You Want To Be
Introduction to Fear
Take a Licking, But They Keep on Ticking
Lynn Hill, the world's top female rock climber, fell 85 feet and
landed on her tailbone after she failed to secure the knot in her
safety harness. A twenty- foot fall can be fatal. Her worst injuries
were a dislocated elbow and a "sore butt." Lynn is wearing
a dress watch from the Timex women's fashion collection. It has
a very secure buckle. It costs about $45.
Pilot Hank Dempsey fell out of an airplane at 2,500 feet when a
rattling door he was checking suddenly opened. He hung onto stairs
outside the plane and was inches from the runway when his co-pilot
landed twenty minutes later. Hank is wearing our flight watch, the
Timex Zulu Time. It has three time zones, and costs about $60.
Helen Thayer, age 52, skied to the magnetic North Pole with her
dog. She pulled a 160-pound sled for 27 days and 345 miles, surviving
seven polar bear confrontations, three blizzards, near starvation,
and several days of blindness. Helen is wearing a very civilized
watch from the Timex women's fashion collection. It costs about
The most remarkable people in this world don't appear on movie screens
or in sports arenas or on television tubes. They drive cabs and
work in offices and operate machinery. They're just ordinary people
like us who happened to have experienced something extraordinary.
"We" are all survivors. "People like us." "We"
have all fallen. Perhaps not from a cliff or a plane, but at least
down the stairs. That can be fatal, too. We "ordinary people"
confront our polar bears in the neighbor's pit bull. Our North Pole
is the nearest mall. With "parking-lot crime" at "epidemic"
proportions "we" might just as well make a polar expedition
as hazard a run from the car to the store after sundown. "We"
have all heard about the cabbie shot for small change. Even the
office is a danger zone, with stress ailments a leading white- collar
killer. And don't the papers say that work-related accidents are
on the rise? "Ordinary people like us" all experience
something extraordinary at one time or another. Some, in fact, do
not survive. Did I say some?
BERLIN DISCO * MOGADISHU * MUNICH OLYMPICS * ACHILLE LAURO *
"In the long run, we are all dead."
--John Maynard Keynes
On December 6, 1989 a lone gunman entered the University of Montréal
engineering faculty. He walked into a class room and ordered the
women to one side and the men to the other. Then, screaming epithets
at "feminists," he sprayed the women with bullets. Fourteen
women died in that volley and the shooting spree that followed.
The shock was palpable throughout the city. Nerves were raw. Emotions
flared. There was a sense of collective mourning that seemed to
leave no one untouched.
The press was quick on the uptake. Within minutes, "man"-in-the-street
interviews were registering the reactions of "ordinary"
people. Disbelief. "Things like that happen all the time in
the United States, but never in Canada. We're just not used to it
here." Incomprehension. "He was a madman." Empathy.
"It could have been my daughter in there." One of the
women was the daughter of the city police director of public relations,
who arrived on the scene just in time to see her body carried to
the ambulance. Tears.
The press loved it. In particular, the madman theory. Within minutes,
TV reporters were busy piecing together a portrait of the killer.
Mug-shot style photographs appeared in all the papers the next morning.
A slight problem arose. The landlord, family, roommate and acquaintances,
all emphasized how embarrassingly ordinary the "madman"
was. A bit odd, a bit shy, never dated, but nothing anyone could
remember in his past or manner prefigured the extraordinary act
he would commit. For most commentators, that made the story all
the more extraordinary. "It could have been my son." Who
knows what lurks in the hearts of men?
The few feminists given a chance to speak in the media questioned
the way in which the press had turned the event into a fifties horror
flic starring the nice post-adolescent male with girl trouble mysteriously
metamorphosing into a monster. What was remarkable from their point
of view was not that the ordinary could conceal the extraordinary,
but that the extraordinary had become the ordinary. There is only
a difference of degree, they argued, between the spectacular deaths
of the women at the Ecole Polytechnique and the less newsworthy
deaths and injuries suffered by the thousands of women who are mentally
and physically abused each year by men. There is a difference of
degree, not of nature, between the terror provoked by a mass-media
anti-feminist massacre and the everyday fear that has become as
pervasive a part of women's lives in North America as the polluted
air they breathe. Over the next twelve months, Montréal recorded
the steepest rise in its history in the incidence of rape, battering,
and murder by male partners.
The anniversary observances were for the most part a solemn affair.
The women of the Polytechnique were now in august company. Their
day of mourning fell two weeks after the seventeenth anniversary
of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, one week after John Lennon's
tenth, and a little more than a month before the twelfth anniversary
of Martin Luther King's assassination. Now images of blood- spattered
school desks joined Kennedy's famous flying skull-and-scalp fragments
and the pathos of the Memphis balcony scene in framing the Christmas
shopping season. Some observances were disrupted by feminist activists
enraged by the way in which the media's canonization of the fourteen
women had erased the specificity of their deaths and women's grief,
and the social issues they raised. But it was too late. They were
martyrs now. The Montréal massacre had entered the annals
of media history. It was an event to be remembered. Vaguely. Blurred
into the series. Like the others, all that would remain of it, in
its annual re-screening, would be an aftertaste of fear and a dim
foreboding of future events of the same kind. "Like the others
... of the same kind." The media event is the generic event.
Broadcast as the advent of the event without qualities.
LOCKERBIE * CANARY ISLANDS * KAL 007
"He who falls, was."
--train surfer, Rio de Janeiro
Timex wearers Lynn Hill, Hank Dempsey, and Helen Thayer are extraordinary
people, not because they have qualities that place them a notch
above the rest of us in the chain of being, but because of something
that happened to them. An event. They experienced danger, and lived
to tell the story (and buy a watch). What is remarkable about them
is something that befell them--or in the first two cases, something
they fell from. Their noteworthiness is external to them. It is
not of them, but comes to them, by chance. Their personal value
is a contingency, their distinguishing quality of the nature of
the accident (in the case of Helen the musher, the accident avoided,
in spite of her heroic self- exposure to danger).
The identity of these model consumers is defined by an external
event. The event is the accident, or its avoidance. The exact nature
of the accident, even whether it happened, is not terribly important.
What is important is a general condition, that of being on uncertain
ground. Taking the cue from Lynn and Hank's overdetermination of
the experience, falling can be taken as the exemplary accident or
event founding the consumers' identity. It would be more precise
to say that their generic identity--their belonging to the class
of remarkable people--is defined by the condition of groundlessness.
Their specific identity is defined by a commodity and a price tag:
what individuates Lynn is her fancy ("women's dress")
watch with a secure buckle ($45); Hank has a most masculine "Zulu"
timepiece ($60--he's a top earner in an exciting profession requiring
multiple time zones); plain Helen has a merely "civilized"
watch weighing in at a rock-bottom $40 (evidently a home-body when
she's not out staring down polar bears).
Timex philosophy (axiom 1): identity is an act of purchase predicated
on a condition of groundlessness.
BUDDY HOLLY * OTIS REDDING * JAMES DEAN * JANE MANSFIELD * LYNYRD
Who among us has not fallen? If you haven't yet, you will--"in
the end, we are all dead." The most remarkable people in this
world don't appear on movie screens. They're ordinary stiffs "like
us." "We" are all Lynns or Hanks or Helens. "We"
are all Otis Redding and Jane Mansfield. "We" are all
subsets of the class of remarkable people. "We" are Timex
The commodity endows us with identifiable qualities. It registers
our gender, social status, and character traits: buckled up and
prudent but still stylish; multi-time zoned jet setter; home-bodyish,
with an adventurous streak. The commodity stands (in) for our existence.
The ground(lessness) it stands on is the accident in its most general
expression--the accident-form, exemplified as downfall, the unqualified
or generic founding event. Our generic identity (our subject-form,
or humanity) is the generic event (the accident-form); our specific
identity (the content of whic is our "individuality" or
"self") is the sum total of our purchases (axiom 2). In
other words, contingency is the form of identity, and identity is
determined (given content) through the serial commission of the
act of groundless consumption. We buy and buy, until we die. We
are in free-fall, held aloft by the thinnest of credit cards. "Shop
till you drop" is our motto. We know we are alive--or at least
in a state of credit- suspended animation--as long as we are shopping.
"I buy therefore I am" (axiom 3). The commodity encounter
not only specifies but actualizes the subject of the purchase. The
subject of capitalism cannot be said to exist outside the commodity
In the Vogue magazine issue in which this Timex ad is found (December
1990) there are what would seem to be an unnatural number of watch
ads (fifteen). Almost all revolve around the accident or tradition.
Tag Heuer warns a ski racer not to "crack under pressure."
