The monstrous body of capital — the socius, or the Body without Organs — is massive, imposing, and unavoidable. It defines the very situation in which we live. It is the milieu that all our thoughts and actions presuppose, the environment to which they all refer, the context in relation to which they alone have meaning. In this sense, capital truly is a “divine” force: it suffuses itself into everything, and it subsumes everything. But this divinity is not the end of the story. The monstrous body of capital is indeed everywhere; but for all that, it is not everything. It has grown to be a “transcendental condition” — but it is not transcendent. In Kantian terms, its status is regulative and not constitutive. Or as Marx puts it, the “laws” of capital logic are only “tendential” ones; they are not totalizing or deterministic. The body of capital is therefore not-all. For one thing, it is never satiated; this means that some margin always remains beyond its grasp, some activity that has not yet been capitalized and appropriated. For another thing, it remains infested by parasites, the remnants that it has been unable to transform into itself. As Deleuze and Guattari say, “the surface of this uncreated body swarms with them, as a lion’s mane swarms with fleas.” We ourselves are these fleas; and even as the body of capital strives to eliminate us, it also cannot exist without us. Just as God needs a creation that is separate from himself, and free to disobey him and err in its ways: so capital requires an external source of inputs, as well as an external dumping ground for outputs. It needs conditions that are not yet its own, and also those that are no longer its own. It must always demand additional ‘raw material’ to subsume, and it must always demand an outlet for the results of this subsumption. In short, capital is not really “self-engendered”; it needs both producers from whom it can extort productive labor, and consumers to whom it can sell its products.
In Deleuze and Guattari’s account, therefore, the Body without Organs is only one of three “syntheses” that together compose the “transcendental conditions” of capitalist existence. The socius is the matrix of surplus appropriation, and then of circulation and distribution. It operates what Deleuze and Guattari call a disjunctive synthesis, or a synthesis of recording, “of distributions and of co-ordinates that serve as points of reference.” But such a process cannot continue indefinitely, all on its own. The disjunctive synthesis of capital is not a perpetual motion machine; it is not a closed, self-contained, self-renewing system. Contrary to the assumptions of neoclassical economics, it is not an equilibrium system. Rather, it is what Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers call a dissipative structure, a far-from-equilibrium conductor of flows of energy. If the socius were only able to feed back upon itself, and live upon its own resources, it would either suffer a short circuit and quickly burn out, or else slowly succumb to entropy. This is precisely why it is not-all. In order to function, the disjunctive synthesis must be preceded by a connective synthesis, a synthesis of production, or “of actions and of passions”: a fuel upon which the body of capital is able to feed. And it must be followed by a conjunctive synthesis, a synthesis of consumption or consummation (consommation), “of sensual pleasures, of anxiety, and of pain”: a spark of self-enjoyment that discharges tensions and reboots the entire reproductive process.
The socius can be described as a disjunctive synthesis, because of the way that it captures all production, appropriates or “attributes” this production to itself, and then divides and distributes the fruits of this production, according to a “system of possible permutations between differences that always amount to the same as they shift and slide about.” Capital is not a substance, but a process and a relation: a process of continual metamorphosis, and a series of “relationships between… producers,” that “take on the form of a social relation between the products of labour” (Marx). In its “constantly renewed movement,” capital does not “prefer” one form to another, or even one path of transformations to another. The channels of circulation and the objects of distribution are therefore always changing, even as the outcome of the process — the “valorization” of the capital being circulated, thanks to the sale and consumption of the product, and the consequent “reflux of money to its starting point” — remains the same. The disjunctive synthesis comes down to a play of differences that do not make a difference, or of choices that have no consequence or significance. “No matter what two organs are involved, the way in which they are attached to the body without organs must be such that all the disjunctive syntheses between the two amount to the same on the slippery surface.”
Deleuze and Guattari’s first synthesis, the connective synthesis of production, can be identified with the actual labor process: that is to say, with “purposeful activity'” that transforms the world. The young Marx of the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts describes this process as “Man’s species being,” involving the worker’s immediate relation to “nature,” or to “the sensuous external world.” For nature is “the material on which [the worker’s] labor is manifested, in which it is active, from which and by means of which it produces.” Deleuze and Guattari follow this definition when they present the connective synthesis as “universal primary production” in the course of which human “industry” has a “fundamental identity with nature as production of man and by man.” Strictly speaking, this process is not (or is not yet) subjective. In Marx’s terms, the individual human being is not yet separated from “the life of the species” as a whole, nor from nature, which is humanity’s “inorganic body.” In Deleuze and Guattari’s terms, similarly, there can be “no distinction between man and nature: the human essence of nature and the natural essence of man become one within nature in the form of production or industry, just as they do within the life of man as a species.”
When free production is described in this way, it may sound a bit too much like Rousseau’s “state of nature” (or perhaps, in Deleuze and Guattari’s version, like the aggressively outrageous anarchy of Otto Muehl’s Actions-Analytic Kommune, as presented in Dusan Makavejev’s Sweet Movie). But neither Marx, nor Deleuze and Guattari, ever suggest that such “production” actually has (or might ever once have had) an independent, objective existence; it is always intertwined with other social processes, or with other syntheses. In the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, Marx only evokes production in the context of a discussion about how human beings’ species-specific “life-activity has been systematically estranged from human beings themselves, leading to the isolation of “individual life in its abstract form.” The later Marx, abjuring such existential language, instead emphasizes the way that “the process of production must be a unity, composed of the labour process and the process of creating value.” But where productive labor is a living, social, and embodied process, value-creation involves all the abstraction inherent to the extraction and realization of surplus value. It is not the case, therefore, that free production comes chronologically first, and is only appropriated afterwards by the capitalist; rather, once the mechanisms of capitalism are in place, the capitalists themselves organize social production with the aim of extracting value.
Similarly, Deleuze and Guattari insist that the connective synthesis never takes place all by itself: “there is no such thing as relatively independent spheres or circuits: production is immediately consumption and recording, without any sort of mediation, and recording and consumption directly determine production, though they do so within the production process itself.” The connective synthesis of production is always already accompanied by the other syntheses, and in particular by the disjunctive synthesis of recording, which both organizes the connective process, and appropriates its products. In the connective synthesis, “there is no need to distinguish…between production and its product… The pure ‘thisness’ of the object produced is carried over into a new act of producing.” But in the disjunctive synthesis of recording, the product is taken out of the flow, separated from the production process of which it was a part. This is what transforms it into a commodity. In its “pure thisness,” it was “an ordinary, sensuous thing. But as soon as it emerges as a commodity, it changes into a thing which transcends sensuousness,” Marx says. In this process, the first (connective synthesis is branched upon, and subordinated to, the second (disjunctive) synthesis. This is why capitalism presents us with “a fetishistic, perverse, bewitched world” in which the “apparent objective movement” of the full body or socius appears to us as the motor of social reproduction. Although the disjunctive synthesis depends, both logically and materially, upon the connective synthesis, it always appears as if the second synthesis came first. And this appearance is itself a basic principle of social organization and social reproduction.
[Discussion of the third synthesis, the conjunctive synthesis of consumption, will follow in a later posting]