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I'm reading Forget Foucault by Baudrillard, or starting to, anyway. Still in Sylvere Lotringer's introduction. He claims that, after the failure of the '68 revolution in France, thinkers like Deleuze and Baudrillard tried to "extract the subversive energy" in capitalism they no longer see in the proletariat. Later Baudrillard is described as willingly and happily "playing capitalism's fool".

Perhaps I'm missing something, but what is subversive energy in capitalism? Capitalism is the status quo. How can it possibly be subversive? Is this really an accurate way to characterize Deleuze and, especially, Baudrillard?

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    Capitalism "subverts" the dominant industrial order by incessantly revolutionizing the means of production -- "disruption" would maybe be a modern gloss of this idea? – Joseph Weissman Aug 10 '17 at 21:24
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    After 1968 Baudrillard and Deleuze-Guattari subscribed to soft "accelerationism", i.e. helping capitalism "subvert" itself. Instead of relying on no longer revolutionary proletariat or anarchic new left "to go further still, that is, in the movement of the market... Not to withdraw from the process, but to go further, to ‘accelerate the process’, as Nietzsche put it: in this matter, the truth is that we haven’t seen anything yet", see Berger on Anti-Oedipus. – Conifold Aug 10 '17 at 22:14
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    Capitalism subverts itself by ultimately killing all of it's customers. We are having an extinction crisis right now in the non-human animals. The robots are sturdier and they'll carry on as workers, and there is no reason they shouldn't be paid, then they can consume and start thinking about becoming a millionaire. Hold on, it didn't subvert itself! We're gone, but it's still going! – Gordon Aug 10 '17 at 22:38
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    Canyon, I did a Web search under your question. There is a magazine with 14 part series on Baudrillard, Ceasefire UK, one of them covers your question. I saw it yesterday but I can't get that particular article today. – Gordon Aug 11 '17 at 15:17
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I am not an expert on Baudrillards views, so my response will relate only to what Deleuze & Guattari wrote on this theme, often labled "accelerationism". However what I understand of Baudrillard's view leads me to believe he takes a vastly different approach and holds a vastly different understanding of what's at stake in this question, so I would always be sure to hold their views as distinct. For example, the expression 'tried to "extract the subversive energy" in capitalism they no longer see in the proletariat' wouldn't apply to them because they would never conceive of a group isolate as being a sufficient condition for a social transformation. It's always a question of what machines are between put to use or are operating between poles.


The first thing to do to understand what D&G mean when they invoke Nietzsche's text on the subversive potential of capitalist development is to understand THEIR specific concept of capitalism. The temptation to reduce what they're saying to either the Nietzschean fragment they quote, or the Marxist references elsewhere in Anti-Oedipus, would be to completely ignore all the differences they have from those philosophers.

So, firstly, let us define Capitalism
What is capitalism? It is approached two different ways in their work and it is not always explicit what the connection is.

At the broadest level, capitalism is to be defined as, a global social axiomatic that takes as it's object axioms realized by necessity through the institutions and apparatuses of States.

By "social" here one should understand that capitalism as a type of "machine" (in their terms) is productive of the "Social" insofar as its flows control the contents, the formation and reproduction of labor, the socialization of capital etc., but it can do this only via models of realization embodied in States. States should also be understood as heterogenous, and occupying differing positions in this global social axiomatic (as "centers" differ vastly in what they can do from "periphery" states e.g).

Before moving on, let's define these as well:

Axiom: "rules that deal directly with purely functional elements and relations whose nature is not specified and which are immediately realized in highly varied domains simultaneously" (ATP 454)

States: models of realization of particular axioms for the capitalist axiomatic; a pluralized set of regulatory apparatuses, effectively assuring that the axioms have the appropriate material and expressive matters required for the functioning --e.g. infrastructure and material requirements, legal frameworks and political alliances.

So, this is one broad scale definition of capitalism, but it is also necessary to see how it connects on a microlevel.

Capital acts (insofar as it is a type of semiotic operator) as the point of subjectification that constitutes all human beings as subjects; but some, the "capitalists," are subjects empowered to establish modes of existence -- forming the private subjectivity of capital, while the others, the "proletarians," or "workers/consumers" (in today's terms) are subjects of the statement of capital, i.e. subjected to the technical machines in which constant capital is effectuated. So the starting point is a dual regime of subjectivity/subjection and machinic enslavement (subjectivity put to the service of machines/productions). So, the important thing to note about this dual regime is that it operates both in terms of the production of subjectivity (the production of who you see yourself as, how you see yourself (as distinct from an "objective" stance), the creation of sensibilities and ethico-aesthetics) AND directly tying human organs to signs, procedures, diagrams, indices, type of machines, types of functions, types of languages, all of which comes to represent productive "assemblages".

