Event Mechanics of Opportunity

Everyone does not have access to the same opportunities due to circumstance or the inability to witness their own circumstance. An ‘opportunity‘ is a recomposition of processual relations. It is an event that releases new visibilities, new discourses (or different ways of participating in familiar discourses), new capacities for action and so on. There is a movement and reconfiguartion of subjectivity before and after that defines the scale of the opportunity-event. This is the positive way to view opportunities.

Massumi and others have examined this processual dimension in terms of relations of futurity. Massumi’s “Future Birth of the Affective Fact” sketches out the diagrammatic arrangement of one composition of relations of futurity. A chapter I recently wrote for a forthcoming book on Derrida’s Spectres of Marx engages with ‘loyalty’ within capitalism as another composition of relations of futurity.

Relations of futurity are composed all the time. An ‘expectation’ is a good example of the way relations of futurity become structurated; the disappointment of failing to ‘live up to expectation’ is evidence of an ‘opportunity failure’. The opportunity in these circumstances may have been produced for one person (say, a son or daughter) by others (parents). Parents are disappointed because the relations of futurity produced by them for their children are not actualised in the way they expected. The parents know the future in the sense they can draw on experience to produce their own expectations. If a child is talented and does not follow the relations of futurity produced by parents in a way that the parents expect, then according to the parents’ expectations, an opportunity is lost. Expectation here works to discipline relations of future; an expectation is a colonisation of futurity.

It makes sense then, even if it is mildly paternalistic, to work on creating relations of futurity for those without the ability to do so in such a way as the maximise the opportunity and to increase the distribution of opportunity. The problem is in the way the discourse of ‘opportunity’ has been appropriated by those who would dearly like to make a buck off one’s hard work. As I wrote in my original comments about this, the event of the ‘opportunity’ can be deployed and actively cultivated so as to control worker-populations:

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 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.

The contingency at the heart of these relations of futurity are important because it means that relations to the future are ‘open’ (this was a major breakthrough in my PhD, it gave me a way to think beyond goal-based definitions of motivation, so failure does not quench motivation, because the contingency is properly appreciated). The existence of contingency means that expectations always relate to reality through assumptions.


Most reviews of Up In the Air work hard to locate it in a romantic comedy framework, such as David Cox’s review at The Guardian. It is not a romantic comedy. Similar in some ways to Punch-Drunk Love, Up In the Air uses a constellation of romantic comedy tropes as a critical tool. Instead of romance and isolationist social relations like in Punch-Drunk Love, Up In the Air uses the romantic comedy tropes to problematise ‘loyalty’ in our privileged late-capitalist and post-everything cultural landscape.

Loyalty is no longer something built on trust or expectations of trust forged through shared experience. The function of expectation in this traditional sense of loyalty is important, because it introduces a temporal logic whereby one’s trust is demonstrated now by proffering one’s future trustworthiness. Within capitalist relations of exchange loyalty was therefore experienced as the goodwill developed from already demonstrated positive service experiences and the expectation of continued good service.

What Up In the Air explores is the inversion of the burden of loyalty. A capitalist enterprise does not produce loyalty in its customers or in its workers in a traditional sense of goodwill through positive social relations and the expectation of positive social relations. Instead, enterprises now produce ‘loyalty’ as the accumulation of the debt of good service that the company owes a customer (or worker). The company wants to owe its customers ‘reward points’; it is in the customer’s debt: hence, the production of an expectation and a formalisation of process and time itself. This is naturalised as a ‘reward’ for the customer’s ‘loyal’ patronage.

There are a number of relations of actual (dis)loyalty in Up In the Air:

1) Between businesses and their workers, who for the most part of the film are about to be fired.
2) Between various romantic couplings.
3) Between enterprises and their consumer patrons.

The virtual relations of loyalty — what I described in a previous post as “the virtual feedforward loops that cultivate and then harness anticipation as an affective or ‘felt tendency’ for guiding consumer behaviour” — are structurated by conventions of expectations. Beyond consumption is a mobile diffuse logic of expectation determined by capital, that exploits the affective conditions of trust that underpins loyalty.

