Category Archives: Capitalism

*Feed*, not food

A colleague recommended M. T. Anderson’s book Feed a while back, while I was still taking courses, and I really did not have time to read it, or research it at all. The situation changed last month, when I was doing some research into novels tackling what I’ve variously termed “corporationism” or “corporatism.” You see, I wanted to give my literature chapter some depth. I also wanted to find out what’s new in the area. Turns out, there’s so many novels that have to do with corporations, that one could probably spend years reading them.

Most of these novels are pretty predictable, in a “oh, look what the evil corporations are doing to us now” kind of way. You know, the usual me=good, corporations=bad routine, where the triumphal humanist end sees a hero prevail against all odds. I’d like to think my thesis is more sophisticated than that. But then again, sometimes I enjoy deluding myself. It’s the masochist in me. Continue reading

Omission or deferment?

Thinking about my dissertation (yes, I know, I finally got there!) in big-picture terms, I’ve realized that I’m not sure if/how I’m going to include the very think that spurred it on: the integration of corporate employees into the assemblage of the corporation, starting with those ubiquitous personality tests that divide the world neatly into 4/8/more categories. OK, this realization was actually brought on by a conversation I had at a friend’s on the weekend, when someone mentioned having taken part in a training session about the four types of communicators just the day before. The four types of communicators are: the director, the thinker, the relator, and something else, that I’ll call the “attention-seeker,” because I don’t remember the exact name, but this is the gist. It’s funny: I tried googling this, and I have ended up, on the first page of results, with another two paradigms of four types of communicators that convey more or less the same ideas, but have different names, both of these copyrighted, of course.

Anyway, the basic idea is that we all have one dominant trait, and the rest align themselves hierarchically behind the dominant. Which enlarges the possibilities so much, don’t you think? All of a sudden, the entire humanity is divisible in not merely four meagre groups, but whatever the result of combination of four by four is (I so don’t remember my math now). The names of these categories are pretty self-evident, and I find it mind-boggling that people teach these things with a straight face. Not because I think them bs. No, on the contrary, I think they provide a quick, albeit very schematic, of a person one hasn’t met before. At the same time, these courses offer prepackaged prescriptions on how to best ‘deal’ with each type of person in a business setting. Take the “attention-seeker”: this person thrives on making her life public and is liable to suck your energy dry if you let her. The answer is to tell her that you’ve only got five minutes, and so, she’d better synthesize her main points in that time, or else. And, best of all, apparently attention-seekers don’t get angry when told off like this! Because, again, they’re all the same, and none of them minds other people being rude to them.

The simplification is mind-blowing, but it goes to illustrate the less obvious operations of corporationism, the ones that set it clearly apart from other forms of capitalism, because they reclaim affect from what for Marx was the alienated worker. The use of these personality tests also exemplify the formation of corporate assemblages with the help of employee-machines. Obviously, every assemblage needs a certain number of different machines that make it up. It wouldn’t work with a large number of the same kind of machine, like Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times, satirizing the endless repetition of mechanical movement, while completely ignoring any emotional attachment. Affect is more complex and thrives on difference. Which doesn’t mean corporationism can’t structure it into clearly defined little boxes that become easier to manage to the good of us all (!). After all, don’t you want to know where you’d be best suited, what career would fulfill you most, and ultimately, what would make you happiest?

Obviously, this was just one example, concretely focused on one aspect of corporate activity, albeit a very important one. Another well-known example would be the Myers-Briggs personality type index, the one that gives you a nice acronym like INTJ or ENTP or the like. It is this kind of deep delving into one’s psyche, personality, and affect that illustrates the immanence of corporationism, and helps veer discussion away from (what has become) the over-simplicity of consumerism. Yes, over here in North America (or Canada/US, more precisely) we’re all (or most of us) consumers, and thus we’re all targets of corporate activity. But we’re also, most of us, inserted profesionally, in an even more profound way that displays our mechanicity, into the production, the vicious circle, the immanence. Sometimes this side surfaces under the name of ‘corporate culture’: Naomi Klein mentions it briefly in No Logo, when she speaks of the particular names different corporations use to designate their employees: baristas, associates, partners, etc.

Well, I started out saying I don’t know if/how I’m going to integrate all this into my dissertation, because from my vantage point in an English dept. there are few (euphemistically speaking) sources on this kind of thing. Lame excuse, I know. Don’t we all live for interdisciplinarity nowadays? So, all I need to do is identify the research well, i.e. the database, that will reveal its treasures on personality testing for business for me. Or, I could collect clippings from The Globe’s Career section. Yeah, that’ll go over well for a dissertation.

