Void Manufacturing

“Turning and turning in a cell, like a fly that doesn’t know where to die.”

Navigating Movements: an interview with Brian Massumi, Delueze scholar and expert in forms of social control

Posted by voidmanufacturing on August 16, 2008

NAVIGATING MOVEMENTS 

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 here? 

 

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 something 

fixed.  

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 and moving. 

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 to do. 

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. 

Navigations 

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 constraints. 

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 production? 

 

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 … 

 

More meaningless? 

 

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 

own. 

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 

exchange… 

 

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’ origin… 

 

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 momentum?  

 

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 becomes ubiquitous. 

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. 

 

Yes. 

 

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. 

Transitions 

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 or consume. 

 

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.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: