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Dissertation submitted in fulfilment of the

requirements for the degree


In the

At the
MAY 2009


I, Vanessa, Anne-Ccile Freerks, hereby declare that the work contained in this
dissertation is my own original work and that I have not previously submitted it, in its
entirety or in part, at any university for a degree.











consciousness always admitted its allegiance to another state of being, i.e., to the
explosive break with the continual inertia of linear social development. In the
literature written at the turn of the 20th century this was symbolized in the life of
danger that contrasted with the normality of ordinary bourgeois life. This study shows
that Baudrillard no longer believes in another state of being with explosive force. In
Baudrillard's theory of simulation, the crisis of overproduction in capitalism is to be
understood as the total shift of production into reproduction. His position has
consequences for the idea of the catastrophic nature of the present social situation












Baudrillard calls the catastrophic effect of the threat emanating from simulation an
implosion not an explosion, it results from the fact that under pressure from a merely
simulated reality, every social energy is expended internally in the play of signifiers,
evaporating in some catastrophic process. His aesthetic fascination with events does
not seem to have disappeared completely in the process. For Baudrillard, on
September 11 2001, the terrorists countered simulation with simulation itself. This is
what makes it a true event. What is unthinkable in this event is the use of death in a
staged exchange where a whole culture could be attacked. The attack brings back
death to a world that pretends it is not there. If political economy is the most rigorous
attempt to put an end to death, it is clear that only death can put an end to political

Baudrillard encounters an indifference, a void and death at the heart of thought. This
leads to apocalyptic tones. For Baudrillard, one only attains to thought when one
interiorizes the limit and displaces it. Thinking no longer works except by breaking
down and dismantling itself. For Deleuze, on the other hand, to dissent is to affirm
other modes of life. Deleuze constructs an entire philosophy of life conceived as a
philosophy of difference. This enables Deleuze to have an affirmative notion of the
aesthetic impulse: the artwork as an unexpected event that actualizes the virtual. The
virtual is not a general idea, something abstract and empty, but the concept of

difference (and of life) rendered adequate. The concept of the virtual gives us the
time of life. Pure, virtual being is real and qualified through the internal process of
differentiation. Being differs with itself. It does not look outside itself for another or a
force of mediation because its difference rises from its very core, from the explosive
internal force that life carries within itself (Deleuze, 1988: 105). Deleuze conceives of
a discrete art with metamorphic force. Deleuze, unlike Baudrillard, manages to pull
back from the capitalist void and construct a desiring machine to manipulate
capitalist simulacra.


I would like to express my deepest gratitude to my supervisor Professor J.J. Snyman

for being so patient with my ubuesque research and also for leading me to my
personnage rhythmique et mon paysage mlodique.

I am thankful for Professor Ltters motivation and for Professor MacKenzies lan

Un grand merci Madame Wilreker pour mavoir ouvert les voies de lArt, Dr. S.
Leissner pour mavoir permis de raliser la force de la mise-en-scne franaise, et
Professeur A.E. Snyman pour mavoir montr un chemin dans les labyrinthes


Chapter One Force of Destruction and Force of Desire




Illusion, Allusion, Collusion


Virtual Ontology





Chapter Two Death of the Social





System of Objects








Chapter Three Symbolic Exchange and Terrorism





Symbolic Exchange






Symbolic Violence





Chapter Four Deleuze: The Politics of Life





The Plane of Immanence



Desire and the Social



Capitalist Cynicism





Chapter Five Forces of Sensation





Revolution of Desire



Imperceptible Aesthetics



Francis Bacon





Chapter Six Baudrillards Metastasis and Deleuzes Metamorphosis





Baudrillards System of Objects Revisited



Deleuzes Plane of Immanence Revisited



Kafkas minor joie de vivre








Chapter One
Force of Destruction and Force of Desire
1.1. Introduction

In the spirit of bricolage, I wish to open the connections between Baudrillard

and Deleuze. By oblique comparison, by analogy, this study seeks to present
the ways Baudrillard and Deleuze are of central relevance to todays social
and cultural climates. I do not seek to critique Baudrillard but rather push his
forces of negativity to the limit. Baudrillards catastrophic view of the social
cannot set forth a point of view from which to justify critique, resistance and
struggle. The only practices he really recommends are total refusal, total
negativity and radical otherness. Following Marcel Mauss and Georges
Batailles anthropology, Baudrillard claims that power is based on a propensity
to destroy, disaccumulate, waste and expend. Power by its nature is
reversible and not productive. The oppressed can turn into the oppressors.

For Deleuze, on the other hand, power is a productive, positive and

generative force, and not solely repressive, negative and prohibitive. This is
based on Deleuzes view of life and desire. Deleuze emphasises the creative
and concentrates on the need to transform our perceptions of the world. He
maintains an optimistic attachment to the political significance of art. For
Deleuze, artistic revolution is not only a matter of destruction, for one is then
left with no relations. Liberation occurs through addition. Art breaks one world
and creates another, and brings these two moments into conjunction to bring
something new.

Either one sees the art work as always already constituted, determined by the
scene of the existing (capitalist) structure. Or one is more optimistic: the art
work as an event that is truly unexpected. This need not involve a
transcendent aesthetic. Deleuze reconfigurates art as an event that is
immanent to this world, as not arriving from some transcendent plane and not
transporting us there, but as emerging from the realm of the virtual. This is the

-2true sense of freedom, an embrace of the virtual that is not limited to the
possibilities that are contained within our present point of view. Perception
must therefore be freed from its location or actualised scene. The virtual is life
in all its imperceptibity. This view of arts metamorphic power is much stronger
than Baudrillards anti-productive void or terrorism.

In Baudrillard, everything circulates around the absence of the real: death.

The object of Baudrillards critique holds back and even consumes Baudrillard
himself. He refuses to participate in the game of producing positive solutions.
Baudrillard cannot conceive another regime of discourse outside of the
capitalist simulation structure. For Deleuze, on the other hand, nothing can
step outside the difference of life, for life always has the power to produce
further events of difference. Life is transcendental, which means life has no
ground outside itself. The plane of immanence is the starting point for a
transcendental method that does not accept that life takes the form of some
already differentiated or transcendent thing.

In post-structuralism, everything revolves around the abandonment of

transcendence an all-encompassing term for metaphysics, universalism,
and any theory that seeks to think the whole. The desire for transcendence
has a complex genealogy in philosophical thought and political philosophy. All
such logics appear to operate within a space enclosed by a realm of truth that
also corresponds to a particular form of sovereignty. The universal truth
claims of each realm are internally related to its corresponding form of
sovereignty so that post-structuralism engages in a critique of knowledge that
is at the same time a social critique. For post-structuralism, however, there is
neither a logic of development to the historical forms that are criticized nor a
new set of truth claims about reality to be revealed by the critical knowledge
that is produced. Any such claims concerning a final referent for conceptual
knowledge would reintroduce a transcendent perspective.

Deleuze and Baudrillard both undermine the central metaphysical and

positivist dichotomies, yet they also draw a line that makes it easy to
distinguish between friend and foe. Thought that remains directed toward the

-3priority of the identical is charged with having fallen prey to an illusion, be it

necessary (Baudrillard) or an avoidable one (Deleuze) that obscures and
falsifies the originary as well as originless play of difference. 1 This study
argues that aesthetics in this kind of post-structuralist context, in their positive
(Deleuze) and negative (Baudrillard) forms, are examples of thought aiming to
preserve the difference of otherness.

Deleuze connects the critique of transcendence to a collectively mediated

experience and to practical-political strategies of resistance without requiring
that the collective embody a transcendent identity. This allows for a theoretical
grasp of socially bonding action and potentials that have a certain universality
without transcendence. Deleuze is a thinker of synthesis, one who masters
the immense proliferation of thoughts and concepts by way of assimilation
and appropriation. Baudrillard is his opposite in this respect, tirelessly
dissolving all the reified thoughts he encounters back into the void from which
they allegedly sprang.

1.2. Illusion, Allusion, Collusion

In his 1952 essay Pataphysics, Baudrillard said that the pataphysic mind is
the nail in the tire (Baudrillard, 2005: 213). He was only 23 when he wrote this
essay but it introduces many concepts he would work with for the remainder
of his life. The so-called pataphysical was invented by Alfred Jarry, and
occupies the place of a comic intermezzo in fin de sicle French thought.
Jarry's pataphysics or his science of imaginary solutions was a minor and
absurd movement of infinitessimal brevity and it represents an obverse and
parodic mirror to the philosophically and scientifically serious (Pefanis, 1991:

Pataphysics reveals that science is not as lucid as it appears, since science

must often ignore the arbitrary, if not the whimsical, status of its own axioms.
Modern science colonises the alterity of the object, leaving no space for poetic

Although Deleuze considers this possible, he also regards the mask as a means of expression that is
indispensable to every new force: A force would not survive if it did not first of all borrow the feature of
the preceding forces with which it struggles (Deleuze, 1983a: 5).

-4wisdom to speak the truth about nature except through an act of alliance with
such a norm. Poetic wisdom must adopt the values of modern science in
order to state any objective verities. Truth is the best ornament because it has
no ornaments so science is the best poetry because it has the least poetry.
The irony is that poetry must draw its rules of metaphor from a genre that
rules out metaphor. Science becomes the muse of poetry. Jarry does not
borrow scientific concepts so much as scientific conceits, doing so, in order to
imagine a counterdynamic (Jarry, 1965: 253).

Pataphysics supplements metaphysics, emphasising it then replacing it, in

order to create a philosophical alternative to rationalism. Science disappears
when reason would be pushed to its logical extreme. Such a pataphysical
qualification of rational validity is symptomatic of a transition in science from
absolutism to relativism, which can also be characterized as a transition from
modern to postmodern scientific endeavour (Bk, 2002: 20).

Pataphysics valorizes the exception to each rule in order to undermine the

rigidity of science. While a metaphysical science must rule out exceptions,
such exceptions are the rule. Jarrys anti-metaphysical metaphilosophy
argues that anomalies extrinsic to a system remain secretly intrinsic to a
system. The most credible of truths always evolves from the most incredible
of errors. The praxis of science involves the parapraxis of poetry. Poetry
cannot oppose science by being its antonymic extreme. Poetry must push
reason against itself pataphysically in order to subvert not only the pedantic
theories of noetic truth but also romantic theories of poetic genius. Such poets
might learn to embrace the absurd nature of sophistic reasoning in order to
dispute the power of both the real and the true (Bk, 2002: 5).

Jarry argues that reality is nothing more than a comparative apperception, an

as if for a disparate collection of different views, each one creating the true for
itself, while opposing every other view (Jarry, 1965: 131). Each perspective is
thus a solipsistic singularity that has no recourse to perceptual consensus.
Pataphysics sees that every viewpoint is dissolute including its own since no
view can offer a norm for all others. Jarry suggests that invisible worlds

-5transect our perceived reality at many points across many scales. Jarry
suggests, through pataphysics, that reality does not exist, reality is never as it
is but always as if it is. Reality is quasi, pseudo: it is more virtual than actual; it
is real only to the degree to which it can seem to be real and only for so long
as it can be made to stay real. Science for such a reality has increasingly
become a philosophy of as if, wilfully mistaking possibilities for veritabilities
(Vaihinger, 1966: xvii).

For the pataphysical Baudrillard, the world is given to us as enigmatic and

unintelligible there is no reason then why we should not attempt to make it,
in our writing or in our art, more enigmatic and more unintelligible. This takes
us to the core of Baudrillard's dissatisfaction with the art world art's task is to
help us cope with our vital illusion the fact that we do not know the real,
merely the appearances behind which it hides. All good art for Baudrillard
(and the contemporary British painter, Francis Bacon, is an example)
appreciates this vital illusion that encompasses our existence. In recent years,
art has become entangled with notions of reality. Baudrillard observes that so
much contemporary art incorporates waste and notions of worthlessness. For
Baudrillard, art that has lost illusion is truly worthless. He notes how it is
interesting that art and its market thrive today to the very extent that they

Contemporary art for Baudrillard was confiscating banality, waste and

mediocrity. For Baudrillard, art today connects everything to super-high-tech,
super-efficient, super-visual style. No void, no ellipsis, no silence. We are
going more and more in the direction of high definition, that is to say, towards
useless perfection of the image which is no longer an image. The more it
becomes real, the more it is produced in real time, the more we approach
absolute definition, or the realistic perfection of the image, the more the
images power is lost. The art market is merely a system for aesthetic storage,
exhibition and recreation, where culture no longer offers an illusion, only the
memory of illusion. For Baudrillard, art does not come from a natural impulse,
but from calculated artifice. So it is always possible to question its status, and
even its existence. One has to nullify art in order to look at it for what it is.

-6Proclaiming that art is null was not an aesthetic judgment on his part, but an
anthropological problem. It was a polemic gesture towards culture as a whole,
which now is simultaneously nothing and everything.

Art is never the mechanical reflection of the positive or negative

conditions of the world; it is its exacerbated illusion or hyperbolic mirror.
In a world of indifference, art can only add to this indifference, by
focussing on the void of the image or the object that isnt an object
anymore. Thus the cinema of Wenders, Antonioni, Altman, Godard or
Warhol explores the insignificance of the world through the image, and
by its images contributes to the insignificance of the world they add to
its real or hyperreal illusion. Whereas recent cinema like that of
Scorsese, Greenaway, etc. with its high-tech machinery, and its frantic
and eclectic agitation, only fills the void of the image, and thus adds to
our imaginary disillusion (Baudrillard, 2005: 115).

Baudrillards provocative and iconoclastic theories are very much in the antifoundationalist line of development. In this study, I will be confronting
Baudrillards theories in order to demonstrate a particularly extreme version of
the anti judgmental imperative: a version which might be called post aesthetic.
There is an apocalyptic cast to Baudrillards thought:

For the problem of the disappearance of music is the same as that of

the disappearance of history: it will not disappear for the want of music
it will disappear for having exceeded that limit point, vanishing point, it
will disappear in the perfection of its materiality, in its own special effect
(beyond which there is no longer any aesthetic judgement or aesthetic
pleasure, it is ecstasy of musicality and its end). It is exactly the same
with history. Here too we have exceeded that limit where, by
sophistication of events and information, history as such ceases to
exist (Baudrillard, 1986: 21).

Baudrillard believed that art had exhausted itself and he became associated

-7with the end of art theory. 2 Baudrillard claims that every possible artistic form
and function has been exhausted. Furthermore, against Benjamin and
Adorno, Baudrillard claims that art has lost its critical and negative function.
Art has entered all spheres of existence. With the realization of art in everyday
life, art itself as a separate and transcendent phenomenon has disappeared.
Baudrillard calls this situation transaesthetics which he relates to similar
phenomena of transpolitics, transsexuality, and transeconomics, in which
everything becomes political, sexual, and economic, so that these domains,
like art, lose their specificity, their boundaries, their distinctness. In this
confused state, there can be no more criteria of value, of judgement, of taste,
and the function of the normative thus collapses into indifference and inertia.
Our society has given rise to a general aestheticization. In contemporary
media and consumer society, everything becomes an image, a sign, a
spectacle, a transaesthetic object, thereby revealing a further dimension of
the postmodern (Sim, 2000: 87).

In For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign (1981), Baudrillard takes
the painting as a signed object (signature) and as a gestural object, the
product of artistic gestures or practices. He sees art as exemplary of how
objects in the consumer society are organized as a system of signs. Art is
subject to the same rules and system of signification as other commodities
and follows as well the codes of fashion, determination of value by the market
and commodification, thus subverting its critical vocation. Modern art is an art
of collusion vis-a-vis the contemporary world. It plays with it and is included in
The lament that art has come to an end because its choices have been rendered arbitrary dates back
to Hegel, who claimed in his Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art that art had now become a free
instrument, and that nothing stands in and for it-self above this relativity any longer (Hegel, 1975: 605).
Hegels aesthetic repealed modernity before it had even begun, thus simultaneously ensuring that the
end would have to be repeatedly invoked (Geulen, 2006: 4). Baudrillard believes he can squeeze
dialectical surplus value from the end: Perhaps a product of pure simulation might manage to become a
seduction, a confrontation with the other, an illusion (Geulen, 2006: 4). What Baudrillard calls
simulation, Hegel termed dramatization. Among the most subtle post aesthetic art theories are those
that seek to shake off the Hegelian spectre by emphasising the formlessness of the end, for instance by
radically temporalising the end. The dictum Hegel arrogantly decreed can be played off against the
unending end presumably operative in works of art. In another vein, the end of art is interpreted
antiaesthetically as interruption or rupture (Bohrer, 1981: 86). Perhaps the rediscovery of the sublime
following Lyotard in the 1980s can be understood as the effort to locate an antiaesthetic moment deep
within the aesthetic tradition. With the limit category of the sublime, the end reveals itself as a
specifically antiaesthetic counterlogic of art (Lyotard, 1984). In the context of such strategies, the end of
art tends to be called a departure (Bohrer, 1996).

-8the game. It can parody this world, illustrate it, simulate it, alter it; it never
disturbs the order, which is also its own (Baudrillard, 1981: 110).
Contemporary art had an ambiguous status, halfway between terrorism and
de facto cultural integration. Arts collusion was affecting society at large and
there was no more reason to consider art apart from the rest. Obstacles and
oppositions are used by the system in order to reinvigorate itself.

Baudrillard is deliberately provocative. For him there are only signs without
referents. He presents us with a realm where reality is nothing other than its
own simulation. This study will engage in the concepts of simulation and
simulacra and hyperreality, but the major reason for tackling Baudrillard is to
discover where his post aesthetics takes criticism. Simulation takes us beyond
foundations. Baudrillard cuts us free from the world of epistemological
commitments and he delivers us into a value-free realm beyond judgement:
we leave history to enter simulation this is by no means a despairing
hypothesis, unless we regard simulation as a higher form of alienation which
I certainly do not. It is precisely in history that we are alienated and if we leave
history we also leave alienation (Baudrillard, 1986: 23).

Baudrillard is not only post aesthetic but also post Marxist. According to
Marxist theory, alienation is a problem to be worked on and overcome in
history. The possibility of social change in Marxist terms is being denied in
Baudrillard with history inexorably accelerating towards its end: everything
happens as if we were continuing to manufacture history, whereas in
accumulating signs of the social, signs of the political, signs of progress and
change, we only contribute to the end of history (Baudrillard, 1986: 21).

For Baudrillard, the Enlightenment has both failed and collapsed and been
realised, leaving us to wonder what to do next, how can critical thought
continue to operate in the wake of this fully realised utopia? The golden age
of alienation is over and Western cultures enter a new configuration with the
arrival of simulation processes. Baudrillard identified the dissolution of
relations between subject and object, true and fake in the triumph of
consumer capitalism. In consumer capitalism, political and cultural events are

-9modified so fundamentally that in effect they no longer exist apart from their
mode of representation. Baudrillard sees reality as entirely impregnated by an
aesthetic that has become inseparable from its own image. The fusion of the
real and the imaginary means there is no longer a play of representation
based on clearly demarcated separations: the real swallows its alienated
double and paradoxically becomes at the same time transparent to itself. In
this fusion, the aesthetic dimension enters into reality even into what he calls
the new aesthetic game of reality (Baudrillard, 1976: 74).

There is no longer external repression but the installation of new inner

controls. The reality principle passes and the more intimate simulation
principle takes over. This leads Baudrillard to conclude that the principle
struggle of today is not a political but a cultural revolution. Or rather that the
cultural revolution must make itself against the economic-political revolution
(Baudrillard, 1975:146).

Baudrillard connects the poetic and the utopian vision of culture. For the poet,
the important thing is the immediate realisation of utopia: Poetry and the
utopian revolt have this radical presentness in common the actualisation of
desire no longer relegated to a future liberation but demanded here
immediately (Baudrillard, 1975: 165). Time in this conception (symbolic) is
quite different. It is not linear or historical. Utopia in this conception is not to be
regarded as something in the future to be waited for. In Marxist theory, the
actual moment of revolt is only an aspect of revolution. For Baudrillard, every
society is already a complete totality, always already present. Here there is no
room for a theory of alienated essence which will be recovered at some future
point. For each person is completely present at each moment (Gane, 1991a:

In Baudrillard, the poetic very much dominates the theoretical. Baudrillards

writing is an artistic strategy. Baudrillard refuses to play the theoretical game.
In truth there is nothing left to ground ourselves on. All that is left is
theoretical violence. Speculation to the death, whose only method is the
radicalisation of all hypotheses (Baudrillard, 1993a: 5). The sense of

- 10 detachment that characterises the post aesthetic reflection of Baudrillard

should not distract us from his highly politically motivated anti foundationalist
campaign. The playfulness of Baudrillard is reached by means of some very
serious play indeed:

Such is the fatality of every system devoted through its own logic to
total perfection and thus total defectiveness, to absolute infallibility and
thus incorrigible extinction: all bound energies aim for their own
demise. This is why the only strategy is catastrophic and not in the
least dialectical. Things have to be pushed to the limit, where
everything is naturally inverted and collapses. At the peak of value,
ambivalence intensifies; and at the height of their coherence, the
redoubled signs of the code are haunted by the abyss of reversal. The
play of simulation must therefore be taken further than the system
permits (Baudrillard, 1993a: 4).

Baudrillards work raises the whole problem of how to judge, how to speak
critically in the absence of outside criteria. How is it possible to criticise
capitalisms mise-en-abme? Capitalism is a self-legitimising, self-authorising
system, a system that sets the horizons for its own evaluation. For Baudrillard,
there is no point in opposing capitalism, because there is no outside to
capitalism. Baudrillard does not directly oppose the capitalist system he
analyses because it is closed, has no other. The very problem this study will
be looking at in Baudrillards work is how to think an other to the capitalist
system that has no other, in which otherness is its very object. It is not a
matter of simply refuting or proposing alternatives to capitalism, but thinking
what is excluded to allow this all inclusiveness, that other excluded to ensure
it has no other. In Baudrillard, there is a new notion of criticism, one that
works not by evidence, enunciation but by annunciation and prescription.
Baudrillards post-structuralism is driven by doubling: thought continues even
in the absence of any external standards of judgement outside the world and
its systems (Butler, 1999: 165).

- 11 Baudrillard does not oppose the perfection of capitalism or technological

development of art, he does not propose some empirical reason why it is not
perfect. On the contrary, Baudrillard entirely agrees that capitalist hyperreality
has no limit but this only leads to a completely different explanation of the
one it gives itself. For instance, technological, hyperreal art leads to the end of
art, or this limitlessness is only possible because of the end of art. Art pushed
too far leads to the end of art.

Baudrillards work is an endless elaboration of the necessity for aesthetic

illusion. It is this that must be grasped first of all about his work. Although the
real is only ever a function of its system (as music today can only be heard
through technology) there still remains a certain real left out of any attempt of
the system to speak of it (just as any real music is left out of technology). This
real might be understood as the very difference between the original and the
copy, what the original and the copy both resemble and what therefore allows
them to resemble each other. It is this real that Baudrillard speaks of
throughout his work, beneath all the different names he gives for it (death,
symbolic exchange, fatal object, reversibility, illusion, terrorism).

It is this real excluded by any attempt to speak of it that is the limit to every
system it is the Platonic paradox that Baudrillard means by the real. The
work of Baudrillard endlessly reproduces the paradox first stated in Platos
Cratylus. For Plato, the point was that when two things resemble each other
too closely they no longer resemble each other anymore. There is no longer a
relationship of original to copy but two separate originals. The copy only
resembles the original in so far as it is different from it. The relationship of
resemblance is paradoxical, therefore in that it cannot be pushed too far
without turning into its opposite: a bad imitation is a good imitation and a too
good imitation is a bad imitation. There is a limit to the technical perfectibility
of music, a point beyond which it cannot go except at the risk of no longer
reproducing music. Beyond this point, technology no longer resembles its
music, but only itself. It would no longer resemble its music, but would be only
a simulacrum of it (Butler, 1997: 51).

- 12 This is Baudrillards constant argument. For Baudrillard, the only strategy is

one of reversibility: the basic codes of a system must be pushed to the point
where they begin to turn upon themselves, to produce the opposite effects
from those intended. By pushing capitalism to its furthest extent, Baudrillard
hopes that it is at this point that it cannot complete itself. Baudrillard wants to
discover an internal limit, a limit which the system is not prevented from going
beyond, but which it cannot go beyond. This is Baudrillards theory: by
imitating nothing, by following only its own rule, it is able to catch a system
that similarly owes nothing to anything, is completely able to account for itself.
Baudrillards point is that each system he analyses creates its own reality.
Against the undeniable hypotheses of the social, Baudrillards writing hopes to
oppose an equal hypothesis which somehow doubles the social, is able to
explain how it arises for reasons absolutely different from the ones it gives

For Baudrillard, the true key to this world is this fundamental illusionality. For
him the world can resemble itself, can realise itself only because of an
otherworldy explanation: the very difference between the world and itself, the
real and its copy. It is this point already two at which absolute
resemblance and absolute difference come together (death, reversibility,
terrorism) that Baudrillard means by the real. For Baudrillard, it is the
unrepresentable, the unthinkable that is the most real thing in the world. It is
the vital aesthetic illusion which saves us from the disillusionment of the world
(Butler, 1997: 62).

In different ways, post-structuralists like Baudrillard, argued that the origin of

structures is unrepresentable. Representation already relies on a given
structure; we represent life through language, so we cannot represent the prelinguistic origin of language. For structuralism, then, we always remain within
structure, within a system of representation out of which we can never step.
Baudrillard sees radical thought and the radical use of language as being
foreign to any resolution of the world in terms of objective reality and its
deciphering. Baudrillard stops thinking in terms of ontology, because ontology
teaches us that what appears to us is natural and inevitable. Things cannot be

- 13 otherwise. Baudrillard teaches us that if we think of life solely as what appears

to us, if we think of what appears to us as exhausting our possibilities, we are
already hedged into and committed to conformism.

1.3. Virtual Ontology

Deleuze agrees with this diagnosis, but not with the cure. Deleuze constructs
an ontology that is concerned with becoming and experimentation. Deleuze
attempts to think our own subjectivity differently. Deleuzes ontology is
productive, it is not a final answer. It is the opposite. An ontology of difference
is a challenge to recognize that what is presented to us is only the beginning
of what there is. We are never finished with living, there is always more. The
alternatives of contentment (I have arrived) and hopelessness (there is
nowhere to go) are two sides of the same misguided thought: that what is
presented to us is what there is.

Like Baudrillard, Deleuze replaces the practical and rational view of reality
that we derive from everyday experience, with a philosophical speculative
account of reality. A central element of this new account is that the human
being is not presented as a conscious centre of action and belief. In the
philosophical tradition, the concept of the subject grants precisely such a
privileged role to the human being and to self-conscious thought. Deleuzes
philosophy, like Baudrillards, is therefore a critique of the subject. Yet the
Deleuzean critique is not a straight forward attack or rejection. His philosophy
constructs different and quite sophisticated arguments to show that what the
philosophy of the subject takes as an origin or as a basic premise (selfconsciousness, individual freedom) is in fact derived from or produced within
a larger process bearing no resemblance to subjective experience. In
Deleuzes account of reality, the human being occupies a limited place as a
process unfolding amidst other processes to which it is subordinated and with
which it also interacts.

Central to Deleuzes conception of reality is a philosophy of signs and

signification, or semiotics. Signification is here neither a mental occurrence

- 14 nor a mere social convention. Signification is neither mental, material nor

social. Signification has its own unique place in reality, its own ontological
status. Deleuze argues that from the point of view of this special ontological
status of signification, we can gain a very different conception of the psyche,
of political power, of social and cultural practices.

Deleuze constructs a

metaphysics and a semiotics in his early work and then applies these
metaphysical and semiotic principles within the sphere of a general and
formal social theory. The application of semiotics to a general theory of the
mind, politics and culture is the joint project of Deleuze and his collaborator,
the psychiatrist and political activist Flix Guattari, in the two volumes of
Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Anti-Oedipus, 1977 and A Thousand Plateaus,
1987). 3

The initial metaphysical intuition of Deleuze is very simple: the vital forces that
can be activated in thought are controlled by an ordering and filtering system
which imposes on reality a determinate logical structure. We can go beyond
this logical structure if we produce thoughts that are sufficiently abstract to
think reality outside of representation. Deleuzes general account of what it is
to be, or ontology, therefore leads to a perspective on human life that is in
conflict with conscious experience. However, Deleuze also seeks to replace
this conscious subject with another subject, defined by its passage through
time, its creative potential rather than its conscious experience (Due, 1999: 9).

The problem of structuralism, to which Deleuze's post-structuralism is a

response, is the question of the emergence or genesis of all those structures
with which we use to explain life (such as language, culture, meaning). We
think, experience and speak through language, but how can we think the
origin of language? To really respond to the problem of representation, we
need to think the forces that produce any system of representation. Deleuze's

The connections between Deleuze's separate writings and his collaborations with Guattari are very
complex and not always clear or consistent; it would be impossible to draw them out in any detail here.
If anything, it is the combination of Deleuze's foundational work in the history of philosophy with
Guattari's psychiatric and political involvements that gives their work together its particular intensity and
interest. I draw on both Deleuze and Guattari, whether separately or together.

- 15 method is directed against representation, the idea that there is a static or

meaningless world that is then ordered or represented through culture
(Colebrook, 2002b: xxxv).

Signs are not uniquely human. All life is a plane of interacting signs. We are
confronted by a world of signs and codes: systems and series of biology,
genetics, history, politics, art and fantasy. And each series of signs creates its
own lines of difference: genetic differences, chemical differences and so on.
And all these specific modes of difference are made possible by pure and
positive difference: a differential power that for Deleuze is life itself. There is
not a simple and undifferentiated life that we then differentiate through signs,
representations or languages. The signs of a culture are the effects of more
profound differences. We should try to grasp how signs and differences
proliferate. Art has a distinct power opposed to common sense, which works
with already given signs and conventions it is the creation of new signs,
which will allow us to think the emergence of difference. Art presents singular
differences: the very being of colour, sound, tone or sensibility. Art affirms all
those differences that allow meanings to appear.

Art presents us with the power of presentation as such. It might seem that
such instances give us the exhaustion or end of art, where art can no longer
do anything but refer to itself. But Deleuze argues that the form of selfreference needs to be understood in terms of its potential, or its justification.
If there can be a play within a play or a character remembering or an object
reflected this is because there can only be the original the first play or the
initial character because life as such is the power to create, to be more than
itself. Art within art or images within images just show what has always
marked art: the power of opening the virtual from the actual. Art brings the
virtuality of life to presence. Life is not something that is fully given. Life is a
potential for multiple creations. Practical relations to the world mostly reduce
infinite becomings to a closed set of functions; we map an ordered world of
relations from a stable but repeatable view point. Art, however, repeats the
events of this actualised world in order to release the further power that was
not brought to actuality (Colebrook, 2006, 84).

- 16 -

Deleuze's project of immanence redefines and reaffirms perception. The

illusion of transcendence that there might be some external point from which
life could be judged is tied to the problem of point of view. Throughout his
work Deleuze refers to the ways in which western philosophy has privileged a
certain optics. Western thought begins from a subject who views the world,
assuming a strict distinction between viewer and viewed. There is a world,
which is then perceived from a number of viewpoints, and these
representations of the world can be assessed according to their correctness.
Western thought thereby produces a proper order or sequence for thought.
The world is actual and original, and this is followed by representations or
copies, which are virtual and secondary. Deleuze makes important responses
to what he refers to as this dogma of representation (Colebrook, 2002b:

Deleuzes project of immanence abandons the idea that one point of being
could provide a point of judgement or foundation for being as a whole. This
means that any connection of beings would be serial not ordered or
sequential. A series is necessarily multiple and divergent. A series never
converges into some fixed harmonious unity. A series expands perception
beyond the human viewer into the universe in general. A linear evolution
subordinates becoming to some final end; one looks back and sees all the
changes leading up to ones own development. From the point of view of the
present, the past is only presented as a sequence of ordered conditions or
causes. But Deleuze sees the whole universe as perceptive: responses,
creations and mutations cannot be explained in terms of the present or in
terms of the human point of view.

The past is not some process that culminates in the present human being. It is
a virtual whole of possibilities that can be retrieved and activated. To affirm life
means affirming all those changes that go beyond intention, recognition and
meaning. Art is an attempt to think in an untimely manner. This is the true
sense of freedom, to embrace the virtual that is not limited to the possibilities
that are contained within our present point of view. The virtual is Deleuzes

- 17 concept of life as the power to differ, it is possible to perceive life as difference

not life that then changes and differs but life as the power to differ.

Deleuze maintains a passionate and optimistic attachment to the political

significance of art. For Deleuze, any genuinely creative activity has a political
significance, precisely because such activities trace new pathways in the
brain, rather than allowing the most basic conditioned reflexes to prevail. The
task of the artist is not to recognise the world, but to explore all its virtuality.
This commitment to what one might call a politics of perception is a constant
in Deleuzes work.

Deleuzes metaphysics of virtuality is the basis of the visionary politics that he

proposes. Thought for Deleuze involves the construction of a virtual universe
of images, rather than the contemplation of a world, which pre-exists thought.
In Deleuzes books on cinema, thought and perception are matters of speed
and slowness. There are three orders of speed: there is the infinite speed of
the virtual image, which is unthinkable in human terms; then there is the
speed of the actual image which is imperceptible in human terms; finally,
there is the slowness of representation, which can be perceived in human
terms. The (crazy) possibility of constructing works of art which attain these
imperceptible or unthinkable speeds is the cornerstone of Deleuzes
aesthetics. Art has the potential to go beyond the representational limitations
of human perception and move into the realm of the virtual (Marks, 2003:

Antonin Artaud, for example, talks of bringing cinema into contact with the
innermost reality of the brain, which fragments the thinking subject and
allows thought to think itself (Deleuze, 1989: 167). This form of cinema might
be considered as exploring the virtual possibilities of thought and perception.
Such cinema achieves self-movement or automatic movement (ibid). It
gives rise to the conviction that it can act directly on the nervous and cerebral
system, producing a shock to thought, a new flow of thought. Deleuzes
privileging of such non-narrative modern cinema is not reducible to a French
avant garde fantasy for the shock of the new, the resistant and difficult. It is

- 18 grounded on a philosophical commitment to understanding how systems of

signs emerge.

To resist, in Deleuzes terms, is to refuse to have ones possibilities for life

and creativity curtailed, to create something new: it is to go beyond the piety,
as he puts it, of recollection (ibid). Resistance is a key theme in Deleuzes
work, it involves the refusal to be judged, and the refusal to be forced back on
ones own identity and individuality. Resistance means making contact with
the forces which compose an individual. Resistance is about the capacity to
direct oneself through perceptions or relations. Theory relates to society in
and through immanent relations or desires. Revolution is not about destroying
external political and economic institutions, as well as internal conventions
and expectations, for one is then left with no relations. Instead revolution
occurs by bringing in the unexpected amendments, by borrowing strategies
from elsewhere (Goodchild, 1996: 4).

There are no true or false presentations, there are just simulations. Any move
of thought or social relation is desirable so long as it deterritorialises, leaves
known territory old or new conventions, because they have become just
that: coagulations of thought and relations behind. Capitalism creates
relations between workers that are temporary and the sites of production
separate workers from their environment. Everything becomes mobile:
images, consumer products and people are cut off from their conditions of









deterritorialisation. Their views differ from capitalism insofar as they do not

see deterritorialisation as merely a means for the increase of capital. Nor do
they see deterritorialisation as an end in itself. They wish not to extend
relations but to intensify social relations. Extension organises the world
spatially. Extension synthesises the world according to presuppositions or
intentions. An intensification of relations is an increase in the number of parts,
dimensions, connections (Goodchild, 1996: 3).

Intensity will not be produced by a sterile group of objects. This involves

extracting terms from their social and cultural contexts that render them sterile

- 19 and inactive and assembling them into a constructive machine that is capable
of producing something. Production does not repeat predetermined
processes; the machine is singular and its product is entirely new. This
product can then react back upon and affect its conditions of production,
becoming a component of further machines. The politics of desire acts directly
on the unconscious but can only do so by acting directly on its own social
context at the same time. Theory is an attempt to think otherwise, to explore
new relations, new subjectivities. Instead of tearing away from truth to show
that ultimately there is no essence apart from her veils, one adopts the signs
of truth in order to fabricate something else, even if this is a further patchwork
of veils and signs. Deleuze and Guattari move away from the mere suspicion
of truth and pose the problem of philosophy through the power of relation and

Desire is not primarily sexual and they reject the idea that it naturally tends
toward the formation of a fixed or centred subjectivity. Desire produces real
relations, connections, investments within and between bodies. In this sense,
Deleuze and Guattari (1977: 30) say desire produces reality. Desire is not
constituted by the ever-renewed and impossible attempt to regain a lost object
of satisfaction. The point is to deny that unsatisfied desire is the essence of
desire. Deleuze and Guattaris theory of desire is constructivist.

Desire permeates all social relations, penetrates the body at a sub-individual

level, and implements an immediately political investment of the body within
larger circuits of action and production. Deleuze explicitly aligns his
conception of desire with Nietzsches conception of life as the will to power. A
body will increase in power to the extent that its capacities to affect and be
affected become more developed and differentiated. Deleuze follows Spinoza
in calling such capacities to be affected the affects of a body. These
correspond to the transition of the affected body from one state to another.
Affects are intensive, they are not objectifiable or quantifiable. The
proliferation of intensities in art disrupts the unified viewing subject. It is the
power of art to produce disruptive affects that allows us to think intensities,
and to open lines of movement to differences in kind.

- 20 -

1.4. Preview

This study does not seek to systematise or freeze a deleuze-baudrillardian

connection or be a self-confirming representation. I therefore proceed in
piecemeal fashion. This dissertation begins at Chapter Two, in which I will
show that for Baudrillard, the theorist of today confronts a sociality which
mimics a mere model of itself a culture cynically living the ideal of its own
electronic image, a hyperrealism and a hypersociality (in which what is
artificial is indistinguishable from what is real). I outline the simulated system
of equivalences (sign value, exchange value and use value). I will make
reference to Baudrillards use of Alfred Jarrys farcical pataphysical Ubu,
whom Baudrillard sees as the definitive hypostasis of capitalism. A system is
ubuesque due to its hyperplastic spiral into what is more real than the real.
As a figure of the social, Ubu comes to absorb everything, leaving no
remainders, just as the social, in progressively eliminating by absorbing all of
its residues, itself becomes residual. The social system begins to develop
programmes out of its own 'living waste' in search of new bases of legitimacy.

In Chapter Three I will show that Baudrillard abandons social theory. He

refers to theory as, among other things, a mode of disappearance. Theory no
longer represents or mirrors the real, but rather must be the pataphysical
intensification of its object. For Baudrillard, this calls for a theoretical violence
a stylistic excess whose function is to be as extreme as the object itself. In
the intensification of writing, theory renounces its distance and merges with its








anthropological resonances. Baudrillard assumes that pre-capitalist societies

are governed by forms of symbolic exchange similar to Batailles notion of
general economy and Mausss gift and counter-gift. Baudrillard returns to
symbolic societies as his revolutionary alternative to capitalist values and
practices. Symbolic exchange is ambivalent, non-equivalent and nonreductive. Gratuitous gift-giving, sacrifice and destruction stand outside the
logic of capital which tries to control and profit from every aspect of life.

- 21 In reaction to the events of September 11 2001, Baudrillard pushed his fatal

strategy further by claiming that the sacrifice and death of the Islamic
terrorists were the ultimate event against capitalism. For Baudrillard terrorists
create a void around themselves, a vacuum of non-meaning. Terrorist acts
cannot be understood as grounded in the objectives of the terrorists; that is at
the level of content of their demands. Baudrillard completely empties Islamic
terrorism of any characteristics or qualities other than of pure disruption. Islam
is defined in terms of what it is not.

In Chapter Four I will move on to Deleuzes concept of life. There are three
qualities that characterize life in Deleuzian thought: positivity, productivity, and
incorporeality. Productivity is the creative aspect of life. Incorporeality means
that life must be thought temporally if it is to make any sense; and here
Deleuze's debt to Bergson is profound. Chapter Four will navigate through
Deleuze's early work to discern a powerful, progressive evolution: Bergson,
Nietzsche, Spinoza. These philosophers form a foundation for Deleuze's
thought. Deleuze's work, however, does not stop with a revalorization of this
alternative tradition: He selects what is living and transforms it, making it
adequate to his concerns. In this way, he both makes the history of
philosophy his own and makes it new.

Deleuze's ontology is grounded in the conceptions of difference that he

discovers in Bergson and Spinoza. Bergsonian difference defines, above all,
the principle of the positive movement of being, that is, the temporal principle
of ontological articulation and differentiation (the virtual or duration).
Opposition, Deleuze claims, is too crude a notion to capture the nuances that
mark real differences. In the Spinozian context, the positivity of being is
characterized by its singularity and its univocal expression. The singularity of
Spinoza's being is not defined by its difference from an other, from nonbeing,
but rather by the fact that being is different in itself.

Deleuze constructs a concept of life on the basis of Spinoza (univocity),

Bergson (the virtual or duration) and Nietzsche (will-to-power or desire). Each
one envelops a possibility of life, expresses a particular point of view on life,

- 22 differentiates in its own way, the indeterminate element of life. And in its own
way, resolves the problem of living. Life obeys a logic of internal difference.
There is no identity to life nor is there life in general, there are only
differentiated ways of living (and ways of thinking that envelop ways of living)
Life exists only in being differentiated, in its internal difference, or that which
affirms itself only in differing from itself.

Chapter Four will also show that Deleuze's politics are based on his concept
of life as internal difference. The struggle to promote life to promote positive
difference, production of the real, and a fluid incorporeality of events is
pursued against a background which is that of life itself. What Deleuze values
is life, its unfolding and its various concrete realizations. But in valuing life, the
question arises of why there would ever be a politics, and political struggle, in
the first place? If everything is already positive, then what is there to revolt

Deleuze values life, yet he does not value everything that is actual. It is not
the same to affirm life in its temporality and to affirm everything that occurs
within this temporality. What is at issue, if the need for a politics is to become
manifest, is how it is that negativity is introduced into life. How is it that life can
admit of negativity, death, or repression, if it is pure positivity and productivity
in its principle? If negativity comes later, as Deleuze's anti-dialectical position
insists, then how does it come? In the book on Nietzsche negativity arises in
the question of how active forces can become reactive, when active forces
are the only ones that act. In Anti-Oedipus, written with Guattari, it appears as
the question of how desire can desire its own repression.

Desire, or life, exists only within the context of a determinate social situation.
In that social situation, there are forces that work against life, but not by
repressing it from the outside. The problem of repression or negativity is not
that it comes to bear upon life from something which is not life, but that it is a
possibility internal to life itself as it unfolds under determinate social

- 23 Life, although naturally fluid, can produce that which blocks production; it
produces anti-production. All other negativity, repression, and death follows
from this.

Deleuze and Guattari have given many names to the types of interventions
that attempt to release life. The most well known of these is the line of escape
or flight. In conceiving the line of escape, what are commonly called political
structures must be understood not in the spatial metaphor of structure but in
the temporal metaphor of coding or axiomatizing. Flows of life are coded, they
are constrained into precise networks which act like channels to divert them
along specific routes and in specific directions. Kinship rituals in primitive
societies are ways of coding sexual production (production of pleasures as
well as of children). And overcoding, a state process, is a way of making the
various codes in different sectors of a given society resonate together.
Finally, in capitalist societies, flows which are no longer subject to traditional
forms of coding are axiomatized, administered by broad constraints that
regulate whole areas of experience rather than specific flows. The regulations,
formal and informal, of investment banking provide an example of axiomatized
flows of money.

Deleuze and Guattari see cynicism as a structural effect of a social machine

in which axioms replace codes. In capitalism power is indifferent to the
intentions of its rulers. Deleuze and Guattari argue that the defining
characteristic of capital is not simply the difference between being ruled by
individuals or abstractions, but by being ruled by abstractions produces and
presupposes its own particular form of subjectivity. Money is not simply a
quantity, a unit of measure, but a complex relation.

Lines of flight are flows that break with both the axioms and the codes of a
given society in order to create new forms of life that are subversive to the
repressions of that society. They do not flow along regulated pathways, but
are instead transversal to them, cutting across them and using elements
from them in the process of producing something new, different, and most
important, alive. It would be a mistake to say that the productions of a line of

- 24 flight are prohibited by the society it arises from; its productions have probably
never been considered for prohibition by that society. Instead, a line of flight
subverts life's attachment to the negativity of repressive social constraints. A
line of flight is not an escape from society. It is an escape from the negativity
of determinate social conditions within a society. For Deleuze, life is the core
of reality; the negativity that must be escaped is derivative.

