Rhizomes_ Issue 11_12_ Rosi Braidotti

Rhizomes_ Issue 11_12_ Rosi Braidotti
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  Rhizomes » Issue 11/12 (Fall 2005/Spring 2006) » Rosi Braidotti Affirming the Affirmative: On Nomadic Affectivity [1] Rosi Braidotti Introduction [1] This paper argues that affect and desire as an ontological passions play a central role in Deleuze and Guattari's philosophicalintervention. The political economy of this kind of affectivity, however, is linked to a neo-vitalist brand of anti-essentialist bodilymaterialism. This approach is openly critical of the linguistic paradigm of mediation which has been dominant in postmodern thoughtand especially in the North American reception of French post-structuralism. Nomadic affectivity is outward-bound and based oncomplex relations with a multiplicity of others, including non-human others. The kind of ethics that sustains this project is Spinozistin its materialist foundations and productive in its political economy. As such, it could not be further removed from the dialectics of Lack, Law and Signifier which have dominated Lacanian psychoanalysis, Derridian deconstruction and the queer theories that relyon these schemes of thought. Beyond the cult of the inorganic [2] My first argument concerns the reception of Deleuze & Guattari in the present context of the end of postmodernism. This begsthe question, of course, of what exactly comes after postmodernism, but I cannot get into this discussion here. Although fromseveral quarters the end of postmodernism is currently being celebrated, some of the postmodern conceptual and cultural habitsare still very much in circulation. Not the least of them is the cult of the inorganic, the celebration of the sublimely fake and thepurposefully inauthentic. This provides one of the frameworks of reception of Deleuze and Guattari's work, as some sort of kings of queer artifice at the tail end of the linguistic turn of postmodernism.[3] One discursive area where this is evidenced is in the hasty renditions of the digital web as rhizome. This establishes aconvergence between the hype surrounding the new digital media and information technologies and the philosophy of GillesDeleuze. Technology is at the heart of a process of blurring fundamental categorical divides between self and other; a sort of heteroglossia of the species, a colossal hybridisation which combines cyborgs, monsters, insects and machines into a powerfullyposthuman approach to what we used to call 'the embodied subject'.[4] Moreover, the political economy of global capitalism consists in multiplying and distributing differences for the sake of profit. Itproduces ever-shifting waves of genderisation and sexualisation, racialisation and naturalisation of multiple 'others'. It has thuseffectively disrupted the traditional dialectical relationship between the empirical referents of Otherness – women, natives andanimal or earth others – and the processes of discursive formation of genderisation/racialisation/naturalisation. Once this dialecticalbond is unhinged, advanced capitalism looks like a system that promotes feminism without women, racism without races, naturallaws without nature, reproduction without sex, sexuality without genders, multiculturalism without ending racism, economic growthwithout development, and cash flow without money. Late capitalism also produces fat-free ice creams and alcohol-free beer next togenetically modified health food, companion species alongside computer viruses, new animal and human immunity breakdownsand deficiencies, and the increased longevity of these who inhabit the advanced world. Welcome to capitalism as schizophrenia![5] Considering the perversity of this political economy, I would recommend that we resist quick assimilations of, for instance,Deleuzian machines as metaphors for advanced technologies. The machinic for Deleuze is yet another figuration that expressesthe non-unitary, radically materialist and dynamic structure of subjectivity. It expresses the subject's capacity for multiple, non-linear and outward-bound inter-connections with a number of external forces and others. This model of inter-relations works as well inDeleuze and Guattari's many references to animals, plants, viruses and to the chaosmos as a whole. It is about multiple alliances,symbiotic connections and fusions. There is something raw and territorial about the machinic, something that connects each livingbeing to the earth, and to the living environment at some fundamental level. The mutual inter-dependences and productive mergersof forces are at the heart of Deleuze's notion of creative becomings. What the 'machinic' element is expressing is the directness, Iwould say the literal-ness of the relations between forces, agents, sites and locations of subjectivity. This is supposed to challengethe dominant paradigm of linguistic mediation, with the twin forces of representation and interpretation which have dominated our   images of what it means to be a subject. Signals replace signs, expression replaces representation and codes replaceinterpretation. The machinic expresses the impersonal, or intra-personal intensive resonances between the multiple levels of inter-connections that make living beings tick.