Deleuze & Guattari: In the Time of Capital

very important plastic and trash pollution on beautiful lake

For the founders of the State come like lightning; the despotic machine is synchronic while the capitalist machine’s time is diachronic.

– Deleuze & Guattari, Anti-Oedipus

Continuing from the above Deleuze and Guattari will see in this transition from the Roman, Feudal, and Mercantile regimes a series defined by its static enclosure and linearity, while in the emergence of capitalism is this sense of movement, evolution, history: progress. Should we say that the engine of capitalism has always been the principle of progress? Against all previous forms of economy they will tell us that capitalism “institutes a kind of creativity of history, a strange menagerie: the schizoid time of the new creative break” (p. 223).1

Deleuze and Guattari will offer a general theory of society based as a general theory of flows. They qualify this regarding the theory of flows as the relationship of social production to desiring-production, the variation of this relationship in each case, and the limits of relationship in the capitalist system. (p. 262) They’ll argue that the three social machines of production are: the savage, the barbarian, and the civilized societies. Explicating this they’ll tell us:

The first is the underlying territorial machine, which consists of coding the flows on the full body of the earth. The second is the transcendental imperial machine, which consists in overcoding the flows on the full body of the despot or his apparatus, the Urstaat: it effects the first great movement of deterretorialization, but does this by adding its eminent unity to the territorial communes that it conserves by bringing them together, overcoding them and appropriating their surplus labor. The third is the modern immanent machine [Capitalism], which consists in decoding flows on the full body of capital-money: it has realized the immanence, it has rendered concrete the abstract as such and has naturalized the artificial, replacing the territorial codes and the despotic overcoding with an axiomatic of decoded flows, and a regulation of these flows; it effects the second great movement of deterritorialization, but this time because it doesn’t allow any part of the codes and overcodes to subsist.(p. 261)

Yet, they’ll add the new system adds new codes and overcodes replacing the others using regulatory practices that place both an outer limit and internal limit upon the processes of capital.

Lyotard and Baudrillard will attack them for their inability to go far enough to expose either the libidinal forces operative within the circulatory system of capital, or the inner core of death which beats like a heart in the dark lairs of capital’s jouissance. Yet, neither of these take into account the actual statements by Deleuze and Guattari who were already recognizing a latency – “Death is felt rising from within and desire itself becomes the death instinct, latency, but it also passes over into these flows that carry the seeds of new life” (p. 223).  What is “latency” in the sense in which Deleuze and Guattari use the term? Latency addresses the spatial-temporal dynamics of quiescence and suspends chronological continuities. As an agential materialization of physical and technological processes (i.e. “virus”), as well as of cultural productions (i.e. music, memory), it operates with time intervals and intervenes eventfully. In the section in which they describe the notion of Urstaat: “the presence of the latent model that can no longer be equaled, but that one cannot help but imitate” becomes the death-in-desire. As they will ask: “For what do private property, wealth, commodities, and classes signify?” The breakdown of codes. It’s this sense of the latent power of desire become death instinct that breaks down the codes of the despotic State releasing new decoded flows of desire that becomes the desiring-production of capital.

That is why capitalism and its break are defined not solely by decoded flows [structural], but by the generalized decoding of flows [as processes], the new massive deterritorialization, the conjunction of deterritorialized flows. It is the singular nature of this conjunction that ensured the universality of capitalism. (p. 234) [emphasis mine]

In Anti-Oedipus Deleuze and Guattari expand the concept of the three syntheses into political terms: association, disjunction and conjunction. Association is the connection, not just of data (as in Kant’s philosophy), but also of bodies or terms into some manifold or experienced thing, an ‘assemblage’. Disjunction, the second synthesis, is the subsequent possibility of relations between or among such assembled points of relative stability, while conjunction or the third synthesis is the referral of these terms to the ground or plane across which they range.2 In this sense of conjunction as the synthesis of capital with the “plane” across which these decoded flows range we approach what Deleuze and Guattari will term the disconnect of conjunction from its ties to enjoyment or to the excess consumption of a class: the reduction of all decoded flows to “production for production’s sake” that links labor and consumer to the new deterritorialized “full” body from which they emanate (pp. 224-225).

Deleuze and Guattari will tie cynicism and piety together as the as the extortion of capital from labor, and the emanation of labor through piety (p. 225). At the heart of this is not production itself, but rather anti-production: the “State, its police, and its army form a gigantic enterprise of antiproduction, but at the heart of production itself, and conditioning this production” (p. 235). Yet, it will be to money and the market itself that they will crown as the true policing force:

Marx often alluded to the Golden Age of the capitalist, when the latter didn’t hide his own cynicism: in the beginning, at least, he could not be unaware of what he was doing, extorting surplus value. But how this cynicism has grown – to the point where he is able to declare: no, nobody is being robbed! For everything is then based on the disparity between two kinds of flows, as in the fathomless abyss where profit and surplus value are engendered: the flow of the merchant capital’s economic force and the flow that is the derisively named “purchasing power” – a flow made truly impotent that represents the absolute impotence of the wage earner as well as the relative dependence of the industrial capitalist. This is money and the market, capitalism’s true police. (pp. 229-230)

The banker’s control the investment of desire: the wage earner’s desire, the capitalist’s desire, everything moves to the rhythm of one and the same desire, founded on the differential relation of flows having no assignable exterior limit, and where capitalism reproduces its immanent limits on an ever widening and more comprehensive scale. (p. 239) And, as they will affirm, it is at the level of flows, the monetary flows included, and not at the level of ideology, that the integration of desire is achieved. (p. 239)