In Chapter Five I will move specifically to arts line of flight. For Deleuze it is
the artist who sees the limit of the liveable (exhausts the lived). The artist
lives what was enveloped within lived experience, yet nevertheless was not
lived through (the virtual). Art expresses something other than itself: life in all
its imperceptibility. In art, sight is potentialized, raised to a second power. In
its ordinary employment sight is separated from what it can do. Sight regains
its power when it sees the invisible or imperceptible, or when what cannot be
seen is perceived: the invisible enveloped in what is seen not as a hidden
world beyond appearance but animating sight itself from within appearance,
or what one sees. I will show that for Deleuze, Francis Bacon, as a painter of
forces or sensations, shows an experience of the body that leads one beyond
the phenomenological lived body to the chaotic body without organs. This
means deforming organised forms of conventional representation. Bacon
paints the body, the figure of sensation as opposed to the figurative body of
conventional representation.

The body with organs is a virtual state of being, an unorganised level of life.
Deleuze and Guattari argue that the image of the organism is really opposed
to desire. Desire must be understood to embody the power of metamorphosis
or differential reproduction, which is the condition of creativity in culture as
well as in nature. Social production stabilises, identifies and codes the flow of
pure becoming and differentiation. I show the various historical stages of
Deleuze and Guattaris political theory of desire and how each stage has its
own dominant form of synthesis. The first synthesis is that of connection
(primitive society). Then there is the second synthesis of disjunction (State).
Then there is the third synthesis of conjunction (Capitalism).

- 25 These syntheses are important because art is itself composed of these

syntheses. The problem for art is to create a desiring machine that
synthesises flows of desiring production that forms multiple connections,
disjunctions, conjunctions and thereby produces and sustains movement. The
artwork establishes syntheses between elements that in themselves do not
communicate, and that retain all their difference in their own dimensions. This
requires passive synthesis. Art establishes transversals between the
elements of multiplicities, but without ever reducing their difference to a form
of identity or gathering up the multiplicity into a totality. Deleuze and Guattari
describe the movement of desire, but they also speak at length of the ways in
which movement is blocked, encoded, channelled into circuits that are limited
in their connections, exclusive in the disjunctions and fixed in their

In the concluding synthesizing chapter I shall emphasize that for both Deleuze
and Baudrillard resistance is not opposition; it constantly accompanies power.
For Baudrillard it is the spiral of intensification, the raising of the power that
counts. The massive logic of the capitalist system can only be resisted by
redoubling capitalism back against itself in a movement of hyperconformist
simulation. Baudrillards critique rests upon an allegorical mode of reading
and writing. Allegory, as defined by Walter Benjamin, is appropriated
imagery; the allegorist does not invent images but confiscates them' (Owens,
1980a: 69). Benjamin saw the critical yield of the allegorical way of seeing.
The task of criticism is not to conjure up the appearance of the world as it
really was, restoring a false totality to it, but to collaborate with the corrosive
effects of the passage of time. Deleuze has a more affirmative notion of the
aesthetic impulse. Art must be thought as the expression of possible worlds.
Deleuze can always hear a song to life in the artists he admires, such as
Franz Kafka, however violent or intense their work. With Deleuze there is no
resigned and pessimistic cult of death. It is to this cult of death in Baudrillard
that I now turn.

- 26 -

Baudrillard: Death of the Social
2.1. Introduction
Baudrillard totalizes the social. 4 The present, he claims, serves as testimony
to a perfect socialization; the social expanded to infinity. What emerges most
powerfully from this is Baudrillards sense of the pathology of society. 5 At the
very moment of totalization, the social attempts to extend the sphere of social
relations to residual groups on the margins of society in order to normalize
and institutionalize society's relations with what lies outside its boundaries
(the so-called remainder). After the inclusion of that which has previously
remained at the margins of the social, the social totality (which survives and
grows only through its capacity to generate and administer to marginal
elements) reverts back on itself and designates itself as the (sole) remainder.

In Baudrillards view, the social leaves nothing unscathed. It transforms

everything it draws into its dynamics and thereby turns everything into some
form of waste that has to be assigned a social utility and social function. This
process of the production and redesignation of waste not only defines the
essence of the social but to give a meaning to wasted lives (which now
includes everyone), to assign a use-value to what has been rendered useless
(society as a whole) that, for Baudrillard, is the face of the social today.
However, Baudrillard is not content to leave us with this almost indelibly
oppressive characterization of the social. He takes it one step further. This

Baudrillard's notion of the social cannot be precisely defined, although the general way in which he
employs the term is fairly clear. For reasons essentially having to do with economy of style, he
nominalizes the adjectival form of the word as a convenient gloss for an entire range of key terms in the
social scientific lexicon, e.g. -social structure, social relation, social class, social institution, social
exchange, social interaction, social theory, etc., which taken together with related concepts comprise
the master discourse on society.
Durkheim also emphasizes the pathological features of industrial society and vividly discusses the
negative effects of the high-velocity circulation of bodies, ideas and commodities. Mike Gane
(1991a:199-203) usefully compares the two thinkers but concludes (1991a:201-2) that a major
difference ultimately divides them: Durkheim locates himself (not without some hesitations) in the
flawed, unfulfilled, or rather incomplete project of the culture of organic societies, in the project for a
sociology as a science of society. Baudrillard is based in primitive symbolic exchange, and develops a
form of sociology which is best described as transtheoretical, a form of resistance from the irrational and
a theoretical fatwa against the modern and postmodern system.

- 27 face has disappeared. 6 In presenting this paradox of an almost tactile

oppressive regime, which is either unrecognizable or invisible (or both),
Baudrillard points to another disturbing characterization of contemporary
social formations.
For Baudrillard, the web of social relationships, which is the empirical ground
and reality principle for a uniquely sociological enterprise, has collapsed into a
homogeneous mass. 7 This is the product of a social process, yet can no
longer be identified with any particular social subject or object. As a result, the
social field today is purely simulated. This is the outcome of a cultural levelling
effect created by modern technologies. The social no longer serves to
designate or analyze anything. This is what we are seeing today a general
awareness that the social realm is, and has always been, only a delusion. The
existence of a socius, the critico-empirical postulate of a social order based on
symbolic reciprocity and companionship, is no longer even a question.

For Baudrillard, contemporary culture is fascinated by extremes. In a culture

of electronic reproduction, television has become more true than the true;
computer models are more real than the real, fashion is more beautiful than
the beautiful, catastrophe is more eventful than the event and the mass is
more social than the social. This is the wasteful excess of a culture where the
faster everything goes, the less anything seems to go anywhere. The reaction
to all this is a desperate attempt to redeem a meaning for life, work and
communication that have become useless and meaningless. Baudrillard
compares present society with the irreversible growth of a cancerous cell in

Baudrillard's style presents the first and most difficult obstacle for anyone more accustomed to the
linguistic conventions of Anglo- American social theory. Rarely does he take the time to define his
terms-the social, mass, disappearance, etc. with any degree of precision or construct detailed
arguments in support of his position. His mode of expression is intentionally elliptical, declarative,
replete with poetic allusions, and marked by abrupt transitions. As Mark Poster (1988: 7) has noted,
Baudrillard has a tendency to simply proclaim his insights and make light of apparently contradictory
conclusions which can be drawn from his remarks. Baudrillard does this intentionally, with full
awareness of what he is doing.
Mass is another of Baudrillard's terms which is impossible to define precisely. He does claim,
although not always consistently, that he is not referring to the conventional meaning of the term in
critical social theory, viz., the working classes. Similar to his use of the social, mass often functions as
a gloss, and occasionally as a punning device, for a number of related concepts within the social
sciences-mass culture, mass society, etc. The primary connotation of the term, however, appears to be
physical, as when Baudrillard speaks elliptically of the black hole of the mass, which absorbs all the
energy of the social. The images Baudrillard often wishes to convey with the term are those of
randomness, implosiveness, fragmentation, and entropy.

- 28 which all attempts to control the decay only result in intensifying it until social
life finally exhausts itself, collapsing from its own weight and inertia.

The above stated view of present day society causes problems for a theory
about such a society. For Baudrillard, simulation closes off forever the
possibility of an ideological critique of social theory, precisely because such a
critique cannot itself break free from the assumption of the reality principle of
the social. Baudrillard sees distinct types of simulation. In the first type, the
reality principle, which makes possible a distinction between a state of affairs
notwithstanding its absence and its representation, remains intact. In the
second type, the reality principle itself disappears; simulation winds up
mistaking reality with its reproduction. Better, rather than simple reproduction
(or even reduplication), what is involved in later stages of simulation is the
perfect substitution of signs of the real for the real itself the real, in other
words, simulation is elevated to the status of a copy without an original. For
Baudrillard, it is the third phase, which inaugurates the space of simulation
proper, while the fourth marks its perfection. In the third phase, the image
masks the absence of a basic reality, whilst the fourth phase bears no relation
to any reality whatever: it is its own pure simulacrum.

Simulation proposes the system on the basis of a certain other but simulation
in the end always seeks to master this other. This chapter will show how
Baudrillards simulated and totalised social puts forward an other but what is
realised is that this other only exists because of the social, only leads to a
growth in the system. This is the ability of the social to prove itself via the
remainder. The social exists to take care of the useless consumption of
remainders so that individuals can be assigned to the useful management of
their lives. In Baudrillards total system, utility is the dominant principle but it
exists only as simulation. According to Baudrillard, the economic is born when
what the object 'is', is assumed to reside within it, it has an essence; when the
object attains its value in accordance with an abstract code that enables its
relation to other objects to be ascertained through a logic of equivalence
which in turn obtains its rationale from the ideology of utility and use value;
and when the individual emerges as a 'subject' whose relation to the world of

- 29 objects is articulated primarily through the ideology of need. From this critical
viewpoint, the notion of the 'individual' emerged.

This chapter will proceed as follows: I will first outline the simulated system of
equivalences (sign value, exchange value and use value) and then show how
the system safeguards itself by developing many means of waste and
controlled squandering. I will make reference to Baudrillards use of Alfred
Jarrys farcical plays. This is not meant as comic intermezzo or relief. Rather,
Baudrillards parody intensifies his apocalyptic vision of the totalized system of

2.2. System of Objects

Baudrillards teacher, Henri Lefebvre, in his Critique of Everyday Life (1992),

had turned sociology to the ordinary domestic world, to the objects that
surround us. It was important for Lefebvre to analyse these things exactly
because their ideological effects were so easily overlooked or taken for
granted. His argument was that in consumer society commodities become
abstracted, and thereby alienated or estranged, from real human contexts,
and that needs and desires become manipulated by power. Lefebvre critiqued
everyday society in order to restore an authentic relationship between subject
and objects and make objects more responsive to actual needs (Poster, 1979:

Lefebvres Marxist approach wanted to believe in the true value and meaning
of objects and the possibility of unalienated needs and desires with regard to
them. In capitalism, exchange value functions to mystify use value, because
the labor process disappears from view leaving a pure object of consumption
determined solely by a price. For Marx labour is a necessary condition,
independent of all forms of society; it is an external nature-imposed necessity.
Without which there can be no material exchanges between man and nature
and therefore no life. The problem for Marx was that capitalism obscured the
objective value of labour, so that workers earned less than their labour was
objectively worth and were thus exploited. Marxism convinces men that they

- 30 are alienated by the sale of their labour. In the Marxian schema, use-value
the glorious autonomy of mans simple relation to his work and his products
is the nemesis of abstract exchange and the promise of a future resurgence
beyond the fetishism of money and the market. Marxists, like Lefebvre, tried
to locate and rediscover a natural relation to use value undistorted by
capitalist exchange value. Lefebvres critique leaves the assumptions of use
value and the ideology of needs intact (and in fact more firmly reconstitutes
them) (Poster, 1979: 280).

Roland Barthes (with whom Baudrillard would later collaborate and teach)
wanted to break with Lefebvres Marxist approach. Barthess Mythologies
showed how relationships with objects are always mediated by the sign.
Objects are not to be seen in terms of use and function but in terms of
communication. Objects form a certain language within which such values as
use and function are merely rhetorical. There is not some underlying
denotation to the object, but only an endless succession of connotations
(Barthes, 1972: 116).

Baudrillard inherits these two contrasting approaches of Lefebvre and Barthes

toward the everyday object. In System of Objects (1996), Baudrillard attempts
to fuse the anti-abstractionism of Lefebvre and the abstractionism of Barthes.
Like Barthes, for Baudrillard every object becomes connotation (of a
denotation). For Baudrillard the modern world is to be grasped in an analogy
with 'generalized hysteria'. Understanding and reading the world of needs and
objects literally will fall into the traditional error of treating the symptom only to
find another reappearing in a different site. A way of approaching the issue is
to imagine that there are two quite different languages, which interpenetrate:
the logic of objects is a vast paradigm 'through which something else speaks'
(Baudrillard, 1988: 45). Yet what is spoken from the deeper language is
realized as a 'lack' which cannot be satisfied at the surface. Just as with the
hysteric, 'this evanescence and continual mobility reaches a point where it
becomes impossible to determine the specific objectivity of needs' (ibid.,45).

In the hysterical or psychosomatic conversion, the symptom, like the

- 31 sign, is (relatively) arbitrary. Migraine, colitis, lumbago, angina, or

generalized fatigue: there is a chain of somatic signifiers which the
symptom 'walks' along as there is an interlinking of object/signs, or
object/symbols, along which walk, not needs but desire, and a further
determination, that of unconscious social logic (Baudrillard, 1970: 107,

Baudrillard attempted to achieve a non-essentialist notion of fetishism as a

theory of the perverse structure that perhaps underlies all desire; thus
transformed it might become, he hoped a genuine analytic concept
(Baudrillard, 1981: 90). If fetishism exists, it is fetishism of the signifier,
leading to the manipulation not of the concrete commodity but of the abstract
sign. For example, money fetishism is not a fetishism for a substance but for
the abstract system in its systemic fascination. For Baudrillard, one of the
consequences of the objects entry into the field of the sign is that just like the
individual elements of language, no object has any meaning in itself but in its
relationship with other objects. The very system of objects precedes the
possibility of any single object. Consumers do not so much directly desire any
specific object as desire only in a competitive relationship with others, as
mediated by the social signs of status and prestige. We desire only anothers
desire (Butler, 1999: 27).

The fundamental paradox of the sign on which the system of objects is based,
is that if the comparison opened up by the sign (the fact that every object can
be compared to another, that our desire is given to us by way of another)
means that everything can be consumed, that nothing is outside the system of
consumption, it also means that nothing can be consumed, that everything is
outside the system of consumption, in so far as we actually never consume

- 32 anything as such but only insofar as it resembles the desire for another. 8 The
fact that everything can be compared in terms of the sign means that there is
nothing outside consumption, it also means that nothing is actually consumed
because it is only consumed as something else. The fundamental limit of
consumption is that in the very act of consumption something goes missing;
the very thing i.e. the sign that allows and forces us to consume also means
that we cannot, that there is nothing to consume. We only consume the myth
of consumption. Baudrillard emphasizes much more than Barthes the inherent
abstraction of the system of objects. Yet at the same time Baudrillard also
wants to speak like Lefebvre against a system of objects, to show in the end
why there is no such thing as a system of objects, why any description of the
system of objects cannot be divorced from a critique of that systems practical
ideology (Baudrillard, 1998: 316).

With Lefebvre, Baudrillard wants to show what is excluded from this system of
objects, what the limit is to its organization through signs. The system of
objects is the most complete expression of function; function is only possible
in the form of the sign. The System of Objects shows that function and use
are no longer real but only effects of the sign, only rhetorical values within the
system of objects (and that they were perhaps like this from the beginning).
Nature becomes naturality and function becomes functionality. Functionality is
the lynchpin of the system: Every object claims to be functional like every
regime claims to be democratic (Baudrillard, 1996: 89).

Baudrillard does not simply catalogue objects, he seeks the process whereby
we live objects and how they come to respond to needs which are other than
functional. The object expresses a function better than ever, but it is a function

In America Baudrillard will conjure the figure of the subject who is at once full and empty, consumes
everything and nothing.The anorexic prefigures this culture in a rather poetic fashion by trying to keep it
at bay. He refuses lack. He says I lack nothing; therefore I shall not eat. With the overweight person it is
the opposite: he refuses fullness, repletion. He says I lack everything so I will eat anything at all. The
anorexic staves off lack by emptiness, the overweight staves off fullness by excess. Both are
homeopathic final solutions by extermination (Baudrillard, 1988: 39). I will show in Chapter Four that
Deleuze and Guattari attack the notion that desire begins from lack. Desire: who, except priests would
want to call it lack? Nietzsche called it the Will to Power (Deleuze and Parnet, 1987:91). Deleuzes
theory of desire is constructivist. Desire is seen as a machinery of forces, flows and breaks of energy.
Deleuze for instance reads Kafkas The Hunger-Artist as variation, experimentation.

- 33 that cannot be used. It is a function that is forbidden, it is a pretext that only

signifies the idea of the function. Functionality or naturality is emphasized
more than ever yet objects are no longer rooted in one function and place but
are variable, multi-purpose and adaptable. Function must have an
exchangeability of the sign or it is no function at all. Everything becomes a
sign of a sign. The highest point of the systematicity of objects corresponds to
the impossibility of the system of objects; the system of objects has ultimately
nothing to say (Butler, 1999: 41).

The system of objects both expresses and does away with function, use-value
and need and this constitutes the problem of simulation. Simulation is not
mere abstraction or derealisation of the object, or its passing from material
presence to sign. For Baudrillard, the term simulation describes an essential
dynamic element of modern mass cultures. Abstractly, it refers to the
reproduction (model, copy, map) of a state of affairs which simultaneously
masks the absence of the state of affairs it claims to represent. A simulation
makes a claim to be something it is not, distinguishing it from simple feigning
or dissimulation, which by contrast claims not to be something it in fact is. To
dissimulate is to feign not to have what one has. To simulate is to feign to
have what one hasn't (Baudrillard, 1988: 167).

The aim of simulation is not to do away with reality, but on the contrary to
realise it, to make it hyperreal. Simulation in this sense is not a form of
illusion, but opposed to illusion, a way of getting rid of the fundamental
illusionary character of the world. In an interview, Baudrillard says If you start
from the idea that the world is a total illusion, then life, thought becomes
absolutely unbearable. So you have to make every effort to materialise the
world, realise it, in order to escape from this total illusion. And this realising of
the world is precisely what simulation is the exorcism of the terror of illusion
by the most sophisticated means of the realisation of the world (Gane, 1993:

The real is possible only because of the system, only leads to a further
extension of the system. Simulation is a system of differences where we

- 34 cannot meaningfully speak of something outside the system: the system

absorbs whatever we might think of as outside it, so that everything is taken
up into a totalizing complex of meanings. Meaning and reality are not outside
the system. They are simulated like use and function, only a cover-up or
alibi, a tactical hallucination (Baudrillard, 1996: 117). Simulation winds up
mistaking reality with its reproduction. This is more than simple reproduction
(or even reduplication). This is the perfect substitution of signs of the real for
the real itself. This is the simulation we find ourselves in today (Hegarty, 2004:

The hypothesis of simulation is that everything can be conceived as a

simulation even if it is not. 9 The world as it is can only be grasped on the
basis of simulation. Simulation doubles the world: Disneyland 10 is there to
conceal the fact that it is the real country, all of the real America, which is
Disneyland. Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe
that the rest is real, when in fact all of Los Angeles and the America
surrounding it are no longer real, but the order of simulation. It is no longer a
question of a false representation of reality (ideology), but of concealing the
fact that the real is no longer real The Disneyland imaginary is neither true
nor false; it is a deterrence machine set up in order to rejuvenate the fiction of
the real (Baudrillard, 1981: 25).

In Baudrillards simulation proper of today, the system puts forward an other

to itself (Disneyland) so that it is proved all the more. The system opens itself

If an outside of simulation is no longer possible, then the question of the real becomes like the
question of God or the question of truth: not provable, but also not to be disproven, or not representable,
therefore in desperate need to be simulated to conceal the truth that there is none. Baudrillards
simulation, may be a version of the ideology of the end of all ideology. Baudrillards theory of simulation
is to be taken as a strategic point of articulation of cynicism, an enlightened false consciousness, which
Peter Sloterdijk has analyzed as a dominant mindset in the post- sixties era (Sloterdijk, 1987).
Disneyland is an example of pure baroque logic (Baudrillard, 1989: 101). The baroque fascination for
the ruin, the construction of reality, the incompleteness of the world, the artifice, the artificial has much in
common with the endlessly constructed and simulated, in Baudrillards terminology, the character of the
social in hyperreality. Many configurations of the postmodern world were present in the Baroque culture
of the seventeenth century. Here was a culture which had been thrust into a global arena by European
imperialism, which had a strong sense of the fragmented and constructed nature of the social, which
developed an articulate notion of the anxiety and subjectivity of the self, and which practised parody and
irony as rhetorical styles. The luxurious sensuality of Baroque public culture has been seen as a mixture
of high, low and kitsch culture, which was designed to trap the masses in a simulated culture (Turner,
2000: 93).

- 35 up to the other, but it is an other that is only possible because of the system.
We do not have the system as such, but the world in its very indifference and
otherness can only be explained because of it. With Disneyland, a place of
childhood is marked off to show that the rest of America is by contrast
grownup. The system puts forward its other as real (Disneyland) only in order
to exclude the real: the fact that all of America is childlike. The real strategy of
the system in putting forward its other is ultimately to get rid of this other.
From now on this other to the system can be thought of in its terms, only
proves it all the more:

There have always been Churches to hide the death of God, or to hide
that God was everywhere which is the same thing. There will always
be animal and Indian reservations to conceal that they are dead, and
that we are all Indians. There will always be factories to conceal that
work is dead, that production is dead, or that it is everywhere and
nowhere (Baudrillard, 1976: 36).

Baudrillard shows that binary articulations, together with a strategy of

dissimulation, characterizes the development of all social systems, beginning
with the signifying process itself. For Baudrillard, these practices are governed
by a metaphysics of abstraction and conceptualization that institutes the
rationality of all systems of knowledge. Western epistemologys tautological
process consists of first positing concepts and then universalizing them, thus
making them into absolutes, into truth referents.

Western metaphysics involves a transcendent conceptual system capable of

generating philosophical terms necessary for its own equilibrium and
perpetuation. In the case of semiotics, both the signified and the referent
come into being thanks to the signifier; they are both equally implicated in the
very logic of the sign. Semiotics becomes possible only to the extent that it
effects, prior to itself, a split between the signifier and the signified, thus
constituting a space or distance by virtue of which the sign function is
conceived as the constitution of relation between a signifier and a signified
through a code. Signs represent referents (or real objects) by re-presenting

- 36 them as signifieds in and through the sign system. This seemingly innocent
split, creating the mirage of the referent, plays a vital function for semiotics;
in fact, it becomes the constitutive condition for any semiotic discourse
(Baudrillard, 1981: 187).

Economic and political systems are falling even deeper into a binary pattern,
thus making possible an illusion of bipolar oppositions and insuring a stability
and durability that monopolies or single political parties would not possess
standing by themselves alone. This dual logic is characteristic of the
fundamental code that regulates our society; it allows for distinction,
opposition, and exclusion, and determines the processes of simulation that
dominate our culture (Racevkis, 1979: 33).

We are in a binary world of trial/error, of the personality test, of the

referendum, of functionality in life through a reduction of everything to the
yes/no. It is as though 'the entire system of communication has passed from
that of a syntactically complex language structure to a binary sign system'
(Baudrillard, 1976: 116-17). As everything is pre-structured, social life
becomes formed into a continuous stream of tests. These are always found to
be 'perfect forms of simulation' and the ideal instruments for the conjuring of a
new substance: public opinion. This substance is not, however, like the old
abstract essences which were formed in relation to systems of imagined real
or natural worlds. This order goes beyond these systems of imagined real or
natural worlds into the order of hyperreality itself: effectively the real world, its
otherness, has been left behind as an idea appropriate to a different way of
thinking (Gane, 1991b: 99).

The intrusion of the binary schema, the 0/1, the yes/no, question/response,
begins, effectively and dramatically, to render, immediately, every discourse
inarticulate. It crushes the world of meaningful dialogue: a discourse based on
the play of real and appearance is abolished. From now on the media
determine 'the very style of montage, of dcoupage, of interpellation,
solicitation, summation' (Baudrillard, 1976: 123). As Marshall McLuhan alone
has pointed out, says Baudrillard, this new age is not visual but tactile;

- 37 everywhere it is the test, the pre-structured interrogation, that is the

manipulator and formulator of the new consciousness (Hegarty, 2004:154155).

The mass media create universal suffrage. Here social exchange is reduced
to its most essential function: to obtain an answer. But the context so created
is also binary. This appears to establish a fundamental complicity between the
code and the tendency to bipartite political rivalry. Political opinion polls effect
and mirror alternations of the parties. As these polls are located beyond
institutional supports, the tendency inevitably becomes one in which opinion
feeds on, and reproduces, itself. Public opinion is not produced, and it does
not appear. It belongs to the order of simulation where reproduction
predominates, where all opinions become interchangeable, all theories and
political hypotheses become reversible, since it is a feature of the system at
this point that questions are fundamentally undecidable (Gane, 1991b: 99).

At first this is veiled, since scientific statistics give the illusion of solid content.
It soon becomes evident, however, that public opinion is a 'fabulous fiction'.
The effect of this is absolutely decisive for modern society: all political
discourse is thoroughly drained of content. This is the outcome of the
manipulation of the political by the politicians. Finally, political opinion polls
retain meaning only for politicians and political scientists as these polls have
only a tactical value for political manipulators. The mass media brings into
existence an 'operational simulation' of an informed political mass (Gane,
1991b: 99-101).

This form of simulation explains why public opinion in a modern democracy

does not tend towards a single party. Indeed one-party states are genuinely
unstable in comparison. The strange paradox today is that all the immense
effort made to reproduce public opinion generates a society 'puffed up on
mere wind' (Baudrillard, 1983: 130). This 'hot air' is circular and tautological.
The masses respond with complete nullity in which the power structures are
mirrored. Thus a process of stabilization begins at the same time as the
homogenization of the political lite at a level inevitably always concealed by

- 38 the action of party alternation (ibid., 130).

In single-party systems, the essential play in the system and its vital feedback
processes are absent and public opinion, if it exists, cannot be manipulated.
In the dual system, against all expectation again, representation ends as the
law of equivalence of value, stemming from the code, begins to exercise its
effectiveness: the inevitable to and fro motion begins, and from that moment,
a public consensus is formed and re-formed. It is shaped by pre-structured
polls, so that after a while the distribution of votes tends to approach a natural
split of 50/50 on each side: 'it is as if everyone voted by chance, or monkeys
voted (Baudrillard, 1983:132).

Even in earlier periods, voting implied and effected a certain degree of

homogenization, but real antagonism existed and persisted. Today, inner
contradiction and differentiation in the voting mass tend to be eliminated and
the outcome is the simulated play of opposition, interchange, and levelling of
political opposition: 'the reversibility of entire discourses one into the other'
(Baudrillard, 1983: 133). Thus against the idea of the duel, of a real struggle
for power between distinct oppositional camps, in the new order, reproduced
political positions have to find their basis on the plane of value (here defined
as that consensus which makes all otherness and difference at once nondifference) (Baudrillard, 1983:133).

For Baudrillard, politics in the United States is one of simulated programmed

differences. Polling, elections, consumer purchases, fashion, media are all
part of the systems binary regulation, stabilised by two political parties, two
opposing classes. In this binary system (Democratic Party vs Republican
Party) radical change is ruled out since the very fact of an option between
different political parties, products, life styles and so forth acts as a deterrent
against demands for radical social change. As a symbol of the homeostatic,
stablised society of simulations, Baudrillard points to the twin towers of the
New York World Trade Centre which peacefully coexisted in a non
competitive harmony and stability, like the Democratic and Republican Party:

- 39 The two twin towers of the WTC are the visible sign of the closure of the
system in a vertigo of duplication, while the other skyscrapers are each
of them the original moment of a system constantly transcending itself in
a perpetual crisis and self challenge (Baudrillard, 1981: 136-137).

It is the ability of simulation to produce its own other that is at the centre of
Baudrillards work. The essential problem he addresses is how to think what is
excluded from the system, but he can only do so by repeating the very same
strategy of the system, by proposing another to them by which they are
proved. There is a double strategy necessary on the part of Baudrillard in
attempting to think the outside to the system of simulation. On the one hand,
he has to name this outside, but on the other hand he must realise that he
cannot name this outside, that any outside is only an effect of the system itself
(like Disneyland and public opinion). He has to think, therefore not so much
what is outside or other to the system of simulation as what is excluded by the
fact that it has no outside. There is no way of saying that the system simply
fails, except in terms of the system itself. It is the limit to the system, a limit
that makes the system both possible and impossible (Butler, 1999: 43-45).

2.3. Waste

What makes todays capitalism an environment inhospitable to critique, are

the many factors militating against the build-up of disaffection into a forceful
anti-systemic dissidence. Such factors boil down to the decomposition of
structured reality into the play of simulacra, in which simulation and
dissimulation merge, in which a deeper reality is implied where it is all
displayed at the surface, while genuine necessities without choice hide under
the mask of free game. We live in the mode of referendum and this is
precisely because there are no more referentials. But referendum is really
just an ultimatumEach message is a verdict (Baudrillard, 1993a: 62).
Boundless dependency hides beneath the ploy of freedom; it does not coerce,
it seduces. Perhaps the most insidious of simulacra is the constraint dressed
as free choice (Bauman, 1993:42).

- 40 Advertising maintains the whole system of imposed differentiation the

choice of coded differentials by which individuals are integrated into the
system. The available range of choice offers personalisation so that
individuals define themselves in opposition to other individuals. Advertising
reassures us that society is thinking about our desires, solving our problems
and assuaging our anxieties. And yet advertising in its entirety constitutes a
useless and unnecessary universe (Baudrillard, 1996: 164). In Consumer
Society, Baudrillard investigates the creation of desire. This however, requires
an examination of the role of uselessness or waste 11 in contemporary society,
and it is a theme that will run up until Symbolic Exchange and Death (1976;

Baudrillard opposes the common-sense view that waste is socially

dysfunctional. All societies have wasted, squandered, expended and
consumed beyond what is strictly necessary for the simple reason that it is the
consumption of surplus, of a superfluity that the individual and society feel not
merely that they exist, but that they are alive (Baudrillard, 1998: 43).

The usual economic understanding of waste is to hold it as something that

inhibits consumption and what consumption must seek to overcome. For
Baudrillard, consumption is not about matching a pre-existing desire to a
particular set of objects. Rather consumption is not possible without a certain
excess of desire over the object, or if desire is satisfied by the object, there is
always another, an extra desire produced by this. Consumption is always
incomplete. Consumption and the objects available can never be brought into
balance: without this lack, consumption would never occur at all. It is this very
loss or waste, which precedes consumption without which we would not
desire anything. There is not some biological existence that determines what

Baudrillard develops his concept of waste from Bataille who argued that the fundamental principle of
the universe consists of waste, destruction, death, eroticism and transgression rather than truth, wealth
and security. There must always be an accursed share to keep the system going. Bataille believes that
we ought to behave in ways that encourage this general economy of expenditure over the limited or
restricted economy of economics but that this is almost impossible to realize; it is paradoxical
utopianism. Batailles notion of the accursed share and the general economy are ideas that came from
Mausss anthropology of the gift. The critique of the economic as such feeds into Baudrillards view on
Batailles notion of the general economy which uses Mausss notion of the gift as a principle that is anti
economic and seeks to be an economic broader that the modern concept of economy (Hegarty, 2004:
39). I will return to Baudrillards engagement with Mauss and Bataille in the next chapter.

- 41 can be wasted, but what can be wasted that determines this basic biological
level (Butler, 1999: 55).

In terms of production (production and consumption are no longer opposed in

consumer society, just as consumption is produced, 12 so production is a form
of consumption) Baudrillard notes that in the calculation of the Gross National
Product of France, the goods actually produced are counted as credits but
also the expenses incurred during this production, e.g. the transportation
costs, the disposal of the left over residues of the industrial process and the
elimination of pollutants all of these are counted as things produced. This
shows that the waste brought about by production allows the possibility of
further production (Baudrillard, 1993b: 104).

In the current anti-technology and pro-environment circumstances there is

never production, only waste a waste however that is only possible because
of production and can only lead to further production. The waste brought
about by production allows production. The clean, the natural, unaffected
world is from now on only conceivable as a result of the double process of
waste and the clearing up of waste, production and the clearing up of
production. A certain waste is produced but it is on this waste or remainder
that the system starts up again:

The social exists on the double basis of the production of remainders and
their eradication. If all wealth were sacrificed, people would lose their
sense of the real. If all wealth became disposable people would lose
their sense of the useful and the useless. The social exists to take care
of the useless consumption of remainders so that individuals can be
assigned to the useful management of their lives (Baudrillard, 1983:78).

In the chapter, Anomie in a Society of Abundance in Consumer Society,

Baudrillard explores the violence that seems to mark consumer society. It is a
violence that is both without object and structurally tied to abundance. It is not
To claim consumption is a 'function of production' is not to say there are no primary needs, but to say
that all such needs are socially articulated (Baudrillard, 1988: 46).

- 42 a rebellion against poverty but a protest against lack of want, the ease of life,
the fact that nothing is missing; for instance, the rejection of consumption as
typified by hippies or counter cultural movements and terrorism. These
alternatives are not contradictory. As Baudrillard says: Fatigue, depression,
neurosis are always convertible into violence and vice versa (Baudrillard,
1998: 293). It is the fact that the same group of people can alternate between
violent attacks upon the system and passive rejection of it that constitutes the
specificity of their response. It is this ambiguity between revolt and conformity,
the possibility of exchanging one for the other that the system can never
finally reduce or absorb (Baudrillard, 1998: 293).

Anguish, like violence, arises when desires are fulfilled, when there is nothing
left to desire. This is the same circularity of waste and production. New
therapies and social services, for instance, are produced on the basis of
anguish. In a sense, therefore, there is no limit to the system. Even the
systems other, anguish, is only possible because of it, and makes the system
stronger. This anguish arises not directly from want or lack but because there
is no want or lack. The very process of getting rid of it is also what causes it.
The system absorbs anguish, but it is precisely this process of absorption
which leads to anguish (ibid., 293).

Waste and anguish are not outside the system but simultaneous with it.
Baudrillard speaks of waste in terms of reversibility: the system begins to
reverse upon itself and the absorption of waste leads to more waste. The
result is the bloated figure, the figure of Alfred Jarry's pataphysical Ubu who
has now entered into reality itself. Baudrillard defines pataphysics as the
philosophy of gaseous states, as tautology the use of redundant language
that adds no information and as the minds loftiest temptation. Pataphysics is

- 43 that which revolves around itself (Baudrillard, 2005: 8). 13

A short excursion is necessary at this point. The influence of the playwright

Alfred Jarry (1873-1907), in whose writings the so-called science of
pataphysics originated, is very much in evidence throughout Baudrillards
oeuvre. Ubu is the central character in the Ubu cycle of plays (Ubu Roi, Ubu,
Cocu, and Ubu Enchan). The notorious Ubu Roi appeared in 1896. Ubu
Cocu was written between 1890 and 1894 and was only published
(posthumously) in 1944, while Ubu Enchan, written in 1899, was published
in 1900. The phrase Ubu cycle of plays is a fanciful formation, which alludes
to Jarrys love of cycling and the extravagant ways in which the trappings of
this sport were integrated into his life and work. Pataphysics is introduced by
Ubu and later elaborated by Dr Faustroll in Jarrys neo-scientific novel,
Gestes et opinions du Docteur Faustroll, pataphysicien (written in 1898 and
published in 1911; Jarry, 1972).

Although there is some debate about the authorship of the urtext of Ubu Roi, it
emerged from a farcical puppet play staged by Jarry and his friends Charles,
Henri and Charlotte Morin while they were students at a lyce in Rennes. Ubu
was inspired by their physics teacher, Flix Hbert, a short man with a
magnificent gut which he maintained by incessantly eating petit fours. The
alimentary machine which is Ubu is articulated by an immense gidouille or
giborgne. Jarrys two pairs of neologisms, the other combination being
boudouille and bouzine, signify digestive, sexual and excretory functions and
organs a crude retention-evacuation device (Genosko, 1994: 106).

Like Jarry, Baudrillard projects a malefic vision of the universe ruled by baser

Pataphysics does not escape metaphysics. It neither disappears into metaphysics nor operates as a
postmetaphysics. Instead, it redoubles itself and absorbs metaphysics, thus becoming more
metaphysical than metaphysics. Pataphysics is metaphysics paunch. How does one approach
something pataphysically? In his preamble to Symbolic Exchange and Death, Baudrillard states that
once a system nears perfection it only takes a little push in the right direction to make it collapse
(Baudrillard, 1976:12). It is only a small epiphenomenal step from the tautologies of capitalism to la
gidouille dUbu; from a sublime operationality to a perfectly ridiculous spherical belly. The science-fiction
of turning a hyperreal system against itself is pataphysical: an imaginary solution indeed. See also
Baudrillard, 2005:8.

- 44 instincts and objects in which good or subjective designs are foiled and come
to naught. Yet there is a fundamental, substantive difference between Jarrys
and Baudrillards pataphysics. Jarrys subjects Ubu Roi, Faustroll and the
rest heroically, albeit foolishly, try to master the universe and remake reality
according to their imaginary designs, ambitions and desires. But for
Baudrillard, this game is over: the subject has been defeated, the reign of
objects has commenced (Kellner, 1989: 163).

Jarrys La Gidouille dUbu, the famous Gut of Pre Ubu, has served
Baudrillard well in its capacity as a symbol of our system. Ubu is a misshapen
figure (gidouille, retractible ear, three teeth one of stone, one of iron and one
of wood) and a foundational persona of Baudrillards textual imaginary of the
pataphysical as if:

Ubu: the small intestine and the splendour of emptiness. Ubu form
full and obese, of a grotesque immanence and a brilliant truth. A figure
of genius, replete with that which has absorbed and transgressed
everything, shining in the void like an imaginary solution (Baudrillard,
1983: 79-80).

Depicted as monstrously obese, Ubu wrecks havoc everywhere he goes. For

instance in Ubus earliest appearance, Jarry has him flush his conscience
down the toilet. Of Ubu, Roger Shattuck writes: We are all Ubu, still blissfully
ignorant of our destructiveness and systematically practicing the soul
devouring reversal of flushing our conscience down the john. Ubu, unruffled
king of tyrants and cuckolds, is more terrifying than tragedy (Shattuck, 1965:

We happen upon Ubu with the same mixture of horror and disgust as one who
finds an eye at the bottom of a chamber pot. For Baudrillard, its as if we are
all a little bit Ubu; he is the sign of our fatalit. Hypertely is another biological
term central to Jarrys writing, which refers to the overdevelopment of
organisms, which may be manifested by the growth of useless appendages
(i.e. extra horns) such as a gidouille. This grosse bedaine is as vacant and

- 45 simulacral as any imaginary body part. In Ubu, there is nothing biological.

Hypertely, in Baudrillards use of the term, means a hyperend, that which has
gone beyond its own ends (Gane, 1991b: 108).

If one were to gather together all of the terms which take the prefix hyper in
the texts of Baudrillard, one would not only have a large collection, but a
veritable hypermarch of signs. Even with only a fragment of this collection in
hand, one might linger in the medico-biological section and serve oneself
signs denoting abnormal growth. This would enable one to establish the
domains of research whence Baudrillards operative concepts have come
(pathology, biology, geometry, etc.), and sketch a figure of the social structure
provided by his elaborations upon the theme of hyper (obese, cancerous,
etc.), and describe his fanciful, and hyperbolic use of hypers. Los Angeles is a
kind of hyper space or more spatial than space, a cyberspace, or to put it
simply, a maze (Genosko, 1994: 155).

After our excursion into the so-called ubuesque pataphysics of the system,
which becomes apparent when we are made aware of its production of waste,
it is possible to interpret this phenomenon of pataphysics as the contemporary
form of the system revolting against itself. The contemporary form of the
revolt, Baudrillard argues, is that of the body against itself, a cancerous
phenomena at the genetic level. Here there is, potentially, undisciplined
proliferation, an instability which cannot be maintained. These cancerous
formations have overambition, a hypertelia, appearing to offer affinities with
the nature of the hyperreal itself: it revolts against the genetic order, as if it
were disobeying a law. The body seems to revolt against its own internal
regime, disturbs its own balance, in a form which is, Baudrillard remarks, none
the less, mysteriously esoteric. Obesity is an ascent to extremes in a field
where the rule has been withdrawn. For theory, the decisive point is that its
logic is that of a realization of potential, an excess of potential, on a single
plane: potentialization, not dialectical progression. There are no longer
structures of distinctive opposition, no contrastive field (Gane, 1991b:108).

Ubu is an ecstatic form. He potentializes himself, like an obese system, to the

- 46 nth degree (Baudrillard, 1983: 38). The spiral of an intense reduplication

through which the system produces more of itself carries the sign of Ubu: the
figure of the spiral on his gidouille was a helical form much loved by Jarry. For
Baudrillard, Ubu defines the spiralling systems of our culture, the parodic
circularity and the pseudocyesis 14 of power (Genosko, 1994: 105). A system
is ubuesque due to its hyperplastic spiral into what is more real than the real.
Ubu is the definitive hypostasis of the social. As a figure of the social, Ubu
comes to absorb everything, leaving no remainders. Just as the social, in
progressively eliminating by absorbing all of its residues, itself becomes
residual, Ubu ends by becoming a remainder, a substantial one at that; in
other words, a piece of shit. The social system begins to develop programmes
out of its own 'living waste' in search of new bases of legitimacy (Genosko,
1994: 105-109). Jarrys gidouille is a crude retention-evacuation device not
unlike Baudrillards description of Beaubourg.

The Beaubourg Effect is Baudrillard's critique of the highmodernist Pompidou

Centre in Paris. The essay, though only brief, was published as a book in
1977. The main outline of the essay is as follows. The Pompidou Centre, the
'Beaubourg', is notable for displaying its pipes and ducts on the outside of the
building, a facade of networks and circuits. But, in essence, says Baudrillard,
the building has all the culturally deterrent power of the black monolith out of
the film 2001. It may appear explosive, but in effect, it is implosive, as it
absorbs energy from its environment and impoverishes it by establishing
something of its own security zone around itself, rather like a nuclear power
station. But the technology of circulation which is all too evident works less
well when it comes to people. Inside there is modern space, modern
ambience, and people adopt a suitably cool comportment. But paradoxically
the Beaubourg attempts to maintain something of the old culture, which gives
the impression that the whole building seems to have been constructed
without any genuine awareness of its role and function, for this is a monument
to polyvalency, total visibility, and security values which are completely


Both Baudrillard and Jarry use scientific and biological discourses for images and ideas to
concatenate, play against and pile upon one another. Pseudocyesis is the medical term for a false

- 47 opposed to culture (Gane, 1991b: 143).

It is only by being less than totally efficient that the system runs well. When
the system runs too well and there is no waste, when all waste is absorbed,
then the whole system becomes a form of waste. For Baudrillard, the
structural law of waste is against all economic morality (even that which would
make waste part of the system). Baudrillard considers waste as the limit to the
system of consumption. But at the same time Baudrillard realizes that any
outside to the social is only what the system produces. It is this waste which
the system produces that keeps the system going. Waste does not exist
before production and production not before waste, but out of this exchange
of each for the other something is produced out of nothing. Baudrillard calls it
double or nothing (Baudrillard, 1993b: 104).

Baudrillard discusses the necessary circularity of the system and its other by
retelling Bernard de Mandevilles allegory, The Fable of the Bees, concerning
the necessity for a certain waste, the way a system runs all the better for a
little waste. A certain outside is produced but it is on the basis of this outside
that the system starts up again. This is a cycle of exchange and reversibility
that enables the system to run on forever. Baudrillard also refers to Alfred
Jarrys Le Surmle, a bicycle that keeps pedalling even when its passengers
are dead (ibid., 104).

In Transparency of Evil (1993b: 107), Baudrillard refers to the PerpetualMotion-Food Bicycle Race in Jarrys Le Surmle. In the former, he likens,
through a series of rhetorical questions, America to the Race; that is, during
the 10,000 mile, trans-Siberian race between a team of cyclists on a bicycle
built for five and an express train, one of the riders expires en route. It is,
however, in death that he is able to set a pace so remarkable that the cycle
outruns the train! Like Jarrys dead cyclist, America is at its most powerful
when its time has passed: this power is hysteresial (a physical process in
which there is a time-lag between causes and the appearance of their effects;
the appearance of the latter depend upon an established pattern of causes).
In a reflection on extreme phenomena which implicates both physics and

- 48 metaphysics, Baudrillard suggests that the chaotic declination of energy, its

liberation as it were, is a vertiginous process which feeds on itself
(Baudrillard, 1993b: 107). For Baudrillard, Jarrys dead cyclist and New York
City are cut from the same cloth: in both cases it is a matter of living off the
energy born in the expenditure of energy, of mobilit cadavrique (ibid., 107).

