- Toward the beginning of Gabriel García Márquez's novel El Otono del Patriarca, the protagonist, who is the dictator
of an imaginary Latin American republic, is seen to witness his own funeral. That is, he sees himself being buried de facto, in terms of an
ordering of words ("the king is dead") and visibilities (the public rituals of the royal funeral) that creates sovereign publicity and power. However,
by a profound trick of fate, it so happens that the physical body of the king that graces this occasion does not belong to the protagonist himself--it
is of his double Patricio Aragonés, who has recently been killed by a poisoned dart. The corpse of the official imposter is interred with full
state honors. When the dictator peeks out of his half-ajar bedroom door to watch the ceremony taking place in the audience hall of the presidential
palace, he is offered a glimpse of what may be called the televisual in its most sublime form. By virtue of this unusual situation, he temporarily
assumes a godly, panoptic perspective that he will never achieve again in his career.
I am using the concept of the televisual in its basic sense, that of projection and reception of visibilities
across distances--in other words, as a primary cognitive task of the human who wants to read the world. But we
face a profound question in trying to see matters from the dictator's "televisual" point of view: what exactly must be the nature of
"distance" in this case, when the "self" is paradoxically made to
see the "self" being buried afar? It is the mysterious and extraordinary body of the sovereign himself that needs to be
unraveled before one can even begin entering that ontological conundrum. We can say that "distance" here is manifested first of
all by a death-induced split between the phenomenal and the epistemo-constitutive poles of the king's body; the mortal carcass of the
sovereign is thereby detached from the abstract stately form endowed with the iron deathmask of power. The patriarch (we will
call him by this name to distinguish him as the not-named son of Bendición Alvarado who was, till now, holding the
post of the dictator) feels alarmed and powerless because he, for the time being, is the bearer of none of the aforementioned
bodies. Patricio Aragonés hijacks the first of the two to be buried with him, while the mask and the regalia, which
ensure that the king lives long after the king is dead, are left intact but vacant. The patriarch realizes--even as
contending forces belonging to the church, the cabinet, and the military get ready to compete for the throne--that the
paraphernalia of power make an inhuman terminal that is presently empty, but always with a life of its own. This distinction
between the two bodies of the sovereign is a fundamental one that Marx makes between the "mediocre and grotesque" protagonist
and the hero's part he assumes in the farce in Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (144). In our present
case, Patricio Aragonés the double, by dying and being buried spectacularly, has, for all practical purposes, pushed
the "real person" out of his earthly mantle. This is established in the "audience room" as an event in the public domain of
knowledge through a ceremonial bringing together of signs, affects, and things: there is the royal corpse with its "chest
armored with military decorations, the showy dress uniform with the ten pips of general of the universe, [...] the
king-of-spades saber he never used, the patent leather boots with two gold spurs"
(García Márquez 28), as well as the
people brought to bear witness--the old man who gives the Masonic salute, the one who kisses the ring, the
schoolgirl who lays a flower on him, or the fishwife who embraces his body and sobs. And then there are the sounds--the
sudden cannon shots from the fortress on the harbor and the rolling of the cathedral bells.
- The production of the corpse as spectacle in "direct telecast" causes much consternation in the mind of the
patriarch. After all,
the vast paraphernalia of power and the lugubrious martial glories reduced to his human size of a fagot lying in state, God
damn it, that can't be me, he said to himself in a fury it's not right, God damn it, he said to himself,
contemplating the procession that was parading around his corpse, and for an instant he forgot
the murky reasons for the farce
and felt raped and diminished by the inclemency of death toward the majesty of power [...].
(García Márquez 28)
The moment of panic is hence that in which the patriarch realizes that he is not the powerful author of the scene being
realized below with the dictator at the center. He discovers that he is not controlling the perceptual universe around him;
it is rather because of the very facticity of his "death" that he is able momentarily to occupy the omniscient, inhuman point
of view that is at the heart of the visual architecture of power itself. It is clearly a publicity stunt gotten out of
"hand," a situation in which the image no longer represents an essence of the self, but has become a perverse
automaton. From the point of view of the patriarch, the non-temporality of such a perception is out of joint with history
as autobiography, simply because it cannot fall within the order of living consciousness and the finite human's
being in the world. Only when the patriarch becomes a ghost and transcends the eschatological limitations of the human is the
theatre of the rotten state--with its body of secrets, constellation of forces, subjects, interests, conflicts, and corrosive
intrigues--revealed to him. This is thus a magical truth that is produced, an otherworldly knowledge that only Hamlet's
father and those he haunts can possess--a "total" and inhuman picture of the world fomented by the spirit.
- Hence, what seems "unreal" is only so from the vantage point of the individual reduced to his own ghost. It
becomes clear that the erstwhile dictator can subsequently "come back" from the dead not by reentering the stage as the
"real" persona and thereby proving the previous spectacle to be a false one, but by casting himself as "double of the
double," the next one in a long line of imposters--indeed, by way of an all new coup d'état that inserts his
face into the mask left behind by Patricio Aragonés. The return is possible not by disrupting the "direct telecast"
and revealing it to be illusory, but by violently reinstating its realness in letting oneself be claimed by it completely.
Hence, from the phenomenological point of view of the average spectator and as per the uninterrupted flow of the direct
telecast, it would be such that it is never Patricio Aragonés who is assassinated, but the patriarch himself who goes
into and returns from the dead. And that is exactly how it happens subsequently: it is the "unburied" president who comes
back triumphantly, chasing away the bishop primate, Ambassador Schontner, and other conspirators who have been exposed by a
televisuality that only a ghost or a god could have witnessed. If the mask of the "dictator" (as opposed to the faces of the
patriarch or Aragonés) is a special instance of the televisual, it is because it preserves an inorganic continuity for
itself, independent of all those incessant ebbs and flows of doublings. It is assumed by individuals who slide into it or
slip out of it without being able to make it into an expressive tool to be used solely for their personal ends. The mask as
televisual therefore becomes an aspect of power itself, rather than a reflection, image, or possession of powerful men who
may be mediocre or grotesque, or patriarchs with herniated testicles underneath their uniforms. But then, the question
becomes, what can be the nature of such a mask? In what sense is it always already televisual, with or
without the presence of television as a technological reality? What we will be trying to examine by starting from the premise of the
televisual mask is a modality of power that organizes distances, bodies, movements, statements, and
visibilities in a certain manner. In modern telematic societies, this process of publicity
becomes far more complex.
Fascism and the Dictatorship of the "Other"
- We need to pause for a minute to dwell on the existential predicament of the patriarch and to "world" it comically, even
philosophically, in the light of our occasion. It would be pertinent to recall Heidegger's concern with the lure of modern
technology that causes Dasein to lose itself through a massified familiarity with the world. Mass technology in that
sense, becomes a
Being-with-one-another [that] dissolves one's own Dasein completely into the kind of Being of
"the Others," in such a way,
indeed, that the Others, as distinguishable and explicit, vanish more and more. In this
unascertainability, the real dictatorship of the "they" is unfolded. (164)
As a freakish and exceptional case, the status of a "super-spectator" can be ascribed to the patriarch since for him the
extinguishing of the self and the revelation of the being of dictator as being of "others" is staged figurally in
front of him. He is thus able to descend from the skies and locate the dead "self" as a "human size of a fagot" in the
landscape of the other. A more illustrative example, one that involves "real" televisual technology rather than the
metaphysical situation we have been discussing so far, comes later in the novel. The old, weak, and dying patriarch once
again witnesses the dictator as the televisual other. This time, as his body grows more and more decrepit, his wits dull, and
his memories fade, the image on the screen grows younger:
He recognized his own amplified voice in the quarters of the presidential guard and he looked
in through the half-open window
and saw a group of officers dozing in the smoke-filled room opposite the sad glow of the television screen and there he was
on the screen thinner and trimmer, [...] sitting in the office where he was to die with the coat of arms of the nation
behind him and three pairs of gold eyeglasses on the desk, and he was reciting from memory an analysis of the nation's
finances with the words of a sage that he never would have dared repeat, damn it, it was a more upsetting sight than that
of his dead body among the flowers because now he was seeing himself alive and listening to
himself speak with his own voice,
[...] I who had never had been able to bear the embarrassment of appearing on a balcony and had
never overcome the shyness about speaking in public [...]. (233)
Many more years later, after ruling the land for over a hundred years, when the patriarch dies inside the palace, people
watching from a forbidding distance come to know of the passing away only when the regime that endows signs with meaning and
valence--the architectural compact of words and things in a given situation of power--throws up a wondrous spectacle, one
which crosses the thresholds of human presence, agency, and judgment, and passes onto a realm of the absurd only an animal can
dare enter: a wandering cow appears on the balcony of the presidential palace.
- We are, in a general way, already talking about fascism and the strange existential predicament of the
individual grappling with it. This, despite the fact that the individual in this case may either be the Fuhrer himself, or the enlightened philosopher trying to understand this modality of power through a meaningful reading of the world.