Relations of actual loyalty have an inherent temporal dimension because loyalty is only ever actualised as a field of social possibility premised on assumed distributions of trust. I am loyal, because I trust, therefore my loyalty is trusted. The expectation emerges from affective relations of shared experiences as the world is endured together.

But we are increasingly atomised. Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is absolutely solitary. He wants to inhabit a frictionless world; points of disjuncture are merely fulcra to propel himself further into the flow. He is the limit case of a process through which we are forced out into the world and alienated from solidarity only so we scrabble to consume formalised, ritualised cultural events together. Sport, the nation, the family. A spectator does not experience sport; ‘sport’ is the shared experience of another’s affective implication in the potentiality of an entirely contrived contigency (shared with yet another’s affective implication…). The poverty of the formal dimension of these experiences breeds the need to push beyond the surface affectivity. Violence, hatred, hooliganism produce real contingencies in the world that must be endured together. The economy of respect in masculinist sporting cultures is an index of trust and its distribution. Other peripheral cultures have the same generative capacity. The limit case is perfectly described by Paul Corrigan in his short piece ‘Doing Nothing’ about the way working class youth in 1970s Britain used the street as a space of potentiality.

In capitalist enterprises there is absolutely no trust. Instead of a distribution of trust, there is a distribution of naked expectation. A perverse and obscene expectation of the worst. And at worst it is the expectation of a ruthless ambition to satisfy self-interest. The profit motive is a shared belief that gives discursive form to this expectation. Workers (anyone who labours under the expectations of others) are continually at war with the received infrastructure of alienated expectations by using humour and the potentiality of the workplace itself to generate shared experiences. Such bonding is tolerated by those that impose their expectations as a necessary condition of lived labour. The expecters have their own weapons, by making expectation mobile, by controlling the expectation of expectation through distributions of risk. Risk introduces contingency into the workplace. This is what the workers fired in Up in the Air failed to recognise. Their fellow workers may have endured the world of the workplace together with them and felt like family, or they may have even worked extremely hard to assume and inculcate the imposed expectations of management into their daily experience of the workplace, but this is not loyalty. The expectation of expectations can not be trusted. Workers have to be at war with expectation and exploit the mechanism of imposition (reception, inculcation, expression).

Cultural Politics of Unhappy Little Vegemites

There have been various critiques already mobilised regarding what is at stake in this uFail 2.0 iSnack 2.0 shenanigans. I like Chookspot’s critique on on nationalistic grounds where the unveiling of the new name was likened to someone in the US arse-fucking a bald eagle as the quarter time entertainment at the Superbowl.

It reminds me of Tom Soutphommasane’s piece in the Australian about the Aussie political left reclaming patriotism. Pride in your country is pure ideological expression. I have never experienced ‘Australia’ and yet I live here. It is therefore interesting that Vegemite is taken to be a cultural icon of national significance. Maybe I have never lived anywhere long enough without Vegemite to properly appreciate it? I know I was once in the business of sending Vegemite care packages to a girlfriend who moved to the US.

As a structure of feeling, patriotism can mobilise bodies into action. Surely Autralian patriots understand that Vegemite was fucked as soon as it was sold? (Or not sold as much as through a process of mergers and aquisitions became controlled by Kraft US.) Getting mobilised and angry about the image of the brand is a bit farcicial when the structural existence of the company left our shores years ago. Maybe this is what ‘cultural politics’ actually is?

It would be interesting to find out who was behind the Vegemite iSnack 2.0 debacle. My experience working in a ‘creative industry’ is that the ‘creatives’ are often hampered by the (middle) management structure and all the pre-thinking that gets done. Pre-thinking isn’t forethought; in fact, it is almost the opposite of forethought. ‘Pre-thinking’ is what you do when you incorporate what you think your immediate boss is going to think about what you are doing, and this has to incorporate what that person’s immediate boss is going to think and so on. This continues until it reaches a point where you need to incorporate the thinking within thinking within thinking of someone who has no fucking idea about the very real constraints and opportunities that guided your creative process to begin with.

