On Performing the University of Disaster, Part Six
[The two-hour series finale.]
"Noology is confronted by counterthoughts, which are violent in their acts and discontinuous in their appearances, and whose existence is mobile in history. These are the acts of a 'private thinker,' as opposed to the public professor: Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, or even Shestov. Wherever they dwell, it is the steppe or the desert. They destroy images." — Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p.376
The number dances deliriously through the blank crevices of his mind: 255.
Again, from a blind light haze of white fog: 255, 255, 255 . . .
. . . 255, 007, 503, 22, three-eighths, n+1
He hasn't always worn the white hat.
The spy game has you playing both sides. It has you playing several sides: an agent is always playing this secret tango with governments and corporations and celebrities and madmen. Bond has had his share of violence and betrayal, of heartbreak and duplicity. Playing for Mother England, playing for revenge, playing for self, he's worn the black cap on more than one occasion. It has to be that way, right?
Critchley asks if there is a less heroic concept of the ethical subject. Well, you've found your man: Bond would double deal, give Q the slip or delude those Americans from the CIA. He would befriend women with ease in an ethical fashion uniquely his — for information, gratification or cover. And when they gave M that sex reassignment and he became a she? Boy! Bond had to recalibrate everything: lies became dame lies became statistics.
(On second thought, maybe his is instead a less ethical concept of the heroic subject?)
The Spy, too, has worn his fair share of black hats and white hats. He even wore a rainbow hat once, all the prismic spectrum of possibility between two poles of blindness manifest in the disguises of performativity. He sometimes expressed too much and at others not enough. Missteps and errors and dropped voicemail messages in the networks of lust and mistrust pulse the valent waves of contingency upon which we surf, after all.
He's fired a few shots at the King as well, some of them below the belt, some more or less public than the others — which is to say that his license to kill moved fluidly between registers of dialogue and performance along the way. At times the shots were reactive and at others proactive, but this is only how they appeared when filed in the field reports. The shots were part of the process, emergent from the flux that is the University of Disaster. It was just a game, was it not?
Did one rise to the occasion?
"Let them eat cake," the Queen said to the King in her princely fashion. "Eat dessert first and the wine shall flow freely in the streets of Old Budapest."
A pedagogy of discipline
The Spy has been on the receiving end of a few shots as well. Sprayed fire and more precise snipes, silenced reports, hollow points made, each piercing the flesh in more or less visceral fashion. Philosophy begins in disappointment, Critchley used to say — or as the Colonel would suggest in her own sawn-off fashion, truthing hurts. This is the way it is in a military apparatus, is it not?
And make no mistake, the University of Disaster clearly operates as an exemplar of the disciplinary institution. Its program is constructed as a rigorous timetable of briefing sessions and classified lectures designed to maximize operational efficiency. Rigid partitions separate the various spaces of learning, whether in the classroom or the mess hall. Seminar areas are fairly traditional assemblies, with fixed seating architectures directed towards a singular locus of power in the person of five-star strategists and the screens with which they sometimes speak.
(Sometimes the tables and chairs are moved; bodies tend to follow.)
Hierarchies of authority structure the bureaucratic functions, from lowly cadet to more senior spy; from information to administration; all under the absolute figure of the Leader. A gaze is internalized (where does it come from?) to complete this discursive formation and diffuse its power to the molecular level. It is the Foucauldian apparatus of docility writ large.
But these techniques of the military have been reappropriated, deterritorialized: they are not meant to produce soldiers or widgets or any other homogeneity in the age of mechanical reproduction. Rather, they exist for giving birth to new instances of thought, for new instances of the thinking subject. Which is to say, the University of Disaster exists as a cradle of natality. Word is born, yo.
Natality and the performed university
Birthing is a violent process. It is a gift to the child from all of its parents, yet one that is located in the visceral wounding of particular bodies. Birthing hurts. Recurrent rhythms of increasingly vivid pain ultimately yield to explosive tearings of relational fibre, the multiplicity becoming more readily differentiated in body and identity for both mother and child. Birthing is an act of power.
Natality is also an event, though one that may take some time to unfold. When, exactly, does it begin in the pedagogical context? With the insemination of the seminar? When a mutual violence yields to a collective individuation and the dawning of a new subject in thought, traumatic as this may be? Does it begin with the naming of this newly differentiated identity and its emergence into chaos and order?
The name operates as both surface wrapping to this unasked-for original gift and the inscription into existing networks of sovereignty. For the State one's name constitutes a nexus that is simultaneously one's identity in matters of flesh relation, a symbolic cover for the alphanumeric marker or certificate of registration, and the guarantee of passage into a particular version of citizenship. In other words, it is a bond between linguistic signification and what a body can do.
We are born into registration. It was never a personal choice, nor one freely entered into.
But these are matters of protocol. With the University of Disaster on the other hand, it is moreso performativity that breathes its natality. Once the biological body of naked life has already been thrust into the chaos of existence, any subsequent instance of natality must be grounded primarily in performance, including its insemination, gestation, violence and tearing of relational fibre. This is not to suggest that the trauma resulting from the process is any less significant, but that its mode has shifted: these new gestures of birthing are more often spoken than inscribed, played by characters who perform themselves at the moment the actor is also performing the character into life.
You could write a book about it if you wanted. Call it I, Thespian.
The gestures of performance are different than the protocols of discipline, more malleable, more virtuous. Which is not to say that they are better, but that they certainly offer much more room for improvisation and style. They allow for movement. Indeed, without such movement how could we ever account for the emergence of James Blond?
So perhaps we might understand the University of Disaster as a simulacrum of the disciplinary institution, a living laboratory in which its students and spies may experiment with the modulation of a machine. It is a safe space, theoretically, as our cradles often are. And if one has not modulated this machine during basic training — at least in some small way, with some small performative gesture — then how is one meant to confront broader structures of power in the field of potential, many of which are less safe in their conditions of possibility?
The engineering of contagion
Foucault suggests that one of the primary benefits of disciplinary structures is to prevent the spread of contagion, whether one is describing the literal transmission of biological vectors like the plague or the discursive transmission of more political variations such as dissent, resistance and sedition. Discipline is a governmental strategy, in other words, whose formations offer a formula for obedience through the containment and rationalization of flows and the subjectivities they produce.
