The Other Side of the Digital: The Sacrificial Economy of New Media 9781517910228, 9781517910235

171 51 2MB

English Pages [288] Year 2021

Report DMCA / Copyright

DOWNLOAD FILE

Polecaj historie

The Other Side of the Digital: The Sacrificial Economy of New Media
 9781517910228, 9781517910235

Citation preview

The Other Side of the Digital

This page intentionally left blank

The Other Side of the Digital The Sacrificial Economy of New Media

Andrea Righi

University of Minnesota Press Minneapolis London

Portions of chapter 3 are adapted from “From Targets to Matches: The Digital Anatomo-­politics of Neoliberal Sexuality,” Cultural Critique 98 (2018): 95–­1 21. Portions of chapter 4 are adapted from “The Corpulence of Self-­Tracking: The Quantified Self, Derrida, and Writing in the Age of Digital Accountability,” Theory and Event 20 (2017): 679–98; copyright 2017 Johns Hopkins University Press; published with permission by Johns Hopkins University Press. Portions of chapter 5 are adapted from “The Mammoletta–­Mammet Complex and the Sexed Truth of Neoliberal Digitality,” Soft Power 4 (2017): 161–­76. Copyright 2021 by the Regents of the University of Minnesota All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher. Published by the University of Minnesota Press 111 Third Avenue South, Suite 290 Minneapolis, MN 55401–­2520 http://www.upress.umn.edu ISBN 978-1-5179-1022-8 (hc) ISBN 978-1-5179-1023-5 (pb) A Cataloging-in-Publication record for this book is available from the Library of Congress. Printed in the United States of America on acid-­f ree paper The University of Minnesota is an equal-­opportunity educator and employer.

UMP BmB 2021

This book is dedicated to my wife, Simona, and my daughter, Maya

This page intentionally left blank

Contents

Acknowledgmentsix

Introduction  The Sexed Truth of Neoliberal Digitality

1

Chapter 1.  Transcendence15 Moses, or The Other of the Other Chapter 2.  Knowledge49 Online Fee-­Ding as the Solution to Meno’s Paradox Chapter 3.  Desire81 The Ballistic Sexuality of Drones and Tinder Chapter 4.  Writing109 The Quantified Self and Digital Accountability Chapter 5.  Temporality133 Turks, Mammets, and Digital Crowdworking Platforms Chapter 6.  Woman161 Love and Automated Profit Chapter 7.  Hysteria189 The Moses of Bernardo Bertolucci Chapter 8.  Passivity215 The Other as Other Notes243 Index269

This page intentionally left blank

Acknowledgments

This book would not have been possible without the generous support of Miami University and Colorado College, which funded my research through several grants. Special thanks also to the University of Macerata for the 2017–­18 Matteo Ricci residential scholarship. For various interventions at different writing stages as well as insightful conversations on these topics, I am grateful to Steve Carter, Cesare Casarino, Mary Jean Corbett, Ida Dominijanni, Jeff Herlihy, Kiarina Kordela, Scott Krzych, Matthew Roesch, Jonathan Strauss, and Angelo Ventrone. I would also like to thank Josh Bradford and all the students of my New Media and Psychoanalysis courses at Miami University.

This page intentionally left blank

Introduction

The Sexed Truth of Neoliberal Digitality In the early 1960s, Marshall McLuhan famously observed that “this is the Age of Anxiety for the reason of the electric implosion that compels commitment and participation.”1 At the beginning of the twenty-­first century, the assimilation into what he called the electric (what we now call the digital) is complete. “We are enraptured by the digital medium,” writes philosopher Byung-­Chul Han, “yet unable to gauge the consequences of our frenzy fully.”2 Consider how there is always something more that awaits and commands action in our lives—­more alerts, more searches, more posts, more reviews, more emoticons. The digital is a tide of infinite calls that swell our use of electronic devices. One of the central inquiries of this book casts light on how this all-­encompassing e-­immersion is shaped by what I term the beyond, a transcendent dimension that is infinite by definition. This structure calls for the continuous interaction, contribution, and involvement of the user. After all, if the predominant business model for the Internet is clickbait, and if the goal for every digital actor is to raise its key performance indicator, it is only natural for this feature to have an impact on the user as well. But this is also true for those cases that are not related to any particular commercial purposes. One of my students offered an insightful account of how this mechanism functioned in the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. The election had put him in such a state that he felt he urgently needed to voice his concerns. He began posting and commenting on messages by friends on social media. These actions in turn generated more comments and more links, which he opened, discussed, reposted, and so forth.

-  2 -

Introduction

He acknowledged that these exchanges were mostly meaningless, but every reply produced a sigh of relief, only to be followed by more anguish that again required more action—­and hence the impossibility of breaking this loop.3 Online platforms need to drive traffic to thrive, so they use structures that compel users to move restlessly from one link to the other. Page after page, search after search, users consume (and generate) information. In a broad sense, the technologies we use replace all limitations with an abstract, always renewing, and always mineable sense of what can be known. In the case of my student, for instance, the prospect of the latest confirmation of an election recount thanks to voting irregularities kept him at his computer, navigating around for hours; the final proof was always a step ahead. Even when he obtained evidence, he was haunted by the creeping doubt that yet another Web page might have something more conclusive. This drive toward the next element in an endless series produces a high degree of uncertainty, as well as an unsettling form of apprehension that undermines our grasp on reality. Henceforth, the user becomes a skeptic who, playing catch-­up with the world, must keep on clicking or swiping.4 Paradoxically, this skepticism is based on the certainty that inevitably, we think that we can get the confirmation we need by seeking out additional information or updates, or simply by refreshing a profile. This form of automated certainty is merely a growing mass of data endlessly circulating and reproducing. The digital world seems to capture, absorb, and repress negativity, substituting it with frantic movement and the absolute usability of all that exists. Where does the impetus for this continuous mobilization come from? Who demands it? This incessant engagement in digital interaction is not due to an obedience to a coercive form of power. In the case of my student, what prompted him to trust the Internet to placate his anxiety in the first place? What kind of symbolic authority is hidden in the digital? In an age of tremendous scientific advancement that permits unprecedented human control over nature, individuals who are empowered by an ever-­g rowing array of technical devices seem to also be systemically undermined, as they are subjected to a form of symbolic dependence. But who is the titleholder of this symbolic force? Google, Facebook, the state? Or the digital beyond? A history of the evolution of digital media or even an informed account of how big tech came to dominate our culture through ground-



Introduction

-  3 -

breaking inventions serves an end; and my study will offer only occasional forays into those dimensions of e-­realities. Yet to understand the symbolic infrastructure of these mechanisms, one needs to engage in an analysis of the concept of the beyond, or what is commonly known as transcendence, parsing its transformation in the history of Western thought. This is why this book is not an investigation of the new media per se but rather a longitudinal study of the theoretical valence that is enshrined in digitality. Situating digitality within the depths of pre­ technological eras, my longue durée approach uncovers some central underpinning factors in the cult of participation, accountability, and libidinal investment that our culture commands. In this sense, the mystical or theological connotations that the term transcendence carries across time have particular relevance in relation to network culture. The word itself gestures toward a locus that stands beyond the worldly domain and that, in its bare form, is a proxy for the divine. With this I do not mean to reiterate the cliché that announces technology as the new superhuman agent replacing humanity; if anything, I will argue the opposite: that under neoliberal regimes, larger quotas of human labor will be mined precisely because of the expansion of digital technology. In an applied sense, this study addresses the ways in which the subterraneous influences exercised by the secularized version of the old transcendent God, the Other, drive the phallic logic of present capitalist technology.5 This system embodies (in practice and theory) a new form of sovereignty because transcendence is the primal site where the position of power is imagined, established, and venerated across time. Here a series of possible options and reconfigurations emerge that take us directly to our hypertechnological present. But before we consider this situation, it is necessary to shed light on a key aspect of transcendence. Transcendence and Gender Contrary to the word’s neutral connotation in this regard, transcendence should be understood from the standpoint of gender. In its original impulse, the idea of the beyond is, in fact, similar to the great philosophical question about the foundation of reality (e.g., how did this world began, and who made it?). Questioning the substance of reality means pondering over the Other’s desire, what is commonly known as the will of God. Since the transition from polytheism to monotheism in the West, that

-  4 -

Introduction

God is singular and demands something from us—­t hat is, he has desires and wants just like a human. A libidinal element is in play, one that complicates the usual ethereal representation of the divine. Thus, when we speak of the Other as a transcendent source of power, we are also speaking about sexuality. The association between the divine and sex is not at all preposterous, for in this case we are contemplating the presence of a yearning, a volition, and thus a motion (or a force) that attracts, binds, transforms, and moves different entities. What’s more, it should be noted that as the libidinal rests at the core of this symbolic mechanism, it also generates anxieties and doubts that are typical of sexuality. To the extent that the locus of the Other is intimately related to the libidinal, whoever occupies this position will in fact be tainted by the sexual element as well as by its shades of ambiguity and inscrutability. Transcendence therefore discloses an unexpected association, one that feminism has made clear: transcendence is gendered. Historically, patriarchal thought projected the woman onto the position occupied by the Other.6 Although the woman seldom had a real position of power, it was quite natural for her to enjoy a high status at a symbolic level. For example, Dante puts Beatrice on the highest pedestal of celestial hierarchy—­but concurrently he freezes her into an impalpable (and mute) ideality. In any case, it is not necessary to resort to sophisticated metaphors to understand the ways in which transcendence is sexualized by the masculine. We only need recall the old refrain about feminine indecipherability: the ultimate mystery of what a woman really wants. This kind of feminine inscrutability is homologous to the abyss of the divine will—­that is to say, the unknowability of God, and thus also doubt regarding His desire. In like manner, Stanley Cavell illustrates the gendered truth of transcendence when he writes that the history of skepticism is in essence man’s attempt to relate to the space of the beyond by placing the woman there. The recursive movement of the doubt that fuels skepticism that, so to speak, saws the branch on which one is sitting is sexual in nature; it is the effect of the specific cultural construct that I analyze in the first chapter. I call it the Mosaic treatment of transcendence. While it takes many forms, Cavell believes that skepticism ultimately has to do with the proof of paternity. He warns, “From the gender asymmetry here it should not be taken to follow that women do not get into the way of skepticism, but only that the passion



Introduction

-  5 -

of doubt may not express a woman’s sense of separation from others or that the object of doubt is not representable as a doubt as to whether your children are yours.”7 Transcendence is the construct (or fantasy) that promises a secure ground or an end to this. Transcendence is what keeps the passion of doubt in check. Hence, Cavell continues, “what there is (any longer?) of God, or of the concept of the beyond, takes place in relation to the woman.”8 Cavell discloses a homology according to which the woman shares a symbolic position with the divine; yet in his parallelism, the two entities are not equal. The beyond is the original source for the simile, while the feminine is merely an instantiation, an explanation of the former. Transcendence is sexed, by which I mean I want to invert that logical order: transcendence is an effect of something that happens at the level of gender.9 What do I mean by this inversion? Italian philosopher Luisa Muraro provides a crucial answer. The concept of separation, which she elaborates in texts such as L’ordine simbolico della madre (1991), is particularly useful to elucidate how the symbolic economy of patriarchy produces transcendence as a reaction against the temporal continuity expressed in the maternal. From Luce Irigaray’s thought, Muraro draws a genealogy of power that is based on the idea that the maternal represented the interdicted foundation of the social order. She then defines the maternal symbolic as a living nexus of relations between language and being. Language is the product of the linguistic and symbolic work of the mother that makes us symbolic animals, while the mother (or whoever occupies her place) is a symbolic enabler or a function, not the fantasized woman of patriarchy. As Cesare Casarino and I note, “Muraro’s mother—­or, more precisely, the triangular exchange that defines and produces at once mother and child and language—­names the relation that keeps thought and being together.”10 In this respect, the maternal is an open-­ended and singularizing dimension that enables our symbolic attachment to the matrix of life. In contrast, the paternal order bars this immanent dimension, enforcing a separation from the maternal. This severing of language and reality generates the classic dichotomies: being versus nonbeing, body versus mind, subject versus world, and so on. Once this fracture takes place, the male imaginary constructs itself as self-­sufficient and self-­positing. But this remedy is also the cause of its own weakness. Insofar as it lives off a dream of unity and oneness, the masculine also represses its own derivativeness. Hence, to the extent

-  6 -

Introduction

that it embodies a form of overcompensation for something (i.e., continuity in time) that was never missing in the first place, the male subject’s claim to universality foments a constant longing for a possession, an insatiable hunger for a foundation—­transcendence, in other words. The concept of birth may be used as an illustration for how this reasoning works. Because the masculine presupposes himself to be the ultimate universal principle, his dependence on the woman cannot be truly accepted; she is hardly an appendage or an object for his action. The masculine thus proceeds to seize on her procreative powers. Think about classical mythology: Zeus gives birth to Athena directly through his brain. Or, because the discourse of sovereignty is prominent in my discussion, consider the famous genealogy for “authority” that Émile Benveniste reconstructed connecting the term auctoritas to auctor. Disclosing the shared root of the Greek verb for creation (augeo), Benveniste individuates the force of auctoritas in the “gift which is reserved to a handful of men who can cause something to come into being and can literally bring into existence.”11 The king, the ruler, or the person of authority is thus he who can give birth: a mother. Yet the acknowledgment of the sexed nature of authority—­that is, the feminine reproductive capacity—­is missing. As Ida Dominijanni remarks, the obvious conclusion regarding the priority of “the maternal force over the paternal” remains unspoken, symptomatically forgotten “in Benveniste’s pen.”12 This patriarchal logic prevents the male imaginary to see origin and dependence, and it thus explains male fixation on mortality—­a dread that hinges on the fact that we are engendered flesh. This imaginary is thus absorbed in a sort of endless and fantastic loop. As Casarino notes, the masculine structure is caught in a “tautological merry-­go-­ round in which running away from symbolic misery [i.e., dependence] and running after symbolic independence only brings one back to the starting point.”13 This oscillation is due to the impossibility for the masculine formalism to come to terms with the notion of a subject’s engendered nature, for, as Adriana Cavarero writes, insofar as the patriarchal “order is oblivious to birth . . . the universal ‘Man’ is never born and never lives”—­i n other words, is never flesh.14 Cavell’s doubt regarding paternity can be further clarified: what he calls the masculine skepticism regarding progeny (i.e., continuity in time) in fact originates from the repression of the subject’s procreated nature (i.e., the severing of ties



Introduction

-  7 -

with the past). That is, having repressed birth and thereby a sense of belonging to the continuum, the masculine is forced to reinvent—­and thus always doubt—­its own foundation across time. The Political Theology of Neoliberal Digitality Let us now consider the mutation of transcendence in our age and its consequences. The genesis of skepticism and the dichotomies that push the male imaginary into the mad chase for something that remains always vacuous and unattainable, rest, I observed, on the idea of separation, which severs the continuum of life because of the incapacity to take upon oneself the engendered condition of every human being. The dualism that this split establishes twists the perception of the beyond, turning it into the fantasy of transcendence. The patriarchal (and phallic) lineage of this organization of space forms not only our knowledge or beliefs regarding the structure of reality but also our politics, and ultimately the technology we develop. Specifically, it informs the basic principle of what is commonly known as a political theology. This symbolic machinery, Roberto Esposito writes, joins together “universalism and exclusion: not in the weak sense that something always stays outside the framework, but in the more powerful sense that every universal is the product and, at the same time, the inclusive capture of an excluded part.”15 Once political theology is described as an exclusionary inclusion, it is not difficult to see how this paradigm affects capitalist rationality and our present. Just like capital designates itself as a totality by means of an outside that must be conquered (and then produce another outside that will meet a similar fate), the masculine splits life in two, thereby creating a doubling that fuels a beyond-­like structure (transcendence) that attracts and absorbs the subject. As it exercises a symbolic influence and mobilizes individuals, transcendence takes numerous shapes across time: the Other as God, the Father under patriarchy, the master signifier in ideology, or the moral obligation to comply with the health fetish of fitness bands, as I discuss in chapter 4. Transcendence is the matrix for a political theology (the oneness of the people) and thus also the foundation for neoliberal governmentality (it induces unaware individuals to comply with a call; Jacques Lacan calls it the entanglement in the network of desire of the Other). Under neoliberalism, transcendence materializes itself in the dogma

-  8 -

Introduction

of endless valorization. Indeed, this is the ultimate religious principle, so to speak. In fact, the digital maximizes what Karl Marx defines as the direction of capitalism that “is capable of no other motion than a quantitative one: to increase itself . . . to drive beyond its own barrier”—­in other words, “to go beyond its quantitative limit: an endless process.”16 This movement creates implicit boundaries simply in order to overcome them. Similarly, my student was moved to seize conclusive evidence, something that was delimiting, only to transcend it. Naturally, the modern secularized form of transcendence that impels the user to keep on clicking or posting is different from its original articulation, which was one of prohibition, restriction, and temperance. But in terms of a symbolic economy, the paradigm fundamentally remains the same. The obligation to expand our hyperconnected world is a prerogative of the modern economy, but its power originates in that separation that is constitutive of the paternal order. In this book I will make the argument that as they rework transcendence as the locus of power, our e-­realities follow a symbolic economy governed by the Other’s desire.17 This entity exerts control through a form of accountability whereby users are mobilized to contribute to the valorization of the digital. What moves our webometric life is the need for a continuous interaction—­a sacrificial economy in which something must be ritualistically offered. Just like the old transcendent god, the digital beyond incessantly demands that users pay tribute before its altar. But there is a difference. The political theology currently in power represents the final stage of Walter Benjamin’s definition of capitalism as a religion that prohibits redemption, a mechanism that sets forward a request that cannot be satisfied.18 Hence, our contribution (from Latin, tribute) to the digital must be interminable. This form of political theology informs neoliberalism, and therefore the new media as well. This is why the reader will often encounter the coinage “neoliberal digitality” throughout the book. A short working definition of this concept is needed. Although the first term, neoliberalism, enjoys a gargantuan literature, I will focus only on the four traits of this doctrine that are most relevant to my reading of the new media: the disciplining of subjectivities, the targeting of potentiality, the creed in absolute usability, and the deployment of platforms as a system of capture. Neoliberal governmentality and the theory of the human as an always perfectible machine re-



Introduction

-  9 -

mind us that there is no room for idleness. The neoliberal fatwa against inactivity (what the Latins called otium) declares that any lack of engagement or underoptimization of one’s life leads to a weakening, a corruption of the individual.19 The semantic slippage from human labor to human capital bears witness to this undeniable fact. To the extent that people are nothing more than human capital, every individual must optimize, use, and capitalize the totality of life in order to generate value. Thus, the liquidation of limitations gives rise to excess as the new raison d’être of existence. These processes of subject formation must have as a precondition the waning of the old Fordist welfare, rampant deregulation, and privatization—­a ll positive terms in corporate parlance. Like a rat in a maze, the subject needs to be injected with the proper doses of stress to thrive. Therein this “soft” disciplining of the social body is established through a set of pressures for competition, innovation, and performance. Paradoxically, incentives come in the form of decurtation and imposed emergencies. What happens at the individual level is only magnified on the geopolitical level. Regime changes that destabilize entire regions call for more military intervention and internal security, which both contribute to the fortunes of various private enterprises that provide yet more surveillance apparatuses. The neoliberal mantra “never be idle” walks hand in hand with what Rahm Israel Emanuel, chief of staff in the Obama administration, declared in the wake of the 2008 meltdown: “Never let a good crisis go to waste!”20 The naturalized idea of environmental pressures is also applied to large-­scale economics. Less becomes more—­everywhere except, as I just argued, the military and the corporate sector, a strategy that incidentally increases the concentration of monopolies that wield immense power. “Austerity” is de rigueur, “a drive for positive change.”21 There is nothing strange in this. Neoliberal biopolitics’ dictum, target potentiality, is the reason for it. As I discuss elsewhere, in targeting potentiality—­ not simply labor but rather the capacity to produce labor—­surplus labor becomes the predominant mechanism for the extraction of value.22 Despite the fancy language of corporate self-­empowerment, with its omnipresent “unlock your true potential” refrain, what dictates these dynamics is “the extraction of surplus value, of unpaid labor, [which] is done by capturing devices outside of the direct productive processes by using an organizational business model that draws from the productive, creative, and innovative qualities of the workforce developed in

-  10 -

Introduction

extra-­professional environment.”23 This mechanism of capture is totalizing because the neoliberal cult believes in rendering all dimensions of life productive at all times. The objective, Jonathan Crary writes, is clear: integrate life into capital by pushing labor time into “a duration without breaks,” conforming to “a time that no longer passes, beyond clock time.”24 Platforms are the perfect instruments for this purpose. Platforms can be thought of as assemblages of optimization processes, the goal of which is harnessing vital energy to fuel valorization. Although social media uses a similar beyond-­clock-­t ime model, it lures us into what seems like a less despotic form of domination. By using apps, for instance, we enthusiastically generate an output of data—­data that algorithms store, analyze, and exchange. Furthermore, the user’s contribution to the improved performance of the system (i.e., its scalability) is something that we rarely notice because we have already internalized a sacrificial disposition that makes us produce, consume, and circulate data presumably for our own enjoyment, when in reality it is the Other’s desire that we adopt. In contrast, the broad range of the platform’s extractive mechanisms seem more visible. The platform is nothing but a brutal, unregulated marketplace for the selling of labor power. It is important to read the platform’s use of computational power from this standpoint. As Alexander Galloway puts it, “The computer instantiates a practice not a presence,” for in general the goal of cybernetics “is not that of coming to know a world, but rather that of how specific, abstract definitions are executed to form a world.”25 Hence, a program in general reinforces its own executability because it functions according to a biased definition of success, as algorithms are trained on the basis of positive past results.26 For platforms, the guiding principle that informs this kind of executability can be reduced to the following agenda: fabricate an environment with parameters and a set of stressors that stimulates life by directing it toward the growth of the informational and economic value of that very electronic ecosystem. Consider the car-­sharing startup Uber, for example. Whether it is in the form of underpaid labor (the race to the bottom for lower fares), the free labor executed by users whose metrics improve the scalability of the system (the data collected by Uber improves the platform performance and will be crucial for the development of A.I. for transportation), the online review system that spikes



Introduction

-  11 -

competition, or the rent extraction mechanisms (booking fees and cuts for each fare that drivers pay to Uber), the platform is nothing but a set of interlocking data points that capture value at every node. After all, capitalism has always operated in such a way; it takes over social spheres “by breathing life into them as the elements of a new formation,” as Marx writes.27 However, it is a second nature that is not free at all. It mediates, hampers, but also hypes living labor according to the design of endless accumulation. I call neoliberal digitality the technical but also the symbolic apparatus that appropriates life in these terms. Naturally other uses of digital technologies are possible, and do in fact exist. For just as neoliberalism targets potentiality, this very potentiality has a way of finding cracks in the system and is particularly recalcitrant to any form of containment. Sometimes the extractive mechanisms of the sacrificial economy fail to function, such as when a query on Google surprises us with a “no results found” message. But this resilience means little by itself. Any consequential transformation of current technology implies a serious work of analysis and political action. Only once the full range of its dominant symbolic structures and modalities of power is uncovered can there emerge the possibility for a different digitality. With this in mind, my study looks at how five general concepts, or topoi—­k nowledge, desire, writing, temporality, and the woman—­a re presently reconfigured by our sacrificial economy and brings them into play with a discussion of corresponding mainstream digital objects—­search engines, geolocation, self-­tracking, crowdworking, and high-­frequency treading, among others. In particular I examine the ways in which neoliberal digitality absorbed the credentials that legitimized the past symbolic power of the Other, an issue I address in chapter 1 as I focus on the role of transcendence in the Mosaic complex. But a symbolic authority of analogous magnitude is also at work when browsing the Internet (this is the case of online queries that I address in chapter 2), for as Jodi Dean argues, search engines “were established to occupy a place of the knower of our secrets, our desires, a place for one [the Other] who would know what we wanted when we didn’t really know ourselves.”28 Similarly, this symbolic force reprograms object choice and thus subjective investments through a relentless movement to possess or extinguish the object of desire, a process that I examine in chapter 3 as I discuss how location technology operates in matchmaking apps (Tinder) and prosthetic war

-  12 -

Introduction

(drones). But neoliberal digitality also takes the venerable trust in the infallibility—­a trust that seals compliance and commitment through a sense of personal duty—­of a transcendent authority and reconfigures it using the engine of endless valorization, as I show in chapter 4 through a discussion of the quantified self ideology. The effect of expropriating the totality of living labor is prominent in crowdworking platforms such as Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (chapter 5), an apparatus that, in addition to exploiting living labor, also stifles true difference, namely the non­ instrumentalizing effervescence of life. This difference is what I begin to untangle in the second part of the book, where my goal becomes to offer a more positive proposal that is based on an analysis of the woman and sexual difference in contemporary film and in Don DeLillo’s novel Point Omega (chapter 6), on a reconsideration of hysteria in Bertolucci’s masterpiece The Spider’s Stratagem (chapter 7), and on the unraveling of the concept of passivity through the work of Elvio Fachinelli, Carla Lonzi, and Luciano Parinetto (chapter 8). In so doing, I gesture toward another use of digital technology—­one that would be liberating because it disables neoliberal mechanisms of valorization. My psychoanalytic-­feminist approach should be seen as part of a larger conversation, and in fact my framework has several points of contact with tendencies in critical race studies and queer theory. The need to establish a relationship with a different other, not the Other of the political theology but the other of singularity, is one of the conclusions I reach—­one that strikes at the core of the phallic mechanism of transcendence. In this respect, my emphasis on relationality should be read against the backdrop of postcolonial critique. After all, the indictment of patriarchy and its presupposed universality is the precondition for any critique of the Western colonial enterprise. Non-­Western analyses of present technology are particularly relevant in this sense. Here I refer the reader to the research of scholars like Yuk Hui, who similarly takes aim at the assumption of neutrality and universality of neoliberal digitality. The most pressing task, he writes, is “to find the outside of technological thinking” by exposing a thought that is beyond the will to power of neoliberalism, a cosmotechnics, a dimension “that maintains a sense of the cosmic” where reality is not “only an object of exploration and exploitation.”29 Analogously, the role I assign to passivity in the fight against the dogma of usability may be associated with the notion of black data



Introduction

-  13 -

developed by queer theorist Shaka McGlotten. This strategy of resistance calls us to “embrace those forms of darkness in which identity is obscured or rendered opaque. There are no coherent, rational, self-­ knowing subjects here, just furious refusals. These refusals are a kind of black ops, a form of black data that encrypts without hope of a coherent or positive output.”30 As I’ve observed, because of its obligation to interaction, our present sociality is engineered and organized via a sacrificial economy, a form of being together that is still tributary to the Other and not to each other as singular beings. In this respect, black data and other tactics of refusal are possible strategies against the “gamified relationality” enacted through neoliberal tools of control that, McGlotten argues, “maximized FOMA by design.”31 In essence, my critique of the political theology of neoliberalism targets the new circuits of power of what Gordon Lewis calls the Euromodern world. Thinking through the hollowness of this system in order to demystify it means to undermine the purity (in racial terms) of the Western edifice that, through capitalism, assumed a particular theological quality, a veritable theodicy, that banned everything that did not fall within the grasp of exchange value and that constructed a “model of the self as self-­sustaining substance.”32 The pages that follow provide an analysis that aims at unseating that Eurocentric, patriarchal, and now digital paradigm.

This page intentionally left blank

Chapter 1

Transcendence Moses, or The Other of the Other

Although packed with portable high-­tech devices, our smart, metric-­ driven existence betrays a visceral archaic nature. The secularization of society that is typically associated with technological progress is, in other words, much more theological than expected. One does not need to bother thinkers like Carl Schmitt to prove the point; the truth is that the historical alliance between technology and religion is hardly disputable.1 The following three examples will illustrate how a homologous structure of relations between individuals and transcendence (that is, the beyond, or, more intuitively, the divine dimension of infinity) is in play for devotees, and concurrently for the vast majority of modern Internet users. The first case comes from the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., which holds a curious and rare clockwork prayer from sixteenth-­century Spain. The automaton represents a Franciscan friar and is about fifteen inches high. The puppet is a marvel of workmanship. Elizabeth King, who has studied its mysterious history, describes its movements as follows: “The monk walks in a square, striking his chest with his right arm, raising and lowering a small wooden cross and rosary in his left hand, turning and nodding his head, rolling his eyes, and mouthing silent obsequies.” It is sufficient to wind the spring for the monk to repeat the liturgy in perpetuity; apparently even “after over 400 years, he remains in good working order.”2 The ultimate reason for creating such a sophisticated and laboriously crafted piece of technology, King explains, resides in the “cumulative power of a repeated prayer,” for the “clockwork performance becomes a petition and re-­petition to Catholic eternity.”3 The automaton is thus an instrument of faith—­a prosthesis to help with salvation, to be precise—­ and not just some form of late Renaissance mirabilia. The second example is a literary invention from Margaret Atwood’s popular dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale (1985). The object in question

-  16 -

Transcendence

is a witty reelaboration (or hyperbole) of existing sacramentalia such as votive candles or Tibetan prayer wheels. In the novel, a theocratic regime takes over the United States, establishing a social order where a class of women is enslaved for reproductive purposes. One day the protagonist comes across a shop called Soul Scrolls that is full of ceremonial instruments. Atwood writes: These machines are known as Holy Rollers, but only among us, it is a disrespectful nickname. What the machines print is prayers, roll upon roll, prayer going out endlessly. . . . There are five different types of prayers: for health, wealth, a death, a birth, a sin. You pick the one you want, punch in the number, then punch in your own number so your account will be debited, and punch in the number of times you want the prayer to be repeated. The machines talk as they print out the prayers; if you like, you can go inside and listen to them, the toneless metallic voices repeating the same thing over and over.4

In Atwood’s tale, there is no need to wind the spring. Powered by electricity, the compounded force of repeated prayer can grow and grow. The Holy Rollers are the product of Atwood’s literary genius, but with their big machinery and shop-­floor imaginary, they are still steeped in the industrial age. Consider instead the case of Click to Pray, a portal the Vatican launched in March 2016. Part of the Papal Worldwide Prayer Network, interestingly called “24 Hours for the Lord,” the platform enables worshipers to join the pope in prayer three times a day. In addition to offering other specific prayers for each day of the year, the platform allows users to post personal requests for intercession. Visitors can simply hit a bright orange button, and their prayers in support of the beseecher will be recorded and posted as a number. In Click to Pray, the compounded effect of prayer is instantaneously and silently implemented by a click. The platform simply harvests the exponential power of the users’ network. The Vatican was a little late to the game. By the time its platform went live, a number of apps were already available that targeted devotees of all creeds using the latest marketing strategies. With the online suite PrayerMate, for example, the Church of England showed a more entrepreneurial spirit much earlier, in 2011. This application allows customers to collect statistics of the interactions so that their compounded



Transcendence

-  17 -

effect may be quantified and visualized through familiar charts, with arrows and columns. Others, like ECHO Prayer app, take literally Saint Paul’s admonition to “pray without ceasing,” leveraging the capability and sleek looks of social media. ECHO Prayer organizes prayers, sends reminders throughout the day, and enables users to share texts and requests via messaging. There are many other such apps available, but my goal is not to summarize current online devotional tools. I mention these cases because they directly illustrate the symbolic mechanism that defines the logic of digital capitalism. In other words, they reveal the hidden dynamic between the subject (the devout Christian) and transcendence (the exigent God) that also exists between compliant users and the ever-­expanding e-­world.5 In the Judeo-­Christian tradition, the relationship between the subject and transcendence is ruled by a symbolic law demanding compliance; the penalty for transgression is burdensome. Likewise, in Western thought, transcendence is the fundamental site where the position of power is imagined and revered across time. This logical position is always occupied by an entity, in Lacanian terms the big Other, whose relation to the subject is not only of domination but also of attraction; God desires something from us or has wants, although hardly decipherable ones. The Other also exerts an enormous power over individuals through the promise of redemption or direct intervention in somebody’s life. This relationship is imagined as contractual, yet the reciprocity between the Other and the believer is hardly bridgeable. As the great theologian Saint Catherine of Siena writes in her Dialogue (1377–­ 78): “Do you know, my daughter, that all the sufferings the soul bears or can bear in this life are not enough to punish one smallest sin? For an offense against me, infinite God, demands infinite satisfaction.”6 Sins cannot be compensated like a loan is paid off in an established amount of time. The asymmetry is clear. Transcendence stands beyond the limited dimension of earthly life; it is thus infinite, while the world is finite. Yet this imbalance tilts the scale toward infinity pressuring the subject to carry out an endless (and inhuman) task. The clockwork liturgy is an early attempt at addressing this problem of scale; the mechanical repetition of the offering to the divine aims at matching the celestial infinity. While Atwood’s praying machines multiply this effort through the might of heavy industry, Click to Pray ushers us into the forced dynamism of the neoliberal regime. Therein, the infinite devotional task

