Brian Massumi teaches in the Communication Department
of the Université de Montréal. He is the author of
Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Duke
University Press, 2002), A User’s Guide to Capitalism
and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari (MIT
Press, 1992) and First and Last Emperors: The Absolute State
and the Body of the Despot (with Kenneth Dean; Autonomedia,
1993) and editor of A Shock to Thought: Expression After Deleuze
and Guattari (Routledge, 2002) and The Politics of Everyday
Fear (University of Minnesota Press, 1993).
An Interview with Brian Massumi
By Mary Zournazi
When you walk, each step is the body’s movement against falling
— each movement is felt in our potential for freedom as we
move with the earth’s gravitational pull. When we navigate
our way through the world, there are different pulls, constraints
and freedoms that move us forward and propel us into life. But in
the changing face of capitalism, media information and technologies
— which circulate the globe in more virtual and less obvious
ways — how do the constraints on freedom involve our affective
and embodied dimensions of experience? That is, how do we come to
feel and respond to life and reality itself when new virtualised
forms of power mark our every step, when the media and political
activity continually feed on our insecurities — for instance,
when a political leader can deploy overseas troops to make a country
feel safe and secure in the face of ‘terror’. Our beliefs
and hopes can be galvanised for this ‘good’, and as
a tool for orchestrating attacks on ‘evil’ and threats
to national security. Against this framework of despair that enact
our relations to the world — violence, terror and the virtual
lines of capital flow — what are the hopes for political intervention?
Philosopher Brian Massumi explores the hopes that lie across these
fields of movement; the potentials for freedom, and the power relations
that operate in the new ‘societies of control’. These
are all ethical issues — about the reality of living, the
faith and belief in the world that makes us care for our belonging
to it. Massumi’s diverse writings and philosophical perspectives
radicalise ideas of affect — the experiences and dimensions
of living — that are the force of individual and political
reality. His writings are concerned with the practice of everyday
life, and the relations of experience that engage us in the world,
and our ethical practices. He is based in Montreal.
Movements — hope, feeling, affect
I’d like to think about hope and the affective dimensions
of our experience — what freedoms are possible in the new
and ‘virtualised’ global and political economies that
frame our lives. To begin, though, what are your thoughts on the
potential of hope for these times?
From my own point of view, the way that a concept like hope can
be made useful is when it is not connected to an expected success
— when it starts to be something different from optimism —
because when you start trying to think ahead into the future from
the present point, rationally there really isn’t much room
for hope. Globally it’s a very pessimistic affair, with economic
inequalities increasing year by year, with health and sanitation
levels steadily decreasing in many regions, with the global effects
of environmental deterioration already being felt, with conflicts
among nations and peoples apparently only getting more intractable,
leading to mass displacements of workers and refugees ... It seems
such a mess that I think it can be paralysing. If hope is the opposite
of pessimism, then there’s precious little to be had. On the
other hand, if hope is separated from concepts of optimism and pessimism,
from a wishful projection of success or even some kind of a rational
calculation of outcomes, then I think it starts to be interesting
— because it places it in the present.
Yes — the idea of hope in the present is vital. Otherwise
we endlessly look to the future or toward some utopian dream of
a better society or life, which can only leave us disappointed,
and if we see pessimism as the nature flow from this, we can only
be paralysed as you suggest.
Yes, because in every situation there are any number of levels of
organisation and tendencies in play, in cooperation with each other
or at cross-purposes. The way all the elements interrelate is so
complex that it isn’t necessarily comprehensible in one go.
There’s always a sort of vagueness surrounding the situation,
an uncertainty about where you might be able to go and what you
might be able to do once you exit that particular context. This
uncertainty can actually be empowering — once you realise
that it gives you a margin of manoeuvrability and you focus on that,
rather than on projecting success or failure. It gives you the feeling
that there is always an opening to experiment, to try and see. This
brings a sense of potential to the situation. The present’s
‘boundary condition’, to borrow a phrase from science,
is never a closed door. It is an open threshold — a threshold
of potential. You are only ever in the present in passing. If you
look at that way you don’t have to feel boxed in by it, no
matter what its horrors and no matter what, rationally, you expect
will come. You may not reach the end of the trail but at least there’s
a next step. The question of which next step to take is a lot less
intimidating than how to reach a far-off goal in a distant future
where all our problems will finally be solved. It’s utopian
thinking, for me, that’s ‘hopeless’.
So how do your ideas on ‘affect’ and hope come together
In my own work I use the concept of ‘affect’ as a way
of talking about that margin of manoeuvrability, the ‘where
we might be able to go and what we might be able to do’ in
every present situation. I guess ‘affect’ is the word
I use for ‘hope’. One of the reasons it’s such
an important concept for me is because it explains why focusing
on the next experimental step rather than the big utopian picture
isn’t really settling for less. It’s not exactly going
for more, either. It’s more like being right where you are
— more intensely.
To get from affect to intensity you have to understand affect as
something other than simply a personal feeling. By ‘affect’
I don’t mean ‘emotion’ in the everyday sense.
The way I use it comes primarily from Spinoza. He talks of the body
in terms of its capacity for affecting or being affected. These
are not two different capacities — they always go together.
When you affect something, you are at the same time opening yourself
up to being affected in turn, and in a slightly different way than
you might have been the moment before. You have made a transition,
however slight. You have stepped over a threshold. Affect is this
passing of a threshold, seen from the point of view of the change
in capacity. It’s crucial to remember that Spinoza uses this
to talk about the body. What a body is, he says, is what it can
do as it goes along. This is a totally pragmatic definition. A body
is defined by what capacities it carries from step to step. What
these are exactly is changing constantly. A body’s ability
to affect or be affected — its charge of affect — isn’t
So depending on the circumstances, it goes up and down gently like
a tide, or maybe storms and crests like a wave, or at times simply
bottoms out. It’s because this is all attached to the movements
of the body that it can’t be reduced to emotion. It’s
not just subjective, which is not to say that there is nothing subjective
in it. Spinoza says that every transition is accompanied by a feeling
of the change in capacity. The affect and the feeling of the transition
are not two different things. They’re two sides of the same
coin, just like affecting and being affected. That’s the first
sense in which affect is about intensity — every affect is
a doubling. The experience of a change, an affecting-being affected,
is redoubled by an experience of the experience. This gives the
body’s movements a kind of depth that stays with it across
all its transitions — accumulating in memory, in habit, in
reflex, in desire, in tendency. Emotion is the way the depth of
that ongoing experience registers personally at a given moment.
Emotion, then, is only a limited expression of the ‘depth’
of our experience?
Well, an emotion is a very partial expression of affect. It only
draws on a limited selection of memories and only activates certain
reflexes or tendencies, for example. No one emotional state can
encompass all the depth and breadth of our experiencing of experiencing
— all the ways our experience redoubles itself. The same thing
could be said for conscious thought. So when we feel a particular
emotion or think a particular thought, where have all the other
memories, habits, tendencies gone that might have come at the point?
And where have the bodily capacities for affecting and being affected
that they’re inseparable from gone? There’s no way they
can all be actually expressed at any given point. But they’re
not totally absent either, because a different selection of them
is sure to come up at the next step. They’re still there,
but virtually — in potential. Affect as a whole, then, is
the virtual co-presence of potentials.
