Notes on: Braidotti, R (nd).  Lecture given online to the Deleuze and Guattari in Africa Conference.

Dave Harris

The stress will be on affirmation.  This looks an unlikely topic given widespread political conflict and oppression, but we need to think affirmatively, and to pursue the ethical and political implications.

Deleuze's practice can be seen as based on his notion of immanence rather than transcendence.  The two concepts divided French thinkers, with Foucault, Canguilhem, Bachelard and Spinoza on one side, and Levinas, Derrida and Kant on the other.  The immanent faces a paradox in that it is embedded in the very terms and conditions of which the thinker needs to be critical, and faces particular problems formulating sustainable alternatives.  It is better, however, in supporting resistance p[because alternative systems are immanent in the same conditions etc].  The position argues that we are ourselves based on the need to grasp the problems that locate us, rather than turning to any external points or perspective from which to launch critique.  There is an inherent relation between critique and creation in the approach.  This is seen in What is Philosophy, in the argument that there are parallels between art, science and philosophy, and in the stress on affirmative affects, including passions and ethical implications.

There is a link with the feminist politics of location, grounded activism.  Location is seen as offering embedded and embodied 'counter memories' to oppose dominant conceptions.  Locations offer a materialist site for the coproduction of subjectivity.  This grounds power relations.  Location therefore relates to memory as well as to particular spaces, and memory can be seen to embody the locations of belonging: something intergenerational, even interspecies if we except that DNA is a kind of memory.  Freud also appointed to the importance of unconscious memories, memories of things which are not even personal.  This means we can remember injustices that have happened to other people, and this is a part of belonging and of wanting to think critically, a whole ecology of belonging.

Deleuze reads Bergson on memory, and gets from Foucault the idea of power as both negative and positive, and as multiply located: we can therefore develop a cartography of power.  Counter memories provide a basic source of resistance to the [claimed self sufficiency and universalism] of present circumstances.

Actual concrete power locations also have an immanent dimension.  This has led Deleuze and others to a particular critique of the dialectic, and to the rejection of a pejorative notion of difference.  [Although this has general ontological implications for both reality and philosophy], we can see this better in social and human relations.  [At the general philosophical level first] instead of the usual critique of the self/other dialectic, for example, Deleuze offers us a monism, and he wants to assert the positivity [and ubiquity] of difference [seen best in Difference and Repetition].  At the social level, the dialectic always seems to be used to support hierarchies, where the different is somehow inferior.  This comes out with Deleuze and Guattari [for example in 
Thousand Plateaus - eg chapter 9] arguing that 'Man' becomes the standard majoritarian category against which others are judged as inferior: this can clearly support a range of oppressive policies from Nazism to colonialism.  Spivak has called this 'epistemic violence'.  It is clear that radical politics has often drawn support from these 'others of modernity' and this is brought about a crisis in the subject, and new becomings of minorities.  Critics have used cartographies of power aimed at the very categories in use, the notion of the human, for example, and this has resulted in affirmative alternative subjectivities  - a multi layered, nomadic, productive affirmation.

The monist ontology sees matter itself as intelligent, and self organizing.  It draws from Spinoza rather than Hegel, and much support for this was introduced by the book by Macherey [Hegel or Spinoza, I think].  After this book, Spinoza became popular even with Althusserians [see for example Althusser].  The approach offers what Deleuze calls a univocity of Being, where matter 'modulates' [producing 'modes', or types of matter, eventually -- organs and entities] similarly, the subjective is a source of positivity for Spinoza, through his use of the term conatus [deployed by Bourdieu as well, wherein mean something like the tendency of human beings to dynamically reproduce social conditions].  For Spinoza conatus means an ontological drive to express human capacity, desire in the broad sense, pursuing that freedom provided by what a body can do.  The body here should be seen as a relational, full entity, and not like the material residue once we have extracted cognition, as in Descartes.  Much conventional thought sees the negative aspects of social life overwhelming the positive ones, as in social contract theories which presuppose some innately violent mass of people.  Spinoza admired the liberal democracy he found in Holland. 

It is from Spinoza that Deleuze and Guattari derive the notion of the state as a mechanism of capture, something that reduces conatus [e.g. in Thousand Plateaus -- eg chapter 13].  Deleuze would not fully support the full Spinozan optimism of Negri and Hardt on the revolutionary potential of 'the multitude'[I am not so sure about Guattari though].