If one needed to characterize the present state of affairs, I would say this is a
situation after the orgy. That orgy, is the explosive movement of modernity,
one of the liberation in all realms. All finalities of liberation are already behind
us We accelerate in a void (Baudrillard, 1990b: 4). The postmodern
capitalist world seduces its residents by its alleged emptiness. It offers itself
as the realm of freedom accomplished and there is nothing less to fight for.
There is nothing one can demand that the world cannot deliver, as the world
made sure that nothing is demanded except what it can, and wants to, deliver.
In a world which makes freedom into necessity (having first made necessity
feel like freedom) disaffection is aplenty. In a world cleansed of past
infections, in a clinically ideal world, spreads an impalpable, implacable
pathology, born of disinfection itself(Baudrillard, 1990b: 69). The modern
project did not fail. Its undoing was its success too overwhelming, too
complete. It is precisely the right to be critical that has been decomposed
(Bauman, 1993: 38).

Capitalism hides the waste beneath its glittering surface, and waste is there
because the inner energy of the emancipation drive has dissipated. The inner
rot shows itself in global catastrophes such as AIDS. AIDS is a product of the
disarmed defences turning against the very organism they were supposed to
defend (Baudrillard, 1990b: 71). This kind of decomposition is the twilight
zone of the anti-decomposition drive. The modern order has become bankrupt
by its own excesses. The obsession with order creates waste, and in turn the
crushing cost of waste disposals. In this world, no waste can be disposed of
radically and completely, it can only be recycled and recycling of waste is in
itself a waste-producing process. The result is a ubuesque obese existence,
in which health and disease change places and lose meaning: there is
continuation of all categories, tantamount to the substitution of one sphere

- 49 for another, confusion of genres; each category is pushed to a too large

degree of generalization, losing all its specifity, dissolving in all the others
(Baudrillard, 1990b: 16-17).

2. 4.Conclusion

It is in this context that one should assess the significance and practical value
of Baudrillards analyses. Baudrillards apocalyptic sociological diagnosis of
the current capitalist figuration may not by itself be revolutionary, but without it
prospects of revolution would look even darker. It is important to know that
waste has submerged global projects, and that simulacra replaced commodity
fetishism as the veil hiding the link between individual fate and social
figuration. It is important to know that with the absorptive capacity capitalisms
self-perpetuating mechanism, a change-bearing shock may come only from
outside. But for Baudrillard, il ny a pas dehors du jeu. For Baudrillard, one
does not blame the rules for losing a game. Losers have even more reason
than the winners to wish that the game goes on, and that its rules stay in
force; and no more reason than the winners to want the game to be banned or
its rules overhauled. Post-modernity creates its own discontents as its most
loyal playmates. Dissent lives dangerously close to collaboration.

Baudrillard wants to think what is excluded from the total system but he can
only do so by repeating the very same strategy of the system. There is a
double strategy necessary on the part of Baudrillard in attempting to think the
outside to the system. On the one hand, he has to name this outside,
something they actually exclude. But on the other hand he knows that any
outside is only an effect of the system itself. He has to think, therefore not so
much what is outside or other to the system as what is excluded by the fact
that it has no outside. There is no way of saying that the system simply fails,
except in terms of the system itself. It is a matter of thinking the limit to the
system, a limit that makes the system both possible and impossible. The next
chapter will show that terrorism is precisely the twilight zone or liminal state of
capitalisms anti-decomposition drive. The obsession with order creates
terrorism, and in turn the crushing cost of security. Before I reach terrorism,

- 50 however, I will first explain Baudrillards double strategy of resistance or his

symbolic exchange.

- 51 -

Chapter 3
Baudrillard: Symbolic Exchange and Terrorism
3.1. Introduction

In Baudrillards symbolic dimension, the biased distinctions of Western

metaphysics cause/effect, real/imaginary, good/evil are to be considered
deconstructed, over-come in the French Nietzschean tradition of the aesthetic
turn. The symbolic revaluates all values, jenseits von Gut und Bse. It is
Baudrillards revolutionary theory for the capitalist generalized aesthetic
sphere. Baudrillard's symbolic obliterates the difference in value between the
imaginary and the real, the signifier and the signified, and exposes the
metaphysical prejudice at the heart of all such valuations. He believed this
would be done through aesthetic violence and not real violence, but sinced he
erased the difference between the two, there was never any guarantee that
others would not take such theoretical violence to its literal ends.

The death drive in Baudrillard is a matter of an incipient implosion of the code,

which stands for all terms and forces valued in opposition within the system.
In the wake of his implosionary vision, Baudrillard hopes will arise, at least in
theory, a liberated and continuously creative new set of relations, governed
not by semiotic or economic codes, but by the principle of symbolic exchange.
The symbolic is always in the divide, in the relation, a non-place that is not
outside as part of a binary distinction and therefore capable of disruption. The
theory of symbolic exchange implies a new mode of signification, which
depends not on a new notion of the subject or a new realization of rationality.
It denotes instead a new structure of communication in which signifiers would
be generated directly in the course of exchange, connected closely to both
signified and referent.
Unlike language, whose material can be disassociated from the subjects
speaking it, the material of symbolic exchange, the objects given, are not
autonomous, hence not codifiable as signs. The gift is unique, specified by the

- 52 people exchanging and the unique moment of the exchange. It is arbitrary, in

that it matters little what object is involved, and yet absolutely singular. The
symbolic value of a gift or of any gesture depends upon the involuntary
consciousness of the fact that the consciousness of the other poses a singular
challenge to our own. And this challenge requires a response, because even
ignoring is a form of response. Symbolic exchange always involves an
agonistic struggle for domination and status.
The gift is an interface between economic and social exchange, tempering the
former with the demands of the latter. In a capitalist society where the
economic has all but obliterated the social, the challenge is different: for its
reality to prevail, the social is forced to put an end to exchange. The
transitivity of the gift is transformed by reification, into a consumption of signs.
The object becomes autonomous, intransitive, opaque, it is of and from the
reified relation. Thus, at this point we enter the realm of appropriation proper:
a field of sign manipulation and coded differences. And crucially it is only after
this moment that it becomes possible to talk of consumption of objects,
because they have broken away from the determinations of relations in
ambivalence. Symbolic exchange (in which the gift is never consumed, but
always seeks to be returned) is frozen and ruptured. Here we see the rise of
the new metaphysic of the subject, the object, and the need of the one for the
other as one of consumability. For Baudrillard, capital closes off the symbolic
and he attempts to combat the political economy of capitalism to reveal that
now lost dimension as a possible alternative (even if this alternative is
unattainable). For Baudrillard, there is no such thing as the symbolic, it is
formulated with its loss.

The dark side of symbolic exchange is the role of sacrifice and death.
According to Baudrillard, the dead in primitive societies played integral roles
in the lives of the living by serving as partners in symbolic exchange. Today,
collective exchanges with the dead have ceased. Only that which can be
accumulated or consumed is valued. Death is only viewed as a subtraction
from life. Capitalism's implicit promise is that to consume is to live. For
Baudrillard, sacrifice subverts values of utility and self-preservation, an idea

- 53 with sinister implications in an era of suicide terrorism. How do we respond to

the symbolic challenge of death and the dead, the challenge they pose to our
conscious experience? This is the question of September 11 2001.

This chapter will proceed as follows: I will first explain Baudrillards notion of
symbolic exchange and how it relates to Marcel Mausss destructive
antagonistic gift giving as well as to Georges Batailles sacrificial dpense and
part maudite. Next, I will exemplify Baudrillards notion of symbolic exchange
through art auctions and terrorism. The social seeks to become a total
principle, but what terrorism shows is that it can become total only because of
another. The system justifies its security on the need to prevent terrorism and
terrorism justifies its activities on the basis of a terrorism already operative in
society. Each is only possible because of the other. It is the very exchange
between them that precedes either as such.

Next, I will show how under capitalism, death is excluded; death is seen as
biological and irreversible. Life is reduced to use value. It is the assignation of
useful self-management that must be defied and it is only defied by
challenging the systems separation of life and death into binary oppositions.
Defiance and suicide reverse death; they reengage the systems construction
of life/death at the level of symbolic relations. Suicidal defiance would abolish
life as use value by giving life symbolic stakes, which is intolerable to the
system. Finally, I will show how suicide terrorists on September 11 2001
reengage the systems construction of life/death at the level of symbolic

3. 2. Symbolic Exchange

The previous chapter showed how consumer society produces a certain form
of waste, but it is on the basis of this waste or remainder that the system
starts up again. Baudrillard draws on Marcel Mausss The Gift (1990) to
develop a comparison between the restrictive frame of waste in consumer
society and a more general total social logic (Mauss, 1990: 3). The crucial
difference between consumer society and earlier forms of social organisation

- 54 is that once collective, festive, ceremonial forms of wastage are now

individualised, personalised and mass mediated. This distinction is more
complex than it first appears. We have to distinguish individual or collective
wastage as a symbolic act of expenditure, as a festive ritual and an exalted
form of socialisation, from its gloomy, bureaucratic caricature in our societies,
where wasteful consumption has become a daily obligation (Baudrillard,

This distinction is crucial. In consumer society, expenditure no longer erases

or annuls the individual subject in a convulsive moment, an experience of
sacredness or ritual festivity (Mauss, 1990:39). Instead it seals the subject as
an individual unit within the consumer system. Baudrillard clarifies the
distinction between symbolic and semiotic orders in For a Critique of the
Political Economy of the Sign (1981) by presenting different forms of social
value. Baudrillard represents this as a table entitled general conversion table
of all values (Baudrillard, 1981:123). There are four different logics: the
functional logic of use-value is based on utility; the economic logic of
exchange value is based on equivalence; the differential logic of sign value is
based on coded difference; finally the logic of symbolic exchange is
characterised by ambivalence, it is neither law nor value but anti-value, antieconomy (Baudrillard, 1981: 123).

Sign exchange involves practices of waste or conspicuous consumption

(consommation) in order to achieve and maintain social status differentials
(value). However, symbolic exchange involves consumation or destruction of
values. The relationship between sign/values and symbolic exchange is not
binary or contrastive but highly unstable and volatile. All the forms of value
(use-value, exchange-value, sign-value) must be suspended in order to
achieve symbolic exchange and inversely all forms of value work in unison
breaking and reducing symbolic exchange further; once symbolic exchange is
broken it is abstracted into utility value, commercial value, statutory value
(Baudrillard, 1981: 125).

Symbolic exchange is the radical other from the economic. According to

- 55 Baudrillard, the economic is born when what the object 'is' is assumed to
reside within it, it has an essence; when the object attains its value in
accordance with an abstract code that enables its relation to other objects to
be ascertained through a logic of equivalence which in turn obtains its
rationale from the ideology of utility and use value; and when the individual
emerges as a 'subject' whose relation to the world of objects is articulated
primarily through the ideology of need; then, the notion of the 'individual'
emerged (Grace, 2000:19).

By contrast, symbolic exchange is a form of exchange, a form of construction

of objects and their meaning that is antithetical to the economic. The poles of
the exchange are not autonomised; there is neither essence nor absolute
separation of subject from object. Both are continually transformed through
the exchange. There is no identity. The ontology of objects is inexorably
ambivalent. In society, goods circulate in a social process of exchange that
augments the social in terms of the creation and destruction, the giving and
returning or passing on, of the 'gift'. Baudrillard was significantly influenced by
Mauss's conception of the gift and Bataille's 15 attempt to connect the gift to a
larger framework (the general economy). Baudrillard does not aim to compare
modern society with its own ideal, but rather to develop an abstract principle
from which it is possible to develop a new critique of modern society (Grace,

Mausss The Gift (1990) was substantially a work of objective anthropology.

The impact of the work was to be a critique, indeed an alternative vision, to
utilitarian visions of capitalism. At the heart of the essay lies a critique of
anthropologists' reading of gift-giving as a form of rational economic
exchange. For Mauss, the ability to give a gift, as found in the supposedly
archaic societies he was analyzing, can be explained by a certain spiritual
force that is associated with the gift. For every gift, there is a necessity of a
counter-gift in order to remove or return the inherent power of the gift. This


Bataille has been criticised for a one-sided reading of Mauss that greatly overstresses the violence of
the gift (Habermas, 1987). This cannot be said of Baudrillard, whose reading of the gift is not confined to
violence and the exceptional form of the potlatch on the North West coast of America.

- 56 lifted a certain hold that the giver had on the recipient through the gift.
Through gift-giving, social bonds are created; individuals share with each
other the back and forth of the social power that is associated with the gifts
exchanged. Gift-giving maintains social structures. It places the individual into
a structure of total services. Mauss emphasizes the collaborative,
consensual social structure of an economic system as opposed to the rational
calculation of individuals (Mauss, 1990:viii).

A number of related themes drawn out in Mauss are vital for understanding
Baudrillard. Mauss and Baudrillard reject an independent or autonomous logic
of the economic and this is central to Mauss and Baudrillards rejection of
liberal and Marxist thought. The notion of the Homo economicus man
existing in a state of nature for immediate survival is a fabrication of
economic theory. Mausss theory of the individual as only meaningful within
the wider kinship ties as a channel along which gifts circulate and of ritual
agents or personae is a profound influence on Baudrillards notion of
individuality and agency. Another theme in Mausss study that is crucial for
Baudrillard is the obligatory nature of reciprocation and particularly the power
of counter-prestations or what Baudrillard calls the contre-don or counter-gift
to challenge existing power relations. The theme is not highly developed in
Mauss although it is implied due to his emphasis on the establishing of honour
through humiliating others in gift ceremonies (Mauss, 1990:39).

Gifts are not a neutral medium of equivalence. They are not an

underdeveloped system of money or barter because they carry the spirit 16 or
the soul with them of the giver, they have stories that change and develop as
they are exchanged, which increase their prestige which is not a value that
can be abstracted from, or torn loose from gifts. The gift carries the soul of
the giver (Mauss, 1990:10). To make a gift is to make a present of some part
of oneself to accept something from somebody is to accept some part of
his spiritual essence, of his soul (Mauss, 1990:12). In other words, persons
and things merge (Mauss, 1990:48).


Important here is the spirit of the thing in Baudrillards The Spirit of Terrorism.

- 57 Baudrillard imports the idea from Mauss that the gift received has a soul.
One would not dare to keep it or refuse to return it, thereby breaking the social
bond it establishes and to risk bringing its moral and spiritual power against
oneself. To accept a gift without returning it in kind or with something even
more powerful or valuable is to subordinate oneself to the giver. Baudrillard
emphasises that the primitives know that the gift is a challenge, and it is
annulled only in the counter-gift. This characteristic of the gift as reversible
has to be recognized as different from any mode of contractual exchange
(Baudrillard, 1993a:135).

The ownership of things is temporary, lasting only until the point when they
must be returned. The sanctions for failing to observe ritual rules involve loss
of honour and authority and even in traditional Maori culture, death,
apparently self willed and brought about by feelings of sickness and disgrace
(Mauss, 1990:35-5; cited by Baudrillard, 1993a:134). The disgraced may die
and be brought back to life at a later date by the renewal of their inclusion in
the ceremonial expressions of their community. Death appears as a relation of
social exchange rather than a biological event in the life of an individual
because life and death are reversible (Mauss, 1990:38). 17

For Mauss, gift-exchange rises to another level when it takes on an

essentially competitive aspect. This kind of gift is found in the potlatch
practiced among the tribes of the American Northwest. The potlatch takes the
gift completely beyond the regime of functional economic exchange, taking on
an essentially destructive nature. During a potlatch, there is an orgy of giftgiving. The emphasis is on a display of luxury and excess. Being the recipient
of a potlatch demands that one reciprocates and holds an even more lavish
potlatch. Everything is based upon the principles of antagonism and rivalry.
The political status of individuals in the brotherhoods and clans, ranks of all
kinds, are gained in a 'war of property (Mauss, 1990:37). The givers of the
potlatch are urged to show a disdain for economic wealth. In extreme cases,


The reversibility of life and death is dealt with in the next section.

- 58 entire villages are left destitute by the ravages of potlatch. In the destruction
of wealth, then, the individual gains status, the recognition of superiority by
their contemporaries (ibid., 37).

Bataille found in the description of Mausss potlatch a fundamental challenge

to the necessity and role of rational capitalist economics.

He saw in the

potlatch the hint of his conception of the need to annihilate excess, rather than
the production, gathering and hoarding necessitated by conventional analyses
based on the assumption of scarcity. The entire classical conceptual structure
excludes an explanation for all human activities (such as extreme or violent
pleasure) that are motivated not by a desire to gain, but rather by a desire to
lose. As Bataille argues in considering the potlatch, we need to give away,
lose or destroy. But the gift would be senseless (and so we would never
decide to give) if it did not take on the meaning of an acquisition. Hence
giving must become acquiring of power. Gift-giving has the virtue of
surpassing the subject who gives, but in exchange for the object given, the
subject appropriates the surpassing: He enriches himself with a contempt for
riches' (Bataille, 1988:106).

Societies of the gift-economy are governed by the obligation to return the

gift/potlatch with interest. In the potlatch societies there is a continual
overbidding, of putting more and more at stake. So the distinction is one
between those societies that know how to destroy their surplus and those that
do not, and are thus in danger of being destroyed by the hubris of
accumulation. Bataille's theory of the general economy places dpense, a
generic term covering sacrificial, erotic, and symbolic practices, in opposition
to the system of identities in economic and philosophical thought based on
equivalence. The economy of capital restricts non-productive expenditure by
the delay and deferral of consumption and the reinvestment of the surplus (la
part maudite or accursed share) in the means of production. Thus the general
economy, insofar as it might account in a concrete way for the modes of
unproductive expenditure, is at a repressed, restricted level in the discourses
of equivalence and utility. For Bataille, modern capitalist consumption bears
little resemblance to dpense, and the paradox of the consumer society is that

- 59 it defers consumption via production, work and investment (Pefanis, 1991:4).

Baudrillard is interested in this expenditure (dpense) as it is opposed to the

rationale behind (the capitalist) economy, which is accumulative and
conservationist and where spending is seen as a function of growth and
production. Baudrillard follows the Bataillean version of consumption (la
consumation) whereby objects are consumed in sacrificial gift and/or
destruction (i.e. forms of the Maussean type of potlatch). Consumption entails
the using up of the object, rather than using it usefully, or as use value, which
consumer society, as an extension of capitalism, insists on. The productivist
argument, whereby societies are defined by their mode of production,
believes sacrifice comes from objects that are surplus to a subsistence level
(Baudrillard, 1998: 249-50).

In Baudrillards For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign (1981),

function, utility and use value are at stake. Baudrillard refers to Bataille with
regard to value in destruction, for instance, on the subject of leisure time and
the exhortation to make use of it. Baudrillard opposes contemporary time
consumption which is either spent labouring or productively using leisure
time. Following Bataille, however, a more genuine value can be gained in
wasting time, instead of extracting value from it (e.g. not going on holiday).
Value is inseparable from the loss or destruction of value. The act of
consumption is never simply a purchase (reconversion of exchange value into
use value), it is also an expenditure, that is to say, it is wealth manifested and
a manifest destruction of wealth (Baudrillard, 1981:77). This is shown in a
practical way in Baudrillards description of the art auction.

Before I reach the art auction, however, it is important to remember that for
Baudrillard, it is increasingly difficult to draw a line between art and non-art
where all phenomena are considered from a quantitative rather than a
qualitative point of view, where everything is being made subservient to
strictly utilitarian interests. For the majority of contemporary art consumers,
leisure activities have become inseparable from self-realisation. This
possessive and individualistic orientation is in turn inseparable from the

- 60 diverse offers of the market. It excludes a liking or disliking of all interest

(Kant, 1987: 53). It also prevents the radical criticism of negative aesthetics in
the sense of Mallarm, Valry and Adorno. For the average contemporary
reader also tends to ask is it fun? It is against this kind of commercialised fun
and gratification that aesthetic autonomy in the Kantian sense and negative
aesthetics in the sense of Mallarm have been conceived (Zima, 2004: 69).

The Art Auction

What Baudrillard did ostensibly for the art world was to provide a poeticotheoretical language with which to describe a state of affairs that certain of its
members sensed and sought to render critically: the art world had become no
more than the exchange of sign-commodities and these signs no longer
signified anything other than their own exchange value. The process by which
a painting loses its meaning and even its visibility is described by Baudrillard
in an essay in For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign. It is very
difficult to speak of painting today because it is very difficult to see it. Because
generally it no longer wants to be looked at but to be absorbed visually
without leaving any traces(Baudrillard, 2005: 115). Art has become
iconoclastic, but this no longer involves destroying images. The iconoclasm of
art lies in manufacturing images, a profusion of them.

For Baudrillard [t]here is an art of simulation, an ironic quality that revives the
appearances of the world to destroy them. Otherwise, art would do nothing
more than pick at its own corpse, as often is the case today. To add the same
to the same and the same, and so on to infinity is poor simulation. You must
rip the same from the same. Each image must take away from the reality of
the world, something must vanish in each image. The disappearance must
remain alive that is the secret of art. In art and this holds for both
contemporary and classical art there is a dual conjecture and thus a dual
strategy: an impulse to annihilate, to erase all the traces of the world and
reality, and a resistance to this impulse (Baudrillard, 2005: 109). For
Baudrillard subtraction is what gives strength; power emerges from absence.
We produce; we accumulate. And because we can no more assume the

- 61 symbolic mastery of absence we are plunged today into the inverse illusion,
the disenchanted proliferation of screens and the profusion of images
(Baudrillard, 2005: 115).

For Baudrillard, ...the soul of Art was its power of illusion and its capacity
for negating reality. Baudrillard called this the setting up an other scene
one opposed to reality and in which things obey a higher set of rules. In art,
beings, like line and colour on canvas, are apt to lose their meaning, to
extend themselves beyond their own raison detre. For Baudrillard, and
Francis Bacons portraits do this very well, the sitter for a portrait in a painting
(like his own ideas in his writing), is to be pushed to their extreme limit and
possible destruction. Baudrillard, bewildered by the excess banality of the
contemporary art which surrounded him, years prior to registering his
satisfaction with Bacon, had come to believe that, art in this sense is gone
(Baudrillard, 1990b:14).

What has not been generally recognized in the Baudrillard-inspired art

literature is his idea of the symbolic value of the art auction, this potlatch-like
circulation of objects which accrue value through their very circulation and
afford legitimacy and prestige to those who possess them. Symbolic
exchange, however, is reduced to sign exchange value by the aesthetic
function of a work (Genosko, 1994: 154). Art auctions reveal that value is not
given before its exchange. In an auction, value arises without the pretext
either of use value (for art has no use) or exchange value (the auction is
seeking to determine the value). The bidders may have a sense of the value
of what they are bidding for, but it is the auction (and its bids), which produces
the value. The so-called aesthetic value of the work is only the bid willing to
be made for it. In the same way, the money used to pay for the work is worth
nothing before it is exchanged. Money is just as useless as the object for
which it is exchanged. An auction produces value out of the exchange of one
thing without value for another thing without value. Value only arises because
we cannot say what the bids are for or what the object is worth (Baudrillard,

- 62 An auction shows that exchange can never be grasped as such. We are too
late, because the various bids attempt to stand in for an original exchange or
value that seems to precede them. We are too soon because this exchange is
only an effect of or only given by the very attempt to stand in for it. Each
bidder tries to predict the relationship between the others and the object, to
predict its final value. The bidder wants to bid before the hammer falls, and
yet no one wants to be the first, each knows that his/her bid merely opens up
the possibility of another. Each bid seeks to make equivalence between the
self and the other, but this is only possible because of, and this only leads to,
a difference between them, another gesture by the other that must be taken
into account (Butler, 1999: 84).

The auctions abrupt bids and pauses are at once discontinuous and cyclical,
unrepeatable and only able to be repeated. In the ritualised space of an
auction, every gesture is a response and the other has already responded on
this basis. It is for this reason that one must act before the other does. And yet
one only wants to act after the other, in order to defer the end. Nobody wants
to make the final bid when there is this definitive exchange between money
and its object, the bidder and what he or she has bid for. For the object only
has value insofar as there is another bid after it. Every bid stands in for the
equivalence of the first and last bids (we only bid because of that initial
exchange between money and the object which allows every bid; every bid
seeks to put a figure on the final value of the object) but this bid is only
possible because the first and last bids are missing (we only bid insofar as we
think there is another after us). Every bid occurs across this impossible
simultaneity, this symbolic exchange. Every bid requires another comparison
or exchange. Exchange means we cannot say what anything is worth.
Exchange, if it opens up value, is also its impossibility or end (ibid.,85).

The art auction shows that before the consideration of need or profit there is a
reciprocal wager between its various parties, in which each is recognised in
his or her difference. It is this symbolic reciprocity, in which each gives to the
other without expectation of return that value arises. This impossible moment
makes exchange possible. For it is always possible that there is no other with

- 63 whom to exchange, that there will be no bid after ours. This risk is necessary
for the creation of economic value (Baudrillard, 1981:116). In an auction,
value arises on the basis of the impossible parity between money and object,
buyer and seller, in which each is given its value at once. Every exchange is
the attempt to stand in for that missing first exchange and defer that last
exchange (Baudrillard, 1981:25).


From the perspective of Baudrillards Fatal Strategies (1990b), it is hopelessly

nostalgic to lament the vicissitudes of exchange value and the ever-receding
horizon of use value. Baudrillards thesis is that all dissent must be of a higher
logical type than that to which it is opposed (a hyper-logic). In Baudrillards art
auction, the work of art becomes more commodity than commodity, an
exaggerated, potlatch-style expression of the fact of the commodity. If
Baudrillards tactic of pushing a given object (i.e. a work of art) over the edge
in an ironic, non-dialectical, deconstructive potentialization (more x than x)
at one time seemed like a bold gesture which raised exaggeration to a critical
principle, it became over time a tiresome formula for many artists and art
critics alike. While Baudrillards work has been immensely influential in the
post-modern art scene, there have always been cracks in the armour of his

This is the point where we can introduce the notion of terrorism. For
Baudrillard, the capitalist system is a system of total order and determination
in which everything is connected to everything else, everyone is
exchangeable and responsible for everyone else. The supposed other of the
system, i.e. something like terrorism, replays this security in its own way. The
system makes everybody hypothetically responsible for everyone else, so
terrorism takes someone hostage and holds him or her responsible in this
way, tries to exchange him or her for a whole series of demands against the
state. Terrorism does not simply oppose the social; it is an exaggeration of it.
To the simultaneous responsibility and arbitrariness of the system, it responds
with an even greater responsibility and arbitrariness (Baudrillard, 1990b:36).

- 64 -

It is impossible to say whether terrorism or the social comes first. Terrorism

justifies its activities on the basis of a terrorism already operative in society.
The system justifies its security on the need to prevent terrorism. Each is only
possible because of the other. It is the very exchange between them that
precedes either as such. The state uses the threat of terrorism in order to
attain a security that has no limit, where the possibility of terrorism has been
totally eliminated. On the other hand, terrorism can only continue its efforts to
destroy the social, in which every one is responsible for all, by taking
hostages and having that social, which understands itself as responsible for
all, seek to exchange everything for it (Butler, 1999:91).

This is the radicality of Baudrillard. His argument implies that the social only
arises because of a prior terrorism, or that the social pushed too far leads to
terrorism, the social responds to terrorism with an increased security, thus
bringing about more terrorism. The social exists only on the basis of the
opposition it makes between itself and terrorism. And terrorism can only exist
in exchange with the social; but it also knows that the social lives on in
exchange with it. Terrorism threatens the state with its own demise, i.e. with
the possibility that there will be no other with whom it might exchange. This
forces the state to concede to the terrorists demands. The state cannot
eradicate terrorism, because terrorism is what justifies it and allows it
(Baudrillard, 1990b: 97).

Earlier, we saw that in an art auction value arises from the calculation that
there is still another bid to go before the final bid, while knowing that the other
parties are also basing their calculations on this so that this final bid might
come at any moment. In the same way, when terrorists take hostages, it is by
risking that the hostage will not be exchanged that the terrorist ends up
exchanging the hostage, but this situation cannot be mastered by terrorism
because it is itself only possible as a result of this exchange with the social
(Butler, 1999:97).

This shows how a certain notion of exchange lies at the origin of things, as a

- 65 result of which we cannot grasp what the origin is. We can only say what that
origin is by exchanging it for something else. Any system inevitably falls into
this cyclical economy. A system puts forward its own other. As we saw in
Chapter 2, the system proposes a use value. Function and use value are
expressed better than ever yet this use value is only a tactical value within a
regime of signs. With modern furniture, for instance, there is a mobility, an
image of interconnectedness or freedom between space and function. This
immediate openness to the outside and scrutiny of others, however, ends up
being the very opposite of freedom because it ultimately does away with
interiority and free will that makes choice possible. This simulation of freedom
taken to its furthest point produces the exact opposite of freedom (Baudrillard,
1990b: 42).

Both the state and the terrorist seek to render everyone totally responsible, to
see one exchanged for all and to make exchange transparent. The terrorist
takes the hostage as the singular equivalent for the rest of society, only to
realise that this medium of exchange cannot be grasped. Terrorism exposes
the paradox that at the very moment the hostage is most bound to exchange,
held responsible for the rest of society, he or she is most free, unable to be
exchanged for anything at all. It is on the basis of this inexchangable, free
hostage that both the social and the terrorist begin their process of initiating
exchange, but this exchange taken to its furthest point also produces a
hostage that cannot be exchanged. This failure of exchange is itself an
exchange. Terrorism and the social can never fully manage to take anyone
hostage because in exchange, there is always the risk that there is no one or
nothing to exchange with. Terrorism and the social can never exchange itself
for everything or to render exchange visible, there is always one exchange left
out. There is always a limit to any provocation and manipulation, whether
that of terrorism or the social, always an exchange before it and after it
(Butler, 1999: 93).

Baudrillards argument becomes relentless. According to him, hostage-taking

ultimately fails and must fail. Terrorism fails because the hostage is
unexchangeable, a pure or fatal object that cannot be reinserted in the

- 66 system: Violently withdrawing the hostage from the circuit of value, the
terrorist also withdraws it from the circuit of negotiation. The two are out of
circulation ... and what is established between them is a dual figure ... the
only modern figure is the shared death (Baudrillard, 1990b: 49). Hostagetaking then is a failure, a failed challenge. It threatens the system by
producing the inexchangeable in a system that survives by ordered
exchange, but it fails in its attempt to reintroduce exchange in terms of its
choosing. It thereby reaffirms the system of value it had momentarily
breached, and lapses into signs fodder for global TV companies (Pawlet,
2007: 137). For Baudrillard we are all hostages and we are all terrorists
[Terrorism] only carries to the extreme conclusion the essential proposition of
liberal and Christian humanism: all men are in solidarity; you here, are in
solidarity with and responsible for the wretched ... a proposition of universal
responsibility itself monstrous and terroristic in its essence (Baudrillard,
1990b:3: 54).

We hold ourselves hostages to our coded identities, we are blackmailed by

identity, which amounts to symbolic murder because, Baudrillard asserts, we
never coincide with our identities; we remain other to ourselves. To be forced
to coincide with yourself and everyone else, always to be who you are
according to the definitions of the system, is to die symbolically and live only
as a mass individual, customised, and coded. Freedom, if it exists at all, lies








autonomy/constraint (Pawlett, 2007: 137).

What makes Baudrillards position so extreme is that one has to remember

that symbolic exchange is not based on fixed relations. It is ambivalent. It
represents a tautological device to represent something which has been lost
in the functioning and totalisation of sign systems (Hegarty, 2004:33).
Symbolic exchange is the thinking of that loss, that relationship with the other,
which at once opens up exchange, and means it is never complete, never
able to account for itself. For Baudrillard the symbolic is not (a) value. It is
loss, (re)solution of value and the positivity of the sign (Baudrillard,

- 67 Mauss and Bataille are Baudrillards key to resisting fixed economies of signs
or of capital: sacrificial economy for Bataille, or symbolic exchange, are
excluded from political economy and its critique, which is only its realized
form (Baudrillard, 1981:42). This approach also signals Baudrillards interest
in radical possibilities of challenge (le dfi) that are essential to symbolic
exchange as a theory. In symbolic exchange the subject is at stake and the
object becomes nothing, such as the object is annulled and the subjects are
no longer discrete but joined in the difference, not separated by it. Baudrillard
believes that culture did live in this symbolic (with its rituals constituting
symbolic exchange), only being forcibly ejected with the institution of total
signification, which could be seen as being at the heart of language or, as
Baudrillard seems to imply, when capitalism and signification colluded in
valuing everything. In Baudrillard, the breakdown of the separation between
subject/object, presence/absence, use value / exchange value and so on
revolves around death, the rejection of which is seen as having installed the
capitalist code or signification (Baudrillard, 1981: 208).

3.3. Death

The central and crucial chapters of Symbolic Exchange and Death attempt to
construct a genealogy of death. Where there have been many attempts to
establish genealogies of morals (Nietzsche) or of capital (Marx), 18 Baudrillard
has possibly located one that is more basic. The principle of the genealogy of
death, according to Baudrillard, traces the gradual process of exclusion, the
extradition, of the dead from society; little by little the dead cease to exist, and
death becomes a state of abnormality. It is the dead who are first put at the
periphery of the city in order to ensure the operationality of the living, of the
human. In primitive societies they are held in the village. The dead are later
ghettoized on the outskirts of the village, and then they disappear altogether
and cease to exist as beings in society. Even the mad and the delinquent are
received in society at some point, but the dead are never received as such. In


Similar genealogies are constructed by Durkheim and Foucault for punishment (cf. Durkheim, 1972
and Foucault, 1977) and Debord for time (cf. Debord, 1987).

- 68 the West it is not normal to be dead (Pefanis, 1991:13).

According to modern rational standards of normality and abnormality, life and

death become binary oppositions, separated out across linear time as the
beginning and end of biological existence rather than being enclosed within
cycles of exchange. Biology is pregnant with death and the body taking
shape within it is pregnant with death (Baudrillard, 1993a:253). With the
emphasis on biological death and the Other, the body is the site of death and
can thus be marked off from the soul. Biologically it is the result of a decree of
science, which marks it off as a form of inorganic death toward which the drive
(and the organism) is headed. In a literal sense, science projects death as an
excluded conceptual object: the non-living, the non-sentient, and the
inorganic. And this is also true of psychoanalysis which reproduces the same
discrimination at a different level, drawing a line between the organic/somatic
and the unconscious. The conception of the drives, according to Baudrillard,
is an attempt to bridge this gap, which is a repetition of the metaphysics of the
mind/body split. The ensuing separation means that the I of the subject lives
in biological simulacra of our own body (ibid.,254).

What is now termed death, as an event that happens to the body is for
Baudrillard ultimately nothing more than the social line of demarcation
separating the dead from the living (Baudrillard, 1993a: 127). That is, society
and its systems of knowledge attempt to define what constitutes death.

The separation and opposition of life and death creates power: the
hierarchical structures of authority that are the fundamental mechanisms of
social control. When life and death are separated, time becomes linear rather
than cyclical, religion becomes repressive rather than expressive and death
becomes the final, irreversible event in the life of the individual. The
separation of life and death is the founding condition of binary thinking. Once
binary thinking becomes dominant it is difficult to think otherness or difference
as anything other than a relation of binary opposition to what is known or
similar. The binary opposition of life and death is unable to progress beyond
the simplistic logic of life equals not dead and death equals not living. Life and

- 69 death are not, however, either/or categories, are not binary oppositions
(Pawlett, 2007:56).


theoretical manoeuvres

with binary



considerable debt to Lacanian psychoanalysis. Baudrillard rejects the

Lacanian notion of the Real, and contends that Real and Imaginary function
as binary oppositions, each implying the other in a tactical, coded relationship.
In other words, the real is produced through the binary opposition, it does not
pre-cede or pre-exist it as ontological essence. Baudrillard, following
Nietzsche, completely rejects the notion of essential things in themselves, the
so-called brute physical nature of things supposedly existing independently of
any particular perspective. Instead, the Imaginary the perspective of the
human self, its identifications through images and objects, and its capacity to
represent produces the illusion of the real world (Pawlett, 2007:57).
Baudrillard pushes it further. Life and death are separated by a bar 19 or line
of social demarcation. The bar actually constitutes understandings of both life
and death, of the properties on both sides of the bar. Life and death are still
conjoined, contiguous: the bar of their separation also joins them. For
Baudrillard, [w]hen one says that power tient la barre, this is not a metaphor:
it is this bar between life and death, this decree which interrupts the exchange
of life and death, this tollgate and this control between the two banks
(Baudrillard, 1993a: 201). The bar represses death. It is invested with the
social power to do so; tenir la barre means to take control, to take the helm.
The power bar between life and death is the archetype, Baudrillard maintains,
of all the disjunctions which constitute the code. Life and death are reunited
when there is no bar whose power lies in its ability to block an ineluctable
relation in which there is an incessant obligation to give, to receive and to
return, and thus to enter into a symbolic communion (Genosko, 1994:1).

What gives you a hard on [vous fait bander], theoreticiansis the coldness of the clear and distinct,
Jean-Franois Lyotard has provocatively written (Lyotard, 1975:115). Lyotard describes the erection of a
disjunctive bar whose function is to draw and to maintain critical distinctions. This bar at once invokes a
dis- and a con-junction, Lyotard thinks, since in order to demarcate this side from that, one must be on
both sides. One must work the bar from both sides, the two sides (at least) which hold it up. The
concept of the bar (la barre) is taken from Jacques Lacans reading of Saussure (Lacan, 1977: 149).
Jacques Lacan places the signifier over the signified, the former exercises power over the latter (avoir
sur barre) (Gallop, 1985:120).

- 70 The barred symbolic exchange (of life and death) is present in the very
process of its barring. Death as symbolic exchange with life is barred, but
separated out from symbolic meaningfulness, death is devoid of meaning, an
unprogrammable horror, an unthinkable anomaly (Baudrillard, 1993a:136).
Yet life too, separated from death, loses its meaningfulness, reduced to the
indifferent fatality of survival (Baudrillard, 1993a:136). The separation of life
and death does not result in a profit accruing to life. Although life is shielded
from death it must end in death: moreover a death now devoid of symbolic
meaning. Life then is reduced to survival, not living but literally living on, not
(yet) dead. No matter how much death is denied or hidden, it touches life.
Similarly it is possible to define sanity only by separating it from insanity, so
the meaning of sanity depends on the existence of insanity. The excluded,
negative or demonised term exerts a certain power over the positive term. So
for Baudrillard, the spectre of death haunts life, just as the spectre of madness
haunts sanity, disorder threatens order and Evil stalks Good. The excluded or
pathological term casts a shadow over normality, because, in the terminology
Baudrillard borrows from Lacan, it becomes its Imaginary, its phantasy
(Pawlett, 2007 59).

Death is a construction of the Imaginary, not an objective biological reality.

Symbolic exchange puts an end to the opposition between the real and the
imaginary (Baudrillard, 1993a: 133). Symbolic exchange disrupts and
reverses binary opposition, since for Baudrillard binary oppositions are based
on the real/imaginary distinction. For Baudrillard, each term of the disjunction
excludes the other, which eventually becomes its imaginary (Baudrillard,
1993a:133). So death is only the imaginary construct of the living, nature is
constructed by culture and the idea of the soul by the experience of the limited
biological body. According to symbolic reversibility every separate term for
which the other is its imaginary is haunted by the latter as its own death
(Baudrillard, 1993a:133).

Baudrillard argues that the destruction of the symbolic modes relating to death
has meant that there is an unresolved problem of facing the dead in our
societies, just as there is in facing the ill, the mad, the disabled, the criminal:

- 71 contemporary societies cannot find a solution to the problem that they have
themselves created that the dead are dead or that the mad are mad.

Madness is never only the line of partition between the sane and the mad, this
line of demarcation is shared between the two sides, and it is in relation to this
shared line that sanity defines itself. A society which incarcerates its mad is a
society profoundly invested in madness, and which in turn valorizes sanity.
The effects of the work done on 'madness' in society, as a work of discipline,
are complete, and the walls of the asylum have been breached. Not,
Baudrillard notes, by growing tolerance, but because the process of
normalization has been effective, at the cost of generalizing a kind of
madness throughout society. Normality resembles madness, the virus has
spread to all the sites of normal existence and 'madness has become
ambient' (Baudrillard, 1993a:197).

The mad have been set out of the asylums, now everyone is seen as a
potential madman. There is a new absorption of the asylum back into the
heart of society. For Baudrillard, the mad have been set free in New York,
madness has taken hold of the entire city (Baudrillard, 1989:17). Normality
has become so refined that it resembles madness. By being normalised, that
is to say, by extending the logic of equivalences to everyone, society,
socialised at last, excludes every antibody. What is hanging over us now,
reflects Baudrillard in the 1980s, is not schizophrenia but melancholia.
With its precursor, hypochondria, that derisory signalling of enervated bodies
and organs, rendered sad by involution. All systems, especially political ones,
are virtually hypochondrial: they manage and ingest their own dead organs
(Gane, 1991b: 11). This recalls the mobilit cadavrique of Alfred Jarrys dead

New York, like the dead cyclist, lives off the energy born in the

expenditure of energy.

Symbolic Exchange and Death represents the culmination of a critique that

has sought to dismantle the fundamental mechanism of our civilization. The
apocalyptic vision that Baudrillard evokes in Symbolic Exchange and Death
irrepressibly tears away at the cultural discourse with which Western societies

- 72 have woven their history. Baudrillard's critique is self-consciously radical. For

Baudrillard, our culture is a culture of death: by abolishing that which cannot
be abolished, death makes its symptomatic mark everywhere. Death as the
line of social demarcation separates the dead from the living, and it affects
each side equally. But the logic of symbolic exchange is indestructible, and
re-establishes the equivalence of life and death in the fatality of survival, for
this is where death finds its home in repression, as life is a survival
determined by the power of death (ibid).

Modernity never seriously hoped to abolish death, but it focused instead on a

somewhat more realistic project. Death became an event with a cause an
event which would not happen if only the cause each cause, one by one
could be removed. To concentrate on fighting single causes kept people busy:
there was always something to do to push back the end a tiny bit, and so little
time was left to think of the end itself. No one seriously believed in immortality
but no one, as Freud said actively, positively believed in ones own
death either; or, rather, one had no time to spare such a thought (Bauman,
1993: 28).

In the world of instrumental reason, death was one event that was not a
means to any end (unless it was, of course, the death of an-other that served
my, or our, end). Death had no reason. This is why it had to be censored from
daily life. The production of risks and fears is the characteristically modern
way of defusing the perennial horror of mortality and to dissemble the
intractable irreversibility of death into the infinite chain of safely human,
practical, mundane tasks and worries. To diet, abstain, exercise leaves little
room for the thought of death. The leftovers are mystified in specialist
language and skills (Bauman, 1993: 29).

Political economy is a massive attempt to accumulate against death, but it is

caught in the irony that accumulation is death. This enters into a deadly spiral.
The culture is based on the effort to dissolve the difference between life and
death, to conjure away the ambivalence of death to the single profit of
reproduction of life as value. The phantasy which predominates is the aim of

- 73 abolishing death itself, and this has striking pathological effects throughout all
the social separations of our societies, in religion as the desire for eternity, in
science as the desire for eternal truth, and in production as the desire for
infinite accumulation (Gane, 1991b:116).

The fetishism of commodities (Marx characterization of capitalism) presents a

universe in which things have come alive. The products of labour are shown
to their producers as if social relations existed among the former in an object
universe which also enters into social relations with the mundane world of the
producers. Death, then, appears to living human beings as a social exile,
strictly separated from life. Under the repressive sway of the power bar, the
imaginary and fetishistic disjunction of life/death is held in place. The power
bar, or social control, separates each of us from our own death in the sense
that death is portrayed as a state which befalls everyone it is not a state that
one can and may opt for through his or her own initiative. This power bar is
the ultimate source of alienation. Baudrillard attempts to decipher the
hieroglyphic of death in order to reclaim it as a non-alienated region. Death,
he thinks, may in this manner be articulated socially. It is not the death of a
subject or a body that is at issue here. For Baudrillard [d]eath ought never to
be understood as the real event that affects a subject or a body, but as a form
in which the determinacy of the subject and of value is lost (Baudrillard,
1993a:186; Genosko, 1994:94).

It is Bataille that Baudrillard sees as having come closest to expressing the

role of death away from the rationalist logic of exclusion. For Bataille, we are
always defined by our resistance to death, nature, decay and to the loss of
self, but it is in some way our duty to approach rather than reject them
outright. According to Baudrillard, for Bataille death is excess, ambivalence,
gift, sacrifice and paroxysm, which is in no way separable from the
participants in, for example, eroticism (Baudrillard, 1993a: 237). Death is
another expression of the loss of subject and object in intimacy. For Bataille
death is some sort of beyond but it is a beyond that is prior to that which we
experience as (present) being. Modern rational society rejects death, as a
result death exists in it (the real world) in a contained state but fills it up

- 74 (Bataille, 1988: 220).

Baudrillard attempts to argue for the centrality of death within human

experience and to assert it against all efforts to deny or rationalise it. In the
double strategy Baudrillard is arguing for, a certain death as opposed to life,
death also precedes the very relationship between them. Death is the very
confusion between life and death, the reversibility of one into the other, the
fact that neither is possible without the other. Life as a principle of linear
accumulation tries to distinguish between them, but death death in the
sense of cyclical return shows that they are finally inseparable. Life is
forward looking; it reaches for an end. Death denies an end and reveals that
all things turn around and become their contrary. Life arises within a wider
cycle of death. Death is never experienced as such but life is only possible
because of, and can only be understood, through death. Death is the
impossible exchange between life and death it doubles life (Baudrillard,
1993a: 133-140).