This is the second way that affect has to do with intensity. There’s
like a population or swarm of potential ways of affecting or being
affected that follows along as we move through life. We always have
a vague sense that they’re there. That vague sense of potential,
we call it our ‘freedom’, and defend it fiercely. But
no matter how certainly we know that the potential is there, it
always seems just out of reach, or maybe around the next bend. Because
it isn’t actually there — only virtually. But maybe
if we can take little, practical, experimental, strategic measures
to expand our emotional register, or limber up our thinking, we
can access more of our potential at each step, have more of it actually
available. Having more potentials available intensifies our life.
We’re not enslaved by our situations. Even if we never have
our freedom, we’re always experiencing a degree of freedom,
or ‘wriggle room’. Our degree of freedom at any one
time corresponds to how much of our experiential ‘depth’
we can access towards a next step — how intensely we are living
Once again it’s all about the openness of situations and how
we can live that openness. And you have to remember that the way
we live it is always entirely embodied, and that is never entirely
personal — it’s never all contained in our emotions
and conscious thoughts. That’s a way of saying it’s
not just about us, in isolation. In affect, we are never alone.
That’s because affects in Spinoza’s definition are basically
ways of connecting, to others and to other situations. They are
our angle of participation in processes larger than ourselves. With
intensified affect comes a stronger sense of embeddedness in a larger
field of life — a heightened sense of belonging, with other
people and to other places. Spinoza takes us quite far, but for
me his thought needs to be supplemented with the work of thinkers
like Henri Bergson, who focuses on the intensities of experience,
and William James, who focuses on their connectedness.
When you were just talking about Spinoza and the way you understand
affect, I don’t want to put a false determination on it, but
is it a more primal sense of the capacity to be human and how we
feel connections to the world and others? That’s almost natural
to a certain extent ...
I wouldn’t tend to say it’s primal, if that means more
‘natural’. I don’t think affective intensity is
any more natural than the ability to stand back and reflect on something,
or the ability to pin something down in language. But I guess that
it might be considered primal in the sense that it is direct. You
don’t need a concept of ‘mediation’ to talk about
it. In cultural theory, people often talk as if the body on the
one hand, and our emotions, thoughts, and the language we use for
them on the other, are totally different realities, as if there
has to be something to come between them and put them into touch
with each other. This mediation is the way a lot of theorists try
to overcome the old Cartesian duality between mind and body, but
it actually leaves it in place and just tries to build a bridge
between them. But if you define affect the way we just did, then
obviously it includes very elaborated functions like language. There’s
an affect associated with every functioning of the body, from moving
your foot to take a step to moving your lips to make words. Affect
is simply a body movement looked at from the point of view of its
potential — its capacity to come to be, or better, to come
Like I said, the directness I’m talking about isn’t
necessarily a self-presence or self-possession, which is how we
normally tend to think of our freedom. If it’s direct, it’s
in the sense that it’s directly in transition — in the
body passing out of the present moment and the situation it’s
in, towards the next one. But it’s also the doubling of the
body in the situation — its doubling over into what it might
have been or done if it had contrived to live that transition more
intensely. A body doesn’t coincide with itself. It’s
not present to itself. It is already on the move to a next, at the
same time as it is doubling over on itself, bringing its past up
to date in the present, through memory, habit, reflex, and so on.
Which means you can’t even say that a body ever coincides
with its affective dimension. It is selecting from it, extracting
and actualising certain potentials from it. You can think of affect
in the broadest sense as what remains of the potential after each
or every thing a body says or does — as a perpetual bodily
remainder. Looked at from a different angle, this perpetual remainder
is an excess. It’s like a reserve of potential or newness
or creativity that is experienced alongside every actual production
of meaning in language or in any performance of a useful function
— vaguely but directly experienced, as something more, a more
to come, a life overspilling as it gathers itself up to move on.
What immediately comes to mind is something like anger. It’s
a very strong bodily experience, a heat of the moment intensity
— it doesn’t seem to have a positive charge in some
ways, you know, because it is often a reaction against something
I think affective expressions like anger and laughter are perhaps
the most powerful because they interrupt a situation. They are negative
in that sense. They interrupt the flow of meaning that’s taking
place: the normalised interrelations and interactions that are happening
and the functions that are being fulfilled. Because of that, they
are irruptions of something that doesn’t fit. Anger, for example,
forces the situation to attention, it forces a pause filled with
an intensity that is often too extreme to be expressed in words.
Anger often degenerates into noise and inarticulate gestures. This
forces the situation to rearray itself around that irruption, and
to deal with the intensity in one way or another. In that sense
it’s brought something positive out — a reconfiguration.
There’s always an instantaneous calculation or judgment that
takes place as to how you respond to an outburst of anger. But it’s
not a judgment in the sense that you’ve gone through all the
possibilities and thought it through explicitly — you don’t
have time for that kind of thing. Instead you use a kind of judgment
that takes place instantly and brings your entire body into the
situation. The response to anger is usually as gestural as the outburst
of anger itself. The overload of the situation is such that, even
if you refrain from a gesture, that itself is a gesture. An outburst
of anger brings a number of outcomes into direct presence to one
another — there could be a peace-making or a move towards
violence, there could be a breaking of relations, all the possibilities
are present, packed into the present moment. It all happens, again,
before there is time for much reflection, if any. So there’s
a kind of thought that is taking place in the body, through a kind
of instantaneous assessment of affect, an assessment of potential
directions and situational outcomes that isn’t separate from
our immediate, physical acting-out of our implication in the situation.
The philosopher C.S. Peirce had a word for thought that is still
couched in bodily feeling, that is still fully bound up with unfolding
sensation as it goes into action but before it has been able to
articulate itself in conscious reflection and guarded language.
He called it ‘abduction’.
Right, right. Oh, that’s like a kind of capture ...
Yes, I think you could say that sensation is the registering of
affect that I referred to before — the passing awareness of
being at a threshold — and that affect is thinking, bodily
— consciously but vaguely, in the sense that is not yet a
thought. It’s a movement of thought, or a thinking movement.
There are certain logical categories, like abduction, that could
be used to describe this.
I think of abduction as a kind of stealing of the moment. It has
a wide range of meanings too — it could be stealing or it
could be an alien force or possession ...
Or it could be you drawn in by the situation, captured by it, by
its eventfulness, rather than you capturing it. But this capture
by the situation is not necessarily an oppression. It could be ...
It could be the kind of freedom we were just talking about ...
Exactly, it could be accompanied by a sense of vitality or vivacity,
a sense of being more alive. That’s a lot more compelling
than coming to ‘correct’ conclusions or assessing outcomes,
although it can also bring results. It might force you to find a
margin, a manoeuvre you didn’t know you had, and couldn’t
have just thought your way into. It can change you, expand you.
That’s what being alive is all about.
So it’s hard for me to put positive or negative connotations
on affect. That would be to judge it from the outside. It would
be going in a moralising direction. Spinoza makes a distinction
between a morality and an ethics. To move in an ethical direction,
from a Spinozan point of view, is not to attach positive or negative
values to actions based on a characterisation or classification
of them according to a pre-set system of judgment. It means assessing
what kind of potential they tap into and express. Whether a person
is going to joke or get angry when they are in a tight spot, that
uncertainty produces an affective change in the situation. That
affective loading and how it plays out is an ethical act, because
it affects where people might go or what they might do as a result.