Negotiating Deleuze

Deleuze, Gilles. Negotiations, 1972-1990. Trans. Martin Joughin. New York: Columbia UP, 1995. This is the kind of book that one could go to for some plain-speak explanations of Deleuzian (and Guattarian to a certain point) concepts. I’ve chosen to read part one (from AO to 1000 P), and part five (Politics), and skim through part three (Foucault). I’ll be looking at part four (Philosophy) after/while reading his/their other books. Basically, there is a lot of doubling, since the aim seems to be to reflect back and explicate further some of the more salient notions developed by D(&G). The reason I had bought this book in the first place was the very last essay, “Postscript on Control Societies,” in which Deleuze describes his view of corporatism. In no particular order, and with no claim to coherence, I’m just going to jot down things that I found interesting.

The role of philosophy: “Everyone knows that philosophy deals with concepts. A system’s a set of concepts. And it’s an open system when the concepts relate to circumstances rather than essences. But concepts don’t, first of all, turn up ready-made, they don’t preexist: you have to invent, create concepts, and this involves just as much creation and invention as you find in art and science. Philosophy’s job has always been to create new concepts, with their own necessity… A concept sometimes needs a new word to express it, sometimes is uses an everyday word that it gives a singular sense” (32). Well, I feel justified in creating new concepts out of existing words now (because it’s all about me and my project, of course).

And again: “I see philosophy as a logic of multiplicities (I feel, on this point, close to Michel Serres). Creating concepts is creating some area in the plane, adding a new area to existing ones, exploring a new area, filling in what’s missing. Concepts are composites, amalgams of lines, curves. If new concepts have to be brought in all the time, it’s just because the plane of immanence has to be constructed area by area, constructed locally, going from one point to the next. That’s why it comes in bursts: in A Thousand Plateaus each plateau was supposed to be that sort of burst. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be taken up again and treated systematically. Quite the reverse: a concept’s power comes from the way it’s repeated, as one area links up with another. And this linkage is an essential, ceaseless activity: the word as patchwork” (147).

On political philosophy: “Anti-Oedipus was from beginning to end a book of political philosophy” (170). “I think Félix Guattari and I have remained Marxists, in our two different ways, perhaps, but both of us. You see, we think any political philosophy must turn on the analysis of capitalism and the ways it has developed. What we find most interesting in Marx is his analysis of capitalism as an immanent system that’s constantly overcoming its own limitations, and they coming up against them once more in a broader form, because its fundamental limit is Capital itself” (171, my emphasis). Can one disagree with the master? I’m afraid I don’t see Marx’s analysis of capital as immanent, and I wish Deleuze had said more about it in this conversation with Antonio Negri – in which, btw, one can read the germs of Empire taking form, in 1990 – or elsewhere. They sure don’t say or even suggest Marx’s immanence anywhere in Capitalism and Schizophrenia. On the contrary, one gets the impression that they’re talking back to Marx.

On control societies: “We’re definitely moving toward ‘control’ societies that are no longer exactly disciplinary… New kinds of punishment, education, health care are being stealthily introduced… One can envisage education becoming less and less a closed site differentiated from the workspace [lifelong learning, team building, and other corporate pet activities] as another closed site and giving way to frightful continual training, to continual monitoring of worker-schoolkids or bureaucrat-students” (174-75). Can the increase in home-schooling be attributed to the same tendency? After all, the patriarchal family does not afford to fade away with the disciplinary society, and what makes it more interesting is that home schooling becomes yet another non-remunerated task that women have to undertake. In the plane of immanence of corporatism, no direct connection can immediately be made between corporate appropriation of biopower and home schooling, but one can see how home schooling can eventually undermine the public school system and universalize itself as yet another of a good, responsible mother’s duties.

Žižek on Deleuze (part 3 – last one)

So, I finished reading Organs without Bodies yesterday, or, more precisely, I finished reading what I chose to read from it – not very scholarly or me, eh? Anyway, I am ambivalent about Žižek’s move to interrogate Deleuze (and Guattari, in spite of Žižek’s antagonism towards him) with the help of psychoanalysis. This move appears throughout the book, e.g., when Žižek discusses D&G’s view of fascism (187-92). I can’t decide if it’s a fair thing to do. Firstly, D&G reject psychoanalysis outright – see the common subtitle of Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus which serves as a common thread – because of the negativity that psychoanalysis induces and of its complicity with capitalism in subjugating desire and hindering the lines of flight and the creation of bodies without organs (simplistically put). So, is it fair to try and verify Deleuze’s claims by introducing a parameter that he had discarded as problematic? Secondly, is this interrogation valid because it should serve as a verification of Deleuze and Guattari’s theses? In other words, even if they throw it out, can psychoanalysis still be a tool in validating their own schizoanalysis?

