Enthusiasm: From Affect to Biopower

Extract from a Zizek essay (bold added):

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Foucault dealt with this shift in his writings on the Iranian revolution, where he opposes the historical reality of a complex process of social, cultural, economic, political, etc., transformations to the magic event of the revolt which somehow suspends the cobweb of historical causality – it is irreducible to it:

The man in revolt is ultimately inexplicable. There must be an uprooting that interrupts the unfolding of history, and its long series of reasons why, for a man ‘really’ to prefer the risk of death over the certainty of having to obey. [Foucault and the Iranian Revolution, p. 263]

One should be aware of the Kantian connotation of these propositions: revolt is an act of freedom which momentarily suspends the nexus of historical causality, i.e., in revolt, the noumenal dimension transpires. The paradox, of course, is that this noumenal dimension coincides with its opposite, with the pure surface of a phenomenon: the noumenon not only appears, the noumenal is what is, in a phenomenon, irreducible to the causal network of reality that generated this phenomenon – in short, noumenon is phenomenon qua phenomenon. There is a clear link between this irreducible character of the phenomenon and Deleuze’s notion of event as the flux of becoming, as a surface emergence that cannot be reduced to its “bodily” causes. His reply to the conservative critics who denounce the miserable and even terrifying actual results of a revolutionary upheaval is that they remain blind to the dimension of becoming:

It is fashionable these days to condemn the horrors of revolution. It’s nothing new; English Romanticism is permeated by reflections on Cromwell very similar to present-day reflections on Stalin. They say revolutions turn out badly. But they’re constantly confusing two different things, the way revolutions turn out historically and people’s revolutionary becoming. These relate to two different sets of people. Men’s only hope lies in a revolutionary becoming: the only way of casting off their shame or responding to what is intolerable. [Negotiations, p. 171]

Deleuze refers here to revolutionary explosions in a way which is strictly parallel to Foucault’s:

The Iranian movement did not experience the ‘law’ of revolutions that would, some say, make the tyranny that already secretly inhabited them reappear underneath the blind enthusiasm of the masses. What constituted the most internal and the most intensely lived part of the uprising touched, in an unmediated fashion, on an already overcrowded political chessboard, but such contact is not identity. The spirituality of those who were going to their deaths has no similarity whatsoever with the bloody government of a fundamentalist clergy. The Iranian clerics want to authenticate their regime through the significations that the uprising had. It is no different to discredit the fact of the uprising on the grounds that there is today a government of mullahs. In both cases, there is ‘fear,’ fear of what just happened last fall in Iran, something of which the world had not seen an example for a long time. [Foucault and the Iranian Revolution, p. 265]

Foucault is here effectively Deleuzian: what interests him are not the Iranian events at the level of actual social reality and its causal interactions, but the event-like surface, the pure virtuality of the “spark of life” which only accounts for the uniqueness of the Event. What took place in Iran in the interstice of two epochs of social reality was not the explosion of the People as a substantial entity with a set of properties, but the event of becoming-People. The point is thus not the shift in relations of power and domination between actual socio-political agents, the redistribution of social control, etc., but the very fact of transcending – or, rather, momentarily canceling – this very domain, of the emergence of a totally different domain of “collective will” as a pure Sense-Event in which all differences are obliterated, rendered irrelevant. Such an event is not only new with regard to what was going on before, it is new “in itself” and thus forever remains new.

It is against this background that one can formulate a critique of Jacques Rancière’s political aesthetics, of his idea of the aesthetic dimension of the proper political act: a democratic explosion reconfigures the established hierarchic “police” order of social space, it stages a spectacle of a different order, of a different partage of the public space. [The Politics Of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible] In today’s “society of spectacle,” such an aesthetic reconfiguration lost its subversive dimension: it can all too easily be appropriated by the existing order. The true task are not momentary democratic explosions which undermine the established “police” order, but the dimension designated by Badiou as that of the “fidelity” to the Event: how to translate/inscribe the democratic explosion into the positive “police” order, how to impose on social reality a NEW lasting order. THIS is the properly “terrorist” dimension of every authentic democratic explosion: the brutal imposition of a new order. And this is why, while everybody loves democratic rebellions, the spectacular/carnivalesque explosions of the popular will, anxiety arises when this will wants to persist, to institutionalize itself – and the more “authentic” the rebellion is, the more “terrorist” is this institutionalization.

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This is certainly the best thing I have ever read from Zizek, and I normally can’t stand his type of scholarship. It seems a little weird to be talking about ‘revolutions’ as it is such an archaic discourse. Zizek is spot on in his reading of Foucault’s work on Iran. I really don’t understand what the problem is with Foucault’s work that is commonly understood as an ‘error of judgement’ or some such thing. Perhaps they have read something else to what I have (from Foucault and the Iranian Revolution, which I bought after reading this essay from Zizek)? Foucault was incredibly accurate in his assessment of Islam!! Supporting the becoming-revolutionary that correlates with the ‘pure event’ of revolution is not the same thing as supporting the historical revolutionary event!

Of course, what I find interesting is the moment quickly rushed over in Zizek’s essay (it is not his focus) between the becoming-revolutionary of the revolutionary ‘pure event’ and the ‘historical’ subsumption of this event (as aesthetic politics) into the society of the spectacle. Something that I am trying to resolve in the current section of my dissertation (on ‘Enthusiasm’) is regarding the relation — actually, the apparent contradiction — between affect and biopower. The affect system is a feedback mechanism (ala Tomkins), but Lazzarato and others have talked about the emergent organisation of a given population’s biopower for the purposes of social reproduction and what is essentially capitalist exploitation (but through the spectacle, not labour relations of production). So the question then emerges, What blunts the affective feedback system so populations get stuck in the repetitive nonsense of the spectacle? My response is that the events of the spectacle are actually repetitions of the conditions of possibility for particular contingencies that are actualised in differentially repeated conjunctural events.

Organised spectator sport is a classic example. Here are some of my comments in a thread at LP on the current state of One Day cricket in lieu of the World Cup debarcle:

Lets move away from thinking that it is some essence of ‘cricket’ that is problematic and look at what ‘cricket’ does. Two points:

1) Don’t forget the origins of one day cricket was an attempt to produce a more efficient machine for tapping into the enthusiasm of cricketing fans (ie ‘anticipation’). through saturation such enthusiasm has become blunted. lets celebrate part of the machinery of the spectacle breaking! hooray!

2) Cricket, like any other spectator sport, is essentially a homosocial institution. It allows men to relate to each other through the mediation of the contingent events of sport. If the game becomes boring because it loses all contingency (over-saturation, domination of one team, boring strategy) then the conjunctural events that allow homosocial mediation (in pubs, loungerooms, sporting fields) will lose their efficacy.

What is really being asked is not how to save cricket, but how does one save the enthusiasm associated with a particular spectacular cultural apparatus, and secondly how does one save a ritualised and institutionalised form of homosocial relations.

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