Tuesday, December 6, 2016

#MyDemocracy is a Spectacle Which Functions on Spectatorship

“To start off we would have to be agreed on what we call democracy. In Europe we have got used to identifying democracy with the double system of representative institutions and those of the free market. Today this idyll is a thing of the past: the free market can be seen increasingly as a force of constriction that transforms representative institutions into simple agents of its will and reduces the freedom of choice of citizens to variations of the same fundamental logic. In this situation, either we denounce the very idea of democracy as an illusion, or we rethink completely what democracy, in the strong sense of the word, means. Democracy is not, to begin with, a form of State. It is, in the first place, the reality of the power of the people that can never coincide with the form of a State. There will always be tension between democracy as the exercise of a shared power of thinking and acting, and the State, whose very principle is to appropriate this power. Obviously states justify this appropriation by citing the complexity of the problems, the need to the long term, etc. But in truth, politicians are a lot more subjected to the present. To recover the values of democracy is, in first place, to reaffirm the existence of a capacity to judge and decide, which is that of everyone, against this monopolisation.” 
Jacques Ranciere, “To Speak of the Crisis of Society is to Blame its Victims” Público, January 15,2012. 
“The conversation with a consumer must be quickly referred back to a ‘script’ with which the operator will then read word for word. He can be penalized if he ‘goes off’ script, even for offering an intelligent or empathetic response to the customer. Thus the ‘prompts,’ replies to questions, and other forms of civility are planned out prior to the conversation. Dialogue is ‘triggered’ according to the customer’s attitude and questions. Finally, the scripts are a way of ‘taylorizing’ conversation; the latter is split into basic units and each task performed. Conversational scripts are made up of pre-fabricated phrases thought up by those who do not speak them and spoken by those whose self-interest is not to think.” 
Marie-Anne Dujarier in Maurizio Lazzarato, Signs and Machines: Capitalism and the Production of Subjectivity tr. Joshua David Jordan (Los Angeles: Semiotext[e], 2014), 116.
It has been a string of days this past week in which the Liberals have embarrassed themselves and been the object of deserved widespread ridicule on social media, and today was, of course, no exception. With the launch of the Liberals’ ‘mydemocracy.ca,’ much attention has been paid to its being ridiculous, and it is, but it is important to nonetheless not let its apparent triviality obscure its real importance. The real importance isn’t the contents of an absurd pop-psych quiz, but that there is an absurd pop-psych quiz at all, posted without reference to, and seemingly antithetical to, the findings of the special committee on electoral reform. Forget that ‘MyDemocracy.ca’ is ridiculous, it is, more importantly, deeply offensive and politically concerning. The antics of the Minister for Democratic Institutions over the past days demonstrates a government not only virulently obfuscating and sabotaging their signature campaign promise, but confessing to a fervent antagonism to the findings of their own special committee on electoral reform, to an impoverished and authoritarian understanding of political rule, and to a sneering condescension towards participatory democratic engagement, public involvement and intervention by the masses into political and economic affairs.

The Liberals pop-psy survey is at once propaganda, distraction, and spectacle. This bizarre widget is comprised entirely out of a degraded facsimile of political participation. It is an insult to the intelligence of democratic actors, and an affront to democratic politics. Felix Guattari calls these kinds of so-called ‘surveys’ “institutional simulacra,” [1] in that they are hypocritical or cynical projections of “homogenous but empty sets” which miss “the heterogeneous assemblages that give real consistency to the socius.” [2] But what is the subject position from whence this strange exercise emanates? What is it and what does it want? In effect what the Liberals actually want from this exercise of decision-based-evidence-making is a fictitious public that demands a restricted window of political selection, in which the Liberals are to be selected as though it were a brand, or a channel, and the entire political and economic affairs be conducted by that brand, or channel, without intervention from the public, for the entire intervening period. The public that the Liberals wish to invent is the Republic of Spectators: the public that renounces its claim to political and economic intervention in public life to an agency of a fictitious political process characterized by spectacle.

The Liberals isolate and construct such a fictitious public by limiting the possibility, intensity, and length of political intervention of actual social forces, dissipating them into meaningless recouperative exercises like ‘MyDemocracy.ca.’ MPs must do what their party promised and they must do what their constituents want, but in the Liberals’ poll these things are counterposed to one another. The poll’s basic structure elides that it is only the bourgeois parties, such as the Liberals and the Conservatives, for whom there is a contradiction between satisfying the wishes of one’s constituency and fulfilling political promises. The Liberals are not only attempting to extricate themselves from their campaign promises but are attempting to invent a public which demands they betray their promises, having realized that such an invented peoples is required for the abrogation of their word. To the extent that no such public actually exists, they must rather be invented in order that they be referred to in terms of political representation. The Liberals demand spectatorship, and portray anything short of spectatorship as a cumbersome hindrance, and argue that the burden of having to deal with the intervention of social forces into political and economic life somehow absolves the Liberals of responsibility for their failures. The Liberals would prefer to have monological control over political and economic function than to have to be beholden to democratic intervention; they habitually present democratic engagement and civic participation as onerous and complicated.

The Liberals consistently present a contradiction between party promises and constituent wishes as a general feature of political parties, when this contradiction is in fact particular to one type of political party, which represents itself as representing all classes, when in reality it represents only one economic class, i.e. bourgeois political parties. A contradiction between constituency and party is only possible with a bourgeois party that is elected on the basis of lies and which governs in the interests of exploitation. The Liberals’ fetishize the conception of a few large brands fraternizing with one another, and exclude the more salient relationship between parliament and that in which one will find a 'diversity of views,' i.e. the masses. Citizens have both a right and a duty to participate in political life. These rights and duties derive colaterally from the relationship of citizens with one another, culminating in ongoing and concerted democratic participation. The Liberals are, in effect, saying 'wouldn't it just be easier if you didn't ask any questions and just let us orchestrate political and economic life without your intervention?' What the Liberals want is to portray themselves as beholden to a constituency which wants them to betray their promises and govern as they see fit, whereas the reality is that the Liberals want to be durably elected by a fictitious public which they themselves engineer. The Liberals, in other words, prefer the electoral system that most prudently accommodates their wish to periodically misrepresent themselves that they might systematically misrepresent their 'constituents.'

It is imperative to realize that the Liberals are not merely incompetent but are moreover malicious. In a gongshow appearance on the CBC, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions, Mark Holland, argued that this survey was oriented not to engaged citizens, but rather to "rank and file canadians who are aggregating Canadian values on this issue;” one would be hard pressed to find a euphemism more technocratically mandarin than ‘rank and file Canadians who are aggregating Canadian values.’ Their intention is not to glean data from this exercise, but to obscure data, to supplant political engagement with spectacle. This whole ludicrous pop-quiz is a hamfisted distraction from the recommendation that there be a referendum in which First Past the Post is on the ballot against any system which meets the standard of the Gallagher Index of proportionality within 5%. What the 'leading Qs' in the Liberals' '#MyDemocracy' lead to is an authoritarian plutocracy which lies to the masses for a brief period of time. A contradiction between constituents and party interests is particular and exclusive to bourgeois political parties, and in this instance it is particular and exclusive to Justin Trudeau’s Liberals. Parliament must be made to represent not merely a greater diversity of people but of economic interests as well. The Liberals’ paean to 'Simplicity' is prelude to exploitative managerialism and the meaningless selection of its brand. The so-called ‘data’ generated by this cynical exercise in misuse of statistics is not only useless, but moreover harmful, it is intended to sabotage and sideline an ongoing parliamentary process in which 88% of participants in public consultations supported proportional representation. ‘MyDemocracy.ca’ is an instrument of class rule, and functions to stigmatize and pathologize one set of policy inclinations and constrain and dissipate the expression of any other.