The simulacrum of discipline that shapes the University of Disaster is incomplete, however. It does not permeate and filter down to the most molecular levels of subjectivity. There are still a number of opportunities for dialogue to ferment, usually in the context and comfort of food and drink. Meals at the mess hall, coffee breaks in full mountain view, drinking sessions over at the local public house — this is where the real work takes place, where the ferment begins to yield new forms of nourishment within the pressure cooker intensity of the institution. This is where contagions begin to form.
And so perhaps contagion is where one ought to begin if the goal is to modulate the machine from within a safe cradle of philosophy, pedagogy and praxis?
Whether we are describing contagions in biological or discursive form, our analysis remains in the domain of the linguistic, which is to say each exists as forms of communication that enter into contingent and temporary notions of the common. This should not be confused with antiquated ideas of senders and receivers exchanging neatly ordered message packets in linear fashion, but rather as processes of transduction: of folding and carrying and recombinance; of acquired immunity and exponential growth; of differential tempos and unpredictable outcomes.
Coffee breaks are quick and intense at the University of Disaster, meant to provide its students and spies yet another spike of energy for the rigorous briefing sessions to come. Meals and pub sessions are much slower, more indulgent, more reflexive: a more sensual experience of thinking-with and its tension of non-touch. It is together, from these shared sessions of sustenance and their differential tempos, that the contingent grammars of dialogue begin to emerge.
Nominally, a grammar is a set of rules for communicating a particular language from one individual to another. These generally concern an orthography, or those specific ways in which the language is communicated in written form. Orthography to orthodoxy, inscribed to the archive, the prescribed boundaries for our collective playing at language and negotiating an always-emergent common. Think of Truman captured in a studio under the watchful eye of the proliferating cameras.
But poets and serfs defy these rules of grammar in their everyday becoming, either through "incorrect" usage or as an active strategy: they modulate language and its codes to find new expressive potentials through relation. This is precisely because theirs is a spoken communication, even when it is inscribed to an archival substrate in a masquerade of written form. Intuitive players both in presence and in the present, they indeed continually struggle to retain that very embodied instantaneity despite writing for a future history. It is an act of communication that proposes at once a legacy of perishability and the perishability of legacy.
Contagions proliferate and prosper precisely because they do not follow established traditions of linguistic protocol. They are deludic vectors in becoming: ambivalent to the orthodoxies of grammar, always playing against the rules as they put people in touch with one another. We might describe them, in a sense, as performative. If there is in fact a grammar of the multitude, as Virno suggests, then it exists as a platform or substrate whose rules may be collectively modulated to find new expressive potentials through relation, to maintain the dynamic tension between legacy and its perishing.
On burning books
In both the contemporary paradigm of fourth-generation warfare and the spy game, it is the same program for an agent: one must know when to accept counsel from one's superiors and when to take initiative and flexibly think for oneself in the field. That is, to toggle between images of thought as one slips through the threshold, from State to nomad thinking with only a few passports in hand. The spy gets the most latitude, which begets a certain attitude. Performance is key to the role being played, after all.
But this switch in costumes is really more like a waveform, which has infinitely more potential for variation. Toggling is more specifically practised as surfing a threshold, with a pull on one's back to make sure the fibres don't stretch too far past the flip. Though one must indeed know when to think for oneself, communiques and orders from home still need to make it to the field for intelligence purposes: the mission is always at stake. Sometimes the spy must burn a message to not blow a cover or give away too much information. Contagions are often killed by flame in this way.
One must read the brief, embody memory, and strike the match — in fact one is taught that very technique. Thus the delicate surf between experience and intuition on any particular mission, for the message has already been burned. To stay alive, complete the impossible, and file the report upon return a spy must always be negotiating an emergent and contingent balance between training and instinct. Tomorrow never dies if one is to live.
Not everyone gets to live. As with the burning of heretics at the stake over time, so too have certain ideas or images of thought been put to the flame. A number of top strategists have written at length about these historical practices of burning messages — of burning books, precisely. How is the Spy to understand the politics these practices imply and develop innovative actions in the field of potential? He has not read many of these reports at length, having received only quick briefings before any particular mission. Hence the balance between experience and intuition that animates these notes from the field:
Since the invention of the printing press and the subsequent mass production of books it enabled, there has always been the copy that moves or circulates. In fact, for any image of thought to become sufficiently heretic to demand its incineration, it will have enjoyed in fits and starts a form of circulation, however confused, that spreads its ideas far and wide. Through reproduction and transduction it insinuates itself into thought beyond those who have actually read the book proper — that is, to those carriers of the image. Any act of burning a particular book en masse, then, must be understood as already only symbolic: there is always another copy.
Is this not what happens when we delete a form of digital writing? A tiny flicker of blue flame is sent across the wires to burn the message completely. Unless, of course, there is a copy — a replication. Texts circulate, locally and through the network. Perhaps the replicant is one that has mutated or become conjugated with other apparatuses of inscription and metadata, forming new representations of identity in the process. Any question of digital deletion also concerns the remnants and the remanence, for digital networks are the homes of replication and contagion.
Ask a mother about her home hypothetically burning to the ground. Ask what one item she would take with her and often the answer is the photo album: there exists only one copy of these memories, after all. The rest is simply material. In this context the burning of one's photo album is understood as the ultimate loss, the ultimate expression of felt violence.
As Benjamin suggests, fascism is an attempt to organize the masses without changing the incumbent property structure, to offer opportunities for expression as a weak substitute for real material change. But this turn to expression changes the very definition of fascism in the process: with the act of burning books do we not also find the symbolic attempt to make one forget about the existence of the copy? And yet the Nazis, facing imminent defeat in the age of mechanical reproduction, did not burn their records, for they wanted the world to know precisely what they had done.
The affective halfway point
A knock at the door of the Spy's trailer. He opens the door to find his agent standing there, cellphone in one hand and papers in the other.
"Darling! You simply must read this script — the part is perfect for you! Here, take a look. I read this scene on my way over here and simply couldn't think of anyone else to play the role."