Both García Márquez's patriarch, who thinks he "holds" power and the primordial Heideggerian thinker--whose
inventory of tasks include avoiding this or that ensnarement of being as subject, staying away from the herd, and thinking
about Being--are seen to be already inducted into an overall mass-technological production of "they-selves." In bringing
these two figures together in a constellation of thought, we are trying to understand a historical turn in Western industrial
societies when the autumn of the patriarch (who may or may not have an enlightened head on his shoulders, but who always
"holds" the scepter of power with a despotic sway) also proves to be the twilight of the disinterested philosopher. These
figures "represent" two important aspects of the historical agency of the Western subject of enlightenment. As we know,
Kantian modernity was founded on these two agents and their respective executive-juridical and moral-legislative authorities
as caretakers of the political state and the ethical one. It was this secular compact
between power and knowledge in the body politic that created the epistemological figure of the European human who presumed to
make history exactly the way he liked it. While the Heideggerian project was to announce the end of that philosophy of
progress and deconstruct the transcendental subject that it proposed as the free-willed agent of history, it also entailed an
atavistic and agrarian denial of industrial modernity.
I want to draw out several points here. The first concerns the relation between distance and power. The patriarch realizes that the
mask of power is not an aspect naturalized to him, by the dint of his own
activity. The televisual visage of the dictator--which is made omnipotent through the technological erasure of distance--is that which
powerfully animates his human face, and not the other way round. In "dying" and acquiring the panoptic vision, what the
patriarch sees is much more than various subjects breaking their conspiracies of silence and registering support for or
antagonism against him. Over and above that, he is disturbed in hearing that great monologue of a language instrumentalized
by the state--power speaking to itself, as Heidegger puts it--that reduces his faggot self, friends, and foes, to a vast herd
of "they selves." The "Master" of the land understands that even he, once pressed into the production of information values
in terms of the televisual, is not free from what Walter Benjamin called the "growing proletarianization of modern man and
the increasing formation of masses" ("Work of Art" 234). The patriarch is therefore alienated
from the dictator as
televised icon only by a lesser degree than the pauper, in terms of a graduated and differential hierarchy of distance and
When we transpose the problem from the landscape of "primitive accumulation" in Garcia Márquez's novel
to modern metropolitan societies, the situation becomes more dense and intricate in its alignment of forces. If modern
technology is that which massifies and disempowers the human subject who had formerly killed god and taken his place, it is
equally important to understand that this fateful loss of agency shared by the patriarch and the beggar alike can be defined
only in terms of formalistic positionalities of power, as in a chess game, unless it is related to production and the
laboring process. It would be a mistake to account for lines of force, energies, visibilities, words, and things that
constitute flexible and dynamic diagrams of power purely in terms of the self-conscious human and his conspiratorial or
benevolent intentionalities. But the point is also to understand that such diagrams certainly have something to do with
bodies of "interest," congealment of some desires and foreclosure of others, density and regularity of some ideology
statements and rarefactions of others, and uneven circuits of social rewards that gather and group humans together in the
registers of class, caste, race, religion, gender, or nation. Also, thinking the televisual in terms of such complex forms of
metropolitan power has to involve pondering over technologies of the social that de-essentialize classic self-other
categories, making them into flexible and mobile Benettonesque visages that can transform peoples into multiculturalist
populations, and ways of life into marketable lifestyles. I am speaking, for instance, of
that form of televisuality that can generate the most celebratory image of "in-corporation" in the racial history of the
United States, one that can spectacularly compound the figure of the prince with that of the pauper--in the form of William
Jefferson Clinton as the first American "black president."
- Secondly, I would like to relate the Heideggerian anxiety about an increasing erosion of distance between the earth and
the sky not to the obsolescence of being in the world, but to a question that seems to have
resonated in various conceptual forms in the works of a long line of Western thinkers, from Antonio Gramsci to Gilles
Deleuze: how was it possible that modern technologies of mechanical reproduction and electrification of public communication
should produce European fascism as one of its first, grotesque world historical spectacles? The paradox, as it is expressed
in Benjamin's "Work of Art," can be outlined as follows: from the perspective of the enlightenment humanist one could say
that mechanized mass culture in the twentieth century was supposed to "de-auratize" the work of art and make it more
democratically available; but what Benjamin notices in his time is a disturbing incursion of aesthetics into politics, rather
than the politicization of art that could have been possible. This, for him, constitutes a "violation" of the technologies of
mass culture, by which the "Fuhrer cult" produces its ritual values of aesthecizing war and destruction (234-35). Benjamin formulates the problem as belonging to a society not yet "mature" enough to "incorporate technology as its
organ" (235, emphasis added).
- Thirdly, I would note here that the problem extends to the act of communication itself as conceptualized in hallowed
liberal democratic categories;
that is, in terms of he who speaks and he who listens, various social, moral, and juridical contracts, and consequent rights,
freedoms, and the choices that are said to facilitate rational exchanges and consensus. During the publicity drive toward
building up domestic and international support for the 2003 war on Iraq, no functionary of the United States government
(except U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney) actually made a public statement directly suggesting that Saddam Hussain had an
active part to play in the devastation of 11 September 2001. Nevertheless, it was subsequently noted in the opinion polls
that an alarming number of American people believed that the Iraqi despot was involved in the conspiracy and its execution.
Hence the two propositions--Saddam the evil one, and 9/11, the horrible crime--seem to be associated in a demographic
intelligence without having any narrative obligation to each other; that is, without being part of the same "story." The
outcome, it would seem, was achieved by a mathematical chain of chance, by which two disparate postulates, in being
publicized with adequate proximity, frequency, and density, gravitate toward each other in an inhuman plane of massified
thought. They, in other words, are bits and bytes of newspeak which come to share what I will call an "informatic" affinity
with each other, without being organically enjoined by constitutive knowledge.
The formation of the latter entity is
of course something we are prone to consider a primary task of the philosophical human subject, who is also the modern
citizen with rights and responsibilities. Attaining knowledge by reading the world is how we are supposed to
self-consciously exercise reason, form views, and partake in an enlightened project of democratic consensus and
legislation. Hence, insofar as these pious protocols of liberal politics are concerned, the presence of this mass
prejudice poses some disconcerting questions: How does one account for the fact that what
is, at face value, the most sophisticated technological assemblage for worldly communication and dissemination of "truth,"
should sublimate what, in Kantian terms, must be called an unscientific belief or dogma? To be mediatized literally
means to lose one's sovereign rights. Hence, what happens to the idea of government by the people and for the people if the
"false" is produced as a third relation which is not the synthetic union of two ideas in the conscious mind of the
citizen or in the general intellect of the organic community, but is a statistical coming together of variables? How is the
cynical intelligence of power that calls this sublimation into being to be configured and what consequences does it have for
human politics? Lastly, this manufacture of the false as "informatic" perception requires money, in order not only
to bring the variables Saddam Hussain and 9/11 into a state of associative frequency, but also to minimize and regulate the
appearance of other variables from appearing in the scenario. For instance, in this case, to reduce, for the time being, the
frequency of the proper name Osama. Hence, the obvious question--what is the role of money in a purportedly postmodern,
increasingly technologized sphere of communicative action? What does one do when Hitler's lie proliferates without Hitler the
liar? In a way, this anxious query seems to yet again resonate the old Pascalian question posed at the very gestative period
of a godless modern world: how does one protect the interests of abstract justice from being outfunded and dominated
by real, material interests of power in the world?
Hitler as Information
- The title of this subsection is clearly paradoxical. We need to create a clearing in our inherited
discursive domains in order to broach this figure of thought in a satisfactory manner. Let us briefly return to the concept
metaphor of organicity that Benjamin invokes in his diagnosis of a technologization of mass society in his times. The statement comes under considerable duress and loses its positivistic, idealistic charge
if it is located in the overall context of Benjamin's oeuvre. The historical landscape of politics, aesthetics, and culture
Benjamin draws up in his major works--pertaining to Baudelaire's Paris, the German trauerspiel, the works of Kafka
and Brecht, or a possible philosophy of history--is indeed one of ruins. It is not spirited by an otherworldly and inevitable
Hegelian impulse of progress--as an ongoing chronicle of constitution already foretold. Society in that sense is not
a vegetative mass that builds itself relentlessly by subsuming the fall of heroes and other tragedies; it is
perpetually giving rise to and destroying institutions that are at once pillars of civilization and of barbarity. The
social as such is always fraught with anarchic fragmentations, discontinuities, and with the event as unforeseen catastrophe.
