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Re: <nettime> THE HOLY FOOLS <part 1>
Andreas Broeckmann on Sun, 30 Aug 1998 15:00:10 +0200 (MET DST)


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Re: <nettime> THE HOLY FOOLS <part 1>


Re: <nettime> THE HOLY FOOLS <part 1>

or: THE PROFANE SOCIAL-DEMOCRATIC POLEMICIST
<parts 1-3 in one volume>

(an attempt to comment on Barbrook's piece ...)

for those with little time:
- i think the piece is purely polemic and poorly argued
- i am surprised by Richard's turn at the end, claiming that the new net
economy as it is practised by 'ordinary people' is identical with social
democracy
- i think that Richard fails to acknowledge the positive impact that the
'Deleuzoguattarian' discourse has had on, for instance, concepts of
minority politics, the diffusion of the dominance of psychoanalytical
discourses in the mid-80s, and a more heterogeneous approach to society and
its different segments and strata

the challenge:
Not to respond polemically to pure polemic; not to waste time disputing
misleading quotations, unfounded claims and non-sensical comparisons.

outing:
I guess that I must be one of the 'Deleuzoguattarians' that Richard has
centrally in mind, having contributed so devotedly to the
guattarojargonisation of the machinicoanalyticaldiscourseassemblages of
nettime a.o. however, I totally fail to recognise myself in the
characterisation that Richard gives:

> Within the rhizomes of
>the Net, the Deleuzoguattarians form their own subculture: the
>techno-nomads. These adepts are united by specific 'signifying practices':
>computer technologies, techno music, bizarre science, esoteric beliefs,
>illegal chemicals and cyberpunk novels. There even is a distinctive
>Deleuzoguattarian language which is almost incomprehensible to the
>uninitiated. Above all, these techno-nomads possess a radical optimism
>about the future of the Net.

In the 'mix' that Richard has offered, he fails to identify anybody who he
is thinking about here, save for, perhaps, the Rhizome list & website
which is, by name, an easy target. Reading through his text, names like DJ
Spooky, Erik Davis, Manuel Delanda come to my mind, but they don't fit
most of this description either, from all I know about them. who else? 

radio:
Richard's 'strongest' point against Guattari (he later throws Deleuze into
the same p/l/ot, though it is not clear why D. had anything to do with the
particular case) is related to his activities for independent radios in
Paris in the 70s. I'll quote this at length, just because it is the only
real argument that Richard ever elaborates, and one which he comes back to
throughout the rest of the text as proof of the authoritarianism and
elitism in both Deleuze and Guattari's discourse and practice.

> [for Guattari] the ultimate aim of a 'free radio' was the subversion
>of bourgeois rationality and repressive sexuality within everyday life.
>When people were able to express their own views over the airwaves,
>Guattari hoped that the 'delirium' of desire would be released within the
>population.<12>
>
>In the early eighties, Guattari was the leader of Frequence Libre, a
>community radio station licenced to broadcast across Paris. However, it
>soon became obvious that turning Deleuzoguattarian theory into practice
>was impossible. Far from encouraging audience participation, the sectarian
>politics of the two philosophers actually discouraged people - including
>many on the Left - from getting involved in their community radio station.
>Guattari and his colleagues were more interested in lecturing the audience
>rather than engaging in discussions with them. This revolutionary elitism
>even extended the musical policies of the station. When some rappers
>approached Frequence Libre about the possibility of making some
>programmes, the station refused to let any hip-hop crews on-air until
>their lyrics had been politically vetted! After they'd alienated most of
>their potential activists and audience, Guattari's 'free radio'
>encountered growing difficulties in raising sufficient cash and recruiting
>enough volunteers to operate the station. Eventually, Fr=E9quence Libre
>went bankrupt and its frequency was sold to pay its debts. Guattari's
>attempts to turn theory into practice within the 'free radio' movement had
>ended in tragedy.<13>

I don't know the details of this case, but anybody who has ever been
involved in such a project will know that the micro-politics of these
things are always much more complicated, and that this reading is what you
would expect from a journalist who has understood little but the fact that
he can use this for his 'story'. And even if this case happened as Richard
relates it, I find it questionable whether this situation lends itself to
being set up as the decisive moment of what 'Deleuzoguattarianism' is
'really all about'. Why not, for instance, Guattari's work at the La Borde
asylum? I wouldn't make so much of this, if Richard was not using this
instance over and over again, like in: 

> During the 1917 Russian
>revolution, Lenin had advocated direct democracy while simultaneously
>instituting the totalitarian rule of the Bolsheviks. As their 'free radio'
>experience showed, Deleuze and Guattari never escaped from this
>fundamental contradiction of revolutionary politics.