[1] Felix Guattari, Lines of Flight: For Another World of Possibilities tr. Andrew Goffey (London: Bloomsbury, 2016), 47.
[2] Ibid.

Friday, December 2, 2016

‘It is the Common Opinion of the Dissenting Liberal Committee Minority that Goody Cullen is a Witch’

Nathan Cullen may have an unfortunate tendency to glean his foreign policy from Netflix documentaries, but it is undeniable that he has done a number on the Liberals in the special committee on electoral reform. On the heels of cash-for-access, and then the hamfisted approval of Kinder Morgan, today the Liberals lurch into the awkward position of hopping up on a soapbox to rail against their signature electoral promise: electoral reform. Who put the Liberals in this uncomfortable position? NDP MP Nathan Cullen did. In terms of sheer political maneuvering and fortitude he is easily among the NDP's best, and has certainly displayed that acumen in his work on the special committee on electoral reform. The Liberal apoplexy today, their blatant hypocrisy, their stammering anti-intellectualism, all Cullen's meticulous construction. This began back in June when, after an unrelenting dressing down by Cullen, the Liberals acquiesced to a committee composition in which they did not comprise the majority. The optics of an undemocratically constituted committee on electoral reform, after all, were very bad, and the Liberals caved. Today, however, was the coup de grâce. In returning an ostensible green-light for a referendum on First Past the Post versus any system which meets the standard on the Gallagher Index on proportionality, the agreed members of the multi-party committee on electoral reform, and Cullen in particular, have forced the Liberals hand; and the Liberals, in turn, have taken the opportunity to become loathesome and ridiculous.

The Liberals are doing what they always do, dissimulation and distraction, the latest being Maryam Monsef attempting to fall on the grenade and make the story about herself, and her personal insults and retractions of said insults directed to the members of the special committee. But, make no mistake, the story is rather, of course, that the Liberals are doing everything in their power to scuttle electoral reform as such. That their efforts to do so include insulting the members of the special committee as a cheap distraction from the strategic blow that the committee has dealt to them is secondary. Having been outmaneuvered at every turn, they have given up the ghost of trying to appear the good guys, and are now simply spitting bile and vitrol in hopes that it will overshadow it’s occasion.

The Liberals, having been the party of ‘sociology now,’ are now relying upon base anti-intellectualism. Canadians don’t want electoral reform, we are told, because look, here, in Maryam Monsef’s hands, a mathematical formula. ‘Isn’t it complicated?’ she asks, ‘inscrutable even?’ The Liberals are waving pitchforks at statistical modeling, fearmongering about formulas. The purpose of the Gallagher Index is to ensure that any system of elections conforms very closely to proportionality. It is as though the Liberals had cracked open a conventional radio and said ‘aren’t these electronics complex? Canadians don’t want the songs and voices that this indecipherable hash of wires and speaker cones offers.’ What the Liberals despise about the Gallagher Index is not its indecipherable complexity, but rather that it sets a standard and benchmark for proportionality that the Liberals cannot fudge, mystify, or obfuscate. Justin Trudeau and Maryam Monsef desperately want an exit-strategy from their electoral reform promises and their options were to either scuttle the entire business, or move forward with a variant of electoral reform that is not in fact proportional. The committee’s hard work has denied the Liberals the opportunity to champion a self-serving and disproportionate electoral system like ranked ballots, and so they have been left to flail about, smashing and sabotaging what they can. 

The Liberals are incensed because the committee actually did something really smart. They were hoping that the committee would come back with one system so that the Liberals could smother it with a pillow in the night. Instead they returned with a standard, or benchmark, below which the Liberals' preferred system[s] fall and before which they flunk. Its important that they not let the story become 'Maryam Monsef was mean, but now she's apologized.' The story is 'the committee has greenlit a referrendum with FPTP vs. any system which meets the standard of the Gallagher Index (within 5% of absolute proportionality).' The Liberals have been trapped and cornered by Cullen, the rest of the special committee, and, most importantly, the Gallagher Index. They hate it intensely because it precludes their preferred mystifications and obfuscations, they hate that they are now stuck with a rubric from which they cannot escape. What is insufferable, however, is the shock and disappointment from Liberal voters. Of course the Liberals are unscrupulous, of course they are disingenuous and hamfisted. These are not ‘new Liberals,’ they are the same sorry, corrupt, and undemocratic technocrats that were evicted in 2003. The Gallagher Index and its function is not, as Monsef and Trudeau would have it, beyond the comprehension of the poor hinterland Canadian’s intellect; nor are Monsef and Trudeau’s true motives in suggesting as much. Far from ‘not doing the hard work,’ as Monsef alleged, the committee has made it ‘hard work’ for the hackneyed and duplicitous Trudeau Liberals to wriggle out of their signature campaign promise. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Heteronomy and Autonomy in Social Time

“It is obviously the illusion of the historian – our illusion, necessary to all of us – to measure eternity on the basis of his own life expectancy and to consider that whatever does not change for three centuries is 'stable.' But change the scale of time, and the stars in the heaves will step to a dizzy dance.”

Cornelius Castoriadis, The Imaginary Institution of Society tr. Kathleen Blamey (Malden: Polity, 1987), 186.

Autonomy is the opportunity for both polyrhythmia and arrythmia, concerted repetition and novel creation, successes and failures, it has definite historical and material antecedents, and accidents, the most glaring of which is social dissociation and the dissolution of social existence forms. The historical conditions of autonomy, self-legislation, is an acceleration of social intercourse, but one which inaugurates the alienated and mediated form of the contract, a self-binding or subordination which becomes expressed a contradiction within society. Trading cities were made great by their indeterminacy, their aleatory flux or becoming; the modern world-empires have, in their turn, made themselves great by propagating their greatest cities, and thus extending the fields of immanence of these cities, the spaces they share on the planes of consistency that their cities connect to and relate to; a geometry of the formations and diformities of social action and interaction through time; a topography of the relative speeds and slownesses of the various social formations and a microphysics of their attractions or repulsions to one another. The object of consideration, then, is the contrasting modes of temporality that the city and the hinterland give rise to, i.e. the qualitative character of their respective rhythms and the causal substance of their divergence and mutation. Henri Lefebvre writes that cyclicality temporality “originates in the cosmic, in nature: days, nights, seasons, the waves and tides of the sea, monthly cycles, etc.,”1 whereas linear temporality stems from “social practice.”2 The city undoes the fabric of its surrounding hinterlands and transforms the manner in which it relates to itself (the hinterland comes to relate to itself through and by the city), the world-empires who are beholden to their great cities even moreso, and thus the object of consideration is also the structural character of that which is not identical to itself, the non-identical, torsions or contradictions within society. So, on the one hand there is cyclical, formative, slow or frozen time of the hinterlands, and on the other there are aleatory fluxes, or becomings, bound up with cities, their indeterminacies and immanences, the world-formations that cities give rise to. 

