The Future States of Politics – Kenneth Surin

… the form of exteriority situates thought in a smooth space it must occupy without counting, and for which there is no possible method, no conceivable reproduction, but only relays, intermezzos, reproductions. Thought is like the Vampire; it has no image, either to constitute a model of or to copy…. The problem of the war machine is that of relaying, even with modest means, not that of the architectonic model or monument. An ambulant people of relayers, rather than a model society. (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: 377)

The unfolding terrain of its reception over two decades or so has been sufficient to indicate that Deleuze and Guattari’s two-volume Capitalisme et schizophrénie is, among several other things, one of the great conceptual orchestrations of the political – an architectonic or theoretical exfoliation on a par with Spinoza’s Ethics and Hegel’s Phänomenologie des Geistes, and, perhaps less obviously, with Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature. In terms of what it declares and implies, Capitalisme et schizophrénie has a palpable affinity with the Ethics and A Treatise of Human Nature, since it can be argued that Spinoza and Hume, unlike Hegel, dispense not only with the proposition that the state-form provides, in its essence, the lineaments of the idea of a ‘model society’, but go even further in their wholesale rejection of the notion of a ‘model society’.

There is No Model Society

An entire philosophical tradition from Hobbes and Rousseau to Hegel has posited a dialectic between the ineffective and wasteful power of the individual and the compelling and coercive social power of the state or the sovereign. This tradition views the power of the state or the sovereign as the instrument that melds, decisively, the many potentially fractious individual wills into a collectively harmonious power.1 Against this myth of the state’s domination (potestas), Spinoza pits the strength (potentia) of the multitude, a strength that counters the empty domination of the state or the sovereign.2 It is, of course, less obvious that Hume is similarly disaccommodating towards the notion of a ‘model society’, since, unlike Spinoza, he does not seek explicitly to bypass the dialectic of individual and state (or sovereign). But, as Deleuze has indicated in his Empiricism and Subjectivity, Hume is an unrelenting constructivist, someone who ‘understand[s] society as a positive system of invented endeavors’. (1991: 39) Legislation, on Hume’s view, is essentially the invention of strategies that make possible the extension of our sympathies, which are necessarily partial and limited because they are limited to that which is near and familiar to us (family and friends being for Hume the paradigmatic objects of our sympathies). But legislation, i.e. the invention of rules, can only act on preexisting conventions, the most significant and general of which is property. It is the institution of property which creates the ties of interest and action, the enabling commonalities, that bind the members of a society to each other. 3 Both legislative rules and preexisting conventions are thus for Hume the outcome of endeavours that are irreducibly constructive, and the concert of interests established by them is eo ipso artificial.

These artifices and contrivances underlie the creation of institutions, according to Hume, and the world of social institutions enables but also constrains human affections, in this way extending human sympathy, which for Hume is the primary, ruling affection.4 The amplification of human sympathies is accompanied by the elaboration and multiplication of human interests, but the social and political institutions that regulate the processes of this elaboration and multiplication (‘government’ in other words) have a rationale only insofar as they continue to serve these interests. Government, however, can never transcend the sheerly multifarious character of human interestedness, the myriad contingencies which subtend this interestedness. Government, in short, cannot escape the element of artifice inherent in the constitution of human interests. The upshot is that there is no ‘model society’ where Hume is concerned, but only societies which provide more or less productive ways for their members to coordinate their interests in relation to each other. And Humean raison d’état is essentially passional – for him interests are always driven by the passions, and so interests are willy-nilly the rationalisations of desire. 5 Given this admittedly cursory account of Hume’s ontology of the passions, it is not difficult for its readers to see that Capitalisme et schizophrénie belongs as much in the tradition of Hume as it does in that of Spinoza.

There is No Inherent Rationality in the State-Form

For Deleuze and Guattari desire is ubiquitous and endlessly productive:

… everything is production: production of productions, of actions and of passions; production of recording processes, of distributions and of co-ordinates that serve as points of reference; production of consumptions, of sensual pleasures, of anxieties, and of pains. Everything is production, since the recording processes are immediately consumed, immediately consummated, and these consumptions directly reproduced. (1972/83:10/4, original italics)

The implications of this position are profound and radical, and they point, among other things, to a significant difference between a standard and almost normative reading of Foucault and the authors of Capitalisme et schizophrénie. Deleuze and Guattari clearly accord great importance to ‘desiring-production’ (as indicated by the above passage). But this undeniable saliency of ‘desiring-production’ does not translate into the primacy of the modes of production as such, which is what one would expect of a more conventional marxist or marxisante thinking. Instead Deleuze and Guattari bestow this primacy on the so-called machinic processes, that is, the modes of organisation that link all kinds of ‘attractions and repulsions, sympathies and antipathies, alterations, amalgamations, penetrations, and expressions that affect bodies of all kinds in their relations to one another’ (1980/87:14/90). The modes of production depend on these machinic processes for their constitution (1980/87: 542/ 435). The upshot is that the modes of production are always themselves the product or derivation of a ceaselessly generative desire: what enables each mode to be constituted is an always specific, indeed aleatory, aggregation of desires, forces, and powers. The organisation of productive desire gives the mode of production its enabling conditions, and not vice versa, as is the case in some of the more typical marxisms. In arriving at this formulation, though, Deleuze and Guattari are very much in line with what Marx himself said about the necessity for society to exist before capitalism can emerge in anything like a fully-fledged form: a society-state with prexisting surpluses has already to exist if the (capitalist) extraction of surplus-value is to take place. To quote Deleuze and Guattari:

Marx, the historian, and Childe, the archaeologist, are in agreement on the following point: the archaic imperial State, which steps in to overcode agricultural communities, presupposes at least a certain level of development of these communities’ productive forces since there must be a potential surplus capable of constituting a State stock, of supporting a specialized handicrafts class (metallurgy), and of progressively giving rise to public functions. This is why Marx links the archaic State to a certain [precapitalist] ‘mode of production’. (1980/87: 534/ 428)

The state, in other words, gives capital its ‘models of realisation’ (1980/87: 540-1/ 434). But the state that provides capital with the models it needs in order to be effectuated is already functioning even before it manifests itself as a concretely visible apparatus. The state, in this case the Paleolithic state, destroys or neutralizes the hunter-gatherer societies that it came to supersede, but before this happens there has to be a necessary point of convergence between the State and the hunter-gatherer troupes. This point of convergence, which the troupes ward-off and anticipate at the same time, designates a situation or space in which – ‘simultaneously’ – the existing hunter-gatherer formations are dismantled and their successor state-formations put in place. In the words of Deleuze and Guattari, the two sets of formations unfold ‘simultaneously in an “archaeological”, micropolitical, micrological, molecular field’ (1980/87: 539/ 431). 6

The state, on this view, achieves its ‘actuality’ through a complex and uneven process that involves the arresting or caging of non-state formations, so that both state and non-state formations exist in a field of perpetual interaction. This interactive field, in the parlance of Deleuze and Guattari, is irreducibly ‘micropolitical’ or ‘molecular’, and so state-formations, which for them are of course quintessentially ‘macropolitical’ or ‘molar’, are not positioned in a field that has already been transformed by the state apparatuses or their prototypes into something that is (now) exclusively ‘macropolitical’ or ‘molar’. It is virtually an axiom for Deleuze and Guattari that before, and alongside, the macropolitical there is always the micropolitical. The state has perforce to interact with the micropolitical. This is at odds with a certain interpretation of Foucault (here regarded as the exemplary philosopher of the micropolitical) which views micropolitics to be a relatively new ‘development’ arising more or less strictly in response to forms of power, preeminently ‘bio-power’, that did not exist before the onset of the most recent phases of modernity. While it is not quite clear whether Foucault himself should be saddled with this view, it remains the case that for Deleuze and Guattari the state apparatuses always emerge in a ‘molecularized’ field that the state never entirely contains or neutralizes. The appearance of the state cannot therefore be the outcome of its own efficacy, of any inherent propensity on its part to generate its own enabling conditions. Whatever its powers, autogeny is beyond the power of the state to accomplish. Micropolitics has therefore always been antique in its provenance, and the state came about as an invention designed to arrest these micropolitical forces. Moreover, as an invention, the state had necessarily to be ‘thought’ before it could begin to be efficacious in any social and political field. 7

But the state has to deny this irremovable factitiousness of its ‘origins’, and present itself precisely as its ‘opposite’, that is, as an unthought (at any rate where ‘origins’ are concerned): ‘Only thought is capable of inventing the fiction of a State that is universal by right, of elevating the State to the level of de jure universality’ (Deleuze & Guattari, 1980/87: 465/375). Thought confers on the state its character of a singular and universal form, the fullest expression of the rational-reasonable (le rationnel-raisonnable). The foremost exponent of this ‘thought’ behind the genesis of the state is of course Hegel, who explicitly views the state as the embodiment of the universal, as the realisation of reason, and thus as the spiritual community that incorporates all individuals within itself. Against this view, which derives the state from the rational-reasonable, Deleuze and Guattari hold that it is the rational-reasonable itself that is derived from the state. The state provides the formal conditions for the enactment of the rational-reasonable (1980/87: 465-6/375-6), and thought (as the primary instantiation of the rational-reasonable) in turn necessarily confers on the state its ‘reason’ (lui donner n‚cessairement ‘raison’) (1980/87: 466n36/ 556n42). Reason or thought becomes the province of the state on this Hegelian (or quasi-Hegelian) view, and Deleuze and Guattari therefore propose a wresting of thought from the state and a complementary returning of the state to thought, in the form of an acknowledgment of the state’s irreducible fictiveness. 8

The State and Capital

The archaic state that arose from a recoding of the primitive territorial codes of the hunter-gatherer troupes instituted an organized production associated with the creation of ‘a particular kind of property, money, public works…’ (Deleuze & Guattari, 1980/87: 560/448). But this archaic state was not able to prevent a substantial quantity of ‘decoded flows’ from escaping:

The State does not create large-scale works without a flow of independent labor escaping its bureaucracy (notably in the mines and in metallurgy). It does not create the monetary form of the tax without flows of money escaping, and nourishing or bringing into being other powers (notably in commerce and banking). And above all it does not create a system of public property without a flow of private appropriation growing up beside it, then beginning to pass beyond its grasp; this private property does not itself issue from the archaic system but is constituted on the margins, all the more necessarily and inevitably, slipping through the net of overcoding. (1980/87: 560/449)

This epochal transformation confronted the succeeding state apparatuses with a new task. Where the previous state-form had to overcode the already coded flows of the hunter-gatherer groups, the new state apparatuses had to organize conjunctions of the decoded flows that had been escaping their archaic predecessor. These became the apparatuses of a polynucleated and more complex kind of state. But even here the state could not prevent decoded flows from escaping (yet again), and the most recent versions of these flows attained an ‘abstract’, ‘generalized’ conjunction which overturned their adjacent state apparatuses and created capitalism ‘at a single stroke’ (Deleuze & Guattari, 1980/87: 565/452-3). Capital thus represents a new and decisive threshold for the proliferation of flows, and, in the words of Deleuze and Guattari, this ‘force of deterritorialisation infinitely [surpasses] the deterritorialisation proper to the State’ (1980/87: 566-7/453). But capital’s superiority in this regard does not spell the end of the state. Instead the state underwent a further mutation, and the modern nation-state was born.

The relation between the state and capital is thus one of reciprocity. Capitalism is an ‘independent, worldwide axiomatic that is like a single City, megalopolis, or “megamachine” of which the States are parts, or neighborhoods’ (Deleuze & Guattari, 1980/87: 566-7/453). The state-form is not totally displaced by the ‘worldwide, ecumenical organisation’ of capital, but it has, in its modern manifestation, become a ‘model of realisation’ for capital. As such, it is the function of each state today to ‘[group] together and [combine] several sectors, according to its resources, population, wealth, industrial capacity, etc.’ (1980/87: 568/454). Under capitalism, the state serves ‘to moderate the superior deterritorialisation of capital and to provide the latter with compensatory reterritorialisations’ (1980/87: 568/455). The state becomes a field for the effectuation of capital, and it does this by reharnessing and reorganizing flows which capital brings together and decomposes (1980/87: 269-70/ 221). Capitalism will even organize and sustain states that are not viable, for its own purposes, primarily by crushing minorities through integration and extermination (1980/87: 590/472). The primacy of capital manifests itself at the highest level of abstraction: capital is an international organization that can organize with a prodigious resourcefulness the various state formations in ways that ensure their fundamental ‘isomorphy’ (which is not to be confused with ‘homogeneity’ in Deleuze and Guattari’s scheme).

International capitalism is capable of bringing about the ‘isomorphy’ of very diverse forms and their attendant forces. In his Leibniz book, Deleuze maintains that cultural and social formations are constituted on the basis of ‘concerts’ or ‘accords’. (Deleuze, 1993:130-7) These ‘accords’ are organizing principles which make possible the grouping into particular configurations of whole ranges of events, personages, processes, institutions, movements, and so forth, such that the resulting configurations become integrated formations. As a set of accords or axioms governing the accords that regulate the operations of the various components of an immensely powerful and comprehensive system of accumulation, capital is situated at the crossing-point of all kinds of formations, and thus has the capacity to integrate and recompose capitalist and noncapitalist sectors or modes of production.9 Capital, the ‘accord of accords’ par excellence, can bring together heterogeneous phenomena, and make them express the same world, that of capitalist accumulation. Thus, in Malaysia, for example, the accord (or set of accords) the ‘hi-tech’ world of downtown Kuala Lumpur (now the location of the world’s tallest skyscraper), and the accord (or set of accords) that constitutes the world of Stone Age production to be found among the tribespeople in the interiors of East Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak) are not inter-translatable (or not directly or immediately so); but what the ‘accord of accords’ created by capitalism does, among a myriad other things, is to make it possible for the artefacts produced by the ‘indigenous’ peoples of these interior regions to appear on the tourist markets in downtown Kuala Lumpur, where they are sold alongside Microsoft software, Magnavox camcorders, Macintosh Power Books, and so on. The disparate and seemingly incompatible spheres of production and accumulation represented by downtown Kuala Lumpur and the interior regions of Sabah and Sarawak (which are only about 500 miles away from Kuala Lumpur) are rendered ‘harmonious’ by a higher-level accord or concert established by capital, even though the lower-level accords remain (qua lower-level accords) disconnected from each other. Each lower-level accord retains its own distinctive productive mode and its associated social relations of production, even as it is brought into relationship with other quite different modes and social relations of production (each of course with their own governing ground-level accords) by the meta- or mega-accord that is capitalism in its current world-integrated phase. The ‘concerto grosso’ brought about by this prodigiously expansive capitalist accord of accord enables the lower-level accords to remain dissociated from each other while still expressing the same world, the world of the current paradigm of accumulation. In a country like Malaysia, and indeed anywhere else in the world, every and any kind of production can thus be incorporated by the capitalist algorithm and made to yield a surplus-value. This development has effectively dismantled the intellectual terms of the age-old debate about ‘precapitalist’ modes of production and their relation to a successor capitalism. This debate was concerned, in the main, with the putative ‘laws’ that underlay the supersession of the ‘precapitalist’ modes by their capitalist successors, but the question of this supersession has become moot in the current phase of accumulation: as the case of Malaysia illustrates, the ‘precapitalist’ modes can continue to exist in precisely that form, but are inserted at the same time into a complex and dynamic network that includes, in the spirit of a vast and saturating ecumenism, all the various modes of production, ‘precapitalist’ and capitalist alike, so that they function in concert with each other, in this way promoting of course the realisation of even greater surplus-values. 10

