From Control Societies to Cultivation Industries

Doing a google for something else I just came across a very cool article by Maurizio Lazzarato entitled “Struggle, Event, Media”. Lazzarato is attempting to answer a question about why ‘representation’ is a problem for contemporary progressive and radical politics. It is an interesting use of the ‘event’ and very close to the way I have used it discussing ‘cultural franchise events’. However, Lazzarato suggests:

“These incorporeal transformations that come into our heads again and again like ritornelli, which are circulating all over the world at the moment, penetrating into every household, and which represent the real weapon for the conquest, the occupation, the seizure of brains and bodies – they are simply incomprehensible to Marxist theory and to economic theories. We face a change of paradigms here, which we cannot grasp starting from labor, from practice. On the contrary, it could well be that the latter supplies a false image of what production means today, because the process we have just described is the precondition for every organization of labor (or non-labor).”

Lazzarato’s basic argument: The images produced by the ‘enterprises’ do not represent the world, but effect incorporeal transformations of the world, thus producing it.

Why I looked at the time period between a movie and its sequel in my original paper on this stuff I wrote in Sweden, is that I realized there was a specific problem in comprehending what was at stake in the entertainment industries (the ‘enterprise’, see below) was not so-much the raw numbers of tickets sold in an opening weekend (in other words, a single historical event), but the process through which fan and enthusiast subjectivities were created. Specifically at stake was the way the ‘enterprise’ compelled consumers to continually return to a ‘franchise’ (be it a sports team, movie series, computer games, television series, book series, in other words, any commodified series). For example, this ‘continual return’ represents the ‘bankability’ of a commodity. Felix Guattari discusses related issues in terms of addiction.

So far I have focused on the process by which each ‘return’ actualises another dimension of the ‘cultural franchise event’. By this I mean a franchise is not constituted by a commodified series existing within a single genre of ‘type’ of commodity. So a commodified series may actually be constituted by a fast food ‘meal’ endorsement connected to a film series or a sports star endorsement connected to both a sports team and a clothing brand. Lazzarato introduces the entity of the ‘enterprise’ which is the (networked) site of production and location of the immaterial labour that produces these ‘incorporeal transformations’. By introducing the question of scale – cultural franchise event, which is owned by an enterprise as a trademark/brand/IP/etc (the ‘pure event’), versus individual actualisation of this ‘total event’, actual cultural commodities – we can focus more squarely on the problem that Lazzarato glosses: namely the emerging lack of distinction between advertisements and the commodities being advertised.

Others have looked at ‘high concept’ films as a specific localized example of this in the film industry. This is not sufficient in an era of synergy and technological convergence. It seems the key technological site of convergence is media delivery and distribution. As the tendencies of convergence increase, the distinctions between different medium will become arbitrary. Perhaps it is only the subjectivity required for ‘user’ status that will determine the medium in the future. For example, enthusiasts who produce new levels or ‘mods’ to video games are actualizing a different dimension of the commodity of the computer game. They cease to be gamers and become modders; yet they are both ostensibly consumers of the commodity. The extreme example of this are the gamer/modders who produce film clips of their games or even use the ‘game engine’ to produce animated films. There is a shift in the consumer again to that of ‘viewer’ or ‘spectator’. The interrelation of ‘viewer’ and ‘user’ poles of fan subjectivities as technological convergence collapses distinctions between medium will certainly need investigation…

In my paper on movie sequels I framed the ‘continual return’ of consumers in terms of a discussion of the temporal relation of the pre-personal fan-subjectivity and the (immanent) ‘anticipation’ experienced and (quasi-transcendental) ‘expectation’ projected. Here it is necessary to look at the link between ‘cult’ and ‘cultivation’ (thanks to Christian McCrea for pointing this out to me). Film is an easy example as the ‘main’ commodity is relatively monolithic and there are no immediate complexities derived from mass-production of the commodity only mass-consumption. (Although the shift from cinema to DVD-based viewing practices will soon complicate this further.) There has been a recent spate of academic papers and news stories investigating examples of the big media ‘enterprises’ deliberating drawing on the enthusiasm of fans and cultivating this enthusiasm in such a way to build anticipation for a film, such as The Lord of the Rings. The fans excite or dwell their anticipation according to the expectations they may have of the film (or particular actualisation of the cultural franchise event). Or for another example, think of the iPod as an exercise in the continual modulation and actualization of the branded ‘MP3 player’. The iPod is a cultural franchise event actualised across a diverse range of actual products, from the original iPod to the Nano-iPod. Apple does not own the design rights to ‘MP3 Players’, they own the cultural franchise event of the iPod. Brand names and trademarks are the ultimate cultural franchise events. Think of ‘Nike’ or ‘Coke’.

What Lazzarato overlooks in his brief analysis is that the difference between advertising and the commodity being advertised and the question of the subjectivity being performatively embodied: are you a producer, user, viewer, consumer? Lazzarato falls back on common sense distinctions between advertising and the commodity being advertised in his inferred assertion there is little or no distinction:

“Television is a stream of advertising that is regularly interrupted by films, entertainment programs and news programs. According to the way Jean-Luc Godard depicts it, if you take out all the pages of a newspaper that contain advertising, it is reduced to the editorial by the editor-in-chief. And radio is just as much a stream of advertising and programs, in which it is increasingly difficult to distinguish where one begins and the other ends.”

In an economy of pure circulation there is absolutely no difference whatsoever: every commodity is also an advertisement and vice versa. There are two dimensions of this. The first relates to the mass-produced nature of some cultural commodities. The best example I can think of is how a car or a can of Coke is an advertisement for ‘itself’. This is a simple point but requires further exposition as it has complex implications. The second dimension relates to the distributed nature of the cultural franchise event across a number of media. So, for example, in the case of the Matrix franchise event; it was actualised as two movie sequels, a video game, an anime DVD and so on. Each actualisation of the ‘total’ Matrix franchise event serves as an advertisement for the others and so on. Saturation marketing means that every where you (re)turn you cannot help but be in contact with advertising and so on.

What is owned by a franchise is in two parts. Firstly, what Ken Wark calls a ‘hack’ or the incorporeal transformation produced. However, the ‘hack’ is only another variation of iteration (‘differential repetition’ for the Deleuzians) of the ‘total franchise event’ often signified by the ‘proper name’ of the franchise, ie the ‘brand’. The ‘total event’ of the cultural franchise event subsists in every commodified actualisation of the franchise. So the second part of the intellectual property is this singular ‘cultural franchise event’. The value of the cultural franchise event is manipulated via control of the production of ‘hacks’. When control of ‘hacking’ is lost (anti-ads and so on) there is a modulation of the total ‘franchise event’.

Broken Hard Disk = KKD!!!!!

[deep breath]

I have had my second portable hard disk fail on me in a 14 month period. Yes, I really want to break something. Namely, the designer of these piece of shit portable hard disks.

This one had about 12 gigs of stuff on it out of a 120 gig capacity. One day I may have the money to retrieve what is on it. It is mostly PDF files of several hundred journal articles I have read during my PhD, back ups, a couple of gigs of media content, plus all my work I did in Sweden, which is now gone… It was bought for Sweden and afterwards it was mostly used for travelling between my home and university computers.

This is not as catastrophic as it appears and probably reflects how far off I am from actually completing my thesis. I luckily (smartily?) enough have a back up of my actual thesis document files on my home computer. I am now going to send myself these files to my various email accounts so I have copies saved ‘off-computer’ in the event of something truly PhD-ending.

Perhaps this is evidence that I need a ‘clean break’.

We’re all arms dealers

Lord of War has received mostly bad reviews for being too ‘thought provoking’ or ‘preachy’. If film critics are meant to be emblematic of film audiences, then I am not surprised by such proud stupidity. As one comment on the IMDB page for this film put it: “Lord of war: Great film seeming to receive bad reviews by dense critics.”

I am interested in seeing it after reading this by the writer/director Andrew Niccol:

“What I’m interested in is certain aspects of the human condition. Or, rather, the inhuman condition. The inhumanity of technology and its misuse, what we’re doing to each other.”
Rather than change minds, however, Niccol hopes merely to “open people’s eyes” with this film. “We’re all arms dealers in a way, because we all indirectly profit from it.”

Grammar of the Machinic

Got my hands on a copy of Felix Guattari’s Molecular Revolution (see Charles Stivale’s comments here). It is an awesome book. I have sort of jumped in halfway as I need to write my paper for the CSAA conference (assuming it is accepted, not sure if it will be!) and get it out of the way so I can drop it into my thesis and get back to solid thesis writing.