It has consequences.
Ethics, then, is always situational?
Ethics in this sense is completely situational. It’s completely
pragmatic. And it happens between people, in the social gaps. There
is no intrinsic good or evil. The ethical value of an action is
what it brings out in the situation, for its transformation, how
it breaks sociality open. Ethics is about how we inhabit uncertainty,
together. It’s not about judging each other right or wrong.
For Nietzsche, like Spinoza, there is still a distinction between
good and bad even if there’s not one between good and evil.
Basically the ‘good’ is affectively defined as what
brings maximum potential and connection to the situation. It is
defined in terms of becoming.
This makes me think of your idea of ‘walking as controlled
falling’. In some ways, every step that we take works with
gravity so we don’t fall, but it’s not something we
consciously think about, because our body is already moving and
is full of both constraint and freedom. I found it interesting because,
in some other ways, I’ve been trying to think about another
relationship — between perception and language — and
it seems to me that ‘affect’ and this notion of body
movement can provide a more integrated and hopeful way of talking
about experience and language.
I like the notion of ‘walking as controlled falling’.
It’s something of a proverb, and Laurie Anderson, among others,
has used it. It conveys the sense that freedom, or the ability to
move forward and to transit through life, isn’t necessarily
about escaping from constraints. There are always constraints. When
we walk, we’re dealing with the constraint of gravity. There’s
also the constraint of balance, and a need for equilibrium. But,
at the same time, to walk you need to throw off the equilibrium,
you have to let yourself go into a fall, then you cut it off and
regain the balance. You move forward by playing with the constraints,
not avoiding them. There’s an openness of movement, even though
there’s no escaping constraint.
It’s similar with language. I see it as a play between constraint
and room to manoeuvre. If you think of language in the traditional
way, as a correspondence between a word with its established meaning
on the one hand and a matching perception on the other, then it
starts coagulating. It’s just being used as a totally conventional
system for pointing out things you want other people to recognise.
It’s all about pointing out what everyone can agree is already
there. When you think about it, though, there’s a unique feeling
to every experience that comes along, and the exact details of it
can never be exhausted by linguistic expression. That’s partly
because no two people in the same situation will have had exactly
the same experience of it — they would be able to argue and
discuss the nuances endlessly. And it’s partly because there
was just too much there between them to be completely articulated
— especially if you think about what was only there potentially,
or virtually. But there are uses of language that can bring that
inadequation between language and experience to the fore in a way
that can convey the ‘too much’ of the situation —
its charge — in a way that actually fosters new experiences.
Humour is a prime example. So is poetic expression, taken in its
broadest sense. So language is two-pronged: it is a capture of experience,
it codifies and normalises it and makes it communicable by providing
a neutral frame of reference. But at the same time it can convey
what I would call ‘singularities of experience’, the
kinds of affective movements we were talking about before that are
totally situation-specific, but in an open kind of way. Experiencing
this potential for change, experiencing the eventfulness and uniqueness
of every situation, even the most conventional ones, that’s
not necessarily about commanding movement, it’s about navigating
movement. It’s about being immersed in an experience that
is already underway. It’s about being bodily attuned to opportunities
in the movement, going with the flow. It’s more like surfing
the situation, or tweaking it, than commanding or programming it.
The command paradigm approaches experience as if we were somehow
outside it, looking in, like disembodied subjects handling an object.
But our experiences aren’t objects. They’re us, they’re
what we’re made of. We are our situations, we are our moving
through them. We are our participation — not some abstract
entity that is somehow outside looking in at it all.
The movement in language is important and it opens another door
or window to perception. But I suppose, as intellectuals, there
is the problem of the codification of language within critical discourse
and theoretical writing — where that language can stop movement
and it can express everything in particular terms or methods that
cut off the potential of understanding freedom or experience ...
‘Critical’ practices aimed at increasing potentials
for freedom and for movement are inadequate, because in order to
critique something in any kind of definitive way you have to pin
it down. In a way it is an almost sadistic enterprise that separates
something out, attributes set characteristics to it, then applies
a final judgment to it — objectifies it, in a moralising kind
of way. I understand that using a ‘critical method’
is not the same as ‘being critical’. But still I think
there is always that moralising undertone to critique. Because of
that, I think, it loses contact with other more moving dimensions
of experience. It doesn’t allow for other kinds of practices
that might not have so much to do with mastery and judgment as with
affective connection and abductive participation.
The non-judgmental is interesting, you know, because you are always
somehow implicated in trying to make judgments ... To not make judgments
in critical thought is a very hard thing to do. It takes a lot courage
to move in that direction, because otherwise...
Well it requires a willingness to take risks, to make mistakes and
even to come across as silly. A critical perspective that tries
to come to a definitive judgment on something is always in some
way a failure, because it is happening at a remove from the process
it’s judging. Something could have happened in the intervening
time, or something barely perceptible might have been happening
away from the centre of critical focus. These developments may become
important later. The process of pinning down and separating out
is also a weakness in judgment, because it doesn’t allow for
these seeds of change, connections in the making that might not
be activated or obvious at the moment. In a sense, judgmental reason
is an extremely weak form of thought, precisely because it is so
sure of itself. This is not to say that it shouldn’t be used.
But I think it should be complemented by other practices of thought,
it shouldn’t be relied on exclusively. It’s limiting
if it’s the only or even the primary stance of the intellectual.
A case in point is the anti-globalisation movement. It’s easy
to find weaknesses in it, in its tactics or in its analysis of capitalism.
If you wait around for a movement to come along that corresponds
to your particular image of the correct approach, you’ll be
waiting your life away. Nothing is ever that neat. But luckily people
didn’t wait around. They jumped right in and started experimenting
and networking, step by step. As a result, new connections have
been made between people and movements operating in different regions
of the world, on different political levels, from the most local
grass-roots levels up to the most established NGOs, using different
organisational structures. In a very short period of time the entire
discourse surrounding globalisation has shifted. Actually, not only
surrounding it but inside its institutions also — it’s
now impossible for an international meeting to take place without
issues of poverty and health being on the agenda. It’s far
from a solution, but it’s a start. It’s ongoing. That’s
the point: to keep on going.
The constraints of freedom
The idea of ‘controlled walking’ is a good example of
what you were just talking about in terms of the limitations on
the self and the freedoms that are possible. But I am also thinking
about it as relating to the idea of ‘societies of control’
— which you have written about. We now live in societies of
control, so how do control and power in this new age also offer
the possibility of freedom?
In physics there is a very famous problem that heavily influenced
the development of chaos theory. It’s called the ‘three-body
problem’, where you have completely deterministic projectories
of bodies constrained by Newtonian laws. For example, if you have
two bodies interacting, through gravity for example, everything
is calculable and foreseeable. If you know where they are in relation
to each at one moment, you can project a path and figure out where
they were at any given moment in the past, or at a time in the future.
But if you have three of them together what happens is that a margin
of unpredictability creeps in. The paths can’t be accurately
determined after a point. They can turn erratic, ending up at totally
different places than you’d expect. What has happened? How
can chance creep into a totally deterministic system? It’s
not that the bodies have somehow broken the laws of physics. What
happens is interference, or resonation. It’s not really discrete
bodies and paths interacting. It’s fields. Gravity is a field
— a field of potential attraction, collision, orbit, of potential
centripetal and centrifugal movements. All these potentials form
such complex interference patterns when three fields overlap that
a measure of indeterminacy creeps in. It’s not that we just
don’t have a detailed enough knowledge to predict. Accurate
prediction is impossible because the indeterminacy is objective.
