Enthusiasm: The Existential Territory of the Challenge

For the development of “ploys” depends upon finding some method for distinguishing among practices to find those that are politically useful: how is it possible to separate out practices that “the system of products effects within the consumer grid” from those that are “art” or maneuvers by consumers in the room left to them by the system — a task made even more difficult if, as de Certeau admits, all the practices that count as “art” or “culture” aggregate to legitimize the system some of the time and displace it at other times (PEL xvii)? In that case, we would not be able to distinguish among practices on the basis of their effects: as de Certeau explains, “[s]imilar strategic deployments … do not produce identical effects” (PEL xvii). So which features will mark out “culture” from the system? How to separate the system of capitalism from the “culture” of creative consumption that takes place only in and through capitalism? It seems that no bright line devides complicitous practices from resistant ones. — Rotherberg, The Excessive Subject (2009), p 68

Molly Rotherberg engages with a discussion of Bourdieu and de Certeau in her relatively new book The excessive subject: a new theory of social change. This is of particular interest to me as I also engaged with Bourdieu and de Certeau in my dissertation but from a very different theoretical orientation.

I was attempting to tackle precisely the problem that Rotherberg isolates in the above quote regarding the character of the system of capitalism versus the “culture” of creative capitalism that de Certeau famously wrote about. ‘Resistance’ in de Certeau’s writings is produced almost as an accident. The tactical engagement with the gaps produced by the overlapping strategies of power is a question of opportunity and singularity. I ended up framing it differently to Rotherberg (above), instead of seeking ‘resistance’ as an identifiable practice (thus incorporating a dialectical mirror of the capitalist system in the very practice that may or may not elude it), I examined how the productive and creative labour of amateur enthusiasts could be commodified and used to produce surplus value for the creative industry that services the given scene of an enthusiasm. Or to put it another way, how can the enthusiasm of amateurs be harnessed by commercial interests belonging to a creative industry while at the same time still be experienced more or less by the enthusiasts as ‘authentic’ in character?

I went back to Kant’s conception of enthusiasm and rather than treating enthusiasm as a “sign of history” as the effect of an imagination that attempts to come to terms with an Idea (i.e. Revolution) that exceeds the capacity to understand the Idea (as is the case in Lyotard’s reading of Kantian enthusiasm, based on how Kant reads the French Revolution), I treated Kant’s writings more as a description of the general structure for an affective mobilisation that produces practical knowledge. In general, enthusiasm is the linking of an Idea with an Affect. For example, enthusiasm can be said to be morally good when the Idea of the Good is the Idea which is linked with an affect. Others have read Kant in this manner and have described what they’ve called a ‘moral sublime’.

The concept of Enthusiasm can be mobilised in other ways however. Before the affect can be linked to an Idea, an Idea that the faculty of understanding cannot grasp and which ‘inflames’ the power of imagination, a kind of contradiction is presented in Kant’s discussion of enthusiasm. How can enthusiasm be ‘an affect linked with an Idea’, if it is the Idea that cannot be grasped as such and relies on the power of the imagination to think it? Does the Idea exist yet? The Idea of the ‘good’ does, at least in Kant’s philosophy. What if instead of relying on the categories, Ideas were differential relations between the virtual and actual, actualised according to their singularities (as in Deleuze’s philosophy)? Then a different diagram for the concept of enthusiasm present itself. The content of the Idea cannot yet be grasped by the subject of enthusiasm, instead there is only the challenge posed by its relative absence.

A general example of this relating to the problem of resistance/complicity in de Certeau’s work can be found in the everyday practice of enthusiasts. Enthusiast practice is based around the objects or events of their enthusiasm. I researched car enthusiasts who work on, observe and drive cars. More often than not enthusiasts engage with various problems presented by the objects or events of their enthusiasm. ‘Problem’ is meant here in its most general sense. For my car enthusiasts, it was when there was a breakage or some kind of mechanical failure. An enthusiasts does not engage with ‘problems’ however, I am using the term ‘problem’ because that is how most non-enthusiasts would instantly perceive such a breakage or mechanical failure. The singularity that de Certeau described is at the heart of such ‘problems’; there are the actual co-ordinates of the ‘problem’ (the broken mechanical parts), but the singularity also has an intensive dimension.