There is indeed an inhuman aspect about the very process of figuration in Benjamin's thinking--in the helpless
movement of the angel of history blind to the future and caught in tempestuous circumstances, in the welter of shock and
distraction (rather than contemplative stances of the human) of moving traffic in Paris and of the moving image, or in the
past that indeterminately strives to turn toward a rising sun in the historical sky like a flower induced by a
secret heliotropism. These concept metaphors of supra-normalcy, machinism, mysticism, and a magical naturalism that
abound in Benjamin's work, are features that can be located in a general temper of disenchantment in Western thought between
the great wars--one that pertained to a rigorous questioning, after Husserl, of a unified phenomenology of the subject, of
closed scientifico-propositional systems of logic, and of a Hegelian positivistic philosophy of historical progress.
Benjamin's work, in that sense, can be placed alongside Marcuse's return to Nietzsche and Freud, or Adorno and Horkheimer's
analysis of the culture industry and the instrumentalization of reason. The logic of this grouping lies in proposing not a common
methodological home for these thinkers, but a common historical understanding: namely, that fascisms in the world, more than ever,
render philosophy absolutely homeless and in dire poverty. The greatness of these thinkers lay in the fact that in their
examination of mediatization and reification, degradation of aesthetic and intellectual culture, and a corrosive Weberian
rationalization of society into bureaucracies and markets, they chose to be in a perpetual state of critical exile, without
seeking assuring, administered shelters of the subject, unity, and law.
- Gilles Deleuze has rearticulated Benjamin's argument about the work of art and technologies of mass
reproduction by transposing it from its organicist parabasis into a subhuman, machinic, and molecular-pragmatic one. In
invoking Deleuze in conjunction with Benjamin, I am not trying to harness them, with their obvious methodological
differences, into a synthetic metacommentary. Neither is my objective that of proposing
a dynastic continuity that could eclectically house them in a peaceful philosophical tradition of the West. Indeed, there can
be no bridge of "truth" between them. The purpose on the other hand, is perhaps to do violence to pieties of propositional
logic and bring the two discourses together in a constellation, or a catachrestic assemblage. In other words, to read them
historically as powerful theoretical fictions that disrupt habits of the commonsensical--as instances of thinking which are,
at once, political and taking place in a moment of danger. Such a critical but disjunctive bringing together of Benjamin and
Deleuze would recognize and take into consideration the shifting epistemic configurations of knowledge and power in the
world, locating the former in a scenario where the great edifices of Newtonian geometry, the moral subject of Kant and Hegel,
and the Darwinian positivisms of the previous two centuries are in a state of ruinous dispersal, while placing the latter in
a universe of Heisenbergian uncertainties.
- According to Deleuze, the discourses of fascism, as the dominant myth of our time, establish
themselves by an imperial-linguistic takeover of a whole socius of expressive potentialities. The latter, for him,
constitutes an immanent field of particle signs, of matters, perceptions, and memories that become attributes of
consciousness models (like in the phenomenology of the subject) and deictic enunciations (like that of the Nazi mythology)
only on a secondary level. In other words, the relationship between a diffuse semiotics and a molar semiology is always one
where the latter is a part of the former, and not the other way round (for instance, it is not an essential, organic act of
national narration that imperially and categorically imparts meaning to all signs). The relationship between the
two is always that of either catastrophic balance or antagonistic movement. That is not to say that we have languages without
language systems, but that language systems exist only in relation to the expressive nonlinguistic materials that they
continually transform. What is also important here is that eruptive singularities and anarchy of signs and
expressions always harbor potentials to transvaluate and alter normalizing enunciations of the subject or grand metanarratives of history. Without
sharing Deleuze's occasional impulses toward a
transcendental empiricism or an acosmic vitalism, one can find in him a consistent effort toward thinking the battleground of
language in terms of perpetually altering disjunctive assemblages, rather than in those of synthetic, organicist propositions
pertaining to culture, nation, or narration. The "maturity" of society, as per a Deleuzian critique, can be understood to be
a perpetually dangling holy carrot of Western-style modernity that promises a moment of synthetic arrival--an ideal state of
perpetual peace when the organs of culture are no longer abused, but incorporated into the being and destiny of the national,
or even the world spirit as a whole.
- According to liberal historicist imaginations that take social maturity all too seriously, the basic fault of
the Nazi party would simply lie in the fact that it proposed an "inauthentic" founding myth of the state, in the form of the
psychobiography of the white Aryan male. The root of the error thus was only in the content, in Adolf's perversion and lies,
and not in the technological form of the proposition or its social relations of production. The money-technology
assemblage of propaganda, as such, is therefore taken to be value-neutral--it is only the voluntarism of the human that
decides its deployment between truth and falsehood, between good and evil. It is the same historicism that proposes that the
present global dominance of neo-liberalism has at last created the post-historical moment of a finally naturalized
episteme and a union devoutly desired between the earth and the sky. It is, in other
words, a historicism that announces its own dazzling and spectacular death, and in the process tries to foreclose historical
thinking in toto. As a result, unlike the inauthentic rampage of the Nazi pretender's war machine, the founding
violence of a neo-liberal, transnational sovereignty in the world, from Rwanda, to the Middle East, to the Phillipines, is
seen by such an ideology to have a totalizing legitimacy drawn from the jealous and vituperative religiosity of a Market
Being. It is in the auspices of such a naturalized episteme, when state language becomes global to a degree unprecedented in
history, that the category "information" assumes a special "postmodern" status, in contrast to traditional and modern ways of
reading the world through revelation, grace, discovery, or knowledge.
- Deleuze on the other hand leads us toward a machinic understanding of fascism, rather than one that
diagnoses the body politic in terms of sickness and health. In such a conception, Adolf does not feature as the madman who
abuses technology, but is himself a grotesque, spectacular production of technologism itself. As we were saying, there are different forms of
life and expressive energies in any situation of the historical which are capable of generating multiple instances of
thought, imaginative actions, creative impulses and wills to art. Fascism destroys such pre-signifying and prelinguistic
energies of the world, extinguishes pluralities, and replaces them with a monologue of power that saturates space with, and
only with, the immanent will of the dictator. This is the moment in which the language system sponsored by the sovereign is
at its most violent; it seeks to efface historical memory by denying its constitutive or legislative relation with
non-linguistic energies of life and the socius; it casts itself and its monologous doctrines as absolute and natural. For
Deleuze, this is a psychomechanical production of social reality, more than an organicity of community torn asunder
by human alienation and the incursion of reactionary ideologies, false consciousnesses, and agents. Not that the latter do
not exist, or are unimportant components in this world picture, but that this technology of power cannot be seen simply as a
value-free arrangement of tools misused by evil ones. The figure of the dictator is therefore not that of the aberrant
individual madman, but a psychological automaton that becomes insidiously present in all, in the technology of massification
itself. The images and objects that mass hallucination, somnambulism, and trance produce are attributes of this immanent will
to power. The hypnotic, fascinating drive of fascism is seen paradoxically to operate
below the radar of a moral and voluntaristic consciousness of the human subject; fascism becomes a political reality when
knowledge-based exchanges between entities of intelligence give way to a biotechnologism of informatics. The
elaboration of the latter term requires caution and patience.
- In Benjamin, we can see this being articulated in terms of a situation in which forms of storytelling (which
are at once educative and exemplary to the citizen for his cosmopolitan education, and also amenable to his freedom of
critical interpretation and judgment) are replaced by a new form of communication that he calls information. The first
characteristic of information is its erasure of distance--it is its near-at-hand-ness that gets information a "readiest
hearing" and makes it appear "understandable in itself" ("Storyteller" 88). The dissemination and reception of
information are thus predicated on the production of the event as "local," as "already being shot through with explanation."
For the conscious subject, this also entails the disappearance of a temporal interval required for movement within the
faculties from cognition to understanding and then finally to knowledge. Information is that which is accompanied by the
entropic violence brought about by a supercession of the commonplace, and a reduction of language into clichés. It is
therefore in the ruins of a constitutive or legislative language that the instantaneous circuit of the commonsensical comes
- Thinking, knowledge, or communicability (which is different from this or that technologism of communication)
become foreclosed in such an order of power because one cannot really say anything that the social habit does not designate
as already thought of and prejudged by the dictator. The publicity of fascism is one where friend and foe alike are seen to
be engaged in tauto-talk, repeating what the dictator has already said or warned about. Benjamin calls this an eclipse of the
order of cosmological mystery and secular miracles that the European humanist sciences of self and nature and an enlightened
novelization of the arts sought to delineate and solve. There can be neither secrecy in fascism, nor anything unknown.
Conspiracies, in that sense, can only be manifestations of what is already foretold and waiting to be confessed. The SS (or
sometimes, the CIA) can of course procure and store "classified information," but it can never say anything that the Fuhrer
does not know better. Information therefore becomes an incessant and emphatic localization of the global will of the
dictator; in its seriality and movement, it can only keep repeating, illustrating, and reporting the self-evident truth of
the dictatorial monologue. For Deleuze, it is in this sense of the immanent
dictatorial will that Hitler becomes information itself. Also, it is precisely because of this that one cannot wage a battle
against Hitlerism by embarking on a battle of truth and falsehood without questioning, but taking for granted, the very
parabasis of information and its social relations of production. Hence, "No information, whatever it might be, is
sufficient to defeat Hitler" (Cinema 2 269).
