Pluralism and Antagonism

I have been preoccupied a lot recently with the differend between dialectics, with its notes of crisis, contradiction, and antagonism, and pluralism of the Deleuzian variety, with its rejection of any thought of the negative and its insistence on the metastability of the virtual as the source of change.

This has long been the issue on which I break with more traditional Marxists; and it is still the issue on which I tend to differ with Jodi and many of the other folks I read most avidly today in the blogosphere, as well as more generally with both Frankfurt School and psychoanalytic (e.g. Zizek) approaches. But I note that very often, these days, when I read more traditionally “dialectical” Marxist stuff (whether Frankfurt School, or Lacanian School, or just work emphasizing political economy) I tend to just mentally translate the language of negativity, contradiction, etc., into the language of virtuality that I get from Deleuze (and that Deleuze gets from sources, like Bergson and William James, that have been considered disreputable, because too blandly and unconflictually pluralist, by most 20th century Western Marxists). The fact that I can make this sort of translation so easily suggests to me that the two languages are not as far apart as partisans on either side have often made them out to be. (And I should add that I am equally irritated by dismissals of Delueze, like Zizek’s, that make him out to be some muddle-headed liberal pluralist or New Age prophet or Jungian archetypalist, and by the ritualistic denunciations of the old-fashioned dialectics of Marx and Marxism by thinkers, like Lazzarato, who are in fact analyzing capitalism entirely within the horizon of Marxian concepts).

There are definite commonalities. Both the Hegelian/dialectical language of negativity, and the James/Bergson/Deleuze language of virtuality, insist that all those things that are omitted by the positivist cataloguing of atomistic facts are altogether real. Both locate this reality by asserting that the “relations” between things are as real as the things themselves, and that “things” don’t exist first, but only come to be through their multiple relations. Both construct materialist (rather than idealist) accounts of these relations, of how they constitute the real, and of how they continually change (over time) the nature of what is real. Both offer similar critiques of the tradition of bourgeois thought that leads from Descartes through the British empiricists and on to 20th century scientism and post-positivism.

The advantage of Deleuze, to me, is that he offers a wider, and more complex and nuanced, notion of “relations” than the Hegelian tradition does. Now, of course the Hegelian argument is precisely that the William James and Bergson pluralist approaches substitute a blandly observed multiplicity of indifferent connections for the sharpness of antagonism and radical change (and of course the valorization of “more complex and nuanced” is itself a part of the strategy of thus neutralizing antagonism). But the Deleuzian argument — radicalizing Bergson and James and giving them an edge that perhaps they don’t possess on their own — aims to both give a fuller picture of what the system of things-as-they-are excludes, and to provide for the possibility that practice can invent methods and situations that are theoretically unforseen.

Take, for instance, Marx’s (dialectical) opposition between the forces of production and the relations of production. Marx says that the very development of capitalist relations unleashes forces — for instance, possibilities of widespread material abundance, as well as collective modes of organization — that those same relations need to repress in order to perpetuate themselves. So, as capitalism develops, it is literally bursting at the seams: it needs to control and push back the very things that it makes possible. It needs to reimpose scarcity, and privatize what is inherently common and public. This stress is a dialectical contradiction, and its result is crisis: and ideally, for Marx, crisis is the point of leverage at which revolutionary change can occur, destroying capitalist property relations and replacing them with a common, or communist, system that is much more in accordance with the abundance that capitalist relations themselves inadvertently produced.

Now, there is something overly mechanical here about how the Hegelian dialectic neatly inverts itself, so that a contradiction directly leads to its own solution on a higher level. And in fact, of course, things haven’t happened this way. Capitalism today is not threatened by crisis; indeed, crisis is the tool it uses to renew itself. The “dialectic” by which a contradiction is resolved on a higher level is entirely absorbed within capitalism itself. When the “contradictions” of what I like to call FKW (the Fordist/Keynesian/welfare-stateist system) caused trouble in the 1960s and 1970s, the result was not to trouble the capitalist system, but precisely to allow capital to regenerate itself on high-tech, neoliberal lines. (This was the case whether we refer to social movements and to stagflation in the “advanced” western countries, to stagnation in the “socialist” bloc, or to anti-colonialist struggles and subsequent nation-building in the Third World).

