by Arran James
The activist, whose phantom subject consciousness is defined by its vain wounds, collects injuries by throwing its body at a motionless objectivity, these are my chains, see how they chafe, this is my cage, how the shadows of its bars fall across me; Jesus and Rome. Anti-capitalism is a freak show, a wound parade.
(Du Pont 2001)
In the accelerationist manifesto a lot is made of what we could call activist automatism. This kind of automatism operates a lot like the cognitive heuristics that we use in our day to day lives and which form a kind of default operating system for how we navigate the world. In terms of environmental information these heuristics allow us to do the low-calorie low-effort work of gliding through most of our everyday world without having to make purposeful deliberative judgements about the majority of objects and situations we’re involved in. They consist of all our cognitive biases and our unconscious mechanisms for jumping-to-roughly-the-right-conclusions, at least as far as our pragmatic orientation to the world is concerned. We might suppose that there exists what my colleague in the Madness Solidarity network calls a kind of activist conditioning. In part I read this to indicate the ideological and practical biases that we have developed through repeated exposures.
If this sounds very behavioural, it is because behaviourism offers us a remarkably clear language for talking about how conditioning occurs- which shouldn’t surprise anyone given that behavioural psychology inaugurated conditioning-talk. However, we can also add to the mix a kind of transferential mesh. Just as the family gives rise to a series of imaginary identifications, rivalries, jealousies, and a series of other aggressive tendencies, so to politics can produce its own imaginaries. This isn’t necessarily even limited to full blown activist; why shouldn’t it also affect people on the side-lines, people like myself who have always had a marginal place in activist circles. Maybe half the time it isn’t symbolic systems that clash between political groups and orientations but their imaginal caricatures of each other, which in term reshape each other in by their interactions, and which bear themselves out materially, which is where it counts, in the layers and sequences of inducements they enact on each other. We could learn a political lesson from the psychoanalyst who doesn’t presume to know what the neurotic’s speech means; or what the communicative system in which the psychotic emerged looks like, how it operates, how the noise and the signal envelope each other, until implicit inducements are impossible to view from the first-person position.
For a while now many of us have been critical of the politics of escape. The left has been involved for too long in strategies of withdrawal and succession- from Tiqqun’s invisibility to Virno’s exodus, to Bifo’s senile withdrawal and any of the other idealist ideas about escaping from capitalism. The Accelerationist Manifesto states that it is sick of our forms of protest. I can’t disagree one bit with the idea that
the habitual tactics of marching, holding signs, and establishing temporary autonomous zones risk becoming comforting substitutes for effective success
(Williams and Srnicek 2013).
I’ve held this line since I was a philosophy undergrad nearly 10 years ago. But then, I don’t know many people who don’t agree with this. The attempt to harness an aesthetic of disappearance to avoid detection by power- to exist in the cracks- is a withdrawal not just from capitalism but from antagonism, from any kind of attempt to conduct a struggle, and so is to renounce that struggle even as others attempt to continue the fight. The traditional Marxists, the idiots in the Parties who still believe in a parliamentary victory, a seizure of the state, or those who stupidly picket government departments and corporations, who form organisations like Citizens First or the People’s Assembly, or who occupy factories in order and go on to enact worker’s self-management, the people who engage in direct actions and declare themselves their authors…what a lot of idiots! At the risk of psychologising things, this is how I read the spirit of the politics of secession. This is a straight up betrayal of the struggle against capitalism- which we can call communism- despite its any of its clever formulations about the Young Girl or the distance from the state. In a way it is the ultimate form of negative solidarity, the phenomena that says “hey, if those workers are getting a better deal than me then fuck them! To fucking right destroy the unions and put them in their place!” Beyond a passivity and a refusal to take action, exodus seems to almost be an active complicity in the repression of struggle. In fact we could even suggest that it is itself another kind of negation after the model of Lacanian foreclosure.
As an explanation of psychosis we could say a lot about the concept of foreclosure, including place significant doubts on its reality. As a political concept I think there is something to say for it. Lacan’s use of the term foreclosure is taken from the work of a couple of French linguists who used it to indicate that something has been exiled from the field of possible appearance. In this linguistic sense this means that some element of a field of possibility which could appear is implicitly denied the right of appearance. Some possible object in a given field is thereby barred from being actualised within that field. To take an example, we could say that the object is a given action and the field is a given situation. For the object to be foreclosed it is necessary that the action be forbidden from being carried out within situation.
