inadequate futures

[004 - negativity in Culp]

May 15, 2017 by alex christie

I'm revisiting Andrew Culp's Dark Deleuze this week. My director suggested the book last summer somewhere between me reading A Thousand Plateaus and Claire Colebrook's Death of the PostHuman as an example of a negative version of Deleuze that might help make sense of Colebrook's work. In general, and this is the way I've always read D&G, TP has always been this joyous and affirmative text riddled with 'little monsters' for cultivating novel concepts (Culp 1). Each plateau offered something new---a new concept, methodology, reading. In moments of lucidity (usually while reading and then never again) it feels very portable. Dark Deleuze, by comparison, is very different: 'Emerging from scholars concerned with the condition of the present, the darkness refashions a revolutionary Deleuze: revolutionary negativity in a world characterized by compulsory happiness, decentralized control, and overexposure' (2). This struck me as odd for two reasons: first, all of my work is 'concerned with the condition of the present,' so it seemed odd that I hadn't encountered much of this scholarship. But second, and while I absolutely agree with Culp that the revolutionary concepts offered by Deleuze throughout his corpus---'transversal lines, rhizomatic connections, compositionist networks, complex assemblages, affective experiences, and enchanted objects'---had been largely integrated into public consciousness, it's never occurred to me Deleuze's work had run it's course, cleaved into neoliberal-ese (7).

There's a lot to like in Culp's book, and I don't want to run through a bunch of the stuff I disagree with. Rather, I want to try to articulate why the negativity deployed throughout Dark Deleuze, in contradistinction to the 'joyous cannon Deleuze' I tend to think about and use, doesn't seem to break out of the critique negativity mounts against contemporary theory. Recent theory turns to negativity to hold positive, productive, and affirmative accounts of subject formation and new materialism, for example, complicit in capitalist practices. Negativity points at its antipode and says, 'You're colluding with the enemy; we need to destroy it and, by proxy, you.' My answer to this accusation has been a resigned shrug, agreement, and 'but,' for about a year now. Re-reading Culp's book, I'm beginning to figure out why. If theory's main purpose is to offer tools or frameworks for navigating and changing the world (a big 'if'), then it's unclear to me what negativity's goal oriented critique offers. This may be an unfair characterization: negativity is about praxis and method over and above the final outcome. However, negativity's claim that productivity and positivity cannot lead to the end of the world intertwines ends and means.

One of the main things Culp's book is trying to cultivate is what he calls 'Hatred for This World;' a call to arms for 'the Death of this World.' Culp argues, 'My ultimate purpose is to convince readers to completely abandon all the joyous paths for their dark alternatives. The best scenario would be that these contraries fade into irrelevance after Dark Deleuze achieves its ostensible goal: the end of this world, the final defeat of the state, and full communism' (20). 'World' comes to the fore as a stand in for neoliberal globalism and its counterpart, liberal democracy. While these interwoven structures remain, full communism remains an impossibility and we remain the exploited working class. But I don't entirely see how this goal differs from other liberatory political and ethical thinking, especially that deployed in posthumanism (broadly) or new materialism (specifically) [1]; part of it seems ontological rather than political. Framed that way, I, too, want to bring the world to an end. Where Dark Deleuze and I diverge is less in where we end up than how we get there, and DD will continue to remind me not only that the affirmative path has not worked, but that it's already been compromised.

It's in the section on 'un-becoming' that it feels like light and dark slide back into one another. Readers of Deleuze know becoming is not a wholly liberatory practice; rather, it reminds us that subjectivity and embodiment are ongoing negotiations between bodies and with(in) environments, not stable positions. In this way, to become, to inhabit territory otherwise, is also to deterritorialize---it's always a double gesture. Culp allows this, noting 'Becoming is really a process of un-becoming,' and offers assemblage as the light Deleuze's inferior mode of subjectivity: 'assemblage-modeling is a perfect fit in a world where capitalism produces subjectivity' (26, 27). I completely agree with this description, but if assemblages are the (theoretical and ontological) apparatuses through which subjectivity is constituted, it doesn't seem enough to simply switch conceptual frameworks. Part of the argument seems to be that assemblages are merely the way capitalism theorizes subjectivity, either because it's consumed the once radical framework or because assemblages describe the state of things. Subjects could think in terms of un-becoming to get out of this, it's unclear if shifting theoretical terrain is as liberatory a practice as this section makes it out to be. Ultimately, the methodology offered here doesn't seem light or dark, but just Deleuzian.

What I both admire and need more time with is the speed and intensity at which Dark Deleuze operates. On the one hand, I want to take the book to task for miscalculating the necessary double gesture of political and theoretical work, which imbricates all resistance within existing forms of power. DD's solutions feel accelerationist inasmuch as it prescribes breaking through current systems of power rather than working within them [2]. It's one thing to offer a methodology of working within the neoliberal apparatuses identified as oppressive in order to replace them later with assemblages, but I don't know how sharp these concepts cut. Foucault's 'A Preface to Transgression' comes to mind here: transgression or inverse power doesn't work because it merely shifts the threshold of transgression. We need transversal lines of attack. On the other hand, maybe this is precisely what Dark Deleuze is offering, but it's not entirely clear. Culp adds, 'the force of thought is matter of style and not the specification of concepts.' Style and force over content; speed over complexity. Maybe.

Dark Deleuze is an intensely useful text, and there's much about it that I like and agree with. If you believer yourself to be a thinker of affirmation, this 'little monster' might pull you into a different mode of thought less antithetical than interrogatory to your own. A longer reading, perhaps, would make me slide into the dark Deleuze camp.

// Notes:
1. Culp argues, 'A superior materialism "constructs a real that is yet to come" (TP, 142). It does not follow so-called new materialism, which is really just a new form of animism, but Marxist materialism as the revolutionary subversion of material necessity' (31).
2. Dark Deleuze is not accelerationist and takes time to critique the Nick Land school of thought (44-48).