Section of the Gold Paper on mental health that I helped write. Read the whole document here.
<Today in a class with Harry Gamboa Jr, he asked us to respond to the idea of nuclear war, following the news that the US declared the desire to withdraw from the US/Russia nuclear arms pact.>
I think of my Russian friend who has currently given up her passport to the UK government in an attempt to remain – just as the UK rejects all kinds of remainers.
I think of the bureaucracy that stifles resistance. I think of the call on the oppressed to be ‘the bigger man’ in a nonviolent morality that has been taken up as the moral standard for western protest.
I remember the last nuclear scare, between the US and North Korea last year. I was in my hometown, in the bar where my friend has worked for the last five years at least. There’s a huge projection screen, typically showing sports, but this time it was the news. Maybe it was the BBC, but I don’t remember it it being impartial enough. The locals were gathered at the bar and at the table permanently reserved for them. Muttering racist mutterings and making jokes.
I sat with my drink, allowing the media induced panic to wash over me. It was deeply affective. We all continued to drink. It’s funny how matter-of-fact the news presenters can report on the idea of imminent nuclear war. The deeply embedded xenophobia; the control fantasies of old alcoholics in a bar. I suppose we’re in it together. The steady obliteration towards another kind of collapse. One fella, Clarky, already has an open wound on his head.
In another place, near Vegas, a tour guide points to small huts in the desert, telling us that’s where they keep the missiles —
accelerating towards area 51.
In the nuclear testing museum, sponsored by those who make such weapons, there’s an area 51 exhibit. Mutation fantasies, an escape to the sky as ours is crashing down. It’s a shame the prosthetics and fake aliens are so shit.
Who is there with the placards, welcoming our destruction?
When approaching this text, I was thinking of the extra-textual influences that run through it – particularly those of Felix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze, and cyberpunk philosophies that come out of that. Also I did a course on subjectivity this last year, so this focuses a little more on processes of subjectification which for Guattari are part of an ethico-aesthetic paradigm.
Firstly, the story of the brain, or, the missing half-second.
In some ways, it’s a three tier process, in which personal experience only gets a look in at this third level. I want to emphasise that these are not clearly delineated levels, but is just a simplified schema, roughly borrowed from Mark Fisher’s PHD thesis ‘Flatline Constructs’, in which he posits the Gothic Flatline, or, the idea that we are as ‘dead’ as the machines – radical immanence:
Level one, is a storm of electrical data, or, the autonomic reaction.
Level two, is the data transfer, from one sense or process to another.
Level three, is where personal experience gets in, reducing the complexity into something expressible.
Deleuze and Guattari outline something similar in their 1972 book, Anti-Oedipus:
“This is tantamount to saying that the subject is produced as a mere residuum alongside the desiring-machines, or that he confuses himself with this third productive machine and with the residual reconciliation that it brings about: a conjunctive synthesis of consummation in the form of a wonderstruck “So that’s what it was!” […] “So it’s me!”” Guattari/Deleuze – Anti-Oedipus, p.17-18
The subjective process here – so that’s what it was, it’s me – is secondary to the primary emotion experienced as the intensities, becomings and transitions which Massumi conceptualises as ‘affect’, autonomous to the subject yet immanent to it and exerting influence.
Page 35: “Affect is autonomous to the degree to which it escapes confinement in the particular body whose vitality, or potential for interaction, it is. […] Actually existing, structured things live in and through that which escapes them.”
In a lecture titled ‘Perception Attack’, Massumi gives an easily relatable example of this:
“We need only think of attention. Attention is the base-state habit of perception. Every awareness begins in a shift. We think of ourselves as directing the shifts in our attention. But if you pay attention to paying attention, you quickly sense that rather than you directing your attention, your attention is directing you.” [emphasis added]
You are already caught up in rhythms of perception, happening before you can know it, or as Massumi says:
Page 30: “For the present is lost with the missing half second, passing too quickly to be perceived, too quickly, actually, to have happened. […] Something that happens too quickly to have happened, actually, is virtual. […] The virtual, the pressing crowd of incipiencies and tendencies, is a realm of potential.”
So as we glance around this room at one another, or the objects in this space, the primacy of our conscious control is a consensual myth of subjectivity, we simply respond to intentions as they arise. Which opens to other arguments around free will and so on. For Spinoza, the mind is an idea of the body, and affect is that which impinges upon, affects, the body and is at the same time the idea of affection (31). So, if the body is always pre-consciously reacting, pretending towards, can we really be said to have free will as we (self-)consciously (desire to) understand it?
Page 29: “Will and consciousness are subtractive. They are limitative, derived functions that reduce a complexity too rich to be functionally expressed.”
This reflective intension to be understood as a passage through Bergsonian virtuality rather than domineering humanist self-determination.
Page 39: “Theoretical moves aimed at ending Man end up making human culture the measure and meaning of all things in a kind of unfettered anthropomorphism precluding […] articulations of cultural theory and ecology. It is meaningless to interrogate the relation of the human to the nonhuman if the nonhuman is only a construct of human culture, or inertness.”
Second, the story of the brainless, Ronald Reagan, and other presidential candidates:
Page 40: “The only conclusion is that Reagan was an effective leader not in spite of but because of his double dysfunction. He was able to produce ideological effects by non-ideological means, a global shift in the political direction of the United States by falling apart. His means were affective. Once again: affective, as opposed to emotional. This is not about empathy of emotive identification, or any form of identification for that matter.”
Ideology rarefies, closing off the possibility that anything could be different, turning what is becoming into something fixed and permanent, distant from the lives and concerns of ordinary people. It is impossible to understand part of the system without placing it into relation to the whole system, the totality, which isn’t one thing, but a set of relations. This whole is not given to us in experience, it has to be constructed in consciousness, and from our situatedness.
In his experimental book, The Atrocity Exhibition from 1970, J.G. Ballard has a chapter titled, ‘Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan’, which prefiguratively echoes Massumi’s argument on page 106:
“created a scenario of the conceptual orgasm,
The conceptual role of Reagan. Fragments of Reagan’s cinetized postures were used in the construction of model psychodramas in which the Reagan-figure played the role of husband, doctor, insurance salesman, marriage counsellor, etc. The failure of these roles to express any meaning reveals the non-functional character of Reagan. Reagan’s success therefore indicates society’s periodic need to re-conceptualize its political leaders. Reagan thus appears as a series of posture concepts, basic equations which re-formulate the roles of aggression and anality.”
Reagan, as a series of posture concepts, a non-functional character, allows for his reconceptualisation. To return to Deleuze and Guattari, the “So that’s what it was” recurs via the institutional frameworks, apparatuses of capture, an oedipal reduction:
Page 41: “[Reagan] was unqualified and without content. But, his incipience was prolonged by technologies of image transmission and then relayed by apparatuses such as the family or the church or the school or the chamber of commerce, which in conjunction with the media acted as part of the nervous system of a new and frighteningly reactive body politic. […] Receiving apparatuses fulfilled the inhibitory, limitative function. They selected one line of movement, one progression of meaning, to actualize and implant locally. This is why Reagan could be so many things to so many people […] Because he was actualized, in their neighbourhood, as a movement and a meaning of their selection.”
This inhibitory, limitative function forms Deleuze and Guattari’s criticism of the apparatus of psychoanalysis, and advertising has its roots in psychoanalysis, a dreary prefiguration of selection:
“How could the conjunctive synthesis of “So that’s what it was!” and “So it’s me!” have been reduced to the endless dreary discovery of Oedipus: “So it’s my father, my mother”? […] We merely see how very little the consumption of pure intensities has to do with family figures, and how very different the connective tissue of the “So it’s…” is from the Oedipal tissue.” Guattari/Deleuze – Anti-Oedipus, p.20.
This confidence in the media, and in the social apparatuses to react, is echoed in the political (non-)strategy of Donald Trump. Trump activated the media in a very similar way to what Massumi proposes as the (non-)function of Reagan, and as Massumi says, “Confidence is the emotional translation of affect as capturable life potential” (41). Michael Moore’s new film 11/9 laid out how Trump got the media to actualise contradictory narratives in the path of their selection, hyperstitioning the contentless into actuality.
In his 1989 text, The Three Ecologies, Felix Guattari likens Donald Trump as “another form of algae” in the realm of social ecology, “permitted to proliferate unchecked”. Guattari goes on to say that “We live in a time when it is not only animal species that are disappearing; so too are the words, expressions, and gestures of human solidarity.” (135 3eco)
What do these pure intensities have to do with family figures, as Deleuze and Guattari ask? Well, the family figure is what is immediately available to us, conceptually. The totality is not immediately available to us, which is why awful shitty right wing conservative politicians such as Margaret Thatcher can make statements such as “There is no such thing as society”, because society is not immediately available to us through experience, it has to be constructed through consciousness, through practice. Ideas such as society are ideologically mystified in this context, enabling the disappearance of the gestures of human solidarity. It is much easier to have a reactive body politic that deals with the immediate than an active, engaged practice that deals with complexity and interrelationality. Capitalism itself is not given in experience, it has to be constructed as a system of relations.