-  18 -

Transcendence

evolves into a specular logic of infinite production and circulation of information. Once I click for a specific intercession, why not click some more for the same supplication, or for a new one? It will only add to the praise of God. Similarly, why do I feel the need to flood my Instagram feed—­to post more pictures, more comments, more images of places I visit? I experience a pang of guilt if I don’t stream important facts of my life or if I don’t retweet sensational stories (or funny ones). In other words, I feel guilty if I don’t tend to the complete datafication of my existence. The digital landscape presently exerts its power through a form of endless accountability whereby users are mobilized to participate and contribute to the accruement of the digital, a process that I call a sacrificial economy—­that is, a continuous offering to clear a debt that cannot be honored. When one looks closely at this economy, it becomes clear that its theoretical underpinnings have an historical depth that vastly exceeds discussions on current modes of digital overuse. To gain a better understanding of these complex mechanisms, I propose to look back at the evolution of the principle of transcendence and to individuate a cultural construction that could potentially serve as a model. In Western thought, this event occurs with Moses, the father of monotheism. In this chapter, I will detail how Moses is a philosophical, linguistic, epistemological, and symbolic matrix for understanding the formalism that structures the symbolic force exerted by the Other as an all-­powerful entity. As Moses stands in between the realm of the human and the divine, his importance is thus logical—­or, better still, topological. Being the prototype for the Great Man (at least according to Freud), Moses is the proper name par excellence, and as feminism teaches us, names are a matter of patronymic power. But the biblical figure of Moses also gives us a sense of the status of transcendence throughout the centuries. This name indicates exceptionality, or that which exceeds and thus grounds a system. This figure is, in other words, engrossed in the business of boundaries construction and their continuous redefinition; it thus has to do with a theory of the limit, and as such with sovereignty as the source of authority and power, even in its secularized version under capitalism. In what follows, I will begin by framing the logic that characterizes the present political theology in linguistic terms. The Mosaic system is not only a sociopolitical order but also a set of symbols and ideas, im-



Transcendence

-  19 -

plicit and explicit norms—­it is, in short, a language. Apps, algorithms, indexes, platforms, software, interfaces—­these are all language as well. They are linguistic models that are used (and abused) in order to serve the dogma of endless valorization. This language is consumed with issues of efficacy and executability; it has no interest in developing a reflection on its own foundations, or lack of thereof. This lacuna begs the question for an approach to digitality that uses the tools of the philosophy of language and feminist psychoanalysis. (In my case, these tools are the theory of language elaborated by Ludwig Wittgenstein and the critique of the patriarchal order levied by Luisa Muraro.) I will preface the analysis of Moses as the proper name in general—­ and thus as a basic mechanism for regulating space—­by looking at other equally elementary particles called deictic indicators. The masculine logic misconceives the indexical function of language, thereby regenerating the typical structure that originated in the Mosaic complex—­ that is, life as split in two and governed by transcendence. I will then move to a more direct treatment of the case of Moses as a touchstone for the theory of meaning according to Wittgenstein, one that debunks the linguistic equivalent of transcendence: metalanguage. In the second part of this chapter, I offer an examination of the sociosymbolic complex of Moses by looking at Freud and Lacan. Reframed according to the notion of consistency (or the Lacanian concept of the Other of the Other), Mosaic transcendence will set the stage for exploring the forms of power exerted by neoliberal digitality in the chapters that follow. In the chapter’s coda, I will also propose a first oppositional practice to the Mosaic complex and its present variation by engaging in a reading of sublimation via Wittgenstein’s analysis of the verb “to find.” Wittgenstein’s Moses: The Referent as Transcendence I stated that the Mosaic treatment of transcendence is based on an exception that gives cohesiveness to a system. This means that in order to found said structure, you need to have a cut that separates an inside from the outside, or a boundary that defines identity through negation. This is not a neutral action but rather the prerogative of any patriarchal apparatus because it establishes the universality and centrality of the masculine subject. What stands outside is simply nonmale, nonwhite, non-­Western, and so on. One of the consequences of this negation,

-  20 -

Transcendence

however, is a constant instability of that very definition that forces the subject to seek something that is always beyond, be it the essence of reality, the essence of language, or a new land—­or woman—­to conquer. The closer this object appears, the quicker it dissolves—­hence the never-­ending chase. Luisa Muraro indicates this operation as the loss of phenomena produced by a logic of separation and an interdiction of the maternal continuum that characterizes the patriarchal order. This intervention produces a series of dualisms because “the advent of the Law of the Father (of patriarchy) superimposes itself on the positivity of the work of the mother. It separates logic from being, causing us to lose over and over again our sense of being.”7 From this division, two general perspectives emerge as possible responses: a religious one, which secures the integrity of being through the faith in God; and a secular-­scientific one, which believes in the human capacity for understanding reality by questioning it. Within the theory of meaning, this last skeptical mode of questioning presents itself as a secular operation. For the critical mind, direct access to reality and its complete subjection to a continuity of time in the form of a transcendent power are the hallmarks of oppression and metaphysics. Modernity is inaugurated precisely by the presumed emancipation from these constraints. It is no coincidence that its successor, neoliberal digitality, bets on the continuous hesitation between reality and the possibility of the new. As I will observe, this represents the perversion of the secular project. Of course all these operations do not suture the dualisms of the paternal; rather, they advance it. This is particularly true when it comes to the understanding of language and the function of deictics. Deictics are the torment and delight of the masculine position. They are thought to be the clearest example of a direct contact with the world. Yet as in the case of proper names, the effect of separation is keenly felt in their conceptualization, for deictics oscillate between standard-­bearers of immediate reality to empty vessels of pure universality, thus representing two possible versions of transcendence: a positive datum or a negative reality. Let us begin by focusing on how the problem of the referent affects these indicators and tease out how said treatments of transcendence function. The linguistic elements commonly called “shifters” or “pointers”—­words like this, here, there, and now—­are the most direct ways to indicate reality. They are, so to speak, shortcuts between us



Transcendence

-  21 -

and the world. But they also represent a puzzling case among indexes. Beginning at least with Saint Augustine, metaphysics has argued that these particles embody empty (universal) concepts because their referent continuously varies, just as reality does. For example, the now at the time of my writing is different from the now in which the reader holds this book. Giorgio Agamben echoes this tradition of thought, maintaining that “any attempt to express sense-­certainty signifies, for Hegel, to experience the impossibility of saying what one means.” Hence in the Hegelian system, one’s perception of certainty “must necessarily realize that what [one] believed it could immediately embrace in the gesture of demonstrating, is, in reality, a process of mediation . . . a true and proper dialectic that, as such, always contains within itself a negation.”8 This does not mean that certainty disappears. On the contrary, certainty is based precisely on negativity. In Agamben’s words, “It is possible to ‘take the This’ only if one comes to realize that the significance of the This is, in reality, a Not-­this that it contains.”9 In Saint Augustine, this negative tonality of experience does not represent a problem. Instead, it demonstrates the fleeting and corruptible nature of human existence, thus projecting on the plane of transcendence the real plenitude that humans will ultimately be granted once saved. True asceticism professes a radical disavowal of the belief in human autonomy, knowledge, power, and truth that leads directly to a structure of the beyond that is preserved in its alterity. The case is different for modern theories of meaning that either incorporate a weak form of negation or dismiss it altogether, falling into blatant forms of realism. Indicators like here, now, and this look like simple linguistic elements, but closer examination reveals that these words demand a strenuous philosophical work of clarification. Problematically, these pointers seem to enjoy a mysterious faculty that makes them the only true universal names because they seem to establish a direct connection between the word and its referent. However, this can be disproved once we look at their application in ordinary language. The trick is to unpack the difference between ostensive gestures and how meaning concretely works. Consider, for instance, when we introduce somebody by saying, “This is Moses,” or other instances when children playfully ask, pointing, “What is this? And this?” Better still, consider the common case of how an in-­store product promoter greets consumers. The salesperson may say, “This is x, the new thing in digital media,” perhaps pointing to

-  22 -

Transcendence

a shining display unit. Wittgenstein argues that “this ostensive teaching of words can be said to establish an association between the word and the thing.”10 But for the seller, it is not the “purpose of the words to evoke images.” He simply wants to pitch the product. For the buyers, x stands for a whole new set of possibilities in the realm of digital entertainment.11 An inflexible associative relationship such as the one Hegel uses to show the mediated function of language may exist only in limited cases. In reality, these designations depend on specific contextualization, such that “when we say: ‘every word in language designates something’ we have so far said nothing whatever; unless we have explained exactly what distinction we wish to make.”12 Of course, connected to the use of grammatical elements are gestures; we may point to an object in the physical realm or in the discursive domain, as when we refer to something that has been mentioned earlier in the conversation. Grammatical particles such as this and here are auxiliaries in naming operations and are ostensive explanations, not names in themselves. The semantic field of the application of a name is not defined by a gesture; rather, it is explained by it. This is why we never utter sentences like, “That is called this,” or “This is called this.” Similarly, the idea of a “not this” finds very specific use in ordinary language. Let’s say I need to cut a piece of wood, and I erroneously choose a hacksaw from the dozens of tools available in a store. The salesperson with whom I discuss my purchase may say, “Not this one; this hacksaw is used for metals. You should actually use . . . ,” and so forth. When the seller eventually indicates the right saw, I am confronted with a positive selection for my specific need. But in the “this is it!” that the salesperson utters, we do not witness a supernatural act that defines the concept “saw that cuts wood.” Rather, the designation merely represents the use of a name through a concrete singular example. Generally speaking, at the core of the idea of pointers as universal names are two misinterpretations regarding the theory of meaning. The first, which I just illustrated, assumes that language is a signpost for reality. The second takes the opposite route. The vacuity of these elementary particles seems to imply that our certainty is grounded in a negative operation. As Agamben observes, in Hegel, the nonimmediacy of experience guarantees life’s facticity. Imagine the classic seminar room. All curtains drawn, the participants stare at the philosopher, who writes on the blackboard the big question, “What time of the day is now?”



Transcendence

-  23 -

He then writes its ostensive definition: “Now is evening.” When he returns the following day at noon, “now is evening” turns into an incorrect statement, yet it still makes sense. In this correct incongruity, the philosopher senses something deep that relates to the essence of the now itself: its pure universality. This type of superquality goes beyond the specific temporal determinations and rests precisely on the nonbeing or the negation of the positivity of factual existence. But its invariable essence, one that we can’t quite put our finger on, is an effect of the masculine position illustrated by Muraro. It’s a (bad) negativity that foments unending movement as it produces the specter of a graspable plenitude. To the extent that this type of negativity prohibits the fullness of being, it also covets this very being. This topology is based on some presumptive being that works behind the scenes, a transcendent entity. It is sensed as a fleeting movement behind the curtains. There is always a here and a there, a beyond that is exquisitely impalpable. The exclusionary drive of the masculine negation beats the upbeat rhythm of enshrined pursuit and unattainability. At the beginning of his argument in Philosophical Investigations (1953), Wittgenstein places the discussion of ostensive definitions against a referential theory of meaning precisely because deixis is the not-­so-­ hidden presupposition of naturalist conceptions of language, and it usually roots meaning in either a mental or material object. Under these conceptions, language appears to be constituted by a series of “remarkable act[s] of mind, as it were a baptism of an object.”13 Strictly speaking, the problem is that grammatical elements such as the word this demystify not only referential theories of meaning—­whether mental or natural—­but also, and especially, any negative conceptualization of the latter, as in the abovementioned case of the philosopher. This is where the problem of what Muraro calls the loss of phenomena is most acute. Meaning, and its lack thereof, are the result of a move that grammar may or may not allow. But it is not a thing—­or for that matter the thing itself—­of language. For instance, the lack of meaning is not a hidden (negative) God that rules the outside of sense, thus securing its cohesiveness. Wittgenstein writes: “When a sentence is called senseless, it is not as it were its sense that is senseless. But a combination of words has been excluded from the language, withdrawn from circulation.”14 Because there is no meaningful lack of sense, saying that something is senseless is not the same as saying that something is not red. The lack

-  24 -

Transcendence

of sense is simply shown through language and by the speakers’ specific context.15 Let me clarify the matter by using another of Wittgenstein’s examples. If instead of saying “bring me sugar” I say “milk me sugar,” my interlocutor may think that I am not proficient in English, or may just be utterly puzzled. Likewise, somebody who in the middle of the day hears the sentence “Now is evening” will certainly be confused. However, this startled reaction does not give any meaning to the sentence; that is to say, the meaning of the sentence is not the interlocutor’s reaction. As Wittgenstein says, “That does not mean that the utterance of this combination of words has no effect. And if its effect is that the other person stares at me and gapes, I don’t on that account call it the order to stare and gape, even if that was precisely the effect that I wanted to produce.”16 Furthermore, the setting forward of this kind of limit is not one that is unchangeable in nature; nor does it open a metaphysical split between what makes sense and what does not. The custom of creating frames that can be redefined—­that is to say interpreted—­is one that belongs precisely to the linguistic dimension. In the case of the sugar, for instance, we can imagine a situation—­perhaps during a theater workshop or an advertising campaign—­in which “milk me sugar” indeed makes sense. These are auroral moments when the bending of ordinary language pushes the intellect to a knowledge that senses self-­ actualization. In these moments, we understand the true horizon of language: immanence. So far I have examined the ways in which deictics illustrate the formalism of the masculine. The separation that fractures being and delegates power to the side of transcendence mirrors the linguistic breakdown that produces a referential theory of meaning, both in their positive (as mental or real) and negative (as pure universality or lack of sense) modes. This split powers the relentless phallic movement toward the (fantasized) object—­a movement that defines the Mosaic construct as well. Wittgenstein’s notion of limit, however, undercuts a phallic topology of meaning and the political theology that grows out of the masculine logic of separation. This is why, once he discloses the relations between the indexical and transcendence, Wittgenstein sets his eye on the bigger prize. In section 79 of Philosophical Investigations, he takes aims at the most intuitive case of deixis: the case of the proper name, for which he picks Moses. The patriarch represents the culmination of his



Transcendence

-  25 -

critique of reference because, as I mentioned, deictics embody a model for meaning that originates in the structure of the beyond, namely the masculine treatment of transcendence that marks sovereign power and its inexorable thirst for domination. The objective is thus to demystify the transitive nature of proper names, which, like indexes, are presumed to have a direct association with their meaning. As in the case of the grammatical element “now,” the philosophical trick is to change, once more, the name’s referent to show that meaning resides in a shared linguistic practice, not in the referential aspect of a definition or in the spiritual moment of its comprehension. We very well understand the sentence “Moses did not exist,” because negating the object, Moses, does nothing to the meaning of such a statement. Rather, this negation generates a wide array of meanings. It may challenge the historical existence of his figure or the belief that Israelites had one single leader, and so forth. This implies that the meaning of “Moses” is not designated by a fixed, precise entity—­nor, for that matter, by a set of descriptions that necessarily constitute the name Moses—­but, as Wittgenstein writes, “that I have, so to speak, a whole series of props in readiness, and am ready to lean on one if another should be taken from under me.”17 This is not the place to go into the debate regarding the theory of proper nouns.18 Suffice it to say that despite its utmost solemnity, the concept “Moses” is not something rigid or statuesque; it does not comprise a set of identifying markers that are posited in the name and stored in the mind of each speaker so that people know it at all times and so it may activate when in need. As Roberto Dionigi remarks, Moses finds his existence in the discursive domain. On the one hand, every “individual exists through the explanations that one gives regarding who one is.” On the other hand, “the discursive existence of the latter amounts to the authorization to circulate his or her name.”19 The political implications of this last point should not be underestimated; Moses is the name of names, after all. With this linguistic discussion, we find ourselves at the core of political theology—­or, to put it another way, at the core of the model for the articulation of transcendence via the Other. The organization of space according to this relationship with the Other—­who decides what is autochthonous and what is foreign, and who sanctions the circulation between the two—­is typical of the historical definition of Moses as the proper name. The Judeo-­ Christian tradition and its system of power thrive on it, reproducing a

-  26 -

Transcendence

way of thinking that is exclusionary and transitive. But Wittgenstein’s critique of the proper name Moses shows us how this position is only an effect of the masculine logic. Wittgenstein writes, “When one draws a boundary it may be for various kinds of reason. It may also be part of a game and the players be supposed, say, to jump over the boundary. So if I draw a boundary line that is not yet to say what I am drawing it for.”20 This banal statement is more profound than it seems. In Western thought, the limit is a conceptual black hole that sucks in many things. It may comprise the existential condition and the longing for a being beyond, or the relative parceling out of territory that prompts identity formation, or a political theory of sovereignty and the linguistic problem of reference, or, as in the case of Click to Pray, the self-­congratulatory compulsion to post an additional request for intercession. Figuratively speaking, Moses is the Other of the Other: the principle that establishes a topology articulated as a closed set—­or, as I argue, a cohesive class of elements that is uniformized by an external exception. In religious/political terms, the Other of the Other is the transcendent point of origin of authority, a power shrouded in the mystery of faith and firmly established in the interdiction of the maternal symbolic. In neopositivism, this form of transcendence takes a more benign and calculable shape: that of a complete infinity that is conceivable and quantifiable by a “mathematical Moses,” as Bertrand Russell once wrote.21 Although in this respect Moses is conceived of as a set of identifying markers, the repertoire of which constitutes the meaning of his name, the neopositivist approach is still based on a belief in the existence of some kind of Moses-­ness, only this elusive essence is more composite and combinatory than previous ones. Wittgenstein, however, departs from Russell’s and F. P. Ramsey’s perspective on Moses, whereby the proper name can be produced through a process in which the inquirer progressively closes in on a final definition. I would argue that Wittgenstein properly understands a point that Lacan makes regarding infinity and desire vis-­à-­v is the feminine position (as I will discuss, Lacan’s discovery consists in placing lack on the side of the Other).22 Wittgenstein thus avoids the pitfalls of relying on a positive or negative transcendence that incites the subject to move to the successive element in the series. His topology resonates with Muraro’s notion of the maternal continuum, one that also offers an immanent solution to the ultimate separation between meaning and the lack thereof. This



Transcendence

-  27 -

continuum is a place, as she writes, that “does not separate being and thought, and nourishes itself on the mutual interest and exchange between being and language.”23 Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language recognizes that we use concepts and names in an imprecise way, sometimes even without a fixed meaning. However, the indeterminate quality of a definition does not produce nonsense; nor does it disqualify it as a statement. Wittgenstein’s insights on Moses emphasize circulation, practices of attribution, and validation; they also inform our understanding of language games in which those denominations are accepted, denied, or reinvented. Moreover, it pushes the understanding of topology to a more fluid and immanent dimension. We should thus abandon a common depiction of the border as a monolithic wall or as a barrier that should be overcome (as in capitalism). Rather, we should see its more plastic, threshold nature.24 Similarly, the universality of certain elements, like the designator word this, is not a quality in itself. Rather, it displays itself in the use of language within the very field of language. This field is infinite not in the sense that it is limitless as a result of its extension, but in the sense that it is the only support we have; it is the only dimension of reality that we may populate. What demonstrative explanations—­but also orders and questions—­show is simply a model of application that may be effective in a specific linguistic context. Meaning is what happens (and what we publicly struggle for) in the course of our life as we produce sense and validate it out of the insubstantial fabric of language. Wittgenstein debunks the myth of transcendence by bringing into focus immanence as the proper linguistic and existential dimension. This is a point that I claim Freud ultimately makes when confronting the Great Man of the Judeo-­Christian tradition, and by extension of transcendence as well. As he unearths the mechanisms of the symbolic force of the Other, Freud breaks ground for its critique, particularly when his thought is complemented by Lacan’s intuitions. With this in mind, we may move from a linguistic to a symbolic analysis of the Mosaic construct. Freud’s Moses as the Structural Operator Moses is no ordinary name. As the founder of the three monotheistic religions—­and, as Freud has it, of the patriarchal order—­Moses occupies a particular symbolic space: that of origin as a substantial point of

-  28 -

Transcendence

exception. In this tradition of thought, Moses is the non-­Israelite who gives God’s law to the chosen people. Yet the mystery regarding his (actual, historical) existence—­the result of a lack of historical evidence—­ goes hand in hand with his illustriousness, making him “a figure of memory without history.”25 In the opening of Moses and Monotheism (1939), Freud confirms the point: “The man Moses . . . belongs to an age so remote that the preliminary question arises whether he was a historical person or a legendary figure.”26 We may pause to understand in what ways, according to Freud, Moses’s identity is related to a kind of unsteady constitution, which is an awkward way of envisioning the foundation of a political order. Strictly speaking, in delineating the cornerstone of a theory of sovereignty, Freud chooses to emphasize ambiguity and ambivalence rather than offer axiomatic definitions. As Samuel Weber writes, “Whenever proper nouns reinforce the expectation that what they name is self-­identical and unified, Freud finds splits and doubles, struggles and compromises.”27 Moses and Monotheism lays out the well-­k nown hypothesis that Moses was in fact an Egyptian dignitary and follower of Akhenaton, the pharaoh who promoted the first known monotheistic religion and who was also a symbol of the modern form of the empire. With the demise of Akhenaton, Moses fled Egypt, giving the law of the new cult to the Jewish people, who later killed him during an insurrection. His death took the form of a “trauma [that] would thus return in the form of a messianic hope that both confirms the initial deed and at the same time  .  .  . consummates it.”28 In delineating this trajectory, Freud famously writes that he feels like a “dancer balancing on one toe,” caught between historical data contemporarily available and psychoanalytic interpretations of the biblical tale—­not to mention other burdensome constraints, such as questioning the identity of the Jewish people at the time of Nazi persecution.29 But the tortuous path that Freud follows is perhaps due to something else: he is dealing with the notion of the limit. In other words, topology is the proper domain for interpreting and critiquing Moses as the mediator of theocratic monotheism. Freud is trying to think through a principle of order that affirms immanence and the relation with the other, just like Wittgenstein, who is not only correcting common misunderstandings regarding the proper name but also revealing the hidden political theology that lodges at the heart of modern theories of sovereignty.



Transcendence

-  29 -

A brief recap of Moses and Monotheism is needed. Freud begins by offering an interesting reversal of classic heroic narratives. In traditional accounts, the protagonist is born of noble origins and is usually saved by animals or humble people in order to be reestablished in his initial privileged position. These myths trace a path that goes from the extraordinary to the ordinary and then back to the extraordinary. This trajectory is typical of the family romance in which, Freud writes, “the myth in question traces this struggle back to the very dawn of the hero’s life, by having him born against his father’s will and saved in spite of his father’s evil intentions.” Freud continues: “When the imagination of a people attaches this myth to a famous personage it is to indicate that he is recognized as a hero.”30 Classic narratology calls this procedure agnition: the false initial humbling of the hero renders even more admirable the recognition of his greatness. In the psychoanalytic interpretation of Moses, however, the Egyptian and Israelite families become one. “The distinction is only a temporal one,” Freud notes, for nobility reflects a first moment (the movement to the extraordinary) of the child’s overidealization of the father, while the second one represents the more realistic moment of critique and autonomous growth (the movement to the ordinary).31 The final recognition of royal lineage eventually locates the (by now) grown-­up child in the position of the father, and consequently as that of the Great Man (the movement back to the extraordinary). But as is well known, Moses’s trajectory is different. Schematically, his story could be summarized as that of an individual of humble origins who is admitted to the royal court in order to become humble again. This twist for Freud is problematic. He thus refers to the oedipal structure to ground his argument. Freud maintains that Moses’s family is a phantasmic creation “invented by the myth in pursuance of its own motives,” rather than any real, historical, or original family.32 The motives are obviously the incorporation of Moses as the hero of the Jewish nation. But according to Freud’s family romance, it is not possible that from his initial powerless condition the child would take a disenchanted posture with regard to the father. In other words, the biblical story hides the fact that Moses was already Egyptian. Therein lies the final deviation from the standard myth. In the usual myths, the position of the father is homogeneous to that of his progeny or his subjects, but this is not the case for Moses. Rather, he is “in the strict sense, heterogeneous” to his people.33 He is other to the

-  30 -

Transcendence

nation he creates. By this token, the idea of heterogeneity as a point of origin of a system (or of a set) assumes the full meaning of a fissure in the one, and paradoxically that is what indirectly constitutes the one—­ what Jacques-Alain Miller calls “the sovereignty of the signifier ‘one.’”34 In the second part of the book, this figure gets duplicated as a second discovery emerges—­that of Moses’s famous and presumed murder, which Freud draws from speculations contained in Ernst Sellin’s Geschichte des israelitisch-­jüdischen Volkes (1924). If the first instance has to do with topology, then the second iteration can be interpreted along temporal lines. In fact, it involves the notion of Nachträglihkeit (unconscious temporality). Accordingly, after fleeing from Egypt during an uprising, “the savage Semites took their destiny into their own hands and did away with their tyrant.”35 Yet Moses’s prestige did not vanish, for he had a following, the Levites, who, Freud argues, were not a Semitic tribe but most likely “his nearest adherents, his scribes, his servants.”36 They preserved their master’s teachings, and eventually, a couple of generations later, they merged with other Jewish tribes in a region called Meribah-­Kadesh. Here a compromise took place that superimposed another deity—­a volcanic cult of Midian origins—­to the Mosaic God, one that combined the primitive (impulsive, vengeful) and the modern Egyptian elements (lawful universal order) of the two religions. As a result, Moses is “described as masterful, hot-­tempered, even violent, and yet it is also said of him that he was the most patient and sweet-­tempered of all men.”37 In the third part of the book, Freud once more recapitulates his argument and reveals the great relief he found in reading Sellin’s discovery.38 Freud’s uneasiness is not only due to the scandalous murder of Moses but also to Freud’s revelation that monotheism could not have come into existence thanks to the truth of Moses’s life alone. In Freud’s reflection, his murder and existence are necessary but insufficient conditions for the establishment of this particular genealogy. The killing of the Great Man must be connected to something more profound. It reactivates the mechanism instrumental to the process of hominization: that other famous assassination of the obscene father of the primal horde, which inaugurates civilization—­and which Freud had already laid out in Totem and Taboo (1913). The trace of this violent act is reflected in the totem, first as a resignification of the slain father and second in the symbolic animal—­and so on in higher degrees of abstraction until one



Transcendence

-  31 -

reaches divinity, at least in its modern forms. At this point we must ask two questions: Why bring to the table an ahistorical event in a genealogy that Freud construed as starting from historical facts? And why connect two murders that seem to be motivated by different reasons? Moses and Monotheism sometimes reads like a detective thriller, one where the protagonist wants to prove the impossible. Two assassinations, two different alibis: Moses gave the law to his people, and this is the reason for his elimination; or, the primal father reigned through chaos and libidinal excess, and the band of brothers had to kill him in order to institute civilization. The horde in fact established ex nihilo the symbolic law that governs the market in which “women are ‘products’ used and exchanged by men.”39 Still, the criminal case seems far from being closed. We may agree with Lacan, who humorously remarks that Freud’s story is incoherent, especially when one thinks about what happens with the primitive horde. Lacan notes, “The old daddy had the women all to himself, which already is incredible—­why would he have them all to himself?—­whereas there are other blokes around, nevertheless, perhaps they too might have their own little idea. They kill him.”40 Lacan implies that even in the twisted language of the myth, there is at least one serious contradiction. The killing of the obscene father is based on a death that formulates a symbolic framework out of nothing. According to this argument, “the right of men to enjoy equal sexual access to women” is mysteriously generated by an act that negates its previous order while presumably having been based on it.41 This new order spontaneously arises from nature. Lacan continues, “If it is true here that there can only be an act in a context already replete with everything involving the signifier’s effect. . . . There can be no act in the beginning, at least none that can be described as murder.” The latter is a highly significant action, one that includes an economy of knowledge of exogamy—­or, to say the least, an idea of what it may look like and how it may come to be. Hence, he concludes that “this myth can have no other sense here than . . . a statement of the impossible.”42 As such, Moses is simply a “structural operator”—­the structural operator of patriarchy.43 To return to Freud, the problem seems to be that of duration. In order to justify the persistence of the symbolism of the Mosaic God, Freud needs to refer to the myth of the primordial horde. The lost memory of this murder gets reactivated in the people, as Moses’s assassination provokes a sense of guilt and a series of rituals that are directly connected

-  32 -

Transcendence

to the creation of religion. Freud sustains this dialectic through the use of the unconscious as a latent repertoire of traces, but in so doing, he sometimes relapses into a neo-­Lamarckian psychologism where the trauma of the original murder is stored and passed down in the minds of generations of Israelites. One senses an all too easy linearity of cause and effect that is rarely present in Freud, and that other scholars have dismissed.44 By contrast, the unconscious follows the logic of a twisted temporality—­or, as Slavoj Žižek states, “The Freudian symptom is like a signal bearing a message that comes not, as one expects, from the ‘deeply buried’ past of ancient traumas, but from the (Subject’s) future.”45 Nachträglihkeit is a process in which it is not the unconscious that produces a symptom but rather its opposite: the symptom creates something that feeds the unconscious without ever emptying it out. The Gaze, the Phallus, and Sacrifice What lies behind Moses and Monotheism is Freud’s attempt to grasp the figure of Moses as a structural operator for the mediation of transcendence. Thus far I have not engaged in a direct discussion of transcendence; that is, I have not considered the role God plays in the relationship with the human. This sociosymbolic sphere is administered by an economy based on the Other’s desire. Let us now investigate how this economy works by analyzing its three key components: the gaze, the phallic order, and sacrifice. For Hebraism, the concept of the gaze is paramount, particularly when considering the prohibition of reproducing and worshiping God’s image—­one of the pillars of Mosaic Law. The Mosaic tradition places transcendence into a dimension of absoluteness that is different from the one assigned, for instance, by Christianity. Mosaic Law is strictly antitotemic and seems to be based on a process of idealization that deems its society more sophisticated, not only because it prohibits idols and sacred representation but also because it gives unprecedented expression to the unity of life. The paradox of Judaism is that by being iconoclastic, it unifies the gaze of the Other into one transcendent, mystical point of view—­one that is usually in an unconditional relation of power over the people. All the incongruities that emerge in the psychoanalytic discussion of Moses stem from the fact that he is the symbolic foreclosure of a structural problem. This is why we encounter a great deal of splitting and doubling in Freud, just



Transcendence

-  33 -

at the precise moments when he tries to trace everything back to the unity of Moses. This veritable topological trauma resembles the fundamental contradiction Claude Lévi-­Strauss finds at the root of myths. It is the aporia “between autochthony versus bisexual reproduction,” originally formulated as the irresolvable clash between a continuity of sameness in natural earthly terms and its negation in terms of difference, circulation, miscegenation, and death. The problem is then reformulated in Freud as the structural impossibility of “understanding how one can be born from two”—­or, as Lévi-­Strauss continues, “How is it that we do not have only one procreator, but a mother plus a father?”46 In our case, we should specify the issue in these terms: How is it that we do not have a father procreator, a kind of male self-­parthenogenesis? How is it possible that the universal subject is dependent on somebody else? Moses is the name for the solution to that impossibility; it operates through separation and severance as the foreclosure of the maternal continuum. Patriarchy does not tolerate a feminine autonomous subject; even in the case of procreation, it has always concocted ways to stage the masculine as the true creator. Let us not forget that in Aeschylus’s Oresteia, the true begetter is the man, while the woman is simply the nurse of the offspring.47 As an established national cult, Moses is thus the resolution that joins the Two into the One. He is the One of the elected people who are landless but divinely autochthonous. Moses guarantees the covenant as an iconoclastic pact that establishes a unified gaze.48 In both the Christian and pagan worlds, transcendence appears everywhere as the many gazes of the different divinities—­a s the holy trinity, as the saints, as the various types of Madonnas, as the guardian deities in Roman religion. But under iconoclastic monotheism, the divine eye has no eyelid. Furthermore, in Mosaic religion—­and to a greater degree than in Christianity—­the condensation of the divine omniscient gaze envelops transcendence in ways that have long-­lasting effects on the symbolic arrangement of the oneness of patriarchy. Because of this binding link to the absolute gaze of the Other, the Mosaic creed reduces the proliferation of images and other idols. It thus invests on a specific and successful figure of the woman, the phallic mother, who by being limited to something earthly ensures that the phallus desires the phallus in a more direct and rigorous fashion. Mario Mieli argues that this is precisely the reason for the “explicit prohibition on homosexuality . . .