I am interested in the people behind the decission making process because clearly it is distributed across a number of people. No half-intelligent, switched-on person from my generation would ever suggest iSnack 2.0 as a serious contender for the new name of the Vegemite product; but such a name is derived from some hyper-mediated version of the popular culture to which my generation belongs. Therefore, there must have been a creative trajectory where someone exposed decision makers to such a culture and the respective marketing buzzwords (buzzwords like ‘buzzword’) that belong to it, but the ultimate decision was made by someone who has no fucking idea about the absolute ridicule generated by such a non-ironic marketing gesture.

Maurizzio Lazzarato has argued that what contemporary advertising does is not sell us a product as such, rather it sells us a world within which the product exists and within which we want to exist (and therefore have to consume said products to belong, etc). What world does Kraft think we are living in?

Perhaps iSnack 2.0 is actually a post-ironic critique of the alienating effects of commodity captalism? (No, it isn’t. Well, not yet.) The only way for Kraft to retrieve something from this is to push it to the absolute absurd limit. Create a world within which everything literally is iBullshit, like an appropriation of the Ikea existence from Fight Club, which kind of made Ikea cool in some post-ironic fashion: everything becomes empty branded commodity and it’s ok, because we KNOW it is.

I have fail on my mind at the moment.

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.

on the event mechanics of agency

I have been idly contemplating the role, function and incorporation of creativity into capitalism. The contemplation has been instigated because I now work in a commercial enterprise. For the first time in my life I am being forced to think like a capitalist. There is something liberating and joyful about this. For so long I have basically been at war with a part of myself — my habitus — that was individuated/grown in the capitalist ecology of late-20th century neoliberalism. Many people opt out of this war much earlier in life and dismiss it as teenage fantasy, and some continue the war fueled by teenage fantasy, but I am doing neither. I am learning. This learning is progessing along two main axes. One of which I describe below in an anexact yet rigorous fashion 😉

From my PhD research I already have an account of how human endeavour — no matter how seemingly trivial and banal — is commercialised. I have been haunted by Manuel DeLanda’s comments regarding the uselessness of the term ‘commodification’ in that it is far too simplisitic a term. Indeed, I agree it is far too simple. I have been thinking about the concept of the spectacle and how to invert it to stand it right side up on its material base. The spectacle has been described a number of ways since Debord. I think the closest to my way of thinking come from Jonathan Crary’s remarks on ‘relations of attention’:

Spectacle is not primarily concerned with looking at images, but rather with the construction of conditions that individuate, immobilize, and separate subjects, even within a world in which mobility and circulation are ubiquitous. In this way attention becomes key to the operation of noncoercive forms of power. This is why it is not inappropriate to conflate seemingly different optical or technological objects [in a discussion of Foucault’s and Debord’s respective works]: they are similarly about arrangements of bodies in space, techniques of isolation, cellularization, and above all separation. Spectacle is not an optics of power but an architecture. (Crary 1999: 74-75)

In my dissertation I describe this as an imperceptible ‘structurating expectation’ that is felt in the bodies of enthusiasts. Alongside what Deleuze isolates as two of Foucault’s conceptual innovations — ‘statements’ and ‘visibilities’ — is this third [something]. I am not sure what to call it. It has a far more dynamic relationality than both the ‘statement’ and ‘visible’. Sanford Kwinter isolates something similar in his book Achitectures of Time. I will try to outline precisely what I am trying to talk about.
The first part seems similar to what Deleuze and Guattari call the ‘refrain’ in that it has a catalysing function. A ‘new’ iteration of organisation precipitates across the heterogeneous elements grouped by a given consistency. There is a seemingly silly dimension to this: the elements are grouped because they are grouped. But that ignores the dynamic dimension of how different basins of consistency (I prefer this to basins of attraction, as ‘attraction’ implies a relation between similar elements, when they are purely heterogeneous) are formed and unformed.

