Time Unbound: Deleuze and Societies of Control


Technology, as a mode of production, as the totality of instruments, devices and contrivances which characterize the machine age is thus at the same time a mode of organizing and perpetuating (or changing) social relationships, a manifestation of prevalent thought and behavior patterns, an instrument for control and domination.

– Herbert Marcuse,  Technology, War and Fascism: Collected Papers of Herbert Marcuse

Herbert Marcuse in the above passage is quoting from Lewis Mumford’s classic Technics and Civilization. The notion of technology as a total system that encompasses instruments, devices and contrivances characterizing what Mumford calls the Machine Age, and that it is bound to a teleological project or “mode of organizing and perpetuating (or changing) social relationships” – a mode of governance, an instrumental mode of being and doing based on the regulation of human behavior through command and control systems as a form of dominion is part and partial of the basic ideology that encapsulates the critical leftist stance. This is nothing new. Obviously the notion of any form of totality or enclosure in life or thought has recently come under heavy attack. Yet, as we shall see in Michael Focault and the work of Gillese Deleuze this technological instrumentality and its pursuit and the merger of power and knowledge within the social nexus, as well as the goals of power and the goals of knowledge themselves cannot be separated from this network of affiliated ideas: in knowing we control and in controlling we know. Control as Deleuze would show in his essay Postscript on Societies of Control extends Foucault basic perimeters and includes a wider register of conceptuality beyond the disciplinary society: – or, as Deleuze will term it the “societies of sovereignty” will become in our time “societies of control”.

Control” is the name Burroughs proposes as a term for the new monster, one that Foucault recognizes as our immediate future. Paul Virilio also is continually analyzing the ultrarapid forms of free-floating control that replaced the old disciplines operating in the time frame of a closed system. There is no need to invoke the extraordinary pharmaceutical productions, the molecular engineering, the genetic manipulations, although these are slated to enter the new process. There is no need to ask which is the toughest regime, for it’s within each of them that liberating and enslaving forces confront one another.

– Gilles Deleuze, Postscript on Societies of Control

The old sovereign societies centralized power and authority, but in the new “societies of control” power and knowledge is no longer centralized but rather dispersed within a free-floating network that permeates the socious.  As Deleuze will suggest the two forms of control and domination have adapted to a new geometry of organization. The old mathematical notions of enclosures or the notion in Focault of the Panopticon was based on a geometry of situating the individual in a mold, a static system that could shape his/her behavior to the dictates of sovereign centralized knowledge and power. In which the Factory was the perfect model. The notion that the worker or inmate could be seen by the all-seeing eye of power, but that it could not look back and see it: this was a theological notion of God’s pervasive presence (Eye of God) as invisible Master, the super-ego that controls one’s very thought and behavior from within and without, and is hidden and away, yet very present in the personage of the Factory Boss. One was haunted by this invisible presence that shaped and molded one’s very habits and thoughts, constraining one’s behavior and time to the goals of the economic system of profit.

While in the new societies of control power and knowledge are “modulated” through a series of dematerializations. As Deleuze will remind us the Factory was a physical enclosure, a site of visible power and control: “the factory was a body that contained its internal forces at the level of equilibrium, the highest possible in terms of production, the lowest possible in terms of wages; but in a society of control, the corporation has replaced the factory, and the corporation is a spirit, a gas.” This notion of dematerialization in the sciences (Quantum Mechanics), the Arts (Abstract painting) and the network society where the enclosure is not so much a physical site as the enclosed world of an electronic hypercapitalism that flows freely through the connectionism at the heart of the Network Society. The network society exists best at the edge of chaos, bound to a non-linear system of controls that work through codings and decodings, deterriotorializations and reterritorializations. This is the Age of Code: the dematerialization of the human as Code, an algorithmic society bound to a continuous time flow that has no beginning or end, no boundaries, a time unbound.

Reality is no longer substantive, rather it has become data to be mined and shaped or designed and manipulated by a cognitariat of specialized knowledge workers. As Luciano Floridi will tell us we are living in a dematerialized artificial world already, the InfoSphere: the infosphere will not be a virtual environment supported by a genuinely ‘material’ world behind; rather, it will be the world itself that will be increasingly interpreted and understood informationally, as part of the infosphere. At the end of this shift, the infosphere will have moved from being a way to refer to the space of information to being synonymous with Being itself.2 This closure of thought and being, or information and reality is a return to the ancient Parmedian project. The notion that reality and thought are one and the same is Idealism pure and simple. Yet, the added twist that this very dematerialized realm of thought and mind can also be reversed: that the mind can be naturalized while nature denaturalized is at the heart of the Information Philosophy. This sense that the reontoligization of the real as data that is neither fully digital nor analogue but an oscillation between the two is at the core of its conceptuality.