Politics after the End of the Era of Transcendental Accords: a New Threshold for the Anomalous?

Accords are constituted by selection criteria, which specify what is to be included or excluded by the terms of the accord in question. These criteria also determine with which other possible or actual accords a particular accord will be consonant (or dissonant). The criteria that constitute accords are usually defined and described by narratives governed by a certain normative vision of truth, goodness, and beauty (reminiscent of the so-called mediaeval transcendentals, albeit translated where necessary into the appropriate contemporary vernacular). A less portentous way of making this point would be to say that accords are inherently axiological, value-laden. What seems to be happening today, and this is a generalisation that is tendentious, is that these superposed narratives and the selection criteria they sanction, criteria which may or may not be explicitly formulated or entertained, are being weakened or qualified in ways that deprive them of their force. Such selection criteria tend to function by assigning privileges of rank and order to the objects they subsume (‘Le Pen is more French than Zidane’, ‘One cannot be a good American and a Communist’, ‘Turks are not Europeans’, etc.). The loss or attenuation of the customary force of such accords makes dissonances and contradictions difficult or even impossible to resolve, and, correlatively, makes divergences easier to affirm. Events, objects, and personages can now be assigned to several divergent and even incompossible series, a phenomenon spectacularly demonstrated by Lautréamont’s uncannily surrealistic definition of reality as ‘the chance encounter between a sewing-machine and an umbrella on a dissecting-table’.

Such a Lautréamontean, culturally-sanctioned disposition in the presenday, to traffic in all kinds of incompossibilites and divergences, is becoming increasingly commonplace. As each of us takes the opportunity to negotiate for the fifteenth or hundredth or whatever time, the several historical avant-gardes, Borges, cyberpunk, and so forth, we become familiarised with the propensities of a Lautréamontean consciousness (which is not necessarily as an individual) in ways not available to a learned and cosmopolitan person living as recently as fifty years ago. Thus, for instance, we have a whole genre (‘magical realism’) predicated on the logic of imcompossibility (something can be a bird and Simon Bolivar at the same time, and even more ‘implausibly’, at the same point in space); there is a new technological form based on the same logic (such as the morphing that Michael Jackson undergoes in his video Thriller); as well as entire schools of music which use tones in series that escape or block any kind of resolution by the diatonic scale (as in the work of John Cage or Toru Takemitsu or free improvisational jazz).11 Such examples can be multiplied according to one’s taste.