In this situation, contradiction and negativity have become rather sterile resources for change, I think. Deleuze’s notion of the virtual allows for a wider range of resources. Instead of a dialectic, Deleuze (and Guattari) propose a vision of how capitalism simultaneously unleashes and regulates fluxes of energy and matter, of desires and subjects and objects. Both the relations of production and the forces of production are here seen as involving multiplicity, i.e. more dimensions than would be the case in an orthodox Hegelian account. Instead of a teleological dialectic, we get what Althusser would call “overderminations.” Capitalism is both a multiplying force and a homogenizing force; it cannot repress and exploit without expropriating actually-existing creativity; it assumes an “outside” that it constantly seeks to repress, but cannot do without. There is no dialectic here to guarantee antagonism; but that is because antagonism is precisely what needs to be produced. And this is where practice can be renewed, experimented with, and invented; precisely because it has been unshackled from the narrow constraints of the dialectic.

Now, I will admit that my example (forces of production/relations of production) was chosen somewhat maliciously. I have been saying that loosening the dialectic, and opening it to more multiplicity, actually increases the potential for antagonism and radical change. But for a dialectician like Zizek, this example of the dialectic is not nearly dialectical enough. In his critique of Hardt and Negri, Zizek says that their problem is that:

they are TOO MUCH Marxists, taking over the underlying Marxist scheme of historical progress… what Marx overlooked is that, to put it in the standard Derridean terms, this inherent obstacle/antagonism as the ‘condition of impossibility’ of the full deployment of the productive forces is simultaneously its ‘condition of possibility’: if we abolish the obstacle, the inherent contradiction of capitalism, we do not get the fully unleashed drive to productivity finally delivered of its impediment, but we lose precisely this productivity that seemed to be generated and simultaneously thwarted by capitalism – if we take away the obstacle, the very potential thwarted by this obstacle dissipates.

In other words, for Zizek, not only Hardt/Negri, but Marx himself, is not dialectical enough, because Marx hopes to displace or overcome the very traumatic (dialectical) contradiction that for Zizek is the bedrock human condition. Zizek is responding, of course, to the fact that Hardt/Negri are very much on the Deleuzian side of the fence in the terms I have been outlining here. He is specifically reacting against what I started out this posting with: the sense that it is possible to translate Marxist dialectical terms into Deleuzian non-dialectical ones, and that in doing so one actually sharpens the possibility for change. Zizek is a rejectionist, and probably this is why he sticks so firmly to the fantasy of a “Leninist” radical rupture, and in fact dismisses any of the potentials for change envisioned by Deleuze, or by Hardt/Negri, as (what the Leninists have long called) merely reformist ones. There is no potential, no sense of the virtual, in Zizek, but only pure antagonism. I fear this leads mostly to a self-dramatizing radical refusal that changes nothing, but leaves the theorist congratulating him- or herself for not giving in, not compromising, not acceding to capitalism, not giving way on his/her desire (or should I say drive?).

None of this is to deny that Hardt/Negri do often seem to me to be too willfully optimistic, nor that Deleuze’s version of pluralism can often issue in a politics that is itself too complacent in its appreciation of sheer differences, and that thereby fails to break with the cozily pluralist logic of postmodern capitalism, or to push things to an antagonistic point. But it is to say that there is more to Deleuze/Guattari than that. The logic of relations, of plurality, and of the virtual does in fact enable an entirely Marxian analytics of capital and its flows in key sections of Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus. And, in the Preface to Difference and Repetition, Deleuze himself warns against the “danger… of lapsing into the representations of a beautiful soul,” for whom “there are only reconcilable and federative differences, far removed from bloody struggles. The beautiful soul says, we are different but not opposed…” Deleuze seeks, rather, to reach a point where difference “release[s] a power of aggression and selection which destroys the beautiful soul by depriving it of its very identity and breaking its good will.” Such is the effect of Deleuze’s transcendental (in the Kantian sense) pluralism, as opposed both to the sterility of dialectics and the complacent liberal pluralism that has become the official ideology of worldwide capital today.

18 Responses to “Pluralism and Antagonism”

  1. glen says:

    excellent read!

    There is a paralysis of awareness that sometimes grips me in everyday life when thinking about my complicity in the current state of affairs. The refrain of (negative) critique is a ‘home’ that is nice and warm; I return to it often. I think in the US it is referred to as ‘not being able to quit it’. It sustains me, like a fuel or resuscitation, so I can hit the road again.

    “I fear this leads mostly to a self-dramatizing radical refusal that changes nothing, but leaves the theorist congratulating him- or herself for not giving in, not compromising, not acceding to capitalism, not giving way on his/her desire (or should I say drive?).”

    A few years ago, a friend of mine addressed a similar issue in a conference paper about gestures of radicalism between generational cohorts. If my memory serves me, he focused on a couple of reviews of refugee activist texts by a well known (Australian) Deleuzian who occupied the self-congratulating radical theorist position denouncing the ‘trivial’ acts of the pragmatic activists.

    “The advantage of Deleuze, to me, is that he offers a wider, and more complex and nuanced, notion of “relations” than the Hegelian tradition does.”