D and G's neo-materialist philosophy and their notion of a relational and ethical bond emerges from a position that says we are all made of the same matter, and change happens beyond the dialectic.  We are interrelated in multiple ways.  This includes relations with the environment, and is what prompted Guattari to write his work on ecosophy, [I haven't read this yet] proposing a relation between the psychological, the social and the natural.  This presupposes a collectively distributed consciousness, a relational bond which is not synthetic [in the kantian sense] but transversal {see Guattari's Chaosmosis on the therapeutic benefits of the transversal] .

We can find implications in the work on modern neuroscience especially Domasio [I've never read him, but he is all over the Web -- keen on the emotions, it seems]  who takes Spinoza as an influence.  Again the emphasis is on nomadic relational movements of becoming.  The subject is actualized by these relations, but it is more than just a performance.  We have to take an approach that 'dramatizes'[a reference to Deleuze's own comments on his method in Desert Islands?], to see the subject as actualized desire.  Critical theory therefore stresses not only the negative and oppositional - but also is well aware that it is impossible to abstract the self from the situation.  Ethically and politically we ourselves are part of the problems.  When we oppose capitalism, colonialism or patriarchy, we cannot do this from a position that abstract herself from the situation and adopt some external position.  We are ourselves part of the problems.  Foucault expressed very well some of the dilemmas on his promotion to an elite professorship - he wrote a paper on power to critique the professorial status of demi god, judge, legislator of truth, or kantian judge of thinking.  He promised to reveal the combinations of power and desire in professorial discourse, but then expressed an ethical obligation to reverse this critique, or rather move beyond it to become affirmative. [I think this is 'The Order of Discourse'].

There is a clear criticism of hegelian Marxism here.  Critical theory is right to focus on social injuries and pathologies, but it needs to reverse the position.  It cannot wait for some automatic dialectic to do so, but should attempt to transform social situations as a praxis, led by an ethics of affirmation.  Here, the ethical commitment to expand human capacity produces the politics.  We need to make this shift to affirmation if we want to make politics more than just a matter of radical posturing, and to commit ourselves to making an alternative.

Deleuze's admiration for [Melville's character] Bartleby, [in Essays]  and his persistent slogan 'I prefer not to' shows the stance to take, to maintain a critical distance, but not just to negate.  Nietzsche is also an important source on the negativity of the priest, the judge or the herd [and Deleuze also admires Artaud's stance on being done with the judgement of God - - again in Essays, for example ].  We want to encourage the desiring subject, desiring to extend their powers in a form of relationality, and this is the notion of affirmative empowerment is an ethical ideal.  Critical analysis should be aimed at developing the knowledge of modes of belonging [so that we can better choose the affirmative ones].  This offers a more direct [pragmatic for Guattari?] need to work with existing conditions.

This position is not oppositional in the conventional sense either [restricting politics to the parliamentary opposition for example?].  It is about new possible futures.  We should seek to bring into use what is so far unused, something which is [real but] not available in the present [this is why we need to investigate the virtual, including its possibilities which have not yet been realized].  This will require a collective mobilization of cognitive, affective and ethical thought.  We need to think of how to concretize possibilities, building a network, or constructing rhizomes.  We need new philosophical tools to increase the ability to analyse and implement possibilities.  This is what Spinoza argued would produce an 'adequate knowledge' of conditions [going beyond the merely empirical] to uncover the sources of what Foucault calls 'counter truths', the desire to actualize virtual possibilities.  We should not forget that non human others are crucial here as well.  Apparently Spinoza was much admired by early thinkers on Gaia.

There is a similarly dynamic view of affect, including its negative or traumatic powers.  Again, some psychotherapists have drawn implications from Spinoza  rather than Freud to argue that these negative aspects block and rigidify a creative process.  The point is to get people to learn to act again, to affirm.  This involves a break with conventional psychology and a break with identity politics.  Affects should be seen as depersonalized, more like a geometry of forces and power rather than human feelings.  We are talking here about a nomadic subject rather than the classic liberal one, the subject as a group, a multitude.  People need to be empowered to take on the negative aspects of the world the persuade them that they are incapable, inferior and so on.  This is where Nietzsche's 'will to power' can be seen as expressing the power of life itself [nothing to do with Nazis, Deleuze insists].  This power of life itself is what acts and we inhabit it [leading to lots of debate about whether Deleuze and Guattari are 'vitalists' --eg here]. 