Note I have used the Derridean term ‘iteration’ to describe the relation between different consistencies of organisation. This is a problemtic term. The event, in Derrida’s philosophy, is that irreducible element that cannot be actualised and is continually deferred. What in Deleuzian philosophy would be called the ‘pure event’. Without a doubt there is a pure event, that of pure existence, of everything, the cosmos, for all eternity. This is perfectly useless for mundane human affairs. Introduce any degree of spatialisation and temporalisation — so that the pure happening of the cosmos becomes the happening of any discrete composition of elements — and there is a near infinite complexity of temporality, spatiality and causality. The best concept I have come across that attempts to tackle this complexity is that of ‘transversality’.
‘Transversality’ is a term that describes the non-spatial and non-temporal contiguity of elements in a complex system. The character of transversal relationality is what Deleuze and Guattari rather enigmatically, and with a hint of irony (at least for this reader), describe as ‘problematic’. The seriality of the differential repetition of events into iterative organisational consistencies is not linear; it has a ‘problematic’ character. The seriality is transversal. The second dimension of this [something] I am trying to describe is its transversality. The transversal (iterative) seriality is contained within the [something].

A problem that took me a long time to be able to even grasp was with seemed to be the conflict inherent between different interests within a given consistency of elements. In my dissertation this consistency of elements most often appeared as the ‘scene’ of an enthusiasm. How to reconcile the commercial intersts of capital and the subjective interests of enthusiasts born of a complex psychology of identity and so on. Perhaps the simplest way to imagine this is in terms of the conflict of ideology. There is a clash of beliefs at the level of what is perceptible and expressible as signifying elements in terms of what is visible and statements (what can be said at any given juncture). Yet, in a war for example, the conflict has a dimension of participation in that, as the cliche goes, it takes two to tango.

Whitehead’s concept of ‘congruence’ is a way to grasp the asignifying relationality between elements that are otherwise antagonistic. Perhaps this is an echo of human will or any will for that matter, one that does not yet take on the consistency of agency, yet overdetermines the trajectory of elements that have a consistency and the character of this consistency. At stake is the integration of the perceptible — the object world of a subject — and the vast imperceptible transversal relationality of the happening of iteration and the pure event of the cosmos. The transversal contiguity of iterative consistencies has a congruent relationality that is felt, ie as affect, but is otherwise imperceptible to participants. To frame it in the terms of another conceptual paradigm, it is the content of what Kant described as intuition. Congruence then is the third and, at this stage of conceptual development, final dimension of this [something] I am trying to describe.

There is a fourth dimension that with purposeful irony is related to time. I haven’t quite figured out how to formulate this as yet. The specific problem is super complex and relates to different orders of causality (feedback and feedforward loops, for example) within the transversal seriality of different iterations of consistency. At the moment I am leaning towards another concept from Whitehead to describe the processual dimension of this complex causality, what he called ‘appetition’. For Whitehead, this was the integration of prehensions prehending each other into an ‘actual occurence’, basically what Deleuze would call ‘actualisation’. The troubling part of this is the function of human imagination in the form of memory and probabilistic calculation, of how the ‘past’ or felt relationality of crystalised impercibility commonally referred to as ‘memory’, affects the relations of futurity by opening or closing perceptible relations and thus effecting the present directionality of action. It is a feedback loop with a feedforward loop ratified on the level of affect and directly consecrating action into the appropriate and inappropriate. This is what I would call the appetition of the spectacle and pushes Crary’s description of the spectacle as an ‘architecture’ into a fourth dimension.

To return to my opening remarks, what I am learning is how to map the effect of capital within this dynamic through the distribution of effort into the appropriateness or not of action. How to render this process of the distribution of appropriate action perceptible and guide it seems to me to be the location of agency and the purpose of what Deleuze described as counter-actualisation. One positive effect of all this thinking is that the distribution of effort within this transversal iterations of consistency as I understand clearly renders the utter conceptual poverty of the phrase ‘self interest’. ‘Self interest’ is a refrain that consecrates the distribution of effort into actions for the ‘self’ as appropriate and thus ratifying the affects of capitalist apprehension and, in a word, judgement.