-  34 -

Transcendence

contained in the books of Moses.” Capital punishment in this case is an attempt at ensuring “the preservation of the Hebrew national tradition, particularly that of monotheism,” which must defy any open intrusion in the hidden mechanisms that preside over the propagation of the sameness of the phallus.49 The phallus can desire itself only through the appropriate, different medium. Thus, the instrumentality of the phallic woman must be safeguarded, for, as Irigaray notes, women are “value-­invested idealities” enabling patriarchal homological economy.50 According to this symbolic regime, capital punishment for pederasts is fully explainable—­ and certainly less hypocritical than the one widely practiced under Christianity. On the one hand, by “openly interpret[ing] the law according to which society operates, they [homosexuals] threaten in fact to shift the horizon of that law.” But on the other hand, they also stubbornly attest to the value of physical pleasure. In a society based on prohibition and on the symbolic valorization of the phallus, however, “once the penis itself becomes a means to pleasure, pleasure among men, the phallus loses its power.”51 Homosexuality is a crime against the hidden law of value, and its retribution cannot fall short of its gravity.52 This phallic regime generates a constant imbalance also among those men who follow the logic of phallic valorization to the letter. The problem is that if the desire of the human father could be easily channeled toward the use of women as a vehicle, then things had always been less smooth when it came to the other father, or to the all-­powerful Father of every man (the Other). Most troubling was certainly the unfathomability of His desire. Here we return to the enigma of the divine desire and the ensuing logic of accountability that I mentioned at the beginning of this chapter when discussing online devotional practices. The solution to this enigma involves an act—­I will call it a sacrificial predisposition—­that neoliberal digitality exploits as well. The questions that hunt the devotee are these: How can one decipher that desire? How can one counter such an imbalance of force? How can one truly reciprocate the request by a transcendent entity? Primitive cultures, in general, keep at bay this anxiety by performing rituals that involve animals. Sacrifices are obviously a common practice, but consider also the roles animals play in myths of foundation. The establishment of Alba Longa, the first Trojan settlement in the Italian peninsula, is but one of many examples. Dionysius of Halicarnassus tells the story of how Aeneas let free a sow and followed her at a distance with a few of his



Transcendence

-  35 -

comrades. The Trojans knew that the sow must not be disturbed in her roaming because that would have interfered with the identification of the destination for the city. In this instance, the animal obviously is a stand-­in for a superior force. As a sacred entity, the Trojans “brought the sow with them from their motherland (Troy) as a totemic symbol (but probably also an onomastic one) of their ethnic continuity.”53 Hence a system of relationships and behaviors must be set in place to appease the mighty power of nature. The iconoclastic principle of the Mosaic Law is the force behind the tyrannical representation of God and the abyss of his desire in the Old Testament. (This depiction is certainly more logical and coherent than the opportunistic and transactional one sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church.) The response that this kind of otherworldly desire elicits is best illustrated by the story of Abraham because it offers a clear articulation of the matrix for the anxiety generated by the network of the desire of the Other. The famous biblical scene of Isaac’s sacrifice, as retold by Lacan via the commentary of an eleventh-­century rabbi, Rashi, is a good place to start. When Abraham learns from the angel that he is not there in order to immolate Isaac, Rashi has him say: What then? If that is what is going on, have I thus come here for nothing? I am at least going to give him a slight wound to make him shed a little blood. Would you like that?54

This is not a derogatory description of Abraham. Rather, as Lacan notes, it points to how we are bundled in the structure of desire of the Other. Abraham may offer the most treasured thing he has in life to appease God, but in a system in which exchanges follow a standard of measure, the immensity of God logically requires unbearable sacrifices. Because the angel interrupts the sacrifice in the name of God, Abraham feels that at least a little scratch is needed; something that secures a minimal covenant must be offered. As Lacan remarks, “Sacrificing one’s little boy to the local Elohim was quite common at the time—­a nd not only at the time, for it continued so late that it was constantly necessary for the Angel of the Name, or the prophet speaking in the name of the Name to stop the Israelites, who were about to start it up again.”55 Today we do not usually spill blood when pushed by the imperative to increase our

-  36 -

Transcendence

stats on our app of choice. But a genealogical look into the digital life of the neoliberal subject raises the question of the presence of a similar sacrificial logic, one that demands continuous commitment as a response to the depth of the will of the Other. Desire and the Name of the Father The Mosaic treatment of transcendence followed the principle of the reductio ad unum—­that is, it homogenized differences through the oneness of the divine with regard to three elements: the unification of the gaze, which is turned into one (unrepresentable) universal perspective; sexual difference, which is subsumed by the sameness of patriarchal homological economy; and the Other’s desire, whose unsettling force is placated through sacrifice as the fulfillment of a contractual obligation. The last point needs to be further elaborated because it is not immediately clear why such violence must ensue from these practices. There seems to be a sort of impersonal force at work that drives the symbolic economy of sacrifice—­a force that will take us back to the issues of language and desire, and to Moses himself. This in turn will cast light on how the phallic inaugurates and nurtures a specific topology based on Lacan’s notion of the Other of the Other. Rituals involving human bloodshed are not savagery in the sense of a return to animal instinct; rather, they represent an all-too-human characteristic that Lacan as well as Deleuze and Guattari link to the economy of desire.56 Specifically, Deleuze and Guattari elaborate on an originary form of writing or inscription on the body itself. According to them, the act of carving a sign into the flesh is a movement of acculturation that distinguishes humans from animals. Mutilation, manipulation of body parts, and atrocious torture are not devious mechanisms of social control based on terror but rather something deeply intertwined with the process of alienation and desire itself: “Cruelty is the movement of culture that is realized in bodies and inscribed on them, belaboring them.”57 Human corporality is a form of coding that produces gestures and rituals, but also material incisions on the flesh and subsequently volitions. This kind of bodily writing captures and creates emotional intensities. When the sign emerges, desire appears as well: “The sign is a position of desire.”58 The very act of coding is part of the production, which is both material and spiritual, and thus of desire as production. This language written in blood is a “memory of the spoken word.”59



Transcendence

-  37 -

These processes can be seen at work in the movement of desire as it flows through the individual and the collective, then points toward a beyond—­toward the unrepresentable of God. Transcendence here comes into play again, with the sign’s being precisely that material limit that points beyond itself. This limitless dimension can be approached through what Lacan calls “the function of circumcision in the economy of desire.”60 This economy is precisely that of the Other—­or in better terms the desire from elsewhere. Circumcision is the corporeal intervention that addresses desire via a ritual that “gives a sign of a covenant between the people and the desire of he who has chosen them.”61 Hence the need for the intervention of the angel, which mitigates anxiety as the response to the desire that comes from the beyond, a kind of benign reterritorialization that saves the slashing of the bodies in exchange for a tiny flap of skin. For Lacan, this illustrates the deep mechanism of the objet petit a as the piece of flesh that has fallen and that becomes a placeholder for the relationship with plenitude.62 Under the Mosaic function, the movement of objet a becomes a sacrificial habit, as well as a necessary one, for the unconditional desire of the supreme being is always looming and can manifest itself with a singular force that is pure and unavoidable.63 Within Christianity, one notices a transformation—­ due to the coming of God’s son on earth—­that reestablishes a dualism where Judaism held firmly onto a kind of unity whence the abyss of God leaves the Israelites with their earthly deeds. Still, the sacrificial is the underlining logic of the Judeo-­Christian tradition. No wonder the name Moses has such a prominence in philosophy.64 The stakes are high because we are discussing a primal moment when the chain of the signifiers is inaugurated. And when I say “primal,” I am indicating a persistent phenomenon, not some specific point in time—­a structural element that presumably makes us as human today as in the Neolithic. The signifier is the anthropogenic mechanism that constructs desire via the Other. With the Mosaic complex, we cast light on the particular function that shapes subjectivity according to the desire of the other intended as the unknowable beyond, for as Alain Badiou observes, “Jewish discourse is a discourse of exception, because the prophetic sign, the miracle, the election designate transcendence as that which lies beyond the natural totality.”65 In this case, transcendence takes the shape of the Other of the Other. Moses is the proper name because it is the name of the Father; it is a function that regulates life

-  38 -

Transcendence

through an infinite totality. Let me simplify things. If Moses is the Other who constituted the Israelites, then the enabler of that act, Yahweh, is the Other of the Other. But the foundation of Western thought that originates from this matrix is flawed because it is based on a crucial omission. The Other, as Lacan writes, “is characterized as lack.”66 A universal exception that institutes the group as a coherent set is a fantasy. The desire of the Other is thus unfillable not because the subject cannot catch up to its infinity but because there is no Other of the Other. There is no external substance—­or, at a linguistic level, there is no metalogical presupposition. Under the Mosaic function and its desiring structure, however, the opposite is true. The formula that summarizes this position is that of the barred subject, a subject that is caused by objet a: $—­a . As Lacan remarks, “This reminder, this ultimate Other, this irrational entity, this proof and sole guarantee . . . of the Other’s otherness, is the a.” It is “the fantasy, support of my desire,” that stands “on the side of the Other.”67 Wittgenstein concurs in his analysis of proper names as he denounces and liquidates any transcendent authority for language (what Lacan calls the Other’s otherness), illuminating instead the immanence of the plane of life, or what Muraro calls the symbolic order of the mother. Moses is the structural operator that names the exclusion of that order, thus engendering a logic of continuous sacrifice. Against the Mosaic complex, the immanence of the plane of life is the continuum that Muraro discovers in the other (feminine) original function that ties us to language. That is, the symbolic order of the mother is a living nexus of relations between language and being, thought and reality. In opposition to that, the history of Western reason bears testimony to how the name of the Father incessantly operates to erase the name of the Mother through a structural exclusion (typical of political theology) that achieves coherence via repression. But the maternal symbolic is the real ontoepistemological relation that gives us access to language and humanizes us. It is the matrix that lives underneath the severing and exclusionary mechanisms generated by masculine transcendence, where object “a” foments a continuous dynamism that produces boundaries in order to overcome them. Against the grain of standard Lacanian interpretations, I attribute the movement of object “a” to a specific male-­patriarchal imaginary, a detrimental approach to reality that is crucial to our network culture as well. The question here



Transcendence

-  39 -

is, in what ways does the Mosaic model still rule the symbolic economy of neoliberalism? Neoliberal digitality transfigures the name of the Father by repressing its regulatory and limiting prerogatives as well as by immanentizing transcendence. Still, neoliberalism follows a masculine logic and structures reality around the idea of a beyond—­and that beyond may turn around and look back or even desire back, just as in the case of Abraham. Under neoliberal digitality, the secular subject responds to this call in a self-­valorizing fashion that is different from established sacrificial methods. Click to Pray illustrates the point. Traditionally, the mechanical nature of the ritual—­say, when we light a candle in a church—­welcomes the impersonal and detached involvement of the believer. Robert Pfaller, who studies the psychology of mechanical rituals, argues that “the objective belief that is at work in ritual renders superfluous the ‘subjective,’ personal belief of the religious believer” because it is up to the medium itself to do the work. “When objective belief is there (thanks to a ritual medium),” he writes, “the religious subject can go away,” and that’s what we do when we let the candle burn and go about our business.68 Social media, though, does not want us to leave. Platforms operationalize (i.e., attach a numerical value to) something unquantifiable, like faith, and reshape it according to a neatly organized ecosystem that spurs continuous engagement. Colorful diagrams and emoticons capture the infinite structure of the beyond by offering a space that works insofar as it follows precise parameters. At the human level, the result is not the traditional form of depersonalization but rather the engineering of a belabored subject, and more specifically a subject defined by the efficacy of its infinite task. The worshiper might simply click or type, but it is not the medium that is doing the work anymore. The need to see the stats improve, and the satisfaction engendered by that accomplishment, is immediately followed by the imperative to do better, constituting a loop that prohibits idleness and expands itself along the lines of self-­valorization. The platform farms all this activity, all this living labor, as I will discuss in detail in chapter 5, in the form of data, which can be stored, analyzed, and exchanged. So far I have discussed how, by negating the maternal continuum, the Mosaic system constitutes a topological structure (the Other of the Other) that produces the dynamism of objet a and the need to engage in continuous sacrifices. Mutating from the ancient practice of circumcision

-  40 -

Transcendence

to today’s incessant clicking on a screen, this sacrificial disposition mobilizes our wired world. The last element I want to examine in this chapter is sublimation, a concept that is at the root of the Mosaic prohibition of images. When read through Wittgenstein’s analysis, sublimation displays a considerable oppositional value against the phallic approach in both its early modern and hypermodern versions. Sublimation paves the way for a better critique of the reasons for our webometric-­ based life, particularly for the status of knowledge in the age of online searches that I discuss in the next chapter. To anticipate my conclusion, Wittgenstein and Freud converge in delineating the proper temporality of discovery and achievement of knowledge. Cesare Casarino writes that ultimately, “one does not discover X [knowledge] but, rather, one discovers that X had been there always already even though it is its discovery that nonetheless actualizes and materializes X.”69 Finding does not mean possessing; it is not a subjective forward-­moving affirmation. Rather, it is a form of acknowledgment marked by the temporality of the unconscious, which is in contrast to the experience we make when gleaning information on the Internet. Sublimation and Finding the Right Word Moses and Monotheism defines the constructive role played by the idea of sublimation as a process of “subordinating sense perception to an abstract idea.”70 This delaying mechanism is the basis for the civilizing work of repression. Freud argues that the effect of the prohibition of images produces “a triumph of spirituality over the senses; more precisely an instinctual renunciation accompanied by its psychologically necessary consequences.”71 However, sublimation is not exactly the displacement and substitution of the “cruder, carnal” object of satisfaction for “a more respectable or refined pleasure.”72 Instead, idealization is a process that abstracts and doubles what is desired into its conceptual object. Conversely, sublimation does not generate its object. It thus resembles more the desire than the drive. As Samo Tomšicˇ notes, desire is associated with the metonymic because it does “not know what it want[s] . . . the drive, however, ‘knows’ what it wants. It is fixated on the object.”73 What is this object? Simply, it is surplus—­or in Tomšicˇ’s words, “the infinitization of satisfaction, which is to say, its impossibility and endless perpetuation.”74



Transcendence

-  41 -

Our engagement with the digital marks the waning of idealization, a time-­honored instrument of social disciplining that was predominant before our hypermodern times. Idealization is based on implicit prohibitions and sets of limits, which then work out a regulation of society by way of renunciation. Under this system, the notion of the limit is directly related to the “symbolic foreclosure (the father as an empty position).”75 It defines a typical patriarchal topology, which, as the case of Moses shows, has a direct relation to jouissance qua “the pure erotic bliss of the father viewed as primordial.”76 In such a distribution of space, the limit, as I argued earlier, takes up the duplicative form of a border between inside and outside. The oedipal follows this spatial articulation; in fact, what lies beyond becomes precisely what is prohibited.77 Many scholars, including myself, agree that the advent of post-­Fordism dissolved the regulatory system of patriarchy and replaced it with another system based on a libidinal injunction—­hence the present liquidation of idealization and the emergence of a symbolic mechanism that structures society along the lines of the all-­expansive and valorizing logic of the drive. The drive is the true motor of our e-­realities, not desire. But before I turn to that topic, I want to expound on the idea of sublimation. The underlining argument I am making here and throughout the rest of the book is that in the proper understanding of sublimation, we grasp an alternative to the formalism of the Other of the Other and its current neoliberal mutation. This is particularly important because neoliberal digitality not only nullifies idealization but also perverts sublimation. The symbolic economy of these digital interactions magnifies and optimizes a modality of “finding” that is recursive and objectless (and thus also excessive), whereas sublimation consists in an open-­ended but also finitizing and immanent movement, one marked by the dynamics of the unconscious. Similar to desire, sublimation does not look for an object per se but only finds one—­or, rather, must constantly find one. This is not a senseless activity but instead a process by which one does not exactly search for something but rather finds it. Sublimation is therefore related to the grammar of finding. From this perspective, Freud and Wittgenstein may again be put into conversation. In discussing the aesthetic dimension of poetic interpretation, Wittgenstein asks himself, how “do I find the right word? [ . . . ] I go on looking. At last a word comes: That’s it! Sometimes I can say why. This is simply what searching, this is what

-  42 -

Transcendence

finding, is like here.”78 Yet it is also true that I cannot state that the word I found is the one I was searching for. In fact, had I known beforehand what I was looking for, it would have been pointless to search for it. Thus, I cannot really say that I have found the word I was searching for, because the opposite is true; I was properly searching for only what I have found. What I find, when I find the right word, is that it is right.79 The verb “looking for” belongs to the language game that consists in comparing something to something else. This is the case when we are asked to look for something that has specific characteristics. Say I work in a hardware store and my superintendent asks me to retrieve a hacksaw. He could provide me with a reference point, like a picture or a description, for me to use as I go about my search. In this specific instance, I would have a repertoire at my disposal that I could use when making my comparison. But in the language game that consists of finding the right expression, what is at stake is the accuracy of an expression within a specific context, like when I want to sum up the character of a person in a single word. The act of finding is yet another instance where we seem to need something external—­something toward which language necessarily gestures and from which meaning is acquired. Obviously external reality is still significant; yet the meaning of our utterances does not rely on that reference. Reality is what informs us if our statements are true or not. All the rest occurs within the ever-­expanding but immanent confines of the linguistic. In other words, there is nothing metalogical in the essence of language. In finding the right word, it is as if language has shrunk to a maximum point of exactitude. The movement is intensive, not outward toward the object. The deep grammar of finding is not transitive, insofar as it does not work as a selection process where the object is doubled as it is imagined and thus known beforehand. Nonetheless, something is found that was previously absent. Think of the common expression “the word is on the tip of my tongue.” The meaning of this expression seems to imply that something is, at least in part, missing. Wittgenstein pokes fun at William James when he writes, “James, in writing on the subject, is really trying to say—­‘what a remarkable experience: the word is not there yet, and yet in a certain sense is there,—­or something is there, which cannot grow into anything but this word’—­ but this is not an experience at all. Interpreted as lived-­experience it does indeed look odd.”80 Yet the meaning of an expression is neither a



Transcendence

-  43 -

lived experience nor a fact of consciousness, which is something that accompanies language. Nor is its definition and/or explanation a fact of consciousness. Definitions and explanations relate to specific linguistic situations. As Wittgenstein notes, “An explanation serves to remove or avert a misunderstanding.”81 Similarly, the expression “the word is on the tip of my tongue” should not be confused with a factual yet absurd statement: the word is somewhere in my mouth and it must only be uttered. The reality is that finding this word means activating the looped temporality of the unconscious. To clarify the conundrum, Wittgenstein uses a counterfactual statement that shows the logical necessity implied in the verb “to find.” These kinds of expressions “are followed by finding the word. (Ask yourself: what would it be like if humans never found the word that was on the tip of their tongue?)”82 But the fact that humans do find words should not mislead us into believing that this logical temporality is transitive. By reframing the grammar of finding according to the different temporality of sublimation that I discussed, one may argue that the word is not actually hidden inside the subject, ready to be retrieved from some cerebral data bank. This action is not, in other words, the result of Platonic remembering. Furthermore, the word is not in the past; nor can it be said to be in the future. Hence, it is neither the result of a calculation—­let’s say a progressive skimming of other options—­nor the creation of the new as the outcome of a quantitative progression—­the way we form green by adding blue to yellow. Allow me to reiterate Wittgenstein’s point for emphasis: when I find the right word, the only possible thing that I find is that it is right. Finding is logically intransitive, and once it happens, a topology emerges, what Wittgenstein calls the “field of force of a word.”83 There are no zones of nonadherence in this topology. The remarkable consequence of linguistic immanence is that what seems to be a doubling of language—­a nd its relative bending toward metalanguage—­is an essentialization of a common expression. As a consequence, the supposed transcendental nature of the I—­that is to say, the idea that the mind as it thinks has a private interior experience of thinking—­is but a distortion of common emphatic utterances that have nothing to do with a critical analysis of subjectivity. They are not descriptions of a mental state, just like a statement such as “war is war” is not a description of the identity principle. As Wittgenstein remarks, “I know what

-  44 -

Transcendence

I want, wish, believe, feel . . . (and so on with all psychological verbs) is either philosophical non-­sense, or at any rate not a judgment a priori.”84 This means that as a condition of possibility for knowledge, these statements are properly illogical because they purportedly reach out to some interior grounding for language that simply does not exist. That is, they summon another form of transcendence. Obviously we can imagine situations in which these utterances are used in ordinary language. For instance, when held accountable for my behavior, I might rebuke my interlocutor by saying, “I know very well what I want.”85 What is at stake in such a declaration is a linguistic use that is emphatic and extensive rather than intensive or self-­reflective. This game does not open the door to some mysterious cerebral transcendence. The problem lies in avoiding the metaphysical passage into reality and the mental. In this transmission, it is as if an “event, already pre-­formed, were standing outside the door of reality, and then entered into reality when it occurred.”86 But the opposite is true: “Expectation and event make contact in language.”87 The first implication of this point is that the mental experience is not the semantic referent that gives sense to language; the second is that language is not an empty form that erases experience but rather something that endows experience with all its possible operability.88 In The Big Typescript, Wittgenstein returns to what it means to find a correct expression. The goal for philosophy, he states, is to be cured through and of language by clarifying the “physiognomy of every error.”89 The issue of errors is paramount because, just like with the lack of meaning, one may instinctively essentialize it. One may say that by studying mistakes, patterns may be found that point to a discrepancy between the conventional impositions of language and the hidden and more authentic dimension of human life. Hence, one could formulate a supergrammar that is friendlier (as it were) because it is more similar to our natural language. In this case, we can again see how the translation from the mental to the linguistic is the common conception of language, as if every human were a nonnative speaker constantly thinking in one language while speaking another. Speaking would thus be a continuous effort in locating the homologous expression of the true language. But we should not confuse the fashionable idea of being foreign in one’s own language with Wittgenstein’s actual argument. We are not foreign because our interior self is made of private sensations, thoughts, and



Transcendence

-  45 -

ideas that are different from language. We are foreign because there is nothing internal that needs to be translated into something external. The intervention of the signifier produces this result: we are not whole, which means that all we are is that exteriority. This is why Wittgenstein argues the opposite of what is commonly believed to be true: “I can know what someone else is thinking, not what I am thinking.”90 What does it mean that I cannot know what I am thinking? On its face, this is an absurd proposition. But taking the first part of the sentence, the more intuitive “I can know what someone else is thinking” is a good place to begin. The private thoughts of anybody may be communicated, even guessed (if one is good at interpreting certain exterior behaviors, or if the person is known well by the interlocutor). Privacy, in other words, is communicable. There is nothing surprising in this; it is an activity that we constantly engage in. If somebody asks me how I knew how he felt when I saw him, I can proffer all sorts of explanations: blushing, stuttering, nervous tics, talking about it afterward.91 The problem with the verb “knowing” is that it seems to work as a miraculous epiphany. However, the meaning of knowing is never a cerebral instantaneous event. Now consider the part of the statement that Wittgenstein deems absurd: “I can know what I am thinking.” This sentence does not mean that I am able to talk to myself—­which is a perfectly normal activity, I might add. Because of its privacy and veracity, though, soliloquy is taken as a model of the mind, but we cannot know properly what we think; that is to say, there is no public arena in our mind for the kind of validation that is commonly associated with the grammar of the verb “to know.” When I say “I know it,” I am expected to prove what I know by using descriptions, explanations, or definitions, or by doing something—­a nd that does not occur in the private quarters of my mind. “I can know what I am thinking” is an illogical impossibility, a non-­sense. Soliloquy, however, provides an interesting case for the argument against the private nature of language. “I can know what I don’t know” precisely because I can find it in language—­that is, because I can know what others think. For instance, in talking to myself, I can take somebody else’s point of view and find an explanation, or I can create a definition that previously I didn’t have. But it is the collective and social dimension of language that enables me to explain, define, or state something.

-  46 -

Transcendence

Having undercut the mystification of knowledge as something interior, hidden, and instantaneous, let us return to the more intuitive case of finding the right word in a dialogical situation because this type of finding sets sublimation apart from its neoliberal mimicry. Wittgenstein writes: “For only if he acknowledges it as such, is it the correct expression (Psychoanalysis). What the other person acknowledges is the analogy I am proposing to him as the source of his thought.”92 Notwithstanding Wittgenstein’s general spite for the discipline, we get an interesting insight into psychoanalytic discourse. The intervention of the other (not the transcendent Other) is crucial. As in the case of error, another intuitive reaction to the intervention of the other could be that one is in fact reintroducing a kind of reference, perhaps one akin to that established by the name of the Father. Yet Wittgenstein seems to be saying that the correct expression is effective only insofar as somebody else recognizes the latter as his own way of feeling it.93 Validation is a fundamental process of understanding what comprehension qua aesthetic judgment consists of. But this validation is not one that follows the model of veridiction, like when we are discussing a fact that may or may not be the case. Nor is there some kind of truth on one side that is forcefully imposed by the other. This relationality does not resemble the symbolic dependence to the authority of a transcendent figure (the Other of the Other). On the contrary, what we begin to delineate here is a way of thinking about the intersubjective dimension of the unconscious where the various agents in the exchanges are radically desubjectivized. As Tracy McNulty points out, the psychoanalytic setting is one where “the subject’s position is determined by . . . not wanting to know anything about” the malaise, and that is what “precludes any examination of the fantasy structuring his or her symptoms and relations with others.”94 The analyst thus occupies the position of the other, but not as the seeker of some truth. The analyst is not a surgeon who, as it were, individuates a malign formation in our body and extracts it. Rather, the psychoanalyst throws back at the patient the “desire to know about what causes the subject,” something that “is necessary to solicit the response of the unconscious in the form of signifiers attesting to another knowledge (or savoir) about the subject’s encounter with the Real of the drives.”95 This response is purely linguistic. What was explicit but not formulated clearly or consciously is exteriorized, and a certain language game emerges that may be more freely played without being



Transcendence

-  47 -

simply suffered as an automatic mechanism. In the talking cure, it is “language itself that turns into a healing agent.”96 The same can be said for the classic case of somatization. The patient is in pain, but here we are not looking for a bodily cause. Instead, Richard Carvalho argues, it is important to follow the symptoms: “Where sensation is too intense, as in physical pain of sufficient intensity or traumatic overload, [verbal] elaboration is blocked, somewhat like a frozen computer.”97 What happens during the session is not so much the revelation of some hidden secret but rather the linguistic shaping of contents. If the psychoanalyst is good at reframing the issues at stake and at opening new spaces of operation—­or what Wittgenstein calls analogies—­then it can be considered a success. Once more, we should refrain from seeing this verbalization as a denotation that attaches meaning to language. What takes place is a process of othering of language where correctness finds its criterion not in the most intimate expression or in the compliance with a transcendent norm, but rather in the impersonal dimension of language. In describing the grammar of finding the right expression, Wittgenstein calls it the “field of force of a word.” This is the continuum that cultivates immanence. The most effective therapy is one in which language achieves a certain material density and where elocutions become meaningful precisely as thick linguistic materials over which we have little mastery. The truth of this language resides in the fact that it cannot be immediately instrumentalized and valorized. This is the clearing where we begin “to think of the thing of language as a pure exterior which is nevertheless not an object,” where we encounter the “experience of (self-­) exteriority” as a form of active and knowing passivity.98 But this ecstatic dimension runs counter to the fluidity and perpetual motion solicited by neoliberal digitality or, better still, by the modernized version of the Mosaic complex qua the digital beyond. As I observed in the case of prayer apps and platforms, the datafication of devotional practices does not point to passivity and exteriority but rather the opposite. It manufactures a pragmatic image of the self. Endowed with a laser-­ sharp sense of interiority, this subject is fully committed to action, well organized in all his multitasking activity, and driven by the goal of the growth of the informational value of his liturgies.

This page intentionally left blank

Chapter 2

Knowledge Online Fee-­Ding as the Solution to Meno’s Paradox

On Friday evening, my phone buzzes. It’s a push notification from a cooking website with a recipe for bibimbap. In the meantime, my wife receives an alert from Facebook Memories—­pictures of friends we haven’t seen in a while. Suddenly what was not even a vague intention turns into a firm idea: meet up with our friends over a Korean meal. Google gives us a dizzying list of restaurants in the vicinity, so we scan hits from the first page of the search and undemocratically offer only those places for deliberation to our friends on our WhatsApp chat group. For a solid hour, we exchange texts and voice messages, along with countless emoticons, until we finally pick a place and a time. Decisions regarding the menu, the prices, the setting (lots of pictures), the quality of food and service (reviews and more pictures), times of operation and average waiting time (charts laid out in the default blue color), or how to get there (maps) are all addressed during the chat, as they are readily available by simply Googling the place. Google even informs me of the last time I went to that restaurant, and it helps me reserve a table. The last step is sharing the location so that nobody will get lost, but if I really wanted to maximize our time, I could also use an app like Find Friends, which allows me to know exactly where everyone is and calculate approximate arrival times. Consider how search engines have changed the classic conceptualization of the index by repressing its supposed structural emptiness or narrow reference to reality that I discussed in chapter 1. The deictic—­in our case, the “there” used to indicate the Korean restaurant—­has now morphed into a bourgeoning positive universal concept pace Hegel. An ever-­g rowing quantum of data in tantalizing colors fills up the void of the index. That reality, which, as Agamben writes, “one believed it could immediately embrace in the gesture of demonstrating,” is actually submerging the user in an excess of data.1 This kind of informational

-  50 -

Knowledge

overflow has transformed not only indexical reality but also the very status of the fact of knowledge—­the thing that we pursue in the world or that is the object of desire. In the abovementioned case, for instance, one is left to wonder whether a set of algorithms had secretly conspired to organize a casual Friday night, or whether these electronic oracles offered what I actually wanted before I knew it. And then, post factum, how was my knowledge of that experience reformulated and expanded, or should I say operationalized? In other words, how was it endlessly recreated following parameters that have hardly anything to do with it (reviews, ratings, and other customer satisfaction measurements)? If on the one hand the deictic is saturated by the computational power of geolocalization, then on the other, the object of knowledge is serialized by its digital reproduction. The neoliberal subject seems to inhabit a linguistic and epistemological territory that is fundamentally different from the earlier modern kind. The statement of Wittgenstein that I discussed in chapter 1, “I know what I want, wish, believe, feel . . . is . . . philosophical non-­sense, or at any rate not a judgment a priori,” has de facto turned into a judgment a priori, only of a digital kind.2 As long as I have reception and a smartphone, I know what I want because my phone is providing me a customized selection of choices ranked according to my past queries and my peers’ tastes. The relationship between interiority and object choice is redefined according to the computational power of platforms that have carefully profiled me and other users by calculating what I am truly looking for. There are profound consequences for the kind of epistemology the neoliberal subject adopts, for this specific type of digitality influences not only daily practice but also self-­perception and various positions vis-­à-­v is reality held by the subject. The infrastructure of our existence is at stake because a specific biopolitics is at work here that invests both lived experience and transcendence, manipulating them through and through. This does not imply that transcendence has simply vanished into the thin air of electronic afterimages. On the contrary, the beyond is still here. It is filled with a sensory allure, subsumed and molecularized, thus producing an absorption effect that swallows individuals and converts them into algebraic agents. In the following pages, I will discuss the meaning of what I call the process of molecularization as produced by neoliberal digitality by relating it to the predominance of the death drive, especially in North American



Knowledge

-  51 -

society. Likewise, the notions of molecularization and the death drive fundamentally redefine the status of knowledge (remarkably, in light of the use of search engines such as Google) and the very grammar of verbs like “to find,” which I considered in the previous chapter. This redefinition is marked by a process of valorization that I call fee-­Ding, a pun on the word feedback that refers to the system of obligations through which the Other exerts its power in a hypertechnological age. Fee-­Ding is also the neoliberal solution to the paradox of knowledge as formulated in Plato’s dialogue Meno (380 BCE). For some, bringing together Plato and Google may seem blasphemous. But, as in the case of Moses, I ask the reader to be mindful of the fact that today’s phenomena are organically connected to the past of our civilization, and only by looking at deeper continuities with the past can we fully understand the present. The Undead, the Death Drive, and Molecularization When describing the functioning of the death drive in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), war plays a particularly significant role in Freud’s thought. For instance, he refers to the hero of Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme Liberata (1581), Tancredi, who twice unwittingly kills his lover, Clorinda. The first time is in battle, while she is disguised as an enemy knight, and the second occurs as Tancredi cuts down a tree in a magical forest. The branch bleeds out her voice, which laments “that he has wounded his beloved once again.”3 But it is obviously the traumatic effects on soldiers coming back from the horror of World War I that prompted Freud’s discovery of the death drive. The apparent lack of any organic cause for these fixations or neuroses pushed him to theorize the existence of a new primary event that transcended the pleasure principle as the basis for the biological and psychological life of humans. This event is characterized by a “repetition carried along with a yield of pleasure of another sort,” an “impulse to work over in the mind some overpowering experience so as to make oneself master of it.”4 In the case under consideration, a more modest example other than epic Renaissance literature may be used to explain the inner working of neoliberalism and its relation to the death drive. Let us consider the success of a TV series such as The Walking Dead (2010–­) by Frank Darabont. This show illustrates a clear shift in the symbolism of zombies in popular culture since their first appearance