The usual objections to this monist position are that it encourages passivity and acquiescence.  There is a clear danger of complicity with the present, with compromise.  We can see this for example when professors think that universities are autonomous, but really they are saturated by the market economy.  Incidentally, discussing professorialism would be a typical immanent to application.  Such accusations are behind the criticisms of Badiou, Hallward [apparently in Think Again, 2004]  and Zizek, although 'he is not a serious thinker'.  We know the dangers, for example when green capitalism is used to simply enhance corporate performance, or when climate change celebrities appear at Papal conferences.  Spinoza has also been condemned as a mystic, as interested in a rather aristocratic politics rather than tangling with the real brutalities of power.

These are caricatures, however.  Deleuze clearly addresses the danger of rhetoricians engaging in discussions of the 'beautiful soul' ignoring the brute realities of struggle [eg Preface to Difference and Repetition
(xviii)].  Radical immanence is supposed to provide a cartography of the immediate context.  We can then develop what Deleuze calls structures of differentiation, based on praxis to operationalize the virtual, and this will necessarily call for an ethics and politics.  Deleuze is producing an adequate cartography based on Foucault on power.  It is perfectly true that Thousand Plateaus is indeed widely read by management and even the military, and is found everywhere except in universities.  But this does not indicate a complicity with existing power.  It is widely read because it is the correct analysis of modern capitalism, much better than hegelian readings on the interrelationships of technology, territorialization, the speed of financial interventions and so on.  [But Zizek argues that the work is so general, abstract, philosophical and mystifying that it necessarily invites more concrete readings, and it is inevitable that the most powerful groups will get their readings in first.  Can anyone actually imagine a popular  audience for Thousand Plateaus?]. 

We can end with some points on subjectivity.  Deleuze and Guattari would disagree with people like Latour who want to see the human subject be made indistinguishable [from technical 'actants'].  It is a matter of analyzing the processes of subjectivation.  Again this is necessary for praxis, because we need to overturn the conditions leading to current passivity and pathology in order to release affirmative forces.  The key process here is becoming, which produces all sorts of disruptive actions opposing the over coding of capitalism.  Bergson's work again is important on the historical actualizations of virtual subjectivations.  Nietzsche provides the basis for the notion of the freedom that is to be extracted - it is not something natural.  Again we need to understand current conditions to liberate the affirmative aspects of subjectivity.

There are many examples inspired by this affirmative ethics, which cannot be pursued here.  In post colonialism for example, writers like Glisson have been working on indigenous epistemologies, ways of understanding the world which are properly 'other', not just 'other than 'European male conceptions.  He discusses the processes of Creolization [Guattari is rather good on how majority languages inevitably get Creolized].  He takes Bergson on time rather than adopting a conventional history.  He also challenges the notion that the original trauma of colonization continues to be the decisive event.  Then there is work on environmental theory, on the 'anthropocene'.  Monism here is very helpful in helping us think of multiple reconstructions of the ways of being human: one implication is for disability studies, another for radical pedagogy [apparently, she has contributed herself here], and another for the notion of new humanities, including digital humanities.  Overall, these are examples of how we now have dared to act to reverse power in a global here and now.

[By way of criticism: (1) I am not sure you can just equate what D&G describe as dynamic 'difference' with the usual social differences like those between straights and others. D&G identify differences in reality itself -- intensive and extensive differences between forces, events and assemblages. Same point applies to identifying becoming with belonging. (2) it is not just Negri and Hardt's optimism that is not supported, but Braidotti's optimism too? In particular, there are strong strains of individualist liberation, and liberation only in thought in D&G (more in D than G) -- and can G's practice in 'unblocking' the psychotic become an immediate political project?. (3) There may be no passivity and acquiecscence in D&G but there is an awful lot of caution, certainly not a simple affirmation. (4) Both Spinoza and D&G are acknowledged as having yielded different readings, including oppressive ones, but it is not enough just to propose an activist optimistic one instead of 'caricatures'. There are real ambiguities. Zizek's point about the vagueness and generality of the project inviting pro-capitalist readings cannot just be dismissed by attacking him ad hominem. (4) While we are here, Braidotti's account of Foucault's inaugural (if that is what she is referring to) is also a bit of a special reading according to my notes at least -- eg his 'affirmation' is not support for a vitalist politics but an acknowledge,ment that discourses have potentials as well as constraints?.

Overall,the whole piece could be read (unkindly) as 'special pleading' where people are being selectively read to support an already established feminist/queer/performative/posthuman/eco politics?]

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