The historical 'logic' constructed here escapes me. (Why does the FLibre
case show that they 'never' escaped from this?) As far as I am concerned,
this is an indication of poor argumentation, or of a weak argumentative
basis. 

>Yet, as the rappers who wanted to
>make a show for Frequence Libre discovered, Deleuzoguattarian
>anarcho-communism even included the censorship of music.

target groups:
Richard clearly has some enemies in mind. He certainly does not like
hippies and neo-liberals -- all of them, it seems, partners in the
Deleuzoguattarian New Left Conspiracy --, but he also associates D&G with
some of the heroes-turned-anti-heroes of the 20th-century Left, esp. Lenin
and Stalin, but also the artistic avantgarde of Surrealism & friends. Hegel
survives, Marx is mostly absent, and Henri Lefebvre and the Situationists
get good marks. (Richard decides not to mention the decimation of the
Situationist International in frequent, though benign purges by its elitist
and dictatorial leader Debord.)

The highest density of sneer is reached in a sequence which samples 'the
aristocracy, fascism, the avant-garde supported totalitarian tendencies
within the Left, cultural elitism, neo-liberalism, the free market
fundamentalism of the Californian ideology, TJs, right and left
libertarianism, cyber-entrepreneurs, the Deleuzoguattarians, primitivism,
futurism and the apotheosis of individualism: the cyborg Nietzschean
Superman.' Give me a beak ...

tribalism:
Primitivism, tribalism, anything that is traditionally seen as a
counter-movement to Left Modernism, goes on the negative side of Barbrook's
Tired/Wired list, and as D&G are mega-tired, D&G are mega-tired tribalists.
Q.E.D. Footnoted references for such claims go, if at all, to the entire
'Mille Plateaux', so that the reader can easily find proof in this
profoundly tribally infested tome.

>Once anarcho-communism was transformed into an ahistorical ideology, the
>New Left's opposition to economic development soon developed into a desire
>to abandon modernity altogether. Following the May '68 revolution, support
>for rural guerrillas resisting American imperialism soon became mixed up
>with hippie tribalism, concerns about environmental degradation and
>nostalgia for a lost peasant past. Disillusioned with the economic
>progress championed by the parliamentary Left, many on the New Left
>synthesised these different ideas into hatred of the mass urban society
>created by modernity. For them, a truly libertarian revolution could only
>have one goal: the destruction of the city.<20>

In the course, D&G are represented also as the philosophers of the Khmer
Rouge, an allegation which is based on the claim that

>Deleuze and Guattari had
>claimed that the destruction of the city would create direct democracy and
>libidinal ecstasy. Instead, the application of such anti-modernism in
>practice resulted in tyranny and genocide. The 'line of flight' from
>Stalin had led to Pol Pot.<22>

This is another one of those 'radio'-style arguments, though even less
convincing, as far as I am concerned.

>Deleuze and Guattari hoped that the 'line of flight' from modernity would
>lead back to the tribal past.

Needless to say, such 'allegations' remain unfounded. I'm also surprised
that somebody would attack D&G like this, because it is so obvious that
they are not advocating what Barbrook is suggesting. They are thinking
about transformations and dispersions of the Modernist Society that
Barbrook is defending, but their models have much more to do with opening
up the homogenised, molar formations of the social democratic structures
of the 70s *without* selling out to what are now the 'Neo-Liberals'.
Barbrook's points are as valid as describing his own and Andy Cameron's
'Californian Ideology' analysis as luddite, anti-american, and why not
throw 'fascist' and 'stalinist' in there as well. I'm sure it could be
argued ... 

and then: a pure belief in Social Democracy
Barbrook's economic analysis of the net in chapter 8. makes me breath a
short sigh of relief. This is the gift and barter economy that has been
widely described on nettime and elsewhere, including its precarious
relationship with the hardware industry, the software and labour markets,
and the larger economic systems.