    I having a problem in my disertation expressing this. The problem may seem trivial (and maybe that sort of thinking is my problem), but I am trying to address the common place engagement with a text (in my case, magazines) that reduces the point of contact to the relation between audience and text. By ‘common place’ I mean in Cultural Studies. I treat the ‘text’ as an event (not in the Derridean sense of an event) for it allows many different relations, and not only on the consumerist side, but reimagining what the text actually does (ie a ‘magazine’ is also something else besides a document of text and images, what does this other thing do?). Ok, so what?

    Well the problem is one in academic cultural studies, and perhaps other domains ‘on the margins’, whereby there is a certain expectation that particular sorts of engagements will be carried out and rehearsed. There is a metalanguage of discursive gesture that demands accordance to a set of engagements through key concepts (text, identity, resistance, whatever). Cultural Studies, especially the Media Studies arm, sets up a number of dialectics through and with the text (or practices, institutions, etc).

    I guess what I am getting at is a question, what happens when you carry out a virtualisation of the problematic you have identified in the disjunction between Deleuzian multiplicity and Hegelian dialectics as it is multiplied across all the axes of critique (in this case, of Cultural Studies)? The multiplicity of dialectical axes of critique forms the metalanguage of Cultural Studies, so how is it possible to communicate when it is premised on expectations that are not fulfilled? The non-fulfillment of expectations breeds what at best is called ‘cross-purposes’ and other things when much worse. Does everyone have to become Deleuzian just to understand what is going on?!?! Is the labour of ‘translation’ (as you phrase it between ‘dialectic’/'multiplicity’) something that is expected of people who use Deleuze and Guattari in their work? Why? How much should Deleuzians ‘expect’ of their readers/audience (to know the Deleuzian metalanguage)?

    These may seem like naive questions and they are! Maybe I am asking if there has to be a certain generosity in reading regarding a much more general problem with academic jargon, I am not sure.

  2. I think that put’s it rather well, Steve. I would say that dialectic might be just a special case, a subset of possible kinds of relation, and probably a fairly rare one. Or perhaps: things sometimes look Hegelian, but are Deleuzian. In images such as ‘the crack-up’, or ‘the porous membrane of the state’, Deleuze is pointing to the complexity beneath the skin of events. There may be antagonisms, there may not. There’s no original sin at work in Deleuze’s world, no fundamental split. The (negatively) dialectical method still has its uses, however. It’s a way to peel apart the identities formed by the property relation, which set me in a one to one relationship to myself via my things. But from there one needs to think in a way that is ‘positive’ without being positivist.

  3. Nate says:

    This is a great post Steve. I’m becoming more interested in some versions of dialectical marxism (the Open Marxism lot – John Holloway and others – are really great), but I think the habit of fighting about which meta-theory or -idiom others ought to use is really pernicious. And especially ridiculous from folk who want to talk about social practices. As you say, one can translate. That type of bridge building and translation across idioms is really important and I think much more interesting. (Plus this kind of task provides a worthwhile task if one believes that some questions just end up in tautology or infinite regress.) There’s a weird thing that happens in some of the arguments I’ve seen about this or that idiom, this or that thinker, which is that folks seem to treat their metatheory of choice as getting at the real final truth of the conditions of theoretical production as such. A pragmatist injection (or deflation) into that mix is very healthy, saying these are all tools that people use to do things with so how about everyone takes a collective deep breath then tries to figure out how to talk to each other. I think it’s also quite good to just cop to one’s preferences: I find Marx and Schmitt and Foucault when I read them generally help me think very usefully. Deleuze and Derrida and psychoanalysis generally don’t. (The problem comes, or one source of problems comes, when people take this kind of observation for an argument.)

  4. Jodi says:

    Terrific post. Very clear and helpful. I disagree, though, on your reading of the Z excerpt on H/N. The basic claim is that capitalism requires capital and that the elimination of the surplus of capital means the elimination of the system. This is part of Z’s general criticism of Marxism and of real existing socialism–the attempt to have excess, growing production without capital, the attempt to have what amounts to capitalism absent capital as an excess. What’s wrong with that point? Doesn’t it make sense to say that communism was a capitalist fantasy, as Z does? Also, on antagonism–I think that you read dialectics too narrowly in order to make your point against antagonism. Basically, it’s internal to the ‘subject’ for Zizek and not only a matter of relations. So, for Laclau, say, antagonism has to be produced, for Z it is a matter of the Real. To this extent, as you point out, here is where he is in more agreement with Deleuze. I am also interested in your points about the virtual–but here I need to do more reading and thinking. A question: is the virtual for Delueze anthing like potentiality? I ask because it isn’t clear to me that the line you draw is as strong as you suggest. Because reality is non all, because the subject is part of the openness of materiality, this ‘order’ is not as determined and restrictive for Zizek as you suggest. Part of the ordering and the determination come in retroactively, as actions of the subject, as what Badiou thinks of in terms of naming the event. Sorry to babble on…anyway, this is an interesting and helpful post.