If I’m not making sense, it’s probably because I’m confused myself. So please disregard. I think Žižek is somehow trying to reconcile Deleuze and Guattari with psychoanalysis, which, again, seems futile, given their rejection of it. If Žižek succeeds in this project, it means that their whole project doesn’t stand. Or does it? As Heather would say, I’m probably splitting hairs right now, and consequently wasting time (mine and yours). Moving on: Žižek offers a critique of Hardt and Negri’s Empire, arguing that “Today’s global capitalism can no longer be combined with democratic representation: the key economic decisions of bodies like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or World Trade Organization (WTO) are not legitimized by any democratic process, and this lack of democratic representation is structural, not empirical” (195). In other words, Žižek faults Hardt and Negri with coming up with an idealist solution, one that is both inapplicable and too vague (or inapplicable because too vague and idealistic). Žižek remarks that “Their wager is to repeat Marx. For Marx, highly organized corporate capitalism was already a form of socialism within capitalism (a kind of socialization of capitalism, with the absent owners becoming superfluous) [a citation/footnote would have been greatly appreciated here], so that one need only cut the nominal head off and we get socialism. In an identical fashion, Hardt and Negri see the same potential in the emerging emerging hegemonic role of immaterial labor. Today, immaterial labor is ‘hegemonic’ in the precise sense in which Marx proclaimed that, in nineteenth-century capitalism, large industrial production was hegemonic as the specific color giving its tone to the totality – not quantitatively but playing the key, emblematic, structural role. This, then, far from posing a mortal threat to democracy (as conservative cultural critics want us to believe), opens a unique chance of ‘absolute democracy’ – why?” (196).Thank you, sir! Basically, Hardt and Negri’s ingrained Marxism renders them irreconcilable with D&G’s immanence, in spite of their efforts… and Žižek has put it so much more eloquently than I ever could.

Ultimately, Žižek becomes Deleuzian in spite of himself, as he asks “What would the ‘multitude in power’ look like” (198), and starts to exemplify this impossibility by imagining the possibilities of the Zapatistas’ rhetoric of identification with any subaltern from around the world, in the case of their gaining power. The same rhetoric that serves a rebel group would be construed as the harshest of totalitarian demagogy. Thus Žižek does away (or suggests, at least) with the possibility of organized resistance, with the old Marxist panacea of the revolution of the proletariat. As Žižek asks in a dramatic end to the book: “How, then, are we to revolutionize an order whose very principle is constant self-revolutionizing? Perhaps, this is the question today” (213).

Žižek on Deleuze (part 2)… finally

It’ s a good thing I gave Slavoj a second chance to prove how much smarter he is (than me, than I thought?). After yet another period of thoughts of renunciation, reading minute details and syllogism meant to argue for Deleuze’s Hegelianism, Lacanianism, and Žižekianism, I stumbled over the final section of the book. Lucky me: it does away with the pretentious philosophizing – and I only use such derogatory words because I don’t understand it, not because it is not a meritorious enterprise – and instead spells out Žižek’s feud with Deleuze, and especially with Deleuze and Guattari. Namely, this third section of the book, “Politics: A Plea for Cultural Revolution,” returns to the main argument, which Žižek announced in the intro, i.e., about “the Guattarized” Deleuze being the ideologist of late capitalism.

Žižek opens the chapter by quoting an anecdote recounted by Jean-Jacques Lecercle in “The Pedagogy of Philosophy,” in which the latter encountered a yuppie reading D&G’s What is Philosophy? while traveling on the Paris subway, suggesting that the yuppie might be in for a big surprise when he finds himself reading a complex theoretical tract rather than an introduction. Žižek counters:

“What, however, if there is no puzzled look, but enthusiasm, when the yuppie reads about impersonal imitation of affects, about the communication of affective intensities beneath the level of meaning (‘Yes, this is how I design my publicities!”), or when he reads about the limits of self-contained subjectivity and directly coupling man to a machine (‘This reminds me of my son’s favorite toy, the action man that can turn into a car!’) or about the need to reinvent oneself permanently, opening oneself to a multitude of desires that push us to the limit (‘Is this not the aim of the virtual sex video game I am working on now? It is no longer a question of reproducing sexual bodily contact but of exploding the confines of established reality and imagining new, unheard-of intensive modes of sexual pleasures!’). There are, effectively, features that justify calling Deleuze the ideologist of late capitalism. Is the much celebrated Spinozan imitatio afecti, the impersonal circulation of affects bypassing persons, not the very logic of publicity, of video clips, and so forth in which what matters is not the message about the product but the intensity of transmitted affects and perceptions?” (183-84).