So there’s an objective degree of freedom even in the most
deterministic system. Something in the coming-together of movements,
even according to the strictest of laws, flips the constraints over
into conditions of freedom. It’s a relational effect, a complexity
effect. Affect is like our human gravitational field, and what we
call our freedom are its relational flips. Freedom is not about
breaking or escaping constraints. It’s about flipping them
over into degrees of freedom. You can’t really escape the
No body can escape gravity. Laws are part of what we are, they’re
intrinsic to our identities. No human can simply escape gender,
for example. The cultural ‘laws’ of gender are part
of what makes us who we are, they’re part of the process that
produced us as individuals. You can’t just step out of gender
identity. But just maybe you can take steps to encourage gender
to flip. That can’t be an individual undertaking. It involves
tweaking the interference and resonation patterns between individuals.
It’s a relational undertaking. You’re not acting on
yourself or other individuals separately. You’re acting on
them together, their togetherness, their field of belonging. The
idea is that there are ways of acting upon the level of belonging
itself, on the moving together and coming together of bodies per
se. This would have to involve an evaluation of collective potential
that would be ethical in the sense we were talking about before.
It would be a caring for the relating of things as such —
a politics of belonging instead of a politics of identity, of correlated
emergence instead of separate domains of interest attracting each
other or colliding in predictable ways. In Isabelle Stengers’
terms, this kind of politics is an ecology of practices. It’s
a pragmatic politics of the in-between. It’s an abductive
politics that has to operate on the level of affect.
So what does this political ecology involve?
To move towards that kind of political ecology you have to get rid
of the idea as power or constraint as power over. It’s always
a power to. The true power of the law is the power to form us. Power
doesn’t just force us down certain paths, it puts the paths
in us, so by the time we learn to follow its constraints we’re
following ourselves. The effects of power on us is our identity.
That’s what Michel Foucault taught us. If power just came
at us from outside, if it was just an extrinsic relation, it would
be simple. You’d just run away. In the 1960s and 1970s that’s
how a lot of people looked at it — including myself. Drop
out, stop following the predictable, straight-and-narrow path, and
things like sexism will just disappear. Well, they didn’t.
It’s a lot more complicated than that. Power comes up with
us from the field of potential. It ‘informs’ us, it’s
intrinsic to our formation, it’s part of our emergence as
individuals, and it emerges with us — we actualise it, as
it in-forms us. So in a way it’s as potentialising as what
we call freedom, only what it potentialises is limited to a number
of predictable paths. It’s the calculable part of affect,
the most probable next steps and eventual outcomes. As Foucault
says, power is productive, and it produces not so much repressions
as regularities. Which brings us to the ‘society of control’
and to capitalism ...
I was just going to ask you about that ...
It is very clear that capitalism has undergone a major reconfiguration
since the Second World War, and it’s been very difficult to
think through what that has been. For me the most useful way of
thinking about it comes from the post-Autonomia Italian Marxist
movement, in particular the thought of Antonio Negri. The argument
is that capitalist powers have pretty much abandoned control in
the sense of ‘power over’. That corresponds to the first
flush of ‘disciplinary’ power in Michel Foucault’s
vocabulary. Disciplinary power starts by enclosing bodies in top-down
institutions — prisons, asylums, hospitals, schools, and so
on. It encloses in order to find ways of producing more regularity
in behaviour. Its aim is to manufacture normality — good,
healthy citizens. As top-down disciplinary power takes hold and
spreads, it finds ways of doing the same thing without the enclosure.
Prisons spawn half-way houses, hospitals spawn community clinics
and home-care, educational institutions spawn the self-help and
career retooling industries. It starts operating in an open field.
After a certain point it starts paying more attention to the relays
between the points in that field, the transitions between institutions,
than to the institutions themselves. It’s seeped into the
in-between. At this point it starts to act directly on the kinds
of interference and resonation effects I was just mentioning. It
starts working directly on bodies’ movements and momentum,
producing momentums, the more varied and even erratic, the better.
Normalcy starts to lose its hold. The regularities start to loosen.
This loosening of normalcy is part of capitalism’s dynamic.
It’s not a simple liberation. It’s capitalism’s
own form of power. It’s no longer disciplinary institutional
power that defines everything, it’s capitalism’s power
to produce variety — because markets get saturated. Produce
variety and you produce a niche market. The oddest of affective
tendencies are OK — as long as they pay. Capitalism starts
intensifying or diversifying affect, but only in order to extract
surplus-value. It hijacks affect in order to intensify profit potential.
It literally valorises affect. The capitalist logic of surplus-value
production starts to take over the relational field that is also
the domain of political ecology, the ethical field of resistance
to identity and predictable paths. It’s very troubling and
confusing, because it seems to me that there’s been a certain
kind of convergence between the dynamic of capitalist power and
the dynamic of resistance.
The flows of capitalism
>For me, this raises a question about the way capitalism does capture
potential and organises itself. There are two issues I want to address:
firstly, in relationship to the question of hope — human aspirations
and hopes are directly related to capitalism today. The natural
or ‘potential of hope’ is seized upon and is tied very
much to a monetary system, economic imperatives or questions of
ownership. Secondly, the relationship between hope and fear in capitalism.
I think that hope and fear are part of the same equation ...
I think they definitely are. It would help to try to talk a little
bit more about the change in capitalism and what that constitutes,
and then go back to that question. Thinkers like Negri say that
the products of capitalism have become more intangible, they’ve
become more information- and service-based. Material objects and
physical commodities that were once the engine of the economy are
becoming more and more peripheral, in profit terms. For example,
the cost of computers keeps plummeting. It’s difficult to
make a profit from their manufacture because there’s a mass
of basically identical versions from different companies, and they’re
all pretty interchangeable.
Is that mass production in a sense or a different notion of mass
It is a mass production but it leads to a different kind of production,
because what can someone sell if they can’t make a profit
from the object? What they can sell are services around the object
and they can sell the right to do the things you can do through
the object. That’s why copyright is such a huge issue. The
capitalist product is more and more an intellectual property that
you buy a right to use, not an object you buy outright. If you buy
a software package, often you’re not supposed to even make
copies of it for yourself, like one for your desktop and one for
a laptop. If you buy a book, you own an object. You can resell it,
or lend it, or rebind it, or photocopy it for your own use. If you
buy a software package, you’re not so much buying an object,
you’re buying a bundle of functions. You’re buying the
right to use those functions, with all sorts of strings attached.
You’re basically buying the right to be able to do things,
ways of affecting and being affected — word-processing capacities,
image-capture and processing capacities, printing capacities, calculation
capacities ... It’s at the same time very potentialising,
and controlled. The ‘cutting edge’ products are more
and more multivalent. ‘Convergence’ is the buzzword.
When you buy a computerised product, you can do a lot of different
things with it — you use it to extend your affective capacities.
It becomes a motor force of your life — like a turbo charge
to your vitality. It enables you to go farther and to do more, to
fit more in. The way even older-style products are sold has something
to do with this. You don’t just buy a car, the dealers tell
us, you buy a lifestyle. When you consume, you’re not just
getting something to use for a particular use, you’re getting
yourself a life. All products become more intangible, sort of atmospheric,
and marketing gets hinged more and more on style and branding ...