The Spy removes his glasses and takes the script. Piqued by curiosity, as she appears unusually excited, he flips to the page she points to and begins to read:
Scene: Flashback. A lovely stone period church in La Rochelle, France. The philosopher of speed, Paul Virilio, is giving a seminar at the University of Disaster. Block scene such that the Spy has a line of sight to Virilio at front of room. Cameras face Virilio. The Spy, who has unwittingly become witness to a network spectacle, can be heard from off-camera.
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Be furtive, not famous.
In other words, be a spy, operate in the crevices and temporary autonomous zones unseen by the machinations of spectacle, or perhaps hidden in plain view. Don't let your cover identity be blown. Don't become a compromised agent.
In short, don't become famous.
At what point should one disappear?
We may understand the moebius strip as the topological figure describing those paired concepts of imaging through surveillance and spectacle, as well as those of ludic and deludic passage within a gamespace environment. The flip is the moment of interest to us: in both cases we may characterize it as belonging to the domain of style, an ever-contingent and emergent relation between bodies, spaces, times, technologies and desires.
In the first case style is the motor of sign value creation for a vectoral economy that captures the virtuous in archival and telesthesic form. In the second case style is the agency expressed by the virtuoso in a uniquely contingent and potentially ethical fashion, whether captured and exploited by the image or not. But what is this flip of the moebius strip? How would one describe it? How would one locate it?
Perhaps we can suggest it is halfway?
Implicit in Virilio's seemingly flip reply is a critique of linear determinism: how does one locate the halfway point if the position of the preceding terms (beginning, end) is not known beforehand? One cannot, though perhaps it is the halfway itself that constitutes the terms of reference. The distinction between furtive and famous or between other similar binary couplings becomes purely relational, though not entirely arbitrary. One may be affectively attuned to shifts in a particular direction, whether towards fame or otherwise. The topological form of the moebius strip (size, boundedness) is also indeterminate and thus its conceptual flip-as-halfway-point remains equally so.
Affect cannot be calculated or quantified, particularly insofar as it is a co-emergent process, though it may certainly be approximated. Asymmetrical to be sure, but one hopes not overly so. There is no singular point that constitutes the relation, in other words, but rather a range or zone of passage between the two terms or positions: that is, a threshold. What is useful about this approach is precisely the approach, this dashing of the point in favour of the zone and its coming-together through relation. As with Virilio's halfway point, the parameters of the threshold are also indeterminate, though perhaps determinably malleable nonetheless.
Could we stretch the threshold or lengthen the both-and elements? What sort of resources would be required to do so? Can identity offer the vanishing point for identity?
* * *
The Spy puts down the script and wonders: are we halfway?
"The character's too flat and the plot's got holes all over the place. Not interested."
Pedagogy and the society of control
To put the question differently, has natality and its generative violence toward the other flipped to become a repressive technicity of the image?
What if the disciplinary character of the University of Disaster was but a stage set? What if in fact it was revealed to mirror precisely the fluidity and contagion of the societies of control? What if there had been a dissimulation in the rush to infamy, creating a perverse notion of the camera obscura? Would we not be opening the potential for new political problems at the nexus of philosophy, pedagogy and praxis?
It used to be in the spy game that one would want to have no history. To be a cipher onto which any flimsy excuse for a cover story could be attached, letting one's imagination fill in the rest. The ideal spy would be one whose parents were already deceased; one who had no siblings, no friends, no loved ones. In short, one whose quantity of quality relations was few in number: a blank web. The emerging agent would then be written into a new, more productive network, one whose connections could be real or imagined, scripted or cultivated.
This inscription becomes ever more pressing today, as the field of potential has mutated. An inversion has been effected: one must now precisely have a history if one is to be a successful spy, for an absence of history constitutes an aporia of the relational database, which becomes a signal to the relevant authorities. In a world of spectacular luminescence and overexposure the curious become drawn to any absent flickers of light. This is the forensic approach to being-in-the-world. What was once the desirable darkness of the cipher, then, must in turn reveal itself as a bar code of signification or an identity-vehicle inscribed to the archival skin. There is no cover without it.
In this sense, "naked life" should be most often understood as a statistical approach to the body that moves within the societies of control. While this may certainly have significant consequences for the naked animal body proper, it should first and foremost be considered a databased abstraction of the dividual social body thereafter given synthetic flesh as the body+body+body of libidinal desire. Number and image become the contemporary markers of exposure as a political concept, spliced together and remixed within contingent programs of surveillance and spectacle.
The camera produces and then overproduces as it colonizes the spaces of pedagogy at the University of Disaster. The luminescence of the superstar strategist becomes such that its projected light often obscures the person from which it emanates or reflects. There are moments at the University of Disaster in which its students and spies may be blinded by performance and its representation. That is to say, blinded by an image of thought.
(The question is if in this blindness we may perceive a databased abstraction of the dividual social body thereafter given synthetic flesh as the multiple body of libidinal desire.)
Meanwhile, the theatre that is Plato's concave becomes convex if its skin is thin enough and the light may shine through. Those outside the cave — on that other side — also see a representation of the performance, but one that has been inverted or flipped. And as we know with techniques of light and speed, the flip to convexity serves to enlarge the image. A different curiosity is piqued, this time by the constellations of spectacular light themselves with their strong gravitational pull of enlargement. These, too, may blind the unsuspecting.
As the alphanumerical gaze becomes ever more insistent and omnipresent in the halls of nomad strategy, each student and spy is thrust toward intensified degrees of exposure. The affective tonality of the pedagogical space changes as the archive and its historical memory are introduced: some performances become more pronounced — more performed — while others go quiet. Each is carefully marked by the University of Disaster and incorporated to its image.
We are describing regimes of registration with the societies of control, then, as Deleuze makes clearly visible. But since registration is relational, we are thus also describing regimes of implication. The network bonds. The network brands. The network blinds.
Let us not forget electricity proved to be the downfall of Jaws, that smiling cyborg henchman.
