipus_ as thinking machines were horrible cracks me up. To quote
from the essay before us:

" The new planetary consciousness will have to rethink machinism. We
frequently continue to oppose the machine to the human spirit. Certain
philosophies hold that modern technology has blocked access to our
ontological foundations, to primordial being. And what if, on the
contrary, a revival of spirit and human values could be attendant upon a
new alliance with machines?"

>>Without the promotion of such a subjectivity of difference, of the
>>atypical, of utopia, our epoch could topple into atrocious conflicts of
>>identity, like those the people of the former Yugoslavia are suffering. It
>>would be vain to appeal to morality and respect for rights.

Regardless of the complexities of the power/econo/territory motivations in
the former Y, do you really believe that the ability of such forces to
mobilize ethnic/nationalist hatreds and fundamentalist purities on a
collective level (as opposed to other motivations for war) does not in some
sense revolve around the problems of post-Cold War "identity" and the
difficulties in maintaining a subjectivity of difference, where the very
logic of ethnic prejudice is hamstrung? Sure it is not the whole story, but
who expects the whole story in a general essay?

What most moved me in this essay were Guattari's final remarks about the
"shaft of meaning...that cuts through my impatience for the other to adopt
my point of view, and through the lack of good will in the attempt to bend
the other to my desired. Not only must I accept this adversity, I must love
it for its own sake: I must seek it out, communicate with it, delve into
it, increase it."

In fact it was these words that motivated me to waste two hours this
morning adversarially replying to Bennahum's adversarial post. For in his
post I saw much of what is bothersome about nettime debate (and much
contemporary intellectual wranglings): instead of a) ignoring a
post/position the respondent thinks is poorly thought out (which is
probably what I should have done), or b) recognizing that different kinds
of essays/positions occupy different plateaus and thus warrant different
kinds of discussion, or c) engaging in what my grade school teachers called
"constructive criticism," the critic offers a snide, huffy, almost
hysterical attack, full of "exposure" and ridicule --  a wind-up toy of
Critique. (I recall Deleuze's wonderful response to such a critic published
in an early Semiotext(e) as "I have nothing to admit").

How different this is from Guattari's notion of adversary, the adversary
that one loves, like the gaps and flaws in other's arguments that one
embraces because they carve out space for fresh creation. Mr. B thinks
Guattari is old hat, but the radically open, post-Hegelian,
Derridean/Levinian ethical relationship to the unconquerable other that
Guattari describes -- the "responsibility [that] emerges from the self in
order to pass to the other" -- seems like just the ticket to me when it
comes to navigating these extremely mixed-up, mutant, interdependent  --
but, yes, not altogether unprecedented -- times with emotional intelligence
as well as critical acumen.

erik davis

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