Baudrillard leaves the world of capital behind to look at societies that include
rather than exclude death. Baudrillard looks at societies that accept the dead
as those who are still among the living such that they pass to a death that is
given and received and that is therefore reversible in social exchange,
soluble in exchange. At the same time the opposition between birth and
death disappears: they can also be exchanged under the form of symbolic
reversibility (Baudrillard, 1993a:203). For Baudrillard capital has closed off
the symbolic and he attempts to combat the political economy of capitalism to
reveal that now lost dimension as a possible alternative (even if this
alternative is unattainable).

Baudrillard refers to certain initiation rites in the primitive order as privileged

instances of the symbolic reciprocity between the living and the dead. The
symbolic death of the initiates becomes the stake of a reciprocal/antagonistic
exchange between the ancestors and the living and, in place of a break, a
social relation between partners is instituted, a circulation of gifts and countergifts as intense as the circulation of precious goods a play of incessant

- 75 responses in which death can no longer be set up as an end or instance. In

primitive societies there is no concept of purely biological death, since
everything that cannot be symbolically exchanged is a danger to the group. It
can be suggested, says Baudrillard, that what for us occurs in the biological
realm comes to exist in our imaginary, but in primitive societies everything
occurs in the symbolic (Baudrillard, 1993a:203).

In primitive societies there is a symbolic exchange between ancestors and

the living, there is a cycle of gift and counter-gift between the dead and the
living. In primitive society, exchange is therefore conceived as reversible, in
our own it is conceived as irreversible. Because of this, in primitive societies
there is no formal opposition, separation or irreconcilability between life and
death. In our society it no longer functions to permit exchange between the
living and the dead. And if the term revolution retains any meaning, he insists
it 'can only consist in the abolition of the separation of death, not of equality in
survival' (Baudrillard, 1993a:200). Death in pre-modern societies becomes a
metaphor of creative and energetic continuity something that is stunted in
modern and post-modern society.

Symbolic exchange in 'primitive societies' involves the continual cycle of

giving and receiving: that which is not exchanged (taken and not returned,
earned and not wasted, produced and not destroyed) risks breaking the
reciprocity. Baudrillard claims that this social process of reversion, although
barred by 'political economy' (of value and signification), cannot be
eradicated. The reason for this is that the more the structural positivity of
value and signification is asserted, the more that which is negated (death) will
haunt and undermine a social order predicated on the assumption that it is not
only possible but natural to strive for more, to accumulate, to have gain
without loss, to produce without waste, to create without destruction, to invest
in a truly positive, linear calculus (Baudrillard, 1993a: 143).

Death is socialized by the symbolic. It must not come to one from an abstract,
impersonal force (nature, science, state). Death exists as a social relation
between persons. It is not biological, but artificial and sacrificial. Death is a

- 76 social relation established through ceremony and artifice. Baudrillard wants to

destroy the logic of finality and irreversibility normally afforded to death. It is
not, moreover, that death triumphs over life. In a capitalist culture which
dreams of defeating death, death itself is the only thing which can challenge
this culture. To articulate death socially constitutes a mortal danger,
Baudrillard claims, to the dominant system because it reveals the degree to
which death is administered and programmed by the system (funeral home,
hospital, highway). We are all hostages in the sense that the system holds our
death in the balance. My death is out of my hands it will be minutely
administered, officially announced and, in short, coded in a structural
economy of death; no matter how I die, my death will be found out. Death
becomes radical when it is resocialized and stripped of its individual fatality
(Genosko, 1994:92).

For Baudrillard, death is horrifying for any social order, be it for capitalist
modernity or primitive culture. For Baudrillard all societies must do something
to ward off or make meaningful the sudden loss of signs that befall the dead,
to prevent there remaining in the asocial flesh of the dead something which
signifies nothing (Baudrillard, 1993a:180). It is not the real biological death
but the asociality of signs that is most threatening. The corpse of the recently
deceased is rich with social meaning, but on the other hand there is
putrefaction: a formless sign signifying nothing. It is then always a matter of
signs and social meaning, not the biological reality of death.

All societies deploy artifice or semiurgic practice to avoid confrontation with

the disturbing loss of social signs. Primitive semiurgic practices concede the
dead their difference (ibid.,181). Through their difference the dead remain
partners of social exchange. Difference enables symbolic exchange. On the
other hand, modern practices are based on the binary opposition that life is
natural and death is unnatural. In Western modernity there is a binary
opposition life/death, whereas in primitive cultures there are cycles of
symbolic exchange (Pawlett, 2007:61).

Baudrillard elaborates his conception of death in terms of the gift and counter-

- 77 gift couched in an anti-economic, symbolic obligation to return what one has

received. In his presentation of the symbolic exchange of death, Baudrillard
animates the systems gift of death by evoking the spiritual power of the gift.
Even the gift of death, issued from the statistical indifference of an
anonymous system, may be socialized in a radical gesture. The system
manifests its superiority by controlling death, in giving a gift that cannot be
returned (Baudrillard, 1993a: 243- 82). If the system controls death to such a
degree that it seeks to prevent certain forms of it, the counter-gift must exploit
precisely these forms.

3.4. Symbolic Violence

The capitalist system lives on symbolic violence. Here symbolic violence is

seen as that which breaks apart the symbolic exchange of gift and countergift, where challenge, reversal and outbidding are the law (Baudrillard,
1993a:63). Capitalisms symbolic violence is the attempt at the unilateral gift
which is the unanswerable, irreversible imposition of an unchangeable,
unavoidable system following which revolt, dissent and demands about, for
instance, pay or conditions are assimilated if they follow the logic of this
attempt. Marxist revolutionary rhetoric, for example, limits the possibility of
change to be gained by the categories of production/capital that it purports to
oppose. Symbolic violence is what initiates, amongst others, the code and the
system as such and remains a resource for these. The most powerful act
(which capitalism has achieved and monopolised) is to bestow a unilateral
gift. For Baudrillard, we are endlessly on the receiving end from technical
mechanisms that provide gratification. At some point, though, any positive
transfer will be met with a negative reaction (ibid.,63).

Baudrillard insists on the counter-gift as the only possible revolt. In a subtle

recasting of Mauss and Bataille, Baudrillard warns that the gift is our myth or
Other of value whereas symbolic exchange functions as the counter-gift
(already implied reversibility). The primitives know that nothing is without
return, not in a contractual sense, but in the sense that the process of
exchange is inevitably reversible (Baudrillard, 1993a: 63n). Baudrillards

- 78 counter-gift (from the process of outbidding in the potlatch form) is the single
truly symbolic process which in fact implies death as a kind of maximal
excess (ibid.,8). Baudrillard is wary of the naturalization of the gift (hence his
drawing out the counter-gift as a prevailing principle). Baudrillard develops the
counter-gift through reversibility; the defining, organizing (non-) centre of
which is death (Baudrillard, 1993a: 8).

Symbolic violence or the attempt at the irreversible gift can only be

challenged, according to Baudrillard, not by being the opposite of the system
but by being the radical alterity it seeks to exclude. Baudrillard suggests the
challenge or counter-gift must take the form of death as self sacrifice, as only
sacrifice can abolish capitalisms slowly administered death (that is
accumulation and productive, useful labour). The counter-gift is the attempted
returning of an unanswerable gift, a gift which can be thwarted by the
unanswerable gift of death itself. The threat of death or suicide then threatens
the unilateral generosity of production in accumulation. This too would be
symbolic violence. It does not attack the system, but recalls the process which
initiated it and therefore also the possibility of its non-being. Death can bring
reversibility or rupture to the totalized capitalist system. This is because it has
been systematically excluded in order to found the unitary logic that is the
attribution of value and binary opposition. Death is the founding discrimination
that closed off symbolic exchange where it constituted reversibility as a
positive element and the absence of death alone permits of our exchange of
values and the play of equivalences (Baudrillard, 1993a: 236).

Baudrillard demonstrates in The Spirit of Terrorism (2002a) that the terrorists

on September 11 2001 carried out the most literal version of what he has
meant all along by a symbolic death exchange with the system, thus
implicating his own theories as those which explain the symbolic power of
terrorism. It is easy to see how Baudrillards argument can provoke offence or
even derision as those who insist on the reality of things love to cite violence
as their evidence. For example the nouveau philosophe Jean Pierre Faye
speaks of a nostalgia for a society of cruelty and terror in Baudrillards work
(Faye, 1985:5).

- 79 -

Like Nietzsche, Baudrillard celebrates violence and a warrior ethos in an

increasingly agonistic universe. Baudrillards symbolic exchange with life and
death, however, is probably his most un-Nietzschean moment, the instant in
which his thought radically devalues life and focuses on death. Baudrillard
completely divests himself of any Nietzschean celebration of life. In Deleuzes
reading of Nietzsche, which will be dealt with in the next chapter, Nietzsches
transvaluation of all values demanded negation of all repressive and lifenegating values in favour of the affirmation of life and joy. This philosophy of
value valorised life over death and derived its values from phenomena which
enhanced, refined and nurtured human life.

In Baudrillard, by contrast, life does not exist as an autonomous source of

value, and the body exists only as the carnality of signs, as a mode of display
of the signs of fashion and sexuality. This neo-narcissism attaches itself to
the manipulation of the body as value. Its a managed economy of the body
(Baudrillard, 1976: 172). It is a body homogenised as the place of industrial
production of signs. Baudrillard erases all materiality from the body and social
life. The body is just another idea for the commodity logic to terrorise. 20
Cancerous metastasis is the process that defines the capitalist body. Cancer
is indeed the illness which commands all contemporary pathology because it
is the very form of the virulence of the code: an exacerbated redundance of
the same signals, an exacerbated redundance of the same cells (Baudrillard,
1976: 234).

The purpose of Baudrillards provocations is to force us out of our complacent

humanism and make us confront that which we cannot understand: death and
the willingness to commit suicide to bring death. Without such a limit on our
thinking, the attack on the World Trade Centre would not have had anything
like the same type of resonance, even if it still would have spurred calls for
revenge. What is unthinkable in this event is not the loss of life (hence the
simple lack of thought about massacres around the world in recent times), but
In Chapter Five, I will show how Deleuzes body without organs is a line of flight from Baudrillards
managed economy of signs.

- 80 the use of death in a staged exchange where a whole culture or world could
be attacked. This event brings together many of the phenomena particular to
capitalist simulation, meshed together with that which would be outside it. It
also brings Baudrillards thought to another peak of condensation (Hegarty,
2004: 109).

For Baudrillard, the system should never be attacked in terms of relations of

force. That is the (revolutionary) imagination the system itself forces upon you
the system which survives only by constantly drawing those attacking it into
fighting on the ground of reality, which is always its own. Defy the system with
a gift to which it cannot reply except by its own death and its own collapse
(Baudrillard, 2002a:17). The struggle must be shifted into the symbolic
sphere, where the rule is that of challenge, reversion and outbidding. So that
death can only be met by equal or greater death.

The symbolic dimension of the September 11 2001 terrorist attack is

multifaceted. The terrorists attacked the symbol of the U.S global power, the
twin towers of the World Trade Centre. The architecture of the twin towers,
Baudrillard had argued in 1976 was a perfect symbol of the economic and
cultural hegemony in their doubled, mirrored nature. The twinness
symbolising that any otherness, critique or alternative is redundant, the towers
reflected each other in a closed totalitarianism, like a binary code: not the U.S
Trade Centre, but the World Trade Centre (Baudrillard, 1993a: 69). 21

Attempting to destroy the potent symbol of U.S power is, then, a symbolic
assault in the commonplace meaning of symbolic. But further, the terrorists
reintroduce sacrificial-suicidal death into a system built on the severing of all
symbolic relations including that of life and death. In their readiness to die, the
terrorists refuse the slow death of the normalised, affluent, modern, educated
existence in an extreme potlach-style act that the system cannot


It might be objected that the twin towers of the World Trade Centre were not an iconic symbol of US
power before 9/11, but became only in their destruction. Yet it is clear that the twin towers were a
symbol of US hegemony for Baudrillard long before the attacks took place Why has the World Trade
Centre got two towers The fact that there are two identical towers signifies the end of all competition
(Baudrillard, 1993a: 69-70).

- 81 comprehend and that shakes its binary foundations. But this is not, of course,
a conscious wilful strategy of symbolic exchange. Not even the terrorists could
predict that the twin towers would actually implode and collapse to the ground.
It was as if, Baudrillard insists, the twin towers were committing suicide,
repaying the symbolic debt of the suicidal sacrifice of the terrorists and the
death of innocent passengers. The deaths of the hijackers were symbolic and
sacrificial: the irruption of a death that is far more than real (Baudrillard,

Baudrillard renounces all real foundations. Only as hypothetical solutions to

hypothetical situations do his pronouncements make sense: The play of
simulation must be taken further than the system permits. Death must be
played against death a radical tautology. Baudrillard quotes Alfred Jarry in
this regard: the only strategy is pataphysical, a 'science of imaginary
solutions' which is to say a science-fiction of returning the system against
itself to the extreme limit of simulation, of a reversible simulation in a
hyperlogic of destruction and death (Baudrillard, 1976:10).

It is important, Baudrillard notes, to clarify the difference between two kinds of

utopian notions. One is simple, and demands the end of all separations with a
fusion of all elements so that alienation is brought to a final conclusion. This
is, he says, a naive utopia, based on the dream of the original whole. The
second conception is not nostalgic, but revolutionary, and demands, in the
present, the ending of these separations in the formidable play of exchange
and reversion of life and death. This is a basic clarification of the active
utopianism in Baudrillard, which is linked to his tactic of outbidding,
provocation, and forcing arguments to their extreme (Gane, 1991b:117).

The goal of Baudrillards active utopianism is not to die in a revolutionary

action, but to force the system to kill itself. Symbolic violence against the
system requires that the principle of its own power (the impossibility of
response and retaliation) must be turned against it, even if the system is not
beholden to an archaic symbolic relation. The counter-gift of death functions
symbolically by trapping the system in the obligatory circuit of returning this

- 82 counter-gift in kind or with interest (i.e. potlatch 22): Scorpionization of the

system encircled by the challenge of death It is necessary that the system
commit suicide in response to the increased challenge of death and suicide
(Baudrillard, 1976:64).

The death of the terrorist is the only possible counter-gift to the system. This
leaves the terrorist challenge completely unanswerable. In return for a
symbolic challenge of death to the system, only such a counter-death is
appropriate. The immense system of powers in the West seems unable to
respond to this kind of challenge since beyond the specific act itself is another
cultural order which calls for a specific sacrifice, one which cannot be
acceded. This symbolic exchange is incapable of being absorbed. The martyr,
when created, always poses a fundamental ambivalence (Gane, 1991b:88).

It is the same in the Christian tradition, for the veiled aim of self-sacrifice to
God is to reach towards a position in which God cannot contain the debt. At
that point the relative positions of the sacrificer and God are reversed. This
explains why these activities always approach heresy and always have to be
rigorously controlled by the religious authorities. Such exchanges are
controlled by the church in order to prevent them from becoming catastrophic.
It is done by establishing a hierarchical order of exchanges but always in
order to lead to an equivalence between the sacrificer and God. This implies
that a gift which is irreversible (i.e. suicide) is a threat to the order itself.
Institutions in general have therefore to control exchanges and to ensure that
a catastrophic situation is avoided. In this respect the challenge of terrorism is
fascinating for the modern order since it mirrors the exorbitant violence of the
social system at the same time as it threatens it with death (Gane, 1991b:89).
Terrorism, in its absurdity and meaninglessness, is societys verdict on and
condemnation of itself. Terrorism is viral, no demarcation line can be drawn
around it, because it is at the heart of the culture which combats it. The
For Mauss the gift received has a soul or spirit. One would not dare to keep it or refuse to return it,
thereby risk bringing its moral and spiritual power against oneself. To accept a gift without returning it in
kind or with something even more powerful or valuable is to subordinate oneself to the giver (Mauss,

- 83 system can face down any visible antagonism, but against the other kind,
which is viral in structure against that form of almost automatic reversion of
its own power, the system can do nothing (Baudrillard, 1990b: 36). The
system provided the 9/11 attackers of the World Trade Center in New York
with everything they needed: the bulk of the terrorists involved were from one
of the USAs major allies, Saudi Arabia; the pilots were trained in the USA; the
planes were American and civilian (Baudrillard, 2002b:32).

The events of September 11 2001 are the triumphant globalisation battling

against itself (Baudrillard, 2002a: 9). The process of globalisation had
secreted its own anti- bodies that attack it internally and that resonates within
each of us as part of our imagination revolts against a global consensus: we
are all hostages, and we are all terrorists (Baudrillard, 1990b: 36). The
terrorists studied in America and Europe, they were not the excluded or the
disenfranchised, but the insider, recognisable and readable as part of the
code. The terrorists used the banality of the American way of life as cover
and camouflage. Sleeping in their suburbs, reading and studying with their
families, before activating themselves suddenly like time bombs (Baudrillard,
2002a:19-20). It was a terrorism of the rich They had become rich
without ceasing to wish to destroy us (Baudrillard, 2002a: 23).

The terrorist power to terrorise is amplified by the media. The media provide
the key element in making terrorist attacks into a worldwide phenomenon. The
media report in real time; they obsessively analyse and sensationalize the
event; they are enlisted in the terrorist symbolic exchange. The media are part
of the terror. The terrorist event is constituted by the media and by the
masses consumption of it. The terrorist event cannot be comprehended
through binary opposition. What the terrorists count on is that there is no
possible distinction, at the level of images and information, between the
crime and the crackdown. The reversibility of crime and repression depends
upon the media being seduced into working for the criminals. It is this
uncontrollable unleashing of reversibility that is terrorisms victory. For
Baudrillard, it is a victory that is visible in the subterranean ramifications and
infiltrations of the event not just in the direct economic, political, financial

- 84 slump in the whole of the system and the resulting moral and psychological
downturn but in the slump of the value-system, in the whole ideology of
freedom, of free circulation on which the West prided itself, and on which it
drew to exert its hold over the rest of the world (Baudrillard, 2002a: 31).

If security forces wipe out terrorist cells is this a victory or has the state merely
facilitated martyrdom and lost the moral high ground? The violence of 9/11
has a reversibility which produces violence and counter-violence, as the USA
tries to make the world secure (ibid). Ultimately the West now has an alibi to
destroy those pockets of the world untamed by globalisation, and spread
undifferentiation while providing a police-state globalisation (Baudrillard,

Counterterrorism is therefore part of what it claims to be fighting, the Spanish

States death squad working against the Basque separatists, ETA; the British
States approach to the IRA; Israels attacks on Hamas leaders, even during
ceasefires; the USAs war on terror that emerged after September 11 2001.
When this occurs, terrorism has won, because it has brought reversibility into
the system. It is able to claim that it has exposed the true violence of the
system, like the anarchist propaganda by the deed of the early twentieth
century. For Baudrillard, the victory of the war on terror goes to the terrorists,
because the Wests deregulation ends up in a maximum of constraints and
restrictions, akin to those of a fundamentalist society (Baudrillard, 2002a:31).
The harder the USA strikes back, the worse it will look, and the greater the
global resistance.

In The Spirit of Terrorism, Baudrillard maintains that the USA as lone

Superpower conjures up its own Other: by dominating the globe it creates
global resistance. The September 11 2001 terrorist attacks were an aspect of
the transpolitical mirror of evil in which the excluded negative reappeared in
a symbolic form so overwhelming that it continues to haunt the positivist order
of America and the West. In Symbolic Exchange and Death Baudrillard writes
that [i]t is our positivity, our insistence on health and life as ultimate goods,
that bring our downfall. Our politics has become the management of good

- 85 phenomena, where rights are paramount (Baudrillard, 1993a:133). Capitalism

bars the negative in the pursuit of the positive, as a result the negative
inevitably returns to haunt its comfortable positivity. As Baudrillard observes,
the price we pay for the reality of this life, to live it as positive value, is the
ever present phantasm of death (Baudrillard, 1993a: 133). In the deathdenying contemporary West, it is precisely the ever-present spectre of death
that characterizes the politics of everyday fear, the general sense of disaster,
the dread of terrorism, that which inevitably transpires as a result of a
relentless devotion to positivity; the triumph of Good all along the line
(Baudrillard, 2002a: 14).

The terrorist attacks of 9/11, as the event has subsequently become known,
were a consequence of the global injunction to positive value and the denial of
the symbolic potential of death an injunction that precisely left the West
vulnerable to sacrificial death, a strategy it cannot meet or answer on its own
terms. The death of the suicide pilots is a death which is symbolic and
sacrificial (Baudrillard, 2002a: 17). The terrorists, for Baudrillard, have
succeeded in turning their own deaths into an absolute weapon against a
system that operates on the basis of the exclusion of death (Baudrillard,
2002a:16). Baudrillard states that if the political economy is the most rigorous
attempt to put an end to death, it is clear that only death can put an end to
political economy (Baudrillard, 1993a: 86-87).

For Baudrillard, terrorists create a void around themselves, a vacuum of nonmeaning. Terrorist acts cannot be understood as grounded in the objectives of
the terrorists; that is at the level of content of their demands. Baudrillard
almost completely empties the Islamic terrorism of 9/11 of any characteristics
or qualities other than of pure disruption. Islam is defined in terms of what it is
not. Islam is that which does not fit the capitalist world order. The central
quality of the Islamic faith becomes its anarchic energy, its wild potential to
subvert, its unpredictable alterity. Baudrillard speaks of the virulent and
ungraspable instability of the Arabs and of Islam, whose defence is that of the
hysteric in all its versatility (Baudrillard, 2000:36).

- 86 Baudrillard uses Islam as the final bastion of resistance against an

increasingly unilateral world order. Terrorists are described as unconvertible
(Baudrillard, 2000: 37). They are utterly incapable of being reintegrated into
the capitalist world order. Part of the attraction of the Islamist for Baudrillard is
the ideological obstinacy of the Muslim, the dialogue-proof impenetrability of
their dogma. Their advent signifies in some way the immanent self-destruction
of the West and this is a point Baudrillard goes onto make on the events of
September 11 in Hypothses sur le terrorisme in his book Power Inferno
(2002b). In this piece Baudrillard quotes the letter of Phillippe Muray Dear
Jihadists, in which the writer re-inscribes the terrorism of Islamic extremists
within a darker, Occidental destiny as a symptom of Western decay (We
made you, you jihadists and terrorists, and you will end up prisoners of our
own resemblance you cannot kill us, because we are already dead).
Baudrillard goes on to suggest not simply that Islamism is a symptom of the
decline of the West, but also that its manifestation has become a tool of
Occidental suicide:

When Western culture sees all its values extinguished one by one, it
spins inwardly towards the worst. For us, death is an extinction, an
annihilation, it is not a symbolic exchange that is our misfortune
The singularity (terrorism), in killing itself, suicides the other with the
same blow one could say that acts of terrorism have literally
suicided the West (Baudrillard, 2002b: 42-43).

Baudrillards unconvertable Arabs and irreducible Islamists, their radical

alterity announces the suicide of Western hegemony. Nevertheless, for all
Baudrillards lip-service to the irreducible otherness of Islam, the supposedly
uncontrollable alterity of its followers does become re-inscribed into the
destiny of the West; by re-describing the extremities of Islam as the suicide of
the West, Baudrillard not only links Islam with some end-of millennium
eschatology, but also turns Islam into a peripheral consequence of the West,
a side effect of the Occident, an a posterori hiccup of modernity (Almond,
2007: 174).

- 87 Zygmunt Bauman described Baudrillard as a philosopher who patches up the

identity of the world out of absences alone (Bauman, 1992:149). The
semantic emptiness of Islam reflects the moral and ontological emptiness of
the West. This reminds of Baudrillards ecstatic excess of objects, how the
qualities of entities swivel ever faster until they lose all meaning: Reality itself
founders in hyperrealism it becomes reality for its own sake, the fetishism
of the lost object: no longer the object of representation, but the ecstasy of
denial and of its own ritual extermination: the hyperreal (Baudrillard,
1992:144-145). With Baudrillard, Islam undergoes a kind of ecstasy (literally
ex-stasis) an ecstatic self-emptying of identity, a vertiginous transformation
into hyper-Islam just as Baudrillards reality has spun itself into the hyperreal
(Almond, 2007: 175).

3. 5.Conclusion

How and why does terrorism fascinate Baudrillard? It is precisely the

destructiveness of terrorism that creates a thoroughly concrete reality, namely
that of the threat, which fascinates Baudrillards aesthetic consciousness.
Playing with the apocalypse is an integral part of Baudrillards social
philosophy. His thought is predicated on the finality of reality and thrives on
the destabilization of signifiers. For Baudrillard, the spirit of terrorism and
panic reaches far beyond the terrorists themselves. Baudrillard endeavoured
to analyze the process through which the unbounded expansion of capitalism
creates the conditions for its own destruction. In the process, Baudrillard's
notion of the irrevocable event and its unmediated symbolic import subsumes
the particularities of Islamic terrorism under the logics of challenge and
sacrifice. For Baudrillard, terrorism is neither a doctrine nor a program, but a
strategy of challenge, provocation, reversal.

For Baudrillard, the massive logic of the system can only be redoubled back
against itself in a movement of hyperconformist simulation, by pushing the
code into hyperlogic a massive spiral of accession to the demands of the
system, whose effect is an explosion of terrorism to match the terror of the
social. Baudrillards catastrophic strategy involves ceaselessly pushing things

- 88 beyond their limits, to the point of collapse. Baudrillard's writing is a symbolic

violence, which takes to the unendurable limit the hyperreal systems own
symbolic violence. This means not attacking the system directly, but recalling
the process which initiated it and therefore also the possibility of its non-being.

For Baudrillard, theoretical violence, not truth, is the sole expedient remaining.
It goes beyond recuperation and cooptation. The production of meaning only
contributes to an over-saturation and neutralisation of meaning, and robs
radical social theory of another oppositional strategy. Baudrillard encounters
an absence, an outside, a void, displacement or death at the heart of thought.
This leads to apocalyptic tones: all the projects of modernity are abandoned
because they run up against this internal limit. Thinking no longer works
except by breaking down and dismantling itself. There are, however,
theoreticians who do not accept this dead end for a philosophy that wants to
be critical of modern society. For Deleuze and Guattari absence, death, lack
and the void are the illusions. These are merely shadows of difference. The
outside or absolute limit upon which all events are inscribed is not death but
desire and life. It is to Deleuzes concept of life that I now turn.

- 89 -

4.1. Introduction

To oppose Deleuze with another thinker is to proceed in counterpoint to

Deleuzian practice. Deleuzes favoured method of investigation is the
monograph (as applied to Bergson, Kant, Nietzsche, Spinoza, and Leibniz, to
name only philosophers). He does not engage in dialectical relations, but
instead revoices the philosophical character (personnage) he is studying.

In Deleuzian fashion, I therefore do not want to oppose Baudrillard with

Deleuze but rather to revoice Baudrillards apocalyptic tone into a Deleuzian
transformative activism which emphasises life. As the previous chapters have
shown, Baudrillard declares an absence, a void, a displacement or death at
the heart of thought. Deleuze (however) embraces life in all its difference.
Deleuzes concept of life, like his conception of difference, is productive,
incorporeal and positive in itself, and not just what lies beyond all law,
systems and structures.

Deleuze, like Baudrillard, refuses to separate life and death into binary
oppositions. As shown in the previous chapters, Baudrillard sees death as the
very confusion, reversibility or exchange between life and death, the fact that
neither is possible without the other. Deleuze, in the same way, gave strict
philosophical reasons for rejecting the idea of life as some ultimate foundation
from which mind, body and language would flow a life that would be
opposed to a death or non creation, inertia and indifference. Deleuze does not
see life as some evolving, striving developing power that creates a human
brain that can then understand that originating life. In Anti-Oedipus (1977) he
will with Flix Guattari, argue that it is desire that we should consider first,
with life and death being ways in which desire produces both organisms and

- 90 their dissolution. This means that instead of opposing a creative flowing life
into a negative destructive death, Deleuze and Guattari posit one plane or
substance desire from which life and death emerge. Desire is both life and
death, for at a quite literal level, the death of this or that body is not at all
negative. Without the death of organisms there would be no change, evolution
or life in its radical sense. Deleuze was insistent that life and death were
aspects of desire or the plane of immanence.

My purpose is to examine Deleuzes concept of life, and to show how it issues

in a politics that provides both an understanding of oppression and a
framework (albeit a general one) within which to articulate a progressive
politics. Baudrillard reduces defiance to suicide and death. This cannot
convince us of lifes internal difference or the power of life to transform itself.
Baudrillards focus on death only goes half way. Life is, for Deleuze, the
fundamental political category. It provides the underlying grid for his diverse
political analyses. It is the value to be realized in and through political action.
And it is life, too, life that is against life, which constitutes modes of repression
that political action must overcome. Beneath the literary analyses, the
philosophical studies, and the political tracts, lies a politics of life that is
Deleuze's most constant preoccupation.

This chapter will proceed as follows: I will start out by showing how Deleuze
refuses to accept any pre-established opposition. Deleuze emphasises lifes
internal difference. This requires an explanation of Deleuzes so-called plane
of immanence. This plane of immanence does not function as some ultimate
explanatory point outside difference. Nothing lies outside difference, and all
being expresses the same plane of immanent difference differently. In order to
understand how Deleuze and Guattari can unite difference on a single plane,
it is important that I show Deleuzes encounter with Spinoza, Bergson and
Nietzsche. The plane of immanence is positive, incorporeal (virtual) and
productive. These qualities embody the transformative force of life. Next, I will
turn to how the plane of immanence functions in practice, by discussing the
immanence of desiring production to social production. This refers to the
process in which social wholes take desires or those connections which

- 91 enhance life in order to produce coded, regular, collective and organized

forms of desire. Power derives from desire and turns to repress desire.
Finally, I will turn specifically to capitalism and how it produces the desire for
repression. This is not a conscious want or need people do not want their
repression but it is a state of social unconsciousness to which people are
subjected by their very formation as subjects with needs and wants. Deleuze
and Guattari want to show how desire has an intensive and political history,
which culminates in capitalism.

4.2. The Plane of Immanence

The absolute or infinite is often seen as what lies outside or beyond our
knowledge of finite concepts, but Deleuze sees the infinite not as some great
beyond, but as infinite difference within life itself. The negative understanding
of difference difference as a system imposed on some undifferentiated real,
elevates some image of God, man or the subject as the author and origin of
all difference. This is an illusion that posits some point outside difference that
will then explain and produce difference (Colebrook, 2002b: 30).

In What is Philosophy? Deleuze and Guattari (1994: 49) refer to the illusion of
thought as the plane of transcendence. The plane of transcendence
imagines a grounding substance that transcends difference. For Deleuze and
Guattari, nothing can step outside the difference of life, for life always has the
power to produce further events of difference. For Deleuze and Guattari, life is
transcendental, which means life has no ground outside itself. The plane of
immanence is the starting point for a transcendental method that does not
accept that life takes the form of some already differentiated or transcendent
thing. This plane of immanence cannot be reduced to some fixed description
because it does not function as an ultimate explanatory point outside
difference. Nothing lies outside difference, and all being expresses the same
plane of immanent difference differently; as a result Deleuze and Guattari
arrive at the equation expressed in A Thousand Plateaus: PLURALISM =
MONISM (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987:20).

- 92 Monism or one univocal being sees no foundation; all beings are located on a
single plane (pluralism). Dualism on the other hand believes in a being that
has a foundation. In order to have a ground set against what is grounded, two
types of being are necessary. Only with dualism can a foundation (such as
God or reason) be subtracted from what it grounds. But when being is
univocal and immanent then no point of difference can be privileged over any
other. Univocal being means that any thought or expression or representation
of being is itself an event of being. Univocal being sees everything as within
being, as immanent to life. The essence of univocal being is to include
individuating differences while these differences do not have the same
essence and do not change the essence of being just as white includes
various intensities while remaining essentially the same white . Being is
said in a single and same sense of everything of which it is said, but that of
which it is said differs: it is said of difference itself (Deleuze, 1984: 36-7).

Difference is singular because each event of life differentiates itself differently.

There are linguistic differences, genetic differences, sensible differences
(such as those of colour, tone, timbre and texture) and imperceptible
differences. Imperceptibility is the very essence of difference. A perceived
difference has already been identified, reduced. To perceive the difference
between red and blue is to reduce or contract complex data into a single
shade or object of red or blue. There are real differences and becomings that
are far greater (or smaller) than the differences that are perceived or marked
in language. Difference cannot be enclosed or synthesised within human or
even organic life. For Deleuze, difference is neither the relation between one
identical thing and another (as in common sense), nor is difference the
general system that creates a world of objects (as in structuralism). The
differences of life are positive because there is not an undifferentiated life that
then needs to be structured by difference. Everything is in a state of constant

- 93 becoming or differentiation (Colebrook, 2002b: 29).


Life is not a collection of different or distinct points. It is continuous difference,

and between any two points that can be located on this continuum of
difference there is an infinity of further difference. Rather than understanding
the world as a totality of equivalent points, each relating to each other across
some unified space, Deleuze sees life as a series of curves and inflections: a
life of multiplicities, where no curve or event of difference and becoming is the
same as any other. The atoms or smallest units that make up life are events
of difference:

Inflection is the ideal genetic element of the variable curve or fold.

Inflection is the authentic atom, the elastic point or the point of
inflection as an intrinsic singularity. Inflection does not refer to
coordinates: it is neither high nor low, neither right nor left, neither
regression nor progression (Deleuze, 1993: 1415).

Relations and differences would be neither uniform nor symmetrical. The style
of difference depends on each specific event of difference. When one point
perceives another, it is not a linear or direct picture. Perception is an
encounter or event of difference. Deleuze sees interacting perceptions each
producing itself and its other through the encounter. In the univocal plane,
there is no division between perceivers and perceived; there are just
perceptions from which relatively stable points are effected. If all the
differences could be perceived, there would be (only) chaotic data. To
perceive is to slow difference down. For Deleuze, the challenge is becoming23
Here is an example of difference that would be subsumed under categories of identity: An ironing
board and a shoe are different. They are different because there is such a thing as an ironing board (an
identity) and a shoe (another identity), and those identities are not identical with each other. They are
different. Here difference means non-identical. For example G.W.F Hegel sees difference in the form of
opposition. This is difference seen through the dialectic. A perception that appears immediately to me,
without being brought into linguistic categories, is opposed to linguistically mediated perception (it is a
chair or it is red).The immediate and mediated are opposites. Hegel sometimes says that each is the
negation of the other. In the course of the dialectic, these oppositions will need to be mediated into a
higher unity that will eliminate their opposition. The immediate character of perception and its linguistic
mediation will need to be reconciled, their opposition overcome. This is a sophisticated form of
difference, but one that is still subsumed under categories of identity. The identity of the immediate is
opposed to the identity of the mediated, although in the end they will both be subsumed. But they will be
subsumed into a higher identity that captures them both. Difference here is in thrall to identity (May,
2005: 54).

- 94 imperceptible. This means confronting all those microscopic differences that

our perception has reduced to identity or sameness (Colebrook, 2002b: 35).

Deleuze, taking his cues from Spinoza, Nietzsche and Bergson, opens a
programme of a metaphysics of the world as it is, but in order to recognize its
diversity and transience. Against the emphasis of transcendence in the older
metaphysics, Deleuze emphasises immanence: the requirement to account
philosophically for the world not as it ought to be according to a Rational Ideal.

Deleuze puts Spinozas notion of univocity, i.e. that nothing exists as a

separate transcendent realm because the substance of being is one and
indivisible, to work in his new metaphysics. By turning immanence into an
expressive substance, i.e. substance folds and unfolds itself in its attributes
and modes like origami folds one piece of paper into different figures without
cutting, or inserting outside elements. Everything happens as an expression
of that particular piece of paper. For Deleuze, Spinoza animates the universe.
There is life everywhere, because everywhere there is a folding, unfolding and
refolding of substance through expression. To think immanently is to strive to
articulate in thought as directly as possible the forces of production of life that
produce and govern reality. The ideal contained in the principle of immanence
is to think genetically of a conception of reality as a whole, all encompassing
substance. This genetic principle of immanence will be the guiding
methodological principle in Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus (Due,
1999: 38).

In order for immanence not to regress into sameness there needs to be

expression. But expression happens temporally. Here, it is Bergson who
provides the incorporeal approach to life that Deleuze requires. For Bergson,
the human dimension of time extends the positive difference of immanence; it
offers a way to understand how expression occurs. Deleuze weaves
Spinozas concept of expression and Bergsons temporality. When Deleuze
conceives of life, he is referring not to a corporeal, spatial or physical thing but
instead to life in a temporal sense. Life is a temporal event that is both

- 95 singular existing at its own level of contraction and bound to the rest of
temporality through duration (May, 2005: 45).

In Deleuze's reading, Bergson's difference marks the real dynamic of being

it is the movement that grounds being. Bergson's difference relates primarily
to the temporal, not the spatial, dimension of being. Space is only capable of
containing differences of degree and thus presents merely a quantitative
variation; time contains differences of nature and thus is the true medium of

Duration is the domain in which one can find the primary

ontological movement because duration, which is composed of differences of

nature, is able to differ qualitatively with itself. Space, or matter, which
contains only differences of degree, is the domain of modal movement
because space cannot differ with itself, but rather repeats (Hardt, 1993: 15).

The ontological criterion assumed here is internal difference. The discussion

appears as a simple transposition of causal foundations of being: Substance
that is cause of itself (causa sui) becomes substance that differs with itself.
Deleuze characterizes the distinction between duration and matter in the
traditional terms of a substance-mode relationship. Why is it that duration can
differ with itself and matter cannot? The discussion of difference in Bergson is
not directed toward distinguishing a state; it is not oriented toward a location
of essence, but rather toward the identification of an essential movement, a
process, in time. Deleuze extends this distinction between duration and matter
to the two distinct types of multiplicity: Space reveals a multiplicity of
exteriority, a numerical multiplicity of quantitative differentiation, a multiplicity
of order; pure duration presents an internal multiplicity, a heterogeneity of
qualitative differentiation, a multiplicity of organization (Deleuze, 1988: 38).

Furthermore, Deleuze argues not only that the domain of duration provides a
more profound multiplicity than space, but also that it poses a more profound
unity. The modal nature of space, in effect, does not afford it an inherent unity.
To recognize the essential nature of being as a substantial unity, then, we
have to think being in terms of time: a single Time, one, universal,
impersonal (Deleuze, 1988:78).

- 96 -

For Bergson, there is only one time, the time that includes both the present
and the past, always at the same time. It is this what Bergson is after in
constructing his concept of duration. The present passes. In order for this to
happen there must be a past for the present to pass into. For psychological
memory, the past takes place in the present, in retention and in memory.
Husserls concept of retention as well as his concept of recollection and
remembering are psychological. It belongs to the living present of the
existential conception of time. Bergsons concept of the past is not
psychological; it is the ontological source from which memory springs.
Bergsons ontological memory is concerned with the past itself, not simply
with its existence in the present. Only the present is psychological; but the
past is pure ontology; pure recollection has only ontological significance
(Deleuze, 1988: 56).

The past is not merely a psychological residue in the present. If it were there
would be many pasts, as many as there are people, or as many as there are
psychological states of people. Memory is not a series of moments spread out
across a continuum. As a present moment passes into the past, it passes into
all of the past, not just in serial connection to the immediately preceding
moment. The entire past exists as a tightly contracted horizon surrounding the
passing present moment. Bergsonian duration is defined less by succession
than by coexistence. For Bergson, there is one past, a single past in which all
psychological memory participates (Hardt, 1993: 15).

The past exists virtually. The virtual past is there; it is not a void or
nothingness. It is not the past of the linear conception of time. The past is not
an instant or a thing. But it is there, in a different way from the way the present
is there. For instance, genetic information, even though it exists it does not do
so in actuality. Genetic information is not visible. Only as the genes unfold, as
the person becomes what the information formatted that person to become,
do genes become apparent in the actual world. In the same way memory
actualises itself, but it does not exist in actuality. The virtual exists but not in
actuality. To understand the past is to understand the way expression occurs.

- 97 As Deleuze says the virtual actualizes itself as genetic information unfolds

and expresses itself as a person, but it is not actual (May, 2005: 47).

The spiritualist premise of Bergons philosophy involves the principle that

mental activity is real, has a definite place within reality and that it possesses
an intrinsic unity that springs from its own unfolding as activity. In his first
treatise, Time and Free Will, Bergson explores how this spiritual reality of the
mind appears to us within conscious experience. His second book, Matter and
Memory, examines the relationship within conscious experience between
perception and memory. Bergson examines the life of the mind as a reality, as
a composite of distinct but intermingled activities.

Thus, Bergson claims that within our normal experience the acts of perception
and memory are always mixed but that in themselves, according to their own
intrinsic natures as mental activities, they are clearly distinct and do not
overlap. This means that conscious experience is a wholly inadequate source
for understanding the components of experience. Experience is not selfelucidating, we do not arrive at an understanding of experience by examining
experience but only by acquiring a rigorous method for separating mental acts
from each other according to their own intrinsic natures. This method depends
on a distinction between what is given in experience, which Deleuze calls
actuality and the real natures of mental acts which are not given as such in
actuality. These natures only exist virtually (Due, 1999: 32).

In Bergsons spiritualist metaphysics Deleuze finds a level of reality that is not

given as physical nature without consisting simply in formal principles, like
rules of logic. This level of virtual reality consists of ordering principles that
determine reality from within. These conditioning principles are immanent in
reality without being an observable part of reality. The virtual existence is real
rather than a mere formal or logical presupposition of experience. But the
virtual inhabits a special kind of reality, a realm of existence which lies outside
of the reality that we normally experience but this other reality at the same
time conditions all the experience we have since actual experience is a

- 98 composite of the virtual natural natures of perception and memory (Due,


There is a relation to the past which Deleuze calls pure memory (le souvenir
pur) in which the past is revealed as a virtual realm of being. The kind of
memory that is able to disclose the virtual region of the past is sharply distinct
from the mental activities of perception and awareness that are oriented
towards the present. Bergson analyses memory as being entirely distinct from
the mental activities of perception and involving a completely different
structure of mental activity. Deleuze thus argues that memory in its purest
form introduces the mind not only to a different dimension of being the
virtual past but also to a different dimension of thought. This realm of
thought consists of formal operations of combination and of abstract relations
of difference. These combinations and relations can only be thought of in the
primary sphere of the present in which we of course only grasp and relate to
what is actually present before us (Due, 1999: 48).

This theory of virtual being further means that the present moment is itself as
if split, composed internally and virtually of two temporal dimensions, on the
one hand the present tense this is now and on the other hand a
movement of passing away. This movement of passing away is for the
present already to belong to the past at the moment of being taken up by it,
otherwise the present and the past would be cut off from one another. The
present is thus virtually both present (first synthesis) and passing away
(second synthesis). The second synthesis is then the capacity to synthesize
the present with the past and from the point of view of the past. For thought,
this means that mental activity in the second synthesis moves beyond the
mere recording of what takes place before it. By opening up to virtuality, the
mind is now able to conceive of parallel series coexisting in the same present.
Deleuze finds this notion of virtually parallel series developed in the
philosophical tales of the Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges. With Borges,
the possibilities of the narrative are not realized one at a time, so that the
ones that are realized exclude the ones that are not realized. Instead, all the
possibilities of the narrative co-exist as a virtual composition (Due, 1999:48).

- 99 -

Deleuze identifies a third synthesis, a third dimension of mental activity which

goes beyond the first two syntheses but which is nevertheless not cut off from
reality. This synthesis is the condition for philosophical thought. It is only when
the mind goes beyond what is given in experience that it is able to realize its
potential for thought. This process begins but is not completed in the second
synthesis which is still embedded in a natural context of experience, namely,
the rememberers own past experience. The third synthesis is an interruption
of habit. It requires a special kind of receptivity. It is a move beyond the given
and it requires an ascesis of thought. We only become autonomous when we
undergo radical ascesis allowing ourselves to form a body without organs.
This notion of the body without organs was originally used by the
experimental playwright Antonin Artaud in the context of the critique of
individual psychology (Due, 1999: 50).

In the next chapter, I will show how the body without organs becomes an
important ethical term, the idea being that we can only escape social and
political oppression by undoing the effects of social and political forces in
ourselves. This means undoing our social self and returning to a prior state of
being, reaching the body without organs. In such a state, thought moves
beyond the rational model of representation by purifying itself from the
contents of perception and pragmatic needs. Thinking is something we
undergo rather than do. It is the body rather than the mind that is involved in
the third synthesis, because the move beyond the present is a process that
affects the body as much as the mind. For it is through the body and its
repetitions that I am anchored in the present. The body without organs or the
third synthesis is an exploration of relations in thought unconstrained by
actual empirical content (Due, 1999:50).