This was the aim of feminist consciousness raising groups, which used experience as their raw material in order to open a reflective space in which to draw out commonality and construct a political consciousness. They understood the process by which a lack of class consciousness becomes self consciousness (class in the expanded social and/or economic sense), in which we blame ourselves for how we feel (personalising it) rather than the outside causes of our subjugation (depersonalising it). This may manifest as shame.
Q: I turn to this because of Massumi’s own interest in the political potential of affect, and I wonder what the emergent countertactics, or collective, could and can be? I see consciousness raising practices as one such mode:
Page 44: “In North America at least, the far right is far more attuned to the imagistic potential of the postmodern body than the established left and has exploited that advantage for at least the last two decades. Philosophies of affect, potential, and actualization may aid in finding countertactics.”
Finally, the economic picture and speculative valorisation of ‘emergent collectivity’:
In the conclusion of Massumi’s text we see him turn to questions of value and economic considerations. This is the work I have seen him continue to elaborate on with his collaborator Erin Manning, and the SenseLab.
Page 44: “[…] the commentators are operating under the assumption that the stock market registers affective fluctuations in adjoining spheres more directly than properly economic indicators. Are they confused? Not according to certain economic theorists who, when called upon to explain to a nonspecialist audience the ultimate foundation of the capitalist monetary system, answer “faith”.”
Page 45: “The ability of affect to produce an economic effect more swiftly and surely than economics itself means that affect is a real condition, as intrinsic variable of the late capitalist system, as infrastructural as a factory. […] it is everywhere […] It is beyond infrastructural. It is transversal.”
This has developed into a project they call the Three Ecologies Process Seed Bank (lol) which they imagine as a form of cryptoeconomy/currency which valorises the qualitative, which is speculative, rather than the quantitative. A qualitative becoming rather than a quantitative being. It borrows heavily from Guattari’s Three Ecologies:
“We live now under a capitalist system of valorization, in which value is based upon a general equivalent. What makes that system reprehensible is its crushing of all other modes of valorization, which thus find themselves alienated from capitalist hegemony. That hegemony, however, can be challenged, or at least made to incorporate methods of valorization based on existential productions, and determined neither in terms of abstract labour time, nor of expected capitalist profit. Computerization in particular has unleashed the potential for new forms of ‘exchange’ of value, new collective negotiations, whose ultimate product will be more individual, more singular, more dissensual forms of social action. Our task – one which encompasses the whole future of research and artistic production – is not only to bring these exchanges into existence; it is to extend notions of collective interest to encompass practices which, in the short term, ‘profit’ no one, but which are, in the long run, vehicles of processual enrichment. It should be stressed here that the promotion of existential values and the values of desire offers no ready-made global alternatives. Any such alternatives will be the product of more general shifts in existing value systems; of the gradual -emergence of new poles of valorization.” [emphasis added] (146 3ecologies)
Project summary taken from https://thenewinquiry.com/a-cryptoeconomy-of-affect/: “Named after Guattari’s notion of the three interconnected “ecologies” of the mental, social, and environmental, the Institute’s project is to digitally codify offline qualities and affects so that they can then be tokenized as a unit of the cryptocurrency, and in turn exchanged for fiat money—generating cash from a reading group. Much of the platform has already been conceptualized, but the key obstacle remaining is to invent what they call an affect-o-meter: the specific computational mechanism that can turn a quality that hangs in the air into the binary quantities of machine code.”
However, I have my reservations on a project that appears to want to monetise affect, even as part of an alternative economy, I am skeptical of it being subsumed. On top of that Manning and Massumi claim that:
“Neoliberalism is our natural environment. [ick] We therefore operate with what we call strategic duplicity. This involves recognizing what works in the systems we work against. Which means: We don’t just oppose them head on. We work with them, strategically, while nurturing an alien logic that moves in very different directions.”
Which at the end of the day relies on the development of an ‘affect-o-meter’, which they’re still trying to invent, in order to monetise these emergent collectivities. Does this not just attempt to quantify the qualitative, whilst reinforcing the existing competitive modes of monetising excess (valorising productivity perhaps i.e. you haven’t done your daily affect for money) rather than seeking to collectively support everyone (our lives our important no matter how productive we are, our productivity shouldn’t be valorised, but we should have the space to enter processes of enrichment)? I’m skeptical of the method, following what happened with bitcoin. This feels a little game-showy, a little carrot and stick if done badly. But maybe I’m wrong.
The affect-o-meter seems to be a way of quantifying the qualitative, rather than the vehicles of processual enrichment which Guattari speaks of.