Possibly, possibly but not necessarily, because, if you think of
style or branding, it is an attempt to express what we were talking
about before as the sense of vitality or liveliness. It is a selling
of experience or lifestyles, and people put themselves together
by what they buy and what they can do through what they can buy.
So ownership is becoming less and less important per se. Accumulation
for accumulation’s sake, or just to signal the ability to
accumulate — ‘conspicuous consumption’ —
belongs to an earlier phase. It’s this enabling of experience
that is taking over. Now, that enablement of experience has to be
tended. Companies work very hard to produce brand loyalty. ‘Fidelity
programs’ involving things like rewards points are everywhere.
The product becomes a long-term part of your life, you’re
brought into a relationship with the company through fidelity programs,
service networks, promises of upgrades, etc. The way you use the
product is also more and more oriented towards relationship —
the most seductive products produce possibilities of connection.
‘Connectibility’ is another buzzword. When we buy a
product, we’re buying potential connections with other things
and especially other people — for example, when a family buys
a computer to keep in touch by email, or when you get a computer
for work and end up joining on-line communities. What’s being
sold more and more is experience, social experience. The corporation,
the capitalist company, is having to create social networks and
cultural nodes that come together around the product, and the product
gets used more and more to create social networks that radiate out
from it. ‘Networking’ was the buzzword in the 1980s,
when this new kind of capitalist power was just coming into its
Marketing itself is starting to operate along those lines. There
is a new kind of marketing called viral marketing where specialised
companies will surf the web to find communities of interest that
have spontaneously formed. It started in the music industry, around
fan networks for bands. They find a group of people who have a very
strong affective attachment to a band or a performer that is very
central to how they see themselves and to what they perceive as
the quality of their life. They will network with them, offer them
tickets or inside information, or special access, and in return
the members of the group will agree to take on certain marketing
tasks. So the difference between marketing and consuming and between
living and buying is becoming smaller and smaller, to the point
that they are getting almost indistinguishable. On both the production
side and the consumption side it is all about intangible, basically
cultural products or products of experience that invariably have
a collective dimension to them.
So as consumers we are part of the new networks of global and collective
Individual consumers are being inducted into these collective processes
rather than being separated out and addressed as free agents who
are supposed to make an informed consumer choice as rational individuals.
This is a step beyond niche marketing, it’s relational marketing.
It works by contagion rather than by convincing, on affect rather
than rational choice. It works at least as much on the level of
our ‘indeterminate sociality’ as on the level of our
identities. More and more, what it does is hitch a ride on movements
afoot in the social field, on social stirrings, which it channels
in profit-making directions. People like Negri talk about the ‘social
factory’, a kind of socialisation of capitalism, where capitalism
is more about scouting and capturing or producing and multiplying
potentials for doing and being than it is about selling things.
The kind of work that goes into this he calls ‘immaterial
labour’. The product, ultimately, is us. We are in-formed
by capitalist powers of production. Our whole life becomes a ‘capitalist
tool’ — our vitality, our affective capacities. It’s
to the point that our life potentials are indistinguishable from
capitalist forces of production. In some of my essays I’ve
called this the ‘subsumption of life’ under capitalism.
Jeremy Rifkin is a social critic who now teaches at one of the most
prestigious business schools in the US (talk about the capture of
resistance!). Rifkin has a description of capitalism that is actually
surprisingly similar to Negri’s. And he’s teaching it
to the next generation of capitalists. It centres on what he calls
‘gatekeeping’ functions. Here the figure of power is
no longer the billy club of the policeman, it’s the barcode
or the PIN number. These are control mechanisms, but not in the
old sense of ‘power over’. It’s control in Gilles
Deleuze’s sense, which is closer to ‘check mechanism’.
It’s all about checkpoints. At the grocery store counter,
the barcode on what you’re buying checks the object out of
the store. At the automatic bank teller, the PIN number on your
card checks you into your account. The checks don’t control
you, they don’t tell you where to go or what to be doing at
any particular time. They don’t lord it over you. They just
lurk. They lie in wait for you at key points. You come to them,
and they’re activated by your arrival. You’re free to
move, but every few steps there’s a checkpoint. They’re
everywhere, woven into the social landscape. To continue on your
way you have to pass the checkpoint. What’s being controlled
is right of passage — access. It’s about your enablement
to go places and do things. When you pass the checkpoint you have
to present something for detection, and when you do that something
registers. Your bank account is debited, and you and your groceries
pass. Or something fails to register, and that’s what lets
you pass, like at airport security or places where there’s
video surveillance. In either case what’s being controlled
is passage across thresholds.
Society becomes an open field composed of thresholds or gateways,
it becomes a continuous space of passage. It’s no longer rigidly
structured by walled-in enclosures, there’s all kinds of latitude.
It’s just that at key points along the way, at key thresholds,
power is tripped into action. The exercise of the power bears on
your movement — not so much you as a person. In the old disciplinary
power formations, it was always about judging what sort of person
you were, and the way power functioned was to make you fit a model,
or else. If you weren’t the model citizen, you were judged
guilty and locked up as a candidate for ‘reform’. That
kind of power deals with big unities — the person as moral
subject, right and wrong, social order. And everything was internalised
— if you didn’t think right you were in trouble. Now
you’re checked in passing, and instead of being judged innocent
or guilty you’re registered as liquid. The process is largely
automatic, and it doesn’t really matter what you think or
who you are deep down. Machines do the detecting and ‘judging’.
The check just bears on a little detail — do you have enough
in your bank account, do you not have a gun? It’s a highly
localised, partial exercise of power — a micro-power. That
micro-power, though, feeds up to higher levels, bottom up.
>And this power is more intangible because it has no ‘real’
In a way the real power starts after you’ve passed, in the
feed, because you’ve left a trace. Something has registered.
Those registrations can be gathered to piece together a profile
of your movement, or they can be compared to other people’s
inputs. They can be processed en masse and systematised, synthesised.
Very convenient for surveillance or crime investigation, but even
more valuable for marketing. In such a fluid economy, based so much
on intangibles, the most valuable thing is information on people’s
patterns and tastes. The checkpoint system allows information to
be gathered at every step you take. You’re providing a continuous
feed, which comes back to you in advertising pushing new products,
new bundlings of potential. Think of how cookies work on the internet.
Every time you click a link, you’re registering your tastes
and patterns, which are then processed and thrown back at you in
the form of flip-up ads that try to get you to go to particular
links and hopefully buy something. It’s a feedback loop, and
the object is to modulate your online movement. It’s no exaggeration
to say that every time you click a link you’re doing somebody
else’s market research for them. You’re contributing
to their profit-making abilities. Your everyday movements and leisure
activities have become a form of value-producing labour. You are
generating surplus-value just by going about your daily life —
your very ability to move is being capitalised on. Deleuze and Guattari
call this kind of capitalising on movement ‘surplus-value
of flow’, and what characterises the ‘society of control’
is that the economy and the way power functions come together around
the generation of this surplus-value of flow. Life movements, capital
and power become one continuous operation — check, register,
feed-in, processing, feedback, purchase, profit, around and around.
So how do the more ‘traditional’ forms of power operate?