My paper is really just going to tackle Deleuze and Guattari’s work and specifically my use of Deleuze and Guattari’s work for my thesis. Why I like Guattari’s book is that it reads like a book about method, where A Thousand Plateaus would be the result of applying this method (or the expression of the a-signifying D&G machine…). Apparently it is not the best translation, but that will never concern me.

The exact passage that best summarises, in part, the methodological approach that produced A Thousand Plateaus is:

“Denotation disappears in the face of the process described by Pierce as ‘diagrammatization’. The function of re-territorializing images, indexes and concepts is replaced by the operation of signs as the foundation for abstract machines and the simulation of physical machinic processes. This operation of signs, this work of diagrammatization, has become the necessary condition for the de-territorializing mutations that affect the fluxes of reality; no longer is there representation, but simulation, pre-production, or what one might call ‘transduction’. The stratum of signification disappears; no longer are there two levels and a system of double articulation; there is only a constant return to the continuum of machinic intensities based on a pluralism of articulations.” — Felix Guattari, Molecular Revolution, p. 95, italics added.

I have concerned myself with thinking through the political economy of the singular expressed by the plural articulation (‘Star Wars’ as a singular franchise-event, plural articulations and so on). Ok, so the tricky bit for Deleuzians is to remember that in A Thousand Plateaus D&G are writing about a semiotic system unlike any other. The key point to remember is that they are discussing a material semiotics; the semiotics of the machine. So when in The Logic of Sense Deleuze writes of ‘sense’ (or the ‘pure event’) subsisting in every denotation he is writing of a very human semiotic system and regime of meaning making. On the other hand, cultural commodities born of franchise-events, such as Star Wars, The Dukes of Hazzard, The Matrix and so on, are not so much denotations, but, as Guattari writes, “the foundation for abstract machines and the simulation of physical machinic processes.” They should not be thought of as constellations of meaning accessed via a demystified or counter-hegemonic consciousness or mode of engagement. They are blocks of affect and material triggers of action.

The methodology of machinic transduction strips the world of all but the most basic of human territorialisations and maps it according to the machinic expressions by which it emerges. It is not scientific, in the sense of various Marxists approaches have been accussed of failing to be, but is instead problematic. Can we think as the machine? Never. It is only ever going to be an anexact, yet rigorous mode of engagement.

As a side note, in Comments on Society of the Spectacle, Debord discusses this in terms of anaesthetists/resuscitators (30). His focus is the role of ‘self-proclaimed revolutionaries’ to be activated when needed by the spectacle: “He will essentially follow the language of the spectacle, for it is the only one he is familiar with; the one in which he learned to speak. No doubt he would like to be regarded as an enemy of its rhetoric; but he will use its syntax. This is one of the most important aspects of spectacular domination’s success” (31). The ‘language of the spectacle’ is structured according to the prevailing grammar of the machine.* The language of the spectacle includes all advertisements and other cultural paraphernalia; what I call the automotive cultural industry in the case of the system of automobility.

The problem I have with most of the literature on automobility and car culture assumes an overly basic humanistic perspective. Cars as objects of human desire and so on. The only devoutly human dimension to automobility is that we accept and assume the specifically techno-logics demanded of us by the system of automobility. When a car ‘runs out of fuel’ we give it more fuel. We drive on the correct side of the road and try to avoid occupying the same space-time coordinates of another road user. All these aspects and many more form the basis of an automobilised common sense. This basic low level common sense that we start learning from an early age when we are taught, at least in Australia, in the most basic way to fold the system of automobility into our collective consciousness, and thus become part of the machinic apparatus of automobility, when we are told to ‘look left, look right and look left again’. This singular act bestowes the ‘duration’ of the road with a particularly polarity or a-tension (as well as an attention to danger) by folding the intrinsic movement or duration of the ‘road’, as a machinic expression of automobility, into our very perception of the ‘road’, as a physical object constructed in various ways from gravel to concrete and asphalt. Any distinction between the two percepts is still organised around the specifically machinic and singular affects that define the ‘road’ as movement and, more importantly, as danger.