-  52 -

Knowledge

in the 1960s, at the peak of Fordist industrial society. Beginning as a reminder of colonial or proletarian violence, zombies have since developed into today’s algebraic representations, where they embody naturalized variables in the postapocalyptic scenario typical of obstacle games. Shows like The Walking Dead are built on what Seb Franklin calls “the switching-­circuit-­as-­narrative . . . driven by a logic of permutation,” which has a lot to do with the gaming allure they display. In that context, “a single frame, line of dialogue, or word . . . can function as a switch that transforms the significance and structural function of what came before it.”5 It is normal to see characters moving from the role of antagonists to deuteragonists in the blink of an eye, for the dependence on this kind of narrative ploy mirrors the importance of other widespread automatisms such as the iterability of actions (commands) for a player. The pleasure that surges while watching these series is reminiscent of the thrill of early video games such as Commando, a Capcom arcade game from the mid-­1980s. In this run-­and-­g un setting, players must clear a path in an environment populated by enemies popping up at not-­so-­unpredictable moments. Remarkably, the repeated execution of walking cadavers turns into the source of entertainment in itself, a kind of mass killing built on the cumulative excitement for the logic of the always more—­more head smashing, more bullets in the forehead, more gore. Another typical constant for these formats is a high-­pressure emotional situation that inevitably leads to life-­or-­death decisions: whom do I kill, sacrifice, or trust? Zombie series reflect Jane Elliott’s thesis regarding predominant narratives under neoliberalism. She argues that mainstream novels codify the neoliberal subject as an entity that is placed before extreme choices, constituting himself as a “suffering agency” caught in an endless production loop of ethical decisions, which are then limited by a strict combinationary game of sort. She writes that the neoliberal personhood is constituted by an interlocking series of seemingly indisputable propositions regarding human behavior. This chain of assumptions and equivalences posits interiority as the possession of interests; interests as the motivation for choice; choice as the engine of action; chosen action as measure of agency; and agency as a sign of personhood.6



Knowledge

-  53 -

From this perspective, the subject turns into an atomized entity that exists only to the extent that he risks his life according to a binary code of action. The purpose of this system, which is essentially based on recursivity, is to generate permutable options. It is a circuit that administers and shapes a type of subjectivity that drifts into the molecular dimension of the algebraic. I borrow the idea of molecularization from Jordy Rosenberg, who studies this tendency in the realm of theory.7 This process reduces the subject’s perception to the microscopic, to the endless becoming and movement of molecules. Think about my restaurant-­ selection example. It is as if digitality needs to reconstruct an object of desire (the specific restaurant) that is always out of scale, reshaped by the logic of the always more of the feedback loop. Once it is datafied, the object is too big—­too many options, too many reviews—­but also too small—­t he experience cannot be fully lived, as it is constantly broken down into observable and measurable details (smiley rating images, location posts, etc.). Molecularization is a prism that recreates reality as an infinite series of data points so that the subject is incessantly engaging with his infinite sequence. The combinatory effect ensnares the subject into a logic of excess that is typical of the death drive. Molecularization is not bad in itself. The problem is that it has a normative function in the digital model. Molecularization is aligned with the neoliberal emphasis on fluidity, or subitaneous changes and branchings off that multiply opportunities for valorization and new states of being. Through this particular form of temporalization—­one that, I argue, mainstream digital devices tend to generate—­Rosenberg maintains that “we turn from subjectivity as a social mediation of historical forces, to time, affect, and molecular matter as the direct impress of vital forces and, moreover, of value itself.”8 The relation between value and the molecular is paramount for the definition of any subjectivity under the neoliberal order. On the one hand, the endless movement of valorization mimics the molecular dynamism of life, channeling it toward the accumulation of profit. On the other hand, by being defined as human capital, subjectivity deploys itself in a purely circulatory, incremental fashion. By becoming a function of capital’s exchange and growth, subjectivity molecularizes itself, thus turning into a simple indicator of valorization. Zombie films and TV shows magnify a theory of the subject that neoliberal discourse is fond of repeating: we are nothing more than human

-  54 -

Knowledge

capital that must be accrued. This point may explain neoliberalism’s recent mutations, which dismiss its original benign and optimistic image at both its peripheries and its core. Neoliberalism with a human face was based on government through freedom, or through what Michel Foucault calls the liberogenetic mechanisms of modern governmentality.9 Today’s turn to a more aggressively authoritarian mode of governmentality preserves the supposed agency of human capital as the rapacious will to survive at any cost. Both options are deeply ingrained in capitalism and explain the control it exerts over subjectivity. The nourishing of this specific kind of individualism is a direct effect of the “mass personalized media, the networks of mobile phones, wifi, social media, and mass distraction through which we circulate our feelings and opinions in ways that make us feel important, engaged, political.”10 Behind this bootstrapping mentality and the proverbial U.S. belief in self-­reliance and individualism lurk a “weaponized identity politics” that, as Jodi Dean writes, “lets me insist that this time I will not be sacrificed, I will survive.”11 Despite being hollowed out and digitized, the neoliberal self is still marked by a whiff of long-­gone humanism. In addition to agency, neoliberal reason stands on the illusion of its own authenticity. This authenticity is buttressed by a sense of interiority generated precisely by the action one is pushed to take. We can clothe it with all the classic ornaments typical of the sovereign subject. This includes not just the cold and science-­like dimension of simple calculation—­shall I kill or not?—­ but also emotions and memories, as well as a sense of right or wrong and of resolve, and most importantly a secure feeling of mastery over one’s own destiny. This kind of hero projects the image of the larger-­ than-­life individual, but it is in fact a move into a string of codes, an entity that opts between an off and an on state, as the result of a predictive strategy. In risk-­t aking and extreme situations, we begin to perceive more clearly the direct relation between neoliberalism and death. The same type of formalism shapes, for instance, the long-­standing debate on the Second Amendment in the United States. To the dismay of other countries who simply judge Americans as irrational, the resilience of those who defend the free access to all kinds of deadly artillery that are available for purchase can only be partly explained by the incredible power of the weapon industry, or the political usefulness of a permanent state



Knowledge

-  55 -

of fear that mass killing reinforces. The rationale here is actually perfectly in tune with what I have said so far regarding neoliberalism. The United States comprise one of its most advanced testing grounds. Let me clarify this point by way of a personal anecdote. In the wake of the Charleston church shooting in the summer of 2015, an elderly white man in Old Colorado City explained to a bewildered audience at a physical therapy clinic his view on why these brutalities should not restrict access to guns. With profound gravitas, he argued first that the fault always lies with the immorality of society and that of the people who make ill use of their constitutional rights—­a standard point for gun supporters.12 The second part of the argument, which he apparently heard during a church service, was more interesting. He stated that even if the worst part of us controlled society, we should not let the government take away this power. In other words, we should not ask for outside protection because that would weaken us as individuals. Remarkably, here the word right is quickly mutated into power—­which is again one of the results of the long transformation of the political theology of the Mosaic complex in the Christian world.13 Paradoxically, the Great Man here is the saint whose nature is, as Emanuele Severino glosses, “the extreme of wickedness. He is a saint precisely because he can win his own evilness. He loves God in as much as he wins his natural hate against him. He loves the other in as much as his nature drives him to detest and liquidate the latter.”14 The religious background of this thought—­that is, the idea that one is worthy of God’s love only when powerful enough to resist the evil that one embodies—­takes on a particular neoliberal spin. This biopolitical dictum compounds the creed that only when we face and act on the greatest danger can we reach ethical stature. Because excess is the element in life that neoliberalism brings to focus, the ethical stature of the Great Man is redefined accordingly. The new hero must embody the boundless dimension of life. Here evil is the added value that makes him what he is: somebody who takes destiny in his hands, no matter the consequences of his conduct—­or, rather, because of the consequences of his conduct, and of his willingness to go above and beyond accepted norms. Again, notice the similar structure with the algebraic dimension propelled by neoliberal digitality. The goal is not a substantial achievement but the always-­more structure of the series, surplus for surplus’ sake. At the level of symbolization, the genuine socioeconomic nature of

-  56 -

Knowledge

this problem may move the debate away from the trite opposition of pro-­weapon uneducated reactionaries versus the educated liberal elite. As wider strata of the U.S. working and middle class are thrown into existential precarity, if not abject poverty, weapons consistently become the only concrete but distorted representation of power that the individual may have. As Alessandro Portelli writes, West Virginia miners, Youngstown steelworkers will keep on living in the land of the free, with free speech, free exercise of religion and the right to vote. Yet, they also increasingly realize that these rights are merely academic and, when they use them, they have no effect on their life. No wonder, they cling to the second amendment.15

The great neoliberal experiment administers and thrives on this set of contradictions thanks to the energy and value generated by its own incongruences. It sets the stage for a large-­scale operation of dispossession while pitting masses of disenfranchised individuals against each other in a perpetual conflict that indeed produces a profit. To sum up, in the gun problem, we can see conjoined the biopolitical investment in potentiality (power as structural excess), the algebraic theory of the subject (individual decisions), and the compulsion to repeat (the death drive). There could not be a more playbook illustration of the hegemony of the death drive than the one that we currently witness in the United States. The result? People decimated every day, everywhere. This is why it is crucial to consider these elements together with their digital optimization. A political strategy that wants to jam this colossal meat grinder must levy a struggle not only from a legislative point of view but also at the level of the symbolic—­a perspective that I will address in the last part of the book. The Thing That You Know Not Within the larger picture of neoliberalism, what is of interest to us here is to look at how the proliferation of a structure of ethical decisions that inform the algebraic definition of the self is related to a form of object choice that is structured by the feedback loop. The term searching is thus a signature concept for neoliberal digitality. It also represents the



Knowledge

-  57 -

core engine driving the deployment of neoliberal processes of subject formations and their death drive. The present articulation of this concept combines the typical elements of consumerism—­endless proliferation of ready-­made desires—­w ith other, more innovative functions for the system’s scalability that radically mutate the grammar of finding, and thus of sublimation, as delineated in the previous chapter. These elements tend to neutralize idleness and blockages by turning them into an expansive spiral, which is deployed as a sequence: digital input, more metrics, improved functionality, and again more input. The question before is thus the following: What do we do with our persistent, interminable use of search engines? What happens when the hit on a search page or the push notification becomes the thing that (now I know!) I want? This is no small matter. One can argue that online querying actually illustrates the solution to an ancient problem, if not the problem, of philosophy: the issue of how we know. To understand the nature and the functioning of this solution, we need to look to Greek philosophy. In Plato’s dialogue Meno, the paradox of knowledge is laid out in a famous aporetic argument. Distressed by Socrates’s rebuttal of any positive identifications for the essence of virtue, Meno challenges the philosopher on the very foundation of the inquiry: And how will you inquire, Socrates, into that which you do not know? What will you put forth as the subject of inquiry? And if you find what you want, how will you ever know that this is the thing which you did not know?

This is the so-­called eristic paradox, with which Socrates is well acquainted. He provides a clearer and more comprehensive reformulation: I know, Meno, what you mean; but just see what a tiresome dispute you are introducing. You argue that a man cannot inquire either about that which he knows, or about that which he does not know; for if he knows, he has no need to inquire; and if not, he cannot; for he does not know the very subject about which he is to enquire.16

The argument is a valid application of the law of the excluded middle, tertium non datur. Here it is codified through logical propositions:

-  58 -

Knowledge

1. For any x, one either knows, or does not know, x. 2. If one knows x, one cannot inquire into x. 3. If one does not know x, one cannot inquire into x. 4. Therefore, whether or not one knows x, one cannot inquire into x.17

The soundness of argument 2 has been questioned on the account that one can probably inquire into something that one already knows.18 But this sort of argument seems to miss the larger epistemic dilemma actually at stake—­or at least the dilemma that this specific use of the verb “to know” brings to the fore. Long before Gail Fine recalled this interpretation, it was pointed out that “the explanation which dealt with the problem as merely verbal is a partial one” for the term used, “έπιστήμη was regarded [by the Greeks] as something complete, final, and not admitting of degrees.”19 A more correct translation would substitute the verb “inquire” with “search for.” In fact, you can still investigate something that you know, but you cannot search for it—­unless, of course, you have lost it or perhaps forgotten it. With this substitution, argument 3 becomes even more radical. It would read as follows: Socrates, how will you search for a thing when you are totally unable to say what it is? What kind of thing that you know not can you set before yourself as the object of your search?20

How do you search for something that you do not know? And more specifically, how do you know you found it once you actually get your hands on it? It would be like looking for somebody at the airport without knowing the person, and without having any criteria to prove that that is the person you are looking for. We saw Wittgenstein’s response to the homologous problem of what “finding the right word” means. Socrates’s answer—­the famous elenchtic reply—­takes the form of a story (that of the priests and priestesses) and lays out the theory of the recollection of ideas.21 In short, it is just by knowing beforehand that you know something, because learning is in fact recollecting. The immortal soul has contemplated the hyperuranium of ideas. Thus, in the mundane dimension, the soul encounters the material instantiations of those ideas and realizes them only through the process of reminiscence. In conclusion, phenomena are epiphenomena, so I shall know something only when I will have remembered it.



Knowledge

-  59 -

The temporal framework of this process of manifestation should not go unnoticed. This solution gives expression to a cyclical understanding of time where, as Deleuze argues, “the ideas none the less remain the ground on which the successive presents are organized into the circle of time.”22 This is how Kiarina Kordela summarizes the historical passage by drawing on a similar consideration made by Foucault: The pre-­secular, theocratic paradigm that lasted until the end of the Renaissance was marked by the divinely sanctioned organic links between words and things. . . . These same divine links imbued also each of the two realms—­t he words and the things—­w ith infinite internal resemblances, among the words themselves and among the things themselves, so that everything . . . was a mirror image, a reiteration of each other, so that the whole world itself consisted of an infinite repetition of the Same, just as knowledge exhausted itself in an infinite rediscovery of the Same.23

This system of knowledge is supported by the Platonic solution and provides a framework to administer time. Accordingly, truth awaits in the past, ready to be awakened through a revelation, a fully explicit exhibition that leaves no shadow or unknown behind. In this sense the ethical is firmly grounded, and it ultimately determines the epistemological. Christian transcendence easily translates this paradigm into its creed. The issue of the limit and negation at this juncture is paramount. As in the case of the referential theory of meaning illustrated in the previous chapter, the truth of that which is pursued—­t hat is, the fact of knowledge—­emerges from the formalism of the masculine position. It is transitive and rests on the implicit assumption of the closed set. The Mosaic complex is the function that operates this type of distribution of space. To this we can now add that its formalism is grounded on the tertium non datur principle and on the kind of negation that it establishes. But just like in the case of the inconsistency of the closed set (and its masculine topology), the incontrovertible nature of this principle is less solid than what it seems. Consider, for instance, the banal case of a chair. If we apply the abovementioned principle, we are forced to say that what stands before us either is a chair or is not a chair. But if we suspend the rigid determinism of this thesis, we may also find it plausible to make other statements. Perhaps there stands a

-  60 -

Knowledge

chair that is extremely uncomfortable; perhaps it is a chair that once belonged to some illustrious person and no one can sit on it; or perhaps it is a child’s painting of a chair with only two legs. All the disjunctions that we draw when discussing the meaning of a word in a referential theory of language follow the principle of x or non-­x . But here we can see that saying that x is simultaneously a chair and not a chair makes sense. What is at stake in this convoluted reasoning is the possibility of a third term that is in fact not excluded. This type of negation facilitates the emergence of temporary determinations, singular cases that are, so to speak, generated by the eventful character of negation. This truth is not a specific and known thing, a notion that one has comprehended. We may call it a sexed version of truth, for it has more to do with the epistemic condition of existence and the way the field of existence collides with the subject. In other words, it characterizes a topology informed by a feminine logic. This idea of language is usually pushed to the background because it does not seem to play any explicit role in communication. Nonetheless, it functions as an implicit infrastructure, even though its subtleties are disavowed by the masculine position, which is more interested in either an affirmative or a poor form of negative linguistic mode. This formalism insists on erecting a wall that creates a disjointed space where an internal positive domain stands before an undifferentiated surface, constantly receding into something insubstantial. This division thus produces the dynamism that characterizes the masculine game of desire and that, in Meno’s case, comes to a rest thanks to reminiscence. To counter this assertion, when we state that x and non-­x is indeed the case—­or, in Meno’s case, that knowing or not knowing is possible—­we also break the ground for a plethora of possibilities. Therein a different ontological plane surfaces, one that is articulated through a series of “systems that cannot be grasped all at once by classifying them in some encyclopedia once and for all,” because its topology manifests the truth about the inconsistency of the Other.24 Far from being the guarantor of the completion of a contract or the definition of a name, this type of commitment to truth must be cast against a topology that is not based on closed sets and on the exclusionary logic of the masculine position. The savoir of psychoanalysis here is particularly helpful. As Antonello Sciacchitano notes, according to this branch of science,



Knowledge

-  61 -

the false is not the only way to negate what is true. In effect, under analytical treatment truth can be disavowed, rejected, removed etcetera . . . while still remaining indisputably true. Accordingly, in analysis knowing cannot be negated even when one affirms oneself in a negative form, that is to say, in an unconscious form, that is to say, as not knowing to know.25

Meno’s paradox resides in the exclusion of the possibility that the “thing that you know not” becomes “the object of your search,” but the analytical setting makes this principle a compass for the discourse of the unconscious. The possibility of an excluded third that Socrates eliminates is the following: what you don’t know, what you deny to know, is the savoir of the encounter with the unconscious. The lesson from Meno’s aporia is one that unearths the distorted temporality of the unconscious that I previously introduced with the concept of the Nachträglihkeit, where the unconscious is not something that is secret and prohibited. According to Deleuze, the so-­called third synthesis of time follows the symptom in which the future is something that is constantly inscribing. Deleuze argues that this is the moment of metamorphosis, where “what self has become equal to is the unequal in itself.”26 This is the moment in which the new temporality “re-­form[s] a circle of the Other at the end of the series,” where “the interminable and the incessant, the formless [are] the product of the most extreme formality.”27 Duration and accumulation are meaningless, and so is any oppositional value that doubles thought into a defined object content or into something referential that some spiritual force is able to think. Similarly, displacement here is not the beyond-­movement typical of the structural limit pointing at transcendence but rather the radical formality of “sheer potentiality.”28 What is this formality? In Kantian terms, it would be the transcendental ideality, a mere grid of operability, a shape without contents typical of any modeling structure. In this sense, self-­reference as metalanguage would be recursive. This is how the limit is envisioned within patriarchal thought, at least in its critical conceptualization. By fencing off the metaphysical grasping of the thing in itself, modernity has radicalized the notion of the border as a separation between the inside and the outside. The skeptical doubt that dominates a great part of Western philosophy (from Berkeley to Hume) is the agent of this restriction. It works as a

-  62 -

Knowledge

superegoic instance that tirelessly reinforces the reproduction of a limit through its questioning. The skeptical doubt simply recreates the limit just one inch after the other, ad infinitum. It turns itself into a replicator of fragile limits.29 When facing cases dominated by recursivity like those produced by skepticism, Wittgenstein uses the metaphor of the rock: “If I have exhausted the justifications, I have reached bedrock and my spade is turned.”30 But this does not mean that a stronger piece of steel could go beyond the rock. Rather, it means that the question is pointing toward an answer, as if this were a possession that one could offer to the inquirer. But reality is not a thing we possess. Sometimes our wallet is simply empty; this is not our fault but the fault of our creditor. What if the bedrock were in fact only the result of an unreasonable demand? In effect, the limit indicated by the idea of sheer potentiality is not one that produces a circulatory movement. It does not automate itself into repetitions. Rather, it multiplies concrete and specific options. As Sciacchitano writes, this form of “negation is weak. It does not always negate; indeed, it sometimes affirms.”31 The classic Spinozian idea that negatio est determinatio—­negation determines something specific—­is raised to its full potential. Not only does negation here preserve that which is negated rather than fencing it off, but it also gestures to the functional capacity of thought itself. As we state non-­x , we also indirectly refer to the affirmation of all the synchronic oppositions that the statement establishes. What’s more, beyond these synchronic oppositions the possibility of the tertium non datur emerges: x and non-­x , which may mean p, q, and so on. We feel an affirmative quality in this type of negation that equates the intransitivity of language to a new field of operability, an openness that in the previous chapter I related to what Wittgenstein calls the “field of force of a word.”32 The beyond here is an exceeding mode of determination, a finitizing movement that is typical, as I will discuss, of the feminine logic.33 From Fordism to Neoliberalism: Spectralization of Sex and Finding Having broached the idea of a sexed approach to the thing that we know not, I want to take a step back for a moment and paint in broad strokes the reconfiguration of this particular form of knowledge in the transition from the industrial age to our present. Its new status, which reflects



Knowledge

-  63 -

also changing symbolic norms in sexuality, will help us understand the true purpose of our online searches. The possibility of an excluded third dissolves the conundrum of knowledge; unfortunately, patriarchy simply suppresses this possibility. For its part, the quantitative-­successive model of time that results from Fordist modernity can do little when confronted with Meno’s paradox because it is based on the creation of the new. Statistics and predictive models—­the planned economy of industrial society—­seem impotent against the ancient aporetic force of this conundrum. Fordism entrenches itself in a binary movement. Transcendence has only been partially repressed. It is thus still somehow visible—­much more so than in a neoliberal system. In other words, the political theology typical of the secular discourse is perceptible via the symbolic formalism based on the separation at work in a Fordist society. Fordist reason still prizes boundaries subordinating the reach of ubiquitous valorization—­t ypical of neoliberalism—­to some prescribed limits. True, these perimeters had always been frail; think of the distinction between labor time and nonlabor time, workplace and living spaces, art and creativity and work, and so forth. However, they still acted as regulatory definitions that somehow inhibited the expansion of the economic over the noneconomic. In a sense, and to the extent that it was safeguarded, the noneconomic obsessively motivated the pushing forward of Fordism. Its idea of progress implied that the new was always a step ahead. The model is incremental and so favors some sort of quantitative continuity. Oscillating between complacent optimism and dark pessimism, the idea of a planned future was kept alive precisely because it embodied the thing that you know not but that you strive to predict, organize, and crank out in bulks from the factory. Neoliberalism thrives precisely on the unexpected nature of what destabilizes and ruptures the present, and thus neoliberal control represents the epistemological answer to the contradictions of the Fordist mode of production. Contemporary capitalism bids on catastrophes and the total arbitrariness of the market, so that it is precisely the thing that you know not that occasions profit. In this sense, the concept of searching registers the rising of a volition toward more and more life that must be valorized and utilized in all its facets. Simultaneously, this mobilization disavows idleness. Knowledge simply awaits on the touch screen. “Not knowing to know” already implies reaching for the nearest electronic device to query it. Large-­scale computing states that what we

-  64 -

Knowledge

really don’t know in not knowing is not a specific thing or information to come—­sooner or later that will be made accessible—­but that which is barred: the possibility of the third excluded and its formality. Because the discourses of economy and sexuality are structurally similar, we should consider the various forms that the problem of the new as the object of knowledge poses in different domains and historical periods. The comforting thought of a benign successive temporality that moves forward through a process of accumulation is typical of bourgeois patriarchal thought, despite undergoing certain transformations across time. A highly repressive society that censures and imposes sacrifices on individuals—­in a classic representation of oedipal castration—­is one that molds the masculine position into a mechanism based on a continuous abstraction. Recall that the castration complex forces the boy to renounce his pleasure and object of desire (the mother). This prohibition sets in place a mechanism based on a fantasy of essentialization of the woman. As the representative of wholeness, she is constantly reproduced into phantasmic forms, while the initial prohibition projects the object into a beyond. This beyond is the x of knowledge, the question whose answer continuously slips away. In all her variants, woman can be thought of as the response to Meno’s paradox in a phallic society. It is a kind of vulgar conceptualization of time that follows the old joke of the two mosquitoes that are resting on a clock. The first one is on the twelve-­hour hand; the other, positioned on the forty-­five-­m inute hand, yells, “I’ll see you in fifteen minutes.” This conception of a numerical temporality is one that believes that the x is simply one step ahead. It is a form of banal positivism, but one in which the fantasy of woman as x is nonetheless what keeps clocks ticking and capital accumulating. Neoliberalism in turn is based on permissiveness and hedonism. It effectively capitalizes on a new temporality that springs from the unexpected while simultaneously inflating the spectral projection of woman. As it establishes itself as an endlessly moving forward totality that captures and depletes all that it encounters, its very totality continually cultivates the ghost of itself. One finds a similar spectralization in sexuality, which in turn explains the explosion of the sexual dispositif in today’s politics. By becoming spectralized, sexuality is not invisible; rather, it is flaunted in grotesque shapes, fostering a myriad of simulacral roles that may be nostalgic, or by the same token hypermodern.34



Knowledge

-  65 -

The twenty years of Silvio Berlusconi’s regime in Italy truly represented the incubator for a political experimentation that was later implanted in the hearth of the United States. As described by Dominijanni, Berlusconi’s broad range of impersonations as political leader—­from the defender of traditional values to the obscene father to the later feminized version—­ was not simply due to political opportunism.35 Rather, it was couched in the mechanisms of the spectralization of sexuality. All these roles are paroxysmal and perfectly in line with the neoliberal dictum of self-­ realization as valorization. However, they are also depotentiating insofar as they consume any opportunity for real encounters, breaks, or relations. Spectralization reveals the truth of neoliberalism: x is not shrouded in the mystery of the question. Rather, it self-­escalates; it is x to the nth power. This brings us to a critical insight into the status of knowledge under neoliberalism that emerges from the spectralization of sexuality. While in modern times the masculine extricates himself from a likeness that unites everything by mathematizing time in discrete and quantifiable units, in the neoliberal age, the masculine algorithmitizes space. The phallic position inseminates geometrical space by insisting on a notion of space as the generator of value as in the case of the datascape; as I argued, this new indexical capability reprograms the status of deictics. But to return to the point, space turns into a constantly aggrandizing infographic in which options proliferate in a seemingly endless series of permutations directed by the free market. Here it seems like the thing that you know not is simply retrieved or generated by the digital and will be usable, desirable, and, most importantly, bankable. If these considerations seem like theoretical claptrap, think about what happened to the verb to find. The current use (or, better, misuse) of this predicate reveals the deep structure of neoliberal formalism and its present response to Meno’s paradox. English grammar demands that the verb be marked by the simultaneity and completion of the action itself, as in the case of coming up with or discovering something. Simultaneity is an essential feature because it tells linguists that this is the reason why the verb is usually used in the perfect rather than progressive form. One can say, in the simple past tense, “I found a good Korean restaurant,” or in the future tense, “I will find a Korean restaurant.” However, the utterance “I am finding a Korean restaurant” would raise eyebrows. There is only one case in which the skewed usage of the verb to find has

-  66 -

Knowledge

become progressively more common, to the point of making it acceptable. Consider the following case. If I ask somebody, “Did you find the Korean restaurant you told me about?”, that person may respond, “I am finding it online.” This usage is not entirely unjustified. For instance, whenever customers walk into a store, they are commonly met by a representative who greets them by saying, “Are you finding everything you need?” Sometimes the classic wandering up and down the aisles is caused by the problem of locating a specific desired item; other times it relates to the generalized performance called window shopping. In the latter case, finding is objectless, or rather unintentional, like when we end up acquiring something that originally we did not need or want, simply because we were fascinated by the cultural experience. The progressive use of the verb to find encapsulates the essence of online searching, and thus the current response to Meno’s paradox. If in finding the right word what you find is that it is right, in online searching you discover finding itself or the smooth pleasure of pure mediality.36 In finding we are actually feeding the platform. It is not just the hit on the search engine or the item we select on an e-­commerce portal, but rather the smoothness of functionality itself that delivers a nudge of pleasure. The usage of the present progressive tense of the verb to find thus illustrates the neoliberal perversion of sublimation, for it is a process that does not deliver a completion and yet incessantly feeds the objectual—­ that is to say, the complete object as part of an infinite series. On the one hand, the neoliberal solution to Meno’s paradox overheats the processual nature by insisting on the imminence of the next in the digital series as well as its recursivity. On the other hand, it also depotentiates the objectless grammar of finding by precisely guaranteeing the seriality of objects. But this also means that for the user, the game of pleasure is now going to be played on the turf of functionality. Consider how in the previous case of dinner at a Korean restaurant the pressure to feed the objectual renders real life an ancillary event. A culinary notification and a Facebook alert occasioned the event; during the latter, the range of operations designed by the platforms supplied me with a sense of feelings in the moment (but also in the future); finally, the output of information generated by these facts further optimized my digital profile—­a nd that data will be used to tailor more Web content for future interactions that will restart the loop. Insomuch as the culinary suggestion was already part of an escalating totality (whose truth is



Knowledge

-  67 -

simply further growth), the thing that I know not is always solved by the series. Functionality engenders a subject that breathes recursivity and scalability. In this context, the subject is molecularized as he becomes a vector for the force that feeds the constant growth of the system. It is the very idea of absolute usability that promotes a type of mobilization that knows no restrictions, least of all that of coherence. A prolific literature has demonstrated how the domination of this fundamentalist type of utilitarianism was originally formulated in the realm of cybernetics thanks to its role in game theory, and how it was later adopted as a pillar of the neoliberal worldview. In this sense, the defining quality of contemporary theories of the subject becomes, as Franklin writes, that of “creating a process of conceptual coding in which the contingent Real of the social can be made the object of modeling and prediction by first being conceptualized in a way that reduces it to a minimal set of differential functions.”37 We should not forget that cybernetics took its first steps side by side with the birth of molecular biology. For instance, the 1940s microstructural modeling called cellular automata (CA) uses genetic algorithms to simulate a lifelike environment for growth. This environment is nothing other than “a special type of search algorithm, like the ones that run a popular search engine such as Google.”38 The Fee and the Designation of the Thing of Fee-­Ding The idea that what we constantly do when using search engines is not finding but rather feeding the digital allows us to place pleasure (i.e., that which is produced by the experience of pure mediality) in the larger context of the valorization of the informational. The relations between the prominence of the death drive and the molecularization of the subject under neoliberalism, their implementation through the digital, the neoliberal grammar of finding, and the position of accountability of the user interlock and bring into focus the issue of value. I begin by suggesting that the mutation of finding into feeding is due to the creation and extraction of value. In the last part of this chapter, I will illustrate how this transformation relates to the issue of the Other and symbolic dependency. The idea of finding as feeding should be read in light of what Karl Marx famously described as the vampire-­like behavior of capital, which

-  68 -

Knowledge

feeds on the labor power of the working class. At the core of his analysis of the workday, Marx places a simple principle: Constant capital, the means of production, considered from the standpoint of the creation of surplus-­value, only exist to absorb labor, and with every drop of labor a proportional quantity of surplus-­labor. While they fail to do this, their mere existence causes a relative loss to the capitalist, for they represent during the time they lie fallow, a useless advance of capital. . . . To appropriate labor during all the 24 hours of the day is, therefore, the inherent tendency of capitalist production.39

In a Fordist economy, there are physical limits to this dream of absolute appropriation, or rather to what is requested from the workers by the capitalist agenda. Fixed capital cannot incorporate and utilize all of living labor. From the point of view of production, this form of integration is still regulated—­and to a certain extent limited—­by the workers’ performance and their opposition to their own exploitation. Furthermore, from the point of view of social reproduction, integration is also subordinated to material limitations in terms of workers’ resistance and, more generally, the market’s capacity to consume, as seen in the many crises of overproduction of the last century. Yet the appetite for surplus labor may have finally found a seemingly endless supply in today’s digital world. That is to say, the vampire-­like character of capital is better explained by the necessity of an absolute round-­the-­clock activity that is engrained in the very concept of feedback. We should look closely at the etymology of the word feedback. It indicates the virtuous loop that improves the quality of data created by a system, and it also comes from the verb to feed, as in to give sustenance. What is truly being nourished here? I claim that it is the increased circulation and transformation of data—­in other words the growth and valorization of the informational. Feedback points at value. The reader will forgive the pun, but this is why we could write the term as fee(d)back. In it something pulsates that has to do with the concept of the fee and its symbolism. Historically, the term fee had two meanings. The first refers to “an estate in land held in feudal law from a lord on condition of homage and service.”40 It thus summons the idea of a complex array of social relations built on a strong vertical hierarchy. As is known, it is the back-



Knowledge

-  69 -

bone of the legal system of vassalage, and within it determines the position of the subjects under the body politic of a king. In this context, the corvée is one of the most important principles that the relationship between the lord and his subjects is built around. While it is true that it did not represent the exclusive form of production of the time, it nevertheless illustrates one of the three legitimate tools—­the other being taxation, forced requisition, and fines resulting from incriminations—­which the ruling class used to extract value from the peasantry. As a limited but required and unremunerated service, the corvée was a pivotal element in the exchange of labor for tutelage. Because it was prevalent in premodern society yet did not create exchange value, this form of production seems to be in opposition to capitalism. When discussing slavery in the United States, however, Marx does not fail to notice a modern use of corvée: Negro labor in the Southern States of the American Union preserved something of a patriarchal character, so long as production was chiefly directed to immediate local consumption. But in proportion, as the export of cotton became of vital interest to these states, the over-­working of the negro and sometimes the using up of his life in 7 years of labor became a factor in a calculated and calculating system. It was no longer a question of obtaining from him a certain quantity of useful products. It was now a question of production of surplus-­labor itself. 41