  5. Thanks for this, Jodi. Due to lack of time I will only respond briefly & superficially to your questions. Yes, I think that Deleuze’s virtual is a kind of potentiality: it has to do with directions or vectors of change that are implicit, in a kind of supercharged way, in the situation that actually exists — but that have not (or not yet) been “actualized,” which is where some sort of praxis (a word Deleuze doesn’t use) might come it. But for Deleuze negativity is only one (and for him, the least interesting) mode in which this actualization might occur. So the virtual is, I think, “the openness of materiality,” and it is affirmed and actualized in an Event (I don’t think Deleuze and Badiou are all that far apart on the event, despite their vastly different ontologies).

    As for relations, and the matter of antagonism being “internal to the subject” in Zizek, for Deleuze relations have different degrees of internality and externality, so the boundary between symbolic and real is not as stark or as important for him as it is for Zizek. Again, part of the claim I am making here is that Z. and D. are talking about closely related things, but that D’.s language for doing so has advantages over Z.’s, in terms of the places it brings you and the ontological committments it drives you toward.

    As for Zizek on Hardt/Negri, I know I am being quick, and perhaps unfair to Zizek (as unfair as he is being to Hardt/Negri). Insofar as Zizek is criticizing what Spivak would call an overly “continuist” reading of Marx, I’d agree with him. But I think there is more to it, in that Zizek’s commitment to Hegel and the dialectic leads him to ignore certain openings which do in fact exist in Marx. This would have to lead into a larger discussion — for some other time — about why I find Zizek’s detournement of “surplus value” into “surplus enjoyment” problematic. (Briefly, because it displaces emphasis from the impersonal flows of capital to the problematic of subjectivity. I’d want to work this out in terms of Deleuze/Guattari’s three syntheses in Anti-Oedipus).

  6. David Daratony says:

    Wonderful post! Like you, I have only a few minutes to comment (thank god! you might be saying).

    I would agree that Zizek needs to be put aside for awhile (if this is what you’re actually saying). A return to Deleuze et al is more productive–this is simply my bias.

    I wish you would define your terms more precisely. I think this is the general complaint analytic philosophy has with continental theory. If there is going to be a bridge between these two “types” of academics, then there has to be some inter-subjective agreement on the terms in play. Not to mention precision and rigor.

    An aside: historians of early modern philosophy have noticed that the traditional breakdown of British Empiricists and Continental Rationalists is a convention that doesn’t reflect historical interactions btw the traditional 6 key philosophers. Descartes and Spinoza were as much concerned with science as Locke; Leibniz and Newton were on the same track when it came to Calculus.

    The tradition breaks the two camps by judging the British Empiricists by their epistemology mostly and the Rationalists by their metaphysics. It is really a false dichotomy. This traditional breakdown simply is not a truthful way of approaching early modern philosophy. Hobbes is one of the most important commentators in Descartes’ *Objections and Replies* to his *Meditations*. An excellent book on this problem is Louis Loeb’s *From Descartes to Hume* Edwin Curley has also discussed this problem in *A Companion to Epistemology* and *A Companion to Metaphyscis* in “Rationalism in Epistemology* and “Rationalism in Metaphysics” respectively.

    In a similar way (though there seems to be more communication between Taylor, Rorty, and even Putnam and Continental philosophy), today without a considerable historical perspective Continental philosophers think that analytic philosophy is a school, when in actuality, analytic philosophers are more critical of each other then Continental philosophers are of analytic philosophers. At the same time, analytic philosophers criticize Continental philosophy for not being rigorous and not admitting that the advances in logic are substantive. This too is wrong; logic has made considerable advances substantively.

    Ironically, most of the advances in logic came initially from the continent. Not to mention that there are Continental philosophers who are very rigorous, precise, and clear thinkers. Sartre and Merleau-Ponty define their terms rigorously, clearly, and precisely–they even at times have similar issues with epistemology and science that analytic philosophers over the past 50 years have had.

    My point is that philosophy/theory that exists in English, Anthropology, Political Science, and Sociology departments are too quick to dismiss analytic philosophy and the progress in logic as simply inane. But, as someone who sees the need for a bridge, I see sometimes that there is no consistent defining of terms when English Departments et al do philosophy.