Bond once told me about the time he had eaten at the restaurant in Nishi-nippori where Mr. Vitanza practices the difficult art of action cooking. He said that by watching carefully Mr. Vitanza's gestures and his way of mixing the ingredients one could meditate usefully on certain fundamental concepts common to painting, philosophy, and karate. He claimed that Mr. Vitanza possessed in his humble way the essence of style, and consequently that it was up to him to use his invisible brush to write upon this first day in Tokyo the words 'the end.'
Mr. Vitanza runs both the marathon and sprint of discourse, a 2-inch thick dissertation or an oratory in 420 characters or less. (Have you *heard* him perform at Facebook Square?) He shows that we can in fact be speedy with our thought and its expression, with our language and its related language games, with our performativity. (The societies of control demand we develop these strategies, do they not?) But his technique also suggests we must remember to root this rhetorical action cooking in a gesture of slowness, to be polyrhythmic in approaching how communicative action shapes our very thought itself. This rootedness is rhizomatic: bend what the ingredients can do with every linguistic turn; multiply connections. Call it style. Or a virtuosity compromised by overexposure. Or a minor literature, performed. Indeed, like Mr. Yamada, Mr. Vitanza strives to be a minor character in his own play.
Food in the air.
Again, there it is: food. What's that smell?
Notebook as machine
There is a qualitative difference between remixing or breaking the machine that is the book proper, and doing the same for one's personal notebook. The former is often understood as the culmination of a long process involving writing, editing, typesetting and printing phases, often under the rubric of a separate "publisher" entity. The notebook, on the other hand, is usually the beginning of a process — the incipient moment of poiesis when thought emerges from the foldings of flesh relation to find expression in gesture and inscription.
This notion of writing the body has a lengthy history in feminist scholarship, as seen with such diverse writers as Cixous, Hayles and hooks. In their own unique ways we might suggest each describes practices of writing intensively — that is, of capturing affective thought in as urgent a fashion as possible so that thinking and feeling are no longer easily understood as discrete concepts. One captures thought through writing while it is still felt in the body, nullifying any possible understanding of mind-body dualism in the act of recording or making memory prosthetic.
In this sense the notebook becomes a most intimate expression of what the Colonel has described as affective cyborgism: that is, an understanding of technologies as inseparable from our bodies — indeed they are generated by them — yet more or less proximate to the fleshiness of our lived corporeality. Our notebook is qualitatively different than other books precisely because of this proximity to the body. In this differential proximity, as well as in the interface proper, lie the political and ethical moments of our always-already cyborgian beings.
But these beings should more adequately be referred to as becomings, for they are also emergent from the relations of matrixial intersubjectivity between bodies. This may be understood both in terms of material and immaterial networks and prosthetics, as well as in terms of resonant waves between organic entities. Hence, the political and ethical moments are made explicit precisely in how our technologized selves negotiate a fragile and contingent commons, tottering between repressive, militarized and integrative systems of profit and control on the one hand, and opportunities for agency, poiesis and resistance on the other.
In other words, the "same" technology may offer dramatically different conditions of possibility precisely in how its embodiment enters into movements with other bodies to create space and time. The affective cyborg, then, is not a preconstituted body as such, but rather an always emergent part-subject that becomes individuated as it enters into contingent networks of relation and technique.
One of the more interesting features of study at the University of Disaster constitutes the varied ways with which its students and spies use the notebook machine. The very diversity of techniques. If the notebook is indeed the machine with which thought first emerges from the body, then we must understand its produced space and time as one that expresses the most diverse and emergent gestures and codes! Both are relational and ontogenetic, emerging from a complex interplay of bodies in resonance.
We modulate our moves on the fly.
Sometimes these bodies even cross over, or weave, to write in the other's notebook-body: monologic, dialogic, severalogic, technologic. If the notebook is the becoming of thought into language at the University of Disaster, it is from the outset a relational process first expressed in a gestural form of multiplicity.
Though it is relation that builds the machine of the notebook, it is also relation that may break the machine in turn. Its techniques are not deterministic. Burn the notebook, for there is only one copy. Retain a private space and time, for memory is also a relational process.
Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, the saying goes in the spy game. But this question of differential proximity mutates when both are inscribed to the skin, that primary organ governing affairs today. The skin becomes a fine threshold separating friend and enemy — after all, you are implicated by the messages positioned next to you.
To produce the outputs of immaterial labour is to produce memory. But this is not to say it captures memory. Rather, immaterial labour annexes a subset of produced memories from the realm of the linguistic, or from the realm of the common to the archive. It often becomes easier to find other people's memories than your own in the proliferating networks of yesterday and tomorrow.
What is the difference between inscribed memory and the archive, if indeed there is one to be found? Though the distinction is blurry — perhaps even noisy — Derrida offers us two signposts along the journey to the question.
First, there is the archive as a physical site or location of discrete documents, the arkhé which is safeguarded by the archons, or those gatekeepers who allow passage into this space. The archons hold a privileged position of power, for they are the ones granted hermeneutic right to interpret the contents of the archive, and thus to interpret the Law. As Wark might suggest, this fixed physical location allows for the capture of a vector through time, and as such, we might consider any process of archiving to be not an act of remembering but rather an act of forgetting.
Second, there is the archive as the inscription of writing to the circumcised foreskin of the young Jewish male who has come of age. Preceded by this cut, the truncated sex bears witness to a gestural positioning of memory and embodiment in the Word of the Book. It is a skin of orthography to complement the architectural skin of the archontic volume, a body re-posed for the repository.
Is this to gender the archive? Perhaps. But the mother has her own form of archive as well, made explicit in those tearings of relational fibre at birth. They are their own form of skin, or braided tissue, different in that they penetrate beyond the surface to some perceived depth of sensation and knowing. They challenge the flattening that occurs as archives proliferate in the electric age everywhere across the networks of lust and mistrust.
The violence of the database — the violence after the violence — is to impose a grid on these relational fibres, to reduce the waves of intersubjective resonance to the straight lines and switches of remnants and remanence. Can we suggest that any care for the relation, then, consists in safeguarding the skin of the other? Has this care been preceded by a cut? If so, how do we determine if the situation requires cauterization or will heal organically?
Do we strike the match in relation: a technicity to self-immolate technicity?