I mean they don’t disappear — they seem to gather more
Yes, this situation doesn’t mean that police functions and
the other old disciplinary forms of power are over and done with.
Disciplinary powers don’t disappear. Far from it. In fact
they tend to proliferate and often get more vehement in their application
precisely because the field that they are in is no longer controlled
overall by their kind of power, so they’re in a situation
of structural insecurity. There are no more top-down state apparatuses
that can really claim effective control over their territory. Old-style
sovereignty is a thing of the past. All borders have become porous,
and capitalism is feeding off that poracity and pushing it further
and further — that’s what globalisation is all about.
But there have to be mechanisms that check those movements, so policing
functions start to proliferate, and as policing proliferates so
do prisons. In the US they’re being privatised and are now
big business. Now policing works more and more in the way I was
just describing, through gatekeeping — detection, registration
and feedback. Police action, in the sense of an arrest, comes out
of this movement-processing loop as a particular kind of feedback.
Instead of passing through the gate, a gun is detected by the machine,
and a police response is triggered, and someone gets arrested. Police
power becomes a function of that other kind of power, that we were
calling control, or movement-based power. It’s a local stop-action
that arises out of the flow and is aimed at safeguarding it. The
boom in prison construction comes as an off-shoot of the policing,
so you could consider the profits made by that new industry as a
kind of surplus-value of flow. It’s a vicious circle, and
everyone knows it. No matter how many prisons there are, no matter
how many people they lock up, the general insecurity won’t
be lessened. It just comes with the territory, because for capitalism
to keep going, things have to keep flowing. Free trade and fluidity
of labour markets is the name of the game. So no matter how many
billions of dollars are poured into surveillance and prison building,
the threat will still be there of something getting through that
shouldn’t. Terrorism is the perfect example.
Yes. In thinking about this now — after our initial conversation
and in this revision of it, post-September 11 — it adds another
dimension to this surveillance.
All the September 11 terrorists were in the US legally. They passed.
How many others might have? With this stage of capitalism comes
territorial insecurity, and with territorial insecurity comes fear,
with fear comes more checkpoint policing, more processing, more
bottom-up, fed-back ‘control’. It becomes one big, self-propelling
feedback machine. It turns into a kind of automatism, and we register
collectively as individuals through the way we feed that automatism,
by our participation in it, just by virtue of being alive and moving.
Socially, that’s what the individual is now: a checkpoint
trigger and a co-producer of surplus-values of flow. Power is now
distributed. It trickles down to the most local, most partial checkpoint.
The profits that get generated from that don’t necessarily
trickle down, but the power does. There is no distance anymore between
us, our movements and the operations of power, or between the operations
of power and the forces of capitalism. One big, continuous operation.
Capital-power has become operationalised. Nothing so glorious as
sovereign, just operational — a new modesty of power as it
At any rate, the hope that might come with the feeling of potentialisation
and enablement we discussed is doubled by insecurity and fear. Increasingly
power functions by manipulating that affective dimension rather
than dictating proper or normal behaviour from on high. So power
is no longer fundamentally normative, like it was in its disciplinary
forms, it’s affective. The mass media have an extremely important
role to play in that. The legitimisation of political power, of
state power, no longer goes through the reason of state and the
correct application of governmental judgment. It goes through affective
channels. For example, an American president can deploy troops overseas
because it makes a population feel good about their country or feel
secure, not because the leader is able to present well-honed arguments
that convince the population that it is a justified use of force.
So there is no longer political justification within a moral framework
provided by the sovereign state. And the mass media are not mediating
anymore — they become direct mechanisms of control by their
ability to modulate the affective dimension.
This has all become painfully apparent after the World Trade Center
attacks. You had to wait weeks after the event to hear the slightest
analysis in the US media. It was all heart-rending human interest
stories of fallen heroes, or scare stories about terrorists lurking
around every corner. What the media produced wasn’t information
or analysis. It was affect modulation — affective pick-up
from the mythical ‘man in the street’, followed by affective
amplification through broadcast. Another feedback loop. It changes
how people experience what potentials they have to go and to do.
The constant security concerns insinuate themselves into our lives
at such a basic, habitual level that you’re barely aware how
it’s changing the tenor of everyday living. You start ‘instinctively’
to limit your movements and contact with people. It’s affectively
limiting. That affective limitation is expressed in emotional terms
— remember we were making a distinction between affect and
emotion, with emotion being the expression of affect in gesture
and language, its conventional or coded expression. At the same
time as the media helps produce this affective limitation, it works
to overcome it in a certain way. The limitation can’t go too
far or it would slow down the dynamic of capitalism. One of the
biggest fears after September 11 was that the economy would go into
recession because of a crisis in consumer confidence. So everyone
was called upon to keep spending, as a proud, patriotic act. So
the media picks up on fear and insecurity and feeds it back amplified,
but in a way that somehow changes its quality into pride and patriotism
— with the proof in the purchasing. A direct affective conversion
of fear into confidence by means of an automatic image loop, running
in real time, through continuous coverage, and spinning off profit.
Does anyone really believe Bush stands for state reason? It doesn’t
matter — there are flags to wave and feel-good shopping to
do. Once the loop gets going, you’ve got to feed it. You can
only produce more pride and patriotism by producing more fear and
insecurity to convert. At times it seemed as though US government
officials were consciously drumming up fear, like when they repeatedly
issued terrorist attack warnings and then would withdraw them —
and the media was lapping it up.
Affect is now much more important for understanding power, even
state power narrowly defined, than concepts like ideology. Direct
affect modulation takes the place of old-style ideology. This is
not new. It didn’t just happen around the September 11 events,
it just sort of came out then, became impossible to ignore. In the
early 1990s I put together a book called The Politics of Everyday
Fear. It dealt with the same kind of mechanisms, but it was coming
out of the experience of the 1980s, the Reagan years. This post-ideological
media power has been around at least since television matured as
a medium — which was about when it took power literally, with
the election of Reagan, an old TV personality, as head of state.
From that time on, the functions of head of state and commander
in chief of the military fused with the role of the television personality.
The American president is not a statesman anymore, like Woodrow
Wilson or Franklin Roosevelt were. He’s a visible personification
of that affective media loop. He’s the face of mass affect.
It is really important to understand affect ‘after a society
of ideology’. Ideology is still around but it is not as embracing
as it was, and in fact it does operate. But to really understand
it you have to understand its materialisation, which goes through
affect. That’s a very different way of addressing the political,
because it is having to say that there is a whole range of ideological
structures in place. Then there is that point you were talking about,
the transitional passages that you pass through that capitalism
is part of and manipulating — but it does have the possibility
of freedom within it. It seems to me that to express how those affective
dimensions are mobilised is the main ethical concern now …
It seems to me that alternative political action does not have to
fight against the idea that power has become affective, but rather
has to learn to function itself on that same level — meet
affective modulation with affective modulation. That requires, in
some ways, a performative, theatrical or aesthetic approach to politics.
For example, it is not possible for a dispossessed group to adequately
communicate its needs and desires through the mass media. It just
doesn’t happen. It wasn’t possible for marginal interest
groups like the anti-globalisation movement before the Seattle demonstration
to do that simply by arguing convincingly and broadcasting its message.