Two elements are interestingly connected here: the patriarchal dimension (that is to say, the previous system of domination based on boundaries) and the dimension of circulation and exchange on the global market that fosters a more intensive use of the workforce. True, Southern plantations in the United States were strategically positioned in a larger trade system and thus can already be considered a modern form of production. Still, one should not underestimate the fact that the defining element of modern capitalism, wage labor, seems to be irrelevant for extracting value. Hence, Marx shows that the occult aim of capitalist production, surplus labor, is a constant that defines capital fixation in different historical times and societies. If we put aside for a moment the principle of coercion that is at the core of a plantation economy, this example is particularly prescient for our present condition. A new

-  70 -

Knowledge

form of willing or voluntary corvée replaces the old bestowing of work in exchange for income. After all, if we agree with the autonomist/ workerist idea regarding the diminishing relevance of the law of value, post-­Fordism turns into nothing short of a new mode of a primary accumulation of capital in which surplus labor becomes the hegemonic form of production that dominates society.42 Let us now turn to the second meaning of the word fee. As argued, the fee is the sociosymbolic complex that defines the medieval economy. However, as mercantilism and later capitalism dramatically transformed the previous modes of production, the very meaning of fee undergoes a similar process of mutation—­that is to say, it comes to be defined as an economic quantity: the amount that must be returned in exchange for a service. Deep inside, its feudal spirit is alive and well. The fee draws its authority precisely because of the ancient peasant’s obligation to the vassal. The fee points to that dimension we call the symbolic economy. It is the marker of a relation of exchangeability that demands a restitution or rendition, the same way we can say we redeem something for money. What is the source of power that compels this compensation? Naturally this varies according to the given historical conditions. The medieval corvée depended on the lord–­bondsman relation, which was sanctioned by the seigneur. The fee is thus the emblem of an unequal relationship and draws its force (i.e., the fact that it must be returned) from that imbalance. I should observe that even though this relationship was certainly uneven, something surfaces in the enslaved person that makes him necessary to the master. This element transcends the famous Hegelian argument regarding death struggle and recognition. Lacan explains this point: “The slave knows many things, but what he knows even better still is what the master wants, even if the master does not know it himself. . . . The slave knows what it is, and that’s what his function as slave is.”43 The perceived relation of power by the master is turned into a subjective opaqueness that in Lacan’s explanation is different from the usual Hegelian dialectic. The bondsman delivers the truth of what the master wants without knowing it. This is the nature of his service. The concept of the slave once again brings us back to the issue that is central to this chapter: the grammar of the verb to find and the problem of knowledge in Plato’s dialogue. As we recall, the Platonic solution rests on the doctrine of reminiscence. What usually goes unnoticed is that it



Knowledge

-  71 -

is through the questioning and responses of one of Meno’s servants that the theory of recollection is immortalized. This apparent philosophical experiment is based on the following idea. Socrates has established the impossibility of knowing something that we already do not know, so the slave becomes the perfect case study for testing knowledge as memory. If Socrates can show that an illiterate slave knows what a square root is, then anamnesis must necessarily be true. The slave is in fact a stand­in for the idea of a blank slate and cannot properly progressively learn but only intuit truth as he remembers it from the contemplation of pure ideas. Lacan keenly comments: “They ask him questions, master’s questions, of course, and the slave naturally answers what the questions already dictate.  .  .  . It is shown that the serious business, the aim, is to make it known that the slave knows, but by acknowledging it only in this derisory way, what is hidden is that it is only a matter of robbing the slave of his function at the level of knowledge.”44 In Plato’s philosophy, this knowledge is one that shows an organic continuity, a persistence of the stable link between words and things. But in Lacan’s unexpected reversal, the slave is the bearer of this know-­ how—­not because he actually possesses it but because he enables the expression of its formalism. This is true also from an epistemic point of view. An enormous amount of anxiety festers in this text. In exchange after exchange, Meno’s securities about what he actually knows (virtue, beauty, etc.) become progressively intangible. As an epistemic operator (and the guarantor of the continuity between sensuous things and true ideas), the slave complies with his role in providing for what his master wants. He supplies the operating structure for this continuity. Consider how, at this juncture, the epistemological begins losing its hard ground. The content of this knowledge seems imbricated with a subjective passion that has little to do with the classical proof of knowledge: demonstrating something that is also verifiable in the external world. The subjective truth of the master is in fact that of the slave; as Lacan writes, “What psychoanalysis enables us to conceptualize is nothing other than this, which is in line with what Marxism has opened up, namely that discourse is bound up with the interests of the subject.”45 According to Lacan, therefore, truth here is the objet petit a, the empty placeholder of the subject’s desire. Meno is moved by objet a as much as Socrates, particularly as he manipulates the slave into demonstrating mathematics. The slave serves as the operating structure for both

-  72 -

Knowledge

Meno’s desire for some grounding truth and Socrates’s desire to prove his maieutic method. The truth for the master is its own opaqueness in terms of desire, and he is dependent on the slave for satisfying it. The slave is a means for the master’s passion, just like the woman (or what I previously called x) becomes the thing that is related to the structure of the beyond. The slave points us to what in German is called das Ding: the thing, which represents transcendent reality in Kant and which represents the mother in psychoanalysis. For feminism, though, the thing is simply “the archetype of property, the very first object conceived by man”—­t hat which the separating logic of the phallic agency constantly conjures up as a mystical essence or as something that must be banned.46 In the industrialized but still agrarian economy of the plantation, this formalism is superimposed by a further layer: the secret desire of capital, and its vampire-­like nature that feeds on living labor. As Lacan remarks, under capitalism, “in the master discourse the a is precisely identifiable with what the thought of a worker, Marx’s, produced, namely what was symbolically and really, the function of surplus value.”47 Under Fordism, the movement of surplus value is harnessed, regulated, and dominated through wage labor. But post-­Fordism mines value through surplus labor. The value-­dripping mouth of the neoliberal machine here emerges as a sanitized, electronic figure: the feedback loop, which enables and fosters apparently endless machine-­to-­machine and human-­ to-­machine interaction. As in any gory horror film, a stream of enjoyment must burst out and be consumed. Feedback loops are mechanisms of capture, as Jodi Dean writes: The loops and repetitions of the acephalous circuit of drive describe the movement of the networks of communicative capitalism, the ways its flows capture subjects, intensities, and aspirations. Accompanying each repetition, each loop or reversal, is a little nugget of enjoyment. We contribute to the networks as creative producers and vulnerable consumers because we enjoy it.48

The endless circulation that enchants us in the form of the drive produces this enjoyment. This formalism helps us explain our behavior and the form of knowledge that we produce. Because of this excessive field, we are mobilized by a quest for knowledge in the forms of online queries,



Knowledge

-  73 -

yet “we cannot know certainly; we cannot know adequately. But we can mobilize this loss, Googling, checking Wikipedia. . . . We are captured because we enjoy.”49 What does the neologism of to find—­that is to say, its colloquial misuse in the progressive tense—­really mean today? In this particular case, finding means valorizing; or, as I previously argued, finding means feeding. But one should write this term as fee-­Ding, for the verb contains in its etymology the idea of the fee—­namely the premodern moral complex of obligations coupled, or upgraded, with the value in the making that is connected to the selection and propagation of information that is created—­and das Ding, or x, that is to say, what the phallic is pursuing and the libidinal charge it releases. As I argued in chapter 1, this movement is not one of desire but rather of the drive, because the purpose of the latter is surplus itself. Google, or The Algorithmic Moses In common parlance, finding is equal to a particular fixation that pushes us into perusing a flux of information—­or, as we say, Googling. It is not my intention to discuss the science behind this search engine; nor do I propose to analyze the development of a plethora of services such as Google Maps, Google Images, and AdWords. In the final pages of this chapter, I am more interested in fleshing out the symbolic effects caused by the use of this tool and its relations to the political theology of neoliberalism. As is well known, Google’s success is due to PageRank, an algorithm named after company cofounder Larry Page. He and Sergey Brin developed PageRank in 1996 when they were graduate students at Stanford (initially, they called it Backrub). The algorithm indexes pages following a citation model that prioritizes documents that receive the highest number of hits. Following what in academia is commonly known as the impact factor of a publication, this metric includes what Job Kleinberg calls “a considerable amount of latent human judgment, and we claim that this type of judgment is precisely what is needed to formulate a notion of authority.”50 Although it is a managerial device, the theoretical implications of a system that regulates a large part of the digital life and imposes itself as a powerful cultural model on the basis of the principle of authority should not go unaddressed. Nor should we ignore the fact that the authors designed PageRank with explicit political allusions: page relevance is defined by its popularity, quantified as

-  74 -

Knowledge

votes received by one link over the others. To the extent that it involves a previously created, disputable, and self-­valorizing knowledge, Plato couldn’t have disliked it more. It is what he calls doxa (public opinion), and in our time, sophists are surely making a fortune. Google has corralled this doxa by capturing (and influencing) its movement and expansion, and although we tend to believe that the world is more or less mirrored in the results of our queries, what we actually see is merely Google’s index of the Web. But once users accept this modeling of reality, they also implicitly accept its authority. This is where the issue of deictics can be resumed and expanded beyond the repression of negativity that I mentioned at the beginning of this chapter. Recall how, as I discussed in chapter 1, Wittgenstein calls into question the theory of meaning generated by these grammatical particles in order to critique the political theology of the Mosaic system. It is thus plausible to say that Google gives rise to an algorithmic Moses whose foundations (deixis and the role of the Other) have been reconfigured. Think about the banal case of the now of an alert by Google Calendar. Google appears to be an assemblage of deixes that overwrite and augment the world—­for instance, an alert may feature the place of the meeting, the participants and their contacts, relevant notes, and so on. The designation of this type of reference therefore does not fall prey to the old patriarchal limitations and contradictions. As it is true for neoliberal devices in general, this index provides a reference, a reality that is continuously morphed and universalized—­a dynamism that, as I argued earlier, dissolves the restrictions of the logic of x or non-­x , giving rise instead to x to the nth power. What’s more, Web indexing retains the symbolic force of deixis—­that is, the intuitive trust we posit in the pointing to reality—­w ithout ever relapsing into crass referentialism. In essence, we have a pointing—­or, as we will see in the case of drones, a targeting—­that is reflexive because it regenerates reality, for the world (now packed with sensors) becomes sentient and communicates back. Again, one may notice at this juncture the significance of the experience of mediality and the dominance of the processual versus the singular case. The technological achievement of this type of indexicality is not merely the result of progress. A specific worldview decides the course of the digital, and this is largely determined by the question of the Other. As I observed, while the phallic logic of neoliberalism has superseded



Knowledge

-  75 -

the old patriarchal dualisms, transcendence has not disappeared but rather has been displaced and internalized, and the Other is now a function that commands growth from within the system. Media scholars have explained how under the lure of a free, self-­transformative system of knowledge, a private company like Google runs the risk of establishing a dangerous technocratic rule.51 Admittedly, this soft power is effective not only because it embodies an enlightened algorithmic authority but also because it dispenses something the neoliberal economy desperately needs: the infinite replicable and valorizable thing of jouissance, the reproduction of enjoyment as excess, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Other. Consider the result of a big-­data analysis on popular searches on Google carried out by Seth Stephens-­Davidowitz in his bestseller Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us about Who We Really Are (2017). For data analysts, this trove of information is a precious unmediated view into the human psyche, which in its aggregated form can be used to finally make sense of people’s behavior over and against their conscious actions and coveted desires. In his study, the typical emphasis on the indisputable weight of numbers is paired with the naturalization of the unconscious as a form of automatized behaviorism. Wendy Chun calls this network science a form of “the perversion that writing was supposed to be  .  .  . in contrast to logos.”52 But the moral tone of this terminology raises doubt whether metrics are really all that is at stake here. Stephens-­Davidowitz considers searches to be more “honest” than what he calls “digital lies,” by which he means social media posts, likes, and profiles typical of platforms such as Facebook, which he considers “digital brag-­to-­my-­ friends-­about-­how-­good-­my-­life-­is serum.”53 Searches are digital truths because they are in fact objectless; in a way they embody a form of pure writing, the quantifiable memory trace of our mind. In these cases, he argues, “the search window serves as a kind of confessional.”54 The most interesting case he cites in this sense is one that, however, disputes his classification. As he reports, “One of the more common questions for Google regarding men’s genitalia is ‘How big is my penis?’ That men turn to Google, rather than a ruler, with this question is, in my opinion, a quintessential expression of our digital era.”55 Although all other similar findings are recuperated to meaningful insights that neatly connect statistical stupor—­obscene or deviant tastes—­to reasonable

-  76 -

Knowledge

patterns—­oedipal prohibitions, sexual insecurity—­here his analysis comes to a halt. The problem is that this is not a query for information or a confession. It is not a lie; nor does it reveal a secret. It is a purposeless question that nonetheless sheds light on the inner mechanism of digital interaction, for it expresses the thing of the digital. In the desperation of such invocations, the address to the Other qua digitality bears testimony to the lingering hope of a final recognition by the phallic. True, one can imagine how various aids will pop up to reassure a wounded masculinity by raising general arguments about relativity, and more direct and practical suggestions on what kind of pill for sexual enhancement one can buy. But the point here is the trust that the Other of the Other is consistent and is now supplemented by the informational. Users instinctively place their faith in the symbolic authority of the informational, just like medieval subjects relied on the system of obligations and protections guaranteed by the seigneur. This digital political theology informs the process of writing as the ever-­ expanding and self-­valorizing execution of the digital truth, which is based on the excessive movement prompted by the object cause of desire—­a nd with it, as we will see, the phallic fiction of a primordial jouissance that never was. We are now in a position to rearticulate in terms of the digital economy what I argued from the standpoint of symbolic economy. The solution is the following: what you know not you can now know, because by clicking, you will generate communicability and increase value; the item will be prioritized and stacked for further use online. But what you find once you know something will be the need to keep querying, because one link inevitably leads to another. The Other of the Other is now this mediality, with Russell’s mathematical Moses becoming an algorithmic Moses. Further, the post-­Fordist solution to Meno’s paradox lies in the nugget of enjoyment engrained in the proliferation of a series. Pure mediality stands on the side of jouissance—­t hat is to say, the death drive of endless repetition. This is also what I previously called molecularization, for molecularization names a formalism that is based on recursivity. Here the individual is compelled by a structure of repetition, where movement takes an autotelic form—­the subject’s constant failure to anchor himself, realized through the inhibition of idleness—­and the little pleasure associated with pain that comes from the idea of something more, the beyond-­structure of repetition—­in



Knowledge

-  77 -

short, jouissance. What remains barred instead is the topology of the linguistic field. Notice how this type of infinite circulatory realization—­in other terms, feedback as the formalism that structures finding as fee-­Ding—­ radically diverges from what I previously elaborated while discussing Wittgenstein. Consider, for instance, how much this solution has altered the expression “looking for the right word.” One immediately feels the urge to pull out a smartphone and Google it. The misconceived notion that the right word is empirically on the tip of my tongue is now simply displaced; perhaps it is not in my mouth, but it certainly lies somewhere outside, somewhere in the online network. The word simply needs to be retrieved. Further, there will always be more; this is the reward of the objectual. One feels the weight of the linguistic authority carried by an impersonal public opinion that is conveniently packaged into an infinitely replicable commodity. The grammatical distinction between finding and searching for collapses in the sameness of the neoliberal libidinal circuit. The excess, exchangeability, and the pleasure we draw from functionality are bound with the duty to comply with the order of furthering the beyond of seriality. Strangely, the monumental dimension of knowledge embodied by the old predigital archive is made elastic, losing the foreignness that the experience of finding the right expression had before ubiquitous computing. Its excessive nature is neatly rendered workable by the next element in the series. This is the reality of the death drive: the individual feels it as his or her own and acts accordingly. He or she needs the jolt of excitement, then the next one, indefinitely. This type of fixation is something that makes the subject; that is to say, that the subject does only to the extent that it also constitutes the subject as such. There is a small but determining shift from confronting the force of the linguistic and its potentiality to being almost completely engulfed by it. The antinomies of the masculine position that were previously negotiated but not resolved in the Mosaic system are mined and valorized as the death drive envelops the subject through endless and willed repetitions. Naturally, a circuit based on the death drive leads to exhaustion, at least for those humans who participate in it. Surplus can keep pressing individuals to push forward, but the corporeal and psychic forces will eventually deplete. Something must be done to prolong the pillage. Think of the classic case of cannibalism in postapocalyptic films: the

-  78 -

Knowledge

scariest thing is not the prospect of being eaten alive, but of being kept alive to be slowly chewed away. Hence a strange alliance is formed between predation and care of the body. In a Fordist economy, this was mostly conveyed through centralized state apparatuses, through the old welfare system, and through a symbolic order based on authority and its sanctioning power. Post-­Fordism uses affirmative means that converge toward the idea of individual responsibility, which throws the burden and accountability for conducting a healthy life (or, in the contemporary vernacular, keeping a high-­value portfolio) on the individual. At the same time, the excitants that fuel the relentless task of self-­valuation must be counterbalanced. One needs to take the edge off, as we say today. Regrettably, “exhausted achievement-­subjects can rest only in the same way that a leg falls asleep,” because “recreation is not the other of work but its product.”56 The paradox here is that repose still needs to comply with the prohibition of being idle. One simply does not take the edge off. Rather, one directs this edge toward some other activity—­perhaps some extradigital interactions that are beneficial to the individual, like updating a LinkedIn profile, or reviewing and sharing daily Fitbit stats. Once again, a series is developed through spectralization and simulacral roles that are made available for use and that produce more life data. These are mechanisms that are activated, even while underscoring the centrality of the self and its supposed mastery of reality, thanks to a symbolic economy that is still based on the Other. Finally, the required intervention of the other identified by Wittgenstein and psychoanalysis is administered—­a nd in a sense flattened out as well. The beyond of digitality is still based on the formalism of the Other of the Other, but its nature is repressed. This formalism still produces a symbolic dependency that accounts for our need to constantly interact online, but its force is reprogrammed in light of instrumentality and valorization. In the next chapter, I will discuss how the neoliberal use of geospatial technology in modern warfare (drones) and locative media (Tinder) deliver us to a smooth modulation of a form of desire that is not ultimately ours. It is the desire of the Other that entangles us, and its object is perpetual growth. Similarly, the unconscious-­l ike form of the enormous body of knowledge that is stacked on the Web is rendered innocuous, even docile, because it wants us to use it and spread it farther and farther. This type of unconscious is formalized as information that is searchable, ever growing, and necessarily usable. It is affirmative



Knowledge

-  79 -

because it is instantaneously retrievable, but as it is presently configured, it does not embody the capacity for affirmation that we found at the core of negation. We may now turn to an analysis of the system of obligations that are at work in neoliberal digitality as they relate to the symbolism of the fee, which, as I argued in this chapter, is the thing that rules the logic of fee-­Ding in our online existence.

This page intentionally left blank

Chapter 3

Desire The Ballistic Sexuality of Drones and Tinder

The scene is a cliché: a crowded bar, music, finger food, and exotic cocktails on reclaimed wood tables. Some people are chatting; others are completely self-­absorbed, swiping the screens of their mobile devices. Or perhaps it’s a hotel room, where a man on a business trip adjusts the distance radius of his phone’s Tinder app, feverishly scanning for new contacts. All around, a world radiating possibilities! For Laura Stampler, this is the “millennial’s fantasy. Instant connections! New friends! Constant affirmation! . . . And it didn’t really matter whether the endorphin hit came from an eagerness to date a match or simply because I felt I’d somehow already won by getting a Like.”1 It is not hard to find the addictive quality behind these processes, a validation of some obscure obligation that solicits users to respond and participate. The political theology that structurally shapes reality, and whose limits must be continuously encroached, determines not only the organization of the field of knowledge, as I illustrated in the previous chapter, but also that of sexuality. Here another process similar to the formalism established by the neoliberal epistemological drive emerges, one that is once again informed by a hidden compliance to the Other. Operating as a secularized and internalized version of the old transcendent principle of authority, the Other exerts its power through a form of endless accountability whereby individuals are mobilized by a practice that I call a sacrificial economy. The irony of my argument will not escape the reader: the increased symbolic dependence that I will discuss asserts itself precisely at a time when human mastery over reality peaks and the dominant social paradigm we diligently follow is one that emphasizes self-­reliance, personal affirmation, and individual growth. After all, the neoliberal symbolic regime is construed on a shared theological assumption, the gendered

-  82 -

Desire

truth of living labor, that is reworked, mathematized, and reshaped according to the dictum of valorization. As I noted earlier, our consumer society is ostensibly different from the previous patriarchal order. The Mosaic complex solved the problem of difference through identity, a vertical notion of power and exclusion, but also sacrifice and deferral of pleasure. The moral order was thus one of renunciation, giving rise to the experience of a limit that was determined by the relation to transcendence. For neoliberalism, the opposite is true: individual freedom invests the expanse of the field of desire, and this field is limitless but also immanent to life. Yet when it comes to the issue of excess and the structure of the beyond, the similarities between the patriarchal and neoliberal are not difficult to find. Under patriarchy, the prohibition that established the limit is hardly a definitive dimension, for as I observed, the new substantial role that the subject would eventually take up—­the son who one day will become the father—­eliminates that original experience. Additionally, that experience is not in contradiction to its postpatriarchal formalism. As Foucault has taught us, in the capitalist West, “sexuality isn’t repressed,” but rather “it is constantly put into discourse and circulated.”2 This movement of displacement gives rise to the secularized political theology and drives neoliberal digitality. Under neoliberalism, the libidinal is deeply intertwined with the logic of the death drive. I already discussed the centrality of the death drive in the previous chapter. Now I want to read the compulsion to repeat against the backdrop of sexuality. At the core of neoliberal digitality rests, in fact, a set of subjective investments prompted by the Other qua the relentless movement to possess or extinguish the object of desire. In the following pages, I intend to explore this sociosymbolic environment and show how it affects two traditional technologies of power: sexuality and war. For both, neoliberal digitality transforms and manages them following the logic of geospatial localization. This is particularly the case with the parallel between military drones and a locative media matchmaking app like Tinder. I contend that these systems of power are undergoing a transformation that mimics life-­emergent, self-­transformative properties (otherwise known as its potentiality, as we will see), while reprogramming and recording its outputs according to a logic of what Matteo Pasquinelli calls “algorithmic governance”—­in other words, the political, economic, and “epistemic space generated by algorithms of data mining.”3 War and sexuality are revelatory of how neoliberalism



Desire

-  83 -

fashions, in Foucault’s terms, “an anatomo-­politics, an anatomy that targets individuals to the point of anatomizing them.”4 But before I discuss the correlations between the economic, the military, and the sexual, let us briefly engage with the issue of desire and its transformation in the passage from a modern to a hypermodern, or neoliberal, society. The Object of Desire With his theory of object choice, Klaus Theweleit provides a nuanced mapping of how the modern subject engages with the structure of the beyond under the aspect of desire. Theweleit describes three general types of attitudes that inform sexual engagement with the Other qua woman. The first is the attachment model, in which the desire is to get something back, a luminous thing that once existed—­“generally, this is the mother who held and fed the child.”5 The second is the narcissistic model, in which the woman becomes a mirror for the aspiration of men—­“ loving what one would like to be oneself.”6 The third is production sexuality, a kind of “technical advancement model” that aims at investing and using woman for the self-­realization of man’s opus (opera), as Carla Lonzi writes. Theweleit struggles to grapple with woman’s point of view in this relation, unfortunately contenting himself with speculating that “inasmuch as they choose and are chosen strategically on the basis of an anticipated use, they will share the man’s strategies in pursuing his aims to a certain, if not a great, extent.”7 The implications of being a mere surrogate—­or the idea of woman being other to man, in other words being “his complement in the inessential mode,”—­a re, however, more complex.8 Simone de Beauvoir writes that the true meaning of woman for man is that appearing as the Other, [she] appears at the same time as a plenitude of being by opposition to the nothingness of existence that man experiences in itself; the Other, posited as object in the subject’s eyes, is posited as in-­itself, thus as being she is the perfect intermediary between nature that is foreign to man and the peer who is too identical to him.9

This secondary role also defines an asymmetry that has two consequences. Woman stands for the idea of the “privileged prey” while she is also “the flesh, its delights and its dangers”—­that is to say, life in its

-  84 -

Desire

unformed, shifting shape.10 To man, the flesh immediately recalls the peril of death because of its ultimate ungraspability. The Fordist symbolic order privileged a male object choice based on a closed order. Industrial society regulated the production of labor power through a number of institutions whose kernel was reproductive sex, so it actively encouraged and introjected in people’s mentality the usual double standard between the male and female. In Theweleit’s account, this regime follows the attachment mode. The love sought here is reminiscent of a lost origin, a mythical state of being—­the Other as plenitude, in other words. Nostalgia is the tonality of this kind of love. The new pattern that has emerged with the shift to postindustrial economy is one in which neoliberalism seems to actively pursue modes of life in which reproductive sex is tendentially marginal. One of the concrete reasons for this change is that the Global North has outsourced manufacturing to the Global South—­and concerning not only the production of commodities but also the reproduction of labor power. Concurrently, the fight for women’s reproductive rights in the West scored significant victories politically and juridically. More specifically, the excessive epistemological quality of neoliberal sexuality seems to adopt tactics that are more closely related to the narcissistic and technical advancement models, which are typical of what Theweleit calls production sexuality. According to the narcissistic pattern, the “love-­object is derived not from the example of their mothers, but rather from their own selves.”11 One should not miss the ambivalence of this position. To the extent that she is compared to man’s ambition, the suitable lover gains more equal footing with man. At the same time, her nature as a surrogate still encloses her in a set of expectations. Just like labor is measurable only in terms of capital, woman here represents something only insofar as she is valued by predetermined (male) standards. As far as production sexuality goes, here again, woman is valued to the extent that she is useful to the advancement of man’s ambitions; but as the economy is further feminized, “precariousness, mobility and fragmentation become constituent elements of the work of all persons irrespective of gender,” forcing labor into a dimension of production and capture of value from life itself.12 The target is potentiality, and the prey is now perceived as a critical element of possibility, a form of a very promising return on investment. Its mobility is liberating in the sense that it does not lock woman into a defined position (wife or object of pleasure).



Desire

-  85 -

In moving along the lines of the doctrine of valorization of a capacity, this freedom is homologous to the corporate discourse of unlocking individual potentials, thereby spurring interest choice and investment. It represents a market opportunity that should be seized. The French post-­Situationist autonomist collective Tiqqun described precisely this change in subject formation through the social complex of the jeune fille (young girl). The individual is first and foremost placed in relation to itself as a generator of value and thus becomes entangled with a series of biopolitical commitments. These commitments are then internalized, doled out as prescriptions to self-­optimization and increased performance, and thereby creating a strong pressure to aesthetic productivity. The thesis is simple: “The Young-­Girl resembles her photo. . . . [She] is that which is entirely expressible. [ . . . ] The Young-­ Girl only exists in proportion to the desire that people have for her.”13 Just like in any Tinder or Instagram profile, as in the user-­experience discourse that dominates the world of marketing and sales, it is the desirability of the individual here that will, we hope, pay dividends. There is nothing new under the sun, as the whole male economy has always been sexual in nature; only here, however, it has conjured up a more universalizing form because neoliberalism “is thus also the moment when each person is called upon to relate to herself as a value, that is, by following the central mediation of a series of controlled abstractions.”14 Neoliberalism permits and solicits, in fact, a similar investment on woman’s part. To be more precise, for those women who choose to play the neoliberal game of desire, the possibility is offered for an object choice that enables them to realize themselves in their opus: banking on one’s human capital, in today’s corporate language; or, as Wendy Brown argues, boosting “portfolio value.”15 But because woman is still flesh to man, the pernicious effect is that of a spectralization. As I noted in the previous chapter, neoliberalism enables the resurgence of forms of femininities that are defined by an inflated corporeality. The proliferation of these phantasms can be explained by the fact that woman should now become a hunter in her own right, after originally being exclusively prey.16 Still, this aesthetic imposes a predetermined image of the liberated woman who seems closer to the phallic woman than anything else, for she is called to capitalize precisely on her own appearance and seductive powers.