If indeed the move by capital to colonize the body must be accompanied by a parallel movement to colonize relation, then we must seriously consider a notion of the temporary archive. That is, the inscription of memory to an external archival substrate as a means of embracing and processing the trauma latent in the separation from natality. But only for the short term, until the pain and violence have subsided, and before the affective flip to nostalgia, false remembering and exploitation. In other words, to not fear the house fire that might consume the family album, for memory is located in the body — precisely in the where and when of torn relational fibres.
In this sense severing might be understood as a technique to save the multiple body, or at least improve its overall health. This is no death drive, but rather the celebration of a form of life: burn the temporary archive and empty out its power at the halfway point. Forget about the existence of the copy and refuse its claims to memory. As with the notebook, to burn the archive is to burn the relation — or at least to sever and cauterize its prescribed conduits and connections.
It is not to kill relation proper, however, for relation is of multiple openings and potential endings. Both memory and the archive are the abstraction of trauma from its ontogenesis, and yet they are not the same. If we can indeed distinguish between the two it is that memory is generative in a rhizomatic sense. But only because it is also embodied, located at that zone in which the senses blend into one another, the biogrammatic zone of synaesthesia. And only because we are capable of forgetting.
A dialogue in hesitation
The sleep comes, but it is the fragmented, delirious sleep of a man with dengue fever. Tortured sleep. Rivulets of sweat flow into tributaries of liquid linen. Frustrated, the Spy gets out of bed and picks up the script once again. He hasn't been able to stop thinking about it.
On Performing the University of Disaster, the working title reads. Well, we know that'll be changed, by Marketing if not Legal. The thing feels like a film school thesis — too dry and academic-sounding, too art house hip. The screenplay definitely needs a doctor for revisions. Maybe if there were a few car chase scenes? Maybe a love interest? Maybe if the right Director signed on to the project?
He opens to a different page and once again begins to read:
Scene: Dialogue. A small mountain town in the Swiss Alps. Homo Generator and the Spy face each other across a table. Generator, who is nearing the end of his career, is imparting to the young agent some of the wisdom he has gained through years of experience in the field of potential.
Generator: The concepts of technique and technology both have as their root the Greek word techné. In understanding this we find the central basis for living the fulfilled artificial life: the Greeks did not distinguish between technique and technology, between acts of living and the material tools through which such living was enabled. Hence, when we think of artificial living, we must first and always understand that our technologies are not extensions of mere mortals that allow us to achieve a rational instrumental finality, nor are our techniques so instrumental as a system, but rather a set of practices that are realized through the always already of technology.
Brown: Can one have a set of practices that does not comprise a system? Does a "set" not imply a totality of thought from which these practices derive?
Generator: The system is the rationalization of a set of practices; it implies a standard against which outcomes may be measured. The set of practices, by comparison, is a series of guidelines that stand in contrast to the systematization of metaphysical thinking. Were such a set of practices ever to become codified in such a way as to become systematic, they too must be rejected at once. Think of them as more fluid, as lessons — rather than dictates — that evoke fulfilled living.
In considering his lengthy corpus of work, Derrida offers us four such lessons or guidelines. The first is to postpone your judgment. Postponing is an act of indefinite deferral that obviates the questions of origin, fixed duration, and finality so critical to metaphysical thought. Judgment assumes a fixed position from which critique may be launched; in its postponement, we leave open the question of negation through critique and intensify our potential for thinking.
The second lesson is to act decisively, without believing in it. This implies an imperceptibility of perception, the unconscious opening of oneself to the unconcealings that emerge from the always already present flows of generation. We should not understand this as stasis, but rather as an affirmation of postponing judgment or hesitating in thought. The act of acting decisively occurs at the moment when affect first becomes thinking, and then is released as action. This action may be essential, that which we cannot refuse, as for example in those who decisively joined the actions in Paris of May '68. It is similar to producing a body without organs in that we are describing a zone of pure intensity. But we must not measure the action or the intensity in terms of intentionality or against the parameters of some fixed truth. That was the downfall of May '68 as event: what happens when the orgy is over?
Brown: But what about believing? Should belief in our actions not be central to individual responsibility and ethical fulfillment?
Generator: Belief is justifiable in the form of belief-in-affect, the openness that allows affect to become thinking. But belief becomes unacceptable when it mutates from the affective to the logos; a split emerges in the act of language that presences what can be presenced while absencing a remainder. In this gap we find the potential for prescriptive acts of power that forestall the ability to achieve the communal.
Derrida's third lesson is to let go of anthropocentrism. Heidegger believed in the oneness of the fourfold — earth, sky, divinities and mortals — as the necessary state of dwelling-in-the-world for potentialities to be unconcealed. Anthropocentrism, particularly in terms of its expression in rational acts of signification, distorts this balance to devastating effect. The whole ecology of the earth becomes a standing-reserve that may be exploited for mortal gain. The sky no longer acts as a canopy embracing the earth and mortals while maintaining separation from the divinities, but rather becomes an open void of space and instrumental science opening new opportunities for anthropocentrism to colonize. Finally, the divine becomes profane before disappearing altogether.
The fourth lesson, to which we have already intimated, is to resist the power of presence. Any act of attempting to enframe or fix a truth (gestell) that is present is simultaneously an act of concealing or making-absent. We must continually remain open to what has been concealed and not be seduced by that which appears as obvious. Hence, we are seeking one truth and rejecting another. That which we seek is the truth of thought itself, the nobility of dwelling in the world in a kind of continual questioning that is constituted in the form of testing: what does discourse conceal in the everyday? The truth we seek to reject is the truth of the outcome of the testing: the formulation of questions rather than questioning, the instrumentalization of thought, and the appropriation of traces in their partialness. Instrumental learning must become imperceptible such that we live freely through our technology and arrive at perhaps the ultimate expression of thinking as life technique, the Gelassenheit of letting be, just living.
* * *
On second thought, who wrote this shit? the Spy wonders, before tossing the script into his shredder for good.
Birth of the chess queen
Imagine a chess game. Imagine an imagined chess game. Only one of the opponents knows he is at the table, though every communicative act is treated by this person as part of an ongoing ludic dialogue. Again, the other opponent may not know he is playing a game, or perhaps he is playing many games at once, one for every student and spy at the University of Disaster.