Now, if capital is defined as a type of semiotic operator on one hand and as an axiomatic on the other, it first means that you can never define capitalism first and foremost as some type of globalizing system or structure, you start at what happens within and between subjects for the local aspect, and the continual replacements of object and machines and desires at the global scale. And you maintain a clear distinction between what is a function of state and what is of the semiotic of capital. I point this out because of the most common misinterpretations I've come across of "accelerationism" is people talking about accelerating the exploitation of capitalism and acceleration the destruction of the state. Neither idea make any sense from their perspective if only because the State transforms, it doesn't have an endpoint per se. And the focus of their exploration of this theme are avenues of opening, or avenues in the service of new modes of existence, new modes of freedom... so accelerating exploitation would be like accelerating fascism, the very thing they're explicitly writing against.

Acceleration as they mention the term in the famous quote below is related to the process of decoding and deterritorialization of particular flows:

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

To break this down you must be clear about what a code is, as defined much much earlier in this book.

Codes are relative to particular domains, expressing specific relations between qualified elements that cannot be subsumed by a higher formal unity (overcoding) except by transcendence and in an indirect fashion.

Decoding historically has accelerated because decoding and deterritorialization is the first half of the modus operandi of capitalism as an axiomatic. So already you see that they are not primitivists (espousing a going back) or anarchists (espousing an escape). Decoding is to be seen as something necessary for the selective contraction of the future. It's what would precede the taking of a survey of a decodified present and affirming that which you would have repeat for eternity (to use Nietzschean terms for a recodification).

Markets (to bring in the other term they mention in this passage) for them equally are seen as tools. They connect, they have the capacity to decode and to deterritorialize societies. Everything in this machinic universe is evaluated or is to be evaluated from it's potential from breaking us free from existing forms of exploitations and cruelties.

So to summarize, "subversive potential" is a way of describing only the fact that desire is under continual transformation and States are forced to ever new limits through capitalist production... ["For perhaps the flows are not yet deterritorialized enough, not decoded enough"...]. Life as we know it is what bodies have a difficulty unlearning or moving beyond (you have to connect this to his work on Bergson and memory and Hume and habit but equally all of his work on Institutions). Subversive potential does not equate to "revolutionary" in a subjectively political sense. The politics of what happens under these subversions of desire and axioms are defined by what we do with the new doors that are continually opened. What use do we make of new tools and landscapes of being?

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This criticism is similar to the critique that Gayatri Spivak theorised in Can the Subaltern Speaks; she opens up by writing:

Some of the most radical criticism coming out of the West today is the result of an interested desire to conserve the subject of the West, or the West as subject ... this concealed geo-political subject pretends it has no geo-political determinations ...

a determination one might think is actually quite loudly and forcefully announced by the term - globalisation.

This subject, curiously sewn together into a transparency by denegations, belongs to the exploiters side of the international division of labour. It is impossible for contemporary French intellectuals...

She is thinking in particular about Foucault and Deleuze as it will transpire later in the essay.

...to imagine the kind of Power & Desire that would inhabit the un-named subject of the Other in Europe. It is not only that everything that they read, critical or uncritical, is caught within the debate of the production of that Other, supporting or critiquing the constitution of the subject as Europe. It is also that ... great care was taken to obliterate the textual ingredients by which such a subject could ... occupy such an itinerary - not only by scientific and ideological production, but also by the institution of the law.

And

A possibility for political practise for the intellectual is to put the economic under erasure

ie erasing the economic in political economy, the traditional term for those concerned with economics and which recognises that economics cannot be thought properly without its relation to politics.

She then adds:

According to Deleuze and Foucault ... the oppressed, if given the chance ... can speak and know their condition ...

But she asks

Can the subaltern speak?

The subaltern is a term taken from Gramisci and is here, roughly identified with the oppressed. To which she answers:

For the true subaltern group, whose difference is its identity, there is no subaltern subject that can know and speak itself;

So no, they can't; and then she insists that the

the intellectuals solution is not to [then] abstain from representation.

ie people require leaders; this seems like such a trite observation that one wonders why it needs to be made...ah yes, the subversive energy of capitalism subverts and conceals this trite observation, that when it is recovered, it looks like a gem of sagacity.

Anyway, the essay is a long and complex one and difficult to properly redact here; however, one of her basic points is to forget the seductive and ostensibly political pyrotechnics of Foucault and Deleuze - she wants a return to Marx and a refocusing on the classical subject of the Political Economy.

  • Not sure I follow her argument: "this concealed geo-political subject pretends it has no geo-political determinations" Seems like she's invoking Foucault insofar as a primary objective of his early work concerned a dismantelling of Kant's anthropology of "man", but it doesn't correspond to much of Foucault's work from the mid-years on because if anything it's an attempt at problematizing historically determined stratifications thru a hyper-geohistorization. Does she reference any specific works because I can't of a way to make that critique work with either F or D? – ClearMountainWay Jun 25 '18 at 0:46

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