The third synthesis corresponds to Bergsons pure being, the virtual simplicity
of being, pure recollection (le souvenir pur). Pure, virtual being is not abstract
and indifferent, it is real and qualified through the internal process of
differentiation. Being differs with itself. It does not look outside itself for
another or a force of mediation because its difference rises from its very core,

- 100 from the explosive internal force that life carries within itself (Deleuze, 1988:
105). Deleuze calls this force, in accordance with Bergson, the lan vital that
animates being. This vital process of differentiation links the pure essence
and the real existence of being: Virtuality exists in such a way that it is
realized in dissociating itself, that it is forced to dissociate itself in order to
realize itself (Deleuze, 1988: 93).

The virtual may not be actual, it is nonetheless real. Virtualities are always
real (in the past, in memory) and may become actualized in the present.
Deleuze invokes Proust for a definition of the states of virtuality: real without
being actual, ideal without being abstract (Deleuze, 1988:96). Deleuze claims
that the actualization of the virtual Whole is the positive production of the
actuality and multiplicity of the world: One only has to replace the actual
terms in the movement that produces them, that is, bring them back to the
virtuality actualized in them, in order to see that difference is never negative
but essentially positive and creative (Deleuze, 1988: 103).

The central constructive task of Deleuze's reading of Bergson, is to elaborate

the positive movement of being between the virtual and the actual that
supports the necessity of being and affords being both sameness and
difference, both unity and multiplicity. lan vital is a virtuality in the process of
being actualized, a simplicity in the process of differentiating. Virtual being, as
unity, unfolds and reveals its real multiple differences. Substance is duration,
the virtual that is always there in all of its modes. Actualisation is the
modalizing of the virtual, the folding and unfolding and refolding of the virtual
into modes. This actualization, this modalizing of the virtual is not making one
thing into another. It is a process in which substance expresses itself in the
course of its folding, unfolding, and refolding. Life refers to the whole
movement of temporality and to the haecceities or singularities that appear
within it. This is because both the whole movement and its singularities are
positive, productive, and incorporeal. There is no negativity in duration, but
only the positivity of intersecting productive multiplicities creating events.

- 101 Negativity only comes afterward, and it is a political affair (May, 1991:28). 24
For Deleuze, Bergsons ontological movement relies on an absolutely
immanent, efficient production of being driven by intuition. This creative
principle is a cosmic Memory, it actualizes all the levels at the same time
(Deleuze, 1988: 111). Cosmic Memory is capable of tracing the design of an
open society of creators. Cosmic Memory leaps from one soul to another,
every now and then, crossing closed deserts (Deleuze, 1988: 111). For
Deleuze there is no direct movement between intelligence and society.
Instead, society is more directly a result of irrational factors. What fills this gap
between intelligence and sociability is intuition. In order to bring this intuition
from ontology to politics in Deleuzes thought, it is necessary to look at the
conception of efficient power, or force internal to its manifestation, which is
developed in Deleuzes study of Nietzsche. By shifting the terrain from the
plane of logic to that of values, Deleuze moves from a Bergsonian logic of
being to a Nietzschean logic of the will (Hardt, 1993: 26).

Deleuze sees Nietzsche as the creator of a thought that is anti-dialectical in

that it no longer relies on negativity as the path to positivity. For the
speculative element of negation, opposition or contradiction, Nietzsche
substitutes the practical element of difference, the object of affirmation and
enjoyment (Deleuze, 1983a: 9). Difference is purely positive. It is not one
against another or one as the negation of the other but one alongside the
other, a selection, an and rather than either/or. A life exists as a positive
difference or an inclusive disjunction (Deleuze and Guattari, 1977: 75-78).

The will to power is a principle of difference. It is expressed as a principle of

relating forces 25 to one another, that is, through a process of selection with a

Negativity is introduced only when positive transformation is made to turn back upon itself in order to
stifle itself, when life desires its own repression. In that social situation, there are forces that work
against life, but not by repressing it from the outside. This is the big issue Deleuze and Guattari identify
in capitalism. Under capitalism, we are made to desire or invest in our own repression. I will return to
this in section 4. 4.
According to Deleuze, Nietzsches method of cultural historical analysis of psychological and moral
phenomena is grounded in a particular ontology of force. This notion of force is not just a physical or
mechanical quantity but a quasi-spiritual energy expressed as signification. If the mind is a theatre, it is
because forces that run through the individual and forces influencing the individual from the outside find
expression in the mind. The mind, like the world, is a system of forces (Due, 1999:32).

- 102 view to growth. Here difference is purely positive. In selecting, not opposing or
negating, will to power expresses itself, expresses itself as selection and does
not stand outside the selection as a judge or subject. The selection is a selfdefining process. The will to power is not subject of this process. Deleuze
focuses on the willing of power, that is to say desire. He refrains from
subjectifying desire while recognizing the intimate and multiple couplings of
desire and power. In Nietzsche and Philosophy (1993), Deleuze first linked
the notion of desire with the will to power and the insight that desire is
productive follows from his reflection on will to power (Schrift, 1995: 66).

In Anti-Oedipus he and Guattari introduce the desiring machine as a

machinic, functionalist translation of the Nietzschean will to power. A desiring
machine is a functional assemblage of a desiring will and the object desired.
Deleuzes goal is to place desire into functionalist vocabulary, a machinic
index, so as to avoid the personification or subjectivation of desire in a
substantive will, ego, unconscious or self. By avoiding the organicist
connotations within which desire is located, Deleuze can avoid the paradox
Nietzsche sometimes faced when speaking of the will to power without a
subject doing the willing or implying that the will to power was both producing
agent and the object produced (Schrift, 1995: 67).

It needs to be stressed that Deleuzes notion of machine does not go against

the grain of his overall intention to affirm life. Deleuzes use of the term is not
informed by classical mechanics (such as Descartes or Newtons theories)
but rather by contemporary chaos theory. The latter entails that machines can
be situated at the individual, societal and state levels. A machine is nothing
more than its connections. A bicycle, for instance, only works when it is
connected with another machine such as the human body. A bicycle is
composed of a series of connections among its parts. The bicycle-body is a
machine formed from a set of connections: foot-to-pedal, hand-to handlebar.
Machines have no closed identity and no privileged unit of analysis. On the
other hand, an organism is a bounded whole with an identity and an end
(May, 2005: 123).

- 103 Deleuzes machine is a body without organs. As mentioned earlier, he took

the term from Antonin Artaud, who wrote: The body is the body/ It is
alone/And has no need of organs/The body is never an organism/ Organisms
are the enemies of the body (Deleuze, 1981: 33). The notion of the body
without organs will be dealt with in detail in the next chapter when I will
discuss how Deleuze addresses bodily experience in art and the handling of
the body in Francis Bacons paintings. For now it is enough to note that,
thought must penetrate organs in order to discover the machines within them.

There is a virtuality to machines because they are not reducible to their actual
connections, which allows them to connect in novel, different ways. Deleuze
and Guattaris concept of the machine is in line with the concept of difference,
which Deleuze developed before his collaboration with Guattari. Difference is
not a lack of identity or sameness. Machines are (using Melanie Klein's
terminology) partial objects, and the search for the whole object is misplaced
because machinic connections happen between partial objects. Unlike
classical mechanics, Deleuzian and Guattarian machinics are entropic
machines work by breaking down. Machines are simply material flows. Every
society is a machine because it is an assemblage that transfer, amplify, or
dissipate energy (Bogard, 1998: 68).

In Deleuze and Guattari, desire is seen as a machinery of forces, flows and

breaks of energy. Desires are dynamic connections of bodies that vary in
intensity and composition. Deleuze and Guattaris theory of desire is
constructivist in the sense that desire always requires a machine or
assemblage. Desire is present in a given assemblage in the same way that, in
a musical work, the principle of composition is present in the silences as much
as in the audible sounds: Lack refers to a positivity of desire and not desire to
a positivity of lack (Deleuze and Parnet, 1987:91). In their theory of desire,
Deleuze and Guattari attack the notion that desire begins from lack. It is not
that there is some (imagined) lost or lacking origin that we try to represent and
retrieve through all our subsequent objects of desire. Psychoanalysis, they
argue, has created the value of the phallus through its own explanation that
is, there must be some imagined object (the phallus) for which we abandon

- 104 the maternal origin and submit to the system of exchange, law and
signification. Deleuze and Guattari's theory of productive desire reverses the
relation between desire and lack (ibid).

If desire is seen as a machine, it becomes a creation of connections. To

desire is to connect with others sexually, politically, etc. The concept of
desire as the principle of co-function or composition which determines the
existence of any machinic assemblage echoes Deleuzes metaphysical
account of the will to power as the differential principle of force relations:
Desire: who, except priests would want to call it lack? Nietzsche called it the
Will to Power (Deleuze and Parnet, 1987:91).

Deleuze rejects the account of desire as lack a view shared by Freud,

Lacan, Sartre and many others that have dominated the Western
philosophical tradition since Platos Symposium. Desiring gives, instead of
lacks, virtue which gives (Deleuze and Parnet, 1987: 91). Machinic language
connotes exteriority; connections to the outside are always already being
made. To speak of desire as part of a machine is to refuse to reify or personify
desire at the subject pole; it also recognizes that desire and the object desired
arise together.

To view desire as lack assumes that desire is derivative, arising in response

to the perceived data of the object desired or as a state produced in the
subject by the lack of the object. For Deleuze, on the other hand, desire is a
part of the perceptual infrastructure: it is constitutive of the objects desired as
well as the social field in which they appear. It is what first introduces the
affective connections that make it possible to navigate through the social
world. Which is to say that desire, again like Nietzsches will to power, is
productive it is always already at work within the social field, preceding and
producing objects as desirable. Nietzsche sought to keep the will to power
multiple so that it might appear in multiple forms, at once producer and
product, polyvocal, operating in multiple ways and capable of multiple and
multiplying productions. Nietzsche encouraged the maximizing of strong,
healthy will to power while acknowledging the necessity, indeed, the

- 105 inevitability of weak, decadent will to power. Deleuze advocates that desire be
productive while recognizing that desire will sometimes be destructive and will
sometimes have to be repressed, while at other times it will seek and produce
its own repression (Schrift, 1995: 70)

Nietzsche and Deleuze's thoughts do not eradicate negation for affirmation

is by no means fundamentally immune to negation but the nature and role
they envisage for the negative and, more specifically, the role they ascribe to
negations as powers of affirming. For Deleuze, Nietzsche rethinks the
relationship between negation and affirmation:

In Nietzsche the essential relation of one force to another is never

conceived of as a negative element in the essence. In its relation
with the other the force which makes itself obeyed does not deny
the other or that which it is not, it affirms its own difference and
enjoys this difference. The negative is not present in the essence as
that from which force draws its activity: on the contrary it is a result
of activity, of the existence of an active force and the affirmation of
its difference (Deleuze, 1983a: 8-9).

In Nietzsche and Philosophy, Deleuze (1983a:59) shows that the active forces
of life go to the limit of what they can do. Active forces do whatever is in their
power to the full extent of their ability. Active forces are creative. What is
created is not only up to the active force. It also concerns the context in which
that force expresses itself and its own ability to reach its limit. The universe
does not necessarily cooperate with active forces, which means that their
creativity may be channeled in unexpected directions or even undermined
altogether (Due, 1999: 33).

Reactive forces separate an active force from what it can do. If active forces
go to the limit of their power and create through self-expression, reactive
forces stifle the creativity of active forces. As a reactive force, dialectics is a

- 106 sheer mechanism of inversion: in questions of change and development, [the

dialectic] conceives of nothing deeper than an abstract permutation where the
subject becomes predicate and the predicate, subject. But the one that is
subject and what the predicate is have not changed (Deleuze, 1983b: 157).

Reactive forces only see themselves in terms of their negation of active

forces. Following Nietzsche, Deleuze states that active forces do not
compare, they create and thereby affirm the eternal return of difference
without identity and any guarantees because such guarantees stifle creative
possibilities. Nietzsches difference, multiplicity, becoming and chances are
objects of joy by themselves and it is only joy that returns (Deleuze, 1983a:

In Nietzsche and Philosophy, negativity arises in the question of how active

forces can become reactive. In Anti-Oedipus, it appears as the question of
how desire can desire its own repression. In all of Deleuze's works, the
positive is always the most fundamental. Deleuze retains a Nietzschean
affirmation of life. But like Nietzsche, Deleuze then becomes faced with the
problem of how to retain that affirmation while still offering a critique of what is
negative. The resolution to this problem is to discover forms of life that are
themselves against life, life that comes from life but is inimical to it (May,

The problem of repression or negativity is not that it comes to bear upon life
from something which is not life, but that it is a possibility internal to life itself
as it unfolds under determinate social conditions. We see the most
disadvantaged, most excluded members of society invest with passion in the
system that oppresses them, and where they always find an interest, since it
is here that they search for and measure it (Deleuze and Guattari, 1977:
346). Life exists only within the context of a determinate social situation in
which there are forces that work against life, but not by repressing it from the
outside. What certain determinate social conditions promote is a perversion of
life: life desires that which represses and negates it.

- 107 Each event encounters a form of death when it undergoes an incorporeal

transformation. This form of death is not a death instinct; in no way does life
seek its own death. Singularities are affected by these other singularities; in
their interaction with them, they are transformed both into structures and into
other singularities. This transformation is a death without negativity. Negativity
is introduced only when positive transformation is made to turn back upon
itself in order to stifle itself, when life desires its own repression. This occurs
when the fluidity of life becomes burdened by the constancy of the forms
(May, 1991:29).

This can be explained as follows: Life flows along the two axes of being and
becoming, in which becoming is the primary axis. In The Logic of Sense,
Deleuze discusses the Stoic distinction between bodies, constancy of forms
or states of things, which are corporeal and of the present moment, and
events, which are incorporeal and occur as becomings in time (Deleuze,
1990: 4-6). For Stoics, bodies alone are the causes of events, bodies alone
can be causes, and bodies, in turn, are only causes. Bodies are primordial
mixtures or composites, unformed matters, with their corresponding
permeations, tensions, or states of affairs. They alone exist in space and
time (i.e., space as extension, time as the eternal present) (ibid).

On the other hand, events, for the Stoics, are non-corporeal idealities; they
are non-spatial and express a different order of time (unlimited time, time that
escapes the present). They are surface effects of the bodies, which are their
true causes. They result from the mixtures and composition of these bodies
and are coextensive with bodies, but are themselves neither bodies nor
causes, even among themselves (they are pure, incorporeal effects; they do
not exist, but rather, as Deleuze says, they subsist or insist). Like the Stoic
event, Deleuze sees sense or the thinkable as incorporeal and this therefore
means that it is relative to or dependent on something which is corporeal. Yet
Deleuze does not accept the materialist thesis of derivation or causation but
affirms that thought or culture has a structural autonomy. Sense, like the Stoic
event, is thus paradoxically both dependent and autonomous (Bogard, 1998:

- 108 -

Like the Stoic event, sense is a phenomenon of the surface, while bodies,
as unformed and undetermined matters, inhabit the depths (it is important
not to confuse bodies with determined objects or even things, especially
with the human body or to consider surfaces superficial) (Deleuze, 1990: 4).
Life is not so much concerned with the physical as with the incorporeal or that
which occurs between bodies, what changes pass across the surfaces of
things that are not material but immaterial transformations. Life is concerned
with sense of things.

In keeping with the Stoical division into states of things (constancy of forms)
and incorporeal transformations (event or sense), all transformations occur
through or across states of things. Deleuze sees transformations as essential,
but this does not deny that states of things exist. The possibility presented by
states of things is that they will persist, and finally that they will block positive,
productive transformations from occurring. This possibility can be actualized,
not as an individual affair, but only in the social context, through the various
mechanisms of coding, decoding, and axiomatizing. This will be dealt with in
the next section where I will show how a social surface of sense, or the
thinkable, is achieved through the intermingling and inscription of bodies and I
will show how this inscriptive encounter is part of a history of political systems
(May, 1991:29).

The Deleuzian practice of affirmation and joy is directed toward creating social
bodies or planes of composition that are ever more powerful, while they
remain at the same time open to internal antagonisms. Political assemblage is
an art because it has to be continually reinvented. The multitude is assembled
through this practice as a social body defined by a common set of behaviours,
needs, and desires. This is Deleuze's way of grasping the living force in
society that continually emerges from the dead forces of social order. And this
quality of living is defined both by the power to act and the power to be
affected (Hardt, 1993:121).

- 109 In order to really think in terms of power, one must pose the question in
relation to the body (Deleuze, 1990: 257). From Spinoza, Deleuze has learnt
that politics arises as a question of bodies. To understand the nature of power
is to first discover the internal structure of the body. A body is a dynamic
relationship whose internal structure and external limits are subject to change.
For Deleuze [a] body's structure is the composition of its relation. What a
body can do is the nature and the limits of its power to be affected (Deleuze,
1990: 218). Passive affections mark a lack of power. The force of suffering
affirms nothing, because it expresses nothing at all: it is the lowest degree of
our power to act (Hardt, 1993: 92).

Deleuze often uses Spinozas term affect to refer to transformations in bodily

capacities. This term will be important in the next chapter when I will show
that the transformative force of art is based on sensations or affects. The
concept of affect establishes a conceptual connection between the
understanding of bodies in terms of power and in terms of becoming. Bodies
undergo modification or change when they act upon other bodies. In A
Thousand Plateaus, what Deleuze and Guattari call processes of becoming
are precisely such engagements with the powers of other bodies. This is the
reason for their assertion that affects are becomings (Deleuze and Guattari,
1987: 256). The list of becomings is open-ended but includes: becomingintense, becoming-animal, becoming-woman and becoming-imperceptible
(Patton, 2000: 78). These becomings are important because they are minor.
The Deleuzian concept of minor will be dealt with in Chapter Six, when I will
unfold the metamorphic force of Franz Kafkas work.

At this point of my reconstruction of Deleuzes argument, however, it should

be clear that he derives his defense of lifes transformative force from a
metaphysics that is indebted to Spinoza, Bergson and Nietzsche. For Deleuze
and Guattari, life is transcendental, it has no ground outside itself. The
univocal plane of immanence cannot be reduced to some fixed description
because it does not function as an ultimate explanatory point outside
difference. Nothing lies outside difference, and all being expresses the same
univocal plane of immanent difference differently.

- 110 -

In the same way, I will now show that Deleuzes political critique does not
begin from a power that opposes desire but from one single univocal flow of
desire that produces the very terms that enslave it. Power derives from desire
and turns to repress or mark or inscribe the univocal flow of desire. From a
transcendental point of view we cannot assume some pre-social and essential
individual that we might discover underneath power. The transcendental
method of Deleuze is to show how persons are produced from the chaotic
flow of desire. Deleuze and Guattari want to show how desire has an
intensive and political history, which culminates in capitalism. Deleuze and
Guattaris views on capitalism will be dealt with in section 4.4. For now,
however, I will concentrate on how social structures produce themselves and
their subjects out of the immanent flow of desire.

4.3. Desire and the Social

Deleuze and Guattari refuse to begin their explanation of desire from what
man currently appears to be; instead they ask what historical forces produced
contemporary man and how those forces might be extended beyond man.
Deleuze and Guattari propose a new ontology of the social, of social being,
grounded in a philosophical ontology of being as pure difference or becoming.
Being, for Deleuze and Guattari, is that which differs from itself in nature,
always already, in itself, qualitatively different. This idea departs from the
dominant Western ontological tradition, which posits the identity of being and
supports, in their words, the representational thinking, or state philosophy,
that has governed Western metaphysics since Plato. Social theory has long
been an accomplice of this order, of identitary logic, 26 which acknowledges
difference in social being only to dispel it. Ontologically, the history of the
socials plurality springs from a common source. Identitary logic x = x = not
y structures every social theory whose inspiration can be traced to Hegel,
but also to Marx, whose critique of state philosophy accepted the dialectic. It
encompasses all the varieties of inter-actionism (self-identity as the reflection


As Castoriadis (1987:221) has called it a logic of the Same.

- 111 and resolution of otherness), phenomenological sociologies (the lifeworld as

synthetic unity, social reality as representation), 27 and all the various models
of society as exchange, insofar as the concept of exchange 28 posits a
potential equivalence or identity of values (Bogard, 1998: 60).

For Deleuze and Guattari, society is not a field of exchange or circulation or of

causing to circulate, but a socius of inscription where the essential thing is to
mark and be marked (Deleuze and Guattari, 1977:142). 29 Every society,
before it is a system of exchange, is a society of dismembered body parts, a
composition of interrupted desires (ibid). To inscribe a body (or body part,
since all bodies are composites) is to interrupt a flow of desire. Inscription
literally cuts or scars bodies in the process of assembling them into composite
forms, into segments and strata, controlled flows of energy, and habitual
modes of behavior. Virtually anything can be inscribed, set apart or disjoined
(either exclusively, as in the opposition of in-groups and out-groups, or
inclusively, as in the division of labor or the formation of alliances). Body
mutilations are inscriptions or marks, as are body adornments of all kinds
(tattoos, piercings, scarification, cosmetics, jewelry). For Deleuze and
Guattari, society is about the articulation and disarticulation of libidinal
energies (Deleuze and Guattari, 1977:142). 30

Desires are not formal, interchangeable units, but dynamic connections of

For Schutz (1967), the lifeworld as social being is essentially a production of the Same-the mundane,
repetitive and taken-for-granted routines of everyday existence. The force of Schutz's work lies in his
attention to the unseen details of this production, but the lifeworld itself remains a synthetic unity, a
resolution of the contradictions of co-presence (I-Thou-We).
Deleuze and Guattari do not accept Baudrillards idea of a non-structural exchange since exchange
remains the conceptual basis of the definition of society rather than their notion of inscription (Genosko,
1994: 95).
Deleuze and Guattari describe Nietzsches The Genealogy of Morals as the greatest book of modern
ethnology (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987:190). Nietzsches ethnology is used to trace the cruelty of
marking bodies. Punishment, for example, begins as festive cruelty, the sheer force and enjoyment of
inflicting suffering to affirm one's power. But we subsequently come to imagine a law and morality that
would justify and organise this pleasure of asserting force; in doing so we invent man and morality. A
genealogy does not accept the current reason or understanding of the present; it looks to the past in
order to unhinge the present, to show that there is no justification for the present. Deleuze and Guattari's
two major works, Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus, are genealogies of capitalism and humanism;
they both attempt to show how man and capital emerge from the play of forces and interacting bodies.
Deleuze and Guattari also explicitly wrote a geology of morals. This extended the idea that there is not a
history or single line of development, but overlaid strata or plateaus: the history of inhuman and
inorganic life, as well as differing histories within the human (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987:3974).
Lingis (1994) is valuable for providing many historical examples of body markings in savage,
despotic and modern societies.

- 112 bodies that vary in intensity and composition. Exchange relations, and social
relations generally, already presuppose a complex machinics of desire, an
orchestration of currents, in ways that connect some bodies together and
disconnect them from others. Deleuze and Guattaris political theory begins
with pre-personal desire. Pre-personal desire is simply the chaotic flow and
force of life, prior to any organised identity or stability. The concept of the
individual is for Deleuze and Guattari repressive or reactionary because it
grounds all desires on some prior value of the self. This is why Deleuze and
Guattari historicise the individual's emergence from desire, and in so doing
hope to provide a political theory of difference (Due, 1999: 77).

Anti-Oedipus is dedicated to making it clear that the problem of the subject is

a problem of the subjectification of desire, of inscribing breaks and flows of
energy, joining and disjoining bodies (or partial bodies the mouth, the
breast, the anus, but also sounds and words and food, even the sun). The
subject is not the body, but a composition (and effect) of bodies a variable
collection of organs, membranes, nerves, and physiochemical processes, but
also tools, means of nourishment and shelter and transport, the materials of
production and consumption, etc. a collection that, somehow, makes sense.
This is also the problem of society. Every society is a society of subjects
fashioned from bodies and body parts, from an anorganic plenum, from the
assembly and disassembly of desiring-machines. Every social theory is a
social theory of desiring-machines, and beyond that, of how those
machineries are segmented and stratified, how bodies and their forces are
distributed, coordinated, functionalized, regimented to produce subjects
(Bogard, 1998: 15).

In Deleuze and Guattari, the socius is a coding machine, whose essential

task is to code and decode flows of desire (Deleuze and Guattari, 1977:139).
The crucial concepts of code and codification are taken from linguistics and
indicate a set of rules that enable speakers to communicate. In Anti-Oedipus,
to codify is to spell out in a formal way the implicit rules of a term. The social
machine, they say:

- 113 is literally a machine, irrespective of any metaphor, inasmuch as it

exhibits an immobile motor and undertakes a variety of interventions:
flows are set apart, elements are detached from a chain, and portions of
the tasks to be performed are distributed. Coding the flows implies all
these operations. This is the social machine's supreme task, inasmuch
as the apportioning of production corresponds to extractions from the
chain, resulting in a global system of desire and destiny that
organizes production Flows of women and children, flows of herds
and seed, sperm flows, flows of shit, menstrual flows; nothing must
escape coding (ibid., 141- 42).

Codes are inseparable from a particular relation to the past a relation of

repetition. Codes are traditions, prescriptions and rules bearing the production
and distribution of goods, prestige and desire. The goal of pre-capitalist
modes of production (Asiatic, Ancient, Feudal) is the coding or reproduction of
a particular form of property and particular social relation, which is also the
reproduction of a particular form of subjectivity. What characterises the
different pre-capitalist modes of production is that subjectivity is inseparable
from its collective social conditions. The subject is embedded in cultural,
technical and political codes that he or she in turn works to reproduce. With
codes, actions and desires in the present are immediately related to the past,
to an inscription of memory, i.e. this is how things are done, how they have
always been done (Read, 2008:142).

In Deleuze and Guattari, there is no subject of codification; inscription rather

produces subjects, for instance, modern subjectivity is formed around various
dietary or sexual regimes, the control of the passions, but also around various
binarisms like work/play, public/private, masculine/feminine, etc. Inscription is
not the action of the socius. The concept of a socius of inscription does not
assimilate inscription to a function of society; just the reverse, it conceives
society social strata, hierarchy, patterns of interaction as the effect of
inscription, in exactly the way that marking bodies, whether by mutilating or
adorning them, does not just enact social ritual but is its very condition, that is,
its very sense (Colebrook, 2002b: 108).

- 114 -

Sense is often equated with meaning, where meaning is conceived as a

function of social interaction or communication. As mentioned in the previous
section with reference to the Stoics, Deleuze, however, sees sense as a
surface effect. For Deleuze, sense arises from the mixture or intermingling of
bodies prior to interpretation and the operations of understanding, prior to
social action and communication. Sense is usually connected to problems of
language and speech. From this point of view, sense becomes an ongoing
accomplishment involving the interpretive skills of social actors. This
traditional view confines sense within the concept that is, it reduces sense
to the possibilities of signification, subordinating it to the implicational logic of
propositions. According to that view, if something lacks significance, it also
lacks sense. In Deleuze and Guattari, sense is outside the concept, 31 outside
of signification (meaning), an asignifying kind of sense connected to events
themselves. To break the connection between sense and the concept also
breaks its connection to a certain universalist notion of society that explains its
constitution in terms of reason or rationalization. 32 Deleuze and Guattari see
the possibility of a social theory of the inhuman, 33 a social theory of bodies,
the ways bodies become human, become rational, become subjects and,
ultimately, social (Bogard, 1998:19). 34


Outside, that is, the Western or Occidental formulation of the concept, which is rooted in a philosophy
of identity and sameness. For Deleuze and Guattari's critique of this philosophy and the alternative they
pose to it (a notion of the concept grounded in a philosophy of difference), see Deleuze and Guattari,
This breaking of an immanent relation between meaning and reason, between sense and the concept
has provoked charges of irrationalism against the kinds of poststructuralist thinking that Deleuze and
Guattari represent. See, for example Habermas, 1984:3. Habermas, in this sense, is absolutely correct
to see the history of sociological theory as a history of rationalization. Given its identification of sense
with significance, it could be little else. At the same time, his critical theory does not move beyond this
history, but reflects only an effort to complete it. Habermas cannot concede the possibility of a notion of
sense outside the concept because this would undermine in a fundamental way his theory of validity
claims. i.e., that society, for its very existence, depends on the assumption of a rational basis for
I use the term inhuman not in the sense of lacking some quality of humanity but in Deleuzes positive
sense that there is a world of life and affect synthesis well beyond the domain of human beings.
Foucault, perhaps, has offered the best defense of poststructuralism against the charge of
irrationality. Against all the excesses of rationality in the twentieth century (the concentration camps,
the gulags), Foucault asks if we should not perhaps put Reason itself on trial. Such a response, he
argues, would be completely sterile. Rather than focus on rationalization in the abstract (a criticism of
Habermas), we should analyze specific rationalities, i.e., the concrete power relations that define
rationality within specific fields and in reference to specific kinds of experience (e.g. madness, illness,
criminality, sexuality; 1982: 210). Such an approach has much in common with that of Deleuze and

- 115 Deleuze and Guattari recognize a symbolic reality holding society together.
But their account of the symbolic reality is non-reductive, so what it describes
is no longer symbolic or signifying but expressive: the expression of reality as
sense. Deleuze conceives sense independently of both agency and
signification. That is, sense is neither the manifestation of a communicating
subject nor a structure of language it is incorporeal, impersonal, and prelinguistic; a pure effect or event (Bogard, 1998: 20).

As mentioned in the previous section, the Stoics distinguish between events

and state of things. It is important not to confuse the event with a state of
things, with bodies and materials that come together to produce results.
Rather than being a set of bodies and things, rather than being the mingling
and colliding of these bodies, the event is the effect of their mingling and
colliding. Events are not physical qualities and properties, but rather logical or
dialectical attributes (Deleuze, 1990: 4-5). Existing and not existing; noncorporeal, yet the effect of bodies; neither active nor passive, yet the result of
action and passion, the event is always paradoxical. And its greatest paradox
is its relation to language. Deleuze describes the event as a kind of complex
event-sense: Sense is what is expressed in a proposition. This is a kind of
becoming of the event. There is the event, which is sense, which is the
expressed (or expressible) of a proposition. When it comes to the question
regarding the independence of the event from the proposition that expresses
it, Deleuze provides a paradoxical response: What is expressed does not
exist outside its expression. This is why we cannot say that sense exists, but
rather that it inheres or subsists. On the other hand, it does not merge at all
with the proposition, for it has an objective (objectit) which is quite distinct.
What is expressed has no resemblance whatever to the expression (Deleuze,

The event reveals that existence itself is a narrow slice of the real. The event
does not exist, it makes possible, it has force but it does not act (Deleuze,
1990:183). Deleuze asks how sound, which issues from bodies, becomes
separated enough from those bodies to be organized into propositions and
expressions. How do sighs of pleasure or other sounds of the body, cross

- 116 over to the relative autonomy required for language? Something separates
the proposition sound of language from the state of affairs, the corporeal
sound of the body. And this permits one to turn toward language and the
states of things. It must use this double aspect to organize the relationship
between language and the state of affairs, but be neither one nor the other,
for if it were one or the other it could not separate and organize the two series
language and states of affairs; it would merely homogenize them so that we
would need to say that all states of affairs are language, or that language is
simply another state of affairs. An event operates on both sides by means of
one and the same incorporeal power' (Deleuze, 1990:183).

For Deleuze, the perfect model of the event has always been death. Death
has an extreme and definite relation to me and my body and is grounded in
me, but it also has no relation to me at all it is incorporeal and infinitive,
impersonal, grounded only in itself. On one side, there is a part of the event
which is realized and accomplished; on the other there is that part of the event
that cannot realize it accomplishment (Deleuze, 1990:151). The event
crosses the threshold from the non-existent to the existing world, making
possible and exerting force while powerless to act. It is the ideal model of the
relationship of human and non-human. The objection that the non-human
does not exist must be met with a claim that renders the objection irrelevant.
The non-human does not exist, does not act, but, like the sense-event, makes
possible the human. It has force that is not of existence, and it holds together
the human and the non-human in two resonating series that make the human
possible. The human fears this encounter because it is the overwhelming
force of the real that exceeds existence (Jameson, 1999: 67).

The sense-event appears to be sterile and unproductive surface effect of

signification, which could only be given by infinite regression. In practice,
however, it is the empty space, which circulates along signifying structures. It
appears to be non-sense, a breakdown in signification but it is the term, which
makes the practical relation between language and bodies possible. Sense is
the surface effect of bodies: it is a pure event, a membrane without thickness
through which a change passes. For example the tree greens (comes into

- 117 leaf) is an event which possesses its own sense (Deleuze, 1990: 6). The
greening of the tree cannot be located in a specific place and time: instead it
is a meaning which is extracted from its actualization in a body. Meaning
never comes from language as such; it is determined by an outside of
language the real social power formations that can be identified in terms of

It is the myth of representation that separates man from an inert and passive
world that he then brings into language. There is not a present world and then
a representing language. The world or cosmos is an immanent plane of
signification or semiosis. There are signs and codes throughout life, not just in
the separate mind of man or language. Before there is a system of language
that allows one to refer to a world stretched out before us, there are
investments in intensities. A tribe, for example, enjoys and invests in an
image, such as an animal, a body part or an inscription. It is not that the tribe
uses the symbol of the animal to represent who they are; it is only in gathering
around or desiring this image that there is a tribe at all. The investment
produces an assemblage of bodies; it does not represent it. Deleuze and
Guattari refer to these as territorial or collective investments, and it is the
investment that connects the tribe as a group not some underlying identity,
which the investment then signifies. A tribe territorializes through a collective
and connective ritual of marking, where each body is scarred or marked by a
tattoo. This is a process of coding: cutting or marking the flows of intensity into
body parts or specific intensities (Colebrook, 2002b: 108).

Codes are not representations they articulate bodies and liberate libidinal
forces, allowing them to recombine in new ways. Coding does not produce
identities or resolve contradictions it multiplies surfaces, like the infolding
effect of fractals described by chaos theory not x = x = not y, but x + y + z
+ a... (an arm connects to a tool which connects to a flow of thought which
connects to various affective states . . .). While the coding machine certainly
operates as a state apparatus, state philosophy systematically misconceives
that operation, positing a necessary connection for what is a purely contingent
relation of heterogeneous elements, an identity of parts for what is an internal

- 118 proliferation of differences (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: 23).








(conjugation): connexion designates the provisionality of the meeting of

content and expression and the way in which each plane continues to remain
exterior to the other, despite the productive interaction between them. Content
has its own logic and inner dynamic, just as expression does: there is a form
and substance of content, just as there is a form and substance of expression.
The coordination of the two planes yields a model in which the Deleuzian flux
(the content) can now be articulated in a given code (the expression), yet in
such a way that these can be analyzed separately as distinct moments which
find their combination historically, as an event rather than a structure. The
term conjugation belongs to the side of the state, and foretells a kind of
organic capture in which the autonomy of the two planes of expression and
content is finally lost. Deleuze and Guattari see sense as the quasi-cause of
repression in the signifying structure of the state. They aim to overthrow the
despotic power by inverting the hierarchy, so that productive relations
between signs can be formed by immanent processes of encounter. Deleuze
and Guattari mutate the structural field so that it becomes auto-productive and
self-transformative, overcoming all dichotomies between doing and thinking. It
attains becoming (Jameson, 1999: 27).

In state philosophy, connections are referred to some ground or order. There

are the marked bodies or connections and the body of the despot who allows
these marks to be seen as signs of some law or order. This can also be
described as deterritorialisation the groupings or coded collectives are
distributed across a common surface; the occupied territories are ordered by
some overarching or transcendent power. It is also a movement of
overcoding; it is not just the immediate mark or scar on the body the shared
affect or intensity that organises the tribe. The mark or scar (the code) is
read as a sign of subordination to the power of the despot. The pain is no
longer a collective ritual of intensity, but the threat of the despots power. The
pain has become more than itself, producing a surplus value of code; it has
been overcoded (Goodchild, 1996:86).

- 119 -

Deleuze and Guattari borrow from Marx the view that the state or despot
comes into existence as something that subordinates pre-existing tribes,
communities, clans and groups. It makes these diverse groupings resonate
but relating them to a central institution or structure. The state is an idea, if not
ideality, thus giving evidence of another dimension, a cerebral ideality that is
added to, superimposed on the material evolution of societies, a regulating
idea or principle of reflection that organises the parts and flows into a whole
(Deleuze and Guattari, 1977: 259). This leads to the mutually reinforcing
connection between thought and the state, in which thought and philosophy
borrows its model from the state (a republic of free spirits whose prince would
be the idea of the supreme being) and in turn the state is legitimated by
thought (the more you obey the more you will be master, for you will only be
obeying pure reason, in other words yourself) (Deleuze and Guattari, 1977:
259). The passage from tribal society to despotic or state societies is marked
by an increased level of abstraction; a homogenization of the social realm
from the stand point of a centre; the imposition of a representational system of
regulation (Read, 2008: 145).

Every form of society or form of social production has an aspect that appears
as the condition or cause rather than the effect of the productive relations, the
desires and labours of a society. Paradoxically this quasi-cause appears to be
a cause of production because it is itself not productive, it is anti-productive. It
appropriates forces of production, distributing some for the reproduction of
society and wasting most in excessive expenditure (such as tribal honours,
palaces or war). As Marx argues, the Asiatic despot appears to be the cause
and not the effect of the productive powers of society, the massive public
works, such as irrigation that define the Asiatic mode of production for Marx:
it appropriates for itself the productive powers of society. Each of the precapitalist modes of production is constituted by a fundamental misrecognition,
what is produced by the labour of the community appears as its precondition,
as an element of divine authority. This misrecognition stems from a
fundamental difference, a basic gap between production and the recording or

- 120 representation of production. Production is not recorded in the same way that
it is produced (Deleuze and Guattari, 1977: 12).

Deleuze and Guattari draw from Marx a theory of fetishism in which a

society, a particular mode of production, produces its own particular form of
appearance, its apparent objective moment. 35 Marx argues that the
commodity as fetish obscures the conditions of its production in a dazzling
display of its value. Deleuze and Guattaris concept of the socius is the coding
or recording of production, which must also be thought of as productive: it is
not only an effect; it produces effects as well. Most importantly what is
produced by such effect is the obedience, the belief and desire necessary to
the functioning of the particular mode of production (Deleuze and Guattari,
1987: 427).

Before moving on to the next section, it is necessary to summarise the

theoretical framework of Anti-Oedipus: power is a cognitive and signifying
system through which society is held together. This is why the theory of power
refers to a general ontology of society. According to this ontology, societies
produce systems of self-representation through which they inscribe authority
onto a semiotic surface of sense. This process is engendered by and within
an immense process, a circulation of energy that encompasses every
member of social reality, all power, wealth and land. This energy process is
the basis of social reality, its material substance. The semiotic surface of
inscription is the self-representation that this process produces of itself. Power
becomes authority, that is, becomes effective and binding on individuals
through this semiotic process of inscription. Thus, the basic categories of
society are not free-standing individuals and instances of power and authority,
but poles of energy relating to each other in terms of categories inscribed on
this semiotic surface of sense (Due, 1999:78).


It is only owing to the seduction of language (and of the fundamental errors of reason that are
petrified in it) which conceives and misconceives all effects as conditioned by something that causes
effects, by a 'subject' the popular mind separates lightning from its flash and takes the latter for an
action, for the operation of a subject called lightning as if there were a neutral substratum behind [it]
But there is no such substratum; there is no 'being' behind doing, effecting, becoming the deed is
everything (Nietzsche, 1967:45).

- 121 -

4.4. Capitalist Cynicism

In pre-capitalist modes of inscription or production, productive activity is

subordinated to reproduction: all productive activity aims to reproduce the
community, the codes and the relations of subordination. Capitalism liberates
production from coding or the reproduction of a particular form of life. In
capitalism, production does not aim at anything other than itself, i.e. the
production of more capital or insofar as it does produce something other than
itself what it produces is abstract, purely quantitative.

For Deleuze, following Marx, capitalism is premised not on identity (like

previous social formations) but on a continuous process of production
production for productions sake which entails a kind of permanent
reconfiguration of relations in a process of setting, and overcoming, limits. In
this sense, difference and becoming or a certain form of becoming is
primary. Deleuze and Guattaris assertion that the line of flight is primary in,
and functional to, capitalist assemblages echoes Marxs famous description of
capital as a state of being where All that is solid melts into air and where
relations become antiquated before they can ossify (Marx and Engels, 1978:
475). Lines of flight are the pure difference that lies beneath and within
constituted identities. They are not themselves imprisoned in specific
identities. They provide material that will be actualised into those identities
(May, 2005:153).

Under capitalism, labour and wealth have become stripped of any code that
would tie them to any determinate relation to the past. Rather than coding the
various practices and desires constitutive of the society, capitalism functions
by setting up quantitative relations between the two flows of labour and
capital, establishing as axiomatic an equivalent between a particular amount
of labour time and a particular amount of money. Axioms relate to no other
scene or sphere, such as religion, politics or law, which would provide their
ground or justification. Axioms are distinct from codes in that they do not
require belief in order to function (Jameson, 1997:398).

- 122 -

An axiomatic system is defined by purely syntactic rules for the generation of

strings of non-signifying or uninterpreted symbols. A code establishes a
systematic correspondence directly between the elements of different
signifying systems. It would not be appropriate to describe the code as
meaningful and the axiom as meaningless, since the very concept of
meaning in its traditional sense is something Deleuze aims to replace. The
property of a code is to be indifferently replaceable by another code, which
will look equally meaningful or organic after a certain time; whereas the
axiom is a dead end one cannot change it, at best one can add another one.
In mathematics, the axiom is the starting point, which cannot itself be
grounded or justified, but rather serves as the ground or justification for all the
other steps and propositions: The choice of axioms involves a choice of basic
technical terms to be left undefined, since the attempt to define all terms
would lead to endless regression (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: 461).

Axiomatics turn essentially on arbitrary starting points whereas codes have a

momentary self-sufficiency about them, whether they subsist in the form of
decorations (bodily tattoos) or in the form of custom and myth. Axioms, on the
other hand, are operational; they do not offer anything for commentary, but
rather are just a set of rules to be put into effect. Codes are textual, inscribed
at the outer limit inscribed on the body itself (tattoos, scars, face painting)
when not on the body of the world. But the axiomatic is not writing and leaves
no traces of that kind. On the other hand, a code is never economic and can
never be (Deleuze and Guattari, 1977: 247). Pre-capitalist formations, which,
although ultimately organized around a specific type of economic production
in them but unlike what holds for capitalism are secured by an extraeconomic instance: religion for the Middle Ages, politics for the ancient citystate, to which the tradition has added kinship for tribal society or primitive
communism (Deleuze and Guattari, 1977:247).

Capitalism is a social machine which is defined by the generalised decoding

of flows. Decoding is Deleuze and Guattaris translation into semiotic terms of
the concept of rationalization and reification, by which Georg Lukcs

- 123 designated the historical replacement of meaning by abstract calculation as

the basis of social order. In agreement with Lukcs, Deleuze and Guattari
explain this process as a function of the capitalist market and the
predominance of exchange value (Colebrook, 2002b:141).

The decoding of desire in capitalism, as much as it makes possible a strong

identification between the desire of the individual and the capitalist system,
also continually threatens it. In giving up belief, in giving up the coding that
constitutes pre-capitalist societies, capitalism gives up a great deal of control.
It is a system that seems to make everything, every desire possible. It
continually produces new desires while at the same time limiting the
possibility for the actualisation of those desires. Money is a general equivalent
giving common measure to all things, but in itself floats free of all attempts to
give it meaning. Capitalism does, however, require regulation. It unleashes
flows that need dampening if they are not to carry the system itself to ruin. It
needs to produce anti-production as production. The drive to innovation
needs to be countered by the manufacture of stupidity. By stupidity is meant
both the manufacture of consent and the application of coercion, that is to say
the constant flow of reasons to believe in this world (Holland, 1999:146-148).

Deleuze and Guattari insist that the breakdown of codes and traditions by
abstract quantities of labour and desire or deterritorialisation is inseparable
from the process of reterritorialisation, which means the revival of antiquated
beliefs and political forms, archaisms. This is not due to some grand conflict of
cultures (Jihad vs McWorld) but it is two sides of capitalism itself. It is a
conflict between capitalisms tendency to create new desire, new needs, new
experiences and possibilities (or what Deleuze calls deterritorialisation) and
the tendency to subordinate this potential to the overarching need of
maintaining and reproducing the existing distribution of wealth and property
(Deleuze, 2004:196).

What Deleuze and Guattari insist on and this makes up the idea of
reterritorialsation is that capitalism produces subjectivity, not in spite of its
disruptive and deterritorialising cultural and political force but through it.

- 124 Modern subjectivity is split between axioms and codes, between cynicism and
piety, between past and future. Deleuze and Guattaris insistence on the
immediate coincidence of subjectivity and production makes it possible to see
this split as a political division, between meaninglessness of capital and the
search for meaning and tradition (Read, 2008:147).