The message doesn’t get through, because the mass media doesn’t
function on that level of the rational weighing of choices. Unfortunately
the kind of theatrical or performative intervention that is the
easiest and has the most immediate effect is often a violent kind.
If windows hadn’t been broken and cars hadn’t been overturned
in Seattle, most people wouldn’t have heard of the anti-globalisation
movement by now. That outburst of anger actually helped create networks
of people working around the world trying to address the increasing
inequalities that accompany globalisation. It was able to shake
the situation enough that people took notice. It was like everything
was thrown up in the air for a moment and people came down after
the shock in a slightly different order and some were interconnected
in ways that they hadn’t been before. Dispossessed people
like the Palestinians or the people in Irian Jaya just can’t
argue their cases effectively through the mass media, which is why
they’re driven to violent guerilla tactics or terrorism, out
of desperation. And they’re basically theatrical or spectacular
actions, they’re performative, because they don’t do
much in themselves except to get people’s attention —
and cause a lot of suffering in the process, which is why they spectacularly
backfire as often as not. They also work by amplifying fear and
converting it into group pride or resolve. The resolve is for an
in-group and the fear is for everybody else. It’s as divisive
as the oppression it’s responding to, and it feeds right into
the dominant state mechanisms.
The September 11 terrorists made Bush president, they created President
Bush, they fed the massive military and surveillance machine he’s
now able to build. Before Bin Laden and Al-Qaïda, Bush wasn’t
a president, he was an embarrassment. Bin Laden and Bush are affective
partners, like Bush Senior and Saddam Hussein, or Reagan and the
Soviet leaders. In a way, they’re in collusion or in symbiosis.
They’re like evil twins who feed off of each other’s
affective energies. It’s a kind of vampiric politics. Everything
starts happening between these opposite personifications of affect,
leaving no room for other kinds of action. It’s rare that
protest violence has any of the positive organising power it did
in Seattle. But in any case it had lost that power by the time the
anti-globalisation movement reached Genoa, when people started to
die. The violence was overused and under-strategised — it
got predictable, it became a refrain, it lost its power.
The crucial political question for me is whether there are ways
of practising a politics that takes stock of the affective way power
operates now, but doesn’t rely on violence and the hardening
of divisions along identity lines that it usually brings. I’m
not exactly sure what that kind of politics would look like, but
it would still be performative. In some basic way it would be an
aesthetic politics, because its aim would be to expand the range
of affective potential — which is what aesthetic practice
has always been about. It’s also the way I talked about ethics
earlier. Felix Guattari liked to hyphenate the two — towards
an ‘ethico-aesthetic politics’.
For me the relationship you were discussing earlier, between hope
and fear in the political domain, is what gets mobilised by the
Left and Right. In some ways the problem of more leftist or radical
thinking is that it doesn’t actually tap into those mobilisations
of different kinds of affects, whether it be hope, fear, love or
whatever. The Left are criticising the Right and the Right are mobilising
hope and fear in more affective ways. The Right can capture the
imagination of a population and produce nationalist feelings and
tendencies, so there can be a real absence of hope to counter what’s
going on in everyday life, and I think the Left have a few more
hurdles to jump ...
The traditional Left was really left behind by the culturalisation
or socialisation of capital and the new functioning of the mass
media. It seems to me that in the United States what’s left
of the Left has become extremely isolated, because there are fewer
possibilities than in countries like Australia or Canada to break
through into the broadcast media. So there is a sense of hopelessness
and isolation that ends up rigidifying people’s responses.
They’re left to stew in their own righteous juices. They fall
back on rectitude and right judgement, which simply is not affective.
Or rather, it’s anti-affective affect — it’s curtailing,
punishing, disciplining. It’s really just a sad holdover from
the old regime — the dregs of disciplinary power. It seems
to me that the Left has to relearn resistance, really taking to
heart the changes that have happened recently in the way capitalism
and power operate.
Connections — belief, faith, joy
In a way, this conversation makes me think about the relation of
‘autonomy and connection’ that you’ve written
about. There are many ways of understanding autonomy, but I think
with capitalism’s changing face it is harder and harder to
be autonomous. For instance, people who are unemployed have very
intense reactions and feelings to that categorisation of themselves
as unemployed. And, in my experience, I’m continually hounded
by bureaucratic procedures that tend to restrict my autonomy and
freedom — such as constant checks, meetings and forms to fill
out. These procedures mark every step you take ... So to find some
way to affirm unemployment that allows you to create another life,
or even to get a job, is increasingly more difficult and produces
new forms of alienation and ‘dis-connection’ ...
It is harder to feel like getting a job is making you autonomous,
because there are so many mechanisms of control that come down on
you when you do have a job. All aspects of your life involve these
mechanisms — your daily schedules, your dress, and, in the
United States, it can even involve being tested for drugs on a regular
basis. Even when you are not on the job, the insecurity that goes
with having a job and wanting to keep it in a volatile economy —
where there is little job security and the kind of jobs that are
available change very quickly — requires you to constantly
be thinking of your marketability and what the next job is going
to be. So free time starts getting taken up by self-improvement
or taking care of yourself so that you remain healthy and alert
and can perform at your peak. The difference between your job life
and off-job life collapses, there are no longer distinctions between
your public and private functions. Being unemployed creates an entirely
different set of constraints and controls but it is not necessarily
completely disempowering. For example, a lot of creative work gets
done by people who are unemployed or underemployed.
Yes, but it is also the intensity of those experiences that get
categorised in one particular way — you either work or don’t
work. But the way it’s lived out isn’t like that at
all. I’m not just thinking of myself here and my experience
of unemployment. The feeling of despair doesn’t have a way
of being expressed in our cultures, except with the feeling that
you’re not doing the right thing, or you’re not part
of the society. It is about the relationship to commodities, really,
because in a sense you are no longer in a position to market yourself
There is definitely an imperative to have a job and to be able to
consume more and consume better, to consume experiences that in-form
you and increase your marketability for jobs. There’s definitely
an imperative to participate, and if you can’t you’re
branded, you don’t pass anymore, you can’t get by the
most desirable checkpoints.
Yes, like getting a credit card — or simply having money in
your bank account.
But what I was trying to say is that there is no such thing as autonomy
and decisive control over one’s life in any total sense, whether
you have a job or whether you don’t. There are different sets
of constraints, and, like we were saying before, freedom always
arises from constraint — it’s a creative conversion
of it, not some utopian escape from it. Wherever you are, there
is still potential, there are openings, and the openings are in
the grey areas, in the blur where you’re susceptible to affective
contagion, or capable of spreading it. It’s never totally
within your personal power to decide.
Is that what you mean by autonomy and connection?