[6] This has nothing in common with the fantasies of cybernetic omnipotence that dominate the popular imaginary about body-machines today (Braidotti, 2002). The ideology of those who desire to be wired and who see the Internet as the experimentalgrounds for allegedly heterogeneous experiments with alternative subject-positions is integral to the political economy of bio-technological capitalism. This is to the antipodes of the Deleuzian project.[7] The implications for gender, sexuality and sexual difference are no less momentous. The 'machinic' in contemporary culture is ahighly eroticised space which conveys a trans-sexual social imaginary that I consider dominant in advanced capitalism. In so far ascontemporary intelligent machines blur the boundaries between self and others and thus displace fundamental axes of differentiation, they lend themselves to becoming symbols of transgression, also in terms of sexual and gendered identity. For instance, in a text called 'Birth of the Cyberqueer' Morton (1999) takes Deleuze and Guattari's body-machines or Bodies-without-Organs as a space of sexual deregulation where anything goes: the machine is taken as signalling a non-Oedipalised and non-normalised sexuality. I find this approach unconvincing on two scores- the first is political: Deleuze and Guattari are prominentcritics of the cybernetic individualism which shapes our political culture. The multiplication of sexual options, in a scale of infinitedegrees of quantitative pluralities – a thousand little sexes each with their own club, music, hair and clothes-styles and drug type- is just another variation on the theme of consumerism that defines capitalist culture. That advanced capitalism thrives by selling life-styles and brands of identity is by now an evidence that is staring us in the eyes. Multiple queer identities fit in perfectly with thislogic of Quantitative proliferations of the self. The perverse alliance between cyber-ideology and hyper-individualism lies at the coreof the cyber-queer phenomenon and it promotes a fiction of terminal identity (Bukatman, 1993) which has nothing in common withDeleuze and Guattari's project of radical immanence and machinic symbiosis and autopoiesis.[8] The second objection is conceptual and follows on from the first: Deleuze is critical of mere quantitative multiplications or pluralities. He sees them as one of the traits of advanced capitalism. He focuses instead on qualitative differences, multiplicities,impersonalities, which form the core of his transformative ethics. I shall return to this later in the article. The return of real bodies [9] I would like to re-focus the discussion on Deleuze's project by starting from the return of 'real bodies' and real materiality at theend of postmodernism. There is definitely a conservative side to this phenomenon, which has led the neo-liberal thinkers(Fukuyama, 2002) to celebrate 'neo-realism' and the return of fundamental moral values. I tend to see these conservativedevelopments rather in terms of the return of master-narratives on the debris of postmodernism. They boil down to two mainrecurrent themes: on the one hand the triumph of market economies as the historically dominant form of human evolution and onthe other genetic determinism under the authority of the DNA and the capital value of the Human genome (Franklin, Stacey andLury, 2000).[10] In contemporary debates about cultural studies, media and especially new digital media, as well as social and political theory,there is a tendency to push Deleuze & Guattari in the corner of cultivated artificiality, cyber-driven queerness and posthumanistthought. In opposition to this view, I want to argue that they are actually major materialist and vitalist thinkers with a strong ethicalproject in creating social horizons of hope and sustainable change. Moreover, I will explore to what extent their brand of vitalism isnon-essentialist and anti-teleological.[11] In this regard, as I have argued elsewhere (Braidotti, 2002), Deleuze can be read alongside the new science of today, not onlyin the sense of maths and physics (see respectively Arkady Plotnitsky and Manuel de Landa), but also alongside the new biology.More specifically I see clear resonances between Deleuze and the non-anthropocentric epistemologies of Haraway (1997) andMargulis and Sagan (1995). There is also a common root that connects Deleuze and Guattari to all monistic philosophies thatassume one living matter, in the mode of a 'nature culture continuum' (Haraway 1997) or of the mutual imbrications of mind andbody. The latter is currently taking different forms: from emphasising the embodiment of the mind, in the neo-phenomenologicaltradition (Sobchack, 1995); in feminist Spinozism (Gatens and Lloyd, 1999); in ecological activist thought (Shiva, 1997), as well asin the neurological and cognitive sciences (Wilson, 1998). It can also take the form of stressing, however, the 'embrainment of matter' [2] in the sense of a return to Bergson's notion of creative evolution (Grosz, 2005),or non-deterministic visions of evolutionas well as in the directions taken by contemporary genomics research and molecular biology. The idea of the intelligence and themobility of matter contrasts the century-old philosophical tradition that reduces matter to immobility and defines intelligence as thelife ( bios )–force that produces movement. In opposition to this equation, rhizomatic thought supports an idea of evolution of the non-deterministic, non-linear and non-teleological kind. In my reading, it is connected to the processes of becoming-others, in the senseof relating, hence of affecting and being affected.