This is how the knotted nexus of asymmetrical transferential projections work in Laing’s studies of communication in psychotic families. In their analysis of ‘The Churches’ Laing and Esterton record hours of interviews with a young schizophrenic woman- Claire- and her parents, with this triad of elements being interviewed in different permutations (with 15 recordings of Claire and her mother alone). Laing and Esterton give us selected parts of the transcripts of these records complete with analysis. Although they don’t use the term foreclosure- and although examples may better translate to disavowal in clinical terms- Laing and Esterton do provide us with some examples of the phenomena in action. For instance when Claire states that ‘”I’ve never been able to express myself clearly”‘ (Laing and Esterton 1990, 85), the mother replies ‘”Yes, yes…now I’ll continue…’ and goes on talking about something quite aside from her daughter’s feelings and her admission that she has felt unable to express them. She actually enacts the force that prevents Claire from expressing herself. In fact Claire’s mother actually tells Claire that she has always been able to express herself , that she wishes Claire had expressed herself more, and that Claire had been a “good girl” for not making a fuss like other children, that she ‘always struck me as a very contented child’ (1990, 85). In their commentary, Laing and Esterton (1990) point out how confusing this kind of situation is:
Claire was not told she was bad to feel X; or forbidden to feel X; or openly threatened or punished for feeling X. She was simply told that she felt Y. What happens to the person who is the recipient of attributions of this kind from the earliest years? (87).
This is only a quick example, and Laing and Esterton go into much more detail in their text, and Laing complicated things much further in The politic of the family. For now we can simply see that the mother forecloses the possibility of Claire feeling a certain way, and also prevents the discovery of this foreclosure. We all experience and engage in this all the time: you aren’t the kind of person who likes porn; you’re not depressed, you’re just down in the dumps; I know you wouldn’t do X to me…etc.
In Lacan foreclosure is a little different, referring to the failure of the Master signifier- the name-of-the-father– to be brought into the symbolic order and thus to structure the symbolic order in such a way that it overwrote both the aggressive imaginary and ordered the chaos of the organismic body. Prior to the entrance into the symbolic order the body is a libidinous storm with the drives attaching wherever and to whatever they want so that the entire surface is of that body is a writhing tangle of erotic energy. Prior to the entrance into the symbolic order, into language, there is no way of ordering the body and of resolving the conflicts of an imaginary that sets child against father. Everything is this chaos, about which we are a long way from DeleuzoGuattarian replies. That there is no ordering of the body also means that there is no consistent ordering of the psychic structure and no anchor point for the linguistic to take permanent root. This is what leaves the psychotic vulnerable to the psychotic break that is the sudden explosion of the phenomenality of psychosis from its dormant state which threatens disintegration.
The unconcious is structured like a language and the name-of-the-father is the cornerstone of that structure, the brick upon which the entire psychic edifice will be built, and so is the element that determines whether the subject will be more-or-less sane and functional or whether they will sink into the abject delirium of paranoia. With nothing to carve up the body into heirarchised functional units, nothing to cement the organs into their operations, there is nothing to stop the sense of self from slipping away from the skin, dissolving into the world, with the fundamental dichotomy of self and other falling apart. Suffice to say, with foreclosure the paternal signifier never comes to operate as the formative mechanism of the subject. The signifier of signifiers that effects the distributions of reality never performs its work with a sense that the psychotic only ever has a simulation of reality, where that term designates the consensual hallucination of the world that can be spoken about.
This falls far short of exhausting what Lacan says about psychosis, but I think it may be enough to give a general picture of what the foreclosure is about. For a little textual support:
It is in an accident in this register [the signifying chain/symbolic order/language] and in what takes place in it namely, the foreclosure of the name-of the-father in the place of the Other, and in the failure of the paternal metaphor, that I designate the defect that gives psychosis its essential condition, and the structure that separates it from neurosis.
(Lacan 1977, 238).
