Category Archives: Corporation

*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

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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.

Coincidence or something like it

The locavore movement seems to be all the rage now. And why not? It’s ethically sound from so many points of view: it’s ecological, because it discourages consumption of well-travelled foods, but also because it promotes maintaining local heritage varieties of fruit and vegetables, which have been threatened to disappear since the dawn of global eating; it encourages community building, but not in a reactionary, or nostalgic way (it’s actually healthier for you to know your tomato supplier, and not just because your grandma used to know hers); it’s healthy; it’s respectful because it brings about a knowledge and an interest in how food actually comes into existence.

I’m reading a second book (I’m not establishing a chronology here, I merely got to these books in this order) on this subject, Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon’s The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating (2007), after having read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (2007). The structural or stylistic similarities are striking: both books are well researched, and try to teach as well as to narrate their protagonists’ stories, e.g., alongside stories of how they coped with a new way of eating and treating food in climates that are, at first glance, not particularly generous or satisfactory to 21st century Western consumer, the authors provide recipes and gardening advice. It’s clear that there’s a movement out there, and these writers are not only part of it, but bent on making it known as widely as possible.

The reason I’m investigating this topic, apart from personal interest, is a quest for alternatives to corporationism that go beyond resistance, i.e., beyond negative critique, and actually propose creative changes. The locavore movement, as much as it wants to make itself known widely (dare I say ‘proselytize’?), counts on personal becomings, i.e., the very kind that can actually generate a line of flight and a creation of a body without organs: no more hierarchy between the organs; the brain is not above the stomach anymore, the body not to be subjected and disciplined by rationality. Or, in economic terms, the lowest-cost solution short-term is not necessarily the best one.

Right now I see this kind of alternatives as the ones that can steer the immanence of corporationism into the direction of a body without organs: micropolitics that can poke holes into the plane of consistency to liberate desire and generate lines of flight. Personal becomings.

A, but will corporationism sit idly by while locavores build their BwO? Nah-ah. Here’s a new axiom for you: coporationism will embrace the locavore moment. One example just fell into my lap yesterday: Corporate Knights: The Canadian Magazine for Responsible Business. The cover story of their latest issue, “How Green Are Your Greens?” rates Canadian supermarkets according to their environmental commitment. Funny coincidence, though: at the heart of it, the article (and other ones in this issue) revolves around the amount of local supply, and how these businesses need to improve their connections with local suppliers.

Does this new axiom constitute a veritable move of the plane of immanence into the direction of liberated desires? I’m not sure.

Žižek on Deleuze (part 1)

Žižek, Slavoj. Organs without Bodies: On Deleuze and Consequences. New York, Routledge, 2004.

Žižek wants to find the political dimensions or implications of Deleuze’s philosophy, and shows himself quite frustrated with the realization that “not a single one of Deleuze’s own texts is any way directly political. Deleuze ‘in himself’ is a highly elitist author, indifferent towards politics” (20). This stance is in opposition with Deleuze’s collaboration with Guattari, the outcome of which Žižek considers of rather poor quality, calling Anti-Oedipus “arguably Deleuze’s worst book” (21). Therefore, in an effort to unpack the attraction of Deleuze as “the theoretical foundation of today’s anti-globalist Left and its resistance to capitalism” (xi), Žižek aims to show that beyond Deleuze’s better known collaborative work with Guattari lies “another Deleuze, much closer to psychoanalysis and Hegel, a Deleuze whose consequences are much more shattering” (xi). The ultimate argument, one of Žižek’s favourite ones, turns toward uncovering “those aspects of Deleuzianism that, while masquerading as radical chic, effectively transform Deleuze into an ideologist of today’s ‘digital capitalism’” (xii).