-  86 -

Desire

In this case, one can argue that this pattern of object choice is the peculiar neoliberal situation, which Jane Elliott describes through the idea of a “suffering agency,” albeit with a small change: we now shift from a moral decision to an aesthetic one. Yet we are still in the realm of an ethos of an established rule of conduct. The neoliberal suffering agency here is turned into a desiring one that, while buttressing a form of self-­projected individuality, drifts toward the logic of the drive. Independently from gender, neoliberalism has changed the status of loss. Previously Fordism represented the loss of some essential form of being that spurred a kind of backward movement of desire in view of a contained, finite order. Neoliberalism instead “expresses this force of loss as an absence of completion or limits. Capital is only capital through the loss of a capacity to be at rest,” writes Jodi Dean, for “absent an end or a limit, capitalism pushes on, in a relentless, nonsensical circuit.”17 This symbolic economy expresses a formalism that not only informs the cases of knowledge and sexuality but also manifests in the distant field of warfare. Sex and War When describing the forms of power that developed with the advent of capitalism, Foucault argues that we should not restrict our attention to the transformation of legal apparatuses but rather should concentrate on what happens to social technologies and to the series of practices and knowledges that comprise a dispositif. These microdevices of control are key to the proper managing of valorization that I want to outline. As he argues in the 1979 lecture “Les mailles de pouvoir,” delivered in Bahia, Brazil, we should move from a juridical conceptualization of the deployment of power to a technological one. This is Foucault’s most timely contribution to the understanding of our present: exploring venues for the disciplining of subjectivities that are affirmative rather than only negative, modalities of subject formation that, while administrating “things and persons right down to the minutest detail, would neither be expensive nor essentially predatory on society.”18 In “Les mailles de pouvoir,” the two chief historical cases that Foucault uses to exemplify this transformation are the military and sexuality. Foucault is particularly interested in the “techniques of training” of the modern Prussian army and in the emergence of sexuality as the dis-



Desire

-  87 -

course that controls population growth. Both are “techniques for the individualization of power” that developed methodologies to “monitor [surveiller] someone . . . control his conduct, his behavior, his aptitudes . . . intensify his performance, multiply his capacities.”19 The issue of efficacy—­that is to say, of the creation of sites of affirmation in which individuals autonomously maximize their existence while optimizing the system as a whole—­is deeply entrenched with the role of instrumentality and the regime of choice I have already discussed. Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval have further argued that neoliberal rationality requires “liberty as a condition of possibility.” By this they mean that “to govern is not to govern against liberty, or despite it; it is to govern through liberty.”20 Looking at the constant state of war and erosion of individual rights even in the democratic West, this statement may seem incongruous. Blood runs every second the neoliberal machine ticks. By discussing the relation between violence and object choice, however, I already pointed at how this system is far from being even remotely coherent. There is a deep (and paradoxical) connection between killing life and expanding it, if only because of the banal fact that the labor of life is also that of death, as Heraclitus would say. But more poignantly, war and sexuality are terms of comparison insofar as, in general, they give shape to a system of positivity that targets living labor, that is to say, potentiality. Neoliberal digitality welds the two dimensions together because it wants to code the movement of matter itself by transcribing it into the language of capital accumulation. Yet this unholy union is far from being something new. “Of all these knights and ladies of ancient times . . .” One only needs to recall Virgil’s words in canto 5 of the Inferno to argue that at the core of Western culture, love and war are intrinsically bound together as two sides of the proverbial coin.21 Achilles had Briseis just like Roland had Angelica, and they were both driven mad by their passion. Further back in time, as Jessie Glenn Gray reminds us, one finds “a familiar Greek myth about the goddess of love, Aphrodite, becoming the mistress of Ares, god of war, whose youth and passion captured her heart.”22 Today we instinctively reject any unity between the two terms. Yet we also tend to forget that these outbursts regularly took the form of rape, for in terms of the circulation of desire, men historically enjoyed “an acquired right to expropriation without compensation.”23 But if one looks

-  88 -

Desire

at pop culture, it is difficult to find a war movie without the redeeming flames of passion glaring amid gun smoke. Usually love plays an ancillary role. With the big bucks invested in fighting, sentiment works as a kind of subplot with a proleptic value, so to speak. It stands in for the rewards that victory will eventually bring. Consider, for instance, the story of a recent mainstream film like Fury (2015) by David Ayer. In the final days of World War II, Wardaddy Collier’s ruthless tank squad finds momentary solace behind enemy lines in a devastated German village. Here, Wardaddy and an inexperienced soldier, Norman, encounter two female German cousins and spend a few hours in their house. Norman has furtive intercourse with the younger woman, while Wardaddy plays family man with the older one. The ephemeral image of an idyllic middle-­class life alludes to a happy future in a world without Nazis. The oedipal implications of this scene are blatant. Predictably, the abrupt assassination of the two women by the Germans is the turning point for Norman to accept his military duty as a man and avenger. As feminism teaches us, the first objectification of reality is that of the woman as a sexual object or Other whose foreignness historically man must court, conquer, betray, exchange, and at times even fear.24 This so-­called theological assumption has long-­standing consequences. Bundled with the question of desire of man, which means by men as well as for men, she becomes the other side of the coin of the violent deed par excellence: war. After all, she had always been conjured up as an honorable pretext for war; think of Helen of Troy. More prosaically, women were a conspicuous—­and much coveted—­part of the spoils of any military victory. In this case, male desire is simply diverted to another kind of symbolic act of possession, another kind of consumption—­not the material wealth one seizes, but, in the case of enslaved women, the carnal one. Accordingly, for the young private in Fury, the chronology is reversed: only insofar as he takes the body of the woman can he then proceed to take the life of other men. Theweleit argues that in fascist symbolism, woman represents the dangerous flux of the infinite that causes “desire to flee from its object, then transform itself into a representation of violence.”25 Naturally these kinds of representations change according to the specific socioeconomic setting of society, and so does the particular cathexis for this kind of investment. Under neoliberalism, the modulation of this intensity has taken the shape of a sanitized and more pluralistic manage-



Desire

-  89 -

ment of the infinite flow. To this we may add that today, the naturalization of the forces of production has cropped out and targeted an element that is quintessentially feminine: the work of reproduction intended as usability/instrumentality—­in other words, reproduction progressively divested of its last anchor, procreation; or, to put it differently, the pure potential of the reproduction of labor power. As I have observed, this tendency follows the geopolitical divide between the Global South and Global North, with the former heavily burdened by the task of procreation and the latter increasingly less so. To the effect that the core issue under neoliberalism is the absolute usability of reality, the most plausible reason for the cultural contiguity of sex and war is potentiality. I would like to untie this conceptual knot by laying it out in terms that may seem all too blunt, but the matter at hand would occupy the pages of several volumes. Paolo Virno once argued that whenever we have a definition of what an animal is we can detect a theory of sovereignty in the making.26 In a similar fashion, whenever we speak about the relationship between sex and war, we catch sight of an ontology in the making. More specifically, sex and war intersect a power that humankind partakes in and that it cannot quite grasp, thereby transcending the two domains at once. According to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, the nexus desiring–­production (sex)—­which may easily turn into its opposite, desiring–­destruction (war)—­refers to “a nonsexual energy, for which sexuality has merely served as a symbol for an anagogical beyond.”27 It is precisely this “beyond” that is at stake when we refer to biopolitics. This force goes under various names according to the discipline that investigates it—­the real according to psychoanalysis, “being” for philosophy, transcendence for political theology, and so on.28 What we can say about it is that it is measureless and imperishable. It involves the “the pure potentiality, the power of self-­actualization.”29 Our biopolitical times mark a specific moment in history where bios is raised to a force of production in itself—­or to use Virno’s definition, where capital targets virtuality itself (not the product but the potential to produce).30 Insofar as it dictates the necessity of endless valorization, neoliberal biopolitics is thus intimately related to the secularization of transcendence that I described so far. Classical literature and myths convey more directly the intimate connection between sexuality and war as two kinds of processes that violently dispossess the other. In essence, what these stories show is how

-  90 -

Desire

masculine desire is deployed in all its totalitarian reach—­and perhaps also how women were forced to learn how to bite away some parcels of pleasure for themselves from this situation. This masculine desire is, in fact, one-­d imensional “or binary,” for “whether they like it or not, the bodies of women belong to the desire of the rapists, as long as they aren’t capable of exciting other desires.”31 The stark natural fact of this subjugation is again laid out today, but with a twist that makes it appear more progressive. Not surprisingly, a similar integration between the two realms returns to the surface in a time when nature becomes more and more a force of production, only it is slightly displaced. Much of the mainstream discussion regarding gender equality seems to be oblivious to the fact that these institutional frameworks are still based on our original theological assumption. While the Fordist mechanization of production implies a model of sexual relationships buried in the romantic notion of the family, it also clearly defines said family as a unit of production in which woman had to be available to man’s desire in order to successfully carry out the work of reproduction. This includes but is not limited to all of those activities relating to procreation, material care, and affective labor that enable the reproduction of old and new labor power. As I argued, this theological assumption—­desire is masculine—­is simply updated by post-­Fordism: a particular phallic take of desire is offered as a solution for everybody. This symbolic structure dynamically regulates the social body via micromechanisms that force every individual to make of usability the first and only thing he knows. The Ballistic Eye That this neoliberal horizon influences directly both warfare and sexuality is reflected by interesting developments in war studies. Michael Dillon and Julian Reid indicate that a similar shift in the targeting of potentiality defines what they call “the liberal way of war.” They argue that “when species existence becomes foundational . . . in theory and practice, the properties of species life will begin to dictate the terms under which the authority and legitimacy of states will also be expressed and state power exercised locally and globally.”32 This implies a remarkable emphasis on the world-­forming qualities typical of biopolitics. When life becomes the object of a direct intervention, the modalities through



Desire

-  91 -

which that very life is organized and organizes itself point toward a unidimensional, almost immanent shaping of existence. As the reproduction of life becomes more deeply inherent to itself, one also notices a peculiar attempt to liquidate the gap that customarily separates the subject (or the agent) from the object—­and in the political domain, the ruler from the ruled. Dardot and Laval call it a form of “govern through liberty,” while Dillon and Reid define it as the attempt “to rule by encouraging subjects/objects of rule to rule themselves.”33 Similarly, it can be argued that smart technology tends to disavow the duplicative and transitive nature typical of symbolic structures. This does not mean that reality, or whatever is represented, disappears, but rather that the digital holds the promise of “simulating a thing so effectively that ‘what it is’ becomes less and less necessary to speak about.”34 This argument goes beyond the usual discourse on how the society of simulacra liquidated reality. Take for instance the case of a new branch of research in molecular biology called synthetic biology. This discipline pledges to study and redesign biological systems by nominally eliminating any organismal intervention in vivo. Microscopes, autoclaves, and petri dishes with samples will be soon neatly stored in cabinets of wonder of the university because, so they hope, software programs will crunch nearly all experimental data provided for analysis and testing. The unidimensional structure of informatics implies an incredible generative capacity that is productive rather than hermeneutic, for as Alexander Galloway argues, “the matter at hand is not that of coming to know a world, but rather that of a how specific, abstract definitions are executed to form a world.”35 This is why we can also argue that the smart era is fundamentally asymbolic—­that is to say, it is more interested in modeling and reformulating than designating or representing the reality at hand.36 Computing life also means effectively performing its fluid and unexpected nature. Where the goal is suppressing lives, this ultimately means producing weapons that are responsive and adaptive to the nature of the enemy. Because of its epistemological consequence, theorists who do not usually deal with military studies have paid a great attention to the notion of the target. Here scholars have emphasized the significance of contingency and opportunity, as well as the tendency for abstracting (dematerializing) reality by casting it as something utterly locatable, virtual, and thus manipulable.37 The point here

-  92 -

Desire

is to reformulate a topography that can engender its own existence—­in other words, that is sentient and capable of self-­actualization. We can call it a datascape or a digital chronotope: an infrastructure based on location and predictability of time and space. These are the fundamentals that a modern army needs in order to surveil, analyze, and take action on different forms of life. The technological capacity of transforming the world into a map that is searchable but also smart—­that is to say, which is capable of autonomously producing feedback information and enabling action—­goes hand in hand with the rise of asymmetric warfare. Here military confrontation is not determined by the clash of two armies but by incursions against smaller, difficult-­to-­track units.38 As the modern battle turns into a global hunt, the most effective weapons are thus unmanned surveillance and incursion aircrafts, what we normally call drone technology. These devices constitute a further development of the modern approach (photography) to reality that finds in vision its vanishing point or outermost peak of opaqueness: Despite the image’s kinetic attributes, the camera obscura allowed the movement of matter to be contained enough to become the subject of contemplation. With long range, visually prosthetic weaponry, a similar containment occurs, but with an altogether different goal. Rather than contemplation, manipulation and obliteration become the effects of both containment and observation. With such weaponry, to see the target is to destroy the target.39

The idea that this optic technology provokes a type of physiological blindness is probably attenuated by the fact that something else intervenes in the localization of the target. As Harun Farocki argues, the kind of images produced in prosthetic war “do not represent an object, but rather are part of an operation,” which is processual and involves duration.40 In addition, the functioning and actual application of this technology are less smooth than common parlance likes to admit. It rather registers the mysticism of what Benjamin Noys calls the drone’s “theological metaphysics,” a specific characteristic of neoliberal power based on the expansion of the visual as the space for disembodied and godlike human control.41 In reality, the distance between the thing and the visual apparatus is still not immediate. The reason lies precisely in



Desire

-  93 -

the flux of information that is recorded, and that must be analyzed and made instrumental in order to individuate a potential enemy and receive authorization to execute the attack. This is why, as for any other system that involves big data, the army analyst must isolate anomalies (apart from regularities) within the data flow to detail predictive behaviors. This operation takes costly time and comes with a burden. After all, “anomaly detection,” as Pasquinelli writes, “is the mathematical paranoia of the Empire in the age of big data.”42 It is not difficult to imagine a perfected version of a remotely piloted aircraft system equipped with an enhanced level of quasi-­immediate recognition. Unsurprisingly, arms that enable pilots to execute the strike as they perceive the enemy are already available to the United States army.43 In this sense, one could talk of a weaponized eye; the vision seems to observe and kill precisely in order to observe and kill, as if enthralled by such a complete form of contemplation that it embodies the structure of the drive—­the scopic drive, to be precise. Within the drive, the question of truth is irrelevant, for it is the very dynamism of the movement that constitutes its truth seeking.44 This is a distinctive quality of contemporary technology that has consequences for sexuality as well. The structural element of this scopic system is that annihilation seems to have turned into a goal free from any final objectives. Like the optic apparatus, which cannot stop gazing once it is in place, drone technology seems to incorporate a self-­propagating goal that transcends military victory on the field. Ironically, these attacks exponentially increase recruiting capacities for insurgents. Drone war may deliver conflicts without casualties for the American army, but at the same time it sets the stage for a strategy according to which war cannot be won.45 A prey that shall not be ultimately seized, an opponent that cannot be conquered—­it is not only that prosthetic war must reshape itself according to the emergent behavior of life, but also that the endless nature of this system of power echoes the modus operandi of capital: endless accumulation. Along with it, we should also take stock of how this formalism mirrors that of the death drive, whose logic is inscribed in the goal and functioning of prosthetic weaponry itself. To cast further light on these relationships, I will now return to the economic–­symbolic complex to look more deeply at the rationality of capitalism and its current neoliberal mutation.

-  94 -

Desire

Debt, Performance, and Capitalism as a Cult There is a short, dense note by Walter Benjamin that points to tendencies in early liberal capitalism that already prefigure its full maturation under neoliberalism. In order to discuss it, I begin with the issue of anxiety and its relation to the mechanism of debt to sketch the main characteristics of contemporary life. When, as in modernity, the subject is delivered over to his subjectivity as a supposedly empty and nonqualified dominion—­one that is utterly manipulable—­what emerges is not so much the mighty figure of an all-­powerful subject but the more fragile, besieged individual of contemporary society. The reason for this condition may be easily intuited. In reality, the social imperative that commands self-­a ffirmation creates anxiety—­a relentless condition for the subject, for it orders a satisfaction that is structurally unachievable because he is built precisely on a lack of order and on excess. Therein we encounter the other side of this unanswerable call for self-­realization: a specular mechanism of infinite movement, the liability that exceeds the confines of individual life of contemporary economic crisis. This is one of the mechanisms that feeds what Maurizio Lazzarato calls the “economy of debt,” which further implements this form of self-­imprisonment via “the creation and development of the power relation between creditors and debtors.” Debt is not an unfortunate accident but rather “has been conceived and programmed as the strategic heart of neoliberal politics.”46 In Foucauldian terms, debt is not based on the prohibitory force of the law. Rather, it “leaves you free, and it encourages you and pushes you to act in such a way that you are able to honor your debt.”47 Needless to say, these procedures realize enormous profits for the elite, leaving to the rest the grim reality of never-­ending work. No wonder several symptoms of an existential anxiety are clearly visible among the population. Most obviously, it is the precariousness and increasing pressure of accountability of today’s life that produces widespread anxiety. But at a more profound level, a society based on positive injunctions also creates a vacuum for the subject’s self-­realization because he lacks any definite criterion. As I have argued, Fordist industrial democracy was a society built on some level of measurability; notwithstanding how unequal this ratio was, a distinct sense of exchange between bestowing work and remuneration was still perceptible. Likewise, there was a difference between working and nonworking time, or between work and nonwork



Desire

-  95 -

space, even though the latter was already characterized by consumerism as a nonproductive activity that indeed produced value. One of the side effects of our present impossibility in determining clear ratios between working and nonworking time—­what postworkerist thought calls the decline of the law of value that regimented industrial democracy—­is precisely this: a ubiquitous anxiety for the ungraspability of the very grid of representation that supports symbolization. This effacement also produces the paradoxical effect of an endless push for self-­measurement now commonly understood as benchmarking, a term borrowed from the finance world, where it refers to titles’ performances. Benchmarking captures the inhuman essence of the notion of labor as human capital. Benchmarking is similar to the general notion of performance, which we find in sports, and where the athlete works constantly to improve his or her personal record. In this sense, the subject measures himself against the infinite series of the future and becomes engulfed by it, and in the next chapter I will discuss various tools for self-­monitoring that help to activate these forms of individuation of power. For the moment, the idea of constantly raising the bar expresses a more favorable condition than that of the debtor. Yet benchmarking and debt incarnate a specular movement. They share the same formalism based on endless accountability. In the case of benchmarking, the subject proceeds onto the endless scale of progress and each step upward confirms his moral stature vis-­à-­v is performance improvement. In the case of debt, the subject still needs to move forward because he is chased by pending liabilities. His moral stature is momentarily confirmed each time he moves away from them. The origin of this formalism lies in the modern reconfiguration of transcendence. In his note on capitalism as religion, Walter Benjamin alludes to this pattern, showing how early twentieth-­century production accommodates a further radicalization that we now see fully in effect under neoliberal biopolitics. He argued that capitalism is a religion that has a specific cultic structure “that makes guilt and debt pervasive. Capitalism is probably the first instance of a cult that creates guilt, not atonement.”48 If capitalism is a religion, then it is crucial to understand to what extent this spiritual dimension is connected to debt. One way to explain the religious essence of capitalism is that it articulates a set of beliefs, conducts, and cultural imaginary that inserts transcendence—­that is, limits and boundaries that are used to

-  96 -

Desire

rule and ground representation—­i nto the human.49 As a modern form of representation of the infinite, capitalism recodes into the human domain the natural flow of life by subjecting it into goal-­oriented philosophies such as “utilitarianism.”50 According to Benjamin, “Capitalism has developed as a parasite on Christianity in the West, not in Calvinism alone.”51 Benjamin is arguing here that capitalism is grafted onto a topological assumption that has a clear lineage—­one we already traced when discussing the issue of iconoclasm. The Mosaic representation of the law, McNulty writes, “consigns God to the place of the unrepresentable” and thus allows “collectivity to explore the absence or loss of the leader in a way that sustains the desire of the Other.”52 In contrast, the Christian tradition reintrojects the structural dimension of the principle of order into the human through Christ as the incarnation of the Son of God.53 But Christianity still promised redemption through earthly deeds. Catholicism provided that through the promise of paradise; for Calvinism, it was the concept of grace. Even if crucial to the development of capitalism, Calvinism still restricts human activity, at least theoretically, by offering moral precepts and the possibility of expiation. For Benjamin, though, capitalism enacts a double movement that, while holding fast to the incarnation of the infinite into human life, parallels the Nietzschean notion of “breaking open of the heavens by an intensified humanization.”54 It thus also pulverizes natural limitedness by setting in motion a law of movement that is abstract and cyclical—­in other words, the endless accumulation of capital. Benjamin states that in the end, “Christianity’s history is essentially that of its parasites—­that is to say, of capitalism.”55 Capitalism feeds off the Christian reterritorialization of infinity into the realm of human makings, only to consign transcendence to a goalless dictum of more and more work, thus reproducing that same indebtedness ad infinitum. In effect, the most radical trait that Benjamin traces in the cultic spirit of capitalism is the idea that its principle of order, God himself, is the standard-­bearer of guilt. As he writes, the “fourth feature is that its God must be hidden and may be invoked only when his guilt is at its Zenith. The cult is celebrated before an unmatured deity; every image, every representation of it violates the secret of its immaturity.”56 Following what I have said so far, it seems clear that there is no final moment of exhaustion of the debt because transcendence has been erased



Desire

-  97 -

and folded in human destiny. Hence the principle of order itself incarnates this vanishing point of unredeemable debt. The excessive nature of reality points to the true but hidden maturity of this deity. Precisely because of the nonsensical telos of its movement, this deity must be written into more conciliatory narratives of capitalist self-­image: the wealth the entrepreneur produces for the benefit of the community, the risks he takes as he invests his patrimony in production, and so forth. But in reality, Benjamin notes, this deity wants “explosive and discontinuous intensification;” this is a religion that “no longer is a reform of being, but rather its shattering.”57 Capitalist logic finds its ripest condition in the neoliberal deconstituent mission combined to a simple and inflexible principle: the impossibility of atonement for guilt. What is at stake here is the moral dimension of the modern subject, the pressure that personal accountability always exerts on anyone who is in debt, or rather who has been put in debt, established through the kind of “work on the self” that the debtor must carry out even before he enters his working life.58 For the lower and now middle classes, the “interlocking series of seemingly indisputable propositions regarding human behavior” that define their neoliberal agency are simply a consequence of the economy of debt.59 Guilt is the environmental pressure that stimulates their hyperactivity or their industriousness. Rest is reduced to the momentary compliance with the installment of the mortgage they pay, which is immediately subsumed by the next bill to come, in perpetuity. The moral subject thus keeps on working on himself. The more he maximizes his performance, the more benchmarking needs to be done. But measure is based on proliferation itself. Thus at every single step of this moral work, anxiety inflates while capitalism activates its proper mechanisms for capturing value. Yet is austerity not born under the sign of that holy trinity, morality, rigor, and sacrifice? Think only of the new great speculative bubble: American student debt. First, massive deinvestment in public education causes tuition costs to skyrocket; then students suffer from a forced entry into a debt economy, burdening them for generations. It is not enough to extract value, as is widely done, from the product of future cognitive labor; it is also necessary to exploit the future debtor’s period of formation, which then becomes a new source of profit and morally obligates the contractor to repay an outgoing surplus in addition to the surplus labor that is already expected. Therefore, there is no equivalent

-  98 -

Desire

exchange, only a claim lacking any limits. As Joan Copjec says, it is “the expansion of capitalism and the prevalence of the structure of guilt supporting it” that distorts the truth of the subject’s inconsistency.60 The sense of guilt is no more than our presentiment of “an inalienable and yet un-­integratable surplus of self,” which the new neoliberal topology dynamically regulates to extract value.61 To recapitulate, I described two technologies neoliberalism currently deploys, a military and an economic one. Both follow a similar biopolitical pattern based on an open-­ended principle that maximizes the potentiality of life. Yet this theoretical apparatus barely touches on its other coterminous domain: how geospatial computation organizes sexuality and desire. I now turn to an analysis of the symbolic structure supported by informationalized society where digital technology, as Dominic Basulto writes, is “moving away from just curating content, to actually performing artificial intelligence operations on that content.”62 This inquiry will provide the framework for a consideration of the case of Tinder. This matchmaking app is a type of technology that enables temporary comfort from the transient nature of reality and from the haunting structure of the Other that invests the sexual domain. What’s more, Tinder optimizes this existential complex via a very interesting application of spatial mapping.63 The Other and Infinite Accumulation Describing this state of things, I feel almost forced to use a vocabulary that draws from the old Italian autonomist tradition: emphasis toward finding a principle of self-­organization and autonomy; the (perverse) drift toward immanence that is obviously used to enhance the system itself; the liquidation of authority in the guise of a privileged point of view that validates what is true, real, and so forth; and the rise of a virtual perspective (workerists referred to Marx’s term “general intellect”) that turns reality into something that is materially operative. As noted, these transformations have direct consequences at a psychosymbolic level, determining a social order that is antinormative and intransitive, where power is not vertical but horizontally organized via unidimensional digital forces. Meanwhile, in the visual domain, perception slips into opaqueness because of the infinitesimal resolution that prosthetic technology delivers. The implosion of the demarcation between subject



Desire

-  99 -

and reality, or what might be termed the asymbolic character of smart technology, clearly echoes transformations in the deep structures of society and its postoedipal makeup. From a modern sociosymbolic order based on oppositional and duplicative structures, think of the opposition “unconscious/conscious.” We have shifted to “a world that is not a theater anymore but a market, where representation gives way to exposition . . . seduction to performance, relation with the other to the consumption of the other.”64 Insofar as conquest is the goal in both war and seduction, the other of the sexual relation is a more intractable entity than the combatant on the battlefield, especially if one considers how enemies are aseptically liquidated by pushing buttons from a remote location.65 This leads us to question in what ways the paroxysm of absolute perceptive knowledge seeks to colonize other life domains that include interrelational rapport. While online circulation forecloses a feminine topology and disavows truth via the informational and its seriality, visual prosthetic weaponry develops a theory of knowledge that seeks the object by liquidating it—­ and concurrently it turns said object into metadata augmenting the scalability of the system. Couldn’t it be that digital technologies that mediate sexual encounters engage in similar practices, targeting partners, aiming to keep the danger of exposure to the other at bay? In other words, could it be that the modeling capacity of these technologies individualizes power in a martial fashion precisely by holding or consuming the other through a dynamic loop of winning it over, exhausting it, and replacing it with always renewed targets of opportunity?66 The device of debt—­a nd how it manages life—­is significant for a nonmonetary type of economy and for the economy of relations with the Other—­that is, the secularized version of transcendence that dominates neoliberal society. The present work on the self that obliges everybody to be happy cannot elude the problem of relationality, not even in the most egotistical mind-­set. The very issue of desire calls into question a necessary engagement with the Other. This implies the well-­k nown Lacanian definition of the desire of the other as the desire for the other, but also by the other. It is precisely the last part of this double-­bind relation that elicits a response. According to Lacan, anxiety is related to “the capture of the Other in the web of desire,” to the fact that “common experience shows that we do not live our lives, whoever we are, without tirelessly offering to goodness knows what unknown divinity the sacrifice

-  100 -

Desire

of some little mutilation, whether valid or not, that we impose on ourselves in the field of our desires.”67 This is why, according to Lacan, the gift offered for sacrifice always had to be completely pure. It had to present itself as the reliable legal tender of the symbolic exchange. In Lacan’s interpretation of Isaac’s sacrifice, God has refused Abraham’s initial offering, yet Abraham feels that at least a little scratch or cut is needed to seal a minimal covenant. But this equivalence becomes increasingly problematic in a society that has lost any point of reference. The anxiety generated by the impossibility of matching with the structure of desire of the Other cannot count on means that offered stability in the past. The prospect of conjugal life—­under the bourgeois nuclear family—­that gave the lie to this stability is now anachronistic. Here the questions of embodiment and the sensorial are equally important. Paul Virilio’s turn-­ of-­ the-­ century claims that cybersexuality would imperil “the future of sexual reproduction” by turning “vital copulation . . . into the practice of remote-­control masturbation” are clearly off the mark.68 We are currently witnessing the growth of a series of technologies that atomize the social body in terms that are more complex than that of pure abstraction and erasure of the corporeal. These digital apparatuses represent sophisticated ways of folding in the material dimension precisely because life itself is the target of neoliberalism.69 What does it mean that life itself is invested by technology, digitized, and informationalized? The algorithmic drive of information society holds the key to understanding how these technologies of power work, mutatis mutandis, in different arenas, such as the military, the economic, and the sentimental. Douglas Haddow summarizes these points, recalling the flash-­market crash of 2010, “when the Dow Jones Industrial dropped 1000 points in under a minute, the biggest one-­day point decline in history”—­a downturn that barely made the news “because everything returned to normal a few seconds later.” As he explains, this event was a turning point, demonstrating that something had changed. That something was that the neoliberals had achieved what communists, socialists, and Christians never could: they made their god real, and in doing so, achieved their utopia. . . . The searches we make, the news we read, the dates we go on, the advertisements we see, the



Desire

-  101 -

products we buy and the music we listen to. The stock market. . . . All informed by this marriage between mathematics and capital, all working together in perfect harmony to achieve a singular goal. . . . Like the advent and rise of high-­f requency trading, they’re part of an optimization trend that leads to a strange brand of perfection: automated profit.70

The capitalist use of algorithms is what enables the simulation and valorization of life in its different dimensions. As in the case of the weaponized eye and the digital chronotope, these processes of mathematization replicate the dynamic of the natural and reflect the ontological quality of “emergent behavior” and “generative capacities of matter to evolve.”71 Posed as the basis of their true creed is their guilty deity: accumulation. Such smart technology presents a double movement by which the sophistication of the digital aims at enhancing the experiential dimension of the corporeal. Mobile interface technology practices this strategy with great precision. As Jason Farman writes, Location-­based social networks offer a form of intersubjective embodiment that gives participants . . . a sense of embodied integrity that is aware of the self’s place as that which is always already situated in relationship to the location of others. . . . The self’s identity extends beyond the immediate context and encompasses a much broader sociospatial sphere.72

We have thus entered a phase in which this relationality becomes a form of individuation of power. The neoliberal reconfiguration of society thrives on indeterminacy—­what Benjamin calls a “shattering of being”—­and increasingly produces an exponentiation of anxiety. It is plausible to maintain that new technologies also serve the purpose of administering relations with the Other, especially in a period that encourages free and expansive sexuality. In keeping with what has been said regarding capitalism as a cult and modern warfare, something must be pledged so that the relationship with the other is rendered smooth and affirmative. A sacrificial economy emerges that minimizes blockages and restricts possibilities and slowdowns in the acceleration of capital’s accumulation. This is why even acute theorists such as Virilio may sometimes fall into the trap of moralism. Reflexes of authentic

-  102 -

Desire

conjugal life or abstinence seem to oppose power but are in fact simply devices of capital grown residual. Weaponizing the Sexual Market Ensuring compatibility with the web of the desire of the Other is still a central issue for our society. Techniques of the individualization of power—­such as Tinder—­comply with a fundamental role in melding society together by keeping it in a fluid and all-­expansive form, one that thrives in reifying anxiety and that also bears a specific mark on a similarly atomized and exploitative labor regime.73 Tinder is a utility app that uses a GPS system to track the availability of potential matches in a user’s immediate area. It is integrated with Facebook and other platforms so that once users generate a profile, they are provided potential matches. These profiles then appear on your mobile phone; you can Like them, as Facebook jargon says, or pass on them. Swiping right is positive, whereas swiping left is a no, but then you are moved to the next possible partner. The app incarnates the gamelike essence of courtship and several qualities of game design, such as its aleatory nature, its role-­playing characteristics, the attachment it produces, and its emergent game-­play outputs. This last feature is arguably the most interesting characteristic that seems to swerve away from the intended goal of the app.74 Swiping right actually pauses the “game,” forcing you to read a profile and possibly make contact. Obviously it was carefully crafted to do so: “The stack of dating-­profile photos displayed in the app was modeled after a deck of cards. ‘When you have a deck or a pile of cards,’ says Sean Rad, co-­founder of the Los Angeles–­based company, ‘the natural urge is to interact with it.’”75 Swiping right is the intended action, but it also arrests the perusing motion that aims at the infinite series populating the beyond space off the screen on the left. Ironically, it stalls the game. Hence, it is as if the very goal of the utility dissolved in its functioning because the user constantly lives in a precarious balance between the fictional and the real world. Far from being problematic, this is a productive incongruence, particularly if one considers the sustained growth of its user base. GPS localization allows for an interesting interaction between the fictional and real world, one that incarnates a peculiar modern disposition toward a reality where the object turns into a live target. The parallel



Desire

-  103 -

with the informatization of modern warfare is blatant. Reduced to a game of chance for the libidinal investment, partner multiplication, and at times even consummation, these technologies provide an interesting take on the algorithmization of life. We must pierce through its all-­ powerful outlook and see, as Rosenberg reminds us, “the discourse of molecularization [of sexuality] as a kind of abstract dispossession—­or making-­waste of the body—­that is to say, the condition of a fantasized speculative self-­possession.”76 To do so, we can look at how this technology enacts its game and operates at a multilevel strategy. First, the promise of an easy fix to the issue of sex produces a new series of mediations and detours that show an intrinsic normative schema. If this is a game, then you need to learn how to play it. At a personal level, it gives the lie to the rediscovering of a more authentic but also easily manageable form of law. A series of websites and dating coaches are already reselling to overeager users this simplified approach to romance, with its generalized rules of seduction and a codification of the impalpability of desire. This provides some comfort against the anxiety that the incredible stack of contacts and information each exchange produces, but it also helps to orient users toward the real (normative) goal and not toward the ludic dimension of the game. Moreover, the surrogate of multiple encounters reinforces this semblance of security. Through the serialization of security, any risk of rejection or exposure to failures in the relationship is minimized.77 As the obverse or the necessary counterpart of the accountability of the modern subject as debtor, Tinder constructs an idea of life as a limitless investment in the libidinal that promises pleasure. Similar to the new grammar of finding, it feeds the objectual while data mining the thing of jouissance. Second, looking at the materiality of this medium, one may also argue that Tinder stands out as yet another advanced experiment in the capitalization of people’s nonlabor time. It announces the belief in an idea of order based on a moveable classificatory system precisely at the time when the old paternal law of prohibition has failed. It thus proceeds to expropriate the collective and social dimension of sexuality by transforming it into a mode of production of value. But here, as always, something is at stake that is more significant than the rightful concern regarding the immense webometric archive that is in the making—­and, incidentally, the problem of who will use this information (and how) concerning the most private tastes and feelings of people. What seems

-  104 -

Desire

like another and more advanced venue for the expansion of subjective self-­realization betrays its ambiguous nature. It is the obliterated normativity of the neoliberal order that “aims to secure a no less total subjection from their participation in a ‘win–­w in’ game,” to use “the eloquent formula that is supposed to describe professional and social existence” under neoliberalism.78 Third, this is also an incipient system of knowledge. The mystery of attraction represents that knowledge; it is what game theory calls the value of the game. By a new series of algorithms, we assist in the formalizing of the je ne sais quoi that stirs that particular emotion—­be it sexual passion or loving attachment—­and that is another instance of the new mode of self-­governing that is becoming hegemonic. In other words, this technology implements the typical axioms under which the neoliberal self is securitized by a series of individual calculations—­in this case suitable lovers—­just like a program executes a task by computing at each step variables and possible outcomes. It is an experiential dimension in which the individual relates and seems to dominate a world that offers itself as completely available—­hence the importance of the geospatial component of its operations. Simultaneously, the fantasy of this omnipotence of the subject is reinforced by mechanisms that shield individuals from rejection. Risk and exposure to the other are conveniently neutralized “because you see only matches.”79 This is where neoliberalism hinges on a superficial rhetoric of progressivism that is based on equality and freedom. It is the idea that women should feel now empowered because they may explore sexuality in a more neutral space where they can be active seekers.80 To use Peggy Drexler’s mainstream journalistic postfeminist words: “The math is pretty simple: In the end, what social media dating does is give users—­and, most poignantly—­women more options. And more options means more freedom, and more power, too.”81 In taking them one step closer to man’s privilege, locative media would thus be emancipatory. But this commonsensical approach does not reflect neoliberal governmentality. One should not forget Judith Butler’s warning against the confusion between freedom and hedonism: “The body can be the agency and instrument of all these as well, or the site where ‘doing’ and ‘being done to’ become equivocal. Although we struggle for rights over our own bodies, the very bodies for which we struggle are not quite ever only our own.”82 In the case of feminine and