- Like the patriarch in Garcia Márquez's novel whose face was animated by the dictator's mask, Adolf the
Aryan anti-Semite does not exhaust the figure of Hitler. Informatics has not ceased after the death of Adolf and his
propaganda machine, or the passing away of the particular discourse of the Adolphic oracle and its immediate historical
context. As a figural diagram, as a special shorthand for a particular technology of power, Hitler subsequently must have
only become stronger--that is, if indeed we are still to account for him as an immanent will to information that invests
modern societies. But how can one conceptualize him without the formalist baggage of a historicist understanding of Hitler?
In other words, without the grotesque, arborescent institutions of repression, like the secret police or the concentration
camps, that constitute an armada of affects frequently used to domesticate the concept of fascism to Europe between the wars?
If one were to put the question differently, that is, occasion it in terms of a present global order of neo-liberalism,
marked by American-style individualism, consumer choices, democracy, and free markets that supposedly come to us
after the agonistic struggles of liberation in the modern era are already settled, how can one enfigure the dead and
buried tyrant in our midst in such an "untimely" manner? How is Hitler possible in a liberal constitution?
- Perhaps one has to begin by not trying to enfigure Hitler in the contours of the human--as the irrational
apex of the suicidal state, or the pathological Goebbelsian liar who perverted the tools of human communication into mass
propaganda machines. Hitler in that sense, would not simply be the mediocre and grotesque madman who uses or abuses
technology (apart from that, he of course is long dead and buried beneath the dazzling obscurity of a sanitized spectacle--a
museum piece of mass culture). Rather, in his latest neo-liberal incarnation, he would still be a proper name for technology
itself, but not as the figure of the psychopathic individual who simply imprisons the human in enclosed spaces like
the death camp or exercises a Faustian domination over him through arborescent structures like the Nazi war/propaganda
machine. The "postmodern" technology of information that we are talking about qua Hitler is neither external nor internal to
the human individual; it is one that is a part of the latter's self-making as well as that of the bio-anthropological
environment he lives in. Hitler enters us through a socialization of life itself, through a technology of habituation that
involves our willingness to be informed. It is a diffuse modality of power that perpetually communicates between the inside
and the outside, erasing distance between them. It is in this context that Deleuze's statement, that there is a Hitler inside
us, modern abjects of capital, becomes particularly significant. Hitler, as per this formulation, becomes an immanent form of
sovereignty that is bio-politically present, percolating individuals and communities in an osmotic manner. Hitler as
information, is not the addressor who speaks to us while we listen. It was only Adolf who did that in the old days, as the
anachronistic caricature of the sovereign who had not yet had his head cut off, but had simply "lost it." Information on the other
hand, is a metropolitan habit of instant signification; it is an administered social automaton that does not presume a
contract between the speaker and the hearer. Since it has no point of origin other than the person informed, the instance of
information is thus always one where the self listens to the "they-self," to the point where the two become indistinguishable
and unavailable as separate instances of an agonistic self-other psychodrama of the integrated Western subject. This,
however, needs to be understood not in terms of the patriarch's crisis, or the existentialist anxieties of the Heideggerian
philosopher, but in terms of labor and production: information as value has no source other than the person informed because
it is he who labors to produce social meaning. It is only then that we can understand technology according to its logic
of production, rather than solely as an externalized "other"--a Frankensteinian monster seen from the point of view of the
individual. But the obvious query here would be, if information has something to do with capital, does that make it
essentially fascistic? More specifically, in a "postmodern age" witnessing the obsolescence
of modern cultural institutions, when Hitler is to be understood in terms of a diffuse, horizontal presence rather than as a
vertical axiomatic in human form, the question to ask, perhaps, is who or what is the dictator?
Theses on Informatics
- It is impossible to talk about information from the beginning, since it is always already on its way, unlike the story
that originates somewhere and ends somewhere. I thus choose to assemble a scattered inventory of postulates.
- Thesis 1: First, let me attempt to clarify, as best as possible, some categories that have been anarchically intersecting
with each other in our discussion. By the term televisuality (as with telephonicity), I mean a simple mechanism of
projecting and receiving visibilities and sounds across distances. It is in this basic form that the telescope or the
postcard is televisual. The invention of the former was one of the signal events that created the human as a global
postulate; indeed, the European anthropos was a sublime creation that emerged from the Pascalian horror at seeing an
interstellar space without the face of the Holy Ghost hovering over the martins. The disenchanted birth of the self was
coincident with the twilight of the starry sky which was a map of the epic world; it was, in other words, a genesis of a
novel and secular cosmology itself, one that could be understood through cognitive functions of the transcendental human
subject rather than through a patient wait for revelatory happenings. Televisuality in this abstract sense, has something to
do with the primary epistemological tasks of the modern man--that of reading his godless, degraded universe in terms of a
world historical totality. It is to be located in the very interstice between the home and the world that multiple strands of
Western philosophy after the Greeks have tried to reconcile in different ways. For our immediate project, it is important to
understand is that all conceptual forms of the televisual are not informatic, just as many incarnations of the
televisual (the Internet or smart bombs for instance) may not have anything to do with this or that institution of
television. We need to distinguish televisuality as techne, art, science, or fabrication, from the televisuality
that is claimed by informatics.
- What we are interested in is the moment in which televisuality becomes technologistic in a specific
sense, as part of an overall social command of capital. Here, in using the proper name "technology," we refer to a form of
production (as distinguished from making or fabrication as potentia) that is, in toto,
underwritten by the logic of capital alone. This technology of televisuality comes with an ideological baggage of "progress," with a faith of
technologism that is part of a global imperative of profit. Questioning technology as such is not to propose a
primitivistic, Luddite-romantic return to an unmediated state of nature, but to understand historically, in terms of imminent
potentialities of the world, whether one cannot think of forms of life and forms of making that are different. In terms of
culture and politics, this also pertains to a basic distinction between a globality of exchanges between societies and a
particular managerial-financial project of globalization. Hence, in suggesting that we need to make a distinction between
televisuality in a simple form and a technologism of informatics qua capital, I am insisting on a pure, conceptual force of
difference, as Marx does in making a distinction between use value and exchange value. That is, I am not positing an
originary moment when the televisual was a pure event of the primitive, yet to be capitalized by informatics. It would be
instructive to recall here how Marx designates primitive accumulation as a determinate extraction from the historicity of
capital formation itself:
We have seen how money is transformed into capital; how surplus-value is made through capital, and how more capital is made
from surplus-value. But the accumulation of capital presupposes surplus-value; surplus-value
production; capitalist production presupposes the availability of considerable masses of capital and labor power in the hands
of commodity producers. The whole movement, therefore, seems to turn around in a never-ending
circle, which we can only get
out of by assuming a "primitive" accumulation [...]; an accumulation which is not the result of
the capitalist mode of production
but its point of departure.
Hence, to talk about the televisual as a nascent, prelapsarian moment in gross empirico-historicist terms is to subscribe to
the same onto-theology of capitalism. That is, in terms of a secular narrative of progress, before informatics there could
have been the televisual only as a magical revelatory task of God. After the fall, the history of the human thereby becomes a
gradual but irresistible coming into being of informatics qua capital, starting with the fire and the wheel. The original
"sin" of capital and the technological omnipresence of informatics would be seen to constitute the only mode of being for a
species cursed with the labor of Adam. As per this logic, "after" information there can be only apocalypse and death;
pure televisuality, without capitalist social relations, can only be of the epic order of gods and monsters. It is precisely
to demystify informatics as a science of Power qua capital (potestas in the Spinozist sense) that one needs to
understand televisuality as power (potentia) that is productive activity pertaining to labor.
This primitive accumulation plays approximately the same
role in political economy as original
sin does in theology. Adam bit the apple, and thereupon sin fell on the human race.
- Thesis 2: Informatics is the technology which capitalizes and translates televisuality into value as information. It is the
circulation of different kinds of words and images across global distances, in the least amount of time possible.
Moreover, the mechanism of value in such a turnover is computed according to a digital architecture of temporality,
where time is money. Informatics therefore creates value not in terms of veracity of knowledge (which is settled
through rational debates between experts), but in terms of abridgement of reporting time. Hence, it does not rely upon modern
cognitive-representational prejudices (the camera does not lie), but a machinic coda of efficiency (the camera has had no
time to lie). This is where informatics differs from what can be called news in an older sense. The latter can be
accounted for as a secular verification of rumor, a process of expert scientific recoding of the world, absolving it of
miracles and magic. Informatics on the other hand is a pure force of circulating commonsense, in which the temporal logic of
the bomb and that of the image coincide. Hence, in this realm of massified common sense, the specular pleasure of seeing the bomb drop is accompanied
by the casting of the legitimacy of the bombing as an ongoing, "already explained" clearing for the immanent entry of the post-historical. Like capital,
informatics tends toward the abolishment of circulation
time; it is, in fact, capital itself (and not a reflection of it) precisely because it acquires a "life of its own" by the virtue
of being value in serial flow. Marx makes this important distinction between money as
simple medium of exchange, as in Aristotelian economics, and money that becomes capital precisely because it is in
circulation. Put simply, the military-industrial assemblage that makes the moment of the bomb coincide with that of the image
does not belong to an older paradigm in which societies at war exchanged violence through a terminal and fatalistic
deployment of weapons and resources. Rather, it is one in which capital never ceases to flow--the bomb as money is
immediately translated into image as money. In a figural sense, that is how we can understand "embeddedness"--as that which
tends to informationize the temporal and spatial distance between making war and making news.