Movado exhorts us to "share the heritage," while Noblia
asks that we buy an expensive watch "for our great-great-grandson".
Accident and tradition as two dimensions of time are not contradictory.
Fendi tells why. This mountain goat of a "timepiece" is
perched on top of a craggy peak. The sky above is an ethereally
white, and somewhat out-of-focus, statue of a Greek goddess. If
we don't fall during our ascent up the mountain we not only become
a watch-owner but share in and reflect the subtle glow of cultural
tradition personified (generic culture). The continuity of time
hovers above the summit of the accident avoided. The seemingly smooth
horizontal timeline of tradition is in fact discontinuous: the flash
of a peak experience separated from others of its kind by deep ravines.
To reach the next cultural high we have to descend again, then climb
the neighboring summit. The mountains, of course, are price-tags.
The peaks are purchases. Diachrony is an aura or optical effect
emanating punctually from the purchase, as accident (avoided). The
apparent continuity is the result of commodity afterimages blurring
together to fill the intervals between purchases. The filler material
is use-time, the time of consumption: the buyer coasts on credit
to the next purchase by wearing or otherwise consuming the commodity,
in combination with other commodities. Consumption is not the end,
but the means. The defining experience is the peak experience. Time
of consumption is a secondary extension of the prime time: buying
time, the time of consummation. It is a lag-time, climbing time,
during which the lingering afterglows of past ascents form interference
patterns dopplering into a personal "presence" (seemingly
continuous aural spectrum). The consumer's identity is a mix-and-match
body-specific tradition self-applied through serial purchasing.
A supplemental optical effect filling the void of the accident.
commodity is the hinge between two temporalities, or two time-forms:
the primal accident-(avoidance)-form constituting the consumer's
generic identity or humanity; and its derivative, the personal-cultural
purchase tradition constituting the consumer's specific identity
or self. Specific identity is duplicitous, having as it does two
modes, consummation and consumption, whose difference it blurs into
an atmosphere of self-sameness. Generic identity, or the capitalist
subject-form, is not a "synchrony" in answer to this diachrony-
effect. It is neither a simultaneity nor a synthesis of successive
moments. It is the complete interpenetration of two mutually exclusive
tenses. The founding event is at once instantaneous and eternal.
It has always already happened ("the world's top female rock
climber fell"), yet persists as a possibility (don't fall,
"don't crack under pressure"). The accident as advent
and threat: the pure past of the sudden and uncontrollable contingency,
and the uncertain future of its recurrence. Future-past. The hinge-commodity,
in its double modality of consummation/consumption, fills the hyphenated
gap between past and future, holding the place of the present (Lynn
is wearing a dress watch ... it has a secure buckle ... it costs
...). Buying is (our present/presence). The commodity is a time-buckle,
and the time-buckle is a safety belt. The consumer "good"
reassures us that we are, and, traditionally, will continue to be,
unfallen from our groundless peak. Buying is prevention. It insures
inevitable. We all know our time will come. But if we follow the
existential imperative of capitalism--don't crack under pressure
(pick the right watch)--we don't have to worry about never having
been. Even if we take a licking, our consumer heritage will keep
on ticking. We will live on in the sparkle of our great-great-grandchildren's
fashion accessories. Our purchasing present may vanish, but our
future past will never end. We will glow on, dimly, the afterimage
of the afterimage of our former ravine-riven presence, now stabilized
into an objectified memory. We will not be forgotten (unless it
is we who forget--to write a will). The future perfect--or to translate
the more suggestive French term, the "future anterior"--is
the fundamental tense of the time-form constitutive of the consuming
subject ("will have...": also readable as an imperative,
the existential imperative of capitalism in its most condensed expression).
"Will have bought = will have been": the equation for
in the Real, Takes the Place of the Possible?
"'If this isn't terror, it is difficult to know what terror
is,' Begin said, referring to Arafat's renunciation of terror ..."
--Montréal Gazette, March 27, 1989
The assassination of John F. Kennedy marks a divide in American
culture. It was the end of "Camelot." No longer was it
possible for Americans to have a sense of oneness stretching back
in time to a golden age waiting just over the next horizon for the
long-expected return of the citizens of progress. The far past of
the founding age and the imminent future of its utopic repetition
were telescoped into the instant, in the view-finder of a high-powered
rifle. It was the end of mythic cultural time as the dominant temporal
scheme of American society. Diachrony would never be the same.
In the immediate wake of that too-sudden event, it was still possible
to believe. What many believed was conspiracy. Oswald was KGB. He
was an aberration, an agent of subversion who slipped in through
the cracks. The enemy, in that age of brutal "innocence,"
was still primarily on the outside, beyond the borders of the nation-state.
The specter of the subversive, however, had brought it closer and
closer to home. The borders were as much ideological as geographical.
The black lists were a constant reminder that even a red-blooded
American could turn--Red all over. The Cold War was a war on two
fronts. As Vietnam was soon to suggest, if the war was to be lost,
it would be lost on the home front.
The defeat would not be of one ideology over another. It was to
be of ideology itself. The winner was not the rifleman. If there
was a winner, it was the bullet. The senseless, instantaneous impact
of the "will have been."
Cracks began to open all around. There was no longer any safe ground.
The shot could come from any direction, at any time, in any form.
Oswald's direct inheritor was not James Earl Ray, Martin Luther
King's assassin. It was the gunmen in the Texas Tower, who shot
passers-by at random for no reason comprehensible to the "ordinary
American." The incomprehension spread. Why Watts? A rift opened
between the races. What is becoming of our children? The "generation
gap" threatened to undermine any possibility of cultural tradition
based on shared values passed from progenitors to offspring. Gender
became a battle-field in the "war between the sexes."
About that time, planes started raining from the skies. It was bad
enough that Ralph Nader had already soured the romance with the
car, turned killer. Even pleasure no longer felt the same. Smoking
was the insidious onset of a fatal ailment. Food became a foretaste
of heart disease. The body itself was subversive of the "self":
in the "youth culture," the very existence of the flesh
was the onset of decline, which could be slower or faster depending
on the beauty products or exercise accoutrements one bought, but
was ever-present in its inevitability. Industrialization, once the
harbinger of progress, threatened the world with environmental collapse.
Terrorists, feminists, flower children, black power militants, people
who don't buckle up, guilty smokers, eaters, polluters, closet exercise
resisters ... Everywhere, imminent disaster.
THREE MILE ISLAND * CHERNOBYL * SEVESO * ALASKA * BHOPAL * LOVE
"We" live there. It is our culture: the perpetual imminence
of the accident. Better, the imma nence of the accident. Today,
conspiracy theories for both JFK and King favor a domestic culprit,
the CIA. "We have met the enemy and he is us" (Pogo).
The enemy is no longer outside. Increasingly, the enemy is no longer
even clearly identifiable as such. Ever-present dangers blend together,
barely distinguishable in their sheer numbers. Or, in their proximity
to pleasure and intertwining with the necessary functions of body,
self, family, economy, they blur into the friendly side of life.
The Cold War in foreign policy has mutated into a state of generalized
deterrence against an enemy without qualities. An unspecified enemy
threatens to rise up at any time at any point in social or geographical
space. From the welfare state to the warfare state: a permanent
state of emergency against a multifarious threat as much in us as
BLACK PLAGUE * SYPHILIS * TUBERCULOSIS * INFLUENZA * CANCER *
Society's prospectivity has shifted modes. What society looks toward
is no longer a return to the promised land but a general disaster
that is already upon us, woven into the fabric of day-to-day life.
The content of the disaster is unimportant. Its particulars are
annulled by its plurality of possible agents and times: here and
to come. What registers is its magnitude. In its most compelling
and characteristic incarnations, the now unspecified enemy is infinite.
Infinitely small or infinitely large: viral or environmental. The
Communist as the quintessential enemy has been superseded by the
double figure of AIDS and global warming. These faceless, unseen
and unseeable enemies, operate on an inhuman scale. The enemy is
not simply indefinite (masked, or at a hidden location). In the
infinity of its here-and-to-come, it is elsewhere, by nature. It
is humanly ungraspable. It exists in a different dimension of space
from the human "here," and in a different dimension of
time: neither "now" of progress, nor the cultural past
as we traditionally knew it, nor a utopian future in which we will
know that past again. Elsewhere and elsewhen. Beyond the pale of
our accustomed causal laws and classification grids. The theory
that HIV is the direct "cause" of AIDS is increasingly
under attack. More recent speculations suggest multiple factors
and emphasize variability of symptoms. AIDS, like global warming,
is a syndrome: a complex of effects coming from no single, isolatable
place, without a linear history, and exhibiting no invariant characteristics.