Heteronomy is the social fact of orders premised upon the concerted suppression and abstention from thought, the atrophy of conscious life, the capitulation to social existence forms in which conscious thought figures seldom or never, with a low degree of scope or intensity. Kant defines heteronomy as the condition under which the “the will would not give itself the law but a foreign impulse would give the law to it by means of the subject's nature, which is attuned to be receptive to it.”3 Territory and territorial control gives rise to heteronomy, and the forgetting of irreversible time, the erosion or subversion of this control gives rise to both the inventions and accidents of irreversible time. Heteronomy, autonomy, and accident, are therefore three modes of subjectification, occuring under two modes of temporality; the first, wherein the exterior milieu gives law to the subject [subjectus], cyclical temporality; the second, wherein the subject gives law to its exterior milieu [subjectum], irreversible time; and the third, in which the exterior milieu fails to give law to the subject, or the subject fails to give law to its exterior milieu, and indeed both, also irreversible time. Autonomy and accident straddle subjectum, as the properly Cartesian subject, and the subjectus, as the properly Hobbsian man of State, they are the concrete material circumstances which both Descartes and Hobbes attempted to chart, but insofar as these concrete circumstances were processes, their respective descriptions of subjectivity miss the real agencies of subjectification (those processes which make the subject supple to the State or isolate it from the State completely).

Accident historically represents the substrate of the intensification of social intercourse and irreversible time, and invention, concerted and societal autonomy, historically represents the exception, rather than the rule. Social autonomy, the substantive proliferation of autonomous thought and action, is precariously composed from the ebbs and flows of eroded control, Empires crumble, cities fail, Autonomy and accident are, in many ways, inextricable. Heteronomy and autonomy concern the degree to which the law is imprinted on the material substrate of history, and the extent to which this material substrate is able to make this law, this imprint, function otherwise than it was intended, to internalize law as opposed to control; accident concerns the short-circuiting or manipulation of the former, but an incapacity for the latter, becoming free from imprint and cyclical time, but without law, and thus substantively unfree (i.e. becoming dissociated). Kant writes that heternomy is essentially the causality of a preceding state, or set of conditions, whereas autonomy is “the faculty of beginning a state from itself, the causality of which does not in turn stand under another cause determining it in time”4 insofar as “reason creates the idea of a spontaneity, which could start to act from itself, without needing to be preceeded by any other cause that in turn determines it to action according to the law of causal connection.”5 In other words, autonomy concerns the capacity for instituting conditions, but this generative effect is determined after the fact, where the fact is the receptivity or resistance of masses to the conditions of external necessity. Deleuze and Guattari write that the binding contract “appears as the proceeding of subjectification, the outcome of which is subjection,”6 it is conditioned by a political distribution which exceeds it and apportions its relative allotments. Thus, Kant argues, practical freedom is “the real moment”7 of the difficulties encountered by the transcendental idea of freedom, and that, thus, “freedom in the practical sense is the independence of the power of choice from necessitation by impulses of sensibility.”8 The disruption, erosion, and subversion of heteronomy provides the historical conditions for the emergence of autonomy, but it neither guarantees it nor necessitates it; its collapse is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the social proliferation of autonomy. Castoriadis writes that the autonomy of society requires the “explicit recognition that the institution of society is self-institution.”9 Heteronomy is the obfuscation of this social fact, which transmutes obedience to the pathological character of frozen time into a present social and political framework, and society institutes itself as heteronomic, as refusing the obligations of action and intercourse that such a recognition would entail.

Heteronomy is distinguished from Autonomy, its subfunctions, and accident, by its entropy, its tendency to uniformal, uniaccentual, univocality, the repetition of heard phrases which come to appear obligatory in this or that concrete situation; heteronomy lacks dissociation by virtue of its asociality, it's incredibly asphyxiating and isolate conditions of social intercourse. Homogenous magnitudes under an unlimited governmental power lack abortive or diformed thought insofar as their conditions of production do not engender it, “much as a bag with potatoes constitutes a potato-bag.”10

Autonomy is distinct from physis, and includes Poïesis among its subfunctions, it is not becoming but rather command over the internal consistency of becoming, a gap between dominated by necessity and a formal command over that necessity; Kant calls this 'transcendence.' Indeed, he writes, “a principle that takes away these limits, which indeed bids us to overstep them, is called transcendent.”11 Autonomy is a transcendence of heteronomy and accident, it is transcendental insofar as its regulative ideal is not empirically constrained; heteronomy is merely physical insofar as it replicates the process itself, it generates no emergent properties. Lest one imagine that this need necessitate the introduction of spurious metaphysics, the object of consideration is rather bodies of men and women who either are or are not, were or were not, capable of taking the axioms and principles of class conscious thought into their own hands and engineering their own epochs. The difference between autonomy and accident is whether the system becomes constructive and expressive, whether more subjects become autonomous, or whether it merely inaugurates a contrasting and oppositional heteronomy and thus social degeneration; transcendence is the autonomy of the accident, and practical freedom is its concrete manifestation. This transcendence and practical freedom, however, is my no means assured, and is rather the consequence of a particular split between philosophical or conceptual consciousness on the one hand, and material incoherence, chaos, on the other.

In Kojin Karatani's schema of world-systems analysis, the modes of exchange analytic, all material consequences of theological or emotional social connection are indexed under mode of exchange D, i.e. transcendence, the form of exchange in which aspects of each of the other forms of exchange (reciprocal, territorial, and commodity) return in a different and uncanny form. Karatani analyzes the effect of mode of exchange D throughout a very large portion of history, and thus the category remains necessarily general. Karatani indicates that it was Proudhon who divorced mode of exchange D from its theological moorings, premising it rather on the actual concrete development of industrial capitalism, but it is surprising that he missed the opportunity to relate the distinctions of the kinds of actions and utterances one encounters in mode of exchange D back to Immanuel Kant, given Karatani's otherwise Kantian commitments. Mode of exchange D ought to be conceived of as branching into two distinct historical phenomena, which oftentimes overlap geographically and chronologically, irrational and rational modes of exchange D, which is autonomic. Note that theology may be of a rational and autonomous bent, as it was for Feuerbach, just as atheism may be of a heteronomous and irrational bent, as it was for Destutt de Tracy. What determines the rationality or irrationality of a mode of consciousness in a historical circumstance is not its internal consistency, which considered in the abstract would appear wild and irrational anyways, but rather its correspondence between the elements of a situation, that is, how it transcends a concrete situation that is itself irrational. What provides the opportunity for distinguishing historically between the two forms of mode of exchange D are historically irrational situations, times of great chaos and disorder.

