The messianic, including its revolutionary forms (and the messianic, is always revolutionary, it has to be), would be urgency, imminence but, irreducible paradox, a waiting without horizon of expectation. (Derrida, Specters, 168)
The culture industry perpetually cheats its customers of what it perpetually promises. The promissory note which, with its plots and staging, it draws on pleasure is endlessly prolonged; the promise, which is actually all the spectacle consists of, is illusory; all it actually confirms is that the real point will never be reached, that the diner must be satisfied with the menu. (Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectic, 139)
‘You’re a parenthesis.’ — Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga) to Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) in Up in the Air
What is a promise? What is an event? These strike me as the important questions posed by Jacques Derrida’s Specters of Marx, which are all too often overlooked in favour of complaining that the book lapses into some kind of mystico-religious spiritualisation of Marxist messianism: the hard materialist dialectics of a ‘proper’ Marxism is replaced by a soft idealism of feel-good Third-Wayism. Briefly, though, Derrida valorises a ‘deconstructive thinking’ in opposition to what he describes as the ‘two dominant tendencies’ in the (then) contemporary reinterpretation of Marxism. At stake is the relation between Marxism and teleology and (anti-) Marxism and a messianic eschatology (Specters, 90). Derrida’s deconstructive movement attempts to extract the ‘irreducibility of affirmation and therefore of the promise’ (ibid.) from a certain spirit of Marxism, pulling apart a ‘certain emancipatory and messianic affirmation, a certain experience of the promise that one can try to liberate from any dogmatics and even from any metaphysico-religious determination [i.e. teleology], from any messianism’ (89). He deconstructs, in short, the complex temporal movement of the ‘promise’ and of ‘affirmation’ using quasi-religious concepts, but not religiosity per se.
Instead of contemplating an idealism without content, Derrida deconstructs the spectre between body and spirit. As Ernesto Laclau explains: ‘if the spirit is something whose invisibility has to produce its own visibility, if the very constitution of spirit requires the visibility of the invisible, nothing is more difficult than a strict separation between spirit and spectre’ (‘Time’, 88). Laclau stresses the need to isolate the logical extension of ‘a constitutive anachronism that is at the root of any identity’ with ‘time “being out of joint”, dislocation corrupting the identity with itself of any present’ (ibid.).
‘Dislocation’ in Laclau’s critical armory refers to ‘any encounter with the real that disrupts the discursive field’ (Glynos and Stavrakakis, ‘Encounters’, 207). It is more than a simple trauma in that it can be productive; it is a necessary part of the process of counter-actualising hegemony. Indeed, Laclau is sympathetic to Derrida’s deconstruction of the force of law as the pure event of justice to come, a force made possible due only to the ‘constitutive anachronism’ within society. He leads the argument further and is critical of Derrida’s implicit valorisation of an opening on a radically other heterogeneity, or at least interpretations of ‘deconstruction’ as valorising such a move, as somehow being a worthy ethics (‘Time’, 92): an ‘ethical nihilism’ (93).
Briefly passing over Derrida’s embrace of the ‘promise’, Laclau reads it as a simple ‘formal structure’ that evades the classic notion of emancipation and ‘the crystallization and synthesis of a series of contents such as the elimination of economic exploitation and all forms of discrimination’ that belong to it (92). Why does Laclau imagine that the ‘promise’ as a general structure of experience—a possibility that he dismisses—will be experienced following the great metanarrative of emancipation? Towards the end of his essay, Laclau warns that, relative to previous Marxist traditions, ‘the constitution of the collective wills takes place in terrains crossed by far more complex relations of power’, which are born, in part, of ‘the development of the mass media’ (95). The spectacle, he contends, has become even more diabolical today: a fragmented press of media multiplicity where ‘truth’ can only ever be cynically isolated as a constellation of myopic forgetting. Lament the passing of the mass media’s debonair seduction!
The ‘promise’ should not be so easily dismissed, however. To contemplate properly—faithfully, in a sense—the complex temporal movement of the ‘promise’ and of ‘affirmation’ in Derrida’s deconstruction of a messianic temporality, it is necessary to outline the capitalist relation of futurity, an approximate equivalent of the Marxist relation of futurity that Derrida works to isolate in a number of different ways. The problem is that, without seeking out the capitalist equivalent, the importance of Derrida’s argument will simply be lost to the ressentiment of frustrated capitalist readers (or their dialectical symptom: righteous pseudo-proto-Marxists). How to translate this relation of futurity from Derrida’s quasi-Marxist anterior of capitalism back into a discourse that can be contemplated at the heart of capitalism itself?