The pertinent enemy question is not Who?, Where?, When?, or even
What? The enemy is a Whatnot?--an unspecifiable may-come-to-pass,
in an other dimension. In a word, the enemy is the virtual.
"Discovery Countdown--So Smooth It's Scary"
--headline, Montréal Gazette, September 30, 1988
Challenger was scary. Explosively so. But the faultless Discovery
lift-off? Nothing happened! Precisely the point.
Not only have the specific qualities of the threat been superseded
by the strange perpetuity of its elsewhen and the elsewhereness
of its ubiquity; whether or not the event even happens is in a strange
way a matter of indifference. The accident and its avoidance have
come to be interchangeable. It makes little difference if the rocket
goes up or comes crashing down. Not throwing a bomb will get the
Palestinian nowhere. The event is by definition "scary,"
just as the political opponent is by definition a "terrorist."
"Scary" does not denote an emotion any more than "terrorist"
denotes an ideological position or moral value. The words are not
predicates expressing a property of the substantive to which they
apply. What they express is a mode, the same mode: the imm(a)(i)nence
of the accident. The future anterior with its anteriority bracketed:
"will [have (fallen)]." Fear is not fundamentally an emotion.
It is the objectivity of the subjective under late capitalism. It
is the mode of being of every image and commodity and of the groundless
self- effects their circulation generates. The terms "objectivity"
and "being" are used advisedly. "Condition of possibility"
would be better. Fear is the translation into "human"
terms and onto the "human" scale of the double infinity
of the figure of the possible. It is the most economical expression
of the accident-form as subject-form of capital: being as being-virtual,
virtuality reduced to the possibility of disaster, disaster commodified,
commodification as spectral continuity in the place of threat. When
we buy, we are buying off fear and falling. Filling the gap with
presence-effects. When we consume, we are consuming our own possibility.
In possessing, we are possessed, by marketable forces beyond our
control. In complicity with capital, a body becomes its own worst
Killer Said Mickey Mouse Took Over Husband's Body
--headline, Montréal Gazette, February 24, 1989
Fear is the direct perception of the contemporary condition of possibility
of being-human. If "HIV" is the presence in discourse
of the ungraspable multicausal matrix of the syndrome called AIDS
(its sign), fear is the inherence in the body of the ungraspable
multicausal matrix of the syndrome recognizable as late-capitalist
human existence (its affect).
Rehearsal for an Even Darker Future
Was Discovery scary because Challenger was a premonition of (desire
for?) an even worse accident the possibility of which the next launch
reminded us? Was it scary because we saw in Challenger our future-past--the
eternal return of disaster?
Or on the contrary, was the nonevent of Discovery the "darker
future" for which the Challenger crash was a "dress rehearsal"?
A future that was to be the TV present of image-consumers attracted
to satellite-beamed lift-off like flies to a live media corpse.
Which is more frightening: the future-past of the event or the present
of consumption? The accident or its avoidance?
1789 * 1848 * 1871 * 1917 * 1936 * 1968 * 1977 * 1987 * 1929
"The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the "state
of emergency" in which we live is not the exception but the
rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping
with this insight."
--Walter Benjamin, Illuminations (257)
John Maynard Keynes believed in equilibrium. His economic philosophy
was marked by two events: 1917 and 1929. Two crises, one striking
capitalism from the enemy outside, the other a self-propelled "crash."
The Keynesian wager was to exorcise both threats--worker revolution
and industrial overproduction--by internalizing them into the ordinary,
everyday functioning of capital. Social equilibrium was to be attained
by integrating the working class, giving it a measure of decision-making
power through collective bargaining and legal strikes: the recognition
and institutionalization of the union movement. Economic equilibrium
was to be accomplished by increasing demand to meet supply, through
Fordism (the principle that workers should earn enough to buy the
products made with their labor) and welfare (enabling even the unemployed
to participate in the economy as buyers). In return for this universalization
of the right to consume, the workers would agree to safeguard management
profits by increasing their productivity apace with their wages.
Capitalism with a human face: everybody happy, busily banking or
The internalization of the two catastrophic limits of capitalism
worked, after a fashion. Yet equilibrium proved elusive. Part of
the problem was that the integration of the working class involved
translating what were fundamentally qualitative demands (worker
control over the labor process and collective ownership of the means
of production) into quantitative ones (raises and benefits; Alliez
and Feher, 320). The success of this strategy meant that unfulfilled
qualitative expectations were automatically expressed as escalating
quantitative demands which soon outstripped increases in productivity.
The response from management to this new threat to profit was to
regain productive momentum through automation. But to do so was
to fall into a classic trap of capitalist economics described by
Marx as the law of the tendential fall of the rate of profit (the
higher the proportion of fixed capital, or equipment, to variable
capital, or "living" labor, the lower the profit rate
over the long run). A complicating factor was that several decades
of accelerating production and increased consumer spending had already
come close to saturating domestic markets. By the late 1960s, another
crisis point was being reached. Not only was management losing all
patience with the now chronic profit problems flowing from the Keynesian
social contract, but workers and consumers, glutted with commodities,
were becoming less willing to content themselves with quantitative
expectations. Demands were being retranslated into "quality
of life" issues that were in some respects more radical than
the classical communist concerns with workplace control and ownership
of the means of production: the very concept of productivity, the
industrial model of production, and even the institution of work
itself were called into question in the sudden wave of revolt that
spread across the globe in 1968-1969, continuing into the 1970s
and in some countries (most notably, Italy) almost to the end of
According to Antonio Negri (1988), the 1970s and 1980s saw a radical
reorganization of capitalism. The self-proclaimed "humanism"
of the integrative strategy of the Keynesian era was abandoned for
often unapologetically ruthless strategies of displacement, fluidification,
and intensification that once again averted both social revolution
and self-generated collapse.
Displacement: Large segments of industrial production were exported
to the "Third World," where growing (if still minute in
terms of percentage of population) middle classes provided much-needed
market outlets for consumer durables. A coinciding move realigned
the economies of the "center," shifting their emphasis
from durables to intangibles: information, communication, services
(the "tertiary sector"). This move into new and largely
ununionized domains undermined the power base of the institutionalized
labor movement, freeing capital from onerous collectively-bargained
contracts and constraining government regulation. The new jobs created
were overwhelmingly part-time, or if full-time "unguaranteed"
(unprotected by seniority systems, affirmative action agreements,
etc.). Employment for growing numbers of people became precarious,
regardless of class. Many professionals (especially baby-boomers
newly arrived on the job market, and older professionals less able
to adapt to the new technologies and super-competitive atmosphere)
lived in fear of falling into the middle class, which was itself
on a precipice overlooking the "permanent underclass"
created by the partial dismantling of the welfare state. For the
underclass, it was not only employment that had become precarious,
but life itself, as infant mortality and murder rates soared and
life expectancy declined. The abandonment to conditions of extreme
hardship of the predominantly nonwhite urban poor constituted a
final displacement: the "Third World" transposed into
the heart of the "First World."
Fluidification: These displacement strategies had the combined effect
of increasing the fluidity both of the work force and of capital.
The employed were more easily dismissed, retrained, or transfered;
the un- and underemployed provided a pool of potential labor that
could be dipped into as needed. Investments could more easily be
shuffled from region to region or sector to sector. The commodification
of information and services meant that it was not only new products
that were entering circulation; the means of producing new products
themselves became products (computer programs, design systems, management
consulting, etc.). Product "turnover" was now concerned
as much with moving from one product to the next as with moving
units of the same product. This was the economy's way of responding
to the retranslation of social demands into qualitative terms. Qualitatively
new products would be created almost instantaneously to fill any
perceived need or desire. A new glut: of the qualitatively new.
Response: market the qualitativeness of the qualitatively new--sell
"image." What was marketed was less and less a product
designed to fulfill a need or desire than an image signifying fulfillment
and the power to fulfill. The adjective of the eighties was "power"
(as in "power lunch"). Use- value was overshadowed by
fulfillment-effect, or image-value. Images, the most intangible
of intangible products, circulate faster than uses. Turnover time
was reduced to almost nothing. New products could be marketed as
fast as styles could be created or recycled.