- The relation between informatics and capital that I am proposing here is not
that of a superstructural aspect of public culture reflecting the machinations of the economic
base. In the general capitalistic production of social life itself, informatics does not
mirror realities, but produces them. Informatics as such, is thus possible when money as
capital increasingly becomes immediately socialized value, without going through formal
mediating circuits of society, law, and culture. Apart from Antonio Negri's thesis in
Marx Beyond Marx, here I of course have Guy Debord's observation in mind--that
spectacle is capital accumulated to the point of image.
Hence, in speaking of an immanent flow of capital qua informatics, I am not suggesting that
money is translated into image-commodity on the screen and subsequently returned to its
original form as televisual revenue. Rather, the movement is that of money through and
throughout. In the Grundrisse, Marx makes a very important distinction between
money and coin that may be instructive here:
the negation of the medium of circulation as such, of the coin. But it also contains
the latter at the same time as an aspect, negatively, since it can always be transformed into
coin; positively, as world coin, but, as such, its formal character is irrelevant, and
it is essentially a commodity as such, the omnipresent commodity, not determined by location.
Hence, both the coin that goes into the making of the image, and the image itself, are only different moments of money as
value in continuous, "omnipresent" circulation. Marx calls money a "mental relation" that can be seen to be emphatically
in currency all the time, regardless of perceptual transformations from coin to image and back to coin again, in
capital's conditions of command (Grundrisse 191). It is in this sense that money does not stop being money once
the image is produced; as Goddard puts it, there is always money "burning on screen," or as Fellini says about the ancient
curse of money on cinema, "when the money runs out, the film will be over."
- Thesis 3: The televisual, as techne, becomes a part of informatics in the same manner as general attributes of
social life become increasingly capitalized. Televisuality as a phenomenological proposition is of the order of the subject (he who
posts the card and she who sees or reads out of love), and the distance between its origin and its telos is the enunciative
space between the positions of the addresser and the addressee, where the card can be said to "world" itself in transit. It
is this bipolar communicative arrangement between subjects (one of the many social contracts of the human) that is translated
into immanent value on the move when televisuality is informationized, since, as we have said earlier, informatics, or the
circulation of information, tends to erase all distance between the speaker and the listener. It is the habit of
massification that reduces love to a cliché.
- Thesis 4: This is not to say that informatics or the flow of information has nothing to do with institutions of truth,
culture, representation, or art. Simply put, the forces of global informatics "report" such events whenever and wherever they happen
by instantaneously translating them into value in circulation (screentime = money time). For instance, there are many ways of
claiming "authenticity" for the art work, one of them being the originality of inscription in conjugation with the
originality of the substrate. As per this logic, the piece garners auratic value only when the brush stroke of Van Gogh, as a
geometric, tactile, or formal inscription, is seen to be in assemblage with the original substrate used (the paint, the
canvas). The camera and print capitalism detached the two in the latter half of the nineteenth century, as Benjamin so
astutely observed, when copies were produced by the mechanical substitution of the canvas and paint with ink and paper--in
other words, by changing the substrate while keeping the abstract diagram of the painting intact. The work of art, in
becoming capable of democratic dissemination, acquired what we have been calling a televisual potential in the simple form.
But today, it becomes properly informationized when its abstract diagram is electronically transcoded, circulated, and
then erased instantaneously from a substrate of pixels or digits in order to make room for the next one. It is in this sense
that cinema or video--media that involve leaving lasting impressions on permanent bases like celluloid--are industrial
recording technologies that are not informatic, but ones that can be subsequently informationized. The camera of informatics
on the other hand, can "scan" one thing after another--the sunflowers, the Taj Mahal, a film by Rossellini, an
advertisement--translating them into the same pulsating substrate of information, just as capital liquefies everything by
translating them into money in transit. The Age of Information is indeed one in which all things solid melt into pulses and
copies proliferate without originals. Different forms of artistic, cultural, social, and political activities, various bodies
and objects, are all potentially informatic, but only in differential degrees of "newsworthiness" and other forms of
commodity value. In concrete terms, what we are talking about thus has much to do with the increasing corporatization of the
public sphere and the gradual obsolescence of institutions of public culture, "art" or pedagogic cinema, and public
television like the BBC, PBS, or Doordarshan that the postwar developmentalist welfare state invested in.
- Thesis 5: Scanning and transmission create images that are more matter and energy in the social circulation of value, rather
than simulations of a "real" that is perceptually distant from the viewer but brought nearer to him through electrified
re-presentation. As money on the move, information is not immediately knowledge, although knowledge can certainly be derived
from it. For a classically defined individual subject contemplating the world, knowledge can be said to be formed in the
temporal interval that houses the movement of the faculties from sense perception, to intuition, to understanding, and
finally to reason; it therefore, is always "belated" in the order of the present. Knowledge thus can only follow the
Taylorized seriality of informatics, which presents the now as an instant of socialized production that produces
image-realities only on a commonsensical, psychologically automotive parabasis. The machinic intelligence of informatics can
accommodate the self-conscious human only in an environment of habitual distraction, in an automotive sensory-motor
engagement that can present the world as "shot through with explanation" by an already-generated body of clichés.
Knowledge can only be a distant afterthought of the human, when informatics has already passed on, leaving "news" at its
wake, to be analyzed by disciplinary experts. This is also why, properly speaking, there can be no "misinformation," only
different kinds of reported knowledge, some of which may be true and some false. All "false" publications circulated by the
Enron management before 2002 were indeed information of the real order because they did not disrupt the circulation of value
as informatics. Similarly, the "true" revelations about the company that followed were also information in the same sense--as
screen time, they made money. The digitized memory of informatics, reliant on a continuous flow of impression and erasure,
does not aim to produce a book of the world; the two moments, one pertaining to the "false" and the other to the "true" are
only so from the retroactive perceptual universe of the citizen who is a student of history. The systemic intelligence of
information does not seek to tie the two happenings in an obligatory relationship of causality that would be essential for
dominant forms of metanarration. In the age of secular novelization, that was the task of the storyteller, whose modernist
agon was to connect the past with the present via a weak messianic power. On the other hand, the organization of forms of
life and intelligence into a global dynamics of information creates an epoch where it is only the "superstate," as a
transnational military-corporate diagram of governance, that is rendered capable of reading the book of the world. This is
because if information is something that produces realities rather than reflecting them, it is only global superstatal
formations of capital, like CNN or Fox, that can adequately invest in molar instruments of command and dominance in this
field. It is thus here that the operative logic of the satellite intersects with that of the cannon; the phenomenology of
information coincides with that of the bomb. No one can out-war the transnational corporate state because it has the bomb; no
one can out-inform the same because it has the satellite. It also goes without saying that power based on informatics has
serious consequences for human politics and governance. When state activity is based on an organizing principle of
information rather than politics, (such as instant management of security and policing terror induced "emergencies"),
governance includes legislative actions, rational debates, or knowledge formations only as "afterthoughts" that follow the
instantaneous, preemptive reflex of informatic action. Informatics, as we have noted earlier, is that which makes the will of
the state, rather than its word as law, immanently operable. This is done through a performative, on-the-spot surveillance
and management of variables instead of traditional juridical protocols involving law, its interpretation, and its
application. Elsewhere I have elaborated in greater detail how, in our post-9/11 world, informatization and policing on a
global scale has become indistinguishable from militarization of civic spaces.