This pervasive weakening of the force of these ‘transcendental’ accords, and of the narratives and images which sustain them, may be associated with the collapse of a number of once widely entrenched distinctions: the boundaries between public and private, inside and outside, before and after, and so on, have all become difficult, if not impossible, to uphold. In the process, however, accords thus detached from the narratives and other conditions capable of guaranteeing their stability likewise become ‘impossible’. We may be living in worlds that are no longer predicated on any real need to secure and maintain accords, worlds characterised by sheer variation and multiplicity (but still functioning according to an axiomatics – i.e. capital – that ensures their fundamental isomorphism in the face of this uncontainable diversity), worlds that partake of a neo-Baroque perhaps more ‘truly’ Baroque than its predecessor, as Deleuze has maintained in his book on Leibniz. Or rather, these are worlds in which the work of accords is now done emblematically and allegorically, so that there is no real accord for what it is that, say, constitutes ‘Englishness’ (or perhaps more accurately, there is now the realisation that our accords determining what it is that constitutes ‘Englishness’ rest on an ineliminable fictiveness, so that these accords lack any kind of transcendental legitimation): in the absence of anything approximating to a transcendental back-stopping, ‘being English’ can only be designated ascriptively or emblematically, that is, non-absolutely, as when the late ‘Tiny’ Rowland (who had as much claim to be regarded as German as English) was so easily allowed to ‘count’ as ‘English’, while supporters of the late Enoch Powell were able nastily to cavil over whether a London-born son or daughter of a Jamaican immigrant could justifiably be regarded as ‘English’; or when Norman Tebbit came up with his egregious ‘Do you cheer for the English cricket team?’ litmus-test for determining whether or not someone is ‘really English’ (Tebbit’s silliness becomes palpable as soon as one realises that three English cricket captains in recent decades were not English: Mike Denness is Scottish, Tony Greig is South African, and Tony Lewis is Welsh). The ascriptive or emblematic imputation of ‘Englishness’ would allow it to be placed into at least a couple of divergent series. There would be Tebbit’s grimly robust and settled series, which would effectively confine ‘Englishness’ to him and his benighted ilk, but other more expansive series would include cricket-playing Scots, London-born children of Jamaican immigrants, the German ‘Tiny’ Rowland, and so on. Crucial to this more ascriptive way of assigning or determining identities is the abandonment of the concept in favour of description (a move delineated by Deleuze in his Leibniz book). Typically, the specification of an identity requires that the identity under consideration be determinate in regard to a concept (‘being a communist’, ‘being Irish’, ‘being an economist’ or whatever), a concept whose range of applicability is regulated by certain criteria of belonging. These criteria are motivated and underpinned by accords of the kind described above, and the breakdown of these accords means that the concepts they support and organize can be replaced by descriptions. Hence, for example, in place of the concept ‘being an English person’ one could have the descriptions ‘Tiny Rowland’s conducting himself as an Englishman’, ‘Greg Rusedski is the Canadian-born tennis star who plays for England’, ‘Fiona May is the English-born athlete who represents Italy’, and so forth. Such descriptions, as opposed to the concept ‘being English’, would allow ‘Englishness’ to be used ascriptively or emblematically, so that ‘it’ could be placed, depending on the particular instances involved, in two or more divergent series. This substitution in principle of the description for the concept would be a not inappropriate way of acknowledging the emergence of a new intellectual and cultural condition (we could call it the time after the end of the Empire, which is ‘our time’ undeniably) in which it has become more difficult than ever to claim that there really are ‘transcendental’ accords which subtend this or that way of designating ‘Englishness’. 12

The worlds opened-up by Capitalisme et schizophrénie are worlds whose accords are characterised in very decisive ways by the kinds allegorising and emblematising propensities just described. These are worlds marked by the ‘systemic’ loss of transcendental accords; they are worlds that are perhaps seeing the exponential growth of the capacity to accommodate what Deleuze and Guattari call ‘the anomalous’ (l’anomal). The anomalous, in their view

has nothing to do with the preferred, domestic, psychoanalytic individual. Nor is the anomalous the bearer of a species presenting specific or generic characteristics in their purest state; nor is it a model or unique specimen; nor is it the perfection of a type incarnate; nor is it the eminent term of a series; nor is it the basis of an absolutely harmonious correspondence. The anomalous is neither an individual nor a species; it only has affects, it has neither familiar nor subjectified feelings, nor specific or significant characteristics. (1980/87: 298-9/244)

The realm of the anomalous, for Deleuze and Guattari, lies between the domain of ‘substantial forms’ and that of ‘determined subjects’, it constitutes ‘a natural play full of haecceities, degrees, intensities, events, and accidents that compose individuations totally different from those of the well-formed subjects that receive them’ (1980/87: 310/253).13 The upshot is that each individual is a potentially infinite multiplicity, the product of a phantasmagoric movement between an inside and an outside. 14

All this amounts to the lineaments of a new and interesting theory of the place of the ‘subject’ in the cultures of contemporary capitalism. Capitalisme et schizophrénie approaches this theory of the ‘subject’ via a theory of singularity – ‘singularity’ being the category that more than any other goes beyond the ‘collective’ versus ‘individual’ dichotomy that is essential to the Hobbes-Rousseau-Hegel tradition of reflection on the state or sovereign. This account of singularity, and here I have to be very brief and schematic, can in turn be connected up with the theory of simulation given in Deleuze’s Logique du sens and Différence et répétition, since for Deleuze simulation (or the simulacrum) is the basis of singularity. 15