[12] In this respect, both the figuration of the cyborg and the cyber-imaginary that supports it can be seen and, to a certain extent,dismissed today as dominant modes of representation. They are powerfully active throughout the social fabric and in all the modesof cultural representation prompted by our culture at present. Claudia Springer (1991) argues that this discourse celebrating theunion of humans and electronic technology is currently circulating with equal success among the scientific community as in popular culture. The work of Haraway is of far greater relevance to rhizomic philosophy than has been acknowledged so far. The cyborg asa technologically-enhanced body-machine is the dominant social and discursive figuration for the interaction between the humanand the technological in post-industrial societies. It is also a living or active, materially embedded cartography of the kind of power-relations that are operative in the post-industrial social sphere. Bukatman argues that this projection of the physical self into an  artificial environment feeds into a dream of terminal identity outside the body, a sort of 'cybersubject' (Bukatman, 1993) that feedsinto the new age fantasies of cosmic redemption via technology. New age spirituality or techno-mysticism forms part of this trend(Bryld and Lykke, 1999).[13] I find that a rather complex kind of relationship has emerged in the cyber universe which we inhabit, one in which the linkbetween the flesh and the machine is symbiotic and therefore can best be described as a bond of mutual dependence. Thisengenders some significant paradoxes, especially when it comes to the human body. The corporeal site of subjectivity issimultaneously denied, in a fantasy of escape, and strengthened or re-enforced. Balsamo stresses the paradoxical concomitance of effects surrounding the new posthuman bodies: even as techno-science provides the realistic possibility of replacement bodyparts, its also enables a fantastic dream of immortality and control over life and death. And yet, such beliefs about the technologicalfuture 'life' of the body are complemented by a palpable fear of death and annihilation from uncontrollable and spectacular body-threats: antibiotic-resistant viruses, random contamination, flesh-eating bacteria (Balsamo 1996: 1-2). [14] Both viruses and bacteria are central, for instance, to the work of Luciana Parisi (1994a; 1994b), who is inspired by Guattarieven more than by Deleuze. Parisi, a disciple of Margulis, focuses on molecular becomings and new forms of transversalsubjectivity. I shall return to Parisi later. Does Deleuze offer a posthuman theory ? [15] The answer to this question is negative if the posthuman is understood in the vulgar commonsense understanding of thehyped, the neo-liberal celebration of the fake, the inauthentic, the wilfully constructed and sublimely artificial. The answer is positivehowever, if it points in the less lazy-minded sense of re-configuring the extended inhuman, cosmic span of possible becomings.This is the direction of neo-materialism and a renewed concern for the corporeal structure of the subject (Ansell Pearson, 1997).[16] The crucial aspect of Deleuze & Guattari's thought I would want to stress here concerns the extent to which their entirephilosophical enterprise constitutes an attack on identity. Not on any one identity, but on the very concept of identity, with the inbuiltlogic of recognition of sameness and dualistic relocation of otherness, which has been operational since Plato's time (Boundas andOlkowski, 1994; Olkowski, 1999). The self, or the individual is the modern variation on this identitarian theme, which has been put inplace in the age of modernisation and industrialisation (Deleuze and Guattari, 1972; 1980). Deleuze builds and expands uponFoucault's archaeology of the modern subject of 'bio-power' but goes much further conceptually. He replaces the old subjectformation with a notion of the subject as a cluster of complex and intensive forces – intensive assemblages which connect andinter-relate with others in a variety of ways. The crucial shift here concerns the inhuman or posthuman vision of what exactlyconstitutes an assemblage. The French ' agencement  ' renders this much better with its sense of an ex-centric, non-anthropocentricform of agency.