    When you say that the relations between things are as real as the things themselves, you are reiterating Bergson in *Introduction to Metaphysics*. So it seems to me that you are an intuitionist; and, in that case, epistemology isn’t as much an issue as affirming the pluralistic antagonism between theoreticians (or simply, interlocutors) as well as capitalists (which by realistic default, we all happen to be).

    I wonder for those of us who need more precision (here I admit I play an antagonist, but not for its own sake) whether the terms could be defined without relying on the context of their usage.

    For instance, there seems to be two ways you use “antagonist/antagonism”: in the positive, which by my interpretation, you seem to think this is the more productive force (Deleuzian/Marxist-a pro); as opposed to the tight dialecticians like Zizek (a con, no pun intended) who thinks against pluralism for the sake of seeing further along the hypothetical, teleological “progression” of collectivity?? Then you seem to contradict your detour through Deleuze when at the end of your post the quote seems to affirm antagonism as a negative: “destroys… depriving… breaking”. Is there perhaps some residual Bataille in Deleuze (or our reading of Deleuze is pinched here and there by Bataille)?

    “The living organism, in a situation determined by the play of energy on the surface of the globe, ordinarily receives more energy than is necessary for maintaining life; the excess energy (wealth) can be used for the growth of a system (e.g., an organism); if the system can no longer grow, or if the excess cannot be completely absorbed in its growth, it must necessarily be lost without profit; it must be spent, wilingly or not, gloriously or catastophically.”
    -Bataille; Accursed Share

    It’s also interesting how you border on Sartre’s later (Marxist) work in this post when you speak of Deleuze’s virtual potential — a remnant of your last post on Whitehead metaphysics — praxis, practice, which might change events to come… a whole different ontology than Whitehead. In fact, here one might argue that “ontology” is simply the wrong word, because it means “what there is.” When I take you to mean, “what there can be.”

  7. Sean says:

    Thanks for broaching the Deleuze/Marx question so instructively. I had though that the dialectic wasn’t what was most at stake in the D/M meeting, due to the very ease of translation that you mention (Deleuze: dialectic is like a baggy garment, covering everything but revealing very little). But on reflection I think you’re right on the money, it’s crucial. For me, there are two considerations. If Marx’s dialectic is to be WORTH translating into other idioms, it can’t be a “continuist” one, as you say; which means I think that it can’t be one in which the potential of one formation is somehow sloughed off from its actuality by the force of that formation’s own contradictions, as if it weren’t after all connected in any essential way to the actual, and realised in some new formation. As it happens, I think that Marx’s dialectic in Capital really is of the non-continuist variety: capital’s constitutive obstacle for Marx here is less the contradiction between the forces and relations of production than the impossibility/necessity of reconciling the freedom of the market with the realisation of surplus value, that is, of matching – without remainder – competences and activities in the factory, and products and desires in the market, two conjunctions that require a moment of heteronomy. (Incidentally, and speaking of translation, what’s gained by translating this contradiction into Karatani’s parallax?) This involves antagonisms that are “guaranteed” in the sense that capital can’t do without them. What isn’t guaranteed is their outcome. But if all this is consistent (not guaranteed either), “potential” can’t be attached to anything substantive like the forces of production, but needs to be identified/constructed (e.g. as freedom from economic necessity) in a moment of (Badiouian!) subjectivity, without which the contradiction is simply deferred, displaced, delegated to various agencies etc., which is what happened in quite a momentous way with the recent resurgence of financial capital and the end of the FKW.

    The second part of the problem is then whether or not this particular dialectic CAN be translated meaningfully into the Deleuzian. My concern with Deleuze-Guattari is that they make the concept of surplus value transhistorical, which tends to obscure the notion that the productive potential unleashed by capital is precisely a capitalist potential, and to promote instead the idea, pursued by Hardt and Negri, that there exists a kind of substantive creativity or multiplicity or whatever which, having been set in motion by capital, is nevertheless strangely autonomous from it, and at most finds itself appropriated or “captured.” As I understand it, for Marx appropriation and production are one and the same thing under capital (and under capital specifically). Zizek’s right to take Hardt-Negri to task for not considering the complexity of the form/content question here, but his own response is disastrous: if H-N artificially separate form and content – to use Zizek’s own vocabulary – effectively making the latter (productivity/creativity/potential) transhistorical, then Zizek identifies them absolutely: there can be no superabundance that is not capitalist in form. In other words he formalises what for H-N and D-G is something substantive, with the result that capital rather than creativity is eternalised. Great. He has to do it of course, because of that identification you mention between surplus-value and surplus enjoyment, which makes the former the transcendental condition of all experience (no surprise that Sohn-Rethel appears to have been dropped from Zizek’s canon). But doesn’t the criticism of D-G, H-N hold good? Can they take the antagonistic nature of creativity under capitalism seriously when they appear to think of it as something that substantively exceeds capital, and is never therefore really under threat? I have to say that my grasp of Deleuze’s virtual is very poor, for all I know this is a non-problem.