For Derrida’s messianic, the future is radically open; but within capitalism, the future is not open. An ‘open’ future is impossible to think within capitalism. To think an open future means, at once, that you are no longer thinking within capitalism. ‘At once’ because it is instantaneous and eternal, a realisation and an event: from ‘now’ on the facts of the ‘facts’ change, the ‘now’ itself having bifurcated into a multiplicity of temporal series of (im)possible futures. The ‘at’ thus indicates one’s proximity to a problematic singularity, while ‘once’ marks the requirement to think an open future just a single time for every capitalist thought from then on to be felt as an imposition and disciplinisation. Derrida’s work lies in the way that this political gesture brings into question more than representation, but also a temporality that evades the ‘spectral escapes’ (escapes the non-escape, which is a return, a trap that exhausts only the desire to escape) of what we can call, after Mark Fisher’s fine volume of the same name, ‘capitalist realism’.
My business is with the desperate machinery of capital that furnishes the future with an affective scaffold of expectation: what is a waiting within a horizon of expectation? Agents operating within contemporary capitalism have moved away from Theodor Adorno’s false ‘promise’ (as quoted above) of the non-delivery of what is promised. In contemporary capitalism, what is promised is exactly what can be measured by consumers through what might be called the system of ‘a loyalty metrics’. Yes, I have received nine cups of coffee, now I want my ‘free’, ‘value-added’ tenth. What was promised is precisely what is delivered. Traditionally, ‘loyalty’ connects a specific quality of a given business’s service or product to a repeated patronage. Indeed in some specific cultural enclaves, loyalty today may still function as a quaint sense of goodwill, albeit only if the community has enough power to refuse the territorialising machinery of capital. But for everyone else there is another system, another art and science, that seeks to produce relations of loyalty separate from any commodity-based or locality-based aesthetic quality. Contemporary ‘loyalty’ within capitalism is not a relation of devotion, nor is it a relation of goodwill; rather, it is premised on a quantitative metric driven by outcomes-based assessment of economic-affective exchange. There is no longer an illusion, if there ever was, of what is actually being consumed—be it coffee or workplace job security. Rather than a false promise with a false relation of futurity, the relation of futurity itself has become a tool of the commercial enterprise.
Anyone living in an advanced capitalist society would be familiar with the techniques; they are utterly banal: loyalty cards, consumer ‘purchase points’, synergistic relations of cross-business discount, ‘status’ upgrades, unlocking of ‘extra’ services, ‘accumulation of discount’ and so on. The bookshop doesn’t simply sell books; it runs book clubs. The general point of all these techniques is to increase the duration of exchange, to provide an infrastructure of consumption that incorporates the repeated act of momentary exchange into a much longer affective temporal relation of loyalty. It is a shift away from exchange as a relation of ideological domination to exchange as part of an affective apparatus of capture. What I want to explore here is the contradiction between the ‘promise’ of Theodor Adorno’s culture industry (where what is promised never arrives—a false meaning) and the ‘promise’ of contemporary capitalism’s loyalty as an affective apparatus of capture (where what is promised necessarily arrives—a true feeling). In order thus to interrogate the mechanations of capital in its use of the promise and calculation of ‘loyalty’, let me return to Derrida’s messianic thought of the promise, among other recent attempts to problematise the logic of ‘event’.
In the fifth chapter of Specters, on the ‘Apparition of the Inapparent’, Derrida defines the spectre as the phenomenal body of the spirit (135) and then problematises this definition. After a long quotation from Marx, who is in turn citing Max Stirner, Derrida works to clarify the difference between the spectre and the spirit:
It is a differance. The spectre is not only the carnal apparition of the spirit, its phenomenal body, its fallen and guilty body, it is also the impatient and nostalgic waiting for redemption, namely, once again, for a spirit…. The ghost would be the deferred spirit, the promise or calculation of an expiation. (136)
Promise or calculation. As Derrida argues, inherent to the ‘promise’ is an eternal deferral, a return perpetually postponed. The ‘calculation’, however, is of a different order: a probabilistic projection of a spatialised temporality that produces a here-now, before and after. There is a movement here between two temporal orders in Derrida’s work that is both too quick and, at the same time, halted. From one perspective, the entirety of Specters (and a great deal more besides) can be read as a deconstruction of the temporality of suspension between these two temporal orders. To enact the suspension, however, to mobilise it as it is lived and experienced, demands a different kind of analysis. Indeed, it requires further problematising the twilight temporality characterising the relation of deferral or suspension between the spectre and the spirit.