Here, Barbrook's analsis gets blurry, because it is not clear any more
where the front-line is. Two ideologies, one situation. The dividing line
is this:

(-)
>In the late nineties, digital
>anarcho-communism is being built by hackers like Eric Raymond: "a
>self-described neo-pagan [right-wing] libertarian who enjoys shooting
>semi-automatic weapons..."<34>

(... I'm skipping the anti-D&G polemic which is little more than a refrain
to what has been said before)

(+)
>At the same time, millions of people are spontaneously working together on
>the Net without needing coordination by either the state or the market.
>Instead of exchanging their labour for money, they give away their
>creations in return for free access to information produced by others.
>This circulation of gifts coexists with the exchange of commodities and
>funding from taxation. When they're online, people constantly pass from
>one form of social activity to another. For instance, in one session, a
>Net user might first buy something from an e-commerce catalogue, then look
>for information aon the local council's site and then contribute some
>thoughts to a listserver for fiction-writers. Without even consciously
>having to think about it, this person would have successively been a
>consumer in a market, a citizen of a state and an anarcho-communist within
>a gift economy. The 'New Economy' of the Net is an advanced form of social
>democracy.<35>

(...)

>Over the past few centuries, people within the industrialised countries
>have slowly improved their incomes and reduced their hours of work.
>Although still having little autonomy in their money-earning jobs, workers
>can now experience non-alienated labour within the hi-tech gift economy.
>From writing emails through making web sites to developing software,
>people do things for themselves without the direct mediation of the market
>and the state. As net access spreads, the majority of the population are
>beginning to participate within cultural production. Unlike Frequence
>Libre, the avant-garde can no longer decide who can - and cannot - join
>the hi-tech gift economy. The Net is too large for Microsoft to
>monopolise, let alone a small elite of radical intellectuals. Art can
>therefore cease being the symbol of moral superiority. When working people
>finally have enough time and resources, they can then concentrate upon
>"...art, love, play, etc., etc.; in short, everything which makes Man [and
>Woman] happy. "<36>

Finally we are getting somewhere. At the Metaforum3 conference in Budapest
in '96 somebody sprayed 'John Perry Barbrook' on the front of the Art
Academy. What more do you need than phrases like these to be able to return
to the womb of Left Utopianism?

>At such a historical moment, the European avant-garde is being made
>obsolete through the realisation of its own supposed principles. The
>techno-nomads celebrate digital DIY culture to distinguish themselves from
>the rest of society. Yet, far from being confined to a revolutionary
>minority, increasing numbers of ordinary people are now participating
>within the hi-tech gift economy. Rather than symbolising ethical-aesthetic
>purity, the circulation of gifts is a pragmatic way of working within
>cyberspace. Although it is impossible to predict the future of the hi-tech
>gift economy, one thing is almost certain. The intellectual elitism of
>Deleuzoguattarian discourse is being superseded by the emancipatory 'grand
>narrative' of modernity. As more and more 'herd animals' go on-line,
>radical intellectuals can no longer fantasise about becoming cyborg
>Supermen. As digital anarcho-communism becomes an everyday activity, there
>is no longer any need for the leadership of the cultural avant-garde. The
>time for the revolution of holy fools has passed. As has already happened
>within popular music, the most innovative and experimental culture will be
>created by people doing things for themselves. By participating within the
>hi-tech gift-economy, everyone can potentially become a wise citizen and a
>creative worker.

When I first started reading Barbrook's piece I tought that, if you can cut
through the polemic and Barbrook's belief in a social democratic state,
some of his analysis is actually quite useful. Having reached the end, I
have my doubts about that.

A question that arises for me is why Richard has decided to waste so much
time with such retrograde New Age/New Left bullshit? What does he expect?
If he had wanted to convince anybody of his doubts about D&G's politics, he
would certainly have been able to argue more convincingly. These Parisian
nut crackers are clearly not as easy a target as the Californian surfing
class were.

As far as I am concerned, this texts adds to the current confusions, rather
than clarifying things. And the confusion starts with the complete absence
of a (Left) subject, other than the digital artisan at his/her terminal.
What is the New Left, and should we follow the lessons of the Old Left
instead? and who is that, beside Richard Barbrook?

I believe that Guattari (who I think personally is more challenging as a
political thinker than Deleuze) can be an inspiring source for
reconceptualising contemporary political strategies. Richard also fails to
acknowledge the positive impact that the 'Deleuzoguattarian' discourse has
had on, for instance, concepts of minority politics, the diffusion of the
dominance of psychoanalytical discourses in the mid-80s, rethinking
architecture, urbanism and the public sphere, and a more heterogeneous
approach to society and its different segments and strata.

Andreas Broeckmann

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