Intensification: With the advent of the power lunch, eating became
a productive activity. What was formerly in the realm of "reproduction"
entered the sphere of production. The distinction between "unproductive"
and "productive" labor has become entirely obsolete. "Culture,"
for example, is a source of capital. Even those in the "underclass"
are "productive workers" to the extent that they invent
new styles that are commodified with lightning speed for "cross-over"
audiences. Education has become more and more explicitly a matter
of professional training, though often of a nonspecific kind. If
"liberal" education is back in vogue, it is likely because
versatility of thought and character have become necessary survival
skills in the super-fluid work/consumer world, rather than for any
inherent value it may have.
has disappeared. With the advent of people-meters, switching on
the TV has become tantamount to punching a time-card for a marketing
company. Keeping up with the "avant-garde" music scene
is often a question of image-building to enhance one's personal
saleability or, for the growing number of workers in the "culture
industry," direct market research. Time spent off the job is
dedicated to "self- improvement," most often oriented
toward increasing one's competitiveness in getting or keeping a
job, or improving one's health to live long enough for a raise.
It is just as well that image-value has replaced use-value--no one
has time anymore to enjoy the fruits of their labor. A state-of-the-art
stereo system is more a promise of consumption than its realization.
People who have managed to stay employed work harder and harder
to buy more and more impressive gadgets they no longer have the
time to use. What buyers buy are images and services directly implicated
in production, or consumer durables that no longer represent anything
but the continually deferred promise of enjoyment. The commodity
has become a time-form struck with futurity, in one of two ways:
as time stored (in an object of perpetually future use) or as time
saved (a productivity enhancer optimizing future activity; Alliez
and Feher, 351). The two futurities join in a buckle: increase productivity
in order to save time and thus earn more in order to buy more objects
with which to store the time saved by being more productive in order
to buy more objects ...
"Time is everything, man is nothing; he is at most the empty
carcass of time."
Image-building, self-improvement: what we buy is our selves. Time
saved equals time stored: in buying ourselves we are buying time.
Once again, the subject of capital appears as a time-form: a future
(fulfillment) forever deterred (signified) buckling back with accelerating
velocity into an "having been" (productive). This is the
same absenting of the present by the future-past as established
by Timex philosophy. Here, the formula of the future-past has been
arrived at from the angle of work (the wage relation) rather than
that of consumption (the commodity relation). When reproduction
becomes productive, the commodity relation and the wage relation
converge. They become formally identical and factually inseparable.
If the commodity is a hinge between the future and the past, the
subject-form with whose empty present it coincides is a hinge between
the two axes of the capitalist relation. The subject of capital
is produced at the point of intersection of the wage relation and
the commodity relation. It is that intersection, the point at which
lived space is temporalized and temporality capitalized. "Capitalization"
means "potential profit." All of existence is now subsumed
by the capitalist relation. Being has become surplus-value: the
capitalist expression of the virtual.
The growth in the information, image, and service markets constitute
a second axis of capital expansion. Answering to the extensive expansion
of industrial production and consumption to the "Third World"
is an intensive expansion of the capitalist relation at the "center,"
where it becomes coextensive with life. And death. Producing oneself
through consumption has its dangers, particularly when the consumption
is of cultural images, so free-flowing and seductive. Dangerous
it is, but not abnormal.
Roseann Greco, 52, of West Islip, was charged with second- degree
murder for killing her husband, Felix, in their driveway in 1985.
She insisted at the time that the cartoon character had taken over
her husband's body. Roseann Greco was found mentally competent to
ROADRUNNER & COYOTE * MICKEY MOUSE * FLINTSTONES * SIMPSONS
* TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES
It is simplifying things to say that capitalism has internalized
its two catastrophic limits. At first glance, the formulation is
incomplete, because capitalism has internalized other limits as
well: its extensive expansion has internalized the boundary between
the "First" and "Third" worlds; its intensive
expansion has internalized the boundaries between the reproductive
and productive, commodity circulation and production, consumption
and production, leisure and work, even life and death, for example
when what is sold is "health" or when death thumbs a ride
on a consumed image turned all-consuming (Mickey). But ultimately,
it is the notion of "internalization" that proves inadequate.
For if the capitalist relation has colonized all of geographical
and social space, it has no inside into which to integrate things.
It has become an unbounded space--in other words, a space coextensive
with its own inside and outside. It has become a field of immanence
(or exteriority). It has not "internalized," in the sense
of "integrating"; it has displaced and intensified, coaching
mutually exclusive forms into uneasy coexistence. The "Third
World" meets the "First World" in the South Bronx.
The future meets the past in a Timex watch. No dialectical synthesis
has been reached. Capitalism has not after all internalized, or
overcome in any way, its two catastrophic limits, social revolution
and collapse on the heels of overproduction.
Social revolution has already come, and keeps coming, in the form
of accelerated systemic change and, for some in society, as the
possibility of breaking free from disciplinary and normative institutions
and inventing a self as if from scratch. But that self is invented
in and through the commodity. Social revolution comes, but its coming
is pre-capitalized. It coincides absolutely with its own "appropriation"
(self-turnover). Extreme change accompanied by utter conservatism:
a possible definition of "postmodernism." (If "postmodernism"
is so "radical," why do people go on behaving as if nothing
happened? Why are men still men, and whites still racist? Explain
the resurgence of the traditional wedding. Explain baby boomers
making a baby boomlet and returning with their spawn to church.
Everything happened, but nothing seems to have changed.)
The overproduction/depression cycle, for its part, has been compacted
into the perpetual menace of "stagflation" (the inflation
associated with oversupply together with the economic stagnation
characteristic of depression), relieved only by interludes of dangerously
rapid deflation. Precariousness is by no means limited to employment.
Capital has been as fluidified as labor. Corporations die and are
born with lightning speed. In the eighties, fortunes were made with
corporate take-overs and dismantlings, and through trading in debt
(junk bonds). Unprofitability was made profitable. The inability
to compete fueled competition. The effects of the tendency of the
rate of profit to fall could be avoided by the adroit money manager
through the simple mechanism of continually turning over capital
rather than commodities. The crisis of production has been made
productive by inventing ways in which the circulation of capital
can create surplus-value. No longer is Keynes's goal of "protecting
the present from the future" of catastrophe the guiding principle
of economics (Negri, 1988:25). The trick is instead to figure out
"how to make money off the crisis." The classical problem
of the capitalist cycle, or the inevitability of periodic economic
collapse, has been solved--by eternalizing crisis without sacrificing
profits. The future-past of the catastrophe has become the dizzying
ever-presence of crisis. Capitalism has spun into free-fall, held
aloft by the thinnest of Savings and Loans. In the crash of '29,
capitalists jumped from high ledges. In the crash of '87, they didn't,
because the notion that equilibrium was attainable or even desirable
had already gone out the window. Being on the brink is now as "normal"
in money matters as the courts appear to think being unbalanced
is in subjectivity. Just as insanity is no longer necessarily incompatible
with being judged mentally competent to stand trial, insolvency
is no longer necessarily incompatible with being judged financially
competent to turn a profit.
"The policeman isn't there to create disorder, the policeman
is there to preserve disorder."
--Former Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago
There is an identity between the destitute train surfer in Rio de
Janeiro and the Wall Street financier. Both are defined by the statement,
"he who falls, was." For both, the subject-form is the
accident-form. There is an identity between them to the extent that
the capitalist relation has expanded its reach to every coordinate
of socio-geographical space-time. Their identities are joined in
the ecumenism of the capitalist economy that subsumes them both,
along with everyone and every thing on earth and in orbit.
Yet there is at the same time an undeniable difference between them.
Capitalists put their money on the line; train surfers, their bodies.
Capitalists may indirectly risk their lives to stress-related ailments,
but their immediate threat is no worse than bankruptcy. Although
the subjectivity of the capitalist and of the member of the underclass
are both determined by the intersection of the wage relation and
the commodity relation, they are determined by them in radically
divergent ways: the former by what kind of access he/she has to
them, the latter by her/his exclusion from them. Those excluded
from the capitalist relation incarnate its form directly in their
bodies: they fall, they were. They are not remembered. Since they
do not have access to capitalized presence- effects, they cannot
fill the gap. They directly embody the ungraspability of the capitalist
present: disaster. North American ghetto dwellers are in a similar
position that is different again: they have access to the commodity
relation, and can therefore create presence-effects with gold and
gait, but since the wage relation is closed to them they must commodify
themselves in ways that are just as apt to earn them an early death
as clinging to the tops of trains (drug-dealing and other criminalized
forms of unsalaried capitalist endeavor).
The capitalist relation produces a subjective sameness, but not
without creating differences. It does not unify without dividing.
This statement, and the many like it in the preceding pages, is
not a dialectical contradiction begging for synthesis. Neither is
it a paralogism or logical paradox. It is a real coincidence. It
was argued above that the limits of capitalism have become immanent
to it. This does not mean that boundaries have simply broken down.