Paul Patton argues that in this respect there is an underlying parallel between Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s philosophy and that of Derrida; that the principle of absolute territorialisation in the ontology of assemblages ‘ensures that … the future must be understood as inhabited by the permanent possibility of otherness or monstrosity’ (‘Future Politics’, 25). To strip the process of philosophy back is to isolate what Deleuze and Guattari call ‘becoming-philosophical’, such that philosophy is defined by the practice of ‘diagnosing becomings’ (Philosophy?, 113). They argue that ‘we are in the process of becoming—that is to say the Other, our becoming-other’ (112).1 In this way Derrida’s deconstruction of the temporal orders of promise and of calculation, his affirmation of a messianic structure of temporality, belongs (without belonging) to what Deleuze and Guattari once identified as a series of attempts to ‘designate a new concept’ of ‘event’, of the ‘becoming’ of an event, of the event-as-becoming—what Charles Péguy called ‘Aternal’, Friedrich Nietzsche ‘Inactual’, Michel Foucault ‘Actual’ (Deleuze and Guattari, Philosophy?, 111-12) and what Deleuze himself, following the Stoics, had named ‘Aion’ in his Logic of Sense. Hence, similar to Derrida’s deconstruction, the critical practice of deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation counter-effectuates events from given states of affairs.
Before the continual deferral of the messianic is the actualisation in bodies and in states of affairs; just as something is deferred, something else returns, in different ways, and at different times. There is a relation of futurity that is neither the spatialised temporality of hegemonic modernity, which extends one moment upon the next backwards and forwards as an eternal present, nor a future—destined or unexpectedly—to come (of the Aternal, Inactual, Aion or Untimely). We inhabit future becomings belonging to events that actualise a futurity already haunting the present. Virtually.
The clearest articulation of this relation of futurity is in the work of Brian Massumi and what he calls the ‘future birth of the affective fact’. The fear of a threat is virtually, viscerally felt—be it real or not—and this actualises the threat as real. Massumi traces the semiotic question of a threat to Charles Peirce’s concept of an indexical sign, of how the ‘abstract force [of a sign] can be materially determining’ (‘Future Birth’, 65). A pre-emptive politics can be analysed according to a theory of signs ‘grounded first and foremost in a metaphysics of feeling’ (63). Rather than a semiotics of meaning, Massumi is concerned with a semiotics of force. Foucault (‘Theatricum’) described this character of discourse and signs as an incorporeal materiality, which Deleuze (Logic) argued moved through impersonal passions and the passions of bodies to emerge on the surface as effect.
Massumi’s primary interest for ‘returning thought to this affective twilight zone of indexical experience’ is to understand ‘the political ontology of threat’ (‘Future Birth’, 66) and to interrogate the role of affect in the peculiar state of affairs of the contemporary global dispositif organised under the aegis of ‘the War on Terror’. The reality of the threat potential was enough for then US President George W. Bush to justify his country’s mobilisation of forces for the invasion of Iraq and, as Massumi suggests, for Bush to be re-elected: ‘The invasion was right because in the past there was a future threat’ (55). The turning point for the pre-emptive politics organised around the affective modulation and ‘control’ of a population was, of course, what became known as ‘9/11’. Other regimes of power did not disappear, but rather a pre-emptive politics came to the fore and gathered a pre-eminent consistency in the contemporary dispositif. There is an ‘operative logic’ in effect here that ‘combines an ontology with an epistemology in such a way as to endow itself with powers of self-causation’ (62).
Massumi draws on two key influences in a wonderful footnote where he explains his use of the term ‘operative logic’. One influence is from Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of ‘abstract machines’ (see Thousand Plateaus), while the other is drawn from Alfred North Whitehead’s conceptualisation of ‘negative prehensions’ (see Process). Massumi uses Whitehead’s concept to explain the operative logic in terms of what Deleuze and Guattari would call an ‘apparatus of capture’. Whitehead’s processual philosophy seeks, in this instance, to account for the concrescence of tendential prehensions (or affects) as part of the processual event of constituting subjects in their becoming. Whitehead separates prehensions into a number of schema, including negative and positive prehensions (Process, 41). A negative prehension ‘is the definite exclusion of that item from positive contribution to the subject’s [the process’s] own real internal constitution’ (Whitehead, Process, 41; cited in ‘Future Birth’, 69 n14, Massumi’s interpolation). The negative prehension forms a ‘bond’ with the subject while at the same time being excluded from the subject’s ‘own internal constitution’. Rather than being incorporated within this ‘internal constitution’, the negative prehension adds to the ‘emotional complex’ (which Massumi glosses as ‘the affective atmosphere’) of the subject (Whitehead, Process, 41; Massumi, ‘Future Birth’, 69 n14).