Take a page from Deleuze and Guattari's script and anthropomorphize the playing pieces, if you have not done so already. Now what if all the pieces looked the same and appeared the be playing for the same side? Oh no, a conundrum! We have been conditioned to surface appearances and colourful identifiers, which is to say that we have been conditioned to skins. But we are first and foremost volumes, more precisely resonating volumes. Bounded by skins, yes, though permeable ones.
For the automated chess archive this situation does not prove a problem as every piece in the game is written into biunivocal relations with the mapped grid of the board as well as with each other. Bodies are inscribed with alphanumeric signifiers, striated spaces are neatly encoded, movements take place in discrete order — the gaze watches and records all. This forensic approach allows us to reconstitute movements from the past or abstract them to optimize future outcomes. Both may be understood either in terms of six-sigma thickening techniques or in terms of significant outliers at the long end of the tail.
It pays to do so: Qg1+ Kb2, Qf2+ Kc1, Kf6 d4, g7 = cheque, mate.
But what if the game was not being archived? It would be easy in the beginning, for we all stand together at first when playing on the same team. But as the pieces continued to move — began to mingle or miscegenate, with solidarity or antagonism in mind — identities would become blurred. We would need to communicate with one another, perhaps in coded form, to determine our allies and alliances. We would require confirmation or redundancy.
We would become doomed to trust, in other words. We would acknowledge the asymmetry that one hopes is not overly so. We would become dependent on an infolding and unfolding relationship between protocol and performance, which is not to suggest that these are opposing terms. Indeed, they are complementary aspects of communicating relation, expressed in language, gesture, and — ultimately — flesh. Each articulates differentially with the domain of style. But neither functions alone: neither tendency can be expressed to the exclusion of the other.
We would need to remember.
That which is not archived offers different conditions of possibility for movement, even if these movements stay within the rules of the game. The archontic parameters have been removed — or perhaps remixed.
The movement protocols for the pieces in chess, as well as the relations they may enter into, are well codified, albeit in a sense that has changed substantially over time. It has been suggested that mobility increased dramatically in the late fifteenth-century due in no small to the emergence of the Queen as the most powerful piece on the board, she being able to move an unlimited number of squares horizontally, vertically or diagonally.
It is here that intelligence becomes hazy. In a prior briefing session the Spy learned that the Queen morphed from the earlier Persian vizier to assume this power in a mirroring of contemporary battlefield technology. But he also learned that that the new powers emerged from the discovery of perspectival gaze and the overall Renaissance dynamic, which were reflected specifically in the introduction of siege artillery. And still also he learned the emergence of the Queen paralleled the rise of powerful women in the myriad royal courts of medieval Europe, those women with increasing agency in courtly affairs.
Even if siege artillery was an important factor to be absorbed into the war model of chess, why was it the Queen that was granted the additional powers? Put another way, why was the most fearsome war technology in history gendered female when introduced into chess? When this intelligence is read through the balance of experience and intuition, we might suggest it is because she is a movement-machine who has the ear of the King, or governs matters in her own right; because she is a weapon with/in the performance of her own identities; because it is she who best understands the trauma of birth.
Who is Queen at the University of Disaster? Do not be blinded by surface appearances: although many candidates jockey for the seat, chess teaches us to look for the piece who wields the most power in our cradle of natality.
(Or was it the other way around?)
The violence of the image
Now imagine the game is Tegwar chess. The machines are always modulating with each move.
Deleuze suggests that the societies of control may retrieve earlier techniques from the societies of sovereignty and fold them into the dynamic flows of perpetual modulation. Perhaps we have retrieved the figure of the King? Or was it the Queen? Or hesheheshehe? No matter the gender, have we retrieved the philosopher-king or the despot?
The great philosopher King tells the story of an academy in which young gunslinger apprentices are being prepared for a life in the service of truth and justice. To graduate from the academy, one must best the teacher in a contest of body and mind. The protégé may call for the test at any time and has one chance to pass, or be cast out of the academy for good. However, one is also allowed to bring a weapon of choice to the test.
The protagonist of the story is compelled to the test early — much too early, it is obvious — though he believes he has no choice given certain shifts in power and justice in his own life. He takes the test regardless, willing to fail more better it appears. But it is his choice of weapon that concerns us here: knowing he could not best the old gatekeeper of the academy with the force of his stick, he brings his trusty pet hawk instead. The hawk swoops in on the diagonal and takes the teacher's eye out, before the young apprentice finishes him off with a series of blows. He passes the test.
Use the weight of a larger opponent as a lever; cultivate an economy of slowness; misdirect with one's intentions; strike with lightning quickness. All within the rules.
But recall that the societies of control are modulating with every move. The rules of Law do not operate well on any but the most sedimented strata; they do not handle fluidity well. With the mostly liquid topological deformations of the societies of control, then, we are thus introducing the conditions for the state of exception to become a more or less permanent feature of political spaces everywhere and at every level of assembly.
Hence, judo moves are not enough.
The power in any judo move comes from the trunk and lower limb anatomy, which find the potential for leverage upon a solid foundation below. But the rules of the game are on hydraulic footing and don't quite have their sea legs yet — or maybe never. The contemporary political subject must be stylish, then, and play in machinic gamespaces with both ludic and deludic strategies in hand and gesture. Though the neatly executed judo flip is indeed within its domain, style is a more-than, a bending of the rules that invents new forms of what a body can do. It is a surfing of the threshold, with all the differential balance that implies.
Everywhere surfing has already replaced the older sports.
The judo surfer? Now that is action cooking!
Style is about bending an image of thought such that gaps open up for virtuous movement within, about playing with visibility and structures of power. But since it plays both with and against rules, it is always opening the question toward ethical action anew — which is to say, ontogenetically. The attempt toward style is to engage in processes of affective politics, always more or less attuned to the halfway point and its flipping of violence. This is the molecular response to the state of exception, which must accompany any attempt to topologically transform rule sets to fit the varied crises of enclosure.