Two issues merit highlight so far (in what I’ve read of the book). They’re both interesting to my project for different reasons:

1. Deleuze’s duality: After reading D&G, one of the things that struck me was how they managed to critique and escape the fundamental binarization of the Western ontology. Žižek thinks otherwise: “One should therefore problematize the very basic duality of Deleuze’s thought, that of Becoming versus Being, which appears in different versions (the Nomadic versus the State, the molecular versus the molar, the schizo versus the paranoiac, etc.). This duality is ultimately overdetermined as ‘the Good versus the Bad’: the aim of Deleuze is to liberate the immanent force of Becoming from its self-enslavement to the order of Being. Perhaps the first step in this problematizing is to confront this duality with the duality of Being and Event, emphasizing their ultimate incompatibility: Event cannot be simply identified with the virtual field of Becoming that generates the order of Being…” (28).

Instead of looking at these pairs that Žižek highlights as binary opposites, I regarded them as the problem and an alternative. The alternative does not necessarily constitute an opposite, but it is true that, as Žižek points out, they are liable to be interpreted as the bad and the good. Here’s something to think about: Is one a priori condemned to enact the object of critique without realizing it? In doing away with the system of dichotomies, do D&G erect others? My immediate response to Žižek would be that he is intentionally oversimplifying, especially when it comes to Being versus Becoming in D&G. Firstly, D&G do not talk about the grand philosophical category of Being – intentionally, I think, because of their reluctance to resort to any book/tree-like system as a fundament for their theory. Instead they problematize the notion of stable Subjectivity, to which they oppose Haecceity, as an infinitesimal instant in Becoming; haecceity, again, does not equate Event; on the contrary, there is nothing momentous about one of the many haecceities that something passes through in the process of becoming. Is haecceity opposed to subjectivity? Not exactly: haecceity is like a vectorized Subjectivity, i.e., one cannot talk about stable subjectivity in time, but only of subjectivity dependent on time. In other words, haecceity is not the opposite of subjectivity, but a more refined, accurate way of describing the existence of things perpetually in motion.

2. Affect and its appropriation by corporatism;

“As Deleuze later developed in a Spinozian vein, affects are not something that belong to a subject and are then passed over to another subject; affects function at the preindividual level, as free-floating intensities that belong to no one and circulate at a level ‘beneath’ intersubjectivity. This is what is so new about imitatio affecti: the idea that affects circulate directly, as what psychoanalysis [and D&G] calls ‘partial objects’” (35).

This theorization of affects helps me mount the argument that affects are becoming a domain of high interest for corporatism. Of course, I’m not talking about a completely new trend (see advertising, for example). What has changed is the intensification of the corporate interest in affect of any kind, to the point of defining teleology (e.g., happiness is *the* goal right now and workplaces attempt to accommodate employee happiness), as well as underpinning and propping up the generalization of fear as a way of life (see Neil Smith’s discussion in “Disastrous Accumulation,” and the current climate of increased security both benefiting corporate interest primarily). Corporatism aims to dictate and manipulate affect, by offering up *the* range of available emotions to be undertaken by subjects. The alternative: becoming, and therefore shedding the need for a stable, uniform subjectivity.

On Happiness (again) and Community

My head is going to explode, but I’m going to try and prevent this post from becoming yet another rant. Also, I don’t want to turn this blog into a site of commentary on The Globe and Mail. I have one excuse: this post is connected to the very first one, the one on happiness. More precisely, I want to investigate, starting from a couple of articles in today’s Globe, the status of happiness and community in corporatism, and why the latter is perceived as only possible through religion (a community of faith). I know it sounds like a very ambitious proposition, but I want to suggest that corporatism (by which I mean by and large corporations’ increasing grasp on biopower, i.e., their overtaking of the management of people’s lives) is creating new axioms on happiness and community, as a response to potentially menacing lines of flight (demands of the people?).