Norman Cohn, writing of the late Middle-Ages, notes that “the social situations in which outbreaks of revolutionary millenarianism occurred were in fact remarkably uniform,” that “areas in which the age-old prophecies about the Last Days took on a new, revolutionary meaning and a new, explosive force were the areas which were becoming seriously over-populated and were involved in a process of rapid economic and social change.”12 In situations in which “traditional social bonds were being weakened or shattered and the gap between rich and poor was becoming a chasm. . . a collective sense of impotence and anxiety and envy suddenly discharged itself into a frantic urge to smite the ungodly – and by doing so bring into being, out of suffering inflicted and suffering endured, that final Kingdom where the Saints, clustered around the great sheltering figure of their Messiah, were to enjoy ease and riches, security and power for all eternity.”13 In other words, the development of city-states is characterized by a militant eschatology whose content is not predetermined but is rather constructed, ad hoc, in an irrational or rational manner. Law, imprint, is a function of territorial accretion, whereas this functioning otherwise is extra-territorial. Virilio suggests that when Paris police lieutenant Gabriel Nicolas de La Reynie set about lighting the streets of paris in the mid seventeenth century, it market the invention of both a “transterritoriality of nighttime”14 and an “extraterritorialitity of nightlife.”15 The creation of new existential territorialities gives rise to new material social existence forms and thus the mutation of already existent forms, i.e. “the perverted peasant.”16 Acceleration exhausts expanse, thus making necessary the invention of new territorialities, if not new literal territories, as in the creation of artificial islands. The city is always the space of the extra-territorial functioning otherwise, insofar as the intensification of social intercourse not only gives law to its hinterland, but changes its function.

Autonomy and accident essentially depend upon the development and extension of the forces of production and exchange in society, as heteronomy is dependent upon their retardation, on their non-development. Kinetic situations become divorced from their causal antecedents, and their separation is the premise of their mutual accident, their breakdowns happen within the distance between emission and reception, i.e. bodies at speed. Autonomy is not merely opposed to heteronomy, it represents the emergent properties and capacities of heteronomous masses, which exceed and become alien to heteronomic and static institutions. Autonomy is transcelerative, it is for motion and diformity, mutation, whereas heteronomy is entropic; heteronomic reference is acquiescent, receptive, complaisant, whereas autonomous reference is violent, generative, idiosyncratic. When Nicole Oresme writes that “every velocity is capable of being increased in intensity and decreased in intensity;”17 that “continuous increase in intensity is called acceleration,” which may happen more or less slowly, such that “it sometimes happens that velocity is increasing and acceleration is decreasing,”18 what he captures is the need to describe conditions as processes, rather than as static images of relation, these relations mutate. Cyclical time is eroded by the function of Commodity-Exchange, the consequence of which is the irreversible time of Commodity-Exchange, the aporia is that Commodity-Exchange is as corrosive to heteronomy as autonomy, such that they become physically counterposed in torsion in the world-economy, rather than the one succeeding from and historically triumphing over the other. Commodity-Exchange makes heteronomy and autonomy exist structurally in irrational torsion with one another in the metastable pattern of the heteronomous order and the autonomous and accidental historical classes.

Just before the manuscript breaks off in chapter fifty-two of Capital volume three, Marx writes that those who own merely their own labour, those who own capital, and those who own land, constitute “the three great classes of modern society based on the capitalist mode of production.”19 It is a pity, however, that he only had the opportunity to introduce the problem of the variation of classes, as the inquiry leads back to the torsion or tension between the capitalist modes of production and exchange and their material substrate, “the independent divorce of all landed property from capital and labour, or the transformation of all landed property into the form of landed property corresponding to the capitalist mode of production.”20 Irreversible time and its antecedents, its acceleration of social intercourse, is inserted into the hinterlands in the form of a total asynchrony, a disassociative temporality which is the obverse of pure heteronomic value, and thus the need to distinguish between the threefold identification of economic classes, and the origins of two of these classes from a process which the third undergoes. This third 'class,' the land-owners, function on the basis of stratification and their material force in the world comes to be expressed as the capacity to extort ground-rent, so they have an economic function, but not one which stems from the process which inaugurates the economic as a separate domain. The form and content of territorial control is economically implicated, but perhaps not in such a way as to imply a symmetry between each of the classes, so-called. Rather, territorial control is itself transformed, in part, to police and enforce the speeds and rhythms set by the cities.

Castoriadis argues, rather, that “what is given in and through history is not the determined sequence of the determined but the emergence of radical otherness, immanent creation, non-trivial novelty,”21 and that “it is only on the basis of this radical otherness and creation that we can truly think of temporality and time, the excellent and eminent effective actuality of which we find in history.”22 The dominant perception of temporality and causality is socially contingent, a product of its particular society which perceives itself as culminate and placed, predictably, at the end of the causal chain, whereas History recognizes no such culmination and completion, no such societal narcissism. Temporality is thus bifurcated between a nihilism, an “essential intemporality of a relation of order,”23 on the one hand, and “the very manifestation of the fact that something other than what exists is bringing itself into being,”24 on the other. Heteronomic reference rejects becoming, genesis, mutation, insofar as it designates its own particular historical temporality as closed, it is intempestive, resistant to irreversible time.

“Time can exist only if there is an emergence of what is other, of what is in no way given with what is, what does not go together with it. Time is the emergence of other figures. The points of a line are not other, they are different by means of what they are not – their place.”

Cornelius Castoriadis, The Imaginary Institution of Society tr. Kathleen Blamey (Malden: Polity, 1987), 193.

Castoriadis argues that heteronomy constitutes “the covering over of otherness, the denial of time, society's ignorance of its own social-historical being in so far as these are grounded in the very institution of society such as we know it, namely, such as it has up to now instituted itself.”25 Heteronomy is the social alienation of concrete historical time with respect to its own development, the obscure remainder of “the refusal to see that it institutes itself.”26 He writes that the maintenance and reproduction of heteronomy relies upon a social representation of “an extra-social origin of the institution of society (an origin ascribed to supernatural beings, God, nature, reason, necessity, the laws of history or the being-thus of Being).”27 The character and contour of society is not the product of immanent social relation, according to this precept, but is rather an unapproachable given-in-advance, the organization handed down from above, the past, social superiors, etc. it is the ideology of the causal constitution of non-society, the rationalization of the suppression of the fact of the immanent, immediate, and continual re-institution of the forms of relations it prescribes. Insofar as it treats its own emergence at all it is “situated on a ground where the radical imaginary as social-historical and as radical imagination, indetermination as creation, temporality as essential self-alteration are excluded.”28

Though control over social temporality is inextricably bound up with territoriality, the fixing of time is nonetheless profoundly implicated in ideology, and the conditions and characteristics of temporality are an object of class struggle. Asocial temporalies are a consequence of Commodity-Exchange and irreversible time, and autonomy is the transcendence of this asocial or anti-social character of these temporalities. Such a transcendence would entail an associative elaboration of the quality of social time and a science attendant to the various ideological conceptions of social life of the contending economic classes. The irreversible time of the owning class is one which inaugurates a regime of naturalized accident, whereas the irreversible time of the class who have only their physical labouring power to sell, the workers, denatures this accidental time, exposing its historical contingency. The irreversible time of the owners is divided between a monorhythm and an arrhythmia, the irreversible time of the proletariat is polyrhythmic and polysynchronous, the former is policed time, and sociality is stratified between compliant living-labour and non-compliant living-labour, whereas the latter is stratified between socially necessary labour and free time as the development of the social organism resulting from the unfettered development of the means of production and exchange. Speed both liberates law from its terrestrial accretion, while the processes that allow for this liberation render law impossible for a different reason, the distance between the engineering of a material function and its concrete existence. Castoriadis writes that heteronomy, or “inherited thought,”29 can only perceive causality in virtue of the ensemble that it itself designates, or, in other words, “it can think of succession only from the point of view of identity.”30 The succession is perceived in virtue of its culmination, and in spite of its process, and thus relies on the apriori acquiescence to its own terms of reference and thus “the conclusion is given together with the premises.”31 And yet, as Cohn suggests, the rapidly industrializing urban centers of the Renaissance were characterized by “a state of chronic insecurity,”32 and, indeed, this condition is the basis of the mixed semiotic of Commodity-Exchange, the proliferation of precarious, marginal, and deterritorialized social existence forms.