Massumi does not discuss the concept of ‘positive prehensions’ but that notion is nevertheless necessary to properly grasp the mechanics of an event, particularly its differential repetition of events within capitalism. If ‘negative prehension’ is a term that describes the exclusion of a prehension from the process of concrescence, so that the negative prehension joins with the affective atmospherics of an emotional complex, then the ‘positive prehension’ is constitutive of ‘a subject’s own internal constitution’. For Whitehead, ‘this positive inclusion is called its “feeling” of that item’ and ‘an actual entity as felt is said to be “objectified” for that subject’ (Process, 41). There is, then, an ongoing transversal bifurcation in this process of inclusion and exclusion. As Deleuze, conceptualising this process as the ‘fold’, writes:
[The] event is inseparably the objectification of one prehension and the subjectification of another; it is at once public and private, potential and real, participating in the becoming of another event and the subject of its own becoming. (Fold, 88)2
To recast Whitehead’s process philosophy into a problem belonging to affect theory: how do individuals subjectively experience impersonal affects that belong to an ‘affective atmosphere’?
The importance of negative prehensions is that as feeling subjects we feel other actual entities formed through concrescent processes. The importance of positive prehensions is that we experience these ‘feelings’ as part of our ‘own real constitution’. The affective fact of the threat is clearly a ‘negative’ affect in that those who feel threatened mobilise into action to exclude or otherwise avoid incorporating the threat into their ‘own real constitution’. At the same time this ‘objectification’ of fear is experienced as the ‘positive’ (that is, ‘positive’ ontologically, while nevertheless felt as dire or even tragic) identification of a ‘threat’. The mediation of incorporation and expulsion of affect as constitutive of subject and environment is important for building on Massumi’s notion of an ‘operative logic’. Let me expand this logic, then, by looking beyond negative affects (‘negative’ in a conventional sense), such as the feeling of ‘fear’ and its processual emergence as ‘threat’, to consider also the positive affects used by agents of contemporary capitalism. For within the metrics of capitalism, it is precisely between the promise and the calculation wherein lies the affective fact of loyalty, and it is through the cultivation of such positive affects that loyalty becomes an apparatus of capture.
‘There’s nothing cheap about loyalty’. Ryan Bingham, Up in the Air.
Most reviews of the 2009 film Up in the Air worked hard to locate it in a romantic comedy framework (see, for example, Cox, ‘Up in the Air’), despite the film’s relationship to that genre being less than straightforward. Rather than simply ‘conforming to’ the conventions of a genre, that is, the film uses the familiarity and intimacy of romantic comedy tropes as a critical tool to problematise ‘loyalty’ in our privileged late-capitalist cultural landscape. Up In the Air thus explores the inversion of the burden of loyalty and what happens when various agents within the diegetic universe of the film are exposed to the operative logic of contemporary future-oriented loyalty within capitalism. A capitalist enterprise does not produce loyalty in its customers or in its workers in a traditional sense of goodwill through worth (such as positive social relations) and the expectation of future worthiness. Instead, as exemplified in the film, the capitalist enterprise now produces ‘loyalty’ as an affective fact, oscillating between
capitalist enterprises and their workers, who for the most part of the film are entirely disenfranchised and in ‘transition’ (a euphemism for the effect of having being fired);
various romantic couplings and familial relations, which contrast with the affects felt by affectively enfranchised, ‘loyal’ consumer patrons;
and enterprises and their consumer patrons who are encouraged to game the system, a relationship which illustrates the operational logic of loyalty’s atmospherics.
Affect is used as a tool to modulate the affective disposition of the workers being fired, to ‘transition’ them into a future that begins ‘now’. Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is a ‘transition consultant’, whose job is to present the fired workers with an appropriate relation of futurity. A ‘transition consultant’ has successfully fired someone when the fired worker leaves the meeting with hope (and, conversely, the consultant fails when the worker leaves the meeting contemplating suicide).