It is at once a question of perception in general (enthusiast vs non-enthusiast), but also subject to the developmental capacity of the enthusiast to transcend the singularity as an unknown contingency without initially knowing precisely what went wrong. The enthusiasts effects what Deleuze and Guattari call an incorporeal transformation. The actual ‘objective’ co-ordinates of the singularity as a ‘problem’ have not changed, but through an experience-based practical knowledge — know-how — the enthusiast is able to deduce the more precise coordinates of the ‘problem’ and thus translate the singularity from the objective conditions of being a ‘problem’ (where the contingency of the ‘problem’ is unknown, how did it go wrong?) into that of a ‘challenge’. This is the moment that ‘know-how’ begins to be produced.

A non-enthusiast, when faced with such a ‘problem’, will simply take their car to a mechanic and request that it be fixed. A non-enthusiast does not transcend the actualised singularity as a ‘problem’. An enthusiast mobilises before actualising the singularity of the ‘problem’ as the enthusiast first has to transcend the previous conditions of possibility of his or her previous capacities of ‘know how’. That is, he enthusiast still does not know what is ‘wrong’, but like a ‘problem’ the existential territory defined by a ‘challenge’ (or in de Certeau’s language, an ‘opportunity’) is open ended. A ‘challenge’ still has to be met, so to speak, just like a ‘problem’ needs a solution or an ‘opportunity’ needs to be capitalised on. This movement of the enthusiast to meet the challenge is characterised by the active (Spinoza) or strenuous (Kant) affects of enthusiasm. In such moments the non-enthusiast suffers from passive (Spinoza) or languid (Kant) affections. It is why there is often an economy of respect within enthusiast cultures that is determined by the experiential character of challenges that a given enthusiast has ‘met’.

The solution to how enthusiasts labour in such a way as to produce surplus labour for the creative industries that service an enthusiasm is through the way ‘challenges’ are valorised through enthusiast discourse distributed hrough enthusiast magazines and the like. The creative industry presents certain challenges as worthy of enthusiastic mobilisation. The real question then, is not how to identify resistant practice, but how to produce a properly revolutionary ‘know how’.

Theory and Research

I am going over my writing from the last few years and sorting out what should go where. The problem I face is that there is a paper I really want to write to do with Kant’s discussion of enthusiasm and there is no way, that I have figured out at least, that I fit a proper discussion of Kant’s discussion of enthusiasm into the context of my empirical research. This is not a simple matter of me trying to ‘apply’ some theory or another to my empirical research, rather my concept of enthusiasm was developed through my empirical research (fieldwork and archival research of 30 years of magazines and other materials). Therefore it is annoying, almost disheartening, to realise I am going to have split my work into two papers. One that deals with enthusiasm as a concept and is therefore primarily a philosophical work and the other that delves into my empirical research to outline a historical example of a culture and political economy of enthusiasm. This separation should not exist in my mind but there are good reasons for it.

1) Readers of the two papers would be very different. The philosophical paper is essentially a reading of Kant. The cultural studies paper is essentially a Foucaultian genealogy of enthusiasm within modified-car culture. On the one hand, I hardly think too many bourgeois academic philosophers would be interested in my empirical work. On the other hand, the empirical work presents a strong example of the ways enthusiasm can be harnessed as a resource by cultural industries and with the emergent dispositif of labour relations organised around immaterial labour and so on it is a useful way to understand what is at stake.

2) I have misgivings about my own abilities to do a reading of Kant justice. Some philosophers specialise in Kant and his various works (and secondary readings) are practically all they study for their entire lives. I am a competent reader of Kant, I think. In that I recognise an interesting argument made about Kant’s work when I read it. Maybe I’ll present some readings of Kant here? (I just created a Kant category for my blog.) The issue of course is that I am only interested in his discussion of enthusiasm. His general philosophy about the legislative function of reason as a synthesis of the faculties is not that interesting to me at the moment. Anyway, a separate paper on Kant’s enthusiasm would force me to properly engage with Kant’s enthusiasm in a sustained manner.

3) Theory. I loathe the notion. I am not sure what people were thinking when they thought it was a good idea to invent this category of academic work. There are only conceptual tools. Theory should be banished. I don’t want my Kant paper to appear as if it were ‘theory’. That is why I am so reluctant to give up on a paper that incorporates empirical research.