I think we have a case of the chicken and the egg here, Mr. Žižek. I think that sometimes when we theorize we tend to forget that some of the most effective theory, the one that actually captures the traits of late capitalism, for instance, stems directly from that mode of production, constitutes an analysis of its manifestations, and can therefore be exemplified in a variety of ways. Would you call Marx an ideologist of industrial capitalism, just because JP Morgan might have read him and smiled to himself thinking about how his use of capital conforms to Marx’s theories? What I’m trying to say is not “Don’t touch my Deleuze!” but rather there is a reason why so many people respond affirmatively to Ian Buchanan’s rhetorical question in the title of his edited collection, A Deleuzian Century? (1999). The reason is that he, together with Guattari for the duration of their collaboration, have managed both to capture what late capitalism is all about, and point to a possible alternative that diverges from the traditional marxist-influenced leftist revolution. If that particular person on the Paris underground reading What is Philosophy? was asking those questions that Žižek suggests, it only proves that Deleuze (and Guattari)’s work has gone beyond the realm of mere applicable theory into an accurate generalizable description of our present moment. Now, is that what we call an ideologist?

Ideology is a crucial concept for Žižek’s body of work: he has written a whole book on it and edited a collection of influential theories of ideology. However, much as he critiques Deleuze for being the ideologist of late capitalism, and throws ideology around right, left, and centre in this book, he does not take the time (one paragraph?) to explicate his take on it. This may sound like the usual nitpicking of a critic who has nothing else to say. When one thinks of how D&G dismiss ideology as a valid category of analysis, one has to pause and ask why Žižek doesn’t take issue with this crucial point in their theory. D&G assert that since the operations of ideology are actually contained and transmitted through language, using a separate concept for these operations does nothing but confuse things unnecessarily, obscuring the actual effects of linguistic communication by relegating them to a different notion (or something like that). While it’s clear that nobody can touch all of the crucial concepts developed by Deleuze (and Guattari) in one book and still keep it sane and readable, I just thought is was suspect that Žižek wouldn’t contend with it, especially when, if taken into account, D&G’s view of ideology supports an affirmative answer to the question that concludes the previous paragraph: using language makes us all ideologists.

Where to, capitalism?

Warning: the following is a rant.

Today’s Globe and Mail includes an opinion piece by Thomas Homer Dixon titled “Global Capitalism Teeters on the Brink:
We’ve moved from a world of risk to a world of uncertainty.” As the title declares, his point is that the subprime mortgage crisis, which led to the fall of Bear Stears, the US’s fifth largest investment bank, which in turn triggered the neoliberal nightmare of the US Federal reserve intervening on the no-longer-self-regulating free market, illustrates the impending doom of global capitalism. While I agree that “the crisis is the product of systemic problems in the world’s economy,” I’m not sure that this particular crisis signals our passage from a “world of risk to a world of uncertainty.” I hate to nitpick and resort to the easiest postcolonial critique of asking “Who’s we?”, but I’m afraid that when talking about the “world economy” and “global capitalism,” one owes it to one’s readers to be more specific. Even if they represent a crucial part of the world economy, workers in sweat shops in the periphery cannot be said to move now from risk to uncertainty. Many more examples from the participants in “global capitalism” can be found. Again, “we” is the historically empowered and self-sufficient Western, middle class subject. End of cheap critique.

What I take issue with more in Homer-Dixon’s piece is the need to foretell, the motivations for which I don’t understand: when one is a brilliant scholar who has just been head-hunted and set atop of a new institute with much pomp, why does one need to take prove one is clairvoyant? Moreover, Dr. Homer-Dixon probably knows that capitalism has been teetering on the brink since its emergence, because that’s where it thrives. It is by crises that it renews itself, and finds other resources to fuel its development. I guess I would just have preferred to read an edifying piece exposing the conceptual bankruptcy of neoliberalism and using this crisis as an example of how the free market ideologues can justify running for help to the government when the boo-boo is getting out of hand. And maybe a lead to a larger discussion of the founding myth of neoliberalism. But maybe I’m just too simple that way – after all, I’m told we all want to read our own interests in everything we see, to justify our petty narcissistic selves.

End of rant.