Capitalist societies simultaneously reterritorialise what they deterritorialise,

producing all manner of neoterritorialities which may be artificial, residual or
archaic (Deleuze and Guattari, 1977: 250). This resuscitates fragments of
earlier social codes, or invents new ones such as religious or nationalist
fundamentalism or the relatively benign constitutional monarchisms or civic
nationalisms. Capitalism has a limit which is the absolute decoding of flows,
but it functions only by pushing back and exorcising this limit the strength
of capitalism indeed resides in the fact that its axiomatic is never saturated,
that it is always capable of adding a new axiom to the previous ones
(Deleuze and Guattari, 1977:250).

Capitalism is thus able to confront and overcome its limits. Capital now
becomes a limit towards which all societies tend because its own limits are
merely relative. Each time it approaches one, it can displace it by various
means, such as a recession together with a drop in wages of the lowest paid.
Capital is much more invisible than in its classical Marxist account because its
internal contradiction now only makes it stronger (Goodchild, 1996:120).

Capitalism repairs itself and surmounts its contradictions by adding new

axioms: you are supposed to believe in a pure market system, a rather simple
axiomatic, undisturbed by unlimited exchanges. But when there is a crisis in
free trade, the more complex axioms of Keynesianism is added. This does not
modify the axiomatic of capitalism but merely complicates the operations that
make it up. There can be no return here to any simpler axiomatic or purer
form of capitalism, only the addition of ever more rules and qualifications
(rules against rules, for example, a dismantling of Keynesianism that has to
use the latter's structures and institutions in order to fulfil itself) (Jameson,
1999: 20). For Deleuze and Guattari, contradictions are not what bring social

- 125 systems down; on the contrary, they are the very motors which give society its
dynamism. Social machines feed off:

the contradictions they give rise to, the crisis they provoke, on the
anxieties they engender. Capitalism has learnt this and has ceased
doubting itself, while even socialists have abandoned belief in the
possibility of capitalisms natural death by attrition (Deleuze and
Guattari, 1977:178).

Capitalisms apparent indifference to the beliefs and desires of its subjects, its
ability to tolerate everything, to turn every scandal and taboo into a commodity
must itself be seen as a kind of social subjection to capital. Deleuze and
Guattari began to illustrate this by suggesting that the gap that exists in capital
between what one believes and what one does, already carries with it a
subjective and affective component.

It is no longer the age of cruelty or the age of terror, but the age of
cynicism, accompanied by a strange piety. (The two taken together
constitute humanism: cynicism is the physical immanence of the social
field and piety is the maintenance of a spiritualised Urstaat; cynicism is
capital as the means of extorting surplus labour, but piety is this same
capital as God capital whence all the forces of labour seem to
emanate) (Deleuze and Guattari, 1977:225).

Deleuze and Guattari see cynicism as a structural effect of a social machine

in which axioms replace codes. 36 Exploitation in capitalism is stripped of any
political or religious alibi, any meaning that would tie it to a determinant
system of belief; as a result capitalism generates its own mystifications and
illusions. What is mystified is the economy itself. Money is that object that has
the potential to stand in for all possible objects it becomes the universal
object of desire. What capitalism loses in terms of belief it more than regains
In the Critique of Cynical Reason, Peter Sloterdijk (1987: 192) argues that modern cynical
consciousness is characterised by the combination of rigorous cynicism of means, a thoroughly
instrumental consciousness in which everything is permissible in the name of self-interest, and an
equally rigid morality ends, values which are even tighter as they come into conflict with reality.

- 126 as an object of desire (Read, 2008:152). This restructuring of desire pre-dates

capitalism, emerging with the beginning of a monetary economy. Prior to
capitalism, however, it manifests itself as a contradiction between money as
the unqualified desire for any object whatsoever and money as quantitatively
limited, as a finite amount of money:

This contradiction between the quantative limitation and qualitative

lack of limitation of money keeps driving the hoarder back to his
Sisiphean task: accumulation. He is in the same situation as a world
conqueror, who discovers a new boundary with each country he
annexes (Marx, 1977: 277).

With the formation of capitalism the contradiction of hoarding is displaced, it is

no longer necessary to decide between spending and saving, since capitalism
can be defined by the formula spending in order to accumulate. This only
displaces the contradiction, however to the point where it is no longer a
contradiction between two different dimensions of money, a qualitative lack of
limit, and a quantitative limit of money, but two different functions of money
within capitalism: money as capitalism, as means of investment and money as
wages, as means of consumption. According to Deleuze and Guattari:

[m]easuring the two orders of magnitude in terms of the same

analytical unit is a pure fiction, a cosmic swindle, as if one were to
measure intergalactic



distance in



centimetres. There is no common measure between the value of

enterprises and that of labour capacity of wage earners (Deleuze and
Guattari, 1977:230).

Money is not simply a quantity, a unit of measure, but a complex relation.

Deleuze and Guattari focus on the effects the idea of money or capital as
quasi-cause have as subjectivity. The gulf that separates wage earners and
capitalists is effaced by the same object and symbol, by money. This has very
definite and divergent effects. First it is the condition for the incorporation of
desire into capitalism. Money extends the illusion that we all participate in the

- 127 system as equals; the dollars you and I earn are the same dollars that the
wealthy invest to make billions. It makes it appear as if the dollars that we
carry in our wallet are made of the same substance as the money that is
capital. The difference between rich and poor, exploiters and exploited is not
coded in language and blood, honour or race, it is expressed as a purely
quantitative difference. Thus it is possible to believe that only a few dollars
more will enable one to cross the line, to invest to become rich. Capital does
not spread the wealth, only the idea that we could all become wealthy (Read,

The defining contradictions at the heart of the modern capitalist machine, the
obscenity which it must constantly try to hide, is the scandalous difference in
kind between the money of the wage earner and the money of the financier,
between the money that functions purely as payment and money that
functions as finance. The wage earners money can be used to buy goods
and even to set a value on certain goods, but this is a limited power in that its
effects are always confined to an extremely localised sphere of influence. In
contrast, the financiers money is capable of affecting the lives of billions of
people as is evident in the operations of the International Monetary Fund
(IMF) and the World Bank. These two institutions transform the finances of
whole nations into mere wage earners payment money. Persuaded that First
World standard of living is in reach, Third World nations have taken on vast
amounts of debt which has reduced them to a state of peonage (Buchanon,
2008:31). The Third world dreams of transforming payment money into
finance money.

Thus, Deleuze and Guattari say that it is the banks that

control desire in contemporary society.

The system of axioms is much more flexible than a code. These axioms
effectively do away with the proletariat as a class. By making stock options,
consumer credit or individual social security accounts available, investments
of desire are produced without changing the basic relations of production.
Investing becomes the norm of economic participation; for example, the stock
market and not wages becomes the standard through which the economy is
evaluated, even though it does not benefit anyone. Thus, in capitalism a

- 128 desire disadvantaged creature will invest with all its strength, irrespective of
any economic understanding or lack of it, in the capitalist social field as a
whole(Deleuze and Guattari, 1977: 229).

What capitalism loses in terms of belief by decoding all of the hierarchies of

authority and prestige, reducing them to purely quantitative calculation of
payment, it more than regains in the form of the investment of desire. Desire
directly invests in the flows and fluxes of capital and it is at this level, at the
level of the most quotidian and economic relations and not exclusively at the
level of ideology or the superstructure, that we should look for the production
of subjectivity in capital (ibid., 230).
For Deleuze, what must be understood is not only how external
circumstances oppress people, but the ways in which people participate in
oppression, even in trying to escape or overturn it. The most insidious
dangers of social oppression are not the horrors done to me against my will,
but the horrors I am made to desire. The political discovery of Deleuze that
makes even his most abstract literary and philosophical texts thoroughly
political, is the discovery that what keeps us all from becoming revolutionaries
is that we come to desire what oppresses us. Deleuze moves decisively
beyond the theoretical positions of those who see the acceptance of
oppression as a matter merely of force and ideology (May, 1991: 31).

For Deleuze, what is missing in order to achieve real revolutionary change is

a politics of life that releases the positive and productive from the grip of the
repression that life itself too often produces. Deleuze's politics of life opens
new fields for political thinking by refusing to answer traditional political
questions of programs and tactics. Beneath the macropolitical interventions,
there are micropolitical processes. And unlike the macropolitical, the
micropolitical is subject to another thought and sensitivity, which cannot be
articulated by anyone for anyone else, and cannot be realized outside of the
contexts in which they arise. To engage in a politics of life is to construct
many politics of autonomy of the individual, of organizations, of subindividual parts in order to release many lives from willing or unwilling,

- 129 conscious or unconscious repressions to which they have been subject (May,

None of this is intended to reject the necessity of traditional macropolitics. As

Deleuze and Guattari emphasize (1987: 213), everything is political, but
every politics is simultaneously a macropolitics and a micropolitics. Deleuze
emphasizes that one cannot tell which forces are productive of life and which
repressive of it outside of a given concrete situation. He does not offer a
specific political program. To force a program on others, through violence for
instance, is to re-create the problem of a reactionary desire that often
reverses and undoes attempts at revolutionary change (Deleuze and Guattari,

4.5. Conclusion

Capitalisms cynicism quantifies all desire and production according to the

general (and exchangeable) equivalence of money and labour. Individualism
demands that we all recognise ourselves as human, as subjects, as selves:
equal, exchangeable and unified. So capitalism and modernity both work on
the notion of a difference that is nothing more than the relations between
equivalent units produced by subjection to a universal and inescapable law.
And we can only have this idea of a uniform and imposed system of difference
if we see difference as a law that prohibits, and saves us from, the
undifferentiated, unmediated and absent origin. But, Deleuze and Guattari
insist, desire and difference extend well beyond the imaginary or myth of
capitalism. We need to see difference as something other than an imposed
system of differentiation.

This will enable us to understand difference and desire as productive and

positive, and not just that which is excluded by submission to the system of
signification. Difference is not constructed from an undifferentiated system.
Deleuze goes against negative difference and insists that difference is
positive in itself. In the same way desire is positive in itself, it is not lack or
prohibition, it is a series of connections. Deleuzes concept of life, like his

- 130 conception of desire and difference, is productive, incorporeal and positive in

itself, and not just what lies beyond all law, systems and structures.

Baudrillard focuses not on difference, but on radical otherness, that which lies
beyond all law, structure and systems. Baudrillards unconvertible other is
based on an absence, a lack, a void. For Baudrillard, Islamic suicide bombers
are the radical other that have succeeded in turning their own deaths into an
absolute weapon against a system that operates on the basis of the exclusion
of death. Baudrillard states that if the political economy is the most rigorous
attempt to put an end to death, it is clear that only death can put an end to
political economy. Baudrillards powerful emphasis on the exclusion of death
in capitalism, however, lacks transformative force. Baudrillard remains in the
place of criticism. Symbolic exchange stays in place after wreaking its

Deleuze and Guattari show that it is the place of capitalism which must be
overcome. And this can be done only by displacement of and flight from
capitalism. There is a movement in Baudrillards work (a libidinal conception
of exchange), but Baudrillard installs a non-place of non-value in the place of
theory. Baudrillard produces a lost referent. Deleuze and Guattari emphasise
the ability of life to always transform itself. A politics of life focuses on the
specific intertwining of fluidity and constancy, life and death, becoming and
being that occur on various levels.

Baudrillard paints a dark and monochrome portrait of capitalism. Deleuze and

Guattari warn against outright condemnations of the socius of inscription,
against making society the enemy. Deleuze and Guattari credit capitalism for
removing all codes, all mechanisms of conformity and submission. There are
modes of social inscription that are exclusive, that separate bodies from what
they are capable of doing; and there are modes that are inclusive and
connective, that liberate desire.

A Thousand Plateaus and Anti-Oedipus are not political philosophy in the

sense that they merely critique political institutions and processes. Rather,

- 131 they are a political ontology that provides tools to describe transformative,
creative forces and movements. Deleuze and Guattari provide a conceptual
language in which to describe the impact of social movements that impose
new political demands upon the qualitative or cultural dimensions of social life.

Among the many places where analysis and intervention are possible for
Deleuze, art is ranked as special because it is here where the positive,
productive, and incorporeal are being both enacted and perverted. Deleuze
and Guattaris Anti-Oedipus calls for a subjective multiplicity, difference,
deindividualisation and displaced desire. This is a self-invention, connection
and expansion, an enlargement of lifes limits across capital relation.
Capitalism must become material for a new mode of expression: capitalism
can become a form of content for an independent machine of expression.

Deleuze and Guattari advocate an acceleration of the internal processes of

capitalism towards its own demise. This requires a revolution of desire and it
involves forming alternative socio-economic assemblages; there are no real
barriers to be overthrown. Deleuze shows how meaningful human life
emerges from meaningless pre-human syntheses and connections, and he
confronts the ways in which forms of perception in art allows one to re-think
the emergence of the human. It is to the role of art that I now turn.

- 132 -

Deleuze: Revolution of Desire
5.1. Introduction

As shown in the previous chapter, Deleuze and Guattari do not see life as
some linear or developing power that creates a human brain that can then
understand that originating life. Deleuze and Guattari posit one plane of
immanence or desire from which everything actual emerges. On the one
hand, there is a life of the actual organism: the life of a human body that has a
certain stable continuity and then dies. Deleuze and Guattari, on the other
hand, aim for a radical sense of life the life beyond the bounded organism
with its own life. This is what Deleuze and Guattari call the body without
organs. The body without organs in Anti-Oedipus (1977) is that which is other
than the closed organism.

In a Thousand Plateaus (1987), the notion of the body without organs will
become an important ethical term, the idea being that we can only escape
social and political oppression by undoing the effects of social and political
forces in ourselves. This means undoing our social self or personality in order
to return to a prior virtual state of being, reaching the unorganised level of life
which is the body without organs. Deleuze and Guattari argue that the image
of the organism is really opposed to desire. Desire must be understood to
embody the power of metamorphosis or differential reproduction, which is the
condition of creativity in culture as well as in nature.

Life is a desiring flow towards ever-proliferating differences and productions.

Before there are any subjects who desire, there is the production of desire. In
Anti-Oedipus Deleuze and Guattari refer to this production as the connection
of flows. Desire is the plane of immanence, the plane of composition, the body
without organs (depending which book one is reading). It is the virtual space
produced through and alongside the events of connection. It is not a general
undifferentiated ground, but is specific to the events or organisation quantities

- 133 in their pure state. It is not some actual ground or being that precedes
different parts, nor some organism that unites parts into a more meaningful
whole. This is why desire itself is revolutionary; desire is just this flow that
passes across, destroys and dissolves organisms, structures, terms and

The first section of this chapter will therefore explain the virtual flow of desire,
its positivity and productivity. I will move on specifically to how social
production stabilises, identifies and codes the flow of pure becoming and
differentiation. This requires that I show the various historical stages of
Deleuze and Guattaris political theory of desire and how each stage has its
own dominant form of synthesis or production. The first synthesis is that of
connection or territorializing. It is also a process of coding: cutting the flows of
intensity into body parts or specific intensities. Then there is the second
synthesis of disjunction, with one intensity set against another; the occupied
territories are ordered by some overarching or transcendent power such as a
despot or State. Then there is the third synthesis of conjunction. The law is no
longer transcendent. It becomes the internal and immanent law of life. The
third synthesis of conjunction refers all the flows back to some general
abstract essence, such as the flow of capital.

The problem with capital is its supposed immanence. There is no longer an

external figure of law that openly exerts force. I will then show that the only
way out of this is to push capitalism to its limit. If all life is flow and synthesis
then we need to undo the illusion that such flows can be generalised into a
single system of capitalism. The task Deleuze and Guattari propose is then to
take the capitalist image of universal man and capital, and disclose its specific
political and historical formations. The transcendence, in capitalism, becomes
nothing more than the abstract essence of capital and man in general.

The second section of this chapter will show that works of art open thought
onto the body and landscape, so as to give voice to the body before all
organisation, discovering its postures, capabilities and the forces which work
upon it. By working through matter, art makes visible the imperceptible forces

- 134 that work upon us. 37 Deleuze embraces an art where the material rises up into
a metamorphic plane of forces. I will explain that this involves a process of
passive synthesis. Art is thereby able to articulate pre-personal, inhuman,
unlived forces. Capitalism constructs a closed and finite world, whereas art
rediscovers the infinite through finite objects that it fashions, restoring the
infinite as a principle of composition.
The plane of composition 38 opened by an artwork cannot be identified as an
origin, grounding or founding subject. This is a crucial feature of all Deleuze
and Guattaris work, which ties them both to a modernist conception of art and
distinguishes them from either a philosophy of life or phenomenology. I will
show that art is not representational, nor is it expressive of an artists personal
vision. I will show that Deleuze claims that art releases a non-intentional level
of life. This non-representational and pre-conscious level is connected to and
comes out of the materiality of art, namely the block of sensations that it

In the final section of this chapter I will move on specifically to Deleuzes work,
Francis Bacon: Logic of Sensation. I will first show that Bacon, as a painter of
sensations and forces, shows an experience of the body that leads one
beyond the phenomenological lived body to the chaotic body without organs. I
will show how this refers to the process in which the organised forms of
conventional representation are deformed. Bacon paints the body, the figure
of sensation as opposed to the figurative body of conventional representation.
Bacons primary subject matter is the body disorganised and deformed by a
plurality of forces. This extraordinary bodily passivity in Bacon is not negative.
I will show that, by painting forces and their effects of deformation on bodies,
Bacon is able to confront and combat the forces of violence and terror.


Kunst gibt nicht das Sichtbare wieder, sondern, macht sichtbar (Klee, 1961:76).
Plane of composition, plane of immanence and body without organs all refer to the same thing. In
What is Philosophy Deleuze and Guattari seek to differentiate philosophy and the arts and do so by
distinguishing between a philosophical plane of immanence and an artistic plane of composition. The
philosophical plane of immanence they identify as that of the virtual and the pure event and the artistic
plane of composition is that of the possible and sensation. Given the insistent presence of the concepts
of the virtual and the event in nearly all of Deleuze and Deleuze-Guattaris analysis of the arts, such a
configuration can be confusing.

- 135 -

5.2. Revolution of Desire

In Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari address the question: how is revolution

possible? Their concept of desire provides an answer to this problem. If by
revolution is meant a rupture with the causal determinations previously at
work in a given social field, then only what is of the order of desire and its
irruption accounts for the reality this rupture assumes at a given moment, in a
given place (Deleuze and Guattari, 1977:377).

Deleuze and Guattari claim that desire is asocial or revolutionary by nature,

not in the sense that it wants revolution, but rather as though involuntarily,
by wanting what it wants (Deleuze and Guattari, 1977:116). They insist that
this desire is not primarily sexual nor directed at other persons and they reject
the idea that it naturally tends toward the formation of a fixed or centred
subjectivity. The best evidence, they argue, points to the fact that desire does
not take as its object persons or things, but the entire surroundings which it
traverses, the vibrations and flows of every sort to which it is joined and in
which it introduces breaks and captures (Deleuze and Guattari, 1977: 292).

Alternatively, if one persists in calling such libidinal energy sexual, then one
must say that sexuality is everywhere: in the manner in which a bureaucrat
fondles his files, the way in which a judge administers justice, or the way in
which a film-maker handles her camera, her characters and her story. What is
important is the manner in which this energy is invested in its surrounding
field: we always make love with worlds, Deleuze and Guattari write, and our
love addresses itself to this libidinal property of our lover, to either close
himself or herself off or open up to more spacious worlds (Deleuze and
Guattari, 1977: 294).

All life is a desiring flow towards ever-proliferating differences and

productions. What is originally desired, Deleuze and Guattari insist, is a prepersonal germinal influx of intensity (Deleuze and Guattari, 1977: 164).
Desire does not desire another person but only its own continued flow and

- 136 production. Deleuze and Guattari also continually argue that desire only works
when it breaks down. It is only when desire goes haywire refusing any
recognised or visible object as its supposed fulfilment that it is really at work.
Desire is essentially alien to structure, organisation and extended systems.
For desire is just this flow that passes across, destroys and dissolves
structures, terms and identities. Desire is the tendency towards flow and
difference, which means that desire is inherently revolutionary or destructive
of any closed order. Desire is a flow of life, an impersonal differentiating
sexuality, which produces organisms. So, before there are any subjects who
desire, there is the production or synthesis of desire (Colebrook, 2002b: 106).

Desire is a positive and productive force in the sense that it produces real
relations, connections, investments and intensive states within and between
bodies. In this sense, Deleuze and Guattari suggest (1977: 30) desire
produces reality. This sets the Deleuzian theory apart from the idea that
desire is constituted by the ever-renewed and impossible attempt to regain a
lost object of satisfaction. The point is to deny that unsatisfied desire is the
essence of desire.

Deleuze and Guattaris theory of desire is constructivist in the sense that

desire always requires a machine or assemblage. Deleuze and Guattari see
desire as a machinery of forces, flows and breaks of energy. Desires are
dynamic connections of bodies that vary in intensity and composition. Desire
is present in a machine or assemblage in the same way that, in a musical
work, the principle of composition is present in the silences as much as in the
audible sounds. Desire becomes applicable in any context or relation: it is a
spontaneous emergence that generates relationships through a synthesis of
multiplicities (Deleuze and Parnet, 1987:91).

Deleuze had already placed a great deal of importance on the positive notion
of synthesis in Difference and Repetition, where the argument was tied to the
history of philosophy. In order to have a world or an experienced and ordered
domain of objects, philosophers like Hume and Kant argued that there needed
to be a process of synthesis (Deleuze, 1984: 191). Perceptions need to be

- 137 connected into spatial and temporal continuities; the world is ordered causally
and logically. The world is the effect of a process of synthesis. Deleuze mostly
accepts this argument but he emphasises that there is not a world but worlds
resulting from all the different syntheses that make up life. Alongside the
synthesised worlds there is also the chaosmos, intense germinal influx, a
plane of immanence, plane of composition, a body without organs or
mechanosphere (depending on which of his books we are reading).

This plane upon which syntheses take place is itself a production or synthesis;
it is produced alongside. That is, there is a process of synthesis and
connection; this produces relations and terms. There is some presynthesised, disorganised or chaotic origin or plane from which synthesis
emerged. There is however not a subject who faces chaos, there is a sieve
from which chaos is inseparable and which is like a crystal of becoming that
draws on chaos for its forces. Chaos is inseparable from the crystal of its selfperception. The crystal shows the power of expression indiscernible from the
content it determines. The crystal is expression (Deleuze and Guattari, 1986:

For Deleuze and Guattari, the chaosmos or plane of immanence is a plane

that can always be described, but as a part aside, as ungiven in that to which
it gives rise Life plan(e), music plan(e), writing plan(e), it's all the same: a
plan(e) that cannot be given as such, that can only be inferred from the forms
it develops and the subjects it forms, since it is for these forms and these
subjects (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987:266). The Totality that Deleuze and
Guattari have in mind is not some actual ground or being that precedes
different parts, nor some organism that unites parts into a more meaningful
whole. It is the virtual space produced through and alongside the events of
connection. In the same way, the body without organs is not a general
undifferentiated ground, but is specific to the events or organisation or
assemblage from which it can be intuited:

The BwO (Body without Organs) is the egg. But the egg is not
regressive; on the contrary, it is perfectly contemporary, you always

- 138 carry it with you as your own milieu of experimentation, your associated
milieu. The egg is the milieu of pure intensity, spatium not extension
the egg always designates this intensive reality, which is not
undifferentiated, but is where things and organs are distinguished
solely by gradients, migrations, zones of proximity (Deleuze and
Guattari, 1987: 164).

Deleuze and Guattari describe various historical stages of the political theory
of desire, each of which has its own dominant form of synthesis or production.
Anti-Oedipus is a history of desire and its syntheses. In Anti-Oedipus,
Deleuze and Guattari refer firstly to a synthesis based on the connection of
flows. The difference between one flow and another, or one becoming and
another, can be understood in terms of cut and connection. A plant turns to
the sun; a wasp flies to an orchid each connection is the becoming of a flow
of life, but it is a double-becoming becoming; it becomes only through
connection with another becoming. It is this connection or synthesis that
allows two intensities to be cut from the flow of life. A flow continues and
becomes only in being connected, but any connection also cuts into the first
flow. The two intensities wasp and orchid become only in being
connected. The flow of life, the flow that is at the origin of all these specific
intensive flows, does not actually exist; it is the virtual whole of
interconnecting and interrupting intensive flows. These intensities emerge
from difference itself (Patton, 2000: 69).

What is produced out of cuts and connections are desiring machines. These
connections are not connections between terms; they are expressions of a
flow of life from which extended terms can then be abstracted. Sexuality, for
example, is best understood not as one person desiring another, but as the
way in which life produces and continues with bodies being the points
through which this impersonal life flows. Distinct bodies would be intense
affirmations of virtual differences or tendencies. Masculinity and femininity, for
example, are two of the responses or creations that life produces in order to
continue. There is a flow of life that affirms and expresses itself in different
ways, such as sexually different bodies. But the general notion of male and

- 139 female as two sexes is the result of reducing a far more complex political
history that begins with the differentiation of genetic flows into larger territories
(Colebrook, 2002b: 103).

The first synthesis of connection produces distinct intensities by one flow of

desire intersecting with another (wasp/orchid; mouth/breast, not yet organised
into persons or full objects). In more political terms this connective synthesis
can also be thought of as territorialisation: a tribe gathers on the earth through
a collective and connective ritual of marking, where each body is scarred or
marked by a tattoo. This is also a process of coding: cutting the flows of
intensity into body parts or specific intensities. As mentioned in the previous
chapter, codes articulate bodies and liberate libidinal forces, allowing them to
recombine in new ways. A tribe enjoys and invests in an image, such as an
animal, a body part. It is not that the tribe uses the animal to represent who
they are; it is only in gathering around or desiring this image that there is a
tribe at all. Deleuze and Guattari refer to these as territorial or collective
investments, and it is the investment that connects the tribe as a group not
some underlying identity, which the investment then signifies (Bogard, 1998:

State philosophy systematically misconceives that operation, positing a










heterogeneous elements, an identity of parts for what is an internal

proliferation of differences (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: 23). This State
philosophy is where the second synthesis of disjunction comes in. In the
second synthesis of disjunction, one intensity is set against another; one body
can be elevated above another, such that there is a distinction between two
levels. Here, the connections are referred to some ground or order. There are
the marked bodies or connections and the body of the despot who allows
these marks to be seen as signs of some law or order. This can also be
described as deterritorialisation the groupings or coded collectives are
distributed across a common surface; the occupied territories are ordered by
some overarching or transcendent power. It is also a movement of
overcoding; it is not just the immediate mark or scar on the body the shared

- 140 affect or intensity that organises the tribe. The mark or scar (the code) is
read as a sign of subordination to the power of the despot. The pain is no
longer a collective ritual of intensity, but the threat of the despot's power. The
pain has become more than itself, producing a surplus value of code; it has
been overcoding (Goodchild, 1996:86).

Lastly, there is the third synthesis of conjunction. The flows are explained or
referred back to some ground, reason or logic from which they emerged. The
connections are governed by some general law of nature. The cruelty of tribal
scarring or coding is not just ordered by the terror of the despot or State; the
law is no longer a transcendent and explicitly overpowering terror. It becomes
the internal and immanent law of life.

This is self-subjection. Instead of one body or investment overcoding the

whole explicitly with the threat of terror, all life is decoded into one single
immanent flow. For instance, all life is labour and capital, not subjected to any
outside order or value. The conjunctive synthesis refers all the flows back to
some general abstract essence, such as the flow of capital. The order of
connections is not imposed from without (the body of the despot terrorising
the tribe); it is produced from the ground all connections and disjunctions, all
differences or flows, are read as instances of, as signs or expressions of,
some underlying whole. It is through this third conjunctive synthesis that the
virtual whole of difference can be imagined. It possesses the tendencies from
which difference emerged: the body without organs, the chaosmos, the plane
of immanence, life, virtual difference (Colebrook, 2002b: 130).

The problem with capital is its supposed immanence. There is no longer an

external figure of law that openly exerts force, such as the despot. Capitalism
no longer abstracts units (such as the bodies of subjects), which are then
coded by some higher law; there is no law outside the unit of capital itself.
Capitalism is immanent and axiomatic. The axiom is a dead end one cannot
change it, at best one can add another one. In mathematics, the axiom is the
starting point, which cannot itself be grounded or justified, but rather serves as
the ground or justification for all the other steps and propositions:

- 141 -

The choice of axioms involves a choice of basic technical terms to be

left undefined, since the attempt to define all terms would lead to
endless regression. The axioms of capitalism are obviously not
theoretical propositions or ideological formulas, but rather operatory
statements which make up the semiological form of Capital, and which
form constituent parts of the assemblages of production, circulation,
and consumption There is in capitalism a constant tendency to add
more axioms (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987:461).

In capitalism there is a radical deterritorialisation. The flows of exchange are

no longer impeded by an external authority, so deterritorialisation is no longer
limited from without. Capitalism works by allowing maximum exchange
without subjection to a higher law. More significantly, though, there is a radical
decoding. Capital is not the measure or quantity that allows the exchange of
goods. It is capital itself that is exchanged and flows. For instance in the
sharemarket, the flow of capital is not used to translate one set of goods into
another, but only to increase capital flow. Not only can everything become
capital, for instance the way the avant-garde, punk, feminism, and
postcolonialism all become marketable images, but power is produced by the
flow (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987:462).

There is no external authority that governs the flow of code; it is the

imperative of the flow of capital that governs life. Politics is no longer a
question of the State, some position or law elevated above the flow of life
political power is immanent. It is the flow of capital that selects, decides, gives
power and distributes. It does not matter what is exchanged and quantified;
indeed, it is not that there is a substance that is quantified. It is the unit or









Transcendence has now been installed within immanence. Money was

originally a measure with which to exchange goods; but now it is money itself,
the flow of money, its capacity to decode every other code, that is the very
power of capitalism. If marking bodies was cruelty, and overcoding those
marks with a law was terror, then the capitalist reign is one of cynicism.

- 142 Capitalism does not work by ideology or belief; capitalism is not a set of moral
or political values. This is why capitalism can allow for all forms of art,
knowledge and belief.

The only way out of this is to push the deterritorialising tendency of capitalism
to its limit. If all life is flow and synthesis then the illusion that such flows can
be generalised into a single system that can act as the axiom or starting point
for all flows must be undone. Rather than seeing difference as the system of
signification that codes and orders all other differences, the very notion of the
speaking subject or man as the locus of economic and sexual difference
is actually the effect of inhuman, divergent and positive becomings.
Revolution, therefore, is not about transgression or overthrowing the law
revolution comes from confronting the syntheses of desire that produces law.
The task Deleuze and Guattari propose is then to take this image of universal
man and capital and disclose its specific political and historical formations.
The State is the site of deterritorialisation, a point within desire that elevates
itself to be the law of all desire. This transcendence, in capitalism, becomes
nothing more than the abstract essence of man and capital in general
(Colebrook, 2002b: 133).

There is a positive capitalist tendency in all life, a deterritorialising tendency to

open any system to exchange and interaction. But deterritorialisation, which
relies on an initial territorialisation, is also accompanied by reterritorialisation.
Capital arrests its tendency to produce and open flows, by quantifying all
exchange through the flow of capital. Everything is measured by money or
quantity such as the commodity value of art and the information value of
concepts. Deleuze and Guattari would appear to argue at least implicitly that
capitalisms deterritorialisations and lines of flight are primarily aesthetic and
scientific rather than political. As they write Why this appeal to art and
science, in a world where scientists and technicians and even artists, and
science and art themselves work so closely with the established sovereignties
if only because of the structures of financing? Because art, as soon as it
attains its own grandeur, its own genius, creates chains of decoding and

- 143 deterritorialisation that serve as the foundation for desiring machines and
make them function (Deleuze and Guattari, 1977: 368)

For Deleuze, one can only think out of joint with ones time if one affirms the
deterritorialisation power of capital. This requires that one sees life as a flow
that is not the flow of some underlying substance (such as capital). Where
capitalism constructs a closed and finite world through money, sheltered from
chaos, art rediscovers the infinite through finite objects that it fashions,
restoring the infinite as a principle of composition. Unlike capitalism, art
wishes to tear open the firmament and plunge into chaos, before returning as
if from the land of the dead (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994: 202). There is an
economy to art: an economy of intensification with respect to change rather
than an economy of production with respect to investment. The power of the
artist is to take an actualised set of relations the lived and open up the
potential of other relations. Life is not properly realised in human perception,
for our world is only one of the ways in which life might be actualised or lived
(Goodchild, 1996: 188).

5.3. Imperceptible Aesthetics

Deleuze and Guattari draw on the modernists 39 insistence that art is not
reducible to everyday life or human experience, but they take this separation
of art beyond modernisms location of the art object within some broader
concept of humanity or tradition. They are therefore closer to Virginia Woolfs
and D.H. Lawrences modernisms than the history and tradition of Joyce,
Pound and Eliot. Lawrence and Woolf both theorised an art that stepped
outside of human life in its historical constitution so that life as such could be
given form in art. Eliot, Pound and Joyce, by contrast, used the Western
tradition, canon or history of voices to broaden the modern and urban
contraction of experience into functional and efficient man. Modernists often


Aesthetic modernity is, by the conventions of most art historians and literary critics, dated from the
last decades of the nineteenth century. It constitutes a break with representation, hence a certain selfreferentiality and above all a set of formalisms.

- 144 appealed to history, tradition or culture as the broader life that might be
appealed to in the face of commodification (Colebrook, 2006: 94).

Deleuze and Guattari, on the other hand, reject the idea that there is some
human history or tradition which might reground life and which can be
retrieved if art is separated from everyday life. Great art is not expressive of
any constituted tradition and the life which the work of art opens up is radically
inhuman and radically futural and not yet given any form of experience. On
the other hand, while critical of some aspects of modernism, it is the
modernist production of the radically separated artwork that enables Deleuze
and Guattari to see the autonomy of affect and percept in all art (Colebrook,
2006: 94).

Percepts are not perceptions, and affects are not affections or feelings, for
percepts are independent of a state of those that undergo them and affects
do not arise from subjects but instead pass through them (Deleuze and
Guattari, 1994:164). The percept is the landscape before man, in the
absence of man (ibid.,169). Affects are these non human becomings of man,
just as percepts are the non human landscapes of nature (ibid.,169). Percepts
are not continuous with life and are not effects of a synthetic activity of
consciousness. Affects and percepts stand alone and bear an autonomy that
undoes any supposed independence of self constituting consciousness: we
attain to the percept and affect only as autonomous and sufficient beings that
no longer owe anything to those who experience them or who have
experienced them (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994: 168). Deleuze insists on art
as a power that is not located within lived experience nor within a constituted,
personal, historical time.

Deleuze and Guattari, like the modernists, want to reach the animating life
from which systems and maps of movement emerge. Modernist works of
literature stepped back from habit, reification, mechanization, commodification
in order to intuit the emergence of order from chaos, the genesis and the
sense of logic from the flux of life. It is this idea of plunging back into life and
then re-emerging with the work of art that frames Ezra Pounds Cantos, which

- 145 recalls Homers Odyssey and the poets giving of blood to the ghosts of the
past in order to retrieve the life of the present. Everyday present life is dead
precisely because it has become enslaved to the technologies that were
originally formed to sustain life. In T.S. Eliots The Waste Land urban
commuters are figured as the march of the dead into hell. In D.H Lawrences
novels and short stories, mining communities are represented as a form of
living dead. In Joyces Ulysses a funeral body passes through the streets of
London and in Virginia Woolfs Mrs Dalloway the city is haunted by the
spectral figure of Septimus, the returned soldier. For the modernists, the only
escape of this land of the living dead is through an escape from life as it is
currently lived (Colebrook, 2006: 94).

Deleuze and Guattari directly refer to this communion of the dead in What is
Philosophy? Instead of the habitual life that has become organised by the
labouring human body, Deleuze and Guattari advocate a life of sensation that
has not been synthesised or rendered meaningful: The philosopher, the
scientist, and the artist seem to return from the land of the dead The artist
brings back from the chaos varieties that no longer constitute a reproduction
of the sensory in the organ but set up a being of the sensory, a being of
sensation that is able to restore the infinite (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994:

Just as Joyces Ulysses sets the flowing life of Molly Blooms menstruation
beyond the newspaper dominated streets of urban Dublin, Deleuze and
Guattari also describe the artist as plunging into chaos and returning with a
renovated order. However, Deleuzes approach to modernism is not reducible
to a return to the lived. Life is not the lived, not the unified world of one
ongoing, meaning producing humanity. On the contrary, there can only be the
perception of the life of humanity or the history of this world because various
affects have been organised from some synthesising point of view; before the
lived there is for Deleuze and Guattari the affects or possible encounters from
which lives are forged. The affect certainly does not undertake a return to
origins, as if beneath civilisation we would rediscover in terms of

- 146 resemblance, the persistence of the bestial or primitive humanity. Life is a

multiplicity of powers to differ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994:174).

Deleuze is opposed to the reference of all that is possible back to some

grounding self constituting life; what is important is not the unfolding of life,
where life would be some pseudo theoretical agent or subject, so much as the
power of life to create folds that are not its own, unforeseen and ungrounded.
Mind and matter are two trajectories that emerge from the tendency of life. In
order to move forward, life must expend energy in an explosive and differing
force. On the other hand, in order to move forward effectively life also delays
expenditure and contemplates how it will act, allowing for the formation of
habits and regularities that save energy and ultimately time (Colebrook, 2006:

Life is therefore expenditure (acting immediately, not thinking) and reserve

(not acting, pausing, thinking, contemplating in order that one might move
efficiently with less time). In the relaxation of matter, all is given at once, we
know what matter can do or be. This is opposed to relaxation or contraction of
spirit, which is perceived as not fully given or reserved, because we
experience minds as different from each other in their capacity to act
differently in ways not already given. If, however, contemplation of spirit slows
completely and does not act at all then the contraction of spirit allows for an
image of sensation itself: not sensation in order to act but sensation that is an
encounter with the powers that are not our own. The eye becomes not an
organ within a body that orders sensation according to its needs, but nothing
other than the sensation it enjoys:

Contraction is not an action but a pure passion, a contemplation that

preserves the before in the after. Sensation, then, is on a plane that is
different from mechanisms, dynamisms and finalities: it is a plane of
composition where sensation is formed by contracting that which
composes it, and by composing itself with other sensations that
contract it in turn. Sensation is pure contemplation, for it is through

- 147 contemplation that one contracts, contemplating itself with their

sensations that contract it in turn (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994: 212).

It is in not acting, or in contemplating life passively not being a self or

becoming imperceptible that life is no longer folded around a specific point
of view but is disclosed in its power to create varied relations: Contemplation
is creating, the mystery of passive creation (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994:
212). Contemplation makes it possible to achieve an event whereby there is
just seeing, sensation and whereby the image is not grasped as the image of
something for some observer. The contemplative power of art is achieved by
isolating an affect or percept separated from the ordered world that then
allows for the opening of the infinite. It might seem that sensation in this
account is merely a behaviourist reception of stimuli, but sensation entails
creation. The soul of creation is the soul of force, albeit a force that does not
act, a force in retreat. In what sense is sensation passive creation and the
contemplative soul a force that does not act? (Deleuze and Guattari,

In Difference and Repetition, and in many of his other works, Deleuze refers
to passive synthesis. We usually conclude that because our world is made up
of meaningful and ordered (or synthesised) units that there must have been
some subject who synthesised, and we usually think of this subject as the
human mind or ego. But synthesis, Deleuze insists, is passive and can only
be explained if we do not locate desire within organisms but think of desire as
life itself, which then synthesises or connects and produces organisms.
Traditional evolutionary theory suffers from the same failures that plague
western metaphysics: of thinking difference extensively. It explains life from
bodies or species that survive, respond and adapt. To think creation
intensively demands that we see evolution as a process that flows through
bodies, so that genetic creations are neither bounded by organisms, nor can
they be explained as adaptations or responses to some outside world
(Colebrook, 2002b: 118).

- 148 There is a creative genesis that produces borders between insides and
outsides through the formation of strata. The development of vision, for
example, is a creation that can be affirmed in the becoming of a number of
species in different ways; it is a tendency in life which can manifest itself or be
actualised in different types of organisms. It is not that the organism offers a
response to an outside world. It is from a responsive life in general that the
eye light assemblage can be formed. There is, in life, already a virtual
tendency for vision to be actualised, and it can be actualised through different
lines of development. The tendency or becoming is not owned by the
organism; the organism is the vehicle or passage through which the becoming
flows (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: 225).

The history of thought has tended to ground synthesis on some subject, such
that becoming or desire the very production of life is interpreted as the
activity of some being. This is the error of transcendence: attributing
becoming to one of its effects. It is only when synthesis is seen as passive
that desire can really be affirmed. Actives synthesis is the activity of some
thing, being or subject; it relates, then, to what it is not. The subject
synthesises its world; mind synthesises its experiences. But passive synthesis
just means that there is production and connection, without being grounded
on some prior agent or subject (Bogue, 2003a: 183).

For instance in terms of evolution: organisms are formed or synthesised by

following the possibilities or pathways that increase their power. These are not
conscious or active syntheses; they are not decisions. But they can be seen in
terms of desire, for the creation of life is the affirmation of a force or power.
Different organisms are not the result of a uniform life that splits into species.
The syntheses of life the differences and repetitions from which organisms
emerge are productive and infinitely richer than the closed forms we seem
to perceive. A being evolves, not by unfolding what it is, but by selecting and
actualising a multiplicity of its virtual powers to become. Thus becoming is not
the action of an agent responding to an object world, becoming is desire and
synthesis. The subject that desires (the distinction between inside and
exterior) is produced in and through the production of relations. Further, the

- 149 relations and connections, or syntheses, of life are secondary to the

affirmations of the singular powers from which distinct beings emerge. To say
that life is passive synthesis is to insist that it does not proceed from agents.
Agents and subjects are productions of the singular becomings that cannot be
reduced to some general ground or uniform difference (Deleuze and Guattari,
1987: 225).

The work of art is a synthetic, passive and asymmetrical unity. The

heterogeneous elements it synthesises have no other relation to each other
than sheer difference. The elements brought together by the art work cannot
be said to be fragments of a lost unity or shattered totality, nor can the parts
be said to form or prefigure the unity of the work through the course of a
logical or dialectical development or an organic revolution. Rather than
functioning as their totalising or unifying principle, the work of art can only be
understood as the effect of the multiplicity of the disconnected parts (Bogue,
1996: 48).

The work of art produces a unity, but this product is simply a new part that is
added alongside the other parts. The artwork neither unifies nor totalises
these parts, but it has an effect on them because it establishes syntheses
between elements that in themselves do not communicate, and that retain all
their difference in their own dimensions. Art establishes transversals
between the elements of multiplicities, but without ever reducing their
difference to a form of identity or gathering up the multiplicity into a totality.
The work of art, as a compound of sensations, is not unification or totalisation
of differences, but rather the production of a new difference. Deleuzes theory
of art is not a theory of reception, an analytic of the spectators judgment of a
work of art, but a theory of aesthetics written from the point of view of creation
(Bogue, 1996: 49).

The aim of art is not to represent the world as it is, but to present a sensation,
which is a composition of forces, an intensive synthesis of differential
relations. The conditions of sensation are at the same time the conditions for
the production of the new. For Deleuze, art is not representational, bearing a

- 150 resemblance to the world: no art and no sensations have ever been
representational (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994: 193). Representational
thinking assumes that there is an ordered and differentiated world, which we
then dutifully represent; it does not allow for thought itself to make a
difference, and it does not see difference as a positive and creative power to
differentiate. If thought were simply representation, then we could only
imagine difference as the difference between the different beings that we
recognise: the world of representation is characterised by its inability to
conceive of difference in itself (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994: 138).

Modern art and modern philosophy both renounced the domain of

representation and instead took the relations of representation as their object.
For Proust, signs render visible the various invisible structures of time
(passing time, wasted time, time regained). Twentieth century painting aimed
not at the reproduction of visible forms but the presentation of the non-visible
forces that act behind or beneath these forms. It attempted to extract from
these intensive forces, a block of sensations, so as to produce a material
capable of capturing these forces in a sensation (Deleuze and Guattari,

The visual field is constantly subject to an organisational movement of the eye

that regularises and systematises objects in space. The eye moves here and
there and composes its familiar web. The movement of the eye constructs a
recognisable space. Paul Klee rejected the problematic of making
recognisable an intelligible world and takes on instead the problematic of an
interworld, a Zwischenwelt another possible nature, one that extends
creation, rendering visible what is not visible, without becoming slave to the
subjective imagination. Klee creates an interworld, midway between an
objective exterior domain and a subjective, internal, imaginary realm, a natural
realm but one that ordinary experience is not seen an invisible nature in
potentia, a possible world made visible through art. Klees interworld is the
world of art as natura naturans, as force and energy in the process of
constructing its own cosmos. Klees work attests to the fact that creation
exceeds created nature, and that the artist is a place where creation

- 151 continues to produce its fruits. Nature and art are two kingdoms of creation.
But the second owes nothing to the first Klee says that the artist is nothing
more than a tree trunk through which the sap rises; but the fruit the tree bears
is something no one has ever seen before (Lyotard, 1971: 237-238). Paul
Klees phrase echoes Deleuzes writings on the arts: not to render the visible,
but to render visible.

