Massumi Paper: ¥€$ to Futurity 2

Found this very interesting paper by Brian Massumi last night, The Future Birth of the Affective Fact. He actually touches on quite a number of issues that have concerned me and which I have taken up here on my blog.

One of them is the status of the relation to futurity in neoliberalism and the subject of my thesis which he calls ‘interest’ (and which I am exploring a stronger version,’enthusiasm’). His discussion of ‘interest’ is couched negatively in terms of risk and fear (which is not surprising as it correlates with his previous work):

Neoliberalism defines freedom as the right of individuals to act according to their personal interest, as rationally indexed to the needs and opportunities of the market economy that sustains them. Market forces will “naturally” coach the interplay of interests toward a peaceful coexistence in a state of dynamic equilibrium. A dynamic equilibrium is a punctuated equilibrium, appearing uncertainly between periods of crisis and haunted by their spectre. The market as a self-regulating system is metastable: it achieves provisional equilibrium, within limits and between thresholds, dogged at each step by conflicts of interests, irrationalities, and deviances, little dangers that might suddenly combine weights and tip the system into chaos.

In terms of the provision of ‘needs and opportunities’ to consumer-citizens it also relates to Lindsay Tanner’s recent talk about the role of the State, which I have written about here. In my thesis I discuss this ‘provisional equilibrium’ that Massumi writes about in terms the consistency of the assemblage, part of this consistency is the affective dimension, which Massumi elsewhere calls ‘world-glue’. I argue that subcultural media manipulate and exploit the affects of an enthusiasm (or interest), not as a means directed to an ends, but as a way to generate activity. This activity has a temporal rhythm (certain car shows, days of the week, etc). Tanner’s talk is much more appropriate for the role of the government in the Australian context than Massumi’s paper. Dare I say it, but Tanner’s talk also delves a little further into the complexity of neoliberal governmentality than Massumi’s seemingly superficial survey of things that Bush has said.

Neoliberal governance acts around the autonomous activity of a process. It acts peripherally, then observes collaterally to assess the damage or benefit of its actions. Its novelty, in taking interest as its “object,” is to have invented a mode of power that in fact has no object. What it has is pragmatic adjacency to a process. Having no object as such, it does not constitute itself as a subject of knowledge. It knows only consequentially, by reading the indicators for collateral damage. Its knowing is perpetually deferred into indications for the future, the meaning of which only the unfolding of the process will tell.

I actually explore his in terms of the relationship between Street Machine magazine and the Summernats festival. Anyway… In relation to similar concerns in my first ¥€$ to Futurity post, Massumi writes:

An indicated trend will eventuate if certain conditions hold, in particular investor and consumer confidence. If future conditions remain grounded in economic principles as currently understood – overall, this means governed by rational self-interest venturing calculated risks — the systemic response to whatever corrective measures are undertaken following the guideline of minimal governance should be more or less predictable.

BTW, this relation to futurity of finance capital is the strongest actual evidence that I have come across on the actual reality of something like Negri and Hardt’s ‘Empire’. This relation, int he current society, is properly machinic. There has been more discussion on investment capital elsewhere in the blogosphere at Long Sunday as part of the Tronti symposium (which is another story, this time involving people who cultivate ‘school marm’ personas on the internet, lol!).

I locate the mechanism for the interest-excitement of enthusiasm in the rhythms of excitement and boredom of the mass-culture industry, these are, in some ways, a positive set of affects. Massumi dwells on fear/threats, so his equation for an ‘affective fact’ is:

Affect, as a mechanism of linkage or a component of passage, is in a position to play an increasingly crucial role.
So what is an affective fact? The mechanism is quite simple:
Threat triggers fear. The fear is of disruption. The fear is a disruption.
The mechanism is a capacity that affect itself has to self-effect.

My equation would be: “Boredom triggers interest. The interest is the agitation. The interest is an agitation.” I am reading ‘disruption/agitation’ as referring to a disruption of the provisional equilibrium in the market economy. The ‘equilibirum’ is not balanced in the sense of a normal equilibrium; an agitation would be a trigger to activity, the sort of activity that the market economy may very well demand. For example, a trigger to cheer for one’s team on television (desired!) or to smash milk bottles (not desired!). Smashing milk bottles is of course Paul Corrigan’s example of “Doing Nothing”, which is precisely the limit case to all this.

Lastly, Massumi raises an example of an airport closure, which is a situation we have also experienced in Australia. He writes:

And what if the fog is a cloud of white powder … quick, close the airport! The airport must be closed just in case, to assuage the fear. The closure of the airport induces fear. Men in white decontamination suits descend. Police swarm in for crowd control. Far-flung airports with originating flights due to land are affected. The media amplify the alarm in real-time with live news bulletins. The fear of the disruption has become the disruption.

I am surprised he doesn’t mention Paul Patton’s discussion of Deleuze’s events with using airbourne toxic event in Don Delillo’s White Noise as an example.

Anyway, check out the paper. There is some cool stuff.

EDIT: 27/03/06

For another take on Foucault’s 1979 ‘La naissance de la biopolitique’ lectures see this paper by Thomas Lemke.