One strand of the film’s narrative follows the challenge presented to Bingham’s experience and authority by the arrival of Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), who is working to introduce a tele-technological solution to the problem of huge travel time and other associated costs by turning Bingham’s business into a remote firing service facilitated online. Bingham is sceptical of the effectiveness of Keener’s instrumental approach, and one scene early in the narrative, in the section titled ‘St. Louis’, captures particularly well what is absent from Keener’s programmatic style. The scene, which depicts the first successful firing played out in its entirety, shows Bingham as one of the first affective heroes of late capitalism. It begins with middle-aged and soon-to-be-fired Bob (J.K. Simmons) showing Bingham and Keener a photo of his children. The possible response of Bob’s children to his ‘transition’ is used as the measure of the character of the meeting. Keener attempts to answer Bob’s queries with actual facts of how children who have grown up in families with ‘minor trauma have proven to apply themselves academically as a method of coping’. While Keener thus provides a rational answer, based on a statistical reality (true or not), Bob, of course, tells her, ‘Go fuck yourself’.
Bingham regains control of the situation by asking Bob whether he wants his children’s admiration, which he infers that Bob has never had. He’s never had his children’s admiration because, unlike sports stars who followed their dreams, Bob took a routine job and gave up on his dream (of becoming a chef). Bob provided for the material conditions of his children’s lives, in other words, but not for their affective environment. The implication here is that this is somehow scandalous, and the ‘opportunity’ to become someone that his kids might potentially admire could be Bob’s ‘wake up call’.
A second example of the affect of ‘transitioning’ comes from the section titled ‘Wichita’, depicting a very different response to redundancy as experienced by Karen Barnes (Tamala Jones). In constrast to Bob, Barnes refuses the affects of ‘sugar-coating’ and asks for the severance package in ‘bullet points’. After being told the details of the package, she informs Bingham and Keener of her intention to jump off a bridge near her house. Later in the film we find out that Barnes does exactly that, her suicide serving as the catalyst for Keener to quit the ‘career transitioning’ business.
Beyond these scenes of industrial relations, Up in the Air also examines the modulation of affect in a range of ‘interpersonal’ contexts. Just as he does when firing a worker, Bingham deploys his conversational skills to affectively modulate his sister’s cold-footed fiancé, Jim Miller (Danny McBride), in order to persuade him to go through with the wedding. Bingham first attempts to explain that marriage is admirable, but when Miller provides Bingham’s own life as counter-example to that argument, Bingham instead argues that getting old and eventually dying is better with company. Once again, Bingham works on mediating the passage of the future into the present so as to enable, in this instance, Miller to go forth and be wed. These personal gestures of delivering a possible ‘good’ future—with Bob and Miller and, unsuccessfully, in the counter-example of Barnes—through the modulation of affable affects are pleasant, but they are just the obvious affects, part of the lesson that Keener needs to learn about Bingham’s ‘trade’.
Bingham’s ‘career transitioning’ enacts an explicit moment when the present for the affected workers is sheered by their dislocation (in Laclau’s sense); the future is within reach, ready to be grasped. Yet in the more conventional sense of ‘dislocation’ Bingham himself would appear to be entirely ‘dislocated’ from any recognisable social bond. Entering into that space is the great experiment of the film: Bingham is an affective explorer setting out into the frontier of traditional social bonds. He is manifestly not ‘at home’ in the familial setting as exemplified when he returns to his home town to participate in his sister’s wedding. Nor is he able to settle into a lasting relationship with his romantic interest, Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga): when their once-casual relationship appears (to Bingham) to be transitioning into a serious, stable one, Goran tells Bingham that he is not part of her ‘real’ life. At home in neither of these traditional scenes of intimacy, instead Bingham is at home ‘up in the air’. Indeed, within this disjunction, the airline with which Bingham routinely flies has seemingly greater loyalty for the ‘career transitioner’ than does Goran, who had nevertheless shared with him many episodes of intense intimacy. ‘We really appreciate your loyalty’ are the words spoken by Maynard Finch, the Chief Pilot, after Bingham achieves 10 million miles and is given a new, upgraded loyalty card. When Finch asks Bingham where he is from, the latter replies, ‘I am from here’. He is from ‘up in the air’, from the dislocated locality of the permanently mobile. But what is the place-ness of this ‘up in the air’?