It goes like this: in the last period of time (couldn’t really quantify it), the issue of happiness and how to achieve it personally and individually has become a staple of news reporting, empirical research, and day-to-day preoccupations of the media more generally. All of a sudden – and here I’m trying to go beyond the simplistic musings of my previous post on the subject – everyone started to be concerned with how to be (more) happy, who is so, what will make us more so. In the professional advice columns, for example, we are told that it’s not the corner office that will bring us more happiness, but doing our job properly, according to our job description, *but also* going above and beyond it without eliciting praise or expecting compensation. In other words, the more disciplined you are at work, the happier you would be: stay in your cubicle, the embodied reminder of your disciplined self, a continuation, a la Michel Foucault, of the school, army, factory spatial organization, heed your boss, don’t show a tad of rage when she takes your brilliant idea and parades with it to the higher-ups, and you will be supremely happy, which, after all, is the new goal to attain. A new axiom, anyone?
The two articles from the newspaper I mentioned both use as their starting point two separate research experiments into happiness. Firstly, there’s a rather large pink elephant in that room: how does one quantify happiness so that one can afterwards use it in an empirical study. Will you take it for granted that I’m 30% happier now, writing this post, than I was yesterday, sitting in traffic? And also, that I’m 17.8% less happy than my partner who’s heading to work? And yet, these researchers have managed to do it: one of the articles states that people who spend money on somebody else – gifts, treating friends to dinner, or charity – are happier than the ones who selfishly spend their money on themselves. Here’s how we see the new axiom of corporatism at work. It used to be that you had to work more hours (without being paid overtime, naturellement), so that your boss notices you and doesn’t fire you when push comes to shove and the company has to downsize. Then, we were told, if you worked more, you’d eventually make more money so that you could buy more stuff, which in turn generated more demand, which, circuitously, would come back to you and the long-term existence of your own job. Now, you should make more money and give to charity (and prominent examples abound), because, let’s face it, it’s not the State’s job to provide social programs for those unfortunate, underprivileged homeless, or abused women and children, or medical research. NO, NO, NO. It’s the private charities’ job: see the examples of self-made people from the business world, or from the world of glitz and glam: they all do it, and so should you. Simon Corporatism says: you should work more for me, so that you can be happy by helping other people with your money.

Granted, the beauty of it all is that there is nothing wrong with helping other people and building a community. But is this really what this axiom is all about? Is it rather not about the perpetuation of corporatism through the encouragement of individualism of a more involved or responsible kind? Maybe we can turn to the other article I mentioned, which, backed by research from UBC Okanagan, asserts that spirituality makes children happier. Of course, there is no description of methodology, but one of the researchers could forcefully claim that “If you imagine a child’s happiness represented by a big pie, the slice of the pie accounted for by spirituality is about 7 per cent to 17 per cent. Money is less than 1 per cent. If you looked at the parents’ marital status, it’s less than 1 per cent,” says Dr. Mark Holder, one of the study’s authors, and an associate professor of psychology at UBC Okanagan. That *is* impressive. And here, I thought one could not quantify happiness: poor little non-empirically trained me. I’m sure that if I did the properly scholarly thing and read the published article, things would become very clear, and any doubt and skepticism would be forever dissipated. But this is not the point: after all, how many of the Globe readers will do that? And, how many of the people who find our through word-of-mouth that one should raise their children with spirituality*/religion (another digression, even though the author of the article is careful to say that spirituality differs from religion, the rest of the article is centred on Christianity, and the article even starts by invoking Easter) will go and search for the published article, or have access to it if they wanted to? The author of the article, Lorna Dueck cannot be accused of not doing her job: after all, she went and interviewed seven-year-old children to ascertain their grasp and take on spirituality, and she found they had a clear sense of it, and very strong opinions, too: “It sounds sort of like reality and spirit mixed together,” seven-year-old Brodie told me. “Spirituality might mean that you have a good spiritual friendship with God,” said Liam. “I feel happy ’cause I know that someone’s protecting me and watching what I do and letting me know if I’m doing something wrong that I can fix that if I’m making a mistake,” said Paul. For Ashley, the concept meant, “I can turn to God whenever I need it.” Grace was alarmed at the thought that spirituality could be ignored: “I’d feel like a big part of me is missing. I would feel alone in my life. I would feel worried, I would feel really alone.” Brodie concluded that without his faith, he’d feel “just abandoned” (Dueck A11). Who are these children, you ask: ah, merely simple common children from private schools, whose “parents had paid thousands of dollars to ensure that spirituality was a major part of their education” (Dueck A11). However, this realization can in no way lead us to the conclusion that ‘spirituality’ is brainwashing. Stop calling it ‘spirituality’ just to be pc: even if you’ve changed its name, it’s still good old Western-style monotheistic religion. The kind that relies on one old book (plus a lot of interpretations by dead or alive white guys) for all the answers.