Heteronomy and autonomy are not counterposed as equivalent political forms, but are rather asymmetrical to one another, the one constitutes a defense of the ruling class materially and ideologically, whereas the other stands for its thoroughgoing decomposition; counterrevolution is the perpetual attempt to reinstitute heteronomy, uniaccentual standard, and cyclicality on the part of the territorialized stratas. The owners of the means of production and exchange becoming a ruling strata whose interests lay with counterrevolution, heternomy, uniaccentual standard, and cyclicality, is the historical accident of autonomy. Thus the autonomy of one economic class came to manufacture the heteronomy of the other: the ideology of the owning class, in 1848, became politically right wing, it announced that it's intention was to preserve the ruling order insofar as it had become the ruling class.

The formulations of heteronomy and autonomy put forward by Kant and Castoriadis, respectively, differ in their figuration of the antecedent causes of both, as for Kant they represent merely self-structurations, whereas for Castoriadis they represent societal structurations. This is why Castoriadis might consider the formal content of Kant's autonomy to be heteronomous, that is, beholden to a particular self-legislation that is partial, contingent, intent on closure. It is not enough to distinguish between personal and societal self-legislation, but rather, in order to clarify the specific sociological character of populations which are practically free in the terms that Kant enumerates, Castoriadis's formulations are necessary. The frozen and cyclical temporality of the heteronomous terrain is not self-legislated away, but done away with by an accretion or agglomeration of self-legislations, which together may comprise and autonomous society, or may simply result in monstrous accidents of both heteronomy and the attempt to inaugurate autonomy. Personal or individual autonomy of the kind that Kant gestures to is a certainty in the context of the erosion of a monotemporal scene, but an autonomous society obviously isn't, and therefore requires a different ontological criteria for assessing the self-legislative. Kant's is a moral and universal self-legislation, the coordination of, and self-subordination to, a system of self-legislation, whereas, for Castoriadis, self-legislation is a particular event, a congregation, a space, a coalescence of actors, whose autonomy is fundamentally and inextricably social. The necessarily interrelated and public character of Castoriadis's conception of an autonomous society is one in which law emerges from social intercourse itself, whereas for Kant this would be an unacceptable concession to sensual and empirical experience.

Social time, polyrythmic and autonomous time, is that temporality which is lived by a self-legislating and heterogeneous masses, usually in the context of the emergent social existence forms, transterritorialities and transtemporalities, of the city. Accidental time, disjunctive, arythmic, desynchonized and chaotic time is the abortive temporality of the social and political contradicitons of the city, its classes and the torsions they give rise to. Heteronomy is unitemporal, monorhythmic, asynchonized and ahistorical, and emerges politically from the social relations which obtain outside of the city and its heterogenous social existence forms, most especially from the hinterland, or what becomes designated as hinterland as a consequence of the social microphysics of its relation to nodal sites of social intercourse, i.e. what accelerative forms transform into their hinterlands. The evacuation of heteronomy from a city's hinterland is its invention as hinterland, just as the construction of autonomy is the transcendence of its accident, or empirical circumstances.

1 Henri Lefebvre, Rhythmanalysis tr. Stuart Elden and Gerald Moore (London: Continuum, 2004), 8.

2 Ibid.

3 Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals tr. Mary Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 50.

4 Kant, Critique of Pure Reason tr. Paul Guyer and Allen Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 533.

5 Ibid.

6 Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Capitalism and Schizophrenia: A Thousand Plateaus tr. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 460.

7 Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 533.

8 Ibid.

9 Cornelius Castoriadis, World in Fragments: Writings on Politics, Society, Psychoanalysis, and the Imagination tr. David Ames Curtis (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), 329.

10 Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (New York: Cosimo, 2008), 84.

11 Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 386.

12 Nicholas Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages (London: Pimlico, 2004), 53.

13 Ibid, 60.

14 Paul Virilio, A Landscape of Events tr. Julie Rose (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000), 3.

15 Ibid, 2.

16 Ibid.

17 Nicole Oresme, The Configurations of Qualities and Motions tr. Marshall Clagett (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1968), 283.

18 Ibid.

19 Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy Volume III tr. David Fernbach (London: Penguin, 1991), 1025.

20 Ibid.

21 Cornelius Castoriadis, The Imaginary Institution of Society tr. Kathleen Blamey (Malden: Polity, 1987), 185.

22 Ibid.

23 Ibid.

24 Ibid.

25 Ibid, 214.

26 Ibid.

27 Ibid, 373.

28 Ibid.

29 Ibid, 183.

30 Ibid.

31 Ibid.

32 Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium, 58.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Semiotic Function of Exchange in World-Economy

“The exchange of products springs up at the points where different families, tribes or communities come into contact; for at the dawn of civilization it is not private individuals but families, tribes, etc. that meet on an independent footing. Different communities find different means of production and different means of subsistence in their natural environment. Hence their modes of production and living, as well as their products, are different. It is this spontaneously developed difference which, when different communities come into contact, calls forth the mutual exchange of products and the consequent gradual conversion of those products into commodities.”

Karl Marx, Capital Vol I tr. Ben Fowkes (New York: Penguin, 1990), 471 – 472.

“Levi-Strauss specified that the linguistic sign is arbitrary a priori but non-arbitrary a posteriori.”

Roland Barthes, Elements of Semiology tr. Annette Lavers and Colin Smith (New York: Hill and Wang, 1967), 51.

Exchange is a social function that regulates the relation between individuals and groups, it occurs in all societies, though with radically different manifestation depending on the social structure which obtains in a given society. Exchange bears upon all social systems, though it is more intense and prevalent in certain instances than in others, and indeed Exchange may be fostered by certain agencies, as it may be suppressed by others. The interdependence and reciprocality of Exchange can be of an equal or unequal kind, that is, symmetrical or asymmetrical, simple or complex, and it can be enforced or unenforced, that is, bounded, determined, and structured by an edifice which dominates those parties which participate in such Exchange, and it occurs in a different form in the absence of such an edifice. Exchange promotes complex social arrangements which are emergent properties of its elemental procedures. For instance, while the performance of one Exchange may result in merely the transfer of things, participating in the transference of things as such imbues those involved with more complex social relations between and among one another, i.e. a durable social linkage or rapport, and an expectation of further Exchanges, a sociologically determinable bond. Thus simple Exchange gives rise to complex Exchange insofar as the discrete units of Exchange aggregate socially, and impact upon and inform the broader social environment in which they transpire. The distinction between systems of Exchange of an enforced and those of an unenforced kind is one of historical periodization, but not necessarily of development; indeed, it is in the nature of the analysis of the emergence of such social existence forms to question as to whether this object constitutes an advancement or a retrogression. Exchange pertains to sociological processes, mutations, which may be captured and manipulated by institutions whose function is control, whose own emergence is historically contingent. The fundamental question is to what extent the structures of association and division generated by Exchange rebound upon it, to what extent this feedback of sociality and Exchange determined the emergence of a political form capable of ensuring the domination of social life by accumulation. Or, conversely, the question might be to what extent Exchange as such is innocent in the emergence of State power and Commodity-Exchange, and thus an investigation into their real causes.