Recall that style also exists at the nexus of surveillance and spectacle, however, at the nexus of perpetual police state and the fabrication of social relation through the images of desire and immaterial production. Virtuous movement always risks compromise by its overexposure to authority or celebrity in its emergence: the turn to stylishness suggests that any difference between 'most wanted status' and 'q-rating' becomes simply a point of view.
The violence of the image
Just as the White House is the most expensive and secure TV studio in the world, so too has the University of Disaster become a zone for promoting the televisual arts of living. Whether by analog tape or digital hard drive, strategy sessions are increasingly sapped of their virtuosity in this overexposure to archive fever. Performance becomes production.
The University of Disaster is a machine that emerges in response to the State machines of philosophy, pedagogy, and the praxis of thought itself. Given the generalized crisis of enclosure and subsequent flight from the disciplinary institution, the strategy to leverage celebrity was an interesting judo move at the outset. But at what point does it fold back as a colonizing force in its own right, embedded within the flux of integrated spectacle and its vectors of archive and telesthesia?
At what point does the convex image become too enlarged?
If virtuosity may be understood as an activity fulfilled in itself without its objectification as an end product (in the manner Virno suggests), then we must conclude that its performance and gesture require an interpretation to be disseminated. And since gesture precedes both speaking and writing, as well as reading and listening, for the performance to retain its virtuosity each interpretive act of the assembled audience member must in turn also be gestural.
Gesture is rendered static with the stationary videocamera or audio recorder, however, particularly when contrasted to the ontogenesis of the notebook. The copy of the performance has not been interpreted in this becoming-productive of the archive, but rather flattened to the image and emptied of its resonance. Interpretation may take place later, with the edit, transcription, or remix, but the copy has already been made. First clone, then cut — the freeze-dried flavour never again reconstituted to its most savoury form.
It is this flattening to surface orientation that allows for the brand, which is first and foremost an inscription of a signifier on the skin, to proliferate in spaces everywhere. If this is the case, then let us wear our tattoos proudly as we go forth in our being-in-the-world, without flipping (a switch, a moebius twist) its pain and violence such that the tattoo is inscribed on the other. Inking hurts.
But is this not the internment of Marketing and Legal at the University of Disaster, an expressive potentiality of the fascist within us all? Locked discussions and enlarged images, a desiring-molecular all branded with the appropriate identifiers, all protected by copyright. Deleuze and Guattari point out that fascism is a molecular phenomenon: it gets into crevices and micro black holes, mutating the "body politic" in supple fashion: "It's too easy to be antifascist on the molar level, and not even see the fascist inside you, the fascist you yourself sustain and nourish and cherish with molecules both personal and collective" (A Thousand Plateaus, p.237).
Badiou's politics would suggest that this space of philosophy, pedagogy and praxis which is the University of Disaster must be about presentation over representation, by its students and spies themselves, of who they are and what their bodies can do. Or put differently, it must be about a performance that grapples with the incommensurability of testimony. What happened in the mountains, imprecisely?
He tries to remember.
The Spy's mind has always been a camera, though one that has only ever taken a rare few photos. He recalls one of basic physical training on a driveway in Sussex, skills just barely being learned. There was another one from that rural drive with Agent 99 on Project Flowering Star, her head turned just so from the other seat and with a smile to match the mission. He remembers one from that Major at the pacific naval academy, a passionate political briefing and fleshy resonance brought forth from its classroom of anywhere — what a performance!
He has photos in his mind of all three — and a handful of others — each succeeding image less decayed than the one it follows. He, too, has abstracted gesture in this becoming-image, but the thing and its process remain animate in his memory precisely because he has embodied the contingent energy of their performativity and made it his own. If one is not a body then one is simply a battery.
The problem with the proposal for a temporary archive lies precisely in the question of trauma and the associated inscription of an image. One may presume to care for the relation when the number in concern is one, two or several. But once we flip to the thickened mass, on the other hand, quality is compromised by quantity and care for the relation becomes an abstracted concept, its trauma perhaps trivialized. Put differently, the strict burning of the archival skin does not scale well to greater intensities of violence.
If this is the case, how do we collectively archive trauma after the halfway point? Do not fight virility with virility, but rather with viriliovirno: turn your back to the audience and its shoephone operators, play stylishly with language, gesture and flesh to find opportunities for movement. Perform for as long as we can remember, without ritualizing form, until we are finally able to forget. A life technique and its corresponding image cannot be overexposed if it is to retain its virtuosity; it must be just in its balance of violence and style. This is not an aestheticization of violence, but an aesthetics that is violent in its very approach.
And if the copy has already been made? For trauma to not be exploited as economic or ideological opportunity, the arkhé itself must exist as a multiplicity, or a swarm-in-becoming. Fragments of memory must proliferate throughout the network such that archontic power itself is distributed — not as a perversion of the immaculate conception in which the gestures of self-pleasure yield to the gestation of thought, but rather as decaying placental bits of intersubjectivity that remind of comfort, warmth and the pains of labour.
This is as true for the archiving of trauma as it is for the Law itself.
The violence of the image
As mentioned earlier, the University of Disaster exists as both a simulacrum of the disciplinary institution and an exemplar of innovative pedagogical action in the era of control with its crisis of enclosure. In other words, it exists in the liminal space (or flow) between the disciplinary and its escape. But this, as Massumi+Manning point out, is also precisely the zone in which fascism moves — or lurks in potential.
In this flirtation with the birth and death of the State, a new sovereign is required to determine the state of exception and when it must be invoked. (Or, do we follow from Bataille here and locate the sovereign as the one who squanders the luxury of innovative thought?) How are these powers wielded at the University of Disaster? How are they compromised if the pedagogy offers an exemplar for the societies of control? Does language coincide with the body, or does it simply govern what a body can do?
And if the performance of the institution is primarily spoken — if the hermeneutic right of the archon refers to an arbitrary and empty gesture — does it necessarily imply the state of exception has become permanent? Does the court have a Jester who whispers witty counsel to the sovereign King or Queen? It is, after all, the imperfect piece to be played in a game of Tegwar chess.
Fool, don't you know?
As Massumi+Manning remind, affective politics are not necessarily moral politics, but rather politics for the making. Emergent stratagems for arbitrary decision making power in the absence of technicality, a politics of touch recognizes that violence and love walk hand-in-hand. It is a question that is always at stake in the relation.