They have been made to coincide really, in virtuality: every boundary
is really, potentially present at every space-time coordinate. No
particular boundary is necessarily in effect at a given time. Nothing
in principle prevents a black from the South Bronx from getting
a job, or even becoming a big-time capitalist (a few rappers have
done it). The accident-form that is the subject-form is the form
of the virtual, pure potential: in principle, it has no limits.
In practice, it does. Boundaries are effectively set in the movement
from "principle" to "practice," in other words
in the actualization of the subject- form.
Another way of putting it is that the generic identity of the subject
of capital is a global form of infinite possibility, but that it
cannot come into existence without alienating its form in determinate
content, in specific identities whose presence-effects are necessarily
limited and divergent. A specific identity is defined by whether
or not a given body is allowed access to the wage relation and the
commodity relation, and if so in what way (how will it be self-
consuming? what kind of presence-effects will it produce? what peaks
will it climb?). There is an entire technology dedicated to determining
the divergent limits of specific identity based on age, gender,
sexual preference, race, geography, or any number of such socially-valorized
distinctions. Foucault's "disciplinary" institutions and
"biopower" and Baudrillard's "testing" procedures
(marketing feedback loops between production and consumption that
make the relationship between the product and the needs or desires
it supposedly fills a pomo update of the chicken and the egg riddle)
are examples of just such apparatuses for the actualization of the
subject-form of capital. There is no contradiction between the different
kinds of apparatuses of actualization. They coexist quite comfortably.
There is a kind of nonexclusive triage of bodies. Bodies are selected,
on the basis of certain socially-valorized distinctions, for priority
access to a certain kind of apparatus. African-American men, for
example, are favored for prison and the army on the basis of their
skin color. Women of all races are favored for biopower on the basis
of gender: the medicalization of child-birth and social engineering
of the child-rearing responsibilities women still disproportionately
bear. Priority access to one apparatus of actualization does not
necessarily exclude a body's selection by another. The same body
can, inevitably is, selected for different apparatuses successively
and simultaneously. Prison follows school follows family. Each of
these disciplinary institutions is penetrated by varying modes of
biopower and testing. A black woman's bodily functions are medicalized
and at the same time prioritized for disciplinary institutions.
Generic identity is the coincidence of functions that may in practice
prove mutually exclusive (capitalist and worker, producer and consumer,
criminal and banker)--but then again may not. Specific identity
involves a separation of functions in their passage into practice,
sometimes but not necessarily with a view to exclusivity, often
for mixing and matching. The result is a complex weave of shifting
social boundaries. The boundaries are not barriers; they are not
impermeable. They are more like filters than walls. A black from
the South Bronx may become a big-time capitalist. But the chances
are slim. Boundary-setting--or the separation/combination of social
functions through a triage of bodies based on valorized distinctions--works
less by simple exclusion than by probability.
The apparatuses of actualization governing this process are power
mechanisms. Power is not a form. It is not abstract. It is the movement
of form into the content outside of which it is a void of potential
function, of the abstract into the particular it cannot be or do
without. It is the translation of generic identity into the specific
identities outside whose actualization it does not exist, of humanity
into the selves comprising it. Not a form, but a mechanism of formation;
not a being, but a coming to being; a becoming. Neither generic
nor specific. Power is as ever-present as the subject-form and as
infinitely variable as its selves. It is neither one nor the other,
and nevertheless not indeterminate. It has definable modes, like
the three just mentioned, which are distinguished by the kinds of
functions they separate out for actualization in a given body (by
the kind of socially recognizable content they give a life). Power
mechanisms can also be defined, perhaps more fundamentally, by the
temporal mode in which they operate. They may seize upon the futurity
of the future-past, in which case they can be characterized as strategies
of surveillance: on the look-out for the event. Or they may seize
upon its dimension of anteriority, in which case they are statistical
and probabilistic: analyze and quantify the event as it happened.
The past tense in the Timex ad went along with a fixation on numbers:
85-foot fall, 2,500-foot altitude, inches from the runway, 25-minute
flight before landing, aged 52, 160-pound sled, 27 days and 345
miles, three blizzards ... Mechanisms of surveillance and of statistical
probabilization buckle into prediction. A power word for prediction
is deterrence. Deterrence is the perpetual co-functioning of the
past and future of power: the empty present of watching and weighing
with an eye to avert. It is the avoidance of the accident on the
basis of its past occurrence. It is power turned toward the event:
in other words, as it approaches the subject-form, the virtual.
Power under late capitalism is a two-sided coin. One side of it
faces the subject-form. On that side, it is deterrence. Deterrence
by nature determines nothing (but potential: the potential for the
multiform disaster of human existence). On the other side, power
is determining. There, discipline, biopower, and testing give disaster
a face. They bring specificity to the general condition of possibility
of deterrence by applying it to a particular found body. They give
a life-form content. A self is selected (produced and consumed).
The in-between of the subject-form and the self, of the generic
identity and specific identity--the come and go between deterrence
and discipline/biopower/testing, between the virtual and the actual--is
the same intensive and extensive terrain saturated by the capitalist
relation. Power is coincident with capital as social selection and
probabilistic control (Deleuze 1990). Power is capitalization expressed
as a destiny. But in this postequilibrium world of deterrence in
which the accident is always about to happen and already has, disorder
is the motor of control. And destiny in the final analysis is only
the necessity of chance: the inevitability of the event, the evanescence
of consumptive production, a life spent, death.
The act of purchase constitutive of the capitalist self seemed,
from the view of the commodity relation alone, an unfettered act
of consummation/consumption. It now appears to be universally determined
as to its form, at the intersection of the commodity relation and
the wage relation. The wage relation may impose exclusions, and
always dictates a forced translation or accompanies a retranslation
of perceived needs and desires. Power mechanisms specify the translation,
or give subjective form socially recognizable content, in a basically
probabilistic way. What we call "free choice" is a layering
of different social determinations on the foundation of a necessary
subject-form, the accident-form, which is the form of chance. The
syndrome of the self is the product of a functional coincidence
between free "play" (free-fall, the absence of solid qualities)
and multiple determinations of evanescent content (concretized precariousness;
The functional coincidence of freedom and determination is an ontological
alienation. The subject-form is only at the price of alienating
itself in content. "We" cannot realize our unity without
in the same stroke being divided. Power under late capitalism is
a state of continual warfare against an elusive enemy that is everywhere
"we" are. Our "self"-determination is deterrence
incarnate, the actualization in our bodies and our selves of the
immanence of the unspecified capitalist enemy.
"If the capitalist economy is indeed a war economy, only able
to proceed by an always more advanced and intense colonization of
terrestrial space, it must be recognized that this economy implies
an administration of the prospective terror which radically modifies
this space. In order to make fear reign a space of fear must be
created; the earth must therefore be rendered uninhabitable. The
appearance of habitats was a defense, a first form of resistance
to colonization. Their current destruction no longer leaves them
with more than their function as a refuge, a hiding place. Now,
it is not solely by means of 'flows of stupidity' that the State
produces this fear with regard to space, but by rendering space
truly, biologically uninhabitable."
--Jacques Donzelot, "An Anti-Sociology"
Replace "terrestrial space" with "cultural space,"
"earth" with "city," "habitat" with
"neighborhood," and "biologically" with "socially"--and
we are back at the Montréal massacre. Capitalist power actualizes
itself in a basically uninhabitable space of fear. That much is
universal. The particulars of the uninhabitable landscape of fear
in which a given body nevertheless dwells vary according to the
socially-valorized distinctions applied to it by selective mechanisms
of power implanted throughout the social field. An urbanized North
American woman dwells in a space of potential rape and battering.
Her movements and emotions are controlled (filtered, channeled)
by the immanence of sexual violence to every coordinate of her socio-geographical
space-time. The universal "we," that empty expression
of unity, inhabits the in-between of the gunman, his victim, and
the policeman. "We" are Marc Lépine, at the same
time as "we" are the fourteen women of the Polytechnique,
and the police official whose daughter has just died. "We"
are every subject position. "We" extraordinary ordinary
people are men or women without qualities, joined in fear. "She,"
however, has regular qualities, a "privileged" specific
identity, a predictable function: victim. Capitalist power determines
being a woman as the future-past of male violence.
Now, that could be the Montréal massacre. But then again
it could also be Twin Peaks. Hard to tell.
The "flow of stupidity" in contemporary society consists
in the translation of the "she" to the "we,"
of everywoman to everyone: a loss of the specifity of the landscape
of fear. It is a re-virtualization of the already-actualized accident,
its re-coinciding with its own variations. It is a retranslation,
of content back into form. A commodity-form, of course: the media
image in its perpetual self-turnover. The mass media, in their "normal"
functioning, are specialized organs for the inculcation of stupidity.