In a universe of absolute singularities, production can only take the form of singularity: each singularity, in the course of production, can only repeat or proliferate itself. In production each simulacrum can only affirm its own difference, its distanciation from everything else. Production, on this account, is a ceaselessly proliferative distribution of all the various absolute singularities. Production, in Deleuze’s nomenclature, is always repetition of difference, the difference of each thing from every other thing. Capitalism, though, also embodies a principle of repetition. The axiomatic system that is capitalism is one predicated on identity, equivalence, and intersubstitutivity (this of course being the logic of the commodity-form as analysed by Marx). In which case, repetition in capitalism is always repetition of the nondifferent; or, rather, the different in capitalism is always only an apparent different, because it can be overcome and ‘returned’, through the process of abstract exchange, to that which is essentially the same, the always fungible. Capitalism, as Capitalisme et schizophrénie indicates, effects an immense series of transformations (‘deterritorialisations’) only to make possible more powerful recuperations and retrenchments: it breaches limits only in order to impose its own limits, which it ‘mistakenly’ takes to be coextensive with those of the universe.16 The power of repetition in capitalism is therefore negative, wasteful, ultimately nonproductive. (Capitalistic repetition can therefore be said to be nonbeing in Spinoza’s sense, a conclusion that Deleuze and Guattari, and Negri, do not hesitate to draw. (Surin, 1994))

Capital, in the scheme of Capitalisme et schizophrénie, is constitutively unable to sustain a culture of genuine singularities, even though of course it creates the conditions for the emergence of a culture that could, with the requisite transformations, mutate into a culture – a culture that will however necessarily be ‘post-capitalist’ – which has the capacity to produce such singularities. 17

Intrinsic to the notion of a singularity is the principle that a common or shared property cannot serve as the basis of the individuation of X from all that is not-X: if I share the property of being over six feet tall with anyone else, then that property cannot, in and of itself, serve to individuate either me or that person. A singularity, the being-X of that X that makes X different from all that is not-X, cannot therefore unite X with anything else. Precisely the opposite: X is a singularity because it is not united to anything else by virtue of an essence or a common or shared nature. A singularity is a thing with all its properties, and although some commonality may pertain to this thing, that commonality is indifferent to it qua singularity. So, of course, Félix Guattari will have the property ‘being French’ in common with other people, many millions of them in fact. But a singularity is determined only through its relation to the totality of its possibilities, and the totality of possibilities that constitutes Guattari is the totality of an absolute singularity – if another being had each and every one of the possibilities whose totality constituted and thus individuated Guattari, then that being would perforce be indistinguishable from Lawrence. This being and Guattari would be the same person.

In a time when ‘transcendental’ accords can no longer really give us our worlds, we have to look for worlds that give us a different basis for the construction of solidarities, worlds in which a new kind of politics can find its raison d’etre. This politics will start from the realization that our criteria of belonging are always subject to a kind of chaotic motion, that our cultures have always told us an enabling lie when they denied this, and though this denial, have made possible the invention of nation-states, tribes, clans, political parties, churches, perhaps everything done up to now in the name of community. The reader of Deleuze and Guattari may have the feeling, of both dread and exhilaration at the same time, that that time, the time up to ‘now’, has begun inexorably to pass. But we still need our solidarities, now more than ever. They are indispensable for any politics capable of taking us beyond capitalism. These solidarities, however, will be based not on the securing of ‘transcendental’ accords – capitalism, that most revolutionary of forces, has moved that possibility into desuetude. Our solidarities will be predicated instead on what the reader of Deleuze and Guattari will know as the power of singularity, a power still perhaps in search for its appropriate models of realization. 18

Since this politics still awaits its models of realization, the power of singularity, which despite the absence of these models, is still precisely that, a power, can only manifest itself as the undertaking of a certain risk, the ‘playing of uncertain games’, all the things that conduce to the ‘revolutionary-becoming’ of people who have not yet made the revolution their explicit agenda.


1. I have discussed this ‘theodicy’ of the state in my ‘The Undecidable and the Fugitive: Mille Plateaux and the State-Form’, SubStance #66(1991), 102-13.

2. This reading of Spinoza as the philosophic adversary par excellence of Hobbes, Rousseau and Hegel is provided by Antonio Negri in his great work The Savage Anomaly: The Power of Metaphysics and Politics (1991), Negri’s argument for this view of Spinoza is intricate and complex, but the gist of it is that Spinoza’s thesis of the constitutive power of the multitude had to await for a later moment for its political realisation. The movement of this power had been blocked in Spinoza’s time by the curtailing of the humanist revolution by Holland’s wholesale espousal of the capitalist market, but today, in the time when both the social power of labour and capitalist organisation are distributed throughout the social order (this being Negri’s thesis of the ‘real subsumption’ of the social by capital), the whole of society is involved in the reproduction of the circuits of capital, and so the state cannot in principle be an agency capable of shaping and maintaining classes, nor can it be an essentially neutral instrument at the disposal of the various classes. (Though here one has to acknowledge that Poulantzas, under a different auspices, had already made a critique of precisely this view of the state.) According to Negri, the state has no power of its own, because it and civil society have now merged into a single complex. The state can only neutralize and modify the powers of its subjects; it cannot use this negative power to sublimate the contradictory wills of these subjects (as maintained by the Hobbes-Rousseau-Hegel tradition), and so there now exist domains in which the positive power of the multitude is left intact. Spinoza’s ‘physics’ of constitutive social power is thus able to find its appropriate politics. Deleuze’s equivalent to ‘real subsumption’ is the ‘society of control’ that has superseded the ‘disciplinary society’ so well characterized by Foucault. See ‘Postscript on Control Societies’ (Deleuze, 1995: 177-182). I have discussed Negri’s (and Deleuze and Guattari’s) treatment of Spinoza in my ‘”Reinventing a Physiology of Collective Liberation”: Going “Beyond Marx” in the Marxism(s) of Negri, Guattari, and Deleuze’, Rethinking Marxism 7 (1994), pp. 9-27. A somewhat similar positioning of Spinoza in relation to Hobbes and Hegel is to be found in Pierre Macheray (1979) and in Etienne Balibar (1998).

