DeLanda Interview, Markets, Consumption, Worlds

For those who read and use Deleuze, Guattari, and D&G’s work, here is an interview/discussion I came across between DeLanda, John Protevi, and Torkild Thanem. I quite enjoyed Protevi’s book Deleuze and Geophilosophy, although the deferrance he shows to DeLanda in this interview is a bit weird. The interview is interesting for a number of reasons.

  • DeLanda expresses his anti-marxism quite clearly. I hope he actually turns some of his hyberbole into scholarly arguments because I would be interested to see what he does with his comment “I find the expression ‘commodification’ worse than useless” (p. 30). I can understand what he means, I have had similar problems with the BCCCS subculture stuff (also see Anne’s post on appropriation where she is tending towards the same problem). See point 3 below on ‘markets’.
  • DeLanda’s little schema staked out in the below extract is interesting:

Deleuze accepts the objectivity of science but not the legitimizing discourses of scientists. For example, he would not accept the existence of general laws (or of general anything: generalities exist only in our minds) but he would accept, I believe, the topological structure of those laws (e.g. for Newton’s laws, a phase space structured by a single singularity or attractor which would explain the “least principles” on which those laws are based). That topological structure complements his ontology of actual individual singularities with virtual universal singularities. (9)

“Deleuze accepts the objectivity of science”? However, going by The Logic of Sense, I don’t think Deleuze accepted the objectivity of language. Isn’t this the biggest problem with DeLanda’s work? In trying to say something of the world, as a ‘scientist’ would, he misses the specifically Deleuzian critique of language and the production of sense? Surely he can see that language produces relative stabilities for the purposes of relation and articulation. ‘Objectivity’ is not a relation between language and the world, or the purely expressed of propositions and events beyond language, but a relatively stable relation between what Foucault called ‘statements’. ‘Statements’ are special elements of discourse, what D&G called the indexes of an assemblage (if I remember correctly there are three levels of indexes). Foucault called it rationality, but we might as well call objectivity for DeLanda’s sake, because a certain ‘objectivity’ is surely a perspectival component of any ‘rationality’. How can DeLanda separate the legitimizing discourse (‘science’) from the discursive effect (‘objectivity’)? Are we to ignore the virtualizing capacity of language and the machinic dimension of collective assemblages of enunciation as irrelevant? Arguing that the internal consistency of science relies on a certain creativity is not the same thing as a necessary acceptance of the conditions that make that creativity sensical.

  • Lastly, some very interesting comments on markets. Firstly from Protevi:

Classical and neo-classical economics make assumptions of these goals of disciplinary practice, which thereby enables them to model economies as equilibrium systems. The result is an elegant model whose inability to predict reality is often blamed on some recalcitrant feature of reality: the model says markets should behave in such and such a fashion; real markets do not behave in this fashion; therefore there must be some government // distortion of the real market preventing it from behaving in the way it should; therefore we must remove such distortion to “allow” — that is, to make — the system behave the way the model says it should. The key point is that neoliberal governments (in today’s world, under the pressure of the IMF) try to bring such “rational economic” behaviour about by actively producing the social situations the model assumes: normalization of behaviour by making people behave in individual self-interest (due to lack of social interaction/social security). (13-14) 

And the from DeLanda:

Deleuze created his ontology partly as a response to Foucault’s analysis of the “classical episteme”, which had four major axes: similarity, identity, analogy and contradiction. Since all classical thought is bounded by those four categories (if we are to believe Foucault) it follows that any approach that wants to be non-classical must avoid them as foundational categories. […] Take for example the distinction between “markets” and “hierarchies” as done // in Organizational Theory by people like Oliver Williamson. A Deleuzian treatment (a de-marxified one) would treat these two as special cases of decentralized networks and centralized structures. Or even more radically, as specific actualizations of two more abstract cases, rhizomes and strata, which also have biological and geological actualizations. What would make all the actualizations comparable not metaphorically would be that the processes which produce them share a deep topological isomorphism, the same virtual singularities guiding the processes. (15-16)

DeLanda’s use of ‘radical’ above is telling. Does he want to talk about ‘rhizomes’ and ‘strata’ or does he want to bloody engage with ‘markets’!?!?! Reducing market structures (rendered in all their complexity) to ‘rhizomes’ and ‘strata’ makes for a very poor critical engagement. Is he ignoring Protevi’s argument about the wilful reduction of social existence in the neoliberal quest for rational-economic interactionism? Surely he can see the feed-forward loop that is constructed on multiple levels where a ‘model’ conditions the very passage between the virtual to the actual (and back again). This reminds me of an email I was sent a while ago by Ben Hourigan from the CSAA list who wanted to take issue with something I had sent to the list:

First, I don’t believe it makes any sense to suggest that Howard (as if he is the whole government) or anyone else “really does want to drive the quality of life down to sufficient levels to compete with the productivity of emerging 3rd world countries.” Why would anyone have the sinister objective of trying to reduce the wages and standard of living of the people they govern. I believe that what you’re trying to get at is that the Howard government is trying to liberalize labour relations to the point where the labour market here is able to adjust to trends that move jobs to countries where labour is cheaper. No Australian politician would want to see Australian workers paid 20c an hour. However, if an Australian politician had to
choose between these two situations: 

1. Two jobs are available. Australian labour prices and conditions are flexible. A Burmese labourer gets 20c/hour for doing one job, an Australian worker gets 20c/hour for doing another.