4) My style of writing is to trace influences on my work and influences on others’ work to the page or series of pages and reference these pages so readers can follow exactly where I am getting ideas from. One of the best things about A Thousand Plateaus for example are the footnotes. There is a question of competence here, particularly when reading or using something in a particular way, so others familiar with the work can follow what you are doing. There is also a question about a creative ecology or milieu to which my own work belongs. Its totality is only ever a partiality of another totality and so on. I want to be able to frame the horizon of intelligibility of my understanding and imagination. This makes my writing rather dense and requires a patient reader. Splitting what I am working on at the moment into two papers will at least save the reader having to be patient on two counts for the philosophical stuff (Kant, Deleuze, etc.) and the empirical historical work (magazines, newsletters, etc.). I can understand why Foucault chose not to include footnotes in some work. Splitting it will make each paper appropriately energetic or at least less of the inverse.

Christian measures participatory instances of web. Generates algorithm for productive labor & surplus value

Here is the original image on Flickr of a presentation by Christian Fuchs at The Internet as Playground and Factory conference.

I wonder where Christian is on McKenzie Wark‘s diagram of what Jodi Dean called his Grand Unified Theory.


Wark’s diagram represents social classes/subjectivities not in relation to the means of production, but in relation to the labour of capitalising on opportunity.

Scale, Events and Object-Oriented Philosophy

I am very fluey writing this, and have easily gone through a third of a big box of tissues blowing my nose. I’ve taken a day off work and with not much else to do I thought I’d catch up on my blogging.


A couple of years ago I flagged the problem of scale when dealing with Deleuze’s conception of events. In a couple of passages from The Logic of Sense he raises the example of a battle and he makes two keen points.

1) “If the battle is not an example of an event among others, but rather the Event in its essence, it is no doubt because it is actualized in diverse manners at once, and because each participant may grasp it at a different level of actualization within its variable present” (100). The virtual battle-event can be grasped by the participants in a multipliticity of ways. The virtual battle ‘hovers’ above the participants. Any conflict can be used as an example of this, particularly those that are not resolved with a shared horizon of experience. The Israel-Palestinian conflict is a good example of differential conflicts being actualised from the singular conflict. This is evidenced by the different temporalities invoked by both sides when discussing/arguing about the conflict, which I saw much of when working at Gleebooks as part of the event staff. One side will raise ‘this’ incursion ‘then’, the other side will raise ‘this’ armed intervention at this other ‘then’ and so on until a cosmic blockade is reached between differential experiences of religion. They are not arguing about the question of causality and who did what to which people when, but they are presenting (at least) two actualisations of the conflict itself.

There is the pure virtual conflict that contains the multiplicity of every singular act inflicted upon/by human and non-human participants, then there is the conflict that emerges on the horizon of experience as experience. Further along the ontological chain, the experience of conflict is discoursed and gains an individuated intelligibility. (Hence, the differend between participants in the singular multiplicity of the pure event who buttress their relative position with differentiated, that is, different conflicts.) In the midst of the actualised conflict the pure event of the virtual conflict can only be intuited, it is not yet actual. A less socially frought example of ‘conflict’ or the clash of bodies is provided by my working through of the shared event of the kiss (from 4 years ago!).

2) “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?” (152) Every event is a cascade of events. If we were Time Lords like Dr Who, but without the Doctor’s Time Lord capacities, then we would be overwhelmed by the differentiated temporalities (perhaps best represented by Rose Tyler’s absorption of the ‘time vortex’). How can a wound be inflicted by ‘war’? A wound is inflicted by an adversorial combatant, surely? Yes, but only within the restricted temporality of the wounded person’s experience. The ethico-political question, expressed unfortunately in a somewhat negative way, is how to be worthy of the wounds inflicted upon us. The wound considered as an event is already a cascade of events of various temporalities (including relations of futurity with the present). The wound could be an actualisation of a future ‘victory’, a past ‘grudge’, or a haphazard biography absent of any normative consistency, which could all be of the singular pure virtuality.

Deleuze is pushing beyond this kind of delineation of events achored to the emergent horizon of human experience, however. The concept of the fourth-person singular is necessary intervention to even conceive of a horizon of experience that is not bound by normative human constraints. Does this mean that Deleuze is explicitly advocating a position whereby a near-God-like figure can stand above and beyond the triviality of the merely human, a kind of hyper-objectivity? No (lol). How can there be actualisation without experience (in an expanded non-human Whiteheadian sense, of prehensions prehending each other). I want to suggest the fourth person singular necessarily commands a capacity of perception that indeed evades the individuated human subjectivity, but only because of the capacity to emphasise with absolutely open intuition the emergent horizon of experience as the experience of any event as it is differentiately actualised.