I want to put forward the suggestion that exodus operates in politics in an analogous fashion as the operation of foreclosure does in the unconscious. Where Guattari would suggest that the linguistic indeterminacy of psychosis was actually an exuberant escape from the subjugation of the signifier, the politics of exodus are marked far less by this exuberance as they are by flat out withdrawal. Its true that withdrawal is coded as one of the negative symptoms of psychosis and that at one time it was thought of as a primarily symptom of schizophrenia, today we’re much more familiar with withdrawal as a depressive symptom. It marks the collapse into oneself that is the dark autoaffection of despair. What is foreclosed in the politics of withdrawal? What is it that is barred from registering in the political register? It is the very founding moment of politics: conflict. In fact it is politics itself that is foreclosed from the political field. The practice of worker’s control that marks the seizure of the infrastructures of production is what is foreclosed, as is the idea that we could take control of the machines, that we could make the new machinism work for us, putting automation into the service of displacing toil out of human hands. What Mark Fisher calls the “phobic reaction” to the Promethean desire of the accelerationists is the symptom of this foreclosure. This isn’t just to say that there is a post-political time but to say that there is a time in which politics cannot even appear. Instead their is tending to the squat, the community garden, the return of small scale production, and so on. For Tiqqun this kind of critique is one marked by the elitism that is betrayed in the
veiled contempt with which they talk about the worries of The People, and which allows them to go from the unemployed person to the illegal immigrant, from the striker to the prostitute without ever putting themselves at risk — their contempt is that obvious
And yet the politics of withdrawal and exodus aren’t local in the sense that they stay with the unemployed, the immigrant, the striker and the prostitute, because these are people are precisely ‘already there’ in the struggle, whose everyday life is the struggle fought on the basis of survival. The gesture of withdrawal is a subtraction of struggle from the struggle so that only survival survives: that is, there is no interest in making the various survival strategies of these disparate groups resonate with one another. Survival becomes the sin qua non as the ex-revolutionaries disappear. Survival- what Vaneigem called ‘life in slow motion’, but where is the negation of despair? Instead of that we get the machismo of the young Tiqqun militant who will ‘put themselves at risk’ for the prostitute in the ultimate act of white knighting. In my writing on mental health I’ve suggested the importance of the sharing of wounds, but here, in the activist automatism there is in fact the on-going ritual of self-harm. Just as in Lacan the foreclosed signifier returns in the Real, so to the foreclosure of politics results in a return from the outside.
Even the person who gave the temporary autonomous zone its name- Hakim Bey- long since discarded the idea that we can simply just withdraw:
Less than a decade ago it was still possible to think of the “enemy” as the Planetary Work Machine, or the Spectacle — & therefore to think of resistance under the rubric of withdrawal or even escape. No great mysterious veil separated us from our will to imagine other forms of production, ludic & autonomous, or other form of representation, authentic & pleasurable. The obvious goal was to form (or sustain) alternative nuclei based on the implementation of such forms, deploying resistance as a tactic in defence of these zones (whether temporary or permanent). In aikido there’s no such thing as offense — one simply removes oneself from the force of an attack, whereupon the attacker’s force turns against itself & defeats itself. Capitalism actually lost some ground to these tactics, in part because it was susceptible to “third force” strategies, and in part because as an ideology it remained unable to deal with its own inner contradictions (“democracy” for example).
Now the situation has changed. Capitalism is freed of its own ideological armoring & need no longer concede space to any “third force”. Although the founder of aikido could dodge bullets, no one can stand aside from the onslaught of a power that occupies the whole extent of tactical space. Escapism is possible for the “third guest, the parasite”, but not for the sole opponent. Capitalism is now at liberty to declare war & deal directly as enemies with all former “alternatives” (including “democracy”). In this sense we have not chosen ourselves as opposition — we have been chosen (HB).
Is accelerationism simply the return of antagonism? The escape from escaping. As ever, these are underdeveloped notes…flashes that might be picked up again, or not.
Dupont, M. 2001. Your face is so mysteriously kind. Here.
Hakim Bey, 1996. Millenium. Here.
Lacan, J. 1977. Ecrits: A selection. London: Tavistock Publications.
Laing, RD., and Esterton, A. 1990. Sanity, madness and the family. London: Penguin.
Laing, RD. 1976. The politics of the family, and other essays. London: Pelican.
Tiqqun. 20xx. The Call. Here.
Williams, A., and Srnicek. 2013. Accelerate Manifesto for an accelerationist politics. Here.
The article is taken from:
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