- Thesis 6: An ideology critique of CNN is quite useless if it is conducted purely on the basis of politico-ethical
responsibilities and Kantian ideas of public exercise of reason. Such a discourse would locate the problem squarely on the
question of voluntarism that idealistic modernity demands from its citizens, including the administrative heads of public
media houses. The human intentionalities of CNN need to be understood only as attributes of a corporate body of "trans-human"
interests--that of capital and its circulation. In that sense, CNN always telecasts
the unfolding, circulating story of CNN itself, as value in a perpetual state of making on screen, where time, no matter what
it reflects, champions, denigrates, or represses, is always money. A nominalist denunciation of media politics, based on
categorical notions of "rights" and "representation," is akin to a wishful critique of "capitalism" from a checks and
balances perspective of liberal humanism--that is, a critique of predatory capital without a critique of wage labor or the
money form. To go back to Deleuze's formulation, such an effort would be to revise and reform Hitler with information itself,
when no amount of the latter can be sufficient to defeat him. In nominal terms of the liberty that the free market brings,
there actually can be no vertical installations of power or spaces of enclosure (the factory, prison, gulag, or concentration
camps in their classic carceral incarnations, Hitler in his paradigmatic human figuration) to prevent the subaltern from
speaking. It is an entirely different matter that she cannot speak either because it takes money to do so or because the
speech itself has to accrue value in terms of global interests of money. The meritorious communicative actions
between publics and counterpublics are thus always informed by the great monologue of power, in which money alone speaks to
itself. In an immanent, multifarious global domain of bodies, statements, practices, lifestyles, and ideologies, it is the
circulating logic of capital as informatics that determines the newsworthiness of each. Undeniably, it is also the radically
innovative and revolutionary nature of capital that allows for a global panorama of activities without the graduated,
hierarchical mediation of the priest or the king. However, the head of the sovereign that was cut off now micropunctually
appears on the currency note. Nominally thus, in a postmodern theater of consumer capital, everyone can play the game of
representations, since everyone has money. It is a different matter altogether, one that has not much to do with the language
games of neo-liberal economics and ideology, that increasingly, to a degree unprecedented in history, some have a lot more of
it than others.
- Thesis 7: A Kantian understanding of modern culture would suggest that it is a "commanded effect" of social pedagogy--a real
compulsion to be free--that allows the citizen to voluntarily submit to the ethical mass of a cosmopolitan whole. It is only by being cooked in culture that the citizen can be trained to follow the
categorical imperatives of a secular morality out of his own reasonable volition and agency, rather than through a dogmatic
and virtuous fear of an angry and jealous Jehovah. Kant's formulation is of course only a special instance in a general
Western aesthetics of teaching, moving, and delighting that determine the ethical value of art. It is important to note that
in Kant this idealistic proposition is immediately and anxiously related to social relations of production: culture requires
the development of skills that can lead only to "inequality among men" and the institution of private property (Critique of Judgment 356). In this light, we can formulate a working
theory of the "postmodern" (which is not something that comes after the modern, but which is simply outside the
categorical logic of modernity) as per which the extension of industry into all
domains of social life, and the financialization of the globe has, in the last century, led to a gradual obsolescence of an
aesthetic of high modernism--that is, art with a pedagogical function. Informatics, in that sense, is a technology that is no
longer subservient to the cultural skills of the human or his civil conversations. As a form of production, metropolitan
informatics calibrates and reports cosmopolitan culture according to a differential and relative matrix of value and
commodity relations. When we speak of a dominant ideology of global capital in its present form, we speak of a horizontal
proliferation of energies and a particle semiotics of Anglo-American pragmaticist commonplaces; in other words, of an immanent form of power that is quite different from the agonistic,
transcendental battles of old Europe qua German idealism in particular, battles in which the human found a reasonable freedom in
the historical task of supplanting the god or the tyrant. The point is, informatics, as a technology of the social, gains
supremacy precisely in a so called post-historical, post-political world, where a massification of common sense states that
there is nothing new to narrate at all, in terms of a "totality" of the "human" project.
- Thesis 8: In the ancient Greek polis, the classical form of public action that the citizens undertook to achieve immortality was
possible only in a spatial and temporal order free of the necessities of the household. The latter space was for production of
goods and valuables for the animal existence of man; it was the domestic enclave of the Negro, the woman, or the infant (as
in in-fans, or the one without language) as various incarnations of the animal laborans. Public action, or the task of the citizen, could thus begin only after the questions of property and
labor were settled, after "man" had, through the labors of the woman and the Negro, provided for his animal existence. In the
epoch of enlightenment modernity, we see a similar formulation in Kant, who suggests that it is only the man of property who
is capable of disinterested public exercise of reason. Property, however, in
the sense Kant uses it, is static and has value primarily as Vermögen--that is fixed capital, or ground rent, to
use a term from nineteenth-century political economy. The German thinker is very careful to deny it the dynamic and expansive
interest of capital. It is useful to recall here Kant's anxious warnings against "dangerous money power" and too much foreign
trade as being detrimental to the freedom of individual states and their co-existence in
"eternal peace." When it came to dictatorship of political realities of the republic, that is, the very question I
began this essay with, Kant famously opted for enlightened, republican monarchy instead of aristocracy or democracy precisely
to ensure that the spheres of interest-free public reason and interest-driven private practice were kept separate. Now the question therefore becomes, in an era of multinational capital, neo-liberal
ideology, and unprecedented global trade, where the household and its logic of production extend completely over the public
sphere, when all of us become shareholders in the public tasks of the animal laborans, who or what may be the
monarch that says, "Argue as much as you want and about whatever you want, but obey!"?
It is indeed money that is the sovereign in our occasion, in moving from being "a servant of commerce" to the position of the
latter's "despot" (Marx, Grundrisse 199).
Postscript on the Political
- What the patriarch in Garcia Márquez's El Otono del Patriarca dreads is not the televisual as
such, but the mysterious force of transfer, by which the televisual, without his command or approval has already become
informatic. During the royal burial ceremony, the mask of power becomes televisual not just in the old ritualistic sense of
seeing the sovereign in the distance through a series of graduated, hierarchical mediations; it becomes bewitchingly
informatic for the patriarch after his "death," precisely when the order of spectacle (of which he thought he was the author)
and the dictatorial visage that it creates refuses to die with him. The mask as information merely circulates between heads
of pretenders that climb into it from time to time, for their proverbial fifteen minutes, almost as if by a mathematical
chain of chance that is inhuman in its operative intelligence. The patriarch's dead, "fagot self" thus becomes the latest
calendrical newsbyte in the eternity of circulating informatics and the deathlessness of the mask which is always on the
screen. When the televisual becomes "live" as in informatics, it does not monumentalize the mortal son of Bendición
Alvarado in his afterlife, as an arrested profile of power itself. The perpetual iconography of the dictatorial mask,
telecast "live" amidst the ebb and flow of human fortunes, presents the figure of power as catachresis, as an unstable
conglomeration of forces which deterritorializes and reconfigures from moment to moment, as it flows from head to head.
- But the predicament, in our occasion, is of course not just the old patriarch's alone. This metropolitan
geometry of producing social meaning seems, to a far greater degree, to have inducted both the silent subaltern as well as
the "interest free" humanist intellectual who presumed to speak for him to differential states of global in
fan-ness--beings without language. By that token, one can certainly talk about a functional equation between "wealth,
sufficiency, and truth" that fragments and destroys the constitutive, world historical
impulse of the political which various strands of enlightenment modernity had propounded.
Indeed, the habit of
information becomes a technical possibility in what is called a post-historical landscape of ruins, where nature is gone for
good, where the great pedagogical and exemplary institutions of culture are inducted into a transnational museum of images,
and where it becomes increasingly difficult to make a categorical distinction between documents of civilization and those of
barbarity. After all, how can one even speak of a public exercise of reason amidst an operational logic of capital that
reduces discussion and consensus to the business of adequately investing in public relations, mathematizing and controlling
the "free" information environment through a strategic saturation of images, and finally getting a desired feedback in terms
of sales or opinion poll numbers? If, in social terms of massification (the tasteful individual or group can always switch
off CNN or engage in parodic motions of culture and art without any socially transformative potential) we are all virtual
laborers of consumption and consensus, how can man even presume to make history, with or without deliberative choice? Perhaps
in understanding this systemic picture of global informatics we need to avoid the mistake of granting it a total moment of
worldly arrival, that is, picture it as an instant that, in its all encompassing finality, extinguishes history itself (the
meaning of history would then be confined to a charter of tasks and contracts attributable to the epistemological fiction of
the self-conscious "human" subject). In other words, we need to understand that a working notion of virtual labor should not
virtualize the concept of living labor itself, with its massive antagonistic energies directed against capital globally.
Indeed the question of habit is a tricky one: it could be a fundamental Eurocentric habit of thinking politics
solely in terms of representation, rights, property, law, legislation, and justice as per the normative protocols of
liberal democracy that could lead us to the mistake that both history as a chaosmos of interacting forces and politics as
class struggle are either over or mediatized beyond redemption.