[17] This posthuman approach is primarily due to Deleuze and Guattari's rejection of two residues of the old dialectics of Lack,which they see as still operating in modern thought. The first residue of the negativity built into the psychoanalytic vision of desire aslack, and the subject as subjected to lack, law and the power of the linguistic signifier. Nothing could be further removed fromDeleuze's theory of desire than this negative reading of human affectivity. The 'noble' side of this vision concerns a politicaleconomy of affects such as mourning and melancholia, which I consider as a dominant ideology in capitalist culture.[18] My exchanges with Judith Butler on this issue have been published and commented on [3], so I do not wish to repeat them here. Suffice it to say that I am not at all convinced by Butler's assertion of her deep alliance with Spinoza. It does indeed comedown to affects and how they frame our vision of the subject. The conatus as pure affirmative affectivity, however, has nothing toshare with the logic of irreparable loss, unpayable debt and perpetual mourning, which is at the core of the psychoanalytic anddeconstructive ethics that Butler espouses. It is also a very central concern for Derrida's work on mourning, based to a large extenton both Levinas and Blanchot. In contrast to this tradition, however noble and even aristocratic, I read Deleuze & Guattari as neo-vitalists who affirm the force of the affirmative and posit an ethics based on the transformation of negative into positive passions.[19] The subject is but a force among forces, capable of variations of intensities and inter-connections and hence of becomings.These processes are territorially-bound, externally oriented and more than human in span and application. I am not saying this is aspirit of conceptual purity, as nothing could be further removed from my hybrid nomadic habits. It is rather of great importance to usall that we do not mistake Deleuze's call for active dis-obedience on the anti-Oedipal model for conceptual confusion and theoreticalanarchy. Deleuze is an extremely rigorous thinker – the greatest of his generation and a towering figure in world thought. The leastwe can do to do justice to his work is to be as careful with our readings as he was with his writings. The best way to explore thisdifference between Deleuze and the linguistically-based thinkers of difference like Lacan and Derrida is to look at their respectivephilosophies of time. Divergent temporalities are at work: psychoanalysis is caught in the backward-looking authority of the past. Letus think, for instance, of the role of memories in the constitution of neuroses and, through the necessary mechanisms of repression,of the subject itself. The hysteric is per definition the one who suffers from unsustainable memories. Rhizomic thought, on the other hand, is future-bound and relies on a revised version of the Bergsonian continuous present in order to sustain a vision of desire asplenitude, affirmation and becoming (Grosz, 2004).[20] Consequently, whereas contemporary culture tends to react to the queer cyber-world according to the double-pull I havecriticised, on the one hand the hype and on the other hand the nostalgia, I would plea for a more 'passionately distant' approach. Ithink that a form of neo-materialist appreciation of the body would be helpful here, to think through the kind of techno-teratologicaluniverse we are inhabiting. Rethinking the embodied structure of human subjectivity requires an ethics of lucidity, as well as powersof innovation and creativity (Hayles, 1999). I wish to avoid references to the paradigms of human nature (be it biological, psychic or   genetic essentialism) while taking fully into account the fact that bodies have indeed become techno-cultural constructs immersed innetworks of complex, simultaneous and potentially conflicting power-relations. I do not want to fall, however, into either moralrelativism or the suspension of ethical judgement, nor do I wish to reduce ethics to a process of mourning and melancholia.[21] I would define this approach as a nomadic evolutionary thought which contrasts openly with contemporary bio-technologicaldeterminism. What comes especially under scrutiny in this perspective is not only the hyper-individualism, but also the anthropo-centrism that is in-built in so much evolutionary, biological, scientific and philosophical thought. Radically immanent philosophicalnomadism, on the other hand, sponsors a subject that is composed of external forces, of the non-human, inorganic or technologicalkind. It is territorially based, and thus environmentally bound. The 'machinic' in Deleuze's thought refers to this dynamic process of unfolding subjectivity outside the classical frame of the anthropocentric humanistic subject, re-locating it into becomings and fieldsof composition of forces and becomings. It is auto-poiesis at work as a qualitative shifter, not merely as a quantitative multiplier.