My point? It’s best illustrated by one question from Dueck’s article: “Were we happier when we understood that we were part of a community of faith?” (Dueck A11). I don’t think I should harp on on the issue of happiness – I’m starting to bore myself, too. However, the insinuation that community can only be attained through some kind of religious allegiance made me gasp, especially since it’s not the first time I’ve read about it lately. One of the much-touted new books of these past couple of weeks was Patricia Pearson’s A Brief History of Anxiety: Yours and Mine. Obviously, a very welcome addition to the much-needed public discussion of mental health issues that used to be swept under the rug and dismissed. What surprised me in her interview with Chatelaine (April 2008 issue, pp. 99-102, by Geraldine Sherman) was, again the connection between community and religion. Pearson says “In Western cultures we’re not religious, not connected to a unifying myth, whereas the countries that score the lowest in terms of anxiety are those that share some collective world-view, especially when it comes to rearing children [oops, how did we get from A to B here?]. I think our children go off the scale when someone dies. I’ve encouraged my daughter to believe in God because she needs it. I’ve developed a deep respect for ritual and have started going to church again” (Sherman 101-2). So the only way we can create community is through religion?

Is it the influence of a decade of domination of the US by the religious right? Where is this push toward religion as the ultimate panacea and the only glue for community coming from? If part of the axiom says that one needs community in order to be happy, the second part points to a reactionary solution (and it does so by cowardly pointing to children, the ultimate weak spot and guilt-tripper): go back to religion, have fear of God, and live in guilt of never being able to be good enough. Now that it’s been established and you have one constant preoccupation – after all, isn’t God the supreme panopticon? – we’ll show you how your imagined transcendent power can be masterfully imbricated into the plane of immanence.

Conspiracy theory? Hardly. How many people does it take to tell one that they’ve read in respectable sources that scientific studies show that children need to be brought up with religion in order to be happy before one caves in and goes to church for the child’s sake?

* “In the UBC study that analyzed what makes children happy, spirituality was defined as an inner belief system that has four parts: personal meaning in one’s life; relationships and love for others; transcendental belief in a higher power; and a sense of beauty and awe with nature” (Dueck A11)

Immanence and Corporatism

“The BwO is the field of immanence of desire, the plane of consistency specific to desire (with desire as a process of production without reference to any exterior agency, whether it be a lack that hollows it or a pleasure that fills it).” (1000 Plateaus 154)

The body without organs (BwO), in other words, is what desire would construct on the plane of immanence/consistency, if left to its own devices and not caught into the axiomatic of capital. Whoa, lots of complicated concepts in the previous sentence, which need explanation. Let’s start with immanence, since this is the topic for today (this week/month?).