Circulation and exchange have been oftentimes sidelined as objects of social and political concern in favour of linear developmental models of modes of production which presupposes the political units they otherwise intend to explain. This has been effected by a kind of neo-theology in which only production may be analyzed, as divorced from and prioritized above exchange, and even in this, only within the methodological confines of one or another State. It is, consequently, a fundamental failing and limitation of some Political and Economic analyses to have conflated Exchange as such with Commodity-Exchange, and to have treated them as synonymous and interchangable, and to dismiss the one for reasons pertaining to the concrete existence of the other. Commodity-exchange is a restricted subset of Exchange, a homogenization which is by no means exhaustive of Exchange as such. Pierre Klossowski calls this a “simulacrum of exchange”1 insofar as the industrial economy presupposes living-labour, replete with the social reproductive labour required for its production, as an abstract and extant resource. Nomothetic so-called 'liberal' accounts of the development of the Capitalist Modes of Production and Exchange indeed rely exclusively on circulation and exchange to explain the genesis of such modes of production and exchange, and this is, of course, insufficient. With that said, it is a mistake to suppose that a polarized focus on production to the exclusion of circulation and exchange, wherein these social relations are seen as merely 'buying low and selling high,' is much better. The former misses, under the banner of comparative advantage, the substantively false character of allegedly free and equal exchange under a unitary world system of Capitalist design; the latter, in thrall to the “romanticism of productivity,”2 misses the precondition of such falsity, the social mutations provoked by manifold contact, communication, and mobility of masses, i.e. the division and association of living-labour.

“Most men, while they wish for what is noble, choose what is advantageous; now it is noble to do well by another without a view to repayment, but it is the receiving of benefits that is advantageous.”

Aristotle, Complete Works Vol II tr. Benjamin Jowett (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 1837.

Wallerstein writes that what characterizes World-Economy, as distinct from disperate world-empires, is its synthesis of outward-looking or globally oriented economic decision making and inward-looking or locally oriented political command and control. World-empires are characterized by a fixed semiotic and a low degree of symbolic exchange, whereas world-economy is characterized by mixed semiotics with a high degree of symbolic exchange. World-economy is “a spatial/temporal zone which cuts across many political and cultural units, one that represents an integrated zone of activity and institutions which obey certain systemic rules.”3 The world-economy and its constituent elements are premised upon and dependent upon acceleration and exchange; the chief difference between a system of Commodity-Exchange and ulterior systems of Exchange is the intervention of an agency capable of acquiring control over Living Labour, roughly within a given bounded territory, and thus enforcing Signification upon them within that territory; in prior systems of Exchange the circulation of products and signs was not mediated by a material edifice capable of determining their manifestation, whereas in Commodity-Exchange it is. In fact in Commodity-Exchange there are necessarily several such edifices or organs in competition with one another, composing together a World-System, in which different systems of value intersect. Braudel writes that “the pre-conditions of any form of capitalism have to do with circulation; indeed at first sight one might think them to be exclusively determined by this single factor.”4 The caveat of 'at first sight' is meant to suggest that there are other factors which are less visible on the gloss, but which are no less important, and indeed these two factors are the intervention of State power, on the one hand, and production, on the other. Guattari suggest that “whatever belongs to the realm of law tends to be modeled on the State”5 whereas “whatever to the realm of desire on the pursuit of profit,”6 with the former being akin to that of domestic non-reciprocal exchange and the fixing of Signification, and the latter being premised on heterogenous value systems, i.e. different sociological masses and different interpretations of Desire. Braudel writes that a “market economy”7 is to be distinguished from “capitalism”8 by the function and relative transcendence of the State; he argues that whereas China “there could be no capitalism, except within certain clearly-defined groups, backed by the state, supervised by the state and always more or less at its mercy,”9 Japan of the Ashikaga period of the fourteenth century and thereafter, by way of contrast, was characterized by “economic and social forces independent of the state”10 and “the comparative absence of state authority.”11 Thus he argues that “in a kind of anarchy not unlike that of the European Middle Ages, everything developed simultaneously in the diversified arena of Japan as the country gradually formed itself over the centuries: a central government, feudal lords, towns, peasantry, an artisan class, the merchants.”12 Whereas in China “the bureaucracy lay across the top of Chinese society as a single, virtually unbreachable stratum,”13 Braudel argues that Japan's rapid industrial development in the period following the isolation of 1638 to 1868 was, at least in part, attributable to “a long-standing merchant capitalism which it had patiently built by its own efforts.”14

Ultimately both Industrial Production and Commodity-Exchange are constituted by the Social-Subjective manipulations and control of State powers, irrespective of to whatever extent the Commodity-Exchange that they engender escapes the specific borders which they specify; were there not borders, Exchange would not takes the same form that it does under Commodity-Exchange. The State determines commodification insofar as it determines, to an either very large or absolute extent, the division and association of Living-Labour within a bounded and delimited territory, and thus the correspondence between Signified and Signifier. That said, left to its own devices, States would not necessarily engage in either Industrial Production nor Commodity-Exchange were it not for the intervention and development of their merchant classes, who constitute sociologically and geographically the point of contact between a bounded and delimited State, with its control over Living-Labour, its fixings of value, Signification, and strata, and its exterior. This exterior is two-fold: on the one hand there are similar organisms, whose heterogeneous value-systems may be as mixed and artificial as any other - 'Deutschland ist Hamlet!' - and on the other hand there is the marginal, submarginal, and beyond, whose unfixed Signification and non-Signifying semiologies are no longer truly outside, but rather merely in between, underneath, overlaid, preserved in degraded and immiserated form.

“Modern industry is grounded in a kind of trade that is mediated by the symbol of inert currency, thus neutralizing the nature of the objects exchanged, i.e., it hinges on the simulacrum of that trade – a simulacrum contained in the workforce resources themselves, and thus in a kind of living currency, which, though not openly declared as such, already exists.

Pierre Klossowski, Living Currency tr. Jordan Levinson (New York: Anti-Concept, 2012), 29.

The rendering of bodies as exchangeable goods is not a recent phenomenon, but what is recent, at least at Anthropological scale, is the manner in which this rendering has been integrated into the function of the State, the cohesion of which is inextricable from libidinal investment. The habitual emphasis of use-value in simplistic modes of production accounts forgets or elides that a system of total and complete use-value is totally and completely amenable to and realized in a despotic state, in which all functions are use functions, where the utility is the valorization of the Despot and the bureaucratic preservation of frozen time. Use-value can be reactionary depending upon the particular context in which it features; value is negotiated, yes, but it is negotiated within a specific Social-Subjective sphere, namely, the bounded and delimited territory in which Living-Labour is controlled and Signification is fixed, and thus use-value can just as easily be at the service of an association of free and equal producers among themselves as it can a despotic armature whose sole aim is to regulate, and more often than not impede, both unruly masses and signification. So it will not do to simply valorize use-value above exchange value, the use values of a particular society may be reactionary; and yet the Exchange-Value of Commodity-Exchange value is reactionary itself insofar as it treats the alienated Living-Labour that it encounters on the world-market as merely an abstract and saleable commodity, whose price may be favorably negotiated. There are, therefore, reactionary forms of Use-Value, and emancipatory forms of Use-Value, just as there are reactionary and emancipatory forms of Exchange-Value; each form of value, is, in part, politically determined, and it is this political composition which is good or bad, and not the relative proportion of Use-Values and Exchange-Values in a given system. It is State powers which make armaments of its use values and exploitations as its exchange values, and these are reflected in the multiple Sign systems which encounter one another in their historical development.