Stupidity is not a lack, of information or even of intelligence.
Like fear, it is an objective condition of subjectivity: a posture.
Stupidity is the affect proper to the media, the existential posture
built into the technology of the broadcast apparatus and its current
mode of social implantation. It is the inherence in the buying-viewing
body of the despecification of intellectual content. A viewer is
stupefied to the extent she or he fails to counteract that in-built
posturing (through humor, cynicism, appropriation, anger, zapping
... ). Uncountered, the media's serial transmission of frightful
images results in a loss of detail in the who? what? when? and where?
This blur-treatment is not restricted to women. It is applied to
all specific identities, with variations depending on a limited
range of particular characteristics that persist in the vocal and
visual residue of the broadcast body: often skin color and gender
(but not always: Michael Jackson); sometimes nationality, age, or
The media affect--fear-blur--is the direct collective perception
of the contemporary condition of possibility of being human: the
capitalized accident- form. It is the direct collective apprehension
of capitalism's powers of existence. It is vague by nature. It is
nothing as sharp as panic. Not as localized as hysteria. It doesn't
have a particular object, so it's not a phobia. But it's not exactly
an anxiety either; it is even fuzzier than that. It is low-level
fear. A kind of background radiation saturating existence (commodity
consummation/consumption). It may be expressed as "panic,"
or "hysteria," or "phobia," or "anxiety."
But these are to low-level fear what "HIV" is to AIDS.
They are the presence in the discourse of the self of the condition
of possibility of being the mediatized human victim we all are in
different ways: signs of subjectivity in capitalist crisis. The
self, like AIDS, is a syndrome, one with a range of emotional cripplings
rather than a range of diseases as its symptoms.
JOHN LENNON * JFK * MARTIN LUTHER KING * ANWAR SADAT * INDIRA
GHANDI * (RONALD REAGAN)
The emotional organization of a given fear-riven self is a particular
limited and divergent actualization of the subject-form: the socially
meaningful expression of the "individuality" of the specific
identity attached by power mechanisms to a found body. Emotions
and the character types they define are the specific social content
of the fear-affect as the contemporary human equation. They are
derivatives of that equation: secondary expressions (in the mathematical
sense) of capitalist powers of existence. Character is the derivative
of a power equation. It is power determined, as presence-effect.
Emotional make-up is the face power turns toward the predictably
unbalanced, saleably empty content of an individual life (serialized
small-scale capitalist crisis). Life's a soap--when it's not a disaster
with your name written on it.
JOHN HINCKLEY * CHARLES MANSON * HILLSIDE STRANGLER * MARK CHAPMAN
"Personalized stationery is one of the small but truly necessary
luxuries of life."
--Ted Bundy, mass murderer
The mass media works to shortcircuit the event. It blurs the event's
specific content into an endless series of "like" events.
(Stupidity may also be defined as perception and intellection restricted
to a recognition reflex; difference subordinated to an a priori
similarity-effect.) "Like" events rush past. No sooner
does one happen than it is a has-been. The who? what? when? and
where? become a whatnot? ("anything can happen") and what's
next ? ("what is this world coming to?"). Retrospective
analysis is replaced by a shudder and a shrug, memory quickly elided
by expectation. Broadcast is a technology of collective forgetting.
It is not that the event is lost. On the contrary, it is accessible
for immediate recall: instant replay. Broadcast (in a widened sense,
including the mass-circulation print media) is the tendential supplanting
of individual memory and introspection by collective technologies
of storage and screening.
The externalization and objectification of memory and the infinite
repeatability of the event distances cause from effect. The event
floats in media-suspended animation, an effect without a cause,
or with a vague or clichéd one. Thus the Montréal
massacre becomes an opportunity to explain away men's violence toward
women as the sudden onset of an individual case of "madness."
A threat can be easily displaced, as has been the case during the
AIDS crisis, which evoked hysterical and socially damaging reaction
from precisely those groups least at risk (for example, straight
non-intravenous-drug-using nonhemophiliac white males like Jesse
The jarring loose of cause and effect does not, as has often been
argued from a Baudrillardian perspective, make power mechanisms
obsolete. Quite the opposite, it opens the door for their arbitrary
exercise. The media-induced public conviction during the early to
mid-1980s that violent crime throughout America was rising at epidemic
proportions (despite statistics to the contrary, also reported in
the media) enabled Ronald Reagan to expand police powers beyond
anything Richard Nixon could have dreamed of. The collective difficulty
with attributing cause opens the way for even the most seemingly
archaic of disciplinary institutions to expand their arena. Even
the family made a comeback in the eighties, in reaction to a panoply
of dangers from child abduction to pornography to STDs. The early
eighties obsession with child abuse and abduction (remember milk
cartons?) is especially instructive. The facts that the overwhelming
majority of abusers are family members and that 98% of kidnapped
children are taken by their fathers did not prevent the "crisis"
from being used to "defend the family" (whatever that
might mean, in the era of the one-person household and single parenthood).
As if "the family" weren't part of the problem. The enemy
is not "out there." Once again, "we" are it.
The media shortcircuiting of the specificity of the event opens
the way for mechanisms of power to reset social boundaries along
roughly historical lines. In other words, in favor of traditionally
advantaged groups (whites, males, heterosexuals). It is only an
apparent contradiction that these are the very groups in the best
position to profit from the socio-economic fluidity of late capitalism.
Fluidity and boundary-setting are not in contradiction, for two
reasons. First, the boundaries themselves are as easily displaceable
as the perception of risk. "The family" is a code word
for an immensely complex set of laws, regulations, charity campaigns,
social work, medical practices, and social custom that varies locally
and is under constant revision. The boundaries of "the family"
fluctuate as welfare, abortion, and tax laws change, as church influence
and temperance movements rise and recede ... "The family"--any
bounded social space--simply does not exist as an effectively self-enclosed,
self- identical entity. "Bounded" social spaces are fields
of variation. The only thing approaching a structural invariant
is the high statistical probability that wherever the boundary moves,
the (im)balance of power will move with it (the advantaged group
will stay advantaged, in one way or another). The second reason
is that the nature of the "boundary" has changed. The
individual is defined more by the boundaries it crosses than the
limits it observes: how many times and with whom has one crossed
the boundary of the family by growing up, getting married/living
together, and divorcing/breaking up? how many times has one been
in and out of prison, and for what? how does one negotiate the everyday
yet elusive distinction between work and leisure? how many jobs
or professions has one had? how many sexual orientations? how many
"looks"? how many times has one gone from consumption
to self-production by buying to be? The self is a process of crossing
boundaries. The same could be said of the state. With the transnationalization
of capital and the proliferation of world trade and political organizations
(IMF, World Bank, World Court, UN, EEC, US-Canada free trade) a
state is defined at least as much by the way in which it participates
in processes greater than itself--none of which exercises full sovereignty
over it, or "encloses" it in an all-encompassing higher
power on the nineteenth- century nation-state model--as by the way
it exercises its own brand of partial sovereignty over processes
smaller than it (in the US, domestic apparatuses of power operating
on a "checks and balances" principle). The generalization
of the capitalized accident-form has virtualized the boundary, which
now exists less as a limit than an immanent threshold. Every boundary
is present everywhere, potentially. Boundaries are set and specified
in the act of passage. The crossing actualizes the boundary--rather
than the boundary defining something inside by its inability to
cross. There is no inside, and no outside. There is no transgression.
Only a field of exteriority, a network of more or less regulated
passages across thresholds. What US president will not push the
jurisdictional limits of the executive branch? Particularly as regards
war powers. What country will the US not invade if it sees fit?
And what country invaded by the US will not open the war on the
US home front through the threat, implied or stated, of terrorism?
The borders of the state are continually actualized and reactualized,
on the domestic side by constant fluctuations in jurisdiction, and
internationally by regular flows of people and goods (customs and
trade regulations) and exceptional flows of violence (invasion,
"This will not be another Vietnam."
The capitalist relation cannot unify without at the same time dividing.
It cannot optimize and globalize the capitalized flow of people
and goods without producing local rigidifications. It cannot fluidify
without concretizing here and there, now and again. It was inevitable
that the end of the Cold War and the opening of the "Soviet
bloc" to the world capitalist economy would multiply regional
"hot" wars. The political-economic expression of the capitalist
accident-form (generalized deterrence) cannot actualize itself without
simultaneously alienating itself in the often horrendous content
of a local disaster. The immense but geographically specific destruction
accompanying the "Gulf Crisis" was motivated by the deterrence
of another crisis, global in scale (an oil crisis). For this round,
the military got media-wise. Photos of mangled bodies were not allowed.