Can we talk of immanence without mentioning capitalism? Obviously, immanence is a philosophical concept that can stay on its own feet. Even in Deleuze (and Guattari) – and Guattari is in parentheses not because he’s an afterthought, but because Deleuze has written on immanence on his own, as well as with Guattari – immanence has its own distinct life, apart from capitalism. [What’s more, capitalism has constructed its plane of immanence by performing relative deterritorialization, and always deferring its own internal limits to prevent the creation of the BwO.] Wikipedia has a good discussion of the plane of immanence. However, where my understanding differs from common readings of the Deleuzian immanence is here: “Thus all real distinctions (mind and body, God and matter, interiority and exteriority, etc.) are collapsed or flattened into an even consistency or plane, namely immanence itself, that is, immanence without opposition” (Wikipedia, bold emphasis mine). As I tried to explain in the previous entry, I see the plane of immanence of corporatism as rhizomatic, rather than a flattening or collapsing of all the machines onto a literal flat plane. This doesn’t mean that I take the plane of immanence as a metaphor of something else; rather, I believe that flattening and collapsing are the metaphors by which discussants are making sense this pivotal notion for both Deleuzian philosophy, and for today’s world situation. I’m not sure if there’s anything wrong with resorting to metaphor to explain an utterly non-metaphorical discourse. However, when resistance to metaphor is another pillar of this discourse, caution and explanation are necessary. The idea of flattening arguably appears in D&G when they talk of smoothing and striation, but these concepts would unduly complicate this point.

Rather than resorting to the metaphor of flattening, one can view immanence as a network of rhizomatically connected machines and lines, which does not imply any two-dimensional collapse onto a literal plane. The plane is abstract, rather than metaphorical, and the idea that lines of flight can be potentially drawn in all directions supports the multi-dimensionality of the plane of consistency. A line of flight points to a possibility of escape, i.e., to the construction of a BwO and not to transcendence.

After all of this conceptual running in circles, what is the implication of immanence for corporatism?

Firstly, corporatism – the name I’m using for the present situation in which we find ourselves – refers to the overtaking of biopower by corporations (in Foucauldian terms), or to the appropriation/construction of the plane of immanence of desiring-production by the same corporations (in D&G speak). The notion of desiring-production already points to the imbrication of economic production with the reproduction of life. What that means, therefore, is that life itself, in all of its aspects, has become the domain of formerly exclusive economic entities, to the detriment of the State, which used to have the upper hand when it came to the administration of life. Again but with other words: corporations have made it their business to be concerned with both economic production and the less abstract motor behind it, i.e., the social force driving it, people’s lives and all of the other connected issues. Corporations have thus created themselves a plane of immanence, in which people are rhizomatically connected to industrial machines, to the more abstract bottom line, and to the even more abstract stock exchange performance of a particular company.

Six degrees of separation? Yes, but no longer restricted to people; instead, opened up for everything in existence. Fortunately, that’s also how we can escape it, change it, construct alternative (non-transcending) planes of immanence: “becoming is to extract particles between which one establishes the relations of movement and rest, speed and slowness that are closest to what one is becoming, and through which one becomes. This is the sense in which becoming is the process of desire” (1000 Plateaus 272).

Corpora… what?

Ok, so I’ve been thinking about the name of the concept that today’s immanent corporate capitalism could go by, and all I could come up with for the exams was ‘corporationism’, which, even after having used it a lot, and having heard it used by a whole group of very intelligent people, still sounds clunky and forced. Initially, I wanted to go with ‘corporatism’ – very cute, right? However, corporatism already had a pretty established meaning, which didn’t really jive with my definition (more on that later on, hopefully).

I’ve been pondering this dilemma again, as a more acceptable form of procrastination – after all, thinking about trivial details of one’s work is still better than reading foodie blogs, right? – and have stumbled upon the OED definition, which, after sending one to the identical synonym ‘corporativism’, explains: “The principle or practice of corporate action or organization; spec. a corporative system (see prec.).” Right, so there’s actually nothing wrong with my twist on this older concept. After all, I’m still talking about the organization of people in corporations (see the Wikipedia definition, linked above), only this time, the corporations are exclusively economic agents on the market, rather than hierarchical social organization. Or, are they the latter as well? Well, I think this is the beauty of immanence: although initially emerging as businesses, corporations have increasingly started to appropriate social roles – both for their employees and, through charity organizations, even for the general public, thus aiming to minimize the role of state social programs. So, I think I’ll stick to corporatism – it’s a newer form of the old notion, but semantics changes constantly, so I’m allowed!