Well, there’s no such thing as autonomy in the sense of being
entirely affectively separate. When you are unemployed you are branded
as separate, unproductive and not part of society, but you still
are connected because you are in touch with an enormous range of
social services and policing functions that mean you are just as
much in society — but you are in society in a certain relation
of inequality and impasse. It’s a fiction that there is any
position within society that enables you to maintain yourself as
a separate entity with complete control over your decisions —
the idea of a free agent that somehow stands back from it all and
chooses, like from a smorgasbord platter. I think there can be another
notion of autonomy that has to do more with how you can connect
to others and to other movements, how you can modulate those connections,
to multiply and intensify them. So what you are, affectively, isn’t
a social classification — rich or poor, employed or unemployed
— it’s a set of potential connections and movements
that you have, always in an open field of relations. What you can
do, your potential, is defined by your connectedness, the way you’re
connected and how intensely, not your ability to separate off and
decide by yourself. Autonomy is always connective, it’s not
being apart, it’s being in, being in a situation of belonging
that gives you certain degrees of freedom, or powers of becoming,
powers of emergence. How many degrees of freedom there are, and
where they can lead most directly, is certainly different depending
on how you are socially classified — whether you are male
or female, child or adult, rich or poor, employed or unemployed
— but none of those conditions or definitions are boxes that
completely undermine a person’s potential. And having pity
for someone who occupies a category that is not socially valorised,
or expressing moral outrage on their behalf, is not necessarily
helpful in the long run, because it maintains the category and simply
inverts its value sign, from negative to positive. It’s a
kind of piety, a moralising approach. It’s not affectively
pragmatic. It doesn’t challenge identity-based divisions.
Well that is the problem of charity. When you have pity for someone
it doesn’t actually change the situation or give them much
hope. But the other side of that is what you were talking about
before, the idea of ‘caring for belonging’. There is
such a focus on self-interest and the privatised idea of the individual
(although this is changing through the new fields of capitalism
and the economy) — the valorisation of the individual against
more collective struggles. This project has been trying to think
about different notions of being, and collective life. In your ideas
of autonomy and connection there is also another understanding or
different notion of care — ‘belonging’ and our
‘relations’ to ourselves and others. It involves some
other idea of being that is anti-capitalist, and also different
notion of caring ...
Well if you think of your life as an autonomous collectivity or
a connective autonomy, it still makes sense to think in terms of
self-interest at a certain level. Obviously a disadvantaged group
has to assess their interests and fight for certain rights, certain
rights of passage and access, certain resources — often survival
itself is in the balance. But at the same time, if any group, disadvantaged
or otherwise, identifies itself completely with its self-interests
it’s living the fiction that it is a separate autonomy. It
is missing the potential that comes from taking the risk of making
an event of the way you relate to other people, orienting it towards
becoming-other. So in a way you are cutting yourself off from your
own potential to change and intensify your life. If you think of
it in terms of potential and intensified experience then too much
self-interest is against your own interests. You have to constantly
be balancing those two levels. Political action that only operates
in terms of the self-interest of identified groups occupying recognisable
social categories like male/female, unemployed/employed have limited
usefulness. For me, if they are pursued to the exclusion of other
forms of political activity they end up creating a sort of rigidity
— a hardening of the arteries!
Which leads to a heart attack or death doesn’t it!
So it seems to me there needs to be an ecology of practices that
does have room for pursuing or defending rights based on an identification
with a certain categorised social group, that asserts and defends
a self-interest but doesn’t just do that. If you do think
of your life potential as coming from the ways you can connect with
others, and are challenged by that connection in ways that might
be outside your direct control, then, like you are saying, you have
to employ a different kind of logic. You have to think of your being
in a direct belonging. There are any number of practices that can
be socially defined and assert their interest, but all of them interact
in an open field. If you take them all together there is an in-betweenness
of them all that is not just the one-to-one conflict between pairs,
but snakes between them all and makes them belong to the same social
field — an indeterminate or emergent ‘sociality’.
So I’m suggesting that there is a role for people who care
for relation or belonging, as such, and try to direct attention
towards it and inflect it rather than denouncing or championing
particular identities or positions. But to do that you have to abdicate
your own self-interest up to a point, and this opens you to risk.
You have to place yourself not in a position but in the middle,
in a fairly indeterminate, fairly vague situation, where things
meet at the edges and pass into each other.
That’s the ethics isn’t it?
Yes, because you don’t know what the outcome is going to be.
So you have to take care, because an intervention that is too violent
can create rebound effects that are unpredictable to such a degree
that it can lead to things falling apart rather than reconfiguring.
It can lead to great suffering. In a way I think it becomes an ethic
of caring, caring for belonging, which has to be a non-violent ethic
that involves thinking of your local actions as modulating a global
state. A very small intervention might get amplified across the
web of connections to produce large effects — the famous butterfly
effect — you never know. So it takes a great deal of attention
and care and abductive effort of understanding about how things
are interrelating and how a perturbation, a little shove or a tweak,
might change that.
Yes, and there is a relation between this ethics, hope and the idea
of joy. If we take Spinoza and Nietzsche seriously, an ethic of
joy and the cultivation of joy is an affirmation of life. In the
sense of what you are saying, even a small thing can become amplified
and can have a global effect, which is life affirming. What are
your thoughts on this ethical relationship in everyday existence?
And in intellectual practice — which is where we are coming
from — what are the affirmations of joy and hope?
Well I think that joy is not the same thing as happiness. Just like
good for Nietzsche is not the opposite of evil, joy for Spinoza
(or ‘gaiety’ in Nietzche’s vocabulary) is not
the opposite of unhappy. It’s on a different axis. Joy can
be very disruptive, it can even be very painful. What I think Spinoza
and Nietzsche are getting at is joy as affirmation, an assuming
by the body of its potentials, its assuming of a posture that intensifies
its powers of existence. The moment of joy is the co-presence of
those potentials, in the context of a bodily becoming. That can
be an experience that overcomes you. Take Antonin Artaud, for example.
His artistic practice was all about intensifying bodily potential,
trying to get outside or underneath the categories of language and
affective containment by those categories, trying to pack vast potentials
for movement and meaning in a single gesture, or in words that burst
apart and lose their conventional meaning, becoming like a scream
of possibility, a babble of becoming, the body bursting out through
an opening in expression. It’s liberating, but at the same
time the charge of that potential can become unbearable and can
actually destroy. Artaud himself was destroyed by it, he ended up
mad, and so did Nietzsche. So it is not just simple opposition between
happy and unhappy or pleasant or unpleasant.
I do think, though, that the practice of joy does imply some form
of belief. It can’t be a total scepticism or nihilism or cynicism,
which are all mechanisms for holding oneself separate and being
in a position to judge or deride. But, on the other hand, it’s
not a belief in the sense of a set of propositions to adhere to
or a set of principles or moral dictates. There is a phrase of Deleuze’s
that I like very much where he says that what we need is to be able
to find a way to ‘believe in the world’ again. It’s
not at all a theological statement — or an anti-theological
statement for that matter. It’s an ethical statement. What
it is saying is that we have to live our immersion in the world,
really experience our belonging to this world, which is the same
thing as our belonging to each other, and live that so intensely
together that there is no room to doubt the reality of it. The idea
is that lived intensity is self-affirming. It doesn’t need
a God or judge or head of state to tell it that it has value. What
it means, I think, is accept the embeddedness, go with it, live
it out, and that’s your reality, it’s the only reality
you have, and it’s your participation that makes it real.
That’s what Deleuze is saying belief is about, a belief in
the world. It’s not a belief that’s ‘about’
being in the world, it is a being in the world. Because it’s
all about being in this world, warts and all, and not some perfect
world beyond or a better world of the future, it’s an empirical
kind of belief. Ethical, empirical — and creative, because
your participation in this world is part of a global becoming. So
it’s about taking joy in that process, wherever it leads,
and I guess it’s about having a kind of faith in the world
which is simply the hope that it continue ... But again it is not
a hope that has a particular content or end point — it’s
a desire for more life, or for more to life.