How then to square the circle that Commodity-Exchange is not possible without the intervention of a hegemonic assemblage capable of compelling Labour and fixing Signification, and a merchant class whose interests are in every way opposed to the natural inclinations of such assemblages? It is precisely in Deleuze and Guattari's formulations of relative deterritorializations and relative reterritorializations that we can perceive the historical relation between the merchant classes and the State; they rely on one another in torsion or contradiction, participating in the same system with the aims or intentions of gaining the upper hand on the other, the merchant class competes with the bureaucracy but only within the countours of an established Social-Subjective compact which threatens neither the interests of the owners of the means of production and exchange nor the Imperial organism and dominant signification; an isomorphy with respect to a capitalist axiomatic, a compact between bureaucrats and merchants which appears in superficially distinct forms in this or that society. The merchants deterritorialize and the bureaucrats reterritorialize, and the system in which they mutually participate is the mutual subjugation and alienation of Living-Labour and the circulation of the commodities that Living-Labour produces. This torsion of interest between territorializing castes and deterritorializing classes Wallerstein calls “a very special relationship between economic producers and the holders of political power.”15 That is, if the bureaucratic interests win out, endless accumulation ceases to be a priority and a world-economy becomes merely a multiplicity of distinct world-empires in relatively infrequent, oftentimes hostile, contact with one another. On the other hand, he writes, the merchant classes “need a multiplicity of states, so that they can gain the advantages of working with states but also can circumvent states hostile to their interests in favor of states friendly to their interests.”16 Thus, the merchant classes are ultimately parasitical upon, and oftentimes parasitoid to, the world-empires which they interconnect, their interests oftentimes imperil the interests of one or another imperial assemblage, while they nevertheless rely upon and are beholden to nation-states as such.

Peter Blau argues that “reciprocated benefactions create social bonds among peers, whereas unreciprocated ones produce differentiation of status.”17 In other words, reciprocality characterizes lateral and autonomous Exchange, whereas non-reciprocality characterizes vertical and heteronomous Exchange; the former, lateral or autonomous Exchange, pertains to inter-group and intra-group cohesion, “to establish bonds of friendship,”18 whereas the latter, vertical or heteronomous Exchange, pertains to ruling covenants, relations of domination and power, “to establish subordination over others.”19 There are, moreover, two competing historical interests for control over so-called 'noble,' non-reciprocal, exchange, who are both bound up with forms of territorialization and the interests of control over a given space: the bureaucrat and the aristocrat, the functionaries of the despot and the lineal chiefs. The interests of the merchants are more ably served by a functionary class than they are by a dissociated series of powerful clans, and so they aid and contribute to the endeavor to transform one into the other, while simultaneously opposing the interests of both. The bourgeoisie deterritorializes the feudal in order that it might enter into a relationship of deterritorialization and reterritorialization with the bureaucracy of a unified imperial assemblage, whose function is not beholden to the whim and caprice of this or that petty warlord. Similarly, there are two competing interests for control over what is viewed to be advantageous: on the one hand the bourgeoisie, who believes what is advantageous is the endless accumulation of capital, and the proletariat, on the other, who believe that what is advantageous is the supersession and transcendence of this endless accumulation. The form of reciprocal exchange bequeathed to it by the emergent bourgeoisie need not be understood to be culminate, in other words, and the alternative to a despotic armature which dominates society need not be merely a return to clan-based lineage structures, peripheral langour and aristocratic stagnation. 

Plekhanov writes in Art and Social Life that, after the revolutions of 1848, the emergent bourgeoisie, who had not considered the proletariat capable of independent machination, came to be “infinitely more cognisant of the import of the struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat”20 and that this exercised a degenerative influence on their art. The French realists, he suggests, “lost the faculty for calm scientific investigation of social phenomenon,”21 insofar as they “fail[ed] to realise that the actions, inclinations, tastes and habits of mind of social man cannot be adequately explained by physiology or pathology, since they are determined by social relationships.”22 Thus, whereas Russian realism depicted the causal system by which individual inclinations are determined, the “great whole,”23 French realism, by way of contrast, “had landed in a blind alley and had nothing left but to relate once more the love affair of the first chance wine-merchant and the first chance grocery woman,”24 which became “uninteresting, boring, even revolting.”25 Falling back on an earlier romanticism, which, as Plekhanov explains, had rebelled against the social mores, conventions, and styles of the emergent bourgeois, but not its social system, the so-called realists became mired in a profoundly unrealistic pursuit, that of valorizing the most elemental individual relationships which had given rise to their social system of organization, i.e. fascination, novelty, presentation and surface. The extent to which they emphasized these elemental individual relations betrayed their real intent, to defend, rather than challenge, the social system of the emergent bourgeoisie. Thus it is wholly legitimate for the early socialists, and Marx himself, to have been wary of any undue fixation and fetishization of the individual relationships of Commodity-Exchange, given their function was to obscure the social system that gave rise to such elemental, and partial, social relations.

The State in its historical emergence and development determines and fixes signification in the last instance, but in the modern period it is given to renting the construction and enforcement of meaning out to the highest bidder. Ambiguity of meaning, semantic indeterminacy, is a political good, but whereas the construction of meaning ought to be pursued in societies as a scientific endeavor, it is all too often a cheap State auction, and this is the very business of sophistry. The bureaucrat is an economic sophist, whose function in the modern period is to mediate and reterritorialize the exploitation of Living-Labour by the owners of the means of production and exchange, it adjudicates meaning, but with an oftentimes seething indifference to truth and rationality. Thibault calls this “a slide from the correctly differential and analogue conception of the system of pure values to one which projects categories from the dominant mode of economic and social production onto the system.”26

“It is not a matter of a script that engenders all semiotic organization, but of the appearance – datable in history – of writing machines as a basic tool for the great despotic empires.”

Felix Guattari, Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics (New York: Penguin, 1984), 75.

Guattari writes that “linguists have been over-hasty in assimilating Hjemslev's distinction between expression and content with Saussure's distinction between the signifier and what is signified.”27 He argues rather that whereas Hjemslev's distinction presumes no Signifying Semiotic, Saussure's does, and thus they are not merely describing the same systems using different terms; Hjelmslev's distinction allows for “semiotics which are, precisely, not based on the bi-polarity of the signified and the signifier,”28 whereas Saussure's does not. Thus Guattari distinguishes “semiotically formed substances”29 and “non-semiotic encodings,”30 and suggests that the superiority of Hjemselv's linguistic analytic is in its capacity to interpret, and produce, the latter. The manifest effect upon the collective unconscious of a Signifying Semiotic is paramount here “not because it relates back to an archytpal written language, but because it manifests the premanence of a despotic significance which, though arising out of particular historical conditions, can none the less continue to develop and extend its effects into other conditions.”31 It is the State which fixes Signification, which “by a tremendous retroactive effort. . . seems to make all semiotics originate from the signifier.”32

“Flows must be credited and given meaning, which is a process Deleuze and Guattari refer to as coding. Codes are not simply applied to flows; rather, they reciprocally determine one another: no flow can be understood without its code. Codes operate through signs or signifying chains (chaines signifantes), via inscription or recording, although these signs do not represent or signify; they merely 'fix' the flows. . . Codes ensure that flows coagulate within a particular social configuration or form. The specific forms these codings take define different historical systems of ownership and power.”