Or, to use the terminology of Specters, what is the onotopology of ‘up in the air’? ‘Onotopology’ characterises the connection of ‘the ontological value of present-being to its situation, the stable and presentable determination of a locality, the topos of territory, native soil, city, body in general’ (Specters, 82). How is this possible if the ‘present-being’ does not have a determined locality? The character of Bingham, with his seemingly impoverished social existence, serves, in this regard, as a limit case for belonging.
The operative logic of capitalist loyalty is premised on the promise of an affective atmospherics; this is what Bingham belongs to, a refrain of home when there isn’t one, because the refrain has not gathered enough consistency. When Bingham introduces his world, in a voice-over early in the film, he explains that when the system runs his loyalty card the desk clerk is prompted to say, ‘Pleased to see you again, Mr Bingham’. He then adds: ‘It is these kinds of systemized friendly touches that keeps my world in orbit.’
The airline agencies have produced a system of virtuosic affective modulation that implicates their consumer patrons in particular ways. Maurizio Lazzarato has been at the forefront of thinking through these problematics for a number of years. He argues that, in the first instance, ‘the [capitalist] enterprise does not create its object (goods) but the world within which the object exists. And secondly, the enterprise does not create its subjects (workers and consumers) but the world within which the subject exists’ (‘From Capital-Labour’, 188). For Lazzarato the principal activity of the capitalist enterprise is to continually produce, in different ways, worlds within which we abide, worlds we inhabit. Ryan inhabits his world ‘up in the air’. But why all this furious activity, all these machinic prompts for frictionless affability? Lazzarato is explicit when he argues that ‘competition between companies is aimed not at conquering a market but at “capturing a clientele”’ (193). ‘Two elements’, he continues,
are essential to this strategy: building customer loyalty and having the capacity to renew what is on offer through innovation.… The capture of a clientele and the building of its loyalty means first and foremost capturing attention and memory, capturing minds, creating and capturing desires, beliefs (the sensible) and networks’. (Ibid.)
Following Lazzarato, advertisements do not sell goods, but produce worlds within which the goods exist, worlds in which consumers must reproduce themselves as worthy inhabitants; this is an apparatus of capture rather than of mystifying domination. (And herein lies Laclau’s nihilistic ethics: are you worthy of your brand?) The affective fact of loyalty is important in its function as a virtual ‘feed-forward’ loop that cultivates and then harnesses anticipation as an affective or ‘felt tendency’ for guiding consumer patronage. Services do not satisfy a pre-existing demand; they must anticipate it, they must ‘make it happen’ (Lazzarato, ‘From Capital-Labour’, 193). In the event mechanics of consumer patronage, the ‘service’ is co-individuated with the correlate consumer subjectivity (through the capacity of an appropriate communicative apparatus) in order to affectively modulate the experience of patronage. At the end of Up in the Air, Bingham recognises himself as a spectre that has been folded into the enveloping apparatus of loyalty, a spectre repeated in different ways in different relationships, but primarily in the relationship with Goran. The scene depicting a mobile phone call between Goran in her parked car and Bingham in an airport shuttle is heartbreaking precisely because we witness Bingham’s naïve realisation of his own spectrality.
Such is the work of a system that is spectral through and through, and therefore never simply systematic. Such are the event mechanics of capitalist loyalty. In Lazzarato’s schema, however, loyalty is only one half of the strategy of capturing a clientele; the other half is ‘innovation’. As many multi-national companies have discovered over the years, ‘innovation’ is not as simple as the ‘new’ (think of the ‘New Coke’ failure). Machinic processes have ‘reverse causalities that are without finality but testify nonetheless to an action of the future on the present, or of the present on the past: for example, the convergent wave and the anticipated potential, which imply an inversion of time’ (Deleuze and Guattari, Thousand Plateaus, 431). The ‘reverse causalities’ of a pre-emptive politics’ operative logic split open a paradox of causality in incorporeal materialism.