2. Two jobs are available. Australian labour prices and conditions are INflexible. Two Burmese labourers get 20c/hour each for doing the jobs, and no Australian worker gets anything, because no-one can afford to pay for one.

the politician would choose scenario #1. It’s called “acting in the
national interest.”

All the rhizomes in the world are not going to help someone understand how an intelligent person who has allegedly read enough ‘theory’ to be doing a Cultural Studies-type PhD on the political content of video games can come up with the above argument. (Why is the interest of the ‘nation’ at stake? I am not part of that ‘nation’. Surely Ben realises that the ‘nation’ is a particular ideologically constructed ‘model’ that circulates for the privilege of those that Howard and his Liberal party government actually represent?)

I have been reading Don Slater’s work on markets recently attempting to tease out some further thoughts about the relation between ‘scenes’ and ‘markets’. He develops a very handy way of talking about markets as the effect of advertising ‘market strategy’ that delineates a given population into markets, ie the way markets are discusses in economic theory and everyday language (a market for this or a market for that). In the essay I am working with at the moment (‘Capturing Markets from the Economists.’ In Cultural Economy: Cultural Analysis and Commercial Life) he troubles this notion. He uses the example of an argument between a child and parent over dinner about whether a plate of spinach counts as ‘food’:

This obviously invokes the perceived properties of spinach (health, edibility, Popeye’s strength); it invokes broader relations of con­sumption around the meaning of meals (notions of nutritional needs, obedi­ence and power, traditions); and it is perceived from the perspective of particular people (parental roles, class constructions of nutrition, gendered relations of power and responsibility). The construction of spinach as a use value extends across a social field in which parents, marketers, schools and health services, the media (cartoons in this case), and so on, can intervene, seeking to shift elements of the field towards establishing a definition of the good that fits in with their interests. This constellation of interventions may act to destabilize the object or re-fix it: one could at least imagine an adver­tiser, for example, moulding spinach into new shapes – say Popeye himself – in order to crack the youth market by repositioning the vegetable as a fun food, snack and media tie-in. Any of these processes would have implica­tions for market structures, even if the motive was not originally commer­cial but, say, the initiative of health educationalists; conversely, any non­commercial, `cultural’ intervention in the definition of spinach would at least take place within, and take cognizance of, the market structure of compet­ing goods. (Slater, 2002: 74) 

‘Spinach’ becomes a multidimensional event!! To reposit spinach as a ‘fun food’ means precisely to discourse it on a particular affective level, ‘fun’ is one of the key signifiers of affective modulation in contemporary culture. (I ‘had fun’, ‘it was fun’, ‘funtastic’.) It signals a collective individuation (or the capacity to effectuate such an individuation) of the ‘fun’ conjunctive event of the commodity’s consumption. The event of consumption, in this case, is defined by the commodity’s capacity for ‘fun’ or to produce a given population (perhaps of one person, but because of the virtualizing effect of media, I doubt it). (Think of consumer anger, not: “That was shit” but “That wasn’t fun at all” or, the worst, “This is boring.” Or ‘shit’ is invoked as a resistant affect to produce a counter-individuation.) Once the ‘fun’ has worn off, consumers turn back to the cybernetic teat of the cultural industry to ‘discover’ other ways to ward off boredom (perhaps play computer games or write in blogs!).

The ‘image’ of the commodity is a key element of a feed-forward that herald the event of consumption. Or what Lazzarato calls the ‘world’. In this case it is the world of Popeye (or the world of John Howard’s ‘nation’).:

The corporation [or political-media assemblage] does not generate the object (the commodity), but rather the world in which the object exists. Nor does it generate the subject (worker and consumer), but rather the world in which the subject exists. […] Consumption is not reduced to the act of buying and carrying out a service or a product, as political economics and its criticism teach, but instead means, first of all, belonging to a world or a universe. Which world is this? It is enough to turn on the television or the radio, go for a walk in a city, buy a weekly or daily newspaper, to know that this world is constructed through a statement arrangement, through a sign regime, the expression of which is called advertising, and what is expressed (the meaning) is a prompt, a command, representing per se a valuation, a judgment, a view of the world, of themselves and others. What is expressed (the meaning) is not an ideological valuation, but rather an incentive (it gives signs), a prompt to assume a form of living, i.e. a way of dressing, having a body, eating, communicating, residing, moving, having a gender, speaking, etc. [ital. added] 

EDIT 05/06/06 More on ‘worlds’ in the sense Lazzarato is using it here, see Steve Shaviro’s post Try Another World.

4 thoughts on “DeLanda Interview, Markets, Consumption, Worlds”

  1. good stuff glen!

    “Reducing market structures (rendered in all their complexity) to ‘rhizomes’ and ‘strata’ makes for a very poor critical engagement.”


    but you know, i *like* the word “commodification”. i like that it’s something we do, something we make, something we turn out…

  2. mel, how about:

    Around the World in 80 Rhizomes

    ? A day is certainly no longer the most appropriate duration of experience, the cycles of boredom/attention, de/activate, dis/comfort work on all different rhizomatic temporal series…

    No, but half-seriously (which is even more serious than actual seriousness, because I am aware of the ridiculous nature of it): It could be a little, highly-commodifiable book, with 80 tiny 3-5 page chapters. Each chapter critcally elucidates one rhizomatic network or another (perhaps focusing on the dominant and/or popular), so that by the end of it, the last network connects to the first and the ‘world’ has been circumnavigated (perhaps this happens more than once). Like a lonely planet guide except visiting the virtual networks that connect everything.

    Lets put a book proposal together and then find 78 friends (maybe I should just join myspace and have fifty quad-zillion).

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