The constitution of this automobilised common sense, or ‘attension’ to danger and movement, defines the road safety industry’s role in the system of automobility. The basic axiom is: You move and stop when told or you are dead (or, more accurately, you are rendered properly machinic as a statistic). The road safety industry produces ecologies of movement, in which humans are but ‘road users’ and road safety diciplinarity is meant to serve as a buffer between the intrinsic inhumanity of the machinic apparatus of automobility and outright annihilation. So rather the ‘humanity of the car’ as Daniel Miller phrased it, the system of automobility as a machinic apparatus locates humans as being merely an exagerated aggregate of the automobile’s immune system or, at best, reproductive organs. Or to put it another way, do not think of the car as an extension of the human — pace pop-Freudian accounts — but the ‘road user’ (being a dividual, not an individual) as an organ of the automobile and system of automobility in general.

The grammar of the machine is necessarily inhuman. In the case of automobility it is expressed across a number of language registers from the nearly-human abstract technical language of automotive engineering to the nearly-machinic language of the pedestrian crossing’s red light/green light. The language of car enthusiasts is the abstract technical language of automotive engineering folded back into the properly human domain, that is, the domain concerned with specifically humanistic affects. The technical language of automotive engieering segments a section of the machinic phylum belonging to automobility. Enthusiasts take this segment and fetishize it with a human love. The docile commuter of automobility is the properly machinic sex organ. The structural homology between various sites of automobility is evidence of the singular machinic consistency of automobility. The car enthusiast reterritotialises automobility’s plane of consistency with human affects. Hence, ‘kickstart my heart’.

* Guattari briefly writes: “[T]he sign machines work, at least in part, directly on the material fluxes, whatever may be the ‘ideological’ system of the remaining part that functions in the sphere of representation. […] [T]here is no means of conceiving the conjunction of words and things other than by resorting to a system of machnic keys that ‘cross’ the various domains we are considering” (96). The ‘system of machinic keys’ is what I am calling the ‘grammar of the machinic’. Another way to imagine this is to remember what Deleuze writes in The Logic of Sense:

“Everything is singular, and thus both collective and private, particular and general, neither individual nor universal. Which war, for example, is not a private affair? Conversely, which wound is not inflicted by war and derived as a society as a whole? Which private event does not have all its coordinates, that is, all its impersonal social singularities?” — Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, p. 152

The ‘impersonal social singularities’ can be the locus of organisation (‘attractors’ in science speak), but an organisation that is properly machinic, such as language or the system of automobility (unlike pure maths), will cuts across ‘words and things’ as ‘sense’. However, and excrutiatingly important, this ‘sense’ does not necessarily have to be human or even of language; all we understand is the necessarily human correlate of this ‘sense’. So, for example, the grammar of the machinic is exactly that which renders war (or ‘illegal immigrants’/refugees, IR reform/exploitation and so on) as a private affair. The ‘private affair’ is an expression of the machine that produces war as much as the machine that expresses ‘private affairs’ is producing war. As dividuals we are but ‘figural’ and machinic at the same time.

Gym

OK so I weigh in at a petite 111.5kgs now (245.3 lbs for the backward;). Down from 130-odd kgs (280-ish lbs) 6-and-a-bit months ago. Plus, I am not smoking at all and don’t really think about it. I can do regular 7 minute-2km ergo’s (rowing machine). This means that I am fit, believe it. I can do the cycle and stairmaster for as long as I want, normally for about 20 minutes each on relatively high levels of cardio ‘hardness’. Then weights for about 40 minutes to an hour. I do this at least 4 times a week.

I reckon I’ve got about another 8 weeks before the CSAA conference which is my target date. I am losing about 1 kg a week, but weight loss is not a true indication of the way my body shape is changing because I am getting stronger at the same time.

I met a person at a party a few weeks ago and told me I had the biggest shoulders they had ever seen. Indeed…! Yes, ‘ego works’, but I am making my own self-image, and not one inducted via the ‘spectacle’. I work my body so I am actually using it rather than letting it be a mere vessel for my brain and alcohol. Whatever becomes of it after all this work it is doing, then so be it.

Gym is a pleasure now, even when I weat my box off or start tasting my lunch/breakfast again on the stairmaster. I feel my body working and it feels good. I get to do enough intellectual gymnastics with my dissertation, it feels good to be working my body now, too.