In this essay “Semiotic Pluralism” and the New Government of Signs Homage to Félix Guattari Maurizio Lazzarato (trans. Mary O’Neill) develops and extends Guattari’s a-signifying semiotics as part of his ongoing elaboration of financial capitalism.
As he’ll remind us capitalism for Guattari is a “semiotic category that affects all levels of production and all levels of the stratification of power”. Yet, Guattari’s use of semiotics had a duo aspect to it: 1) an signifying semiotics of representationalism; and, an a-signifying semiotics of infrastructural and empirical elements of material relations, a mapping rather than a tracing of these ubiquitous aspects of capital. Read his essay, definitely opens up Guattari’s thought in ways few have so far. His books of course deal with both debt and his incorporation of Guattari’s thought: see MIT Press.
One short quote on a-signifying semiotics:
The machinic register of the semiotic production of Capital operates on the basis of a-signifying semiotics that tune in directly to the body (to its affects, its desires, its emotions and perceptions) by means of signs. Instead of producing signification, these signs trigger an action, a reaction, a behaviour, an attitude, a posture. These semiotics have no meaning, but set things in motion, activate them. Money, television, science, music, etc. can function as sign production machines, which have a direct, unmediated impact on the real and on the body without being routed through a signification or a representation. The cycle of fear, anxiety or panic penetrating the atmosphere and tonality in which our “surveillance societies” are steeped are triggered by sign machines; these machines appeal not to the consciousness, but to the nervous system, the affects, the emotions. The symbolic semiotics of the body, instead of being centred on language, are as such activity routed through the industrial, machinic, non-human production of images, sounds, words, intensities, movements, rhythms, etc.
One needs to remember that for Deleuze and Guattari these a-signifying systems of signs were very much material notions of productivity, not to be confused with the abstract representationalism of the signifying semiotics. His main point is that the Left for the most part since the 60’s has missed the boat and dealt with the representationalism dynamics of capital rather than its base materialist a-signifying semiotics:
The importance of a-signifying semiotics (money, machinic devices for the production of images, sounds, words, signs, equations, scientific formulae, music, etc.) and the role they play needs to be emphasized. They are ignored by most linguistic and political theories even though they constitute the pivotal point of new forms of capitalist government.
In fact he has no qualms of saying that most Leftist thought in the “contemporary political and linguistic theories that refer either directly or indirectly to the polis and/or to the theatre, place us in a pre-capitalist situation”. In other words most Leftist thought is retrograde rather than innovative, it situates us in a dead world of representationalist mirrors that have nothing to say to the ongoing dilemmas of financial capitalism.
As he suggests the technologies that we use and encompass every waking and sleeping moment of our lives are reformatting our subjectivations continuously, controlling and dominating our affective and representational systems: what many term the InfoSphere of Capital as an alien entity that surrounds us on all sides as a ubiquitous and invisible network of relations that have captured our physical, emotional, and mental existence. He asks: “how do we escape these relationships of domination and how do we develop practices of freedom and processes of individual and collective subjectivation using these same technologies?”
What’s always interesting in such thinkers is that they can see the issue, describe it, and raise the questions, but never offer any resolution or thought as to answering this question. Rather like Zizek Lazzarato has many more questions and analysis than answers to our dilemmas. I keep wondering when the answers might be forthcoming? Is there an answer? Is this again a great critique without a way out? A new spin on our old predicaments? Just a rehash of Deleuze and Guattari under a new reformatting of their project? It’s as if that last question is a sign that he is himself at a loss as to how to answer it, or that the question itself may have no answer; that indeed, we may be following a course of subjectivation that is remapping our actual and potential becomings in ways we may find both disturbing and strange, but will have no clue as to how to develop further into a new form of freedom. Let’s hope he will have more to say on this matter.
- Of course Deleuze and Guattari used the term subjectivation rather than “subject” to show the processual and becoming-other of our life’s continuous mutations and lines of flight and composition. They did not affirm any form of essentialism or even a static concept of Being, etc.