3. As Deleuze points out for Hume ‘reason presents itself… as the conversation of proprietors’. (1991: 42)

4. Deleuze says that Hume is referring here to social institutions, and not their governmental counterparts. (1991: 47) But Hume states clearly that political institutions are the extension of social drives:

Man, born in a family, is compelled to maintain society from necessity, from natural inclination, and from habit. The same creature, in his further progress, is engaged to establish political society, in order to establish justice, without which there can be no peace among them, nor safety, nor mutual intercourse.

See Hume, ‘Of the Origin of Government’, in S.Copley and A.Edgar (eds) (1993: 28)

5. On this aspect of Hume’s thought, see Graham Burchell, ‘Peculiar Interests: Civil Society and Governing “The System of Natural Liberty”‘ (G.Burchell, C.Gordon, and P.Miller,1991: 119-150). For Hume’s claim that reason is but the slave of the passions, see (Hume, 1978: 415)

6. It should be pointed out though that the state is understood by Deleuze and Guattari in two senses. In one sense the state is to be identified with the formations and apparatuses that constitute it. In another, the state is, preeminently, a metaphysical conception, a machine of transcoding that (unlike the assemblages which embody it and which have to be constructed and positioned at this or that point in social space) ‘comes into the world fully formed and rises up at a single stroke, the unconditioned Urstaat’ (Deleuze & Guattari 1980/87: 532/437).

7. It follows from this that there is a sense in which consciousness (taken here to include all the ramified outreachings of desire), constitutes something like a domain of the virtual, and so precedes the ‘actuality’ of social apparatuses and formations. The ‘thinking’ of the state is a function of consciousness par excellence, and is therefore the product of this virtuality. Clearly this has significant implications for any simplistic claims about the primacy of the ‘actually’ material in a marxist thought and practice: the virtual, as Deleuze, following Bergson, has insisted, cuts across the division between the possible and the actual. ‘Before Being there is politics’ (Deleuze & Guattari, 1980/87: 249/203), certainly, but inextricably bound-up with politics is the thinking that is located in the realm of the virtual, and this thinking breaches the long-held distinctions between ‘thought’ and ‘practice’ and ‘materialism’ and ‘idealism’.

8. Several formulations in this and the next section have been taken from my ‘The Undecidable and the Fugitive’ (see note1 above).

9. To quote Deleuze and Guattari: ‘There is no universal capitalism, there is no capitalism in itself; capitalism is at the crossroads of all kinds of formations, it is neocapitalism by nature’ (1980/87: 30/20). In Anti-Oedipus Deleuze and Guattari indicate how capitalism is able to perform this integrative function:

Capitalism is in fact born of the encounter of two sorts of flows: the decoded flows of production in the form of money-capital, and the decoded flows of labor in the form of the ‘free worker’. Hence, unlike previous social machines, the capitalist machine is incapable of providing a code that will apply to the whole of the social field. By substituting money for the very notion of a code, it has created an axiomatic of abstract quantities that keeps moving further and further in the direction of the deterritorialization of the socius. (1972/83: 41/33)

10. There have of course long been economic world-systems, as Andre Gunder Frank, Christopher Chase-Dunn, Janet Abu-Lughod and others have pointed out. My claim that capitalism in its current dispensation takes the form of a meta-accord is not about the world-system as such, but rather about its present manifestation, that is, the way or ways in which the meta-accord that is capital gets to establish a world-system with a fundamentally isomorphic structure, something that did not occur with previous world-systems.

11. Cage thus describes his work as ‘music without measurements, sound passing through circumstances’. See Cage, J. (1969) ‘Diary: Emma Lake Music Workshop 1965’,  A Year from Monday: New Lectures and Writings. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press: 22. Slavoj Zizek (1997) has, I believe, made a similar point about divergence and incompossibility when he says that many different sets can in principle be derived from the same collection. Several sentences in this section are reproduced from my ‘On Producing the Concept of a Global Culture’, The South Atlantic Quarterly 94 (1995), 1179-99.