  8. Sean,

    thanks for your comments. I have to think more about everything you have said.

    My preliminary response to the last point, about creativity under capitalism, is this. For Marx, capital is not really the source of anything it produces; this is why capital can be accumulated only through exploitation or appropriation. Everything that capital “creates,” or attributes to itself, comes from outside capital: it is all either nature (air and water, natural resources insofar as they don’t need massive human effort to obtain them) or human effort (labor, which is captured in the form of labor-power). In this sense, “creativity” is indeed not just an attribute of capitalism, but in fact something that “substantively exceeds capital.” This doesn’t make it “transhistorical,” I don’t think; since it is indeed only in a given social and productive system that creativity is given content. So it is transcendental, perhaps, in the strict Kantian sense, but not transcendent (not transcending history).

    This, of course, is the source of H/N’s optimism, which I would agree with you is exaggerated and probably ahistorical: since they don’t adequately address the question of what it would mean to organize a different regime of — shall we say — affective creation (or, if you will, old-fashioned “production”) from the capitalist one. This might be a case for (as I am always urging against H/N) reconsidering a sort of transcendental argument, rather than seeing everything in (Spinozian) terms of constitutive vs. constituted powers. But that is a subject for another post…

    I think, however, that some of D+G’s formulations, in which the Body Without Organs “attributes to itself” immanent productive/creative activity, do in fact offer a good account of how capitalist appropriation works; and this account is largely consonant with Marx. I note too that Deleuze has more tolerance for transcendental argument than Negri does; he often calls what he is doing “transcendental empiricism,” and is at least ambiguous about Kant (as I have tried to show elsewhere) in his Nietzsche book (and his Kant book as well). The appropriations and attributions of the Body without Organs do follow a transcendental logic in the terms Deleuze sets in Nietzsche and Philosophy: that of a “transcendental deduction” that is not merely logical, but also an actual historical genesis of the transcendental, or of the relation between the conditioning term and what it conditions. (I should add that it is only in relation to capital that I am able to make sense of the Body without Organs at this point; its other uses in D+G tend to either mystify or frustrate and irritate me).

    So I don’t think Zizek’s criticism is entirely justified. But I do agree with you that, by virtue of his commitment to negativity, Zizek does tend to eternalize the obstacle, i.e. capitalism itself (which is why he can only imagine overcoming it by a radical Leninist/Bartlebyite gesture of total negation or refusal. A different regime of social production might well have to be without commodities, but this is not the same thing as being without abundance. Part of what I am trying to work on elsewhere is Marx’s sense of how capitalism continually generates abundance, but needs to reimpose scarcity — and it is this aspect of Marx’s capital logic that I think D+G do work through quite explicitly in Anti-Oedipus.

  9. Kirby Olson says:

    The Hobbesian war of all against all would be the ultimate pluralism. Wouldn’t this also be Nietzsche’s viewpoint?

  10. Dr. Spinoza says:

    There are deep-rooted problems in Zizek’s analysis of capital that are becoming clearer to me in this conversation. I find it reminiscent of Adorno’s relentless “negativity”: there’s no form of resistance to the administered society that cannot be recuperated by the administered society, so all one can do is theorize the dialectical operation of that society.

    That’s not entirely fair to Adorno, I know, because he does have a sense of possibility, of “metaphysical experience.” But I think that Adorno’s thinking here is too vague and also too Hegelian, just as the point where it might become a thinking of the virtual.

    Deleuze and Guattari show us a way of proceeding without Hegelianisms, which is perhaps why Zizek finds them so threatening.

    There’s a remarkable passage in Nietzsche and Philosophy where Deleuze claims that Kant failed to adequately develop the critique of pure reason, and that Hegel (and Marx) inherited Kant’s blunders — whereas the true critique is only arrived by Nietzsche. I think that this is exactly right, but it’s also true that if one reads Nietzsche through Kantian (rather than Hegelian or Schopenhauerian) lenses, the project changes its sense — among other things, it becomes much more clear why Foucault is doing what he’s doing while claiming to be a Nietzschean.

