Sunday, August 26, 2007

Body Politic

In many ways this post is a follow up to “No Admittance Except on Business,” in that it deals with relation, or non-relation, between production and representation. This time the point of entry is that of the body politic. Of course the idea of a body politic has a long history from Menenius Agrippa through Chrstian Pizan and so on, but I am interested in a more contemporary and critical use. First, in Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, where they write the following:

…the forms of social production, like those of desiring production, involve an unengendered nonproductive attitude, an element of anti-production coupled with the process, a full body that functions as a socius. This socius may be the body of the earth, that of the tyrant, or capital. This is the body that Marx is referring to when he says that it is not the product of labor, but rather appears as its natural or divine presuppositions. In fact, it does not restrict itself merely to opposing productive forces in and of themselves. It falls back on [il se rabat sur] all production, constituting a surface over which the forces and agents of production are distributed, thereby appropriating for itself all surplus production and arrogating to itself both the whole and the parts of the process, which now seem to emanate from it as a quasi-cause. (pg. 10)

Deleuze and Guattari are drawing from Marx’s notebooks on “Precapitalist Economic Formations.” These notebooks are the conceptual underpinning of much of Anti-Oedipus. The focus of their particular borrowing seems to set up a relation between production and what appears to be the presupposition of production, a relation that in many ways an opposition between production and appearance, production and representation. The despot, which is produced by the institutions and structures of precapitalist society appears to produce those same structures. As Spinoza would perhaps say: the effect is taken as a cause. This lineage descends down to capital itself, which appears as wealth generating wealth without the need of labor. The full body is always an appropriation and a misrepresentation of the productive relations of society.

In the opening pages of Alain Badiou’s Logique du Mondes, there is an articulation of the three forms of subjectivity: the revolutionary subject (or subject defined by fidelity to truth), reactive subject (defined by a denial of the truth) and an obscure subject. The first two are symmetrical, structured by the same event. The reaction is defined by the revolution it denies. Badiou’s example here is Francis Furet or the “new philosophers” whose thought is defined by the very event that they deny, declaring the French Revolution or May’68 to be a non-event. (As I have written earlier, this is Badiou’s “autonomist hypothesis” all counter-revolutions must be traced back to the revolution they deny). The obscure subject has a different trajectory. It is based not a pure and simple conservation, a retention of the past, but on an invention. It produces something, but its production is not related to an event, to a rupture of the existing order. It is an invention that is oriented in terms of a transcendental body. “The obscure subject articulates in a decisive way a timeless fetish, an incorruptible and indivisible body. Nation, God, or race”(pg. 69). The obscure subject does not address the revolution, even to deny it, but severs any connection to it through a fetish, a full body, which is produced as transcendent.

This overlap is admittedly superficial, much of it hinges on the use of the term full body [corps plein], and some vague suggestion of similar problems through the idea of the fetish. However, this superficial point of intersection, makes it possible to bring together two different critical approaches on the “production of subjectivity.” The first, in Deleuze and Guattari, is historico-structural in that the subject is related to different modes of production, different regimes of desiring production, savage, barbaric, and capitalist. In this way Deleuze and Guattari’s work intersects with Foucault, who in his own way provided for a genealogy of the oedipalized subject of desire, as well as that of Negri and others, who have theorized the new subject produced by the desiring machines of the real subsumption of capital. The second, in Badiou, is formal-structural, in that subjectivity is not related to specific social transformations, but the general, or generic, coordinates of a truth, whether this truth is actively produced, denied, or simply obscured. These strike me as two different ways of discussing the subject, each with their strength and weaknesses. The first offers an important materialist perspective, situating subjectivity as part of the larger social force (desire is part of the infrastructure), but in relating subjectivity to social forces in general it overlooks some of the transformative effects of subjectivity. While the second offers an interesting ethics of revolt, that is totally disconnected from an understanding of social forces.

Here these two understandings of subjectivity are related, however, through a problem that is important in its own regard: that of the (re)presentation of sociality itself. It seems that we cannot avoid some presentation of the social totality, and of our relation to it, what Althusser called “the society effect.” However, we could see our actions as effects of the large molar structures, capital, the state, etc. or see these structures as apparatuses of capture that obscure their conditions.

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