My reason for bringing this up again has been the interesting work of Levi over at Larval Subjects as he has also grappled with the problem of scale from a slightly different conceptual orientation, a systems-based or complexity-based object-oriented interpretation of Deleuze and others. Towards the end of this post on Nested Objects and Political Engagement, he writes:

objects or individuals at a larger level of scale tend towards a stable state in the face of most perturbations. Far from the perturbations fundamentally changing the organization of the object, they are, in most instances, simply absorbed by the system or object and function to reinforce the organization of the object.

I suggest that the systems that appear to tend towards a more stable state perhaps only do so because they exist as actualised temporalities experienced as relatively more stable (the US has just had the Fourth of July celebrations; so how old is the US? Ok, which US are you talking about?). The great cultural celebrations of a nation (national days, etc) differentially repeat not only the ‘cultural values’ of the ‘imagined community’ of the ‘nation’ but also enable the experience of the ‘nation’ according to its monumental temporality that is quite literally actualised as ‘monument’. Hence the ideological component of all these moments of cultural reinforcement. They only work if those experiencing them expect them to work. Expectation is a relation of futurity whereby the future past (of the present) is experienced as an already-always. The horizon of intelligibility emergent with the experience of the actualised ‘nation’ on a ‘national day’ works to block other possible futures. Steve Shaviro’s work has been really useful on this question. Here is what I wrote back then:

I think Shaviro’s reading of Whitehead’s concept is actually more productive than Massumi’s notion of ‘anticipation’ briefly developed in Parables of the Virtual. Both attempt to account for relations of futurity, but Massumi’s is organised around the superposition of one moment upon the next, and this, it seems to me, elides the relation of contingency that makes possible demanding the impossible.

Levi notes something similar but from a systems-based perspective of his object-oriented philosophy:

The issue here is one of how individuals that compose a larger scale object can act on that object without simply reinforcing its existing basin of attraction. In part this requires the formation of new organs or objects that, in another post, I referred to as “alliances” following Latour and Harman. The second problem is that even where a new sub-multiple or object is formed through an alliance, and even where this object is intense enough to push the larger scale multiple of which it is a part into a new basin of attraction, this new basin of attraction is itself highly unpredictable.

My interpretation of Levi’s observation regarding the politics of the big and little is of a virtual war waged between (at least) two different actualisations of ‘conflict’ in question.


A contemporary example is the turgid neo-liberal managerial discourse of ‘opportunity’ evident in my current vocation as a writer (and also within the academy). Workers are meant to be on the look out for ‘opportunity’ in the workplace or work milieu (if freelancers). They are meant to capitalise on the opportunity and maximise the positive outcome of opportunity to further their respective careers. There is a continuum of opportunity that is differentiated by relations of futurity made possible by the character of contingency around which opportunity is organised.

1) If opportunity is presented by those in power to a worker, then the contingency is often disciplined in accordance with the outcomes of productivity demanded by the managers and the way surplus value is extracted from the worker’s labour.
2) If opportunity presents ‘itself’, then it is because the contingency of labour relations and relations between worker productivity and the market have not been actualised. A new relation to the market can be actualised.
3) If a worker creates ‘opportunity’, then it is because he or she has critically appreciates the mechanics of labour relations and relations between worker productivity and the market in its virtuality, an example of the limited fourth-person singular; that is, the worker does not perceive the situation though the identity and horizon of experience of a ‘worker’ per se. The worker actively differentiates a new set of relations that can only be apprehended through action. (What Deleuzians call counter-actualisation.)

To enfranchise workers in the emergent entrepreneurial mode of the unfortunately called ‘creative capitalism’ means equipping them with the capacity to appreciate the dynamics of managerial techniques and apprehend new conditions between labour and the market through the praxis of their own labour. It is not a matter of grasping the relations between specific individuals or objects (big or little) but of appreciating how the relations between individuals are actualised and differentially repeated in experience.

smile police

Via slashdot:

More than 500 workers at Japan’s, Keihin Electric Express Railway, must have their faces scanned each morning to determine their optimum smile. The “smile scan” analyzes a smile based on facial characteristics, from lip curves and eye movements to wrinkles. After the program scans you, it produces a smile rating that ranges from zero to 100 depending on the estimated potential of your biggest smile. If your number is sufficient, you can go about your day grinning like a maniac. If your smile number is too low the computer will give you a message such as, “lift up your mouth corners” or “you still look too serious.” Every morning employees receive a print out of their daily smile which they are expected to keep with them throughout the day.

Affective labour much? So instead of giving the workers reason to actually smile, they are policed into performing a smile. On a societal scale, are the Japanese really that suicidal? If this isn’t a factory for the production of serial killers, then I don’t know what is.