  11. Sean says:

    Thanks especially for elaborating on the transcendental. I’m always suspicious when people substitute transcendental for transcendent, as if this solved everything – it doesn’t always seem like such a momentous shift, at least from a Marxist perspective. That’s the substance of Sohn-Rethel’s critique of Kant – that the transcendental subject hypostasises market conditions – and I think Zizek does something similar with the symbolic, despite his invocation of Sohn-Rethel (incidentally I think Karatani basically epistemologises everything by making exchange historically universal, something Deleuze-Guattari criticise Levi-Strauss for). But the idea of “an actual historical genesis of the transcendental” is wonderful, I’ll have to read Deleuze’s Nietzsche book. I think this is exactly what’s at stake in Capital, and with D-G’s BWO: capital’s perpetual need/failure to construct a complete transcendental (the contradiction I mentioned in my last comment). So the transcendental needs to be taken seriously (it’s not just a case of each particular system having its own transcendental, of relativising the transcendental: capital’s transcendental is real and in a sense absolute, it’s just that it’s also impossible) but still understood historically. Or is Deleuze just being playful here (a droopily mustachioed Kant to go with a bearded Hegel)? Makes no odds to him I suppose.

    But then I think the question of the productivity of labour – of whether, under capital, it’s captured by capital, or utterly bound up with it at every stage – is crucial. I take the point about capital not really being the source of anything it produces, but then I’m not sure that it’s legitimate to identify any particular isolable element that might be. Can we think of capital’s attribution to itself of labour’s productive powers as “real” in the sense that commodity fetishism is a “real illusion”? I don’t think the idea of capital’s struggle to produce its own transcendental works unless we think of capital as actually producing labour-power rather than appropriating it, as if there were – in a commodified system – a labour-power that actually does or even could exist in a non-commodified form. Which is not to say that under a different system there might not be abundance and a freely creative labour. But I’ll have to think about it some more, hopefully we can return to the problem (if there is one and it’s not just me) at a later date.

  12. DjangoDeleuze says:


    nice post Steve and great debate.
    I´m fascinated by D+G and their work. For me it was like breathing fresh air…it was just what I needed to vent and even more…

    I agree with a lot Steve has written and think that D+G deliver the appropiate language for both describing the way post-fordism capitalism (“share-holder-value-capiltalism”?…even though I like Steve´s “Walmartisation”) works and what the chances of subversion could be (referred here as “openess”, “creativity”…I think?).
    Leaving the “dialectic-trees” and revealing the “complexity” and “interaction” (crap term….but I can´t find a better one at the moment) between political economy and economy of desire. They are both (desire and BWO, which in capitlaism is the capital) formations of the unconsciousness. D+G biggest (may sound trivial) question is “why do we desire what oppresses us?”. The BWO is occupied by capital and is repressing the “connective synthesis” of desires, changing their way of “producing”, making it look like it´s all about capital. I think that´s an important emphasis in Anti-Oedipus….something like: “it´s all about the desires, stupid!!”. Thus Steve, the different BWO…I think they are seen as a chance, creativity, openess…whatever, I understand the BWO as being chance and risk in one. The BWO is immanent to the desire-production not vice-versa but it seems like “it´s all about the BWO” (capital). Thus in 1000Plateaus D+G have a chapter called “How to create a BWO”….since BWO and desire are somewhat “intertwined” I understand this chapter as being a guidance to “free up the desires”, to create a BWO that allows the fluxion of desires and their “connective synthesis” (ie, the SM-example in the chapter: ” tie me up and then…and then…” and so on….”connective”)…

    Hope this made some sense…

    I´m somewhat surprised to see a lot of guys (Zizek ie)concerned with D+G, reading them as being “affirmative”…it´s strange because for me it was subversion from the get go. With guys like Zizek, I always have a feeling they are all about a pissing-match on “who´s the better political left-winger”. With D+G it´s not about “left-right”…it´s about desires and powers/force (“There´s only desire and the societal”…from AOe, maybe bad translation) and their relationship..straight to the point. No dialectic “left-right” distraction….

    I agree with Steve….D+G deliver better terms for both the disease and appropriate chances of cure to the disease. I agree that dialectic is a warm place to vent but doesn´t really change anything because it just doesn´t grasp the problem. It´s ahistorical? I don´t know….maybe history is just about different occupations of the BWO….it´s political and it grabs all our nuts and forces us to think about both theory and it´s use in practice, that´s what I like about it… academic ying-yang, no academic barn…you´re out in the rain, there´s no nice umbrella….what you gonna do? Sometimes, debating with dialectic thinkers, they just look like Dandys being POed about being robbed of their umbrellas, lol.

    It´s about time to thin “productively” (pun intended)

    Ok, that´s all for now…hope I didn´t annoy you.
    Keep it up folks…and sorry for my “sorry-english”, I´m from overseas

  13. matthew cooper says:

    DjangoDeleuze, Steve…?