12. I further discuss the question of such emblematic and ascriptive designations in my ‘Afterthoughts on Diaspora’, The South Atlantic Quarterly (1999) (forthcoming).

13. Elsewhere Deleuze says that ‘the Anomalous is always at the frontier, on the borders of a band or multiplicity; it is part of the latter, but is already making it pass into another multiplicity, it makes it become, it traces a line-between’. See (G.Deleuze and C.Parnet: 42).

14. In an interview on Foucault and his work, Deleuze refers to this movement between outside and inside as something which involves ‘subjectless individuations’. See ‘A Portrait of Foucault’ (Deleuze, 1995:117). These ‘subjectless individuations’ are of course a defining characteristic of the Anomalous. I am almost certainly going further than Deleuze and Guattari in my use of the Anomalous. They take this category to be a defining feature of the ‘line of flight’, which is present wherever lines of flight are to be found. In the account given here, I take the Anomalous to be pervasively present in the epoch of the breakdown or dissolution of ‘transcendental’ accords, that is, I view it as the operation of a currently regnant capitalist cultural logic. This however is entirely compatible with the positions set out in Capitalisme et schizophrénie. In Dialogues, Deleuze says:

The State can no longer… rely on the old forms like the police, armies, bureaucracies, collective installations, schools, families…. It is not surprising that all kinds of minority questions – linguistic, ethnic, regional, about sex, or youth – resurge not only as archaisms, but in up-to-date revolutionary forms which call once more into question in an entirely immanent manner both the global economy of the machine and the assemblages of national States…. Everything is played in uncertain games, ‘front to front, back to back, back to front….’ (G.Deleuze & C.Parnet, 1987: 147)

15. For his account of simulation, see (Deleuze, 1968: 92ff, 1990: 253-279) Deleuze’s theory of simulation is complex, but its gist can be stated thus: If, contrary to Plato and the tradition of philosophy derived from him, there can be no primacy of a putative original over its copy, of a model over its representations, so that there can be no basis for differentiating between ‘good’ original and ‘bad’ copy, then everything is itself a ‘copy-original’ – it is an ‘original’ of itself, or rather, its ‘origin’ is a copy or ‘shadow’ of itself. In the absence of any possibility of separating copies from ostensible originals, each thing, in simulation, is thus an absolute singularity. Everything is different from everything else, and this in turn is the basis of multiplicity. In this and the next few paragraphs I have taken several sentences from my ‘”Reinventing a Physiology of Collective Liberation”: Going “Beyond Marx” in the Marxism(s) of Negri, Guattari, and Deleuze’ (see note 2 above).

16.To quote Deleuze and Guattari:

If Marx demonstrated the functioning of capitalism as an axiomatic, it was above all in the famous chapter on the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. Capitalism is indeed an axiomatic, because it has no laws but immanent ones. It would like for us to believe that it confronts the limits of the Universe, the extreme limit of resources and energy. But all it confronts are its own limits (the periodic depreciation of existing capital); all it repels or displaces are its own limits (the formation of new capital, in new industries with a high rate of profit). This is the history of oil and nuclear power. And it does both at once: capitalism confronts its own limits and simultaneously displaces them, setting them down again farther along. (1980/87: 578-9/463)

17. Capitalism, by removing the conditions that enable ‘transcendental’ accords to maintain themselves, in the process promotes a cultural logic that favours the description over the concept, and this cultural logic also contains within itself propensities that weaken or obviate the dichotomy between the individual and the collective, and thus creates the conditions for the emergence of a culture that, with the supersession of capitalist ‘nonbeing’, will allow singularity potentially to become generalized as a cultural principle.

18. The sketchy account of singularity given here is taken from the much more substantial treatment in G. Agamben (1993). Several sentences in this section are reproduced from my ‘The Epochality of Deleuzean Thought’, Theory, Culture & Society 14(1997), 9-21.


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Balibar, E. (1998) Spinoza and Politics. London: Verso.

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Copley, S. & Edgar, A. (eds) (1993) David Hume: Selected Essays. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Deleuze, G. (1968) Différence et répétition. Paris: Minuit.

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Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1972) L’Anti-Oedipe. Paris: Minuit.

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Deleuze, G. & Parnet, C. (1987) Dialogues. New York: Columbia University Press

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Macheray, P. (1979), Hegel ou Spinoza. Paris: Maspero.

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Surin, K. (1994) ‘ “Reinventing a Physiology of Collective Liberation”: Going “Beyond Marx” in the Marxism(s) of Negri, Guatarri and Deleuze’, Rethinking Marxism 7, 9-27.

Zizek, S. (1997) The Plague of Fantasies. London: Verso.

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