Barbrook, Fool?

From the infamous essay by Barbrook “Deleuzoguattarians – The Holy Fools”:

Despite the commercialisation of cyberspace, self-interest ensures that the hi-tech gift economy continues to flourish. For most users, the Net is somewhere to work, play, love, learn and discuss with other people. Unrestricted by physical distance, they collaborate with each other without the direct mediation of money or politics. Unconcerned about copyright, they give and receive information without thought of payment. In the absence of states or markets to mediate social bonds, network communities are instead formed through the mutual obligations created by gifts of time and ideas.

This above extract demonstrates how little Barbrook actually understands about Deleuze and Guattari, especially Guattari’s work on ‘public free radio’ in Italy. The interest at stake is collective, ie the ‘self’ of ‘self interest’ is not a completely individuated self a molar person, but the conditions of collective subjectivation. In Guattari’s essay “Subjectivities: for Better and for Worse” he describes the process of how poetry can be used to express the gap that opens up a ‘molecular rupture’ which produces a “mutant center of auto-referentiation and auto-valorization.” In effect what is produced is an assemblage of a certain semiotization and of a certain participatory population. Radio Alice was not (merely) a radio sation, but the locus of a collective assemblage of enunciation produced through the experimentation of a certain population and through continual enunciation through this ‘poetic function’ of language and expression.

My interest in all this is that when ‘commercial interests’ get involved they attempt to shift such loci to the commodified spaces of the pages and screens of corporate media, such as enthusiast magazines. For example, the enthusiast magazines intervene in the circuits of referentiation and the processes of semiotic valorization (ala Foucault’s ‘commentary’). Corporate media commodifies the collective assemblages of enunciation in the process. It is this ‘media’ that Guattari speaks of when he discusses ‘post-media’. (See Michael Goddard’s discussion on the subject available here online.) Collectivies are not produced through “the mutual obligations created by gifts of time and ideas”, the already exisiting collectivities are only formalised by such ‘mutual obligations’. They are created by the shared interest to discuss and circulate such ideas and labours. I call this shared interest enthusiasm, and if one is an enthusiast, then it has nothing to do with obligation and everything to do with desire. ‘Obligation’ is a mode of conditioning desire. As Australia’s welfare recipients have found in the Federal government’s policy of ‘mutual obligation’, which in effect attempts to function to condition interest. (“It is in your best interest…”) Barbrook never refers to this scale of collectivity that is ‘determinable’ (not determined) by a shared interest. He only discusses categories of collectivity-scale inherited from elsewhere and which refer not to interests but to identity (of nations and of eras).

Did Barbrook really believe that the popularity of Deleuze and Guattari was because of some mass-delusion? That there was not any substance to their positions or arguments? What Barbook does not fully appreciate is that Deleuze and Guattari’s position is also post-Nietzschean in that there is no distinction between the ‘eagles’ and ‘herd’. The ‘eagles’ have herd-like desires just as much as the alleged ‘herd’ is full of eagle-like potentialities; this was the radical potential the BCCCS saw in the British youth subcultures of the 1960s and 1970s. See the discussion of ‘common sense’ in ATP. There is a common sense of every social milieu (and it is in part this ‘common sense’ that allows social milieux to be distinguished!). The interest in Deleuze and Guattari’s work produces a social milieu of alleged deleuzoguattarians. This has to be warded off as much as any other ‘semiotic pilotization’. Barbrook associates this deleuzoguattarian milieu with an aristocracy of theory-artists, and from what I have witnessed he is probably accurate. However, his position is totally irrelevant to understanding Deleuze and Guattari’s work or putting in into practice in one’s own collective way with others of shared interest.

The real problem with Deleuze and Guattari is that the necessary infrastructure required to produce assemblages of shared interests is never properly outlined. Assemblages do not emerge from nothing, they are an arrangement of heterogeneous elements. Instead, there is much talk of how to attack the infrastructure of current collectivities (the State, etc). In terms of a concrete example: What was required to get the radio station ‘Radio Alice’ up and running? What were the empirical costs, the material realities of the situation? The costs of participating in the emergence of such collectivities has obviously been reduced by the internet and the capacity of the internet to sustain the shared interest of populations. If Barbrook disagrees, then he is insane. (This is not the same thing as saying that there are no costs.) The critical problem is how to reduce the pollution in such assemblages of commercial interests and the hegemonic interests of the already-privileged while maximising the potentials for creative expression of the shared interests that produced the assemblage in the first place. If those of a shared interest can find a commercial interest to sponsor their activity then I don’t see a problem with it, particularly if the participants are already the customers of the commercial interest (more than likely in that state of affairs of a capitalist society). There is no absolute distinction between the shared interests of populations and the commercial interest of capitalism. Anyway, the crucial error in the above extract from the Barbrook essay is that the market does not sustain the shared interest, the shared interest sustains the market. And it is this shared interest that exists as the ‘world glue’ between heterogeneous elements of an assemblage. Does Barbrook believe in a reality that can not exist as separate from the commercialising interventions of the market or the state (‘commercial interest’)?