- The point is thus to understand that the metropolis, as a managerial and marketing terminal of power that
besieges the global countryside through informatics and militarization, can generate the surplus energy to sustain itself
only by perpetually producing the Negro at the frontiers. The metropolis, we must make clear at this point, is not the same
as the modern city. The modern city had evolved a few centuries ago, through the creation of avenues and alleys of
production, labor, and communication in between the great feudal estates, surreptitiously or dramatically cutting
the bonds of filiality and rentiership. The metropolis, on the other hand, is an abstract diagram of an urban value system
that informs the city, recasting the latter as a center for managerial, technocratic, and military governance. It is thus a
site for news, surveillance, security, advertising, entertainment, consumer choices, products, marketing, spying, war, and
communications. When the diagram of the metropolis inscribes the city, it reinvents the latter as a center of
financialization rather than industrialization. Hence, the metropolis, as a figure of thought, should not be considered in an
empiricist manner; real cities like San Francisco and Bangalore are merely dense, topological assemblages of money,
technology, and goods in such a worldwide web of urbanity. This is also why the latter can be called the Silicon Valley of
India, as a terminal of power that is different from its counterpart in the West only in terms of degrees and intensities of
value-laden happenings. This is also the driving logic that increasingly redresses all urban formations in the world, in
differential degrees, like rich and poor cousins of Las Vegas. According to this metropolitan cartography, there can be no
political citizens in the old historical sense within a city now reserved for denizens employed in managerial action, because
the worker engaged in class struggle and the conscientious Kantian legislator would be simply anachronistic
figures--displaced refugees momentarily trespassing into prime real estate. If the latter figure is gone for good, the former
is relocated, with the classical factory itself, in the "third world" elsewhere. In
this context one could mention a recent statement made by the U.S. administration pertaining to an unreal and frightening
diagram of an "ownership society", a violent and abstract coda of
metropolitan conformity which constitutes the ultimate fantasy of capital--a totalized and consummate social
vanishing of labor.
- The search for another form of politics has to begin with a critique of the aphasic, self-conscious
navel-gazing of the North Atlantic intellectual, who approaches a state of stupefied entropy on looking at a monstrous
military-informatic-financial assemblage which has reduced the great modernist projects of culture and ideology to incidental
arrangements that can be only locally applied. To restrict an understanding of the political that is emergent to a set of
cognitive phenomenological tasks of the human subject, who, as Foucault points out, is an empirico-transcendental fiction of
the West very much in the twilight of his career, would be, in the last instance,
subscribing to a transcendental stupidity not dissimilar from that of informatics itself. That is, the assumption that today everything
and everybody is already spoken for, evaluated, and ordered by the hidden tongue of the market, instead of by the king or the
philosopher of yore. This is why, when all of us are irremediably tinged with the curse of money, a caricature of liberal
political action, conducted through conservative channels of human conscience and morality, becomes part of an overall
shareholding of neo-imperial "guilt."
- A new form of political thinking has to begin by taking into account vast amounts of energies in the world
antagonistic to capital in terms that do not refer back to the normalcy of the human subject inaugurated by the classical
enlightenment of Europe. It is part of the transcendental stupidity of geo-televisuality to impart such hostile energies with
a catalogue of profiles: the criminal, the delinquent, the madman, the Negro, the woman, the child, the African AIDS victim,
the poor, the unemployed, the illegal immigrant, or the terrorist. Informatics is about the reporting of the state's
pharmacopic action on these bodies, as objects of charity, aid, medication, schooling, or military intervention. This is why the
unspeakable antagonism of living labor in the world is never "visible" on CNN or any other corporate geo-televisual schema of
metropolitan representation. The latter can discern only the ontology of money and its coalitionary interests; humans, who
are only refugees great and small, can only climb into one or many of the designated profiles of massification. The
centralizing, perspectivist drive of CNN--as a repetitive human psychodrama of development, birthpangs of modernity in the
frontier, subjugated and freed consumer desires--overlooks forces from the margins of the frame in trying to fit entire
crowds into the telegenic face. Labor and its multiple wills to antagonism (of which various narratives of resistance are
only partial but undeniably important molar expressions) are actually unrepresentable precisely because they lack a "human"
face. Global antagonisms to capital are at once utopic (as in "non-place," since the logic of globalization cannot posit an
"outside") and pantopic; they are, in multiple forms, and in different degrees of sublimation, nowhere and everywhere. They
constitute a gargantuan beastly body that Hegel feared, in being a passional, multitudinal formation no longer guided by the
soul of humanism.
- A judgment of the panorama of expressions of this global antagonistic will along the lines of good and bad can
only be an afterthought; political thinking in our occasion can begin only with the acknowledgement of these energies as
eventful, and not subject to essential categories of a state language that has become global. In other words, thinking has to
proceed acutely, from an awareness of that very point of danger where the state fails to "translate" such affective
hostilities into repetitive instances of its own psychobiography. It is this dire poverty of political language that the
neo-liberal state tries to cover up with violence dictated in a situation of "emergency," legitimized by an emotionalist,
and biblical rhetoric of "good" and "evil." Here I must strongly clarify that I am not registering support for this or that statist
ideology of violence such as that of Al Qaida which, like its Western counterparts, merely captures and mobilizes some
of these energies. But it is not difficult to see how informatics peddles the worst
clichés of neo-liberalism in trying to enframe antagonism through a host of good and evil profile doublets according
to which a population is invented and managed, or policed and fed--the model minority contra the inner city
delinquent, the healthy contra the mad, the peaceful Arab contra the Islamic bigot. In terms of spectacle
and violence, it thus falls perfectly within the logic of war/information to have the yellow cluster bomb interspersed
with the yellow food packet during the recent war in Afghanistan. The global state of security today violently tries to
foreclose the political by informationizing complex insurrectionary potentialities in terms of a simplistic, self-evident,
and bipolar logic of peace and terror. The latter thus becomes a generic term to describe reductively a multiplicity of
forces--from Latin American guerilla movements to African tribal formations to Islamic militancy in the Middle-East or Maoist
rebellions in Nepal. The freedom of choice offered by the globally rampant North Atlantic machine of war and informatics is
no longer between dwelling as a poet or as an assassin, but between being a statistic or a terrorist.
- Informatics, in our occasion, is a form of power that, in its transcendental stupidity, tries to harness all
antagonistic desires into a hermeneutic of consumer culture and a behavioralist sociology of the human. A functionary of the
United States Federal Government once described a discontented lot at some part of the world as people who basically want
refrigerators. The reportage in CNN takes place on the same parabasis of value as, and of, capital alone--one that always
seeks to translate political energy into configurations of consumer desire, that of seeing and being seen on CNN. The old
Clausewitzian exchanges between war and politics thus become mode retro moments of crises management in a general
metanarrative of development; the agonistic dialectic of Hegelian history gives way to functionalist modalities of
facilitation and investment--adequate CNN and adequate refrigeration. Thinking the new, thinking politically in our time,
should begin with a radical questioning of the money form and its production of global social life. It needs to proceed
without the comforting assurance of ready-at-hand narratives of resistance and has to explore existing practices and
potentialities of antagonism, not only in terms of how, in moments of danger, they are sometimes territorialized by
fundamentalist ideologies, but also in terms of how they perpetually, insidiously, and in completely inhuman ways,
Department of English
University of Pittsburgh
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Brief portions of this essay have been published as Anustup Basu, "Bombs and Bytes," Metamute 27 (Winter/Spring 2004).
1. See Kant, "Eternal Peace": "It is not to be expected that kings philosophize or that
philosophers become kings, nor is it to be desired because the possession of power corrupts the free judgment of reason
inevitably. But kings or self governing nations will not allow the class of philosophers to
disappear or to become silent, but
will let them speak publicly" (456). From such a premise Kant creates the compound, secular
figure of the moral politician
who "employs the principles of political prudence in such a way that they can co-exist with
2. I will not open the can of worms about the fascist Heidegger here, who identifies the
German volk as being qua Being and ironically ends up supporting the Nazi party, although perhaps one can say, not
in the hope that it would develop a monstrous technological war assemblage which would require millions of human bodies as
basic raw material.
3. For instance, one could consider in this respect Etienne Balibar's argument about new
racism as a differential index of exclusion and discrimination, a racism without a categorical deployment of race as a
biological essence. In other words, Balibar argues that in the aftermath of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, culture
has increasingly replaced biology as a chief operative force in the modalities of racism. The celebratory spirit of
Clintonian multiculturalism of the 1990s can be seen in this light.
4. To clarify the obvious: even if further "investigations" were to reveal a logical link
between Saddam Hussain and Al Qaeda, it would not dispel this thesis about the present circumstances.
5. It must be understood that the version of the "Work of
Art" essay I am discussing here is the one
translated (often with unhappy results) by Harry Zohn in Illuminations. There
are about eleven drafts of the essay. I also
need to make clear that the hope in the ultimate maturing of society, in an irresistible dialectical development of the socius toward a
politicization of aesthetics, is a Hegelian positivism that Benjamin inherits from the German idealist tradition and begins to discard
in the "Work of Art" essay itself. The critique of such historicism arrives more memorably later in Benjamin's study of Western
modernity in "Theses on the Philosophy of History."
6. The point, perhaps, is to commit a disciplinary sacrilege. A political departure from the
comforts of metaphysical and ontological truths should not lead to a professional-academic hermeneutics of sanitized
repetition, or to a domestication of thought into neatly separated and hermetically sealed categories like modernism and
7. See Deleuze Cinema 2 28-29 and 264-70.
8. I am of course alluding to Francis Fukuyama's Kojevian-Hegelian thesis in The End
of History and the Last Man.