“So what is the solution?” they will ask. “Which is the revolutionary path?” They turn from psychoanalysis saying it “constitutes for its part a gigantic enterprise of absorption of surplus value” (p. 239). So no help there. It is complicit with the very system it works to reinstate through its services as immunologists of the psyche: curing the disabled products (i.e., the broken psyche’s of the alienated consumer) of the capitalist system and returning them to the feeding machine (i.e., capitalism as alien entity absorbing energy). No. Psychoanalysis is no revolutionary path, but rather a repressive force for capitalism that patches up the broken proletariat and sends it back to be farmed of its surplus once again. Then D&G enter that famous section that so many know well:

To withdraw from the world market, as Samir Amin advises Third World countries to do, in a curious revival of the fascist “economic solution”? Or might it be to go in the opposite direction? To go still further, that is, in the movement of the market, of decoding and deterritorialization? For perhaps the flows are not yet deterritorialized enough, not decoded enough, from the viewpoint of a theory and a practice of a highly schizophrenic character. not to withdraw from the process, but to go further, to “accelerate the process,” as Nietzsche put it: in this matter, the truth is that we haven’t seen anything yet. (pp. 239-240)

Many critiques of the above statement seem to always stop just there, never going into the next chapter where they will take this thought-experiment and apply a rigorous dissection of its actual theoretic in praxis. (One might also ask how many ever follow up the above notion of “accelerate the process” by tracing it down to Nietzsche’s actual notes in his late Notebooks?) Always amazes me how philosophers and other thinkers seem to just read what they want without actually reading anything at all. Amazing. For it is in under  the next section, Capitalist Representation, that Deleuze and Guattari will both extend and explicate what they intend in the above statement “accelerate the process”. They’ll point out the difference between the older forms of despotic inscription based on linguistic (semiotic) forms as compared to the new capitalist use of visual and non-representable (diagrammatic: a-semiotic) forms that move away from the power of the voice to order and shape, and therefore repress the limits of desire in the capitalist system. They’ll point out that capital itself produces its own internal constraints and limits, thereby suppressing and policing desires that would exceed those limits, etc.

They’ll ask: “Then what becomes of a “truly” schizophrenic language and the “truly”  decoded and unbound flows that manage to break through the wall of the absolute limit?” (p. 246) Capital confines these break-flows to the caged environment and enclosure of the psychiatric ward, disallowing and policing such surplus flows. As they’ll attest: “the notion of break-flow has seemed to us to define both capitalism and schizophrenia. But not in the same way…” (p. 247). The exterior limit of capitalism is the decoded flows of schizophrenia, but it exorcises and regulates these flows through inscription and policing by the State and other systems. It also has internal limits which are the limits of capitalist production itself, its ability to produce and absorb its productivity, etc. As it expands it adds new axioms to include a new limit. As they’ll tell it capitalism “defines a field of immanence and never ceases to fully occupy this field” (p. 250). This cyclic movement of the internal limits in production and antiproduction keeps the process continuous and expanding at the rate of absorption, etc.

Instead of the old despotic and primitive inscriptions of body markings (tattoos) as part of the communal alignments of filiation and alliance, etc. now the individual is “privatized” no longer needing inscriptions: “your capital is your labor capacity, the rest is unimportant.” (p. 251). In the capitalist system the privatized labor no longer implies the coding to the body of the earth, but rather the application of the code is done by the individual upon the body of the socious – a reversal or substitution. The individual is a part-object in a vast machine that includes technical machines adjacent to her: both form the labor inscriptions of capital formation. In Industrial democracies the bureaucracy is the regulatory mechanism of repression that codes and recodes the private and technical machines within capital. (One may refer to those such as Gilbert Simondon Being and Technology and Bernard Stiegler Technics and Time trilogy, etc.) In fact most of this section of the book is taken up with a diagnosis and dissection of how capitalism in the West and in Russia both form and shape these internal mechanisms of repression based on desire-as-death. (Think of Freud’s notions of repression as defense systems against the death-drive)  As they’ll explain the “social axiomatic of modern societies is caught between two poles, and is constantly oscillating from one pole to the other: the paranoiac despotic sign, the sign-signifier of the despot that they try to revive as a unit of code; and the sign-figure of the schizo as a unit of decoded flux, a schiz, a point-sign or flow-break. They try to hold on to the one, but they pour or flow out through the other.” (p. 260) Between conspiracy and paranoia the authoritarian State encloses the commons in a shizflow world of sociopathic citizens who feed off each other’s vulnerabilities, competing for the treasures of a false infinity of goods. A world where psychopathology is the order of the day, insanity in institutionalized capitalism, murder and mayhem the escape valves, and mass incarceration the global system of final extraction and exclusion. A self-referencing system caught between Big Data and the dominion of surveillance capitalism where even the winners are losers in an end game without outlet, the only benefit being the cruel pleasures of a jouissance that immerses the top .01% in a mental straight-jacket of self-imposed paranoia and fear – a terror capitalism in which everyone is at war and democracy is just another name for death.

They’ll admit that democracy, fascism, and communism are all three haunted by the Asiatic despotic of the Urstaat, which constitutes in its shadow existence history’s only break, since even the modern social axiomatic can function only by resuscitating it as one of the poles of socialism. (p. 261)

1. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Penguin, 2001)
2.   (2010-09-01). The Deleuze Dictionary Revised Edition (p. 80). Edinburgh University Press. Kindle Edition.

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