For Deleuze and Guattari, art or the body of sensation renders visible the
invisible forces that play through bodies. They do not make a distinction
between external forces and internal sensations, but between invisible forces
and visible bodies. Is it not the genius of Cezanne to have subordinated all
the means of painting to this task: to render visible the folding force of
mountains, the germinative force of the apple, the thermal force of the
landscape etc? (Deleuze, 1988: 39). The germinative force of the apple is
experienced as a corporeal intensity, but that force is not a mere
psychological projection any more than the apple is an extension of the
human body. In sensation there is no differentiation of inside and outside, of
human and non-human. Hence Deleuzes insistence that the germinative
force is the apples force, not the viewing subjects, a factual rather than a
projected, phantasmagoric intensity (Bogue, 2003a: 125).

Art stands alone as a monument that produces sensations that no longer rely
on a perceiving subject or a constituted world. This can be explained with
reference to Maldineys Heideggerian meditation on the monument (Maldiney,
1973: 174-82). The monument is Denkmal, both sign (to think, denken) and
body (paint, Mal). The monolith is the simplest and most ancient of
monuments and the prototype of all artworks, a surging forth of a self-forming
form. In Maldineys analysis, nature itself forms monuments, the Matterhorn
being a self-forming form that surges forth from a chaotic unfoundation
(Ungrund) and in forming itself though a founding rhythm establishes its
surrounding landscape as its foundation (Grund) (Bogue, 2003a: 168).

Artworks are monuments that do not so much commemorate but conserve.

The successful artwork has a certain solidity, a viability or self sufficiency, as if

- 152 it were able to stand on its own. Its solidity, viability or monumentality has
nothing to do with its physical size, but arises from the block of sensations
that it conserves. The smile of a young boy captured in a portrait is conserved
in the painting. The smile is distinct from the artist who painted it, the boy who
served as its model and finally from the boy himself figured in the painting.
The smile as a monumental, enduring moment conserves itself in the painting
and it is perpetually reactivated and recommenced at each viewing. In a way it
depends for its continued existence on the material survival of the paint and
canvas, but the smile is finally distinct from the matter in which it is embodied.
The smile itself has an unspecified, free floating existence and even if the
material of paint and canvas were to endure only for a few seconds, it would
give the sensation the power of existing and of conserving itself in itself, in the
eternity that coexists with that short duration (Deleuze and Guattari,

The material of the artwork does have a necessary relation to the selfconserving sensation it embodies. The formation of the artwork takes place on
a plane of composition that Deleuze and Guattari subdivide into a technical
plane of composition which concerns the material of the artwork and then an
aesthetic plane of composition (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994: 192) which
concerns sensations. Though artists have developed limitless means of
engaging the two planes, Deleuze and Guattari propose two basic poles in
their interrelation. In the first, the sensation realizes itself in the material, that
is, sensation adapts itself to a well-formed, organised and regulated matter. In
painting, this is the mode of representational, perspectival art in which
sensations are projected onto a material surface that already contains within it
the spatial schemata that structure its figures. In the second case, it is the
material that passes into the sensation (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994:193).
Rather than sensation being projected onto a calm material surface, the
material rises up into a metamorphic plane of forces. In painting, the paint
itself, its thickness, saturation, texture articulates forces. Matter becomes
expressive in the artwork. There is finally only one single plane, in the sense
that art involves no other plane than that of aesthetic composition: the
technical plane in fact is necessarily covered over (i.e. when the sensation

- 153 realises itself in the material) or absorbed by (i.e. when the material passes
into the sensation) the aesthetic plane of composition (Deleuze and Guattari,
1994: 195-196).

Composition is the sole definition of art and everything (including technique)

takes place between the compounds of sensation and the aesthetic plane of
composition. Sensations are percepts and affects, beings extracted from the
everyday corporeal world, which then become the compositional elements
that the artist shapes on an aesthetic plane of composition and renders
perceptible through the materials that have been rendered expressive. In all
the arts the goal is to wrest the percept from perceptions of objects and from
states of perceiving subject, to wrest the affect from affectations as passage
from one state to another. To extract a block of sensations, a pure being of
sensation (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994: 167). Deleuze uses Spinozas term
affect to refer to transformations in bodily capacities. Bodies undergo
modification or change when they act upon other bodies or when they are
acted upon by other bodies. In A Thousand Plateaus, what Deleuze and
Guattari call processes of becoming are precisely such engagements with the
powers of other bodies. This is the reason for their assertion that affects are
becomings. All is vision, becoming. Becoming animal, vegetable, molecular,
becoming zero (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987:256).

The aim of art is not to make a moral or existential judgement about our
conditions of experience. Instead it is a question of wrestling with the vision
that is too much for us, in order to disengage a force of life. The work of art
reveals the force of that which is repressed, that which we do not know that
we know. Cosmic virtual forces impinge on artists, including affects or
becomings, which themselves are compositions of forces a simple vibration
or passage of force from one level of corporeal intensity to another
(connective synthesis); an embrace (treinte) or clinch (corps corps) in
which forces resonate with one another (disjunctive synthesis); or a
withdrawal, division, distension whereby forces separate and spread out
(conjunctive synthesis). And as the artist becomes other they pass into things,

- 154 they become absent but everywhere in the landscape 40at which point they
are able to render palpable in the work of art the impalpable forces of the
world (Bogue, 2003a: 165). 41 Though this bonding of bodies and sensations,
of people, artworks and cosmos might sound like sheer mysticism, it is based
upon a coherent theory of nature as creation. How artists are able to render
matter expressive is a mystery, but less so is the sense in which matter itself
is expressive. The key is to understand the plane of composition as both an
aesthetic plane of artistic creation and a material plane of physico-biological
creation. 42 The plane of composition is an infinite field of forces (ibid.,188).

This is the importance of Deleuzes notion of forces: beyond prepared matter

lies an energetic materiality in continuous variation, and beyond fixed form lie
qualitative processes of deformation and transformation in continuous
development. Matter is never a simple or homogeneous substance capable of
receiving forms, but is made up of intensive and energetic traits (clay is more
or less porous); and forms are never fixed molds but are determined by the
singularities of the material that impose implicit processes of deformation and
transformation (iron melts at high temperatures, marble or wood split along
their veins and fibres). What becomes essential is no longer the matter-form
relationship but the material-force relationship. The artist takes a given
energetic material composed of intensive traits and singularities and
synthesises its disparate elements in such a way that it can harness or
capture those intensities, what Klee called the forces of the cosmos (Smith,
1996: 43).

Art wants to create the finite that restores the infinite; it lays out a plane of
composition that, in turn, through the action of aesthetic figures, bears
monuments or composite sensations. A canvas is the framing not of a scene
to be represented, but a selection of the plane of composition. What is seen is

For instance, Cezanne saw the percept as man absent but everywhere in the landscape (Maldiney,
1973: 185).
This taxonomy of sensations is a reprise of Deleuzes classification of forces in Bacons paintingsforces of deformation, forces of coupling, forces of separation
It must be admitted that Deleuze and Guattaris treatment of the relationship between artists and
physico-biological creation is rather cryptic. Bogue (2003a: 170) attempts a somewhat speculative
reconstruction of their argument. Deleuze and Guattari had planned to write a philosophy of nature and
this would have clarified many points had Deleuze and Guattari completed such a work.

- 155 not the world as it is coloured, as though sensibilities were qualities through
which we grasped being. Rather, colours, shadows, lines are the being of the
world. It is not that being has a sensible dimension; for being is the sensible.
Colours, lights, sounds are presented as the powers or potentials that allow
us to perceive worlds. Colour in the work of art has to be extracted from the
plane of composition presented not as perceptual overlay but as one
connection through which being is given. Colour is only possible because the
forces of light and sensation encounter each other. The material, the paint on
the canvas, has to capture within time and space, the intensities, singularities
or powers which open spaces and which are then perceived in chronological
time. Such singularities are for all time or untimely; they bear a power to be
actualised over and over again, returning eternally (Colebrook, 2006: 101).

Sensation is wrested from perception of the object and states of the

perceiving subject to become a percept that belongs to matter itself. Percepts
are the moments of vision that constitute the world. The work of art is a matter
in a state of nature, alienated from humanity, no longer responding to human
needs or interests. The work of art pays homage to matter as it exits in itself,
apart from its use value. The work of art opens thought onto the body and
landscape, so as to give voice to the body before all words, discovering its
postures, capabilities and the forces which work upon it. While the percepts of
the landscape cannot be given directly, a withdrawal, a division or distension
of sensation may open sensation onto that which lies outside it. Instead of
being simply shaped by the extrinsic requirements of capital and efficiency,
the work of art opens onto all the forces at work in the cosmos (Goodchild,
1996: 190). 43 When percepts and affects are successfully wrested from
human perceptions and affectations one is not in the world, one becomes
with the world, one becomes in contemplating it (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994:


According to Deleuze, Nietzsches method of cultural historical analysis of psychological and moral
phenomena is grounded in a particular ontology of force. This notion of force is not just a physical or
mechanical quantity but a quasi-spiritual energy expressed as signification. If the mind is a theatre, it is
because forces that run through the individual and forces influencing the individual from the outside find
expression in the mind. The mind, like the world, is a system of forces. Deleuze turned to Nietzsches
thought in order to explore relations of force, both physical and social (Due, 1999:32).

- 156 Deleuze emphasises the importance of confronting inhuman or disconnected

forces beyond our recognition. This means thinking that is not defined by an
image it creates of itself, but that reforms itself over and over again, eternally.
Cinema, for instance, becomes affirmative when it frees us from the idea of
time as a connected order or sequence. Cinema must present time not as a
logical connection or progression but as an interval, disruption or difference;
cinema presents how things do not hang together through images in states of
variation without organising observers and subjects. Deleuze refers to this as
deterritorialising. Deterritorialising frees a possibility or event from its actual
origins. Deterritorialisation produces an image of pure affect; a sensation that
is not referred to any specific body or place (Deleuze, 1986: 96). Perhaps this
is the proper sphere of art to pass through the finite in order to rediscover, to
give back the infinite (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994: 197).

Art should not maintain or repeat what has already been expressed, allowing
content to circulate while leaving the actual world or system unchanged; great
art changes the very nature of any system. Deleuze would, for instance, not
be opposed to popular film because it becomes common and then makes
money. He differs from modernists who lamented the commodification of art
simply because art would become popular. The problem with arts relation to
money, is for Deleuze more formal. Any art that aims to reproduce the future
on the basis of the past is repressive or majoritarian and focuses on content.
Cinema is at its most cinematic not when it is presenting ordered temporal
narratives, such as historical epics or dramas with historical contexts. Deleuze
is anti-contextual. Recognising our culture is just one way of allowing
ourselves to remain who we are. The point is rather to ask which book will
change the entire landscape of literature. Great art disrupts the pre-given
categories of thouht; it is minor not because it is elitist, but because it does not
yet have a people or group whose world it represents (Colebrook, 2006: 88).

The problem of money in relation to art is not that works become alienated
from their aura, capable of being copied, distributed and torn from their origin.
The problem lies in the style of repetition. The role of money in circulation and









- 157 dissemination occur not for the sake of creating a difference or new relations,
but for reinforcing the circulation of money. One creates a sequel to a film in
order to repeat the same networks of exchange, in order to have the original
flows of money, audience and products repeated in the same way. The point
for Deleuze is not to resist repetition and circulation of art, but to allow
circulation to proceed without reterritorialisation of money: the creation of a
sequel that would repeat the creative force of the original, not its effected
relations of exchange. Every work of art must be singular. For this reason I
will now limit myself to Deleuzes examination of the oeuvre of a single artist
in Francis Bacon: Logic of Sensation (Colebrook, 2006: 90).

5.4. Francis Bacon

Deleuzes book on Bacon attempts to show that Bacons art in particular and
painting in general can only appropriately be understood if we move away
from all narration, representation and figuration as long as we mean by the
latter terms, identifiable signification of something outside of painting.
Deleuzes overall interpretation of Bacon is in part supported by Bacon
himself who underlines, in his famous discussions with David Sylvester, that
his art of painting has something to do with violence, the nervous system, life,
excitement, and death. For Deleuze, Bacons paintings directly attempt to
release the presences beneath representation, beyond representation
(Deleuze, 1981: 45).

Bacon paraphrases the poet Valry: ... I want very, very much to do the thing
that Valry said give the sensation without the boredom of its conveyance
(Sylvester, 1993: 65). Deleuze understands Bacon's paintings and his own
theory of desire as inscribed in a logic of sensation. Deleuze deals with the
status of sensation as a pre-representational realm as such. In addition, he
works out a different conception of the body, which follows his interpretation of
the role of sensation in experience in general and in painting in particular.
Sensation, according to Deleuze, has an immediate status in experience and
indicates a pre-conscious form of being in direct contact with the world. As
such, sensation is the level of pure presence (Deleuze, 1981: 47).

- 158 -

For Deleuze, sensation is not qualitative and qualified, but has only an
intensive reality, which no longer determines within itself representative
elements, but allotropic variations. Sensation is vibration (Deleuze, 1981: 39).
Vibration is a connective synthesis. This concept of sensation has
consequences for how Deleuze addresses bodily experience and the handling
of the body in Bacon. If sensation, according to Deleuze, enters the bodily
level, it emerges in the form of a spasmodic appearance (Deleuze, 1981:
40). This means that experience is not (or not yet) organized and ordered
through bodily organs.

Deleuze willingly concedes the resemblance between such a non-organismic

idea of the body and Merleau-Ponty's concept of the lived body. He differs
from Merleau-Ponty in his rejection which is Artaud's rejection of a unified
body. The body without organs 44 has no organism, that is, a coordinated,
unified, regulated whole, with senses that operate together in their reports to
the outside world (i.e. touch, sight, hearing, etc., combining to assemble the
discrete and fixed characteristics of objects into a recognisable and
manageable environment). If the body without organs is a body at all, it is only
according to Deleuzes special definition of the body as a particular
configuration of relations of swiftness and slowness, of rest and movement,
between non formed elements and a specific level of affective intensity of an
anonymous force (Deleuze, 1981:171).

This means that sensation is not a reflex of [the body's] living unity, but
instead rather like a transgression of this unity by the forces which overflow it
and violently carry away the body to seize possession of it (Deleuze and
Guattari, 1987:204). Sensation is the action of forces on the body, the
intensive fact of the body (Deleuze, 1981: 27). The body, which differs from
the organism, is traversed by a wave which traces levels and thresholds
according to variations in their amplitude (Deleuze, 1981:67). Sensation is


As it has been stated in the previous chapter, Deleuze takes the term from Antonin Artaud , who
writes The body is the body/ It is alone/And has no need of organs/The body is never an organism/
Organisms are the enemies of the body (Deleuze, 1981: 33).

- 159 the meeting of forces with these waves. Sensation takes place when, for
example, a force, such as light, meets with the body's waves by means of an
organ such as the eye. If Deleuze's body is possessed with organs, they are
not the organs of biology or of common sense. It is sensation that determines
a body's organs, and only then provisionally, at the spaces of intersection
between forces and waves. Whenever a force meets the oscillating wave of
the body without organs, a provisional organ is determined by that encounter,
but a provisional organ that lasts only while the passage of the wave and the
action of the force last, and which will be displaced in order to be situated
elsewhere (Deleuze, 1981: 126). Each site of such a provisional organ is the
site of a force meeting a vibratory wave, a rendering visible of an invisible

The distinction is not between external forces and internal sensations but
between invisible forces and visible bodies, the body of sensation rendering
visible the invisible forces that play through bodies. Deleuze initially describes
sensation as having a subjective and objective side, but he soon adds that it
really has no sides at all; it is both things, indissolubly; it is being-in-the-world
as the phenomenologists say: at the same time I become in sensation and
something arrives in sensation, one through the other. And finally it is the
same body that gives it and that receives it (Deleuze, 1981: 27).

Hence when the eye views an apple, the apple is not to be taken as an
external force impinging on the corporeal eye. Rather in sensation apple and
eye are part of a body without organs, such that when Cezanne paints an
apple with what D.H Lawrence calls the applyness of an apple he paints the
body. The body without organs is the body of sensations and these
sensations take place at a pre-subjective or pre-organised level in which body
and world cannot be differentiated. It is the fusional world-body of sensation
that Cezanne paints. But what Cezanne ultimately aims to do is to go beyond
sensation and paint the invisible forces that impinge on it, to turn sensation
back on itself, to extend or contract it, harness in that which sensation gives
us, the forces that are not given, to make sensate the forces that are nonsensate (Deleuze, 1981: 39).

- 160 -

Deleuze sees Bacon as a successor to Cezanne in that Bacon too is a painter

of sensations and forces. But Bacons canvases make patent an experience
of the body that is only latent in Cezanne, an experience that lends one
beyond the phenomenological lived body to the chaotic body without organs.
Bacons art disembodies bodies (Deleuze, 1981: 47). Bacons paintings
depict a body, which tries to escape from itself in the form of a chaotic, nonrestrained, and non-structured entity. Bacons repeated fascination with the
scream is introduced as an example.

Bacons aim is not to paint the visible horrors of the world before which one
screams, but rather the intensive forces that produce the scream, that
convulse the body so as to attain a screaming mouth: the violence of the
horrible spectacle must be renounced in order to attain the violence of the
sensation. One can paint the horror (the sensational) and not paint the
scream, because one represents the horrible spectacle and introduces a story
or one can paint the scream directly (the sensation) and not paint the visible
horror, because the scream is necessarily the capture of an invisible force. If
force or intensity is the condition of sensation, it is nonetheless not the force
which is sensed, since the sensation gives something completely different
from the forces that condition it. How will sensation be able to turn upon itself,
extend or contract itself in order to capture, in what is given to us, forces that
are not given in order to make us sense these unsensible force and elevate
itself to its own condition? How can the material used by the artist (paint,
words, stone) attain this level of forces? How is it capable of bearing the
sensation?(Smith, 1996: 42).

For Klee, in order to produce a complex sensation, in order to harness the

forces of the cosmos and to render them visible, one must proceed with a
sober gesture that simplifies the material, selects it, limits it. All one needs is a
pure, simple line, an inflexion. In Bacons paintings, the human body functions
as the material support of a framework that sustains a precise sensation. In

- 161 Bacons paintings, the human body plays the role of the figure. 45 Figuration
refers to a form that is related to an object it is supposed to represent
(recognition); the figure, on the other hand, is the form that is connected to
sensation and that conveys the violence of this sensation directly to the
nervous system (Smith, 1996: 44).

Bacon intends to avoid figuration or illustration to reveal in the figure a matter

of fact. Deleuze argues that Bacons problem and the problem of all painters
is that the blank canvas on which he paints is not really blank at all. It is
already full of images clichd images that bring with them a host of cultural
associations, ready-made meanings. Bacons figure undoes the organisation
of affections and perceptions, that is the habitual mode of being and
substitutes something else, a different organisation or assemblage, a different
take on the world, in fact a different world in itself. The figures power is to
deterritorialise its affective dimension that is produced through history,
through the utilisation and mixture of past forms, past affective assemblages.
Art utilises the stuff of the world to go beyond that world again, it operates on
a number of different registers, signifying and asignifying. Art makes use of
components of clich in order to disrupt clich (OSullivan, 2007:67).

Bacon attempts to render the figure without figuration, to escape the clichs of
illustration and narration by isolating or framing the human body inside a
circle, or cube. Bacon then deforms the figure by making random marks, such


What Deleuze says about the figural derives from Lyotards analysis. In Discours, figure (1971)
Lyotards primary objection is with structuralisms rampant textualisation of the world and to insist the
visual constitutes a domain unassimilable within codes and regulated oppositions. The
phenomenological critique of Saussurean structualism is only a preliminary stage in Lyotards argument,
for the visual itself requires examination if what Lytoard calls its truth is to be disclosed. To the extent
that the visual is recognised, comprehended and assimilated within a rational order, Lyotard contends,
its truth is lost, for it is thereby coded and made readable and textualised. Its truth is only revealed in the
event, which presents itself as fall, as a sliding and an error, what is called the lapsus. The event opens
a space and a time of vertigo(Lyotard, 1971:113). The event discloses a dimension of disorganised
visibility that Lyotard labels the figural. The figural is unmarked by the coordinates of a regular
dimensionality, of a fixed up and down, left and right, its objects defy good form or ready
categorisation. The figural itself is unrepresentable. The figural forces of deformation directly invest the
eye and hence engage the domain of the sensible which at the same time manifest the operations of the
unconscious. Lyotard links the figural to the Freudian unconscious and in this enterprise he and Deleuze
part company. Yet much of Lyotards figural is compatible with Deleuze. In appropriating the concept of
the figural Deleuze too wishes to resuscitate discussions of figuration and abstract art and delineate a
space of sensible autonomous forces but without resorting to Freudian psychoanalysis (see Bogue,

- 162 as throwing paint at the canvas. Such techniques undo the organic and
extensive unity of the body, and reveal its intensive and non-organic reality, a
body without organs. These marks also undo the optical organisation of the
painting itself, since this force is rendered in a precise sensation that does
violence to the eye. The marks reveal the precise point of application of the
intensive force contorting the body, making the body shudder or vibrate
violently (Smith, 1996:46).

To paint, as Klee noted, is to render visible; or painting should be, not

figurative, but figural. What this means for Deleuze is that time, inertia, sound,
thermal qualities in short, forces not accessible to the eye should be made
visible in painting. For Deleuze, painting should render forces as forms. Thus
the agitation in Bacons heads comes not from movement but from the
pressure of forces. In each successive face of, for example, the triptych,
Three Studies for a Self-portrait, the zone where forces happen to strike is
marked by deformation. When Bacon paints bodies he paints forces. This is
the extraordinary bodily passivity in Bacon. Bacons primary subject matter is
the body deformed by a plurality of forces: the violent force of the hiccup,
scream, the flattening force of sleep. Bacons figures are not tortured bodies,
but ordinary bodies in ordinary situations of discomfort, just as a person
forced to sit for hours would inevitably assume contorted postures (Deleuze,
1981: 34).

For Deleuze, one of the most important functions of art is to make us believe
in the body, to restore a direct self-awareness to the body. This can only be
done by showing the body its limitation along with its postures and
movements such as tiredness, sleep and illness, by which art interrupts
significance and subjectification: the body itself becomes expressive. Such a
belief in the body enhances rather than diminishes the possibilities of life, for it
awakens a sensitivity to intensities. Deleuze is fond of the paintings of Bacon
which often show cuts of raw meat, contorted bodies or flesh flowing off
bodies onto the ground. The aim of this, according to Deleuze, is not to give
one a sensation of horror so much as allow the nervous system to attain a
direct, unmediated sensation. For the sensing body can dramatise the cuts of

- 163 meat or movements of flesh in the painting. Sensations are then experienced
directly as intensities on ones body (Deleuze, 1981:189).

To the extent that Bacon paints intensities and forces and their effects of
deformation on bodies, he paints sensation. A painting by Bacon is
circumscribed by a logic of sensation insofar as he is the painter of the body
without organs. We can understand Bacon, Deleuze maintains, through a
clinical aesthetic. The body without organs that Bacon paints is the body of
the hysteric. The hysteric feels the body to be, so to speak, under the
organism; he or she senses transitory organs underneath the fixed organs.
Hysteria has always been a matter of more than just functional disturbances
of the body; it has also been a matter of such excesses of presence. When
Bacon paints Velsquez's Pope Innocent X, caged in plate glass and crying
out in horror, he is painting the hysteric, giving substance to an art hysteris

Bacon is a painter of the unorganised and non-organic sensations. Bacon

deforms the human body to reveal hysterical or provisional organs. The body
without organs discloses an affective dimension of becoming, one in which no
entities as such may be recognised, but only vectors of force-matter and
currents of affect. The role of the affect is to bring a force of becoming or
deterritorialisation to bear directly upon the recipient. It gives one a sensation
that acts directly on the body, without needing to be processed by the
significations available in the mind.

The body in Bacons works is always in a process of becoming other

becoming animal, becoming molecular, becoming imperceptible and the
rhythms that play through his compositions are those of a non organic life, a
power more profound than the lived body and almost unlivable (Deleuze,
1981:33). In many of Bacons portraits, animal traits seem to emerge from the
human forms a pigs snout from a nose, a dogs muzzle from a jaw, a birds
wing from an eyebrow and Deleuze sees in these traits a general becoming
animal of the body. He is not speaking of a mimetic relationship between man
and animal, but of a zone of indiscernability or undecidability, between man

- 164 and animal, of an interactive process of disorganisation whereby the

recognisable features of the human face assume various mutant shapes and
contours (Deleuze, 1981:20). The tension between the representational face
and the mutative head manifests itself as a struggle between structural bone
and malleable flesh.

According to Deleuze, Bacon, as a portraitist, paints the head beneath the

face, the body, the figure of sensation as opposed to the figurative body of
conventional representation. Facialisation must be understood as the system
of human organisation. Facialisation is representation par excellence.
Deleuze and Guattari claim that facial expressions have complex social
interactive functions; they play an important role in language use and their
significance varies from culture to culture. But Deleuze and Guattaris
assertions go well beyond these. They stress the power relations inherent in
speech acts and hence treat facial expression as part of a larger system of
social discipline. Approving nods, disapproving frowns, shame, disgust all
are part of a general pedagogy whereby authorities of various sorts reinforce
proper behaviour and orthodox codes. A language is always embedded in the
faces that announces its statements and anchor them in relation to the
signifiers in process and the subjects concerned (Deleuze and Guattari, 1977:

Bacons heads are probe-heads, lines of escape from the face and from
faciality. Crucially, they are not a return to some kind of primitive pre-faciality.
They are in fact an escape that takes place from within the terrain of the face,
a kind of stammering from within. Probe-heads are not necessarily pictures of
heads but rather any device that disrupts faciality, for the latter applies not just
to heads but to most mechanisms that produce significance and subjectivity,









landscapification within the world. Bacons probe heads are a move to chaos.
They dismantle the strata, break through the walls of significance and steer
the flows down lines of positive deterritorialisation or creative flight (Deleuze
and Guattari, 1977:190).

- 165 Yet all art must have an element of figurality, an intimation of order emerging
from chaos, something that looks back as it were (not a face, but a head).
Bacons defacialisation involves a deployment of the figural. For Bacon, the
watchword is caution: always save the contour. The contour is that which
isolates the figure, producing a territory, but also that which allows contact
and communication with the outside or ground (a vibration or connective
synthesis). All art has a rhythm in this sense, relations between territory and
an outside to this territory, like Klees interworld or Maldineys monument: A
local refrain that opens onto the cosmic refrain.

Music must then be seen as exemplary of all art, involving as it does, the
specific production of local refrains within larger ones. In Bacons paintings,
Deleuze finds complex rhythms of movements and forces: a systolic force of
isolation that passes from the back-ground to the figure; a diastolic force of
deformation that induces various becomings; a dissipative force whereby the
figure escapes itself in a line of flight; a coupling force (connective synthesis)
that establishes a relation between two figures; a force of separation
(disjunctive synthesis) that distributes figures within a universal field of colour
and light (conjunctive synthesis) (Bogue, 2003a: 126).

For Deleuze, the diagrams in Bacons work are chaos but also the seed of
order or rhythm (Deleuze, 1981: 67). It is the diagram that enables the
deformation or deterritorialisation of the figure, this production of the body
without organs, that which lies under organs, under faces, under organisation.
In painting, and specifically Bacons paintings, the diagram involves the
making of random marks that allow the figural to emerge from the figure. The
diagram is the operative set of asignifying and non-representative lines and
zones, line-stokes and colour-patches (Deleuze, 1981:101). We might say
that this rule of the diagram can be applied to all arts, all of which must involve
this chance, this contact and utilisation with that which goes beyond
conscious control.

Bacon says When I was trying in despair the other day to paint the head of a
specific person, I used a very big brush and a great deal of paint and I put it

- 166 on very, very freely, and I simply didn't know in the end what I was doing, and
suddenly this thing clicked, and became exactly like this image I was trying to
record. But not out of any conscious will, nor was it anything to do with
illustrational painting. What has never yet been analyzed is why this particular
way of painting is more poignant than illustration. I suppose because it has a
life completely of its own. It lives on its own, like the image one's trying to trap;
it lives on its own, and therefore transfers the essence of the image more
poignantly (Sylvester, 1993: 17)

For Bacon, there always had to be an equitable dialogue between the

intentional and the non-intentional. We may recognise here again a version of
Klees interworld of natura naturans and of Maldineys form as self-forming
activity whereby the ligne juste opens up the path of unpredictable necessity
through which various possibilities are eliminated and one course of
development is realised (Bogue, 2003a: 123).

Random occurrences are ontologically constitutive of art. It is in this sense

that art can never be wholly pre-determined or worked out in advance but
must involve this productive encounter with chaos. As Deleuze remarks:
the law of the diagram, according to Bacon, is this: one starts with a figurative
form, a diagram intervenes and scrambles it, and a form of a completely
different nature emerges from the diagram, which is called the Figure
(Deleuze, 1981: 156). All art therefore produces a world in this sense, world
hitherto unseen but always produced from within the seen.

For Deleuze, figurative and geometric abstract painting pass through the
brain, they do not attain the sensation, they do not liberate the figure, they do
not act directly on the nervous system. Geometric abstraction, as Deleuze
argues with Kandinsky, elevates the optical and ultimately returns to figuration
inasmuch as it contains a code (visual or spiritual). This is a signifying art,
waiting to be read (Deleuze, 1981:104-5).

For Bacon to paint a pope's cry as he does in his re-interpretation of

Velsquez's Pope Innocent X is again not to paint the spectacle that gives

- 167 rise to it, but to paint the virtual or invisible forces which are its condition.
Bacon does not reproduce the spectacle of a body undergoing torture, but the
isolated body wanting to vomit, wanting to sleep on which forces act. But
this assumption of passivity, this pessimism, is only one side of sensation.
The other side is the optimism of a cry that is itself the struggle of the visible
body against the invisible, decomposing force. It is the body whose figure
renders the force visible. The cry is thus life, desire, in struggle against the
forces (Deleuze, 1981:71).

Deleuze seeks to contradict the idea that artists such as Bacon are in some
way expressing a deep terror of life in their art. Bacons work may be imbued
with all sorts of violence, but he manages to paint the scream and not the
horror. The virtual forces that cause the scream, Deleuze says, should not be
confused with the visible spectacle before which one screams. The scream
captures invisible forces, which cannot be represented, because they lie
beyond affections or pain and feeling: they are, Deleuze claims enigmatically,
the forces of the future, virtual forces, affects. In deciding to paint the
scream, Bacon is like a wrestler confronting the powers of the invisible,
establishing a combat which was not previously possible. In this way, Bacon
evinces an extraordinary vitality. He allows life to scream at death, by
confronting terror, and entering into combat with it, rather than representing it.
Bacon engages in what Deleuze considers to be a form of combat with the
forces of violence and terror (Marks, 2003:118).

5.5. Conclusion

Art disengages us from present perception precisely because the virtual is

positive: always transforming, open and as productive of the actual as the
actual is of the virtual. Art is not a human power set over and against a world.
It is not a separate judgement of the world; art is the very becoming of the
world. Art recreates a territory, but a territory that is not really territorial. It is an
interplanetary space, a deterritorialized territory providing a possibility of
movement in all directions, a rhythm.

- 168 Everyday capitalist life is characterised by repetition as the return of the same,
primarily in the standardised, technological production of commodities and the
proliferation of information. Art embraces and incorporates this habitual
repetition, in order to expose its limits and to extract what is differential and
virtual within it. The task of the work of art, then, is to open a line of flight that
passes from perception to the imperceptible by interrupting repetition with
difference. And gradually, repetition is transformed from the return of the
same to creation from difference. All art is an isolation of affect and percept
separated from the ordered world that then allows for the opening of an
infinite: art wants to escape the finite that restores the infinite.

Deleuzes philosophy of the virtual affirms that what does not act, is not
perceptible, is not actualised or brought to presence, and has yet to realise
itself through effected relations. Deleuze insists that the virtual is an inhuman
power. Art, like freedom, is what happens when the virtual intervenes or does
violence to the sequence of the present. It is the virtual that opens the power
of human decision or freedom. We have an image of who we are in relation to
a being that we are not. For Deleuze, freedom is not a feature of human
beings; freedom is what happens when we do not respond automatically and
immediately; it is a question of speed and slowness. There is a delay between
stimulus and response because of the intervention of invisible forces and it
is this delay that leads us to believe that we were the authors of this freedom.
It is more accurate to say that there is a flow of time or imaging which is
slowed down or disrupted by the virtual. It is this disruption that makes it
possible to then distinguish between the human perceiver and the world
perceived, between human freedom and organised matter. We imagine that
the free human being was there all along, as some actual point that then
perceived the world.

Deleuze and Guattari propose a revolution of desire. Desire must be

understood to embody the power of metamorphosis or differential
reproduction, which is the condition of creativity in culture as well as in nature.
This revolution does not involve dismantling the capitalist socius so much as
superseding it with a more advanced socio economic machine. Capitalism

- 169 must become material for a new mode of expression. The revolution of desire
is an aestheticisation of the social field: it takes the social field as its material
that it will build into a monument of sensation, exceeding matter. The implicit
presuppositions of social relations are sensed, not represented. Instead of
desire being immediately present through territorial expression, the territories
become virtual, implicit, disguised and displaced.

Deleuze and Guattari, like the modernists, want to reach the animating life
from which systems and maps of movement emerge. The society of desire is
an association of experimentally constructed subjects, each creating their own
plane of composition or body without organs. This chapter has shown the
importance Deleuze places on synthesis. The connective, disjunctive,
conjunctive, passive syntheses have all been dealt with in this chapter. What
remains to be seen is my synthesis of Baudrillard and Deleuze.

- 170 -

Chapter 6
Baudrillards Metastasis and Deleuzes
6.1. Introduction

Deleuze refers to his work as a constructionism (Deleuze, 1990: 147). His

thought is best characterised as a philosophy of creation. Deleuzes concepts
constantly try, in Rimbauds words, to reinvent life itself. Deleuze describes
philosophy as the creation of concepts, an activity he parallels to the creative
activity of the artist. As a painter works with colour, so the philosopher invents
in the medium of concepts. Deleuzes conceptual substance overcomes the
Gallic tendency for rhetorical, poetic flourish by driving the production of
neologism to its absolute extreme. Baudrillard is his opposite in this respect.
With rhetorical flamboyance, Baudrillard condemns the fetishism of
production. Baudrillard plays the role of the parodist and parasite. His
intention is to write in two modes: the theoretical and the poetic. For
Baudrillard, this is a key form of poetic wit: there is a resolution but into
nothingness and there is nothing behind this nothingness. Baudrillard is a
theoretical extremist and a master at piling up metaphors, aphorisms and
maxims that simulate the emptiness of hyperreal society. In Baudrillards
theory-fiction, we dwell in horror, and like all great horror writers this dwelling
is not without its humour. For Baudrillard, this was a horror at life.

Allegory, allusion and irony are typical of Baudrillards mode of analysis.

Walter Benjamins conception of allegory stands at the cross roads of
modernity and postmodernity because its operations unsettle representation
and acknowledge simulation where there is no coextensive between the map
and the territory it represents or between the signifier and signified. We no
longer see the territory but read the map which endlessly refers to other
maps. Allegory breaks up reality and represents time through enigma. It
decentres the idea of the world as totality in favour of the fragmentary. The
role of the critic will be a particularly pertinent element of allegory for

- 171 Benjamin, and this is directly tied to the way in which allegory like the symbol
is a public and cultural mode of communication. Benjamins Baroque allegory
does not seek to present the world as it is, but seeks to present it as it is not,
since it is a priori unrepresentable. Benjamin establishes a relationship
between decay and critique. Allegory does not invent images it confiscates
them. In the same way, Baudrillard refuses to participate in the game of
producing positive solutions.

For Baudrillard, one only attains hyperreality through the elimination of ones
desire the speaker is always missing in the speech. In a simulated world, the
object of simulation is cut off from the specificity which produces it. This
discourse does not speak in the name of someones desire: it is only
considered in terms of the effects which they produce. In a neutral world of








hypersimulation, total dependence. Here there is, potentially, undisciplined

proliferation, an instability which cannot be maintained. Cancerous formations
have such overambition. The body seems to revolt against its own internal
regime, disturbs its own balance. Baudrillard proposes ironic collusion as a
better response than contestation. This is the way to cope with dead-end
situations: fight fever with fever, the pox with pox, barbarism with barbarism.

For Deleuze, to dissent is to affirm other modes of life. Deleuze emphasises

the world-building force of art. Resistance is not opposition; it constantly
accompanies power.

Resistance redoubles, and, ironically, finds itself

confronting its adversary. It causes an outside to surge up. This contaminates

and displaces the inside. What is the outside? The outside is the plane of
immanence, a wild multiplicity of forces. Art is that genuinely creative act that
actualizes virtual forces. Art involves a harnessing of anonymous forces.
There must be a relation of forces into an unformed or plastic element,
ceaselessly self-differentiating or being differentiated: Life.

This is how we understand the figures of resistance selected by Deleuze:

They are not figures of destruction. They are figures of an anonymous
existence, which are brought despite themselves to a visible or non-visible

- 172 confrontation with power. I will show in this concluding chapter how minor,
lowly, and obscure gestures (lacking glory) are illuminated as immense and
brilliant by a glorious power. Kafkas art, which can be described as art in a
minor key, therefore a kind of minor art, aims for a sober hyperrealism, a
realism that deals with metamorphosis rather than with metaphor. Kafkas
work is driven by an anti-lyricism and anti-aestheticism. The Castle and The
Trial function as machinic assemblages. Writing has double function: to
translate everything into assemblages and dismantle those assemblages.
Rather than illustrate the transcendence of the law, Kafka sets out machines
which function as immanent fields for the working of desire.

A minor art succumbs neither to a romance of the marginal nor to a romance

of the subject. Minority is a post individual experience based on the
articulation of a collectivity. The discrete hero colludes with dominant
structures yet he is also the grand vivant, he is of great life, he knows how to
become everyone and everything. Kafkas minor art stutters and stammers
the dominant structures from within. Minor art is a monadology. It is at once a
part of and apart from the major, in the world but not quite of it. Minor
literature views society from an oblique angle.

Leibnizs monadic conception of matter undermines distinctions between

organic and inorganic matter, interior and exterior, bodies and souls. If matter
is continuous and endlessly folded, it must express a concept of movement
which is always in the middle. The conjunction and helps us to think in terms
of the middle, to escape the way in which thought is conventionally modelled
on the verb to be. And is a tool for a sort of stammering in thought and
language. It is the possibility of diversity. Becoming is a question of being in
the middle rather than at the beginning or end. Becoming defines minor
literature. Kafka explores a curious interworld, in which bodies and words,
things and ideas interpenetrate and the traditional demarcations between the
physical and the metaphysical become blurred. This interworld or plane of
immanence generates signs and forces of life. Deleuze saw how Leibnizs
Baroque monad provided a way of thinking of subjectivity as a process in
relation to the world that is not given as a totality but as an infinite potential.

- 173 The Baroque world is post structural. But Deleuze also emphasises that the
Baroque is always seen from a certain perspective. It is both One and
multiple. On the other hand, we shall now see that Baudrillard emphasises
merely fragmentation, absence and ruins.
6.2. Baudrillards System of Objects Revisited

Baudrillards poetic sociological fictions have much in common with the

Baroque culture of the seventeenth century (Baudrillard, 1990a:15). Here was
a culture which had been thrust into a global arena by European imperialism,
which had a strong sense of the fragmented and constructed nature of the
social, which developed an articulate notion of the anxiety and subjectivity of
the self, and which practised parody and irony as rhetorical styles. Baudrillard
himself frequently employs baroque to describe society. Disneyland is an
example of pure baroque logic (Baudrillard 1989:101); the Vietnam war
never happened, perhaps it was only a dream, a baroque dream of napalm
and the tropics (Baudrillard, 1987:17); with this melange of concepts and
categories, as with the mixing and promiscuity of the races, one should
imagine the baroque effects of transfiguration (Baudrillard, 1990b:58). The










incompleteness of the world, the artifice and the artificial has much in
common with the endlesslessly constructed and simulated, in Baudrillards
terminology, character of the social in hyperreality.

For Baudrillard: the social void is scattered with interstitial objects and
crystalline clusters which spin around and coalesce in a cerebral chiaroscuro
(Baudrillard, 1990b: 3). Baudrillard might be a great describer, but description
is commonly associated with melancholy, loss, the fetish of the lost object,
the experience of the void and dispossession (Baudrillard, 1990b: 142).
Descriptive writing (which ought to be a life force) is often declared as deadly.
For example, according to Barthes: description exhausts itself in its attempt to
render the moral properties of the object while pretending all the while (an
illusion by inversion) to believe and wish the object to be alive. Capturing life
really means seeing dead. Adjectives are the tools of this delusion; whatever

- 174 else they may be saying, their very descriptive quality makes them funereal
(Beaujour, 1981: 47).

Baudrillards own vision of description is apocalyptic. For Baudrillard, our

impasse of death today is that the real (stockpile of dead matter, dead bodies,
dead language) is a descriptive disaster. The hyperreal is more deadly than
deadly. He describes the obscenity of hypervisibility. We live in the terror of
the all too visible, the total promiscuity. The hyperreal is the violence of a
civilisation without secrets. There is nowhere left to hide. It is a fatal condition:
all enigmas are resolved, all illusion is given up to transparency. Meaning,
reality and the concept of reference are all dead for Baudrillard.

Reality can only exist if it is different from the imaginary, so is it with sex and
work, desire and power: if the opposition between them is dissolved then in an
absolute sense they are no longer with us. This is one difference between a
system of meaning and a system of simulation, the former depends on solid
oppositions which in the latter are short-circuited by the confusion of poles in
a total circularity of signalling. There is no more faith in denotation. By
substituting signs of the real for the real itself, by rendering the real
reproducible, the system does something worse than remind us that discourse
is discourse, with no way back to the real; it initiates a catastrophe for any
realism still surprised that the referent may be the future of the sign, not its
proof, not its past, not its cause (Morris, 2000: 208).

It is the end of the scene, everything is obscene, there is no more mise-enscne, only a depthless screen with no perspectival space for play. Everything
is hyperreal. Hype does not refer to things but only to itself. The real is
growing and enlarging so the real no longer exists. The social is both residual
and swelling. The frenzy of information, the ecstasy of too much of ever more
x than x absorbs the opposite of something by abolishing the distinction
between them. Over-representation abolishes both real and illusion; over
banality is not the opposite but the equivalent of fatality. The scene is empty
(Baudrillard, 1990b: 43).

- 175 This is Baudrillards self-descriptive suicide. He announces the end of the

scene. How can he go on describing? The scene after all is his place and his
ability to summon its terrors. Baudrillard suggests a pataphysics of simulacra
a science of imaginary solutions. It is a hypersimulation of simulations, it
casts a real imaginary against an imaginary real. Against the truth of the true,
against the truer than true against that unclean promiscuity with ones self
called resemblance, we must remake illusion, rediscover illusion, that both
baleful and immoral of tearing the same from the same (Baudrillard, 1990b:
72). Pataphysics both absorbs and surpasses the scenario of suicide.
Pataphysics provides endless reinvention and so a place for the inventor.
Pataphysics is the true catastrophe, the form which remains to language
when it has nothing more to say (Morris, 2000: 211).

This is what we have unlearnt in modernity subtraction is what gives

strength; power emerges from absence. We produce; we accumulate. And
because we can no longer assume the symbolic mastery of absence we are
plunged today in the inverse illusion, the disenchanted proliferation of screens
and the profusion of images (Baudrillard, 2005: 129). For Baudrillard art is
first of all trompe loeil, a trompe life, just as any theory is first of all trompe
meaning (Baudrillard, 2005: 129). The typical Baroque forms of trompe-loeil
and stucco attempt to be illusionistic, to convince the spectator it is real, but
its entire aesthetic effect depends on his or her recognition that it is not real,
that it is illusion. Trompe loeil was a great aesthetic expression of the time,
the illusion at first convinces us, but a slight change of perspective alters
everything. What we admire in stucco is not simply the resemblance to the
real but precisely its tiny difference from the real. Trompe loeil is for
Baudrillard the ecstasy of the real object in its immanent form. It adds to the
formal charm of painting the spiritual charm of the lure, the mystification of the
senses (Baudrillard, 2005: 129).

This is the turning point in the story of the object: when resemblance runs riot
in the obscenity of the media and imagination expires, when the death of
denotation destroys the distinction of signs and things, a redemption of sorts
may be sought in the absurd illusory secrets of language; those secrets are

- 176 known to language alone and immune to obscenity. These are the sense-less
but ceremonious secrets of signs. This is the singular object, indifferent,
devoid of interest and without equivalent. It is impossible to say what the
object is since the effect of the object is to defy description to flee before or
parodically surrender to the subject trying to take hold leaving the latter with
the inarticulate stutter (Baudrillard, 1990b: 236). The subject tries to solve the
object, meanwhile the object dissolves the subject and ultimately the object
always triumphs (Baudrillard, 1990b: 84).