Nigel Dodd, The Social Life of Money (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), 229-230.

Guattari writes that “all stratifications of power produce and impose signification,”33

Gary Genosko writes that, for Guattari, linguistic arbitrariness, the divorce or separation of Sign from resemblance, is “a political form of the reproduction of established power through officially sanctioned expression/content packets (a lesson repeatedly drummed into one's head about accepting the dominant codes and adapting to them).”34

Guattari is explicit, “writing machines are essentially linked to the setting-up of State power machines.”35

“The dialectic of signifier and signified gives rise to stratified semiotic forms.”

Paul Thibault, Re-reading Saussure: The Dynamics of Signs in Social Life (London: Routledge, 1997), 194.

Both Guattari and Karatani provide a genealogy and exposure of the processes by which dominant Signification came to be structured in the way that it is, presenting itself as natural and without origin. For both, the emergence of vernacular literature is inextricably bound up with the emergence of the nation-state. Karatani calls these processes, collectively, the “inversion of semiotic constellation which makes transcription possible.”36 By this he means the process by which Signification emerges and becomes the dominant reference point from which all systems and enunciations are interpreted, which invents an interiority corresponding to the exteriority of the Nation-State and “transforms our mode of perception.”37 Karatani is, in other words, articulating a political ontology of the Sign, the history of “a political failure, whose origins had been forgotten, and which had come to function as that which erased politics.”38 He locates this failure, in Japan's case, in the 1890s, the third decade of the Meiji period, but notes that this semiotic inversion merely presents in an accelerated form the same processes which had occurred elsewhere over a longer period of time.

Language is to speech as the State is to exchange; homogeneity's relationship with heterogeneity as manifest in different social functions. For Saussure linguistics is the study of a system of signification, whereas for Hjemslev and Charles Sanders Peirce, linguistics is the study of a concrete existence of expressive and social interrelations, into which such a system of signfication was historically interposed; such a system, in other words, constitutes an object of analysis for Hjemslev and Pierce, whereas it is analysis as such in Saussure's framework. As Paul Thibault writes, “this 'suppression' is, of course, a consequence of the methodological decision to privilege the system of pure values, or langue.”39 Saussurean linguistics fails to interrogate its own conditions of existence and methodological precepts, its irreducible expectation and presupposition of the signification system, rendering this system opaque as an object of analysis in and of itself, obscuring its historical contingency. Saussure's linguistics is fundamentally linguistics from the standpoint of, and determined by, Commodity-Exchange and its particular historical conditons, i.e. world-economy and the capitalist modes of production and exchange. Thibault argues that Saussure “unconsciously projected the categories of the dominant mode of economic production onto the social organization of langue.”40

Semiology is the study of the system of the distinctions between, and historical interaction of, divergent semiotics; whereas semiotics as a form of analysis itself has no means of expressing the multiplicity of concrete social semiotics. Barthes writes that “a system is arbitrary when its signs are founded not by convention, but by unilateral decision,”41 but it is in fact the opposite; signification by convention, or immanent exchange communication, is arbitrary, insofar as the analogical relation between two or more relata would be determined by the spontaneous social innovation of speech; whereas unilaterally determined signification is non-arbitrary but rather intentional, oriented towards a priori ends which signification is meant to achieve.

“Value bears a close relation to the notion of the language (as opposed to speech); its effect is to depsychologize linguistics and to bring it closer to economics; it is therefore central to structural linguistics.” 

Roland Barthes, Elements of Semiology tr. Annette Lavers and Colin Smith (New York: Hill and Wang, 1967), 54.

“Language is the domain of articulations, and the meaning is above all a cutting-out of shapes.”

Roland Barthes, Elements of Semiology tr. Annette Lavers and Colin Smith (New York: Hill and Wang, 1967), 57.

1 Pierre Klossowski, Living Currency tr. Jordan Levinson (New York: Anti-Concept, 2012), 29.

2 Jean Baudrillard, The Mirror of Production tr. Mark Poster (St. Louis: Telos, 1975), 17.

3 Immanuel Wallerstein, World-Systems Analysis: An Introduction (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006), 17.

4 Fernand Braudel, Civilization & Capitalism 15th-18th Century Vol II: The Wheels of Commerce tr. Siân Reynolds (London: Collins, 1983), 582.

5 Felix Guattari, Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics (New York: Penguin, 1984), 246.

6 Ibid.

7 Fernand Braudel, Civilization & Capitalism 15th-18th Century Vol II: The Wheels of Commerce tr. Siân Reynolds (London: Collins, 1983), 589.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid, 590.

13 Ibid, 595.

14 Ibid, 593.

15 Immanuel Wallerstein, World-Systems Analysis: An Introduction (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006), 24.

16 Immanuel Wallerstein, World-Systems Analysis: An Introduction (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006), 24.

17 Peter Blau, Exchange and Power in Social Life (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1964), 8.

18 Ibid, 89.

19 Ibid.

20 G. V. Plekhanov, Unadressed Letters: Art and Social Life (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing, 1957), 183.

21 Ibid.

22 Ibid.

23 Ibid.

24 Ibid.

25 Ibid.

26 Paul Thibault, Re-reading Saussure: The Dynamics of Signs in Social Life (London: Routledge, 1997), 201.

27 Felix Guattari, Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics (New York: Penguin, 1984), 74.

28 Felix Guattari, Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics (New York: Penguin, 1984), 74.

29 Felix Guattari, Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics (New York: Penguin, 1984), 74.

30 Felix Guattari, Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics (New York: Penguin, 1984), 74.

31 Felix Guattari, Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics (New York: Penguin, 1984), 75.

32 Felix Guattari, Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics (New York: Penguin, 1984), 75.

33 Felix Guattari, Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics (New York: Penguin, 1984), 168.

34 Gary Genosko, “Guattari's Contribution to the Theory of Semiocapitalism” in The Guattari Effect ed. Eric Alliez and Andrew Goffey (London: Continuum, 2011), 120.

35 Felix Guattari, Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics (New York: Penguin, 1984), 75.

36 Kojin Karatani, Origins of Modern Japanese Literature tr. Brett de Bary (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993), 61.

37 Kojin Karatani, Origins of Modern Japanese Literature tr. Brett de Bary (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993), 27.

38 Kojin Karatani, Origins of Modern Japanese Literature tr. Brett de Bary (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993), 188.

39 Paul Thibault, Re-reading Saussure: The Dynamics of Signs in Social Life (London: Routledge, 1997), 188.

40 Paul Thibault, Re-reading Saussure: The Dynamics of Signs in Social Life (London: Routledge, 1997), 202.

41 Roland Barthes, Elements of Semiology tr. Annette Lavers and Colin Smith (New York: Hill and Wang, 1967), 51.