Desire

-  105 -

nonmale subjectivity, these modern mechanisms of capture illustrate a rather perverse form of entanglement: “For it is undeniable that that process of self-­fashioning that was key in fleeing from the patriarchal norm has been recoded into the market logic,” and today’s “emphasis on self-­ownership and self-­determination risks drifting toward liberal and neoliberal individualism if not accompanied by a radical deconstruction of the sovereign subject.”83 As Copjec maintains, the magnifying and enhancing capacity typical of our smart era exposes a kind of predatory predisposition toward the world ruled by the assumption that nothing exists “that cannot be exposed to a persistent, prying look.”84 Hence this will to know and dominate whatever lies beyond is in fact the uncanny consequence of a simple response to a symbolic obligation. What is unknown imposes on us the duty to be uncovered. We are symbolically compliant with the epistemological request of the Other of the Other. It is his desire that informs our desire that everything that exists must be captured, dissected, and exploited. It is the Other of the Other that desires, and this Other wants absolute usability. We feel accountable and have a duty to comply. Only after obeying can we then recast this response with the more acceptable discourse of universal equality. But the hidden truth—­ the theological assumption—­is still that of reproduction: the duty of valorizing life and potentiality. Similarly, the proxemics induced by the app (swiping right or left) inaugurates an interesting physical dimension, a sort of adult lateralization that pushes users to the beyond-­structure typical of our economy. The pleasure of matchmaking is constantly destabilized by the infinite series that lies beyond, while the original goal that somehow freezes movement in the specific selection recedes in the background, into the archival depth of potential matches. In this sense we find a particularly instructive incarnation of modern rationality. The decision to like or not like a profile is only superficially a binary one. The user’s attention instead is pulled to the side of the infinite of the Other. Reading user’s tips, one cannot but notice the continuous recommendation to stay focused on the real goal: matchmaking. What a remarkable contraindication for such a successful dating tool! Just like the urgency of constantly knowing what’s happening online that is typical of our connectionist era, the proxemics of this kind of technologies is an indicator of something else. It displays a sacrificial

-  106 -

Desire

predisposition that is perfectly in tune with the processes of subjectification that I described in the previous chapter. The measureless dimension that neoliberalism manufactured, which Dardot and Laval call “self-­transcendence,” implies an equally excessive structure that, as I argued, inhabits the field of the secularized Other, which as an immanentized entity cannot guarantee the consistency of the field and slips into infinite regression.85 Now that the criterion that guaranteed value has vanished, we are confused about how to cope with the anxiety or desire generated by this Other. We have now fallen into a lesser form of sacrifice. In the case of desire, we sacrifice our desire to that of the Other. In the case of anxiety, we engage in rituals that follow the rule of “anything is better than nothing.” Given that we cannot repay our debt, we return it in small installments. Just like in the case of Isaac’s sacrifice, something that secures a minimal covenant must be offered. Our debt, in contrast, is unpayable, and no sacrifice will be enough. A small offering that is constantly repeated, as in a perpetual ritual, may instead keep the Other at bay, at least for the time being. These little installments are continuous, like obsessively refreshing a Facebook page or swiping through a mobile interface. But checking who is next in a series is simply a way to deal with ever-­increasing anxiety. Anxiety is the anguish of the future; in moving forward through the stack of cards, we find a palliative for the implicit desperation of the individual who is unconsciously besieged by the unknown. Tinder is advertised as a matchmaking utility that promises to deliver true love. Yet the game-­oriented telos of the app is clearly factored into the very idea of the project. It is objectless and marked by a recursive logic similar to that of Googling. Enjoyment is secondary while the endless circulatory movement is essential.86 For merely contingent reasons, Tinder masks itself in idealistic terms (finding true love), whereas it showcases a distortion of the former that tends toward the logic of the drive. Hence, just like capitalism, the image it offers for adoration is that of an immature deity—­the romantic aspiration to a final union while it instead drifts toward proliferation and acceleration of movement itself. Slavoj Žižek makes the argument that “drive . . . stands for the paradoxical possibility that the subject forever prevented from achieving his Goal (and thus fully satisfying his desire), can nevertheless find satisfaction in the very circular movement of repeatedly missing its object.” This mode of being enacts “the self-­enclosed loop of a



Desire

-  107 -

circular repetitive movement [that] replaces infinite striving” typical of the drive.87 Recall the difference between desire and the drive. It is not only that desire sustains itself by missing the object—­and as such remains necessarily frustrated—­or that this is a particular distortion of the phallic masculine position. Rather, far from being an autotelic process in which the subject affirms himself in a kind of self-­presupposing mode, the subject—­through desire—­undergoes a kind of ecstatic suspension in which he is “involved in the Other, de-­centered through its identifications which neither excludes nor includes the Other in question.”88 In instead falling back onto the drive, the subject reaches a perverse satisfaction precisely in not capturing the object and establishes a self-­ form that is not reflexive anymore but rather obstinate in its movement forward. (This is the movement of surplus.) This is said to be true for new technology in general, where “the movement from link to link, the forwarding and storing and commenting  .  .  . is circulation for its own sake.”89 Endlessly moving forward like the weaponized eye of a drone, this technicization of sexuality also parallels interestingly with neoliberal warfare. Drone warfare does not only rely on direct recognition of the target to act. It must also compile a study of patterns and anomalies to make informative the enormous amount of data that it accumulates. In locative sex, participants engage in similar strategies. On one side, the codifying of a specific likeability that one needs to achieve in order to be successful can be described as self-­profiling. It is almost as if by indexing their persona, participants facilitate the immediate recognition of the target to be pursued. Eventually patterns are established, and the development of a microknowledge of set behaviors provides a reliable infrastructure for targeting. This formula for seduction emerges at the convergence of users and their smartphone screens; meanwhile, human encounters are pulverized in the infinitesimal calculation of digital archives. This may not necessarily be bad—­or at least not exactly. Benjamin Noys argues that in order to detoxify us from the mysticism of prosthetic war and smart technology, we need to take seriously this “metaphysics and the desire for a particular kind of subject-­less subject” while simultaneously “grasping how these constant transformations can be interrupted, negated, and refused.”90 In mutating toward a drive form, the subjectless aspiration is instead dispossessed,

-  108 -

Desire

surveilled, and made marketable.91 What’s more, a subjectless subject should not be conceived as a well-­oiled machine perfectly attuned to the rhythms of capital accumulation or under the spell of the desire of the Other. Instantaneous matches and targets are the nightmare of an ultimate instrumentalization of the world, of a naturalized nature held fast under the iron heel of capital, and not the legitimate aspiration to vitality, difference, and freedom.

Chapter 4

Writing The Quantified Self and Digital Accountability

Our voluntary submission of personal data to an ever-­increasing number of digital platforms does not simply obey to the neoliberal imperative of empowerment and self-­improvement. There is something that transcends the argument that as we use technologies, such as wearable fitness watches or other portable devices that increasingly track larger shares of our life, we are actually interiorizing a disciplinary mechanism that operates on the ground of a simple rule—­self-­valorization qua the Marcusian concept of the performance principle.1 Accordingly, by looking at graphs, charts, balloons, and other “cartoonishly overactualized diagram[s] of the self as a continuous individual unit,” the user becomes an imperturbable monitor who enforces on himself a specific set of habits that realize the old dream of a highly intentional, albeit numerical, proprioception.2 It is a new form of self-­discipline that, insofar as it is voluntary and willed, produces the unique opportunity for the liquidation of any friction between social demands, such as to be productive or to stay active, and the natural renitence toward their execution—­what in the old days of the industrial economy was called soldiering. Naturally, the particular Californian ideology that branded the quantified self movement likes to infuse this form of social engineering with a naively utopian spirit. At the end of the all-­too-­customary Ted Talk where he announces the marvels of digital self-­tracking, Gary Wolf, founder of the quantified self and journalist for Wired magazine, defines the goals of his movement as follows: Some people will say it’s for public health research. Some people will say it’s for avant-­garde marketing research. I’d like to tell you that it’s also for self-­k nowledge. And the self isn’t the only thing; it’s not even most things. The self is just our operation center, our consciousness,

-  110 -

Writing

our moral compass. So, if we want to act more effectively in the world, we have to get to know ourselves better.3

While some media scholars have emphasized spaces of positive agency of the self-­tracker, the established consensus on the matter is, in general, critical.4 Several studies have questioned key components of this ideology, most notably the neoliberal emphasis on productivity and valorization as devices for capturing economic and existential “precarity”—­our generalized condition defined by surplus labor—­v ia “management rhetoric and advocacy of specific self-­management techniques.”5 Questions regarding profits from the commercial value of live data—­that is, prosumption, the indistinguishability of production and consumption of information—­and the issue of privacy, paired with a consistent tendency toward “the fetishization of anything and everything deemed healthy,” also raise serious skepticism.6 Finally, there is a widespread agreement that through these practices, a new “theology of the subject” emerges that is fueled by an algebraic modeling of the self.7 Benjamin Bratton, for instance, stresses the fact that this practice feigns a “coherent sense of self as a self-­directed subject,” while the “administrative auto-­objectification turns the gaze of user-­centered design research inward on itself, inflating it toward existential closure.”8 Others have further qualified this type of closure by making reference to the idea of a digitized subject whose standardized identity takes up the form of the “deployment of individual characters as interchangeable units within a formal structure.”9 In this chapter, I will problematize these approaches—­a ll of which, I might add, are plausible and factual—­by further investigating how the notion of a secularized Other impinges on this technology, hence also affecting the relation with duration and time. It is true that the algebraic rendering of one’s life normally reaches the status of veridicity and thus, when felicitous, increases a perception of ownership and self-­mastery. What needs to be questioned, however, is the immediacy and directness with which the user fashions his self-­definition—­t he notion, in other words, that the diagrammatic image operates as an iconic marker for the user’s intentionality and decision-­making capacity. The seemingly direct reflection of the self into its digital rendition is never univocal. The force and enticing power to self-­management derives not so much from a solipsist act of the mind—­Gary Wolf’s act of self-­k nowledge—­but from a more complicated relation of accountability established with the



Writing

-  111 -

Other—­naturally a fully secularized Other—­and the pleasure that this interchange holds in reserve. The “attention economy” that has put its seal of ownership on the digital world in the case of self-­tracking obeys a logic of “condensation of attention” and “desire.”10 This relationality is defined as sacrificial and rests at the core of the neoliberal drive to endless valorization. In the second part of the chapter, I will read this symbolic economy against the backdrop of Jacques Derrida’s theory of literature in secret (or the Abrahamic tradition of literature), arguing that a similar theological foundation is what sustains self-­tracking’s practices—­that is to say, the type of writing that algorithmic governmentality generates. After all, what is life logging if not the contemporary version of the long-­ standing practice of self-­examination, the diaristic art of chronicling one’s life? As a type of self-­a nalysis by different (digital) means, self-­ tracking is the heir to one of the most important genres of Western literary tradition: the memoir—­think of Saint Augustine’s The Confessions (397–­4 00), Dante’s Vita Nova (1293), or Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu (1913–­27). Not surprisingly, within a literary genre defined by introspection, prison writing plays a decisive role. Finally, the coda of the chapter is dedicated to a type of writing that illustrates a feminine position. In other words, I begin to explore a new option built around the idea of immanence that is alternative to both the Mosaic complex and neoliberal digitality. Being Alone Together As it is presently envisioned, the quantified self ideology falls right into the bottleneck of neoliberal social atomization. The hope is that we might, at a certain point, discover an “alternative user position” that “gives way toward something else, where nodes begin to work like edges and edges like nodes. The ocular appearance of the resolved first person . . . multiplies in a mosaic of new components clinging to other subjects, bigger and smaller than the individual person.”11 Yet even when looking at one of the most advanced and self-­aware scientific experimentations in the field, serious doubts arise. Consider the notorious case of Professor Larry Smarr and his meticulous reporting and computing of the physiological cycles of his body, here retold by journalist Mark Bowden:

-  112 -

Writing

Inside a “cave” fashioned from large HD screens (each with dual rear projectors) and linked to 18 gaming PCs to create a graphics supercomputer, Larry and I step into a stunning image assembled from an MRI scan of his torso. . . . A sensor strapped to your forehead tells the computer where you are looking, so as you turn your head it smoothly blends the images on the screens to create a seamless 360-­degree alternative world. . . . Once we were in position, Jürgen P. Schulze, a Calit2 research scientist, punched up a display of Larry’s own coiled, 63-­year-­old entrails. I felt as if I could reach out and touch the wrinkled contours of his intestines and arteries.12

Smarr, who self-­diagnosed his Crohn disease before his doctors did, is rigorous in feeding the virtual graph of his body with data, analyzing said graph with scientific precision, and self-­prescribing new dietary regimens when needed. The specific cause of his concern is magnified with an incredible degree of accuracy: “the precise six-­inch stretch of his sigmoid colon that is visibly distorted and inflamed.”13 Yet Larry’s virtual body is still somehow a mediated image. Considering Bowden’s reaction to the feeling of being able to stick a finger where a finger cannot be stuck, as well as Smarr’s quantitative approach to the visualization of his body, the impression we get is that in this particular case of self-­tracking, the scopic has liquidated the metaphorical layer that still persists between what we digitally reconstruct and the thingness of what is reconstructed. Mediation disappears, obscured by the spectacle of the infinitesimal, its malleability, and the exactitude of the data aggregated. To put it simply, we cannot stop staring. There is a striking similarity between these sorts of self-­tracking practices and a subset of diarist writing: prison literature—­or, as we will see, political prison writing. This is not due to the initial allusion to the cave—­ Smarr’s dark, confined place of self-­inquiry and constant monitoring—­or to the notorious Foucauldian interpretation of the panopticon as the generalized structure of the society of control. The type of soft coercion we presently endure is only partially based on omnipresent programs of centralized surveillance. Consider these online narratives regarding the use of the Fitbit tracking device that commonly appear on social media. One person, commenting on personal relations with this technology, writes: “I hold myself accountable when I’ve wasted a day doing nothing. . . . It’s embarrassing to miss my goals. Even if I’m the only one



Writing

-  113 -

who knows.” Another remarks: “In a way that guilt is making me want to push myself even harder. . . . It’s made/making me want to work harder in general.” And finally, another user ties it all together: “My Fitbit gets me to some kind of activity every day. . . . Sometimes, it’s a workout at the gym or just a walk around the neighborhood. No matter what the activity is, I have to ‘feed’ the Fitbit some steps.”14 The emotional tonalities that emerge from these reactions—­ accountability, guilt, willed participation—­form a coherent whole and shape the parallel I want to draw between the prolonged self-­monitoring and recording that is based on a symbolic obligation of self-­tracking and prison literature. This similitude has to do with three elements. The first is the widely accepted idea of the modern fragmentation of society where individuals are isolated monads in an always expanding network of communication. In Alone Together (2011), an ethnographic study on how technology changes the self’s relationship to community and reality, Sherry Turkle offers several examples of the present contradiction between an unprecedented access to information and an equal widening sense of loss of the self. In analyzing the case of a successful museum curator, for instance, she notes that the curator “is only powerful enough to see herself as a maximizing machine that responds to what the network throws at her. . . . She has become a machine for communicating, but she has no voice for herself.”15 Today’s lingering feeling of widespread seclusion is produced through a social atomization built on connectivity, which, aside from the paradoxical component of instant reachability and communication, produces the mental environment—­“a community without a community”—­t hat is typical of any willed or imposed reclusion.16 Individuals remain glued to their own latest smart device. In our case, rampant social atomization is also due to the fact that socializing under self-­tracking is shaped according to the typical trait of neoliberal mentality known as benchmarking. In Jesse Donaldson’s sarcastic and hyperbolic fictional tale, we get a glimpse at an existence driven by self-­improvement and wellness that unfortunately seems not too futuristic: After dinner, Sarah and I made love for 7 minutes and 14 seconds (18 minutes if you count foreplay, which lasted 3 minutes longer than usual—­we must both be tired). As usual, just before bed we uploaded

-  114 -

Writing

our data to the Lifelog. Reviewed the data from the previous week. Our rankings were pretty good, stacked up next to the other folks in our building. Shane and Rita next door always seem to have us beat—­their lovemaking sessions tend to last at least 16 minutes more than ours do. Although, as Sarah and I always say with a smirk, once the Lifelog learns to discern quality, we’re pretty sure we’ll come out on top.17

In more prosaic terms, the collection and sharing of data do not amount to the establishment of a commonality, but rather to a kind of competitive game, which perhaps has always been part of communal life but not necessarily its main determinant. But it is not only that these kinds of interactions are now dominant; we are also drawn into them, thus contributing to a type of uninterrupted connectivity that fosters social fragmentation because of its allure. This is the second element of the similitude. The capacity to produce a constant state of fascination that fatally freezes us is similar to a phenomenon usually described in prison writing. In forced reclusion, life seems to shift away from its fluid living state, which is also intensive and fugitive in nature, to take up a much more granitic, unmovable form. In these situations, time follows a different direction and also bears a different consistency. Consider, for instance, Malcolm X’s recollections of his interment at Charlestown State Prison. During his first year of imprisonment, he notes, “I would pace for hours like a caged leopard, viciously cursing aloud to myself. And my favorite targets were the Bible and God. . . . Eventually, the men in the cellblock had a name for me: Satan.”18 This behavior points to the absorption into a kind of nefarious repetition, a blind and irreflexive act of rebellion—­hence the nickname Satan, which refers to Malcolm X’s blasphemy as well as the infernal-­diabolic nature of the act of repetition and persevering. Or think about the case of activist Robert King, who was part of the Black Panther chapter of the Louisiana Angola Penitentiary (also known as Angola Three) and spent twenty-­nine years in solitary confinement. As he recounts, “Some days I would pace up and down and from left to right for hours, counting to myself. . . . Maybe I looked crazy walking back and forth like some trapped animal, but I had no choice—­I needed to feel in control of my space.”19 Confined in space, the prisoner meets the excessive form of time, its oppressive monumentality, and must invent a series of activities to



Writing

-  115 -

keep it fluid and manipulable, which means, in other words, human. But because the aim is surviving temporal incommensurability and thus managing space and time, these activities turn into self-­propelling mechanisms—­and hence the common comparison with repetitive behaviors typical of captive animals. Their purpose is nothing more than their continuous replication. These strategies thus tend to reflect the emptiness of time. Like a constant process of doubling and absorption in self-­representation that arrests life, the emptiness of time draws the inmate to the side of minuscule and unbridgeable intervals of time to the plane of the molecular. The paradoxical nature of this experience is further magnified in the case of solitary confinement. In this sense, Lisa Guenther describes solitary confinement as a state in which individuals become “unhinged,” for it “deprives prisoners of the bodily presence of others, forcing them to rely on the isolated resources of their own subjectivity, with the (perhaps surprising) effect of eroding or undermining that subjectivity.”20 I already mentioned that the drifting of the individual into the molecular dimension is a key characteristic of the neoliberal self and its entanglement with processes of valorization. As a particular form of temporalization, this process reduces the subject’s perception to the microscopic, to the endless movement of molecules, as in the (obviously more extreme) case of prisoners facing the infinitesimal nature of time. The third and last reason of my similitude has to do with the genre of political prison writing. Just like the binding relation to the secularized version of the Other that I will analyze in self-­tracking, the jail incarnates the place of accountability par excellence for the political prisoner. It is, for better or worse, the site where an equivalence between life and the value of one’s past deeds is established and quantified in terms of penal responsibility. It is the institutional space where some sort of restitution, and perhaps moral transformation, must be enacted. This moral aspect becomes symbolically predominant when the modern state shifts from a system of “punishment . . . largely based on retribution—­an eye for an eye, a life for a life” to one based on “correction and even redemption.” Here criminals “would be confined to their own cells, forced to confront their own consciousness in solitude, and made to reflect on the wickedness of their own souls.”21 The carceral thus becomes the place where the consequences for the violation of social norms are regurgitated back as a quantifiable form of time-­g uilt.

-  116 -

Writing

Furthermore, let us also take notice of the moralizing function of the penal system, which was especially relevant in the early life of U.S. democracy. Here, the cell’s “transformative power of shame,” which aimed to turn transgressors into disciplined, respectable members of society, was crucial in a country “where one could no longer rely upon a common sovereign or universally shared traditions to bind people together.”22 The Molecular and the Corpulence of Time In 1821, Italian patriot Silvio Pellico was condemned to ten years in the Brno Špilberk Castle prison, in today’s Czech Republic. The original sentence for conspiring against the Austrian crown was death, but it was later commuted to long-­term imprisonment. Like other convicts before (and after) him, Pellico realized that he had to engage in some kind of routine to survive captivity. I will call it a method, for this routine is both what wants to defeat time—­hence the expression “to kill time”—­and simultaneously what reduces it to discrete but empty units (strictly speaking, it molecularizes it) in the practice of self-­observation. His method relies on a series of activities, which include most notably memorizing Dante’s Divine Comedy (1304–­20), “an exercise so merely mechanical, that I thought more of my own affairs than the lines during their acquisition.”23 Through Dante, however, he is drawn to a reexamination of the Christian doctrine, and thus his narrative joins many other redemption stories typical of prison writing. In the methodical and solitary religiosity of his cell, Pellico encounters the revelation of truth. Captivity turns into its opposite: the opportunity for salvation, which indeed represents the only real action that man can pursue regardless of his status. Pellico meticulously records this point: To live at liberty is doubtless much better than living in a prison; but, even here, the reflection that God is present with us, that worldly joys are brief and fleeting, and that true happiness is to be sought in the conscience, not in external objects, can make us feel pleasure in life.24

Historically, the process of nation building represents the background for the modern understanding of prison as a social and political institution. The cell becomes the solitary stage (and literary locus) for imagining and articulating the political space of the new nation. Yet confinement



Writing

-  117 -

brings to the fore another issue: the problem of guilt. Not surprisingly, it is thanks to religion that the prisoner encounters the possibility of atonement or spiritual redemption. For Pellico, this is not caused by any refutation of his political cause, as was hoped by the Austrian authorities; rather, the decision of rediscovering Christianity proves he is worthy of the ordeal and gives him access to the plenitude of life. It is the ethical moment of acceptance of his duty that allows him to measure himself against the vicissitudes of life and, in conclusion, against the cruelty of foreign oppressors.25 The prison trope is usually constructed by a unique cognitive operation of introspection and revelation aimed at redemption, which frequently involves a reinvention of the individual, who is traditionally white and male. This process has a peculiar artistic intention, as “the autopoiesis of authorship [and] its promise of temporal continuity . . . provide important avenues in a specific form of [possible] liberation.”26 Yet the psychoanalytic consequences for this operation should not go unnoticed. Under patriarchy—­and the symbolic Law of the Father—­the subject usually performs this act of self-­creation by devoting himself to the reinforcement of the dominant political theology—­that is to say, to the adherence to a model based on a master signifier that reproduces sameness. In Pellico’s case, it is the providence of God. The case of theorist and leader of the Italian communist movement Antonio Gramsci, who was incarcerated in 1926 when Mussolini banned all political opposition, offers an interesting variation on the prison trope. His story enables us to return and better define the second similarity with self-­tracking: the drifting to the molecular. In one of the letters to his sister-­in-­law, Tania, he considers the indolence that typically affects long-­term inmates. What is left to the prisoner is the “glimmering of will that exhausts itself in fantasies of never-­to-­be-­realized grandiose plans.”27 This incredible spur of activity is mostly speculative and turned inward, toward the process of the cure of the self. Speculative does not mean intangible, but Gramsci here seems to draw a difference from the reduced critical force of these speculations and his idea of political praxis. He nonetheless confesses how this conduct is affecting him. He feels drawn to a method that is different from the self-­discipline that he considers his real intellectual challenge: the writing of the Prison Notebooks (1929–­35), where a theory for interpreting reality in order to transform it is generated through a careful and scientific inquiry of the

-  118 -

Writing

history of class war. After one year spent in the Turi prison, Gramsci writes to Tania, telling her about the rosebud she gave him, which he hopes will blossom in the spring. With a touch of irony, he notes, For a year now I’ve been interested in cosmic phenomena (perhaps, as they say in my hometown, my bed is placed in accordance with the proper direction of terrestrial fluids and when I rest the cells of my organism rotate in unison with the entire universe). . . . I experience the cycle of the seasons, linked to the solstices and equinoxes, as though they were flesh of my flesh; the rose is alive and will certainly bloom again, because heat prepares the frost and beneath the snow, the first violets are already throbbing, etc. etc. In short, since space no longer exists for me, I perceive time as a corpulent thing.28

What does it mean that time has become corpulent? Standard readings of the passage argue that Gramsci is celebrating the metaphor of the rose and time as a merging into nature.29 Despite the visceral optimism that one can appreciate in this passage, I do not agree with this interpretation. Gramsci never endorses an idealization of nature, and the irony of the description is noticeable. I believe that he is preoccupied with what he calls the corpulence of time, which captivates the subject and engulfs him into incommensurability. The nostalgia of a time where the latter was fluid spellbinds the prisoner, who now feels alive only insofar as he adheres to the immensurable flow of nature. Gramsci is not repeating a romantic equalization between the self and the landscape; nor is he adhering to the political theology of nationalism. The experience of the sensuous fusion with the world represents the acknowledgment of a common condition in captivity—­one that he cannot escape but that he is also wary of. This form of captive embodiment may be corporeal, but it is certainly not what Gramsci intends with his notion of historical materialism.30 Rather, the corpulence of time points to the molecularization of the subject, where a method—­here less rationally conceived and much more passionately suffered—­surges as a determinant in the relation between the individual and the world. Gramsci’s analysis is grounded in a Fordist system and can only indirectly indicate subsequent neoliberal mutations. Yet the captive’s tendency to be absorbed into the side of the incommensurable flow of life, and his impossibility of thus obtaining some sort of spiritual



Writing

-  119 -

redemption, elicits further remarks on the difference with respect to Pellico’s symbolic world. This difference then resonates with the present condition of the neoliberal subject as reflected in the self-­tracking experience. The corpulence of time, in other words, already speaks of a condition in which a new order of equivalence between deeds and accountability is in power. As I argued discussing Benjamin’s idea of capitalism as a religion without atonement, this hypermodern formalism still follows a political theology. Capitalism knows no outer limit; it obeys its own law of accumulation, which itself is excessive in nature, and does not contemplate final points of restitution, balance, or expiation. 31 This particular logic finds its ripest condition in neoliberalism, where its deconstituent force—­rampant deregulation and privatization—­combines with a simple utilitarian principle: the individual defined as human capital, and thus constantly mobilized by an imperative to valorization.32 The prison trope casts light onto the deep structure at the core of the quantification of the self, which we may call new or contemporary only insofar as it registers the same infinitesimal formalism. In this sense, it is not surprising that when the neoliberal subject experiences the emptiness of time, instead of confronting it, he doubles down on a dynamism driven by performance and valorization. For Pellico at least, the truth and regulating idea was that of God. For the neoliberal subject, the disintegration of time is the endless debt to capital. Thus, life is reproduced and stagnates as the self is instrumentalized and subsumed by the capitalist inflexible dictum: do not let anything be idle or unproductive. The corpulence of self-­quantification portrays a situation in which the body becomes thick and glued to a sequence that is different from other usual perceptions. Far from abstracting it, the diagram that captures our activities may increase the weight, the denseness of the self as it accumulates predictions, data, graphs, and achieved or missed goals. The corpulence of time is a naturalized concept, of course, as the scale of the human never completely coincides with that of the infinitesimal or the infinite—­though at times it does, as in the case of the mystic or the hermit. In such instances, the infinite realm of the divine absorbs the mind and body of this particular individual. Perhaps a similar type of intensity is at work in our digital tracking that points us toward the problem of God as transcendence, or the Other.

-  120 -

Writing

An Analytics of Digital Accountability Amos Bianchi has begun to articulate a remarkable theoretical framework for an understanding of the self-­measured paradigm that transcends the standard—­a lthough necessary and informative—­account by sociologists or other specialists in new media. I would argue—­the reader will forgive my play on words—­that the point here is to bring to the fore an analytics of present symbolic formalism for the quantified self that does not involve computational statistics. Accordingly, and in order to assess this cluster of issues, one must look at the more general idea of digital accountability. Recall what one Fitbit user said: “I hold myself accountable when I’ve wasted a day doing nothing.” This sense of liability can be explained once we understand what digital accountability is. The meaning of the word account, Bianchi reminds us, has at its core the idea of narration, the organization of life arranged as some form of description, such as “giving an account of x.” But it also points to the responsibility one has to respond and comply with a demand, as in “to account for x.” Thus, “where in traditional accountability it is the system that forces an agent to produce an account, in digital accountability accounting for oneself is integral to the process. In other terms, when one opens an online account  .  .  . there exists an implicit agreement that one has to give an account of one’s life.”33 Finally, in addition to the imperative of narrative accountability—­one must tell one’s story—­ when people become users they also “voluntarily offer themselves to quantification.”34 This accumulation of data is justified by the fact that users presumably obtain a free service in exchange for participation. Yet as technology policy analyst Benjamin Dean argues, we should be aware that “When you’re not paying, you’re not the customer—­you’re the product.”35 According to Bianchi, the biographical dimension of this quotidian act bears testimony to the return of a specific form of authority. Bianchi here draws on the thought of Italian philosopher Aldo Rovatti and his work on Foucault. Rovatti notes that the injunction to self-­ historializing—­the fact that once we engage with digital devices we must necessarily generate data, contribute to it by feeding it with some account of ourselves—­marks the resurgence of pastoral power. The latter demands a confession, “telling the truth about oneself,” a duty that is inscribed within the obligations of the discourse of the master.36



Writing

-  121 -

The binding authority of the act of confession is based on the definition of the self-­scrutinizing subject as the real substance of truth—­or in Foucault’s words, as “the operator in a manifestation of truth.”37 In this sense, the knowledge of one’s sins and their complete account become the venue for salvation and thus the defining epistemological trait of the modern Christian subject. Significantly, and from an historical point of view, the symbolic force of confession reaches its high point precisely when theocratic power begins to be unseated. It became codified with the rise of mercantilism, as the canonical institution of this sacrament “sought to give the true justification of merchant’s activity, while circumscribing it within a system of regulations.”38 The parallel between Foucault’s understanding of confession and digital accountability may be defined as follows: the neoliberal subject, who is “genealogically Christian, is true to itself only in so far as it . . . objectifies itself and tells a story that states the truth about itself through the devices of governmentality.” Hence, Bianchi remarks, the question “Who are you? ceases to exist.” For the self, who is completely immersed in and committed to self-­h istorializing, the haunting question becomes instead, “Who am I?”39 From a psychoanalytic-­Lacanian point of view, the making of the modern consciousness does not signal the reemergence of pastoral power and the corresponding discourse of the master, but rather that of the university. The distinction might seem negligible, but it will help us better individuate all its consequences, especially with regard to personal introspection.40 With the waning of theocratic thought, the bourgeois idea of rationalism and individual freedom replaces the feudal discourse of the master, whose desire had always remained opaque to him. Recall what Lacan stated regarding the master–­slave dialectic in Plato’s dialogue Meno—­on the one hand, the master did “not know his function” but simply lived it; on the other hand, the bondsman knew “it a priori without any fantasmatic construction.”41 With this shifting in symbolic power, knowledge becomes both the political and epistemological ground for the new social pact. Yet it also simultaneously turns into the remainder of its own inconsistency. As Kiarina Kordela writes, “the University discourse produces, and is predicated on, the illusion that the function of knowledge is to reveal objective truth rather than to sustain authority.”42 From now on, power is equated to the direct access to epistemological truth, which in turn can be analyzed, measured,

-  122 -

Writing

and disputed, but also supported and continuously verified. This kind of falsifiable truth is now within reach; it is neutral and can be grasped objectively, or, to put it differently, it is capable of being enclosed by the intellect or by any other technoscientific machinery. The old authority based on the transcendence of the divine does not disappear but is rather reformulated as knowledge power. This has several consequences. The most important one is that transcendence gets folded into immanence. Infinity as the external site of the divine is now transferred into worldly things, the great book of nature, which can now be studied and fully explained. In the economic domain, capital is freed from earlier moral obligations and can launch itself into its mad race for the accruement of value. From a political point of view, the secularization of power does not represent an absolute break from the feudal past. Through secularization, the transcendent point that grounds authority simply shifts from external to being immanent. As I argued, modern capitalist society is at its core still informed by political theology. In Agamben’s words, it is the result of “a repression” that “leaves intact the forces it deals with by simply moving them from one place to another.”43 Repression should not be underestimated because it means that the old theocratic foundation is still operative behind the scenes. This leads to what Kordela calls the conspicuous inconsistency that taints all hypermodern neoliberal discourse. In effect, transcendence is displaced while it simultaneously displaces immanence, fueling a powerful mechanism of movement: the capitalist modulation of surplus value, and hence the slippage between the discourse of the master and the discourse of the university. As the theocratic master melts into thin air, he also permeates society as a whole, so that now “if the subject believes in knowledge as objective and power-­neutral, then he or she also believes that there are no masters but just free individuals, master of themselves.”44 Here is a decisive first step in the long march toward the ideology of contemporary neoliberalism, where wage labor is turned into human capital, thus acquiring a self-­image based on entrepreneurship, constant valorization, and the utilitarian instrumentalization of all living domains. Yet here we also locate the origin of today’s unquestionable assumption about the neutrality and objective validity of digital technology once the individual is granted transparency and free access. But more to the point, the conspicuous inconsistency that this position produces gives rise to a type of accountability that seems dif-