    …”Thus Steve, the different BWO…I think they are seen as a chance, creativity, openess…whatever, I understand the BWO as being chance and risk in one. The BWO is immanent to the desire-production not vice-versa but it seems like “it´s all about the BWO” (capital). ”

    The problem is maybe rather that the concept of the “BWO” has become some kind of stumbling block generally?
    I read Anti Oedipus in 1977 on loan from the local library and found nothing difficult about it. Hey 19?
    Brian Massumi for example, comes up with “The Body without an Image” (in as much as … “a BWO has nothing to do with the Historical Image of the Body “.

    That doesn’t gel, it’s too academic. The idea isn’t simply an analytical tool with which to state the obvious. It’s more an intimate point of view; the problem seen from the point of view of existence, intimately!
    The other thing I can’t accept in Massumi’s reading of Delueze is the nothingness of his idea of “change” as in “becoming something different”.
    As he puts it: “If you change , you are no longer that self”.
    -what a load of crap. You can’t help but change and wonder whether it’s the “same self which goes on living”.
    Go on living you do and that assessment amounts to nothing!

    What’s missing there is the scale of what’s changing how, for whom and when.
    So far Massumi has only managed to state less than the obvious.

    -“Existence is barely liveable” as Guattari said. Or “how do you make yourself a BWO?” – (the SM bit is tempered slightly by Delueze’s reading of Masoch’s “Venus in Furs”… as in, if you are inclined towards Masoch and his approach stay the F&^%ing hell away from “Sadists”!!!!!)

    That aside, Guattari asks simply -”how do you make yourself a BWO, a life, a warmth in all this mess”.?
    ie: How do you live? How are you going since you “have the Face you deserve at 50”? Yet there is much to be lived… shit loads!

    Never mind Academia, the question is your’s as much as anyone’s.
    From experience you are likely to be dealt a more savage blow from people, as it were, than you are the actual tyranny of the “system”/Capitaiism at large if only because they are one and the same thing.
    Hence the need to look at the “Species” or the old fashioned notion of Society on a much more molecular level.


  14. matthew cooper says:

    … incidentally, the word “Socius” is an old approximation of “Comradeship”. The element of social “cohesion” which is naturally there rather than being merely the object of reform.
    Just a thought.

  15. matthew cooper says:

    I never get to this site anyway until the bottle is half empty. Welcome to the armchair blog.
    Anti Oedipus in the 70′s was an easier read anyway because there was none of the fug of “postmodernism” as it is now to contend with. What the F is all
    this precious hubbub?
    -The best time to read D+G is when you are actually young and impressionable.
    Nobody is going to pull Marx out of a hat in the blogosphere.
    I agree with David Daratony. We get a bit too Yankee someitmes?

    Postmodernism? Marylyn Monroe died around the time I was born. I first went to Disneyland when you could still meet Walt. My Parents listened to the Beach Boys whilst the Phantoms took-off over the City to go beat the Ruskys,
    Now the “Beach Boys” are to teenagers as Barber Shops ate to those who have never had such a bad haircut!

    So? The English called it “Bollocks”.

  16. john steppling says:

    Very good post.
    My only thought….a simple one… on the description of self dramatizing refusal. Im not sure, but all refusal initiates some kind of change. Marcuse thought ‘talk’ was a means towarda rejection of domination….and I think mis-directed ‘activism’ can often be more counter-productive than simple analysis. One may be left uncertain of anything other than “refusal”….from which a more concrete movement will develop. “The solution will emerge” as my buddhist friends often remind me.

    Im not at all versed in Deleuze to be honest….being a Frankfurt type I guess…..and lately Derrida. Freud is someone I find I am always returning to when paralysis strikes…..why I dont know. Now I should add — that I find Zizek to be exactly what you describe….self dramatizing….and sort of a good magazine writer and not a lot more. So there is a contradiction for all i just said….and so it goes.

  17. [...] I have written a rather long-winded a-grammatical reply to a post by Steve Shaviro on what he calls the “differend between dialectics, with its notes of crisis, contradiction, and antagonism, and pluralism of the Deleuzian variety, with its rejection of any thought of the negative and its insistence on the metastability of the virtual as the source of change.” (I am pretty sure ‘differend’ is meant in the Lyotardian sense.) When I get to the point of my reply, I eventually ask: “Does everyone have to become Deleuzian just to understand what is going on [in the work of Deleuzians]?!?! Is the labour of ‘translation’ (as you phrase it between ‘dialectic’/’multiplicity’) something that is expected of people who use Deleuze and Guattari in their work? Why? How much should Deleuzians ‘expect’ of their readers/audience (to know the Deleuzian metalanguage)?”  [...]

  18. [...] a post on Marx’s dialectical method and Deleuze, Steven Shaviro makes the interesting claim that it is Deleuze’s pluralism that is [...]

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