No pictures of body bags, or even coffins: reporters were banned
from the port of Dover, where the fallen defenders of Texaco landed
on their way to eternal rest. No casuality counts. No un-"pooled"
reports from the front. The event was strangely absent in its ever-presence.
Everyone was held in continual suspense: will war break out? will
Scuds be launched against Israel? will Iraq use biological or chemical
weapons? will the ground war begin? will US troops push on to Baghdad?
Speculation, expectation. When something did happen, it failed to
make an impression because images and information were not immediately
forthcoming, and when they did come the actual event paled in comparison
with all the things reporters have established could have happened.
Scuds hit Israel, but they carried no chemical warheads and casualties
were light. Relief. Before we knew what hit, we were waiting for
the next blow. The myriad mini-events that make up a war hardly
registered. The war was systematically transformed into a nonevent
as fast as it happened. Future-past: expectation-relief. The present
of flowing blood neatly elided. Tens of thousands die, as if abstractly,
their suffering infinitely distanced, their lives doubly absented,
once by the fall of a bomb, again by their pain and anguish failing
to register in the collective perceptive apparatus of the enemy.
In an antiseptic war, relief quickly turns to boredom. It happened,
it all happened, but nothing changed. The unthinkable came, and
we were bored. George Bush could only benefit by that. After all,
he is boredom personified. The popularity of the "killer wimp"
KOREA * DOMINICAN REPUBLIC * VIETNAM * GRENADA * LIBYA * PANAMA
There will be more Vietnams. Any number of them, in any number of
guises. Crime "war," drug "war," "battle"
for the family ... Wherever there is a perceived danger, there is
deterrence; wherever there is deterrence, there are immanent boundaries;
and wherever there are immanent boundaries, there is organized violence.
For having boundaries that are actualized by being crossed is a
very precarious way to run a world. It leaves little space for negotiated
crisis management. Either the crossing trips established regulatory
power mechanisms into operation as it actualizes the boundary, and
the traditional imbalance of power holds; or the crossing eludes
or overwhelms regulatory mechanisms, and the only ready response
to the threat to the privilege of the traditionally advantaged groups
is "offering" the enemy a "choice" between unconditional
surrender and maximum force (this could be dubbed the George Bush
"Saddam Hussein theory" of political free will). The social
and political fluidity of late capitalism has not been accompanied
by a withering away of state violence. On the contrary, it has also
been fluidified and intensified. The rapid deployment force is the
model of late capitalist state violence, on all fronts: the ability
to descend "out of nowhere," anywhere, at a moment's notice--the
virtualization of state violence, its becoming-immanent to every
coordinate of the social field, as unbounded space of fear. Rapid
deployment is a correlate of deterrence. The ever-ready exterminating
SWAT team is as characteristic of late- capitalist power as productive
mechanisms tied to surveillance and probabilization, which virtualize
power as control.
The virtualization of power as violence through rapid deployment
is accompanied by a displacement of command. Command is depoliticized,
in the sense that it is not open to negotiation through elective
or administrative channels but remains fully in the "untied"
hands of delegated "experts" (Bush: "I will not tie
the generals' hands"). Command turns absolute and unyielding.
War, crime, drugs, sexual, educational or artistic "subversion":
on every front of the capitalist warfare state a rapid deployment
force will enter into operation, if not officially then on a vigilante
basis. To each "enemy" its custom-tailored SWAT team.
Media watch groups are examples of how rapid deployment operates
in the cultural sphere: the absolute vigilance of obsessive surveillance,
then the second an offending image sneaks past, a preemptive strike
against future incursions in the form of instant boycott.
War comes, and with it street protests. Women are massacred; teach-ins
are held on sexism and violence. But demonstrations happen all the
time. They were even easier for the media to shortcircuit than the
war they responded to. Teach-ins are not "newsworthy"
enough even to be shortcircuited. They are simply ignored. Government
lobbying sometimes works, but only up to a point. The only noticeable
government (non)response in Canada to the Montréal massacre
was to slash funding for rape crisis centers. The economic "crunch,"
however, did not prevent the same government from immediately allocating
three million dollars a day to stay on Bush's good side by sending
a puny expeditionary force to the Gulf. It seems difficult, if not
impossible, to "set the record straight" and change the
space of fear and suffering that is the late capitalist human habitat,
especially in light of the rapid response mechanisms ready to spring
into action against any budding militant opposition. It is difficult
to know what to do. It is difficult not to despair. The globality
of the media and of power mechanisms with which it is in complicity
dwarf local efforts to fight back.
Consideration of the capitalist accident-form may be of modest help
in inventing new analyses and strategies for radical change, although
it is easier to conclude from it the incompleteness of certain approaches
currently in use.
Reconnecting cause to effect and using "knowledge" of
the "real" roots of a certain crisis to reestablish social
equilibrium misses on two counts. The distancing of cause from effect
is not simply a "mystification" of the truth. It is real,
co-produced by mass media shortcircuiting and the intensive/extensive
colonization of existence by the capitalist relation. The convergence
between the previously distinguishable domains of production and
reproduction, the feed- back of production into consumption, and
the buckling of past and future, and of power in its prospective
and retrospective modes (surveillance and probabilization)--all
of this means that even without the despecification function of
the media, causality would no longer be what it was (or what we
perhaps nostalgically desire it to have been). It is a return to
notions of linear causality that would constitute a mystification.
Even the application of catastrophe theory to media analysis is
inadequate (Doane, Mellencamp), since it presupposes periods of
continuity and balance punctuated by discontinuity. If the contemporary
condition of possibility of being human is disequilibrium, continuity
and balance are no longer relevant concepts, even when subordinated
to the notion of catastrophe. Apocalyptic visions are equally suspect.
If the apocalypse is already as here as it will get, there's no
need to keep on announcing it (Kroker and Kroker). Apocalypse is
the nonevent of the millenium. Base/superstructure paradigms, for
their part, are clearly obsolete in a situation where the ground
of economic no less than subjective existence is free-fall. The
idea of causality needs work. Recursivity and co-causality (multi-factor
analysis) may be beginnings. But in the end, the very concept of
the cause may have to go, in favor of effects and their interweavings
(syndromes). Syndromes mark the limit of causal analysis. They cannot
be exhaustively understood--only pragmatically altered by experimental
interventions operating in several spheres of activity at once.
The virtualization of boundaries raises another set of issues. For
example, analyses of the social functioning of fear in terms of
"moral panics" rests on the Freudian notion of the projection
of individual phantasies and desires onto collective processes.
In this view, the boundary between self and other is porous; but
it remains structurally intact. The self is still basically conceived
of as a bounded space. Approaches centered on the psychic or discursive
constitution of the "Other" are also of limited usefulness
if they fail to draw the consequences of the fluidification and
coincidence of boundaries for the "interiority" of the
"Same." Strategies for overcoming "alienation"
and reorganizing society along "human" principles ignores
the possibility that the "human" does not exist outside
its "alienation"; that the utter inability to coincide
with itself is the only place the "human" has to be; that
division is the only universality of "man." What these
approaches have in common is that they treat boundaries as founding.
They consider limitation to be constitutive. But if limits are fluctuating
and intermittent; if they have no effective limitative capacity
outside their actualization of a form that is of another nature
than they; in other words, if they are derived, and if the equation
they are a derivative of is one of potential--then the entire problem
This tectonic shift has serious consequences for any strategy championing
collective defense of a specific identity. An identity politics
whose primary goal is to represent the perceived interests of a
group defined according to existing social distinctions is an incomplete
project: it too easily reduces to embracing already functioning
thresholds, settling on (settling for) pre- capitalized bounds.
The thresholds adopted as one's own, adapted as one's home, delimited
as a social territory, exist, even as reformed and revalorized,
only at the discretion and as effects of the capitalist equation
and its powers of actualization. These continue to operate according
to capitalism's fluidity requirements. In other words, surrounding
bounds continue to shift. Some of these shifts may well be systemic
adjustments made in response to the crystallization of the specific
identity as an interest group whose claims can no longer be ignored.
Still, a politically entrenched specific identity is at best an
oasis of relative stasis in the global capitalist tide: a local
reterritorialization, guarded frontiers in an uncertain landscape.