9. See Deleuze, Cinema 2 263-69.
10. In this context see Arendt's useful elaborations in The Origins of
11. See Negri, The Savage Anomaly 10-11 for a remarkable elaboration of these
12. See for instance in the Grundrisse: the "tendency of capital is
circulation without circulation time; hence also the positing of the instruments which merely serve to abbreviate
circulation time as mere formal aspects posited by it" (671).
13. See Negri, Marx Beyond Marx: Lessons from the Grundrisse, and Debord,
Society of the Spectacle 24.
14. See Deleuze, Cinema 2 77-78.
15. See Basu.
16. Does the corporation have a persona in terms of the human figure? Perhaps we need to
talk a bit more concretely, in terms of an illustrative feature of the American style neo-liberalism that is now rampant all
over the world. In 1886, a bizarre distortion of the Santa Clara Supreme Court decision by the Court's reporter led to
corporations claiming that that they were also entitled to human rights laid out for the "people" in the Bill of Rights of
the U.S. Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment that ended slavery. This "corporate personhood," as an inhuman
concentration of immanently flowing money, a dense accumulation of interest-bearing forces, is the figure that has taken the
business of rightful representation away from the hands of the human agent. As giant assemblages in a great civilizational
plane of interest group maneuvers, advertising, propaganda, law, legislation, justice and consensus, corporate personas are
to be seen as individual entities that share the same rights (including those of privacy) as humans, but also as bodies that
have more to do with R&D than Homboltian education, lobbying than polity, managerial intelligence rather than the tics of the
human. In contradistinction to the individual, they also incidentally have more money, more processing power, more energy,
and more technical intelligence at their disposal.
17. See Kant, The Critique of Judgment 355-57.
18. Elsewhere, of course, in "Idea for a Universal History," Kant suggests that
man, with his "egoistic animal inclination," needs a master who "is supposed to be just
in himself and yet a man" (122-23). When
we talk about enlightenment and Kant, it is always productive to remember that the ideal of normative freedom that is so
essential for the moral education of the modern citizen, was, in his historical context, very anxiously located in a state
that rested its fragile body-politic on the benevolent but despotic shoulders of Frederick the Great.
19. Indeed, in recent times it has become plainly evident that postmodern metropolitan formations can operate very
effectively in tribalistic modes.
20. It needs to be made clear that I am not categorically tying this to a philosophical
tradition of pragmatism. This robust anti-formalist, anti-Cartesian line of thinking that began in the nineteenth century
with Charles Sanders Peirce was founded on the rejection of the individual as the sole custodian of truth, a critique of a
medieval scholasticism that traced all knowledge back to one authority on the one hand and of massified commonsense as bad
logic combined with metaphysics on the other. The call for Peirce was thus for an irreverent scientific experimental
community that would not allow thought to ossify into dogma. Thinking pragmatically entailed a fundamental refutation of the
subject-object duality endemic in continental thinking; reality was to be accounted for as an adequate, for-the-moment coming
together of sensations and beliefs. It is not possible here to discuss this variegated tradition, including its later
instances of conservative defense of American capitalism, but one can perhaps point out briefly that what we have been
talking about so far qua informatics is precisely that form of power that forecloses "experience" or "action" in this sense.
Informatics (rather than communitarian-experimental experience) is that which increasingly dominates the space of action
between a globality of managerial, military, and money interests, and a locality of professional and familial satisfaction.
Politics and knowledge thus threaten to become precisely what John Dewey warned against--merely spectatorial, with the
correspondence between a locality of American communal belief, and a global materiality of Americanization in the
world becoming increasingly informationized, taking place only through planetary circuits of investment, charity, terror, and
militarization. Democracy too tends to become what Dewey, speaking in terms of human governance, called sovereignty chopped
into mincemeat, buttressed by opinion poll demographics of power based on a numerical notion of equality and a formalistic
isolation of the "I."
21. See Arendt, The Human Condition for an elaboration of this theme.
22. See Kant, "Theory and Practice":
He who has the right to vote on basic legislation is called a citizen [...]. The requisite
quality for this [status], apart from the
natural one that the person not be a child or a woman, is only this: that such a person be
his own master (sui iuris) and
hence that he have some property (under which we may include any art, craft or science) that would provide him with
sustenance. [...] a man who, when he must earn a livelihood from others, acquires property only by selling what is his own
and not by conceding to others the right to make use of his strength. Consequently he serves no one, in the strict
sense of the word, but the commonweal. (420)
Kant is however careful in clarifying that the legislative equality among citizens should be dictated by a qualitative aspect
of property, not a quantitative one: "Not the amount of property, but merely the number of
those owning any property, should serve as a basis for the number of voters" (421).
23. See Kant, "Eternal Peace." This is postulation 4: " No
debts shall be contracted
in connection with the foreign affairs of the state." While Kant is ready to admit state borrowing for the purposes of
internal development, he is against debt
as an instrument of the struggle between the powers, a credit system of debts endlessly growing though always safe
against immediate demand (the demand for payment not being made by all the creditors at the same
time)--such a system, the
ingenious invention of a trading people in this century, constitutes a dangerous money power. It is a resource for carrying
on war which surpasses the resources of all other states taken together. (433)
24. See Kant, "Eternal Peace" 437-41 and "What is Enlightenment?" 137-39.
25. This is the disposition Kant attributes to the enlightened princely figure of Fredrick
the Great. See "What is Enlightenment?." The secular monarch permits his subjects to "make
public use of their
own reason and to submit publicly their thoughts regarding a better framing of such laws together with a frank
criticism of existing legislation" (139).
26. I am of course referring to Lyotard's thesis in The Postmodern
27. One has to be careful here; I am not proposing the category "third world" in a
positive territorial sense, informed by traditional Eurocentric discourses of self and other. The relation between the
globalized third world and the metropolitan diagram as planet city is a dispersed, micropunctual one that infectiously erodes
classic inside/outside divisions: the country and the city, the East and the West, the home and the world. The international
division of labor is a useful determination to make, but not in categorical terms of molar identities like nationhood.
28. See Bush.
29. See for instance Foucault: "man is neither the oldest not the most constant
problem that has been posed for human knowledge [...] [...] As the archaeology of our thought easily shows, man is an
invention of recent date. And one perhaps nearing its end" (386-87).
Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. Intro. Margaret Canovan. 2nd. ed. Chicago:
Chicago UP, 1998.
---. The Origins of Totalitarianism. New York: Harcourt-Harvest, 1973.
Balibar, Etienne. "Is There a New Racism?" Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous
Eds. Etienne Balibar and Immanuel Wallerstein. London: Verso, 1991. 17-28.
Basu, Anustup. "The State of Security and Warfare of Demons." Critical Quarterly
45. 1-2 (Spring/Summer 2003): 11-32.
Benjamin, Walter. "The Storyteller: Reflections on the Works of Nikolai Leskov"
Illuminations. Ed. Hannah Arendt. Trans. Harry Zohn. London: Fontana, 1973. 83-107.
---. "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." Illuminations
---. "Theses on the Philosophy of History." Illuminations 245-55.
Bush, George W. "President Bush Discusses Economy, Small Business in Wisconsin." Office of
the Press Secretary. 3
Oct. 2003 <
Debord, Guy. Society of the Spectacle. Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. New York:
Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 2: The Time Image. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert
Galeta. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1989.
Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human
Sciences. New York: Vintage, 1970.
Fukuyama, Francis. The End of History and the Last Man. New York: Avon, 1992.
García Márquez, Gabriel. The Autumn of the Patriarch. Trans. Gregory
Rabassa. New York: Harper, 1976.
Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Trans. John Macquarrie and Edward
Robinson. Oxford: Blackwell. 1962.
Kant, Immanuel. The Critique of Judgment. Trans. J.H. Bernard. New York:
---. "Eternal Peace." Philosophy of Kant 430-76.
---. "Idea for a Universal History with Cosmopolitan Intent." Philosophy of Kant
---. The Philosophy of Kant: Immanuel Kant's Moral and Political
Writings. Ed. Carl J. Friedrich. New York: Modern Library, 1948.
---. "Theory and Practice: Concerning the Common Saying: This May be True in Theory But does
not Apply to Practice." Philosophy of Kant 412-429.
---. "What is Enlightenment?" Philosophy of Kant 132-39.
Lyotard, Jean-François. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge.
Trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1984.
Marx, Karl. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Vol. 1. Trans. Ben
Fowkes. Intro. Ernest Mandel. London: Penguin, 1976.
---. Grundrisse. Trans. Martin Nicolaus. London: Penguin, 1973.
---. Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. New York: International, 1972.
Negri, Antonio. The Savage Anomaly: The Power of Spinoza's Metaphysics and
Politics. Trans. Michael Hardt. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1991.
---. Marx Beyond Marx: Lessons from the Grundrisse. Trans. Michael Ryan et al. New York: Autonomedia, 1989.