But is this violence in the service of the relation between bodies, or between the body and the image? If the latter, then to which image are we referring? That of the philosopher-King or the despot? Or does it in fact refer to the relation itself? Who is implicated in the society of control?
The intensity of the space and time — indeed, the home — that is the University of Disaster does not remain contained by its mountainous parameters, for its simulacrum of discipline offers only a temporary confinement. Intensity is rather inverted such that it permeates the everyday, bleeding or leeching out of this context to contaminate the totality of each agent's life. The students and spies flow to other homes, both hierarchy and meshwork in form; here and now become now and here, our stereoreality reversed. But the intensity lives through the digital realm as trigger points to embodied memory: the new here is permeated through with violence and trauma, though in differential waveforms that those from which they were originally birthed. The violence and trauma implicate others, feeding forward through the terminus to produce new tendencies in relation.
We need to remember that the "generativeness" of violence is in the approach itself, rather than its magnitude or tactics. We do not want to discount relative degrees or intensities of violence, nor the means by which they are achieved, but we must also understand that the approach itself to the other person or thing — that is, the "relation" in any approach — is itself violent and generative. Perhaps an advance awareness of such allows one to be more cognizant of exactly how violence becomes manifest, as process, and allows for agency in the generation?
Fascism, or its performance? There is a disjunction between thought and political reality at the University of Disaster — a state of exception — and this is precisely where Critchley suggests we are to locate its ethics. But if affective politics are not necessarily moral politics, then the following open their own perverse spectrum of questioning: Does one submit willingly to the violence of natality at the University of Disaster? If so, what agency is retained in this submission to power and is there an informed consent to its imaging? If the performance of the institution is one primarily spoken, does the sovereign recognize a safe word that protects when the violence becomes overbearing? And if one is somehow incapable of or prevented from speaking, does a safe gesture exist that is similarly understood?
These are the contemporary questions facing both the affective cyborg and the spy.
(the character's too flat and the plot's got holes all over the place!)
(can't finish the story! don't want to finish the story! musn't finish the story!)
In short, within the emergent processes of natality at the University of Disaster there exists a thin membrane separating freedom from fascism — perhaps one as thin as a screen. What is at stake in this zone is the very form of life itself: a nexus of philosophy, pedagogy and praxis, or an image of thought. Gesture may offer the tectonic opportunities for movement within, around and behind this zone of surface intension, though to what affect? Is the resonance one of love and trust?
You can still love someone after the violence. But this is what gives fascism its most dangerous potential.
So, in case I don't see you later: good afternoon, good evening, and good night.
Fade to extended black.
Awakening: overexposure and transparency
Scene: Return to present. The Spy is in a small room, hooked up to a writing machine of some sort. A sound like the dusty muted crackle of silence between tracks on a old record player gradually grows in volume. There is a smell of garlic or cheap aftershave, definitely mixed with sweat. The screen splits horizontally out to reveal image from extended black, edges slightly blurred to simulate eyes opening.
His eyelids feel sticky as he tries to open them. Blood? Tears? The Spy looks around the room: interrogation room, debriefing room, examination room — funny how they all look the same when you're the one sitting in the chair. A light is on, blinding him. The outline of a crisp military man looms tall in front of him, while the soft glow of a cigarette punctuates the deep shadows to the right of his periphery. He feels drugged.
"Who are you?"
"Weisz," the man in front of him responds. "Errik Weisz. Officially, you could say I'm with the Agency. Unofficially, I like to consider myself the ghost that haunts a hundred servers and a thousand relational databases. Either way you look at it, I've been the one running you this whole time."
The Spy pauses, slightly unnerved.
"What do you mean, 'running me'? Who the hell is General Generator, then? Who have I been talking to for all these years?"
"Generator was just a shell. Fabricated for Project Wintermute. My identity needed to be kept secret at all times, as you can appreciate — as you must appreciate — for reasons both internal and external to this unit. Do you understand?"
The Spy quickly regains composure, steadies his voice. His eyes dart about the sterile box that forms this particular detention zone. He notices the cigarette ember leaning forward from the shadows ever so slightly, as if interested. Interested to hear the answer.
"And just who the fuck are you?"
The ember retreats just-perceptibly into the shadows.
"Smith," comes Weisz's curt response. "That's all you need to know."
The Spy pauses once again, this time the voice a little less steady. Uncertain. Hoping.
"And the Colonel?"
Weisz's pause is longer. Now his eyes begin to dart more quickly.
"She knew what she chose to know. She knew how she chose to know."
The two men make eye contact under the harsh glare of the debriefing room light. Both exhale deeply at the same instant, each venturing a tentative though palpable sense of relief. Smith blows a lazy ring of smoke from the corner.
"Why are you telling me this now?"
"Because it's time for you to come in. Time to turn the project over to someone else. No agent can stay out there forever. These days the spy game is just too…"
(…so that was going to be it, then…)
"…and it's time to forget Mr. Brown ever existed."
I sound the alarm of a fire that propagates through you, your pages, your volumes and your shelves, your images, your ideas. O memory of Alexandria, of Sarajevo, of the emperor Chi Hoang Ti! But here an unstable substance caught fire spontaneously, without any external cause lighting a spark. No arsonist, no torch-bearer or flamethrower, no one to drop phosphorus or napalm. A burn appeared in your very writings and symbols, one whose blaze spread effortlessly through the words and the sentences, through the images, the maps, the equations, and the diagrams.
And sure enough through the grimoires of the designers of fire, of tow, of tar, of saltpeter, and of black powder, of the alchemists of combustion and consumption: their volumes, too, burn. (Jean-Luc Nancy)
But he cannot forget. His courage in the field does not extend to his entire life technique. Nor will it. Condensation forms on the designer sunglasses he wears out of the debriefing room on his way to the press conference. Tears of a cyborg body that mask the emotions he must always conceal, repress, make absent.
"It's time for you to come in," Weisz repeats, laying a hand on his shoulder. "No agent can stay out there forever."
(thank you, wolfgang schirmacher, for a once-in-a-lifetime performance.)