But how could novelty or innovation be possible if everything were understood to be determined? Novelty can’t reside in Kant’s efficient cause (see Kant, Critique, esp. Part II), where everything is of a determinable relation. Consequently, it is rather in the differance (Derrida), the differential repetition (Deleuze) or ‘life’ (Whitehead) at the heart of a post-Kantian ‘final cause’ that we may find an answer to what might be called the question of an ethics of the spectral self that is at once and always ‘our becoming-other’. ‘Can we’, as Steven Shaviro asks, ‘imagine a form of self-organization [such as that produced by capitalist loyalty] that is not also self-preservation and self-reproduction?’ (Without Criteria, 32). Shaviro’s response, which draws heavily on Whitehead (Process, 32-4) to think about the rhythms of a differential causality at play in concatenations of the virtual and actual, is worth quoting at length:
When an entity displays ‘appetite towards a difference’—Whitehead gives the simple example of ‘thirst’—the initial physical experience is supplemented and expanded by a ‘novel conceptual prehension’, an envisioning (or ‘envisagement’) of something that is not already given, not (yet) actual. Even ‘at a low level’, such a process ‘shows the germ of a free imagination’.
This means that it is insufficient to interpret something like an animal’s thirst, and its consequent behavior of searching for water, as merely a mechanism for maintaining (or returning to) a state of homeostatic equilibrium. ‘Appetition towards a difference’ seeks transformation, not preservation…. Rather, an entity is alive precisely to the extent that it envisions difference, and thereby strives for something other than the mere continuation of what it already is. (Without Criteria, 91)
The capitalist territorialisation of this perpetual envisioning, this striving for something other than the mere continuation of the same, locates the subject (albeit, location and subjectivity are already too conceptually determined) in a world that cannot be understood according to the opposition of the actual and the virtual. This is the work of capitalist loyalty. It makes you feel worthy to belong to a ‘world’ where your experience of belonging is triggered by the promise not simply of quenching your thirst, but of adding life in the bargain.
1. It could be said that they are not quite presenting an argument of their own here, so much as they are offering an interpretation of Foucault: ‘for Foucault, what matters is the difference between the present and the actual. The actual is not what we are, but, rather, what we are in the process of becoming—that is, the Other, our becoming-other’ (Philosophy?, 112) #back
2. Of course, Deleuze and Whitehead’s conception of the ‘event’ here is not the same as Derrida’s event. If there is a congruence between Deleuze’s concept of the ‘pure event’ in The Logic of Sense and Derrida’s concept of the event (in Specters, certainly, but not only there), then Whitehead’s concept of the ‘eternal object’ is in part congruent with this ‘pure event’. Whitehead argues that only ‘a selection of eternal objects are “felt” by a given subject, and these eternal objects are then said to have “ingression” in that subject’ (Process, 41). #back
Adorno, Theodor W. and Max Horkheimer. Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. John Cumming. London: Verso, 1979.
Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Vol. 2, trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987.
Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. What is Philosophy?, trans. Graham Burchell and Hugh Tomlinson. London: Verso, 1994.
Deleuze, Gilles. The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, trans. Tom Conley. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1973.
Deleuze, Gilles. The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester with Charles Stivale. New York, Columbia University Press, 1990.
Derrida, Jacques. Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International, trans. Peggy Kamuf. New York: Routledge, 1994.
Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? Winchester: Zero Books, 2009.
Foucault, Michel. ‘Theatricum Philosophicum’, in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, ed. Donald F. Bouchard. New York, Cornell University Press, 1977, pp. 165-196.
Glynos, Jason and Yannis Stavrakakis. ‘Encounters of the Real Kind: Sussing Out the Limits of Laclau’s Embrace of Lacan’, in Laclau: A Critical Reader, eds Simon Critchley and Oliver Marchart. London and New York: Routledge, 2004, pp. 201-216.
Kant, Immanuel. The Critique of Judgement, trans. James Creed Meredith. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.
Laclau, Ernesto. ‘“The Time Is Out of Joint”’. Diacritics 25, 2 (1995): 86-96.
Lazzarato, Maurizio. ‘From Capital-Labour to Capital-Life’. Ephemera: Theory and Politics in Organization 4, 3, (2004): 187-208.
Massumi, Brian. ‘The Future Birth of the Affective Fact: The Political Ontology of Threat’, in The Affect Theory Reader, eds Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2010, pp. 52-70.
Massumi, Brian. Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham, London: Duke University Press, 2002.
Patton, Paul. ‘Future Politics’, in Between Deleuze and Derrida, eds Paul Patton and John Protevi. London and New York: Continuum, 2003, pp. 15-29.
Shaviro, Steven. Without Criteria: Kant, Whitehead, Deleuze and Aesthetics. Cambridge, Mass.; London, MIT Press, 2010.
Whitehead, Alfred North. Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology; Gifford Lectures Delivered in the University of Edinburgh during the Session 1927-28; Corrected Edition, eds David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne. New York: The Free Press, 1978.