The collectivity consolidated by an identity politics is an instant
archaism, if not in spite of then because of its own success. Its
revolutionary potential is curtailed by a constitutional inadaptation
to the deterritorialized ground it falls on. The weakness of identity
politics is that it makes a dwelling of the derivative. The equation
escapes. A corporate identity built on the basis of socially recognizable
distinctions of gender, sexual orientation, class, race, ethnicity,
nationality, or belief, is always at least one step behind reconfigurations
taking place in the surrounding social field. The identified group
is sapped by a continual battle with the "outside" for
access to mirage- like social thresholds (leading to jobs, public
office, civil rights) that have a habit of dissolving into thin
air only to reappear farther down the road, at the same time as
it is sapped from "within" by an ongoing fight to retain
its constituency, to discipline its own inevitably mutating members
into remaining in the fold. The specific identity of the group represents
the group in linear time. It indexes itself to a collectivity defined
in empirical terms, understood as a presence progressing from a
pained, fearful past to a hopeful future. It strives to preserve
a present, when the ground its members walk on is ever already future-past.
Specific identity climbs into being, when everything else, including
the group it identifies, is taking a tumble in becoming.
This is by no means to say that groups rallied around a shared specific
identity should cease to act in concert to defend their members
and to win them the right to cross critical thresholds of power.
Neither is it to say that the familiar tactics of oppositional politics
in the name of an identifiable group (demonstrating, lobbying, consciousness-raising,
civil disobedience) should be abandoned. Whatever mode boundaries
may take, the fact remains that they are set, and reset. If specific
identities do not define themselves, it is certain that it will
be done it for them, to often viciously exclusionary effect. It
is less a question of abandoning the politics of specific identity
than of supplementing and complicating it.
First, by adding a perspective. The attempted being-specific of
the corporate identity in linear time can be seen as a becoming-of-the-specific
in a fractured time in which the identity is always other than it
was. This amounts to a recognition of the continual self-deviation
striking a specific identity as its members mutate. That recognition
is an acceptance of openness to forces greater than one's identity,
and to the charge of the unknown they carry. Rather than defining
a specific identity as an empirically existing entity, rather than
trying to make it what it is, rather than positivizing it--affirm
it, take it as it is and is not (but might be), assume it, undefining.
In short, embody it, as potential--explicitly including its potential
to become other, in connection with as yet unknown forces of the
outside (the accident, the event). But if subjectivity and capital
are now hinged and have become isomorphic, embodying potential means
embodying a generic equation.
This is the second step: add a movement. The added perspective set
a process in motion leading from a specific-identity to its splintering,
from a being- specific to a multiple becoming-singular of the specific.
This first movement releases the transformational potential adhering
to specific identity. That coming to and coming of potential creates
a reflux of genericity: a specific identity whose members have become-singular
is a set that has exploded into a changing constellation of new
sets, each with a membership of one. Each singularized member constitutes
a species of which it is the only living specimen. Each defines
a genericity entirely devoid of content, having no specificity other
than itself. Singularization changes the meaning of the generic.
The generic is no longer a form of identity filled by a content
whose relation to it is one of specification (each content falling
into a subset defining a standard variation of the form). The generic
itself mutates, from an empty container of being to a teeming site
of transformation. Any body anywhere may accede to it, without it
taking even the most evanescent of content. For if the site is one
of transformation, to accede to it is to immediately to exceed it.
Access to the potential gathered at the generic site is no longer
restricted according to existing social distinctions. There can
be no question of empirical fit in the case of a "form"
of deviation lacking all pretense to content; there can be no question
of externally determined criteria of access to a site that is self-distancing.
The generic, as singularly mutated, is no less empty than before,
but in a different way. It is the void of immediate access to unlimited
potential: virtually unbound. This is the second movement, the becoming-generic
of the singular under capital (Badiou 1989: 85-92) in a way that
unbinds (deterritorializes) the full range of capitalized potential.
It is a supplemental movement, inseparable from and doubling the
first movement, the becoming-singular of the specific.
The first movement is "simulation," or the production
of "a copy without a model." The second movement is "fabulation,"
or the production of a model without a copy. The concept of the
"generic" at issue here can be freed from the usual connotation
the word carries (that of identical degraded copies) by foregrounding
alternate terminology. If simulation is a becoming-singular, and
becoming-singular is becoming a species of one, then simulation
can be thought of as the birth of a monster (Haraway 1991:21-22):
monstration. Demonstration is to monstration as empiricizing designation
is to fanciful exemplification (Agamben 1990: 15-17). If simulation
is the concrete irruption of a singular creature, fabulation is
the abstraction of its example--an example exemplifying nothing
(other than singularity).
Movements of simulation (the activation of the pure copy, of the
copy as such: deviation) and fabulation (the emission of the pure
example, the exemplary as such: attraction) are two indissociable,
mutually supplementing aspects of becoming. They are paradoxical
but noncontradictory movements which approach each other as their
respective limits, neither of which can ever be crossed. "Simulation"
and "fabulation" are not binary opposites. They are stitched
distinctions: words expressing movements that run in different directions,
but always together, like fibers in a weave.
If singularization is deviation and fabulation is attraction, both
are immediately collective. Singularization is shared departure:
members of a constituted collectivity taking leave of it and one
another, at least as they are. Fabulation is the attraction of deviant
singularities into a new constellation, the crystallization of a
new collectivity. But it is a collectivity that no sooner comes
together than launches a new departure. Identity defines the individual.
Becoming trips the dividual (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 341, 483);
it is the setting in motion of a collectivity that cannot step with
falling away from itself, cannot move in unison without dividing.
Like the system of capitalism, a collectivity in becoming cannot
unify without in the same stroke dividing. But the meanings of "unify"
and "divide" have changed. "Unity" is no longer
the presumed eternity of a subsuming totality, but the ever-as-always
future of coordinated divergings. "Division" is no longer
the present of competitiomn, but the always-already past of grouped
convergings. Unity and division are taken out of opposition; they
are still in tension, but in a way that is mutually supplementing.
Capitalism universalizes generic conditions (of free-fall) that
self-divide into specific conditions (of staying of afloat). Free-fall
and staying afloat aggravate rather than encourage one another.
They define a contradiction resolvable only through a self-expiring
act of purchase. The "individual" or actualized capitalist
subject is the spark ignited, at the buying site/being site, by
the friction between the generic and specific conditions of consuming
existence. Although becoming in this context extends certain movements
begun in capitalism, is in many ways an extension of capitalism,
the two paths part in the end. Rather than unifying in division
in the capitalist sense, becoming globalizes singularity (the global
and the singular: another stitched distinction, an alternative to
the binary oppositions of the universal versus the particular, whole
versus part, society versus the individual, unity versus division,
global versus local). Becoming is a cascade of simulations and fabulations
that overspill buying. The dividual is fundamentally without purchase.
It is a becoming-singular that exceeds specification, conjoined
with a becoming-generic that splinters the form of identity.
If becoming-singular (simulation) is affirmation, becoming-generic
(fabulation) is abjection. Abjection: literally, "throw-off."
To fabulate is throw off the very form of identity in the process
of singularizing one's specificity. It is to gather up one's ground.
It is to become the free-fall one formerly bought into being. It
is pure fear, fear as such, uncontained by identity, unintersected
by the axes of the capitalist equation, struck by the accident,
undissuaded. It is not low-level. It is intense. In intensity it
is matched only by the exhileration of simulation, with which it
is in a relation of mutual supplementarity.
The individual or actualized capitalist subject arose at the hinge
between generic and specific identity, which was also the point
of intersection between the commodity relation and the wage relation.
Becoming displaces the site of actualization. The dividual is the
hinge between the singular and the exemplary. Since the singular
and the exemplary are limits, thresholds that can never be crossed,
their hinging is tendential. Together they determine a tendency,
a tending, a yearning (hooks 1990: 27). Yearning is the becoming-for-itself
of the subject whose being-in-itself was bought. It is not an emotion
(the content of a specific identity) nor even an affect (the inherence
of an emotion in the body), but free-floating affectivity: uncontained
ability to affect and be affected. Yearning is a tendeny without
end; it is unexpiring, unself-consuming. It is a supplementarity
of paradoxical movements, a kind of excess that is neither being
nor surplus-value, an excess that can neither be identified or calculated,
even fleetingly, let alone purchased or accumulated--that can be
only embodied. Becoming is virtuality detached from the universality
of capitalized specification and returned to the body as local site
of global deviation. It is the exemplary incarnation of singularizing
excess. Becoming is the temporality of the future-past woven into
a de-ontology of the unworkable: the pragmatics of postcapitalist
The one who falls, becomes. The one who falls together, becomes
singular. The one who falls together becomes singular, in global
embrace of the other. The one who falls together becomes singular
in global embrace of the other, under the shared momentum of an
ethic of yearning. The equation to derive is one of reciprocal addition,
replacing capitalist division. Or, in less binary language: it is
the capitalist equation thrown off, so that it does not divide without
changing in nature.
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