To rephrase, my concern over the affect-o-meter is the potential for its use in the service economy and the experiential economy. That a machine such as the affect-o-meter could be used as another form of surveillance and performance monitoring. So, for example, a waiter in a restaurant. On the table they are serving, an ‘affect-o-meter’ sits, monitoring the qualitative experience of the diners. If the diners have a pleasurable experience, the affect-o-meter produces a quantity of fiat money which can be used in a performance review. This is my concern, how it can be subsumed to further the contemporary states and economies of neoliberal precarity and performance reviews.
“Once we know what we want, we’re no longer alone, the world repopulates. Everywhere there are allies, closenesses, and an infinite graduation of possible friendships. [Hope] is the best agent of the maintenance of order […] an immense pedagogy of waiting.” p.10 The Invisible Committee – Now
On reading this passage, I was reminded of Mark Fisher’s k-punk post titled ‘Abandon hope (summer is coming)’. http://k-punk.org/abandon-hope-summer-is-coming/
Quoting Deleuze, he writes “There’s no need to fear or hope, but only to look for new weapons”, referring to Spinoza’s idea that “There is no hope unmingled with fear, and no fear unmingled with hope.” So hope and fear are interchangeable, passive affects that arise from our incapacity to actually act.
Like all superstitions, hope is something we call upon when we have nothing else. […] the condition of hope is passivity. […]
We don’t need hope; what we need is confidence and the capacity to act.
Whereas hope and fear are superstitious (although they may have some hyperstitional effects), confidence is essentially hyperstitional: it immediately increases the capacity to act, the capacity to act increases confidence, and so on – a self-fulfilling prophecy, a virtuous spiral.
So how are we to rebuild our confidence? While the conditions are difficult – and in England, they are about to get much more difficult – we can still act, and act imminently and immanently. How?
Going on to outline a number of possible actions to take:
- Socialisation beyond social media
- Knowing someone in this life feels as desperate as me (consciousness raising)
- Talk to fellow workers about how we feel
- Talk to opponents
- Create knowledge exchange labs
- Create social spaces
- Use social media pro-actively, not reactively
- Generate new figures of loathing in our propaganda
- Engage in forms of activism aimed at logistical disruption
- Develop hub struggles (example: miners’ strike) to swarm to
Outer England has been sedated, but it is waking from its long slumber, carrying new weapons ….
This call for the confidence to act resonates both with Now and the slogans of ‘68, the latter was arguably a ‘hub struggle’ as Mark puts it. The slogans establish new social spaces – the beaches of the street – generate new figures of loathing – the bosses – disrupts logistically – no more calls for higher wages, instead abolish the system – and the slogans themselves articulate a culture of feeling and constitute a form of public consciousness raising.
“Decision is what traces in the present the manner and possibility of acting, of making a leap that is not into the void.” p.11 The Invisible Committee – Now
But, “The idea of a ‘precariat’ conveniently hides the fact that there is simply no longer a shared experience of work, even precarious work.” p.14 The Invisible Committee – Now
In a society that has abolished all adventures, the only adventure left is to abolish society. (Slogan from May ’68)
Live without dead time – enjoy without chains
Meanwhile everyone wants to breathe and nobody can breathe and many say, “We will breathe later”. And most of them don’t die because they are already dead.
These two slogans from ‘68, and the presence of death or the already-dead made me think on the figure of the zombie. The Haitian history of the zombie presents the horror of dehumanisation during slavery – zombie labourers and their uprising.
Yet performance artist Martin O’Brien speaks of living in ‘zombie time’ as someone with cystic fibrosis. For him, zombies embody a fear of infection in popular culture, an abject body bereft of subjectivity and individual identity. This dis-easing of a non-dead population when faced with the un-dead raises questions about mortality and living itself – how do we know we’re breathing?
“The zombie able to challenge the human understand of mortality: a body bereft of subjectivity and individual identity, once dead but now living again, but simultaneously still dead. The zombie is rotting flesh, animated and stumbling. Curiously, most of the common representations of the zombie depict it as motivated only by its need for survival as a species. The zombie bites in order to both feed and create more zombies. The population of the zombie can only increase as the population of the human decreases. The zombie is both human and non-human animal, it is both dead and alive, it is something to both fear and pity.”
O’Brien joked at a conference that “zombies are anti-capitalist, because in films they bring about the fall of capitalism.” Does the ‘zombification’ of a population in this ‘dead time’ bring about the end? A zombie uprising.
“[…] The bite reduces the other into a piece of meat [or data?]. It establishes a relationship between two people predicated upon predator/prey dynamics. Or perhaps it is an inbuilt fear of contagion associated with the mouth of another.”
Martin O’Brien – ‘Flesh-Eaters: Notes Towards a Zombie Methodology’, November 24th 2015. https://www.olats.org/trustme/04-MartinOBrien.pdf.