Not Getting the Joke 2: Getting the Joke

On the recent Big Brother controversy in Australia. See round-up at Larvatus Prodeo. I think Mel’s post is the most interesting so far. As she writes there is a:

divergence in the coverage of the Big Brother sex scandal: according to the broadsheets it’s an “alleged sexual assault” or a “sexual incident”; according to the denizens of bulletin boards and YouTube it’s a “turkey slap”. I’m not going to link to the video; you can google “big brother turkey slap” and you’ll find it easily enough.

[I have made a comment to Mel’s post, but I’ll write an extended version here.]

Mel touches on a very interesting point with regards to the attribution of ‘blame’.

The actions of these three people are being caught up in an external attribution of ‘blame’. The mainstream media, including the Crider, trod the line that it was an unacceptable incident of sexual assault. So did many bloggers. Blog comments and bulletin boards, however, brought out the really repugnant people. (Jess has the best round-up at Ausculture, which, combined with the shutdown of the official Big Brother forums, brought all the spastics to her site.) These comments suggested, in their semi-literate way, that the incident was a joke that had been blown out of proportion, and even that Camilla had solicited and enjoyed it because she is “that sort” of woman. On the flipside, there has been disappointment and shock because Ashley and John weren’t perceived as “that sort” of man.

The problem, which Mel’s isolates very well, is ‘blame’ or causality overcoded with a moralistic stance, because this situation contradicts any straightforward moral-causal reading of the situation for two reasons. Firstly, the causality is distributed across the participants in asymmetrical ways, and secondly it opens up the causal chains to includes ‘actors’ beyond the immediate situation. Instead of asking who caused what to happen, a more effective line of questioning would be asking what allowed such an event to precipitate, and how is this event understood from multiple perspectives (of those involved) rather than trying to come up with an overall understanding of what happened. This stretches the locus of causality beyond infantile accusatory judgements regarding the ‘boys’ or ‘girl’ and includes the situation in which they are placed (ie produced by the Big Brother production team, logic of the show, Australian viewing public, etc.) Dogpossum follows this logic in a comment over at LP:

The difficulty with being in the BB house, and being a woman, is that you must balance the strategies of invisibility-through-group-membership which many women (and men) adopt to avoid this sort of public maintenance of the pecking order – laughing along, not speaking up, agreeing, etc – with keeping a favourable profile in the eyes of the television audience. You don’t want to be evicted for being ‘boring’ when there’s a cash prize at stake. Or perhaps more importantly, a group to be ‘in’ with. The young and other self-doubting people are particularly vulnerable in this sort of situation.

The second very interesting thing, from my point of view, is the self-realisation by Camilla that she served as the necessary social infrastructure for a ‘becoming-together’ or shared sense of belonging. This becoming-together is of who gets the joke, which is primarily set up for the benefit of the ‘boys’, but can also include Camilla here if she objectifies herself. Camilla’s self-objectification is the real tragedy of the event and the cascading situation around it. In cultural terms it is the ‘joke’ of which Camilla is the butt, that she precisely does get. This fills me with a profound sense of sadness because she is obviously distraught about it, for she understands ‘the joke’ but at the same time doesn’t want to be the mere objectified infrastructure of homosocial relations. ‘Getting the joke’ does not mean that one condones it, it simply means that you are smart enough to follow the infantile logic of homosocial humour. The sense of belonging precipitated by ‘the joke’ brings into sharp relief the longing felt by a woman that appears to be incredible lonely in the house (her ‘personality’). The ‘boys’ (which includes all the wannabe prosti-teen paris hiltons) in the Australian public get the affects of ‘belonging’, but the ‘girls’ (which includes me here) get the ‘longing’.

I have written about this notion of the ‘joke’ on my blog when discussing a book on men’s magazines where some researchers ‘got the joke’ but didn’t seem to ‘get’ the getting of the joke, ie what ‘the joke’ does in terms of the dynamics of micro-socialities. The ‘joke’ effects an incorporeal transformation premised on masculine sensibilities of those who get it and those who don’t. In the case of Big Brother this micro-social dimension of the event is transmitted and differentially repeated through every broadcast and story about the state of affairs; transmission virtualises the event, and virtualisation is a valorisation. In terms of the magazine, I laid it out thus (and there would be a close situation happening now with the Big Brother ‘turkey slap’):

What is the ‘special interest’ of the [majoritarian] masculine consumer? To belong to certain event spaces in certain ways, at work, home, school, sport field/stand, pub, and so on. The materiality of identity has a gatekeeper function. You look like you belong. Money is a good signifier of belonging anywhere. The magazines select (literally, through advertising and advertainment features) commodified signifers of certain event spaces, organise these selections in the pages of the magazine, territorialise these organisations with the potentialities (for belonging) of ‘new man’ or ‘new lad’ affectivities through the affective content of the magazines’ affective discourse (or [discursive] tone), and then envelop these territories with an abstract machine of the universal category of ‘man’.