Baudrillards discourse is garrulous about the silence of an object that

would somehow speak: so it vaunts the power of enigma and seductive
senselessness, while creating a most severe and rigorous and predictive
allegorical mode of reading and writing: it summons fictions not to end
but to double and redouble ever-expanding exposition: and so in the end
does Theory come to embrace itself as work of art, dire object (Morris,
2000: 219).

Walter Benjamin, in his Origin of the German Trauerspiel, saw allegory as a

type of indirect language. It breaks up reality and represents time through
hieroglyphs and enigma. For Benjamin allegory does not invent images and
representations, it confiscates them. Images are therefore permanently
transformed into different ones. Allegory permanently states something
different. To speak allegorically is to speak otherwise, in public, for allegory is
other speech (Greek: allos, other + agoreuein, to speak publicly). An
allegory is thus a mutating symbol (symbolic exchange). Its meaning is
uncovered only in public. The role of the critic will be a particularly pertinent
element of allegory for Walter Benjamin, and this is directly tied to the way in
which allegory like the symbol, is a public and cultural mode of communication
(McCole, 1993: 132).
Benjamins most important allegorical figure is the fragment. Allegories are
fragments of meaning, shreds of a lost whole, ruins are allegories of allegory:
Allegories are, in the realm of thoughts, what ruins are in the realm of things
(Benjamin, 1974: 354). Fragments and ruins are the allegorical emblems par

- 177 excellence. Baroque allegory is for Benjamin, not so much a counteraesthetic

as a counter to aesthetics. Baroque Trauerspiel is replete with images of the
fragmentary. Fragments serve as emblems of decay and destruction. The
false appearance of totality is extinguished wherever the fragment comes
into its own (Benjamin, 1974: 352). The architectural ruin, for instance,
exemplifies the destructive effect wreaked by nature on history. The apparent
flow of temporal progression is frozen and petrified, captured in a spatial
image. And in the process the human social order is unmasked as a natural
phenomenon of the highest order (Benjamin, 1974: 271).
The Baroque fascination with the corpse the ruins of the human body has
the same sense. Trauerspiel's indulgence in torments is not capricious,
however; its inner logic dictates that the human body could be no exception
to the commandment decreeing the destruction of the organic, so that the true
meaning, as it was written and ordained, might be gleaned from its fragments
... The characters of the Trauerspiel die because only so, as corpses, can
they enter the allegorical homeland. Not for the sake of immortality do they
meet their end, but for the sake of the corpse (Benjamin, 1974: 390-392).
Death prepares the body for allegorical dismemberment, for an emblematic
distribution of its parts to the manifold regions of significance (ibid). The
Baroque obsession with rubble, both architectural and human, thus expresses
the primacy of the thinglike over the personal, of the fragmentary over the
total in the conception of nature-history (Benjamin, 1974: 362). Benjamin
saw the most radical potentials of modern aesthetic practices as being
strongly linked with the Baroque.
Lukcs, acknowledging his debt to Benjamin, saw allegory as the modern art
of the detail. Modern allegory and modernist ideology deny the typical. By
destroying the coherence of the world, they reduce detail to the level of mere
particularity. Detail, in its allegorical transferability though brought into a direct
if paradoxical connection with transcendence, becomes an abstract function
of the transcendence to which it points. Modernist literature thus replaces








underscoring the affinity of allegorism and detail, and despite his own

- 178 rejection of modern allegory, Lukcs made an important contribution to the

modern understanding of allegory.

Other critics more receptive to modernity like Baudrillard have insisted on the
pre-eminence of the detail, indeed the hypertrophied detail and detotalised
detail in the allegory. The detail with allegorical vocation is distinguished by its
oversignification and this is not a matter of realism but surrealism, if not
hyperrealism. The allegorical detail is a disproportionately enlarged
ornamental detail bearing the seal of transcendence, it testifies to the loss of
all transcendental signifieds in the modern period. Modern allegory is a
parody of the traditional theological detail. It is the detail deserted by god.
Kafka, for instance, severs the ties which link the detail to concrete existence
while at the same time putting it into contact with a totality that gives it
meaning. By eliminating the typical, by skipping the stage of generalisation,
Kafka condemns his details which are meticulously observed and seized in
all their phenomenological density to be nothing but details, pure
hypostases of transcendence which is very much in doubt. The allegorical
detail is a disembodied and destabilised detail (Schor, 1987: 61).

In America, Baudrillards glittering sentences reproduce the sound-bites of

American commercial discourse. Meaning is broken up into digestible chunks.
Baudrillards America and Cool Memories can be read as twentieth-century
versions of La Rochefoucaulds seventeenth-century Maximes et Mmoires.
La Rochefoucaulds maxims are also reflections (Reflexions diverses) which
are constituted by aphorisms, proverbs, penses, and apophthegms on life.
Much analytical debate surrounds the maxim as a literary form. The maxim
condenses meaning into a shortened form in order to express some (moral)
truth. However, the maxims brevity and carefully constructed form
submerges, immobilizes and eventually destroys meaning. Truth becomes a
truism, because form subordinates content. When maxims are published as a
collection, as in the case of Baudrillards America or Cool Memories, there is
an immediate problem as to how they should be read, randomly or
sequentially. The problem is that they have no necessary or intrinsic

- 179 relationship to each other. Maxims are sound-bites of an unfinished moral

code (Turner, 2000: 93).
The very fragmentation and discontinuity of the maxim as an art form, reflects
the precarious and fragmented nature of the Baroque period. La
Rochefoucaulds seemless web of maxims creates a sense of dizziness and
emptiness, reflecting the emptiness of human life. This Baroque anthropology
was, indirectly through the chaos of the reflections, a critique of
metanarratives in the classical world. The disorder of the maxims simulates
the disorder of society. The collection of maxims can be seen as a ruin, a
necessarily incomplete architecture of meaning. It is a ruin because it can
never be wholly assembled, but it is also ruined because it is by definition
Baudrillards America can be read as a collection of Baroque/postmodern
maxims. For instance: America is neither dream nor reality; the desert is a
sublime form that banishes all sociality, all sentimentality, all sexuality; this is
a world that has shown genius in its irrepressible development of equality,
banality, and indifference (Baudrillard, 1989: 28). Baudrillards other works
exhibit this same fascination with the aphorism. For example in Fatal
Strategies (Baudrillard 1990b:55): More visible than the visible this is the
obscene. More invisible than the invisible this is the secret. And in Cool
Memories: Dying is nothing. All you have to know is how to disappear; the
ultimate achievement is to live beyond the end, by any means whatever
(Baudrillard, 1988: 34). Baudrillards postmodern aphorisms can be called into
question by inversion. For example, living is everything. All you have to know
is how to appear; the ultimate end is to live beyond achievement, by any
means whatever. Each maxim eventually destroys truth by elevating form
over content. The precision and condensation of meaning in the maxim tends
to render it meaningless (Turner, 2000: 94).
For Benjamin, the fundamental law governing the Baroque allegorical mode of
expression is to be found in the antinomies of the allegorical (Benjamin,
1974: 350). He repeatedly contrasts the dialectical rhythm of allegory with the
balanced, harmonious inwardness of classical forms. The term dialectical

- 180 has nothing in common with its more familiar usage in Hegelian traditions.
Benjamin understands dialectics as an eccentric motion that enacts a
reversal between extremes (Benjamin, 1974: 337). The antinomies of
allegory involve a radical, despairing alternation between unbridgeable
antipodes; the comforting prospect of a harmonious synthesis is denied. Such
drastic reversals recur at all levels of Benjamins analysis.









constellations of objects. Employed as requisites of signification, pointers to

a hidden wisdom, objects suddenly seem to rise above their banal, everyday
existence. But as the codes of signification proliferate to the point that any
person, any object can mean anything else at all, this exaltation suddenly
yields to its opposite: objects are cheapened and degraded. This possibility
pronounces a devastating yet just verdict on the profane world, understood,
as in the Baroque, under the sign of transience. Thus the profane world,
considered allegorically, is both elevated and devalued (Benjamin, 1974: 350351).
This dialectic of content has a whole series of formal, stylistic correlates. All
allegory not only its Baroque variant leans heavily on convention, on a tacit
framework of codes and values behind the appearances that its very
artificiality allows to show through. Yet Baroque allegory is also a powerful
expression of despair over the creaturely element of human existence. The
conventionality and expressivity of allegory are thus constantly at odds: the
more skillfully conventional references are employed, producing a seamless
web of appearances, the less allegory expresses and vice versa. With
respect to its fecundity in the production of images, moreover, allegory seems
calculated and controlled. Yet, here too, the further the codes of signification
multiply, the greater the tendency for every idea to unleash a veritable
eruption of images (Benjamin, 1974: 349). And ultimately the very coherence
of Baroque literary works is torn between two poles in an analogous fashion.
Things emblematic references are assembled fervently in the unremitting
expectation of a miracle, a hieratic revelation (Benjamin, 1974: 354).

- 181 But the result is chaotic disorder, a heaping of elements rather than an
orderly, organic whole. The law that governs such works is therefore an







assembled according to their significance; indifference to their existence

scatters them again ... In the dialectic of this form of expression, the
fanaticism of collecting is balanced against the slackness of the arrangement
(Benjamin, 1974: 364). The antinomial rhythms of Baroque allegory, in form
as in content, have a wild extremity that resists domestication.
In allegory, the desire to collect is the attempt to gather a meaning from
objects but such a meaning is always partial, fragmented. Baudrillard
discusses the collector, as interested in the whole series, which cannot be
possessed. Time devours as if collecting. Baudrillard writes of the collector
gathering things as if mourning his own death, outliving himself through his
collections, which originating within this life, recapitulates him indefinitely
beyond the point of death by absorbing death into the series and the cycle.
Death and time take away, leaving ruins behind them which the collector
gathers. The collector absorbs into his collection as if acknowledging that the
collection cannot be completed. Baudrillard does not see collecting as a
narcissistic striving for immortality through a self-reflection in objects. Instead,
he insists on a more complex action which recycles birth and death into a
system of objects (Baudrillard, 1996: 96).
There is a circularity implied in the subjective order of objects. The collection
is able to have an underlying unity, only on the basis of the subject but this
subject in turn is only given through its objects. There is always something
missing. The collection only exists, has meaning, insofar as a piece is
missing. A narcissism is perhaps produced but only across a gap or void
precisely the subject itself which at once precedes collecting and is
produced by it, is what collecting stands in for and is left over after it (Butler,
In the same way we saw in Chapter Three that in the art auction there is an
aristocratic reciprocity between two incomparables in which there is always a
risk that there is no first or last exchange. In the art auction, the sumptuary is

- 182 this simultaneity of value and the destruction of value. It is the impossible
parity between money and object, buyer and seller in which each is given its
value at once. It is the equivalence of the beginning and the end, the first and
last exchange, value and the destruction of value that means that there is an
infinite distance between them. There is an infinite delay, and we can never
be sure whether any bid is the final one, that produces the possibility of
equivalence. Value is inseparable from the loss or destruction of value. The
act of consumption is never simply a purchase (reconversion of exchange
value into use value) it is also expenditure, that is to say, it is wealth
manifested and a manifest destruction of wealth (Baudrillard, 1981: 112-113).
For Benjamin, the extravagance, sumptuous, even wasteful profusion of
Baroque art is neither a flaw nor an incidental by-product but part of the
generative core of the allegorical form of expression. An endlessly
preparatory, digressive, voluptuously hesitant manner and even an awkward
ponderousness are essential to it (Benjamin, 1974: 358, 363). Baroque
allegorists were fascinated by the squanderous proliferation of natural history;
not harmony but decay and decomposition. The antinomies of the allegorical
generate an eruption of images typical of the Baroque type of form-giving
impulse: With each idea, the moment of expression coincides with a veritable
eruption of images, whose precipitate is a chaotically scattered heap of
metaphors. The rank metaphorical overgrowth (Benjamin, 1974: 374).
Benjamin likens allegory to sadism. Both betray and devalue their objects,
violating them: Significance rules voluptuously, like a sinister sultan in the
harem of objects ... Indeed, it is characteristic of the sadist to degrade his
object and then or thereby to satisfy it. The baroque aims not so much to
unveil objects as to strip them naked (Benjamin, 1974: 360). But the sadist,
like the allegorist, remains trapped in a compulsive repetition, alternating
between fascinated absorption and disillusioned abandonment of the emptied
emblem (ibid). In principle, no limits are set to this unrelenting drive to violate
the dignity of objects, leading to vertigo: As those who are falling turn
somersaults as they plunge, so would the allegorical intention fall, from

- 183 emblem to emblem, into the dizziness of its own bottomless depths
(Benjamin, 1974: 405).
Allegory's subjection of the world of objects ends in a frenzy of destruction
[Vernichtungsrausch] in which all earthly things collapse into a heap of
rubble. At this point, however, the world of allegorical forms culminates in a
reversal. Allegory ends by turning on itself. The very destruction of those
requisites of signification on which allegory depends leaves it empty-handed
and self-deceived, (Benjamin, 1974: 404-406). But this is what finally
releases it from its frenzy.
In the same way, Baudrillard shows that the pleasure of collecting is at once
its satisfying and disappointing quality. It is an economy of failure. Each piece
seeks to complete the collection yet knows it cannot and does not even want
to. The collectors pleasure grows the longer the collection continues, and the
more ingenuity is required to obtain the next piece but the collector knows that
at the same time the risk increases as each new piece brings the conclusion
closer. The pleasure in collecting is inseparable from a certain risk or pain.
Each piece stands for the last piece, completes the collection and also seeks
to defer the end. Each piece in the collection is at once its end and the
impossibility of its end. In the same way we saw in Chapter Three that the
social wants to be total but it exists only on the basis of the opposition it
makes between itself and terrorism. Terrorism threatens the state with its own
demise, i.e. with the possibility that there will be no other with whom it might
exchange. This forces the state to concede to the terrorists demands (Butler,
1999: 89).
For Benjamin: the danger of allowing oneself to plunge . . . into the abysmal
depths of the baroque state of mind is not negligible. The characteristic feeling
of dizziness induced by the spectacle of the epoch gyrating in its spiritual
contradictions is known to him (Benjamin, 1974: 237). Baroque Trauerspiele
are built as ruins to begin with: From the very beginning they are set up for
that critical dissociation wreaked on them by the course of time (Benjamin,
1974: 357). Baroque allegorical works make no attempt to disguise the fact
that they contain the seeds of their own destruction. That is for Benjamin, the

- 184 critical yield of the allegorical way of seeing. The task of criticism is not to
conjure up the appearance of the work as it really was, restoring a false
totality to it, but to collaborate with the corrosive effects of the passage of time
Benjamin stresses the necessarily discontinuous structure of representation.
This discontinuity pertains, first of all, to the representation of ideas by
philosophical criticism. Unity and totality cannot be attained by the unbroken
chain of deduction characteristic of philosophical systems (Benjamin, 1974:
213). Philosophical criticism involves the art of interruption (Benjamin, 1974:
212). The structure of the world of ideas itself is also discontinuous
(Benjamin, 1974: 213). Benjamin establishes a relationship between decay
and critique. Periods of alleged decay, particularly the decay of classicist
cultures whether the Baroque or Benjamins own time or any other had a
coherence of their own and offered chances for insight and knowledge.
Benjamin's insight into the coherence of the Baroque allegorical way of
seeing, in which remarkable stabilities of an entirely new kind had emerged,
in turn helped train his eye for the new stabilities of his own time (McCole,

Benjamin writes: The helpless fixation on notions of security and property

deriving from the past decades prevents the average person from perceiving
the most remarkable stabilities of an entirely new kind underlying the present
situation (ibid). For Benjamin stabilized conditions meant stabilized misery
(Benjamin, 1974:

94). The concept of progress is to be grounded in the

catastrophe. That things 'just go on' is the catastrophe. It is not that which is
approaching but that which is.
For Benjamin, the point was rather to collaborate in the work of destruction
and collaborate with barbarism. Benjamin embraced a new, positive
barbarism the good kind which was seen as the only match for the
barbaric powers of fascism of his time (Benjamin, 1972b: 396-398). For
Benjamin Culture is dead and he called for the liquidation of traditional
culture itself. Benjamins protagonist in this positive concept of barbarism is

- 185 the destructive character. This protagonist disavowed responsibility for what
he would leave in his wake. In an iconoclastic reversal of the fetish of
creativity, Benjamin praised his modus operandi as the way to cope with
dead-end situations:
The destructive character's only watchword is: make room; his only
activity: clearing out ... The destructive character envisions nothing.
Where others come up against walls or mountains, there too he sees a
way. But because he sees ways everywhere, he also has to clear the
way. Not always with brute force, sometimes with its refinement ... He
reduces the existing to rubble, not for the sake of the rubble but of the
path that leads through it (Benjamin, 1972b: 396-398).
For Benjamin, sovereignty inheres in whoever can master the state of
emergency. Like Benjamin, Baudrillard proposes collusion as a better
response than contestation. It is the spiral of intensification, the raising of the
power that counts. Baudrillard develops a fatal theory, a theory-fiction. For
theory, the decisive point is that its logic is that of an excess of potential, on a
single plane: potentialization. The massive logic of the capitalist system can
only be resisted by redoubling capitalism back against itself in a movement of
hyperconformist simulation, by pushing the code barbarically into hyperlogic
a massive spiral of accession to the demands of the system whose effect is
an explosion of terrorism to match the terror of the social.
For Baudrillard, on 9/11, the terrorists countered simulation with simulation
itself. This is what makes it a true event. The attack brings back death to a
world that pretends it is not there. The death of so many so visibly, makes it
oscillate between real and its other (and all it would exclude) and ultimately
what makes the event (not the act, or its direct consequences) unthinkable is
the use of death in a staged exchange where a whole culture could be
attacked. This event brings together many of the phenomena particular to
capitalist simulation, meshed together with that which would be outside it. It is
precisely the destructiveness of terrorism that creates a thoroughly concrete
reality, namely that of the threat, which fascinates Baudrillards aesthetic
consciousness. In these events we experience a fascinating artificial death.

- 186 The system prescribes a natural death, which represents an unnegotiable and
unwanted end. In the terrorist spectacle, death becomes more than simply
natural. Death itself demands to be experienced immediately, in total
blindness and total ambivalence. But is it revolutionary? If political economy is
the most rigorous attempt to put an end to death, it is clear that only death can
put an end to political economy (Baudrillard, 2002a: 86-87).

Baudrillards fatal strategy (if indeed it can be called a strategy) is that it must
continually destroy itself in the process of realizing itself in its object, i.e., in
becoming an event in the very universe it describes. This endless autodestruction of theory attempts to transform both itself and its object in
revolutionary praxis. Theory no longer represents or mirrors the real, but
rather must be the discursive intensification of its object. For Baudrillard, this
is a theoretical violence a stylistic excess whose function is to be as
extreme as the object itself. In the intensification of writing, theory renounces
its distance and merges with its object.

Baudrillards aim is to challenge society to exist in a way that is incompatible

and irreconcilable with its own principle of reality. But as we saw with
Benjamin, culture or the social is no longer the object of the challenge. The
object, in the present context, can be nothing other than the fragmented
pieces, pieces of mass culture itself, i.e., the residual that remains after the
object has absorbed the positive energy of the social. Baudrillard allegorically
liquidates what is already ruined. In the face of an object which consumes the
social, Baudrillard's theoretical strategy is to take up the same strategy as its
object, and this means that it must reduplicate and intensify, without
valorising. Baudrillard proposes to lure his opponent into making a selfdefeating move and turning the opponent's own force into a weapon against

Baudrillards writing attempts to form a relationship with that with which it

cannot form a relationship, attempts to describe something that at once is
excluded to allow it to be represented and only exists after the attempt to do
so. In a sense, therefore, it must seek to represent nothing. But the risk and

- 187 the strategy of writing is that it is only by daring to represent nothing, to offer
nothing in exchange for the appearances of the world, that the world
necessarily recognises itself in it that we bring about an exchange with it.

In the same way, Benjamins allegory does not seek to present the world as it
is, but seeks to present it as it is not in fact, from its point of view, the real
can only be presented as it is not, since it is a priori unrepresentable. In such
presentations of the world-as-it-is-not politics and aesthetics become
indistinguishable, with the political and the aesthetic occupying the same
moment. Ideally, such presentations will have the effect of disrupting
(ideologically comforting) presentations of the world-as-it-is, and of introducing
the complacent bourgeoisie to the exciting uncertainties and vast political









representations that do not represent the world on process, not on


6.3. Deleuzes Plane of Immanence Revisited

There is a strong connection between Benjamins Baroque allegory and

Deleuzes concept of the fold. However, where Benjamin and Baudrillard
were purely destructive of concepts, for Deleuze Baroque allegory is
emblematic of a new manner of thinking as well as characterising aesthetic
practices. For Deleuze, the Baroque model of the monad is a way of thinking
of subjectivity as a process in relation to the world that is not given as a
totality but as an infinite potential. The essence of art is a kind of country or
landscape, a region of being (Deleuze, 1993: 43). Essence in this sense
does not name some mysterious, transcendent quality of art, but rather its
internal consistency or its world-building character. Essence is not explained
by subjects, but rather itself constitutes distinct artistic subjectivities. As
Deleuze remarks Essence is not individual it individuates (Deleuze, 1993:

For Deleuzes Leibniz this individuation is achieved by the monad and by

relations between monads. In his last philosophical work The Fold: Leibniz

- 188 and the Baroque (1993), Deleuze uses Leibnizs most famous proposition,
that every soul or subject (monad) is completely closed, windowless and
doorless, while also illuminating some little portion of that world, each monad,
a different portion. So the world is enfolded in each soul, but differently,
because each illuminates only one aspect of the overall folding (Deleuze,
1995: 157).

Life is a series of folding with each cell or organism being produced by

creating an interior and exterior from the flow or milieu of life. As shown in
Chapter Four, Deleuzes plane of immanence is the pure flow of life and
perception without any distinct perceivers. Deleuze refers to the plane of
immanence as the supposed field across which the distinction between
interior (mind or subject) and exterior (world) is drawn. This relation between
interior and exterior relies on what remains hidden, presupposed or outside
(rather than exterior). A piece of paper might be folded to create a distinction
between an inside and outside. But this division would rely on the paper itself
which would be neither inside nor outside in the simple sense; the paper
would be outside the relation of interior and exterior produced by the fold. In
the case of the subject, the inside of subjectivity and the exteriority of the
world are produced from the radical outside of impersonal experience or
perception. The outside of thought is the plane of immanence or all the
assumptions, distinctions from which we think.

We fold that which is outside inside. Art is a possible world folded, by means
of artists style, in substance. We are forced to unfold worlds, that is, to
encounter the work of art. We might say art is a cut; it shakes us out of our
habitual mode of being and puts other modes of being into play. Art offers us
a new image of thought a new folding. For Deleuze, Baroque art is a certain
over spilling, a blurring of boundaries. Painting becomes Baroque when it
exceeds it frame (Deleuze, 1993:123). The Baroque then names that which is
in-between, which allows or forces deterritorialisation. This is not a system or
universe without centre. For the Baroque names not only the broadest unity
of extension but also its highest unity (Deleuze, 1993: 124).

- 189 The Baroque is like a cone, its base is a seething world of-yet-to-beactualised vitualities, but only from the point of view of its summit which
surveys the terrain and indeed actualises the latter. It is in this sense that the
Baroque is at once the multiple and the One, a constant interplay, or
resonance between the two the two floors of the Baroque house. We might
say that the Baroque world is then without centre, that it is post structural but
that it is also always seen from a certain perspective. For Deleuze, the
Baroque is allegorical in nature, because it contains a multiplicity of
viewpoints. Baudelaires flneur might be seen as an exemplar of the isolated
yet connected monad, at once a part and apart from the world. Folds have
less to do with isolated monads and more to do with open monads and
relationship between monads (OSullivan, 2006: 139).

Monads are nomads. As we have seen throughout the chapters on Deleuze,

preference is accorded to those processes or modes of existence that exhibit
the greatest possible degree of creativity or life: lines of flight or
deterritorialisation, continuous variation, becoming-minor and nomadism
are some of the figures associated with these creative processes. Nomadism
is dynamic and not parasitic or reactive. Nomads seek not to discover but to
connect and create. For Deleuze, nomads are minorities. The criterion for
minority is not membership in a minority. For a regional writer who ascribes a
group identity to himself risks becoming imprisioned in a communal
representation of himself and his people and for Deleuze and Guattari
collective identitfications of this kind are blocks to desire, not a means of

6.4. Kafkas minor joie de vivre

Revolution proceeds through metamorphosis, change and becoming
through transformation of a present intolerable situation towards some
unforeseeable future. The lines of metamorphosis are always present in the
form of virtual vectors of deterritorialisation, and revolutionary action induces
their actualisations through an intensification of destabilising, deforming and

- 190 decoding forces that are being stabilised, formed and coded by a particular
social system (Bogue, 2003b: 84).

It is from this vantage point that we must consider the revolutionary function of
Kafkas writing machine. Kafka does not protest against oppressive








deterritorialising tendencies that are already present in the world. If art is a

mirror Kafka tells Janouch it is a mirror that goes fast, like a watch
sometimes (Janouch, 1985: 143). Deleuze and Guattari see Kafkas work as
a mirror of the future and in the judicial machine of The Trial one can discern
the diabolical powers that are knocking at the door (Deleuze and Guattari,
2006: 41). Deleuze and Guattari are not arguing that The Trial is an astute
prognosticator of todays bureaucratic capitalism. Instead they assert that in
the works such as The Trial, Kafka discloses virtual vectors of unfolding
relations that exist in his world but that only later become actualised in the
concrete forms of capitalist bureaucracies. What specific forms those vectors
of virtual forces will take cannot be determined in advance. They might
eventuate in diverse diabolic powers of the future but they might just as well
issue in social orders that are better that the present ones.

Critique is completely useless. It is much more important to espouse the

virtual movement that is already real without being actual (Deleuze and
Guattari, 2006: 58). There is no guarantee that such an accelerated
deterritorialisation will yield positive results:

desire is such a soup that

bureaucratic or fascist pieces are still within the revolutionary agitation

(Deleuze and Guattari, 2006: 60). Hence since one cannot precisely make a
division between the oppressor and the oppressed nor even between different
kinds of desire one must carry them all into an all too possible future, hoping
that this movement will also disengage lines of flight even if they are modest,
or trembling but above all if they are asignifyfing (Deleuze and Guattari, 2006:

Deleuze and Guattari read Kafka as a proponent of the immanence of desire.

The law is no more than a secondary configuration that traps desire into

- 191 certain formations: bureaucracy, of course, is the main example in Kafka's

work, where offices, secretaries, lawyers and bankers present figures of
entrapment. In Kafkas novels, The Trial or The Castle, meetings with officials
and with other characters often occur in places, such as corridors and cellars,
which are not the central or official places of political activity. These places
and meetings have a strong erotic charge embodied in the women of the court
and of the castle. These women love indiscriminately the judges, the
assistants and the accused. Their desire is part of the political or legal
institution. 46

The law is an all-encompassing social machine. Every person is an agent of

the law. An open-ended series of connected components, all infused with an
immanent desire. This does not mean that Kafka is simply demonstrating the
absurdity of the law. Kafka does not critique social institutions, or give external
commentary on social representation. Instead, Kafka offers an immanent
critique. Writing has a double function: to transcribe into assemblages and
dismantle assemblages. The two are the same thing (Deleuze and Guattari,
2006: 41). Rather than commenting on social representations, Kafka
experiments on them.

In The Trial, Kafka starts with the social representation of the complex
relations inherent in the juridical system of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and

In Forget Foucault Baudrillard says that the cellular form of power does not contain any revolutionary
principle at all. Desire is only the molecular version of the law. For Baudrillard there is nowhere out
there. In Deleuze and Guattaris Kafka:Toward a Minor Literature, the transcendental Law such as is
found in The Castle is opposed to the immanence of desire in the adjacent offices. How can we fail to
see that the Law of The Castle has its rhizomes in the corridors and in the offices the bar or the
break constituted by the law has simply been geared down ad infintum in cellular and molecular
succession. Desire is only the molecular version of the Law. And what a strange coincidence to find
schemas of desire and schemas of control everywhere. It is a spiral of power, of desire, and of the
molecule which is now bringing us openly toward the final peripeteia of absolute control. Beware of the
molecular! (Baudrillard, 2007: 47). Baudrillard uses Jacques Monods theory of DNA and the genetic
code to put in question the celebration of the molecular. Baudrillard suggests that precisely on the most
microscopic level of the molecular, the DNA code dominates and controls flows and intensities of
behaviour and that to fetishise a molecular politics or a mircopolitics of desire as Deleuze does might be
to advocate a politics of liberation in a sphere which itself may be controlled by coercive and in some
cases unknown powers. Baudrillards critique is provocative but he fails to articulate a convincing
counter position. I will show that for Deleuze the molecular version of law that is to say, desire, must be
accelerated so that virtual forces can be ignited. Deleuze does not deny that molecular lines have their
dangers too. It is not sufficient to attain or trace out a molecular line supple lines themselves produce
or encounter their own dangers, a threshold crossed too quickly a supple line rushes into a black hole
from which it will not be able to extricate itself (Deleuze and Parnet, 1987:138).

- 192 transcribes them in terms of the multiple assemblages of a social machine.

The familiar system of the law is shown to be proliferating mechanisms of
power that spreads into all aspects of life and its functioning is shown to be
directed simultaneously by territorialising restrictions and codifications of
relations and by deterritorialising reticulations and decodification of relations.
This shows that the social machine both constructs and dismantles itself and
in this sense one can say that transcribing and dismantling the machine are
the same process (Bogue, 2003b: 82).

Kafka accelerates the deterritorialising movements of the machine and

multiplies the connections between its heterogeneous elements. In so doing
he reveals metamorphic tendencies that eventuate in the diabolical powers of
the future but also revolutionary possibilities that remain to be actualised.
Kafka adopts a method of active dismantling which consists in prolonging,
accelerating a whole movement that already traverses the social field: it
operates in the virtual domain, already real without being actual (Deleuze and
Guattari, 2006: 49). Neither an interpretation nor a social representation this
method is an experimentation, a social political protocol (ibid). Dismantling
then which is one with transcription is also experimentation and in this regard
The Trial may be seen as a scientific investigation, a report of experiments on
the functioning of a machine (Deleuze and Guattari, 2006: 44).

Kafkas writing machine does not mean so much as it functions and its
functioning makes of itself an open multiplicity. It is embedded and traversed
by social machines, its operation is interconnected with the processes of a
universal desiring production. Its functioning takes place in a collective field of
activity. What remains to be seen is the way in which language functions
within such a machine. Deleuze and Guattari regard Kafka as a practitioner of
minor literature, an immediately political literature.

Kafkas art practice is political because it is always opening itself up to an

outside. Minor literature works as a collective enunciation. A minor art practice
works to connect up with different aspects of life, so as to produce new lines
of causality and new pathways of experimentation. Minor art is a kind of

- 193 precursor of a community still in formation. It prepares the way, calls into
being the revolutionary machine yet to come. We might say as well that minor
no longer designates specific literatures but the revolutionary conditions for
every literature (Deleuze and Guattari: 2006:18).

Minor literature is no longer related to a unified, autonomous subjective

substance. According to Deleuze and Guattari, the principal strata that bind
and imprison the human being are the organism, meaningfulness,
interpretation, subjectivization and subjection. Minor literature is the
instrument of that destratification. Destratification is a movement towards a
fluid body without organs, a literal disorganisation of the body facilitated by
exploring its connections rather than treating it as self-contained, pre-ordained
entity. Kafka captures the stratified parts of the society around him, but also
those parts that were completely destratified and were the actual creative
forces pushing society toward a new split. Kafkas work is revolutionary in the
way in which it affects the language in which the new split is effected (Deleuze
and Guattari, 2006: xvii).

Kafkas literature does not occur elsewhere or apart from a dominant or major
structure (this is not a dialectic) but, on the contrary, operates from within,
using the same elements, as it were, but in a different manner. Language has
to acquire an intensity and the world has to be appropriated as an immanent
logic of desire rather than represented according to its own moral categories.
Kafka re-enacts societys logic of desire, thereby connecting the order of the
unconscious and the structure of power in a given political context. This
requires that the artist establishes a direct non-representational relation to the
desires circulating within the social realm. In order for language to become a
vehicle of desire, in order for it to enter into direct relation with the social body,
the representational level of language needs to be broken down. Through the
break down of representation, Kafka acquires a direct or visionary relation to
social reality (Due, 1999: 73).

The art (modern art in this sense) that Kafka tried to introduce is effectively no
longer an art that proposes to represent (a thing, a being) or to imitate (a

- 194 nature). It is rather a method (of writing) of picking up, a confiscation, even
of stealing: of a double stealing, which is both stealing and stealing away
that consists in propelling the most diverse contents on the basis of
(nonsignifying) ruptures and intertwinings of the most heterogeneous orders
of signs and powers. Kafkas literature is a a gypsy literature which had stolen
the German child out of its cradle and in great haste put it through some kind
of training, for someone has to dance on the tightrope. (But it wasn't even a
German child, it was nothing; people merely said that somebody was
dancing) (Boa, 1996: 27).

Kafkas strategy was to become a foreigner in his own language (Deleuze

and Guattari, 2006: 26). What Deleuze and Guattari mean concretely by
becoming a foreigner in ones own language, they seldom specify. They
provide no strict stylistic examples of Kafkas minor use of German. The
object of minor writings is to make language vibrate, to induce disequilibrium,
to activate from within the language itself, the lines of continuous variation
immanent within its grammatical, syntactic and semantic patterns. Each writer
invents his or her own means of making language strange:

To be a foreigner but in ones own language and not simply as

someone who speaks a language other than his or her own. To be
bilingual, multilingual but in a single and same language, without even
dialect or patois One only arrives at this result through sobriety,
creative subtraction. Continuous variation has only ascetic lines, a little
herb and pure water (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: 99).

Kafka creates a unique solitary writing but in the sense of a new sobriety, a
new unheard of correctness, a polite rectification, drunkenness from pure
water (Deleuze and Guattari, 2006: 26). The strangeness of Kafkas prose
lies in hypercorrectness, its stark purity that admits no direct violation of
standard usage. The reduction of vocabulary pushes each word a few steps
closer to an inarticulate extreme, toward vanishing point at which all sense
must be expressed in a single sound. It is in this way that Kafka makes

- 195 Prague German cry with a cry so sober and rigorous (Deleuze and Guattari,
2006: 26).

Kafka made his marginalized position as a German-speaking Jew in Prague

into an aesthetic vantage point. Kafkas novels use a major language
(German) in such a way as to create a disruptive, revolutionary minor tongue
at the very heart of a major literature. The narrative structure of Kafkas texts
and his use of the German language form a semiotic regime or organising
principles of signification. This semiotic regime forms a machine that contains
no primary distinction between signifier and signified, form and content, inside
and outside, desire and its object. The logic of the machine is constituted by a
principle of connectivity that is neutral in relation to these distinctions: the
machine is a movement of desire and signification which operates by
establishing connections (Due, 1999: 70).

To depict power is to absorb it and then speed up the movement that already
determines contemporary social reality. Kafkas novels exaggerate elements
of social reality and combine them into a new whole in which the social,
sexual and spatial configurations of power are displayed and brought out of
control. Kafkas machine of expression is capable of disorganising its own
forms, of disorganising the forms of content, so as to free up an intense
material of expression that is made of pure content that can no longer be
separated from its expression: Expression must break forms, encourage
ruptures and new sproutings. When form is broken, one must reconstruct the
content that will necessarily be part of a rupture in the order of things (Due,
1999: 75).

Minor art involves the neutralisation of sense, or the signifying aspects of

language and a foregrounding of the latters asignifying, intensive aspects.
This involves a stammering and stuttering. This is again a matter of becoming
stranger in ones own tongue. Language stutters when it expresses the
passage of thinking across the multiple meanings of an event that are still only
on the way to coherence. From the indefinite object develops an entirely
multiple grammar, a broken grammar that is not a new evaluation but the

- 196 multiplicity of virtual evaluations. For Deleuze and Guattari one must hate all
languages of masters (Deleuze and Guattari, 2006: 26).

Minor art stops being representative in order to move towards its extremities
or its limits (Deleuze and Guattari, 2006: 23). In Kafkas The Metamorphosis,
Gregor Samsas animal cry sound is deterritorialised noise. Kafka utilises
existing materials in order to deterritorialise them. Humour also is
deterritorialised language. It is an affirmative violence against typical
signifying formations. Humour is here not irony but something more
affirmative of lifes multiplicity. Deleuzes humour focuses on the bodies,
particularities, noises and disruptions that are in excess of the system and law
of speech.

Humour falls or collapses: down from meaning to the singularities of life that
have no order or intention. Humour is not the reversal of cause and effect but
the abandonment of the before and after relations the very line of time.
Samuel Becketts humour makes the order of time and explanation no longer
hold. In Endgame, a character repeatedly looks out of the window to see if it
is still the end of the world. The end of the world becomes one object
among others in an absurd time that can both continue beyond, and view, the
end of time. Unlike Socratic irony, which insists on what concepts must mean,
Becketts humour perverts conceptual meaning, saying what we cannot say.
(Colebrook, 2003:136).

In humour, the self is not an organised subject but more a collection of

incongruous body parts and disrupted connections of movements a body
without organs. Deleuzes humour strives to think all the becomings that lie
beyond the subject. The subject is, for Deleuze and Guattari, a political and
historical effect. The history of the subject in Anti Oedipus demonstrates that
the elevated disembodied subject has emerged from a process of cruelty and
terror. It is only with the organised torture of bodies that one can imagine a
law to which such bodies are subjected.

- 197 Literature, according to Deleuze and Guattari, can reverse this historical
tendency by re-living the cruelty and terror from which the law is imagined.
Kafka is often read as an ironic or negative author because all we see are
judgements and prohibitions, never the law itself. Kafkas fathers and judges
in The Castle or The Trial are not signs of a hidden law. Kafka exposes the
law as a fiction, as nothing more than a series of authorities who have such a
lack of force and power that they must present themselves as signs of some
greater law. But there is nothing behind the father or the judge. We need to
see such fictions as signifiers, pure affects or sensations with no underlying
reality. The subject, or the self subjected to an unseen law, is one fiction or
image among others. Kafkas endless images of the law shows the law is
nothing more than the performance or image of power, with power itself being
the power of images (Deleuze and Guattari, 2006: 55).

K. wanders through passage after passage never arriving at the law. On the
negative and traditional reading, the law is what must always remain hidden;
one can only produce images and interpretations of the law of a justice
beyond conception or measure but any attempt to represent or articulate
this law defies its essential purity. On this reading, one is essentially alienated
and guilty, and Kafkas fictions are symbols of this alienation, the loss of any
sense of a present or presentable god or law. For Deleuze and Guattari, the
wanderings in Kafkas The Trial are positive. There is an intensity, an
enjoyment of movement itself. In fact, the law as supposed end or reason for
this movement is produced from the movement. Kafkas texts produce
doorways, passages and images, all with no law or fulfilment and not as some
ultimate goal or origin which drives action. It is interpretation that imposes a
law: if you were wandering from door to door then you must have been
searching for some end (Colebrook, 2002a:138).

The key political question is not how to attain the law, but how it is that we
have enslaved ourselves to laws that deny our desires. Bodies have a
tendency to create images that enhance their power; but these same images
can appear as external laws towards which life ought to strive. As shown in
Chapter Four, Deleuze and Guattari show that capitalism does not oppress on

- 198 the basis of some external law or code. Capitalism argues for the value of
exchange itself. The subject is nothing other than the empty axiom that allows
all life to flow across one single plane; the subject is nothing other than a
potential for labour and exchange, devoid of any positive qualities. The
subject is just that capacity to adopt any and every persona or value; the
undetermined subject who exists behind determined values is an effect of the
dominance and immanence of the capitalist system, a system that precludes
any outside. Capitalism produces any and every value as one more
quantifiable item of exchange. The idea that everything is discourse, that
there is no self, substance or perception outside signs, that individuals are
constructions of social systems: this type of postmodernism is at one with a
capitalism that reduces life to one undifferentiated plane of relative values. For
Deleuze, difference is not constructed from an undifferentiated system.
Deleuze goes against negative difference and insists life, desire and
difference extend well beyond the imaginary or myth of capitalism
(Colebrook, 2003: 151).

Baudrillard focuses not on difference, but on radical otherness, that which lies
beyond all law, structure and systems. Baudrillards unconvertible other is
based on an absence, a lack, a void. Baudrillard asks, [i]f you were to see
written on a door panel: This door opens onto a void wouldnt you still want
to open it? Of course one would always be tempted: to open the door to lose
oneself, a fatal loss which is none the less craved and essential to the
existence of the subject. The subject needs to be threatened: while it is
vulnerable it knows who it is. The threat must seem credible and appear to
pose a real danger (Gane, 1991a:158).

Baudrillards story seems to be a truncated version of Kafkas At the Door of

the Law. Kafkas story is more powerful than Baudrillards since the door is
not simply marked void, but has a doorkeeper who says that the door to the
law may be opened, but not just yet. After years of waiting, the man from the
country, asks the doorman why no one else ever enters this particular door.
The doorman, now facing an old man, admits that no one else could gain
admittance here because this entrance was meant for you alone, and adds

- 199 now Im going to close it (Kafka, 1983:195). Baudrillards story omits the trap
set by the law, the deferred effects which will arise if the door has written on it
this door is for you, do not open it, or do not open it yet, or this door is for
you, do not open it because it opens onto the void. In other words, the void
for Baudrillard, is simply forbidden; certainly a chasm, the abyss, exercises its
fascination, but would anyone open such a door without looking over ones
shoulder to see if there is not a doorman somewhere? (Gane, 1991a: 159).

Baudrillard encounters an absence, a void, displacement or death at the heart

of thought. Kafka rises above this void. His story shows that even lifes
harshest aspects reveal a joy. Even a dim light shines from the door in
Kafkas story. The man waits his whole life as he grows sober. This clarifies
his vision. In this trial, the verdict is not suddenly arrived at, the proceedings
only gradually merge into verdict (Deleuze, 1997: 88). The humour of this
postponement grimly fascinates Deleuze. For him it weakens the law. The
Kafkaesque joke rises above the law. Let us imagine: Repression is a dam
and the joke is a floodgate and the water is pleasure. Normally without the
dam, the pleasure-water would flow. But when you open the floodgates of
humour, the pleasure-water surges more than it would without repression.
Thus the laws restraint yields a more intense pleasure than the one it denied.
Kafkas humour entails a kind of waiting that strips time of its measure
(Faulkner, 2008: 12). Time bursts in a pathos beyond all logic (Deleuze,
1997: 34). 47

For Deleuze and Guattari, Kafkas work is characterised by a total absence of

negation above all by a total absence of complacency and consequently a
rejection of every problematic. Deleuze and Guattari show that Kafkas work is
in no way susceptible to an anthropological or psychological explanation but is
essentially the bearer of an affirmation without reserve. For Deleuze and
Guattari, Kafka is an author who laughs with profound joy, a joie de vivre
Never has there been a more comic and joyous author from the point of view
of desire (Deleuze and Guattari, 2006:41).

For Freud the jokes pleasure strips out spatiotemporal measure: an hour spent laughing cannot be
adequately measured subjectively (Freud, 1991: 187).

- 200 -

6. 5. Conclusion

Baudrillard and Deleuze both do not propose an alternative to the capitalist

system under investigation, but rather seek to push it to its limit. For Deleuze
this limit is desire, life or the plane of immanence ... For Baudrillard it is death.
Yet I have also shown throughout this study that Deleuze and Baudrillard
refuse to separate life and death into binary oppositions. So this is an open
conclusion. Deleuze is not my alternative to Baudrillard. Both Deleuze and
Baudrillard work with a certain doubling hypothesis, which at once explains
why a certain system is in place and why that system is the only possible one
and why it is finally doomed, it contains the seed of its own destruction. It is
doomed because although it claims to be complete, total and self-enclosed, it
is finally based on a principle outside itself. Baudrillard provides an allegory of
representation or symbolic exchange between terrorism and the state: the
social wants to be total, yet it exists only on the basis of the opposition it
makes between itself and terrorism. The state cannot entirely do away with
terrorism, because terrorism is what justifies it and allows it.

Baudrillards doubling is vicious. His symbolic exchange is all-consuming.

With Deleuze there is always more to select from the plane of immanence.
Deleuzes monadology and univocity emphasise the constructivist side of
doubling. There are always new folds to be drawn from the plane of
immanence. Kafkas minor literature confiscates and steals elements from the
major language, thereby subverting it from within. This troyan horse strategy
accelerates the deterritorialising tendencies that are already present in the
world. Kafka espouses the virtual movement that is already real without being
actual. This leads to a creative becoming-other, a metamorphosis, a line of
flight. Art breaks one world and creates another, and brings these two
moments into conjunction to create something new. Its organisms that die,
not life. Any work of art points a way through for life, finds a way through the
cracks (Deleuze, 1983a: 143).

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