[22] This is as far removed from the advanced capitalist hype about technology as the future of humanity as can be. The latter constitutes an all-pervasive master-narrative of flight from the human embodied self, into the fake transcendence of a machine thatstrikes me as molar, Oedipalising, despotic and exploitative. It is against this social imaginary of techno-transcendence that I wantto argue for a more dissipative, eroticised and flowing interaction between the human and the bio-techno-logical of thenomadological kind. An ethics of radical immanence [23] The model of the posthuman body proposed by the brand of nomadism I am defending is symbiotic inter-dependence. Thispoints to the co-presence of different elements, from different stages of evolution, like inhabiting different time-zonessimultaneously. The human organism is neither wholly human, as a person, nor just an organism. It is an abstract machine,radically immanent, which captures, transforms and produces inter-connections. The power of such an organism is certainly neither contained nor confined to consciousness, nor does it coincide with the deliberately fake and the self-ironically un-natural. If anything, Deleuze and Guattari's philosophy, resting on a Spinozist ontology, makes all living beings, including the human subjects,very much 'part of nature', as Genevieve Lloyd put it (1994).[24] Shaviro (1995) describes this shift in terms of a new paradigm: we are at the end of the post-nuclear model of embodiedsubjectivity and we have entered the 'viral' or 'parasitic' mode. This is a graphic way of explaining the extent to which today's bodyis immersed in a set of technologically mediated practices of prosthetic extension. Read with Deleuze, this mode is anything butnegative. It expresses in fact the co-extensivity of the body with its environment or territory, which as you may remember is one of the salient features of the 'becoming-animal'. A body is a portion of forces life-bound to the environment that feeds it. All organismsare collective and inter-dependent. Parasites and viruses are hetero-directed: they need other organisms. Admittedly, they relate tothem as incubators or hosts, releasing their genetically encoded message with evident glee. The virus/parasite constitutes a modelof a symbiotic relationship that defeats binary oppositions. It is a simulacrum that duplicates itself to infinity without anyrepresentational pretensions. As such it is an inspiring model for a nomadic eco-philosophy.[25] The point of convergence of these different discourses and practices of bodily materialism is that the human body is fullyimmersed in systems of reception and processing of information, that which emanates from its genetic structures, as much as thatwhich is relayed by satellites and wired circuits throughout the advanced world. As Hurley (1995) points out, however, thesignificant thing about posthuman bodies is not only that they occupy the spaces in between what is between the human and themachines, that is to say a dense materiality. Posthuman bodies are also surprisingly generative, in that they stubbornly andrelentlessly reproduce themselves. The terms of their reproduction are slightly off-beat by good old human standards in that theyinvolve animal, insect, and inorganic models. In fact they represent a whole array of possible alternative morphologies and 'other'sexual and reproductive systems. The paradigm of cancerous proliferation of cells is mentioned as an example of this mindless self-duplicating capacity of generative/viral life. Critics like Halberstam and Livingston are quick to point out how this generative disorder in contemporary molecular biology and genetics is both echoed and implemented by the everyday 'gender trouble' that is going onin societies where sexed identities and organic functions are in a state of flux.[26] Consequently, the posthuman body (Halberstam and Livingston, 1995) is not merely split or knotted or in process: it is shotthrough with technologically mediated social relation. It has undergone a meta(l)morphosis and is now positioned in the spaces in-between the traditional dichotomies, including the body-machine binary opposition. In other words, it has become historically,scientifically and culturally impossible to distinguish bodies from their technologically mediated extensions. Halberstam andLivingston conclude:Queer, cyborg, metametazoan, hybrid, PWA; bodies-without-organs, bodies-in-process, virtual bodies: inunvisualizable amniotic indeterminacy, and unfazed by the hype of their always premature and redundantannunciation, posthuman bodies thrive in the mutual deformations of totem and taxonomy (1995: 19)One of the consequences of this shift of perspective away from anthropo-centrism concerns the limitations of liberal individualismas a point of reference for the discussion of the proliferation of discourses about bios/zoe . An emphasis on the unitary subject of possessive individualism is a hindrance, rather than assistance, in addressing the complexities of our posthuman condition. Twocore objections have emerged to it: one targets its deeply seated anthropocentrism, and the other its universalism. Theposthumanism of social and cultural critics working within a Western perspective can be set alongside the form of neo-humanism,shared by a number of contemporary social critics working within race, post-colonial or non-Western perspectives. It is neither aquestion of flattening out structural differences, nor of drawing facile analogies, but rather of practicing the politics of location. Bio-
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