Floridi will see this re-ontoligization process of the environment and ourselves as informational organisms or Inforgs as part of a Gateway Program: technology is re-ontologizing our devices as part of a reality engineering project, because they engineer environments that the user is then enabled to enter through (possibly friendly) gateways. It is a form of initiation. (Floridi, p. 16) As he will conclude:

we are witnessing an epochal, unprecedented migration of humanity from its Newtonian, physical space to the infosphere itself as its Umwelt, not least because the latter is absorbing the former. As a result, humans will be inforgs among other (possibly artificial) inforgs and agents operating in an environment that is friendlier to informational creatures. And as digital immigrants like us are replaced by digital natives like our children, the latter will come to appreciate that there is no ontological difference between infosphere and physical world, only a difference in levels of abstraction. When the migration is complete, we shall increasingly feel deprived, excluded, handicapped, or impoverished to the point of paralysis and psychological trauma whenever we are disconnected from the infosphere, like fish out of water. One day, being an inforg will be so natural that any disruption in our normal flow of information will make us sick. (ibid. pp 16-17)

Divide and Conquer

Deleuze will remind us that the older Fordist Factory systems were based on the opposition of the Boss and Worker in which Unions could the unified against the bosses, etc. While in the new corporate world of pure competition the worker is modulated by the “brashest rivalry as a healthy form of emulation, an excellent motivational force that opposes individuals against one another and runs through each, dividing each within”. In the old disciplinary societies there was a sense of enclosed work projects: the assembly line mentality in which there was defined beginnings and endings, a process that was bound to geometry of linearity. Work was always “beginning again”, a series of physical processes that molded the worker through its relations to this cycle: a time-narrative that was based of the clock-work world of mechanical time.

In the newer Societies of Control on the other hand there is a sense that one is never finished, that there is no structural closure or beginning and ending; rather, there is nothing but the endless drift of the process without end that even goes with one into play and home life. Deleuze will term this the Code World: “In the societies of control, on the other hand, what is important is no longer either a signature or a number, but a code: the code is a password, while on the other hand disciplinary societies are regulated by watchwords (as much from the point of view of integration as from that of resistance). The numerical language of control is made of codes that mark access to information, or reject it.” One is data, and one’s access to information is based on one’s place within the network of power and knowledge as an Inforg or Informational Organism. (Floridi)

With this new Society of Control a new mode of being of the human has been initiated. “We have passed from one animal to the other, from the mole to the serpent, in the system under which we live, but also in our manner of living and in our relations with others. The disciplinary man was a discontinuous producer of energy, but the man of control is undulatory, in orbit, in a continuous network. Everywhere surfing has already replaced the older sports.” One might think of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi work Flow where he develops the theory of optimal experience based on the concept of flow— the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.1 One might call this the Incentive Society in which individuals are bound to a desiring world of incentives and pleasures rather than drudgery and suffering, where work becomes entertainment and exciting business.

People have left the spaces of enclosure in order to enter into the open circuits of a flowing world of information and data, unbound to there tribal enclaves of family or community they float in plastic bubbles of cosmopolitan utopias that remain the same even as they travel from site to site in the new global village. As Deleuze will remind us this new world of cosmopolitan luxury and information is only for the nouveau riche, the rising class of the cognitariat and there corporate masters. For the rest of us “the operation of markets have become the instrument of social control and forms the impudent breed of our masters. Control is short-term and of rapid rates of turnover, but also continuous and without limit, while discipline was of long duration, infinite and discontinuous. Man is no longer man enclosed, but man in debt. It is true that capitalism has retained as a constant the extreme poverty of three-quarters of humanity, too poor for debt, too numerous for confinement: control will not only have to deal with erosions of frontiers but with the explosions within shanty towns or ghettos.” We are the indebted ones, bound to the corporate treadmill of infinite work, a 24/7 world where work is play and play is work.

Deleuze will describe the coming InfoSpheric Cities of Time that his friend and cohort Guattari so eloquently derided: “Felix Guattari has imagined a city where one would be able to leave one’s apartment, one’s street, one’s neighbourhood, thanks to one’s (dividual) electronic card that raises a given barrier; but the card could just as easily be rejected on a given day or between certain hours; what counts is not the barrier but the computer that tracks each person’s position – licit or illicit – and effects a universal modulation.” This notion that one’s life will be totally controlled by “access” restrictions outlines the level of insidious invisibility that this world will harbor. One’s level of access will determine one’s place in the network, as well as your “exclusion” and “expendability”. The notion that your every movement will be tracked and recorded as data is already an aspect of our hypermarketing society. Deleuze was prescient of this back in the 90’s.

As Deleuze will sum it up: the young people are being “trained to serve” this vast network society:

Many young people strangely boast of being “motivated”; they re-request apprenticeships and permanent training. It’s up to them to discover what they’re being made to serve, just as their elders discovered, not without difficulty, the telos of the disciplines. The coils of a serpent are even more complex than the burrows of a molehill.

Read Postscript on the Societies of Control…

1. Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (2008-08-18). Flow (P.S.) (p. 4). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
2. Floridi, Luciano (2013-10-10). The Ethics of Information (p. 10). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.

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