Writing

-  123 -

ferent from what Bianchi individuated with the question “Who am I?” Inconsistency is still based on the Other and deploys itself according to an excessive sacrificial pattern. Writing in the Age of Digital Accountability I argued that digital accountability is profoundly marked by the imperative of writing as the recording of the self—­offering an account of one’s story—­and that self-­tracking is a form of memorializing that, as in prison writing, tends to reduce the individual to a molecularized sequence. To continue the metaphor of the political prisoner, once the figment of the nationalist idea dissolves, what is left is the corpulence of time as the engine of accumulation. The quantified self bears witness to the computation of reality and dreams of a complete administration of personhood so that both elements may be used to produce value. I want to pursue further the argument that this kind of writing to record posits a political theology, just as any other unexamined secularist idea. What is repressed here? One may argue that the algebraic reconfiguration of the self that this ideology proposes is merely a displacement of the theological foundations of the Abrahamic origin of writing described by Jacques Derrida. In The Gift of Death (1992), Derrida is concerned with addressing that which institutes an economy, or a system of exchange, precisely by being excluded from it. Because it does not allow any commerce, death is the infrastructure of any type of economy. More specifically, death is excluded from the kind of symbolism implied in the economy of responsibility. As he writes, “death would be the possibility of giving and taking that actually exempts itself from the same realm of possibility it institutes, namely from giving and taking.”45 Certainly, somebody can kill me, but my death would still belong exclusively to me. Hence death stands out as something that is inalienable, something that is deeply mine without obviously being my exclusive property—­t hat is to say, without me as a living subject being able to lay claims of sovereignty over it. The role of death in inaugurating the economy of responsibility is the thread that ties the first part of the book, dedicated indeed to death, to the second, which discusses the ontological status of literature, or a particular kind of literature that begins with the Old Testament. The figures of Abraham and Isaac are the focuses of Derrida’s discussion, especially the status of the boy’s sacrifice, which is that of a

-  124 -

Writing

liminal action, as seen in Lacan. On Mount Moriah, God’s abominable and mysterious demand stands out as an “unconditional obligation” for Abraham, precisely because under no condition shall it be explained or fully accounted for. It is the monstrous request made by “the other as absolute other, namely God [as] transcendent, hidden, secret, jealous of love.”46 Derrida stresses how this God demands absolute secrecy from Abraham, who in fact does not say a word about the sacrifice to Isaac or to Isaac’s mother. This secrecy, although despicable, is shown to be related to the problem of transcendence, for “Abraham is in relation of nonexchange with God.”47 The encounter with the absolute transcendence of God, a God that asks for nothing short of absolute duty and who does not entertain the possibility of any form of bargaining, signals the emergence of a point of noninscribableness. Just like death is the infrastructure for the economy in general, the secret represents that differential space or the general condition of possibility for writing, or what, in chapter 1, I called the incision that creates the position of desire via the signifier. As this encounter with alterity is described in the biblical parable, this linguistic system represents the essence of literature. Literature is thus another name for the encounter with the Other, the experiencing of “linking alterity to singularity or to what one would call the universal exception, or the rule of exception.”48 Strictly speaking, the contingency of the encounter with the Other and the impossibility of its full rational articulation are literature, or literature in secret. Hence Derrida’s further discussion of Franz Kafka, specifically the Letter to His Father (1919). It is the intricacy of a masculine genealogy that Derrida is interested in unearthing. As he notes, unfortunately without developing it further, “It is difficult not to be struck by the absence of woman in these monstrous yet banal stories.”49 In Abrahamic literature, contingency, although not fully explicable, is, however, experienceable. Confession, as we see it in, for instance, Saint Augustine, is precisely born out of the tension between the impossibility of a full articulation of the absolute within the finite realm of the worldly.50 Augustine’s analysis of concupiscentia carnalis and spiritualis—­lust of the flesh and of the mind—­goes to the root of the problem. It acknowledges desire as a human component that cannot be dismantled. Hence the only hope for man is God’s mercy and the bestowal of continence: “Da quod iubes et iube quod vis. Imperas nobis continen-



Writing

-  125 -

tiam” (“Give us what you order and order us what you will. Command us continence”), writes Augustine.51 To the extent that man is a worldly creature, and to the extent that he is flesh who cannot escape sin—­the most notorious example that Augustine considers is that of his night pollutions—­this unwilled and uncontrollable concupiscence may only be contained by the Father. He remarks, “Nemo enim potest esse continens, nisi tu des” (“No one can enjoy continence if you don’t concede it”).52 To the extent that continence can be granted, it can never be autonomously realized by the devoted Christian. It is the Father who bestows it as he stands outside the sensuous world and as a principle of order that is transcendent. The idea that Augustine is not simply talking about salvation but is also grasping a key logical principle should not be surprising. Following Derrida’s remark on alterity while reading Augustine’s thought from the point of view of a theory of the subject, these formulations simply express the impossibility for a finite being to seize the metalogical level. In effect, Augustine’s considerations on lust stumble against the usual bedrock of aporia: if man is bound to sin, how will he be able to lead a moral life? If this is a physical impossibility, how can he even be responsible for it? To put it in more modern terms, the subject is caught in the loop that we experience when facing a logical statement such as “I cannot not desire,” for it is clear that even not desiring is something that is necessarily desired.53 For the finite realm of man, this proposition bans self-­referentiality as a superdimension that grounds reality, as the exception that guarantees a foundation. In this, Saint Augustine is a realist who acknowledges and maintains the finitude of man. This metalogical level is occupied by God. Only the Father may concede continence because he is able of not desiring—­that is to say, he can do that without desiring to do it. The convolutedness of this statement demonstrates that we have reached a logical impasse. God does not submit himself to a function that is unavoidable for others. He is transcendent; in Derrida’s terms, he embodies the “universal exception,” that which normalizes discourse. Because theocratic exceptionality is not hegemonic anymore, shifts influence the economy of responsibility in the age of digital accountability. What is displaced in this ultramodern theology? As I mentioned in the previous chapter, insofar as digital accountability disintegrates the reference and abiding tie to the theocratic symbolic position of the

-  126 -

Writing

Other, it replaces it with a weaker, smaller sacrificial version of commitment. The unconditional call to responsibility is internalized and modulated according to a utilitarian commitment to self-­valorization. Additionally, the secret as the sign of an inflexible obligation to the expression of a singular, and thus nonrepresentable, truth is eclipsed by the dream of absolute representability. The continuous visualization of data through graphs, or the restitution of a mathematical representation of the self, obscures the great tradition of literature in secret while mobilizing itself through a similar mechanism. Hence the quantified image of the self is perceived and processed only because the same sacrificial structure secretly operates behind the scenes. The theocratic obligation is not absolute because it no longer comes from the external point of exceptionality. Rather, it is disseminated into thousands of smaller daily demands. Alterity is not transcendent but miniaturized into the many different, enhanced versions of ourselves that we feel compelled to embody. As usual, capitalism simply modifies the terms and conditions of a previous system of knowledge without fundamentally challenging the deeper mechanisms of hierarchy and power. Yet this also means that far from being the realization of the intentional rational choice of the individual, the scopic impetus of self-­ tracking is still based on a system of accountability to the Other. It is in this binding relationship that we find the obscure force that pushes us to an unprecedented and effective work on the self that is typical of self-­tracking mechanisms and of neoliberal society in general. When we look at the constant feedback we receive from our self-­tracking devices, we don’t grasp some final knowledge about ourselves. More likely, we bear testimony to a symbolic system of obligations. We respond to an economy of responsibility that has repressed the Other as an exclusionary and regulatory exception, yet it remains an economy that sustains an interminable motion toward a more punctual form of duty: being healthy, being productive, being always better. Interestingly, we owe all of this not to some god but to ourselves. Recall the Fitbit user stating, “Guilt is making me want to push myself even harder.” We expect this response from ourselves, and we begin to meticulously pay our dues the moment we become users. Naturally there are differences. In the Abrahamic tradition, the totality of the demand also implies the secret, something experienceable but not verifiable, and thus the singularity and the absolute contingency



Writing

-  127 -

of the human. Confession, in the Augustinian sense of repetition of one’s own limitedness, becomes paramount because it reproduces the ecstatic experience of the Other. For its part, the computational instead replaces the secret with seriality as a measurable infinity. A similar repetitive act is in place in which the ecstatic moment does not lead to contemplation or contrition, nor to pleading the Lord, as in the customary “thy will be done.” Yet each new click commitment to a lower calorie intake, a higher number of steps or reps, or an increase in miles bicycled, is propelled by asymmetry. It is not the monumental imbalance between what God demands and what the little man has to offer, between transcendence and finitude. But it is still an asymmetry defined by what one should be and what one is: the present value of one’s human capital and the infinite movement of valorization.54 Benchmarking is the secularized and parodic version of absolute duty. The brief, ecstatic moment when we confront the values of our live data turns immediately into a call to more action. “Thy will be done!” becomes “Ameliorate yourself !” Therein resides the source of power and legitimation of our digital accountability. The care of ourselves is defined as a ritual of visualization and recording on the device’s dashboard. If we meet the goals, we rejoice, pat ourselves on the back, acknowledge our accomplishment—­and immediately raise the bar. If that is not the case, we submit ourselves to more work. Writing here displaces the secrecy of the encounter with the absolute Other, but it does not really annihilate its economy of fear and pleasure. The secret is veiled by more numbers, by more activity. The secret is still experienced; it only takes the paradoxical form of conspicuousness. The pleasure in life logging resembles that of the schoolboy who looks at a good report card and feels good. In this sense, we may state that we enjoy life in a sacrificial way. Naturally it is not Abraham’s unconditional sacrifice. It is a sacrifice that comes in installments, where the imbalance with the Other is momentarily appeased similarly to the way we pay rent or a monthly loan. The transient shiver of joy we feel comes from the gratification of writing off some sort of obscure, unpayable debt, the feeling of being in compliance with an existential request coming from somewhere else. The banal secret that moves our life today is that this economy of responsibility does not foresee any expiation, no final return or balance—­in Augustine’s words, no graceful granting of continence.

-  128 -

Writing

The creation of a series of structural conditions, a veritable environment of the mind, for repeating and historializing these achievements is what the quantified self biopolitical apparatus does. One of the consequences of its theological presupposition is that “the only enjoyment left to the subject is . . . enjoyment-­of-­sense, the enjoyment in believing that the Other is consistent.”55 But the Other is not consistent. Transcendence has been brought into the fold of immanence and transfigured as value and usability. If one asks, as Lacan did, “what purpose does utility serve?” the answer will be the disdained reproach of laziness, apathy, and depression—­and for this last one, proper medication may even be prescribed. As there is no real answer to the question, it stands to reason that “the basic principle of biopolitics, therefore, is not utilitarianism but the fact that utilitarianism as a principle of life is inconsistent.”56 It is inconsistent but conspicuous. In short, it doubles down on its own structural incongruity: that value is valuable in itself. Just like in Gramsci’s annotations, when we choose to engage in this exercise of accountability, a certain corpulence emerges, a gluttonousness that draws us to the sacrificial attachments of the diagrammatic realm of self-­tracking. Presently it is a kind of absorption that may look cool and fashionable, but, as argued, it also comes with a long tradition of unspeakable sacrifices and a symbolic formalism of strict patriarchal lineage. Perhaps we should follow the lead Derrida indicates in The Gift of Death and begin perusing the possibilities of a digitality that radically opposes and dismantles the antiquated, murderous story of father and son. Writing as Three Types of Symbolic Formalism The unspeakable story of father and son is the story of a radical asymmetry that finds a point of conciliation in writing. With Christianity, confession becomes the point where the absolute meets the worldly. Human sin is the truth of that writing. But the question of truth and its expression changes rapidly once transcendence is folded into immanence. In the final pages of this chapter, I want to make the argument that once transcendence is immanentized, three general possibilities for writing, and thus three different modes of distribution of space, emerge. I borrow the idea of these three modes from Antonello Sciacchitano, who, in a context other than writing, defines them as Freudian/mod-



Writing

-  129 -

ernist, feminine, and computational. When pitted against each other, these distinct positions begin to disclose the possibility of a point of view that escapes the masculine lineage that informs neoliberal digitality. Sciacchitano describes these modalities as follows: The eternal repetition of the identical itself is a model of the infinite. This is a different model from numerable infinity, made up of infinite numbers that are all different, and also different from continuous infinity, made up of points so densely stippled that there are no gaps. The infinite repetition of the identical served Freud to explain the existence of an unconscious feeling of guilt, somewhat like a numerable infinity serves to count, and continuous infinity to draw and measure things on earth.57

Sciacchitano’s first model, which he refers back to Freud, is specular to the one I mentioned when discussing the issue of the limit in chapter 1. The Freudian mode is based on guilt—­that is to say, on a form of separation that is produced by patriarchal prohibition. The regression to infinity is an attempt to understand the limit in the guise of the transcendental. As an empty form, it pushes the inquisitive subject into the repetitive image of tautology. This modality flourished under modernism and at a time when the “dominance of capital” was expanding but “was not global.”58 The poetic institution and veritable drive for artistic production, as embodied in the slogan “make it new,” was thus fueled by the fact that different socioeconomic models were still in competition. The noncapitalist did serve as a reservoir for artistic imagination, as attested by the various modern currents of primitivism. This pursuit of a new reality usually turned into a prolonged reflection on the transcendental. The case of Wallace Stevens’s high modernism represents one of the most notable accomplishments for this type of reflection. Consider a beautiful little poem titled “Angel Surrounded by Paysans” (1950), where the half-­divine figure of the angel incarnates writing as an exercise in transcendental forms. Stevens writes: I am one of you and being one of you Is being and knowing what I am and know.

-  130 -

Writing

The two lines form a perfectly autoinclusive mechanism. This mechanism is structured by a couple of hendiadyses (“I am one of you” and “being one of you”) that are redundant. Repeating themselves, they become a type of epanadiplosis—­that is to say, an inclusion. This syntactic rhythm, along with a highly punctuated phonic cadence, produces the solemn eloquence typical of Stevens’s writing, which is usually set in motion by tautology. In this case, epanadiplosis also connotes the binding logical force that ensues from what Stevens calls the “necessary angel of the earth.”59 In the Old Testament, to the effect that it prevents sacrifices to run amok, the angel complies a necessary function: Lacan calls it the “Angel of the Name.”60 In Stevens, the heavenly creature turns into a different type of structural function; the angel is the name of operability, not of transcendence. As a medium, the latter represents the staging of a form of representation. It is an eidos, an image that frames and allows us to see. It is also the endeavor to use the language in its symbolic sense, as an image that shows the modus operandi of the image itself. What the angel says and shows is its own mediality, for there is no object to refer to except itself. As a medium, it is autoinclusive and tautological. At the zenith of modernism, the progressive dismantling of the transcendent reenacts the Kantian move of the transcendental. As I observed, the computational writing under neoliberalism—­or the idea of a “continuous infinity” according to Sciacchitano—­is instead generative and moves forward or outward, capitalizing on both positivity and self-­reflectivity. This is the case of self-­tracking and of the datascape. As it is brought into the fold of immanence, the theocratic grounding for the Other vanishes while the fabric of social life becomes informational, fluid, emergent, lifelike, self-­propelling, and sustaining. Topology here is shaped according to the network model where relational space is not . . . constituted by voids or gaps but is rather a constantly changing space whose movement is described by infinitely small particles occupying what looks like an empty interval, but is in reality a threshold of change, at which one geometrical surface is knotted into another and another: a Möbius strip of invariants transforming lines and points into curves and joints linking one plane to another.61



Writing

-  131 -

The absoluteness of infinity is inflected in an equally infinite but discrete form that must be optimized and maximized. It is the form of capital accumulation, which, although infinite, is still and must still be quantifiable and incrementable. Again we return to the idea of the university discourse and its “epistemological drive,” as “it cannot be held in place by an ultimate truth or injunction, it keeps on keeping on knowing. It doesn’t come to an end or reach an ultimate goal. It circulates, and its circulation is an effect of its failure to anchor.”62 This apparatus of capture functions precisely thanks to our emotional, affective absorption in the ever-­expanding digital environment. In short, we still find ourselves in the business of valorizing affect. As I observed in the case of Tinder, this form of excess mobilizes our involvement following the logic of the drive because our searches, our need to look for or learn about the latest news or gossip, do not express the desire for “a new meaning or perspective” but rather for “the intensity accrued from repetition, the excitement or thrill of more.”63 The computational is the neoliberal afterlife of the Other. It is the desire of and by this Other that mobilizes users. Excess is put to work, for this is a writing that never stops, while feedback loops as means of valorization are built-­in factors. What happens to contingency? What happens to the individual expression of truth that characterized the tradition of literature in secret or even modernism? Long tail economic, one may respond. As I noted, the epistemological drive radically transforms the notion of truth into the serialized, ever-­growing model of the informational. Long tail economic is a model where retail sale does not follow the mass product system but targets highly individual consumer tastes. This advanced blending of profiling and on-­time analytics across multiple platforms, systems that compile and process digital footprints, directly targets potential customers, much like prosthetic weaponry aims at annihilating its enemy through a “faster-­than-­military-­g rade-­point-­to-­point logistic,” and similarly to how users fashion their digital profiles to increase their success rate on matchmaking apps.64 Consider how this distribution of the field in terms of individual addressability mimics life species formation, its emergent behaviors, and simultaneously distorts Sciacchitano’s second modality: the feminine position, the one based on “infinite numbers that are all different.” Neoliberal digitality here embodies a form of simplified military

-  132 -

Writing

targeting. On the one hand, the complex of digital accountability that I previously described pushes individuals to make themselves visible or targetable. On the other hand, the interfacing of several platforms, which market themselves as new and exciting means for communication, appears to be a ruse to corral consumers and calibrate the commercial potential of product placement. In the end, the point-­to-­ point strategy of the long tail goes after particularity, not singularity. It automatizes our desire. Meno’s slave (i.e., his function at the level of knowledge and desire) is brought back alive in the form of side menus with recommendations on the home screen of your device. A continuity is established, incessantly regenerated, and rewritten that is expected to individuate our particular story: the live data we provide, as well as other information that can be collected and processed from our interactions with digital platforms. But this is not singularity. Singularity is a movement that develops point to point without a supercode that can homogenize the field, or without a final sum capable of integrating the continuity of points while promoting new ones. Singularity is closer to the second modality of writing indicated by Sciacchitano, and is largely typical of a feminine position. Margaret Atwood provides an intuitive understanding of this kind of feminine topology in The Handmaid’s Tale. At a certain point, the protagonist of the novel reasons that her master is right in saying that women cannot add but only count, because for her, “One and one and one and one doesn’t equal four. Each one remains unique, there is no way of joining them together. They cannot be exchanged, one for the other.”65 The masculine establishes perimeters, the feminine singular points. The masculine position is reticular; it separates, contains, and then moves on to capture more. Under neoliberal digitality, nobody is standing on Mount Moriah. The call for this something more that has to be restituted comes from the vivid infographics of the screen, but it is still the Other of the Other that demands this continuous movement. The feminine position deploys a symbolic field populated by singularities that are not easily equalized by some general law of exchange. Herein one certainly finds others as well as multiple intertwined relations among them, but no Other of the Other. This type of writing is open because it is a texture, a symbolic field stitched together by the encounter and by caring for each individual singularity.

Chapter 5

Temporality Turks, Mammets, and Digital Crowdworking Platforms In the previous chapters, I discussed how a general theological assumption is at the core of the capitalist cultic operation. I described a double movement where transcendence is immanentized and where the logic of the Other of the Other is reprogrammed by digital devices, subjecting users to the beyond-­structure of the objectual and its sacrificial economy and thus infusing society with the dynamism of valorization. The self-­ laudatory discourse of neoliberalism wants to obscure this assumption. Its emphasis on self-­empowerment through innovation hides the premodern principle that is still operative today in the form of demands or obligations, which then fuel an efficient system of interiorized accountability. In this chapter, I want to deepen our understanding of this structure of repression by bringing more into focus the issue of sex and its relations to crowdworking platforms. To succeed, it is crucial to explore the ways in which capital follows a process of secularization characterized by what Joan Scott calls sexularism.1 The wordplay illustrates how sex is the thing that is manipulated in modernization and that which keeps on displacing transcendence as the location of power. However, this transformation never does away with a specific presupposition of power as a form of political theology. The history of class struggle changed the status of labor and the forms of its exploitation. Likewise, in the case of gender domination, and under the pressure of the fight for emancipation, capital responded by progressively dissolving ancient prohibitions and simultaneously reconfiguring the sexual object as something that must be circulated following a pattern of wider accessibility. Naturally this is not a straight line of development, as there are many roundabouts and, at times, regressions. But again, in general, the status of gender depends on the level of struggle and the kind of pressure capital can sustain. Even under mutated conditions, however, the sexual object represents the “archetype of property.”2 Hypermodern society is no exception to the

-  134 -

Temporality

rule. As I will discuss in the following pages, when it comes to the computational labor force, right from the beginning, “the convergence of a profession, a machine, and sex speaks the truth,” and this truth is gendered (as well as, I should add, racialized).3 We all know that despite improvements, woman is never completely equal to man. This is not only due to the persistent pay inequality but also to the work of reproduction, which is disproportionately executed by women (and this without even considering the issue of endemic sexual violence). But what is most troublesome here is not just the problem of equality but also that of difference. From an institutional point of view, and from within the civilizing mission of Western reason, difference can never be allowed to express itself completely. Western universalism is a system in which difference is either disavowed or perverted as inferior. A different temporality is thus never allowed to be born. It is well known that the passage to post-­Fordism shifts the paradigm of production from an industrial to an immaterial, reproductive one. Not surprisingly, it is hard to draw a line between the user and worker or between the consumer and producer. The so-­called Californian Ideology, for instance, banks on the fundamental reproductive nature of all production, which is particularly evident in the case of information technology. It goes to great lengths to project an aestheticized image of the experiential dimension of work: the coolness of style, the fun of cognitive work, the college-­like environment of expanded cooperation embellished by quality certifications by service consulting industries. Neoliberal digitality thrives on the obfuscation of the labor side of the question: the drudgery, the repetition, and, more importantly, the ultimate meaninglessness of a lot of white-­collar work. Simultaneously, this ideology tends to marginalize and stigmatize precisely those jobs that most importantly contribute to society. As David Graeber ironically observes, a world without teachers or dock-­workers would soon be in trouble, and even one without science fiction writers or ska musicians would clearly be a lesser place. It’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish.4

Graeber goes on to contend that neoliberalism has ballooned bureaucracy, graciously recompensing executives “who are basically paid to



Temporality

-  135 -

do nothing, in positions designed to make them identify with the perspectives and sensibilities of the ruling class (managers, administrators, etc.)—­a nd particularly its financial avatars.”5 This rift between essential (and underpaid) and nonessential work (and overpaid) clearly emerged during the present Covid-­19 crisis. Workers who engage in necessary services, many of whom are disproportionately Black, Latinos, and women, are asked to risk their life by exposing themselves to the virus while the managerial class buys stuff on Amazon, which, in turn, exponentially grows its revenues and political power. This is why I want to move my analysis and critique to labor and its gendered nature. It is precisely the mixture of bureaucratization, marginalization, deregulation, and precarization of a vast part of labor that illustrates how the ancient dream of capital is within reach—­and how the full expropriation of potentiality that I indicated with the term fee-­ Ding is now implementable. It is the predatory dream of surplus labor as the only life available for modern workers that looms at the horizon of platform capitalism. Describing the growth of automation in late 1950s Italy, Raniero Panzieri presciently argues that “to the development of cooperation, of the social labor process, there corresponds under capitalist management—­the development of the plan as despotism.”6 Downsizing while also investing heavily in fixed capital and in the expansion of the managerial class constitute the backbone of platform capitalism and its power. Here we see another case of the conspicuous inconsistency that is typical of the neoliberal regime, for the growth of the bureaucracy clashes with the claim to efficiency that reigns supreme. But the reader should recall that the dictum of absolute usability is not a monolithic principle; rather, it is based on the inconsistency of the Other. Utility, in fact, means implementing anything that is useful to valorization; therefore, an administrative class that hampers the unruliness of immaterial labor is a very useful inefficiency. The neoliberal system of control has many levers at its disposal. However, it is not almighty. As Toni Negri reminds us, even while the “new impact of the digital machine on the producer occurs under the rule of capital, the former not only surrenders value to fixed capital,” but as immaterial labor, it “also connects to the digital machine and is able to blend with it insofar as this connection occurs within the immaterial flux of cognitive labor.”7 Furthermore, Negri continues, because “fixed capital can expropriate value only from subjectivities’ cooperation,” and

-  136 -

Temporality

because their cognitive labor inherently opposes this form of domination, “capital must then raise the intensity of command putting into place operations of extraction of value that are increasingly more violent and arbitrary.”8 As mentioned earlier, the rise of right-­w ing reactionary governments in the West, paired with similarly authoritarian ones in the East, seems to reflect such a tendency, and reminds us that when neoliberalism with a human face becomes less effective—­and profitability stalls or decreases concurrently—­authoritarianism is always the most viable option.9 In the United States, it is hard to predict how much reappropriation of fixed capital is currently at hand for the legions of individuals forming the massive army of reserve labor that grew after the great recession of 2008 and now exploded because of the pandemic. In 2015, labor reports indicated that a staggering 40 percent of the U.S. workforce was employed as contingent workers.10 A big part of that workforce based on social interactions is currently out of a job, at the mercy of a volatile market. As conditions deteriorate and more precarious and despotic forms of digital labor will be offered as the “safe” solution, class conflict will likely escalate. It may be true, as Negri argues, that “the emancipative conditions of living labor increasingly invest and occupy the spaces and the function of fixed capital.”11 Provided that it liberates itself from specific productivist and sacrificial elements, labor may eventually break the shackles of this protracted theft. Some experiments in platform cooperatives are trying to do just that by creating a space based on the idea of the commons rather than profit—­a space that is political and digital but that is owned and run by collectives.12 Yet I suspect that what stands in the way of reappropriation is not just an organizational issue. It is also a subtle and lethal array of domesticating devices that capture and micromanage immaterial labor, also known as the new organization of work deployed through platform capitalism. The structure and ideology of the crowdworking platform Amazon Mechanical Turk is a prime example of the current transformation of neoliberalism, and of how it increasingly turned to more arbitrary and despotic tools of control of labor that, under the usual patina of smart efficacy, hides a feminized and racialized mechanism of exploitation. In this chapter, I turn to a reading of the new configuration of the political theology of fixed capital under the rubric of what I call neoarchaisms. My goal is to explore their gendered and racialized truth and



Temporality

-  137 -

to articulate the critique that ensues from the understanding that neoliberal digitality is largely built on technologies of segregation and marginalization. The issue of time here becomes central. With neoarchaism, I want to indicate a complex that combines high technological advancement and laboring practices that recall tyrannical regimes of the past. Seb Franklin, for instance, makes the case that the new conceptualization of time today shows an alarming trend: The clock that matters under control-­era logics of production, whether on the floors of Walmart or on Wall Street, in the cubicle or in the Starbucks office is the measure of the worker’s activity once they have been reconceptualized along computational lines . . . the amount of process completed—­whether in the literal systemics of sales targets, maintenance tasks, emails sent and answered, cold calls made, or instances of positive attitude—­has become imaginable as a measure of time, allowing for principles of expropriation and exploitation that function at levels of granularity unthinkable in terms of hours, minutes, seconds.13

The speed that is demanded is inhuman. Although it is cloaked under the rhetoric of efficiency and higher productivity, it simply consumes the laborer, just like the toil of the medieval corvée or the assembly line work in the Fordist factory. The final product may be different, but the price paid by the human body is not. Following Panzieri, crowdworking platforms represent a particular step in digital progress that, first of all, must be critiqued and demystified, because “the new technical bases progressively attained in production provide capitalism with new possibilities for the consolidation of its power.”14 Once the spell of innovation and intrinsic progress is broken, a proper class perspective can emerge, as “the possibilities for overthrowing the system . . . coincide with the wholly subversive character which working-­class ‘insubordination’ tends to assume in face of the increasingly independent ‘objective framework’ of the capitalist mechanism.”15 The digital platform phenomenon offers insights into the possibility of such subversion. Digital platform labor should be considered not only from the point of view of managerial practices or technological innovations but also as a theoretical complex, one that I think should follow Walter Benjamin’s definition of this model as a philosophical

-  138 -

Temporality

construct. This construct is based on a specific and alternative articulation of temporality, which in Benjamin’s terms could explode current conceptualizations and impositions of time. As Panzieri argues, “The class level expresses itself not as progress, but as rupture”—­in other words, as “the construction of a radically new rationality counterposed to the rationality practiced by capitalism.”16 A Gendered MTurk In 2005, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos went public with a project he had personally conceived and supervised. It was a new revolutionary crowdsourcing platform he called the Mechanical Turk, or MTurk for short. This is how Bezos explains the corporate mission: “Normally, a human makes a request of a computer, and the computer does the computation of the task.” With online marketplaces, “artificial intelligences like Mechanical Turk invert all that. The computer has a task that is easy for a human but extraordinarily hard for the computer. So instead of calling a computer service to perform the function, it calls a human.”17 Bezos calls platforms like MTurk or ChaCha (a human-­powered search engine) artificial-­a rtificial intelligences, for their artificiality resides precisely in the built-­in human component that enables the actual functioning of the machine. In effect, with Amazon being the biggest Western online marketplace seller of goods—­and thus also of the labor they incorporate—­Bezos’s brilliant intuition was that it could also profit from selling its workforce, and thus living labor. It is worth mentioning here that according to Bezos, current concerns regarding the imminence and disruptiveness of a singularity seem to be mistaken. Rest assured! This capability for human-­ artificial intelligences through crowdworking dispels fears regarding a new generation of robots taking control over humankind. Humans will still be at center stage, sweating and working endless hours for less and less money. Neda Atanososki and Kalindi Vora sum it up nicely: “Emergent technologies and platforms propose a future free from degraded work, yet the infrastructures of the sharing economy retain the degraded categories of labor formerly done by racialized others.”18 As we will see, sharing technology allows Amazon to control a planetary marketplace for the commerce of living labor. In neoliberal parlance, MTurk represents the first viable electronic



Temporality

-  139 -

experiment in what business culture calls an innovative and dynamic mode of generating revenue streams by spurring entrepreneurship and capitalizing on technological automation tools. This digital (and global) space where work is traded and sold is organized and managed according to the principles of what is known here as the lean platform. “Lean” means that all that is not either fixed capital or administration, such as software and management, must be minimized, and ideally eliminated completely. Lean Platform Corporation’s (hidden) mission statement includes statements like “reduce . . . ownership of assets to a minimum” and increase “profit by reducing costs as much as possible.”19 More specifically, MTurk is a “microworking system which enables elementary tasks to be performed by a huge number of people (typically called ‘Turkers’) on-­line. Ideally, these tasks are meant to be solved by computers, but they still remain out of computational reach (for instance, the translation of an English sentence into Urdu).”20 Academic surveying is another example of a field that has been steadily growing, as social scientists have found an easy and inexpensive access to quick and already measurable raw data. All these translations, curatorial actions, digital manipulations, and surveys are called HITs (human intelligence tasks). Yet MTurk does not rely solely on digital labor. Other tasks include trivial jobs or even bizarre performances, such as “ask[ing] workers to strap live fish to their chests and upload the photos.”21 The market for trading online and real-­ world interactions is rapidly expanding, and many other collective platforms are now offering a variety of services: “Thumbtack, for professional projects; Postmates, for delivery; Handy, for housework; Dogvacay, for pets; and countless others.”22 Crowdworking is in fact moving deep into a vast area of cognitive and noncognitive labor, offering a market “where contractors are . . . paid by the task: a cut of every ride from Uber, of every rental from Airbnb, of every task fulfilled on Mechanical Turk.”23 As lean platforms, what all these services have in common is that they aim at collecting and offering a variety of performances organized, and in a way micromanaged, by a single digital system. In so doing, they replace the hard-­core production of services, thus further deregulating the market, even as they capitalize on the information they glean and the network effect they generate. The more people who join the service and create traffic, the higher the value of the company. The more big data assembled and crunched, the higher the scalability of the system.

-  140 -

Temporality

Crowdworking platforms like MTurk also have the capacity of extracting the fruit of immaterial labor on a planetary scale. Bypassing what is left of state jurisdictions, these systems realize the wildest dreams of international corporate interests: globalization without the costs of delocalization and immigration. There is no need to move fixed capital (or labor for that matter) from one place to the other. Only capital will circulate, and everybody will enjoy the same race to the bottom on wages and rights. At a time of increased anti-­immigration rhetoric, Ayhan Aytes comments, “online cognitive labor markets are established as aggregation platforms that simultaneously act as a techno-­ immigration system.”24 All the labor needed at the lowest possible cost performed by virtual labor! Masses of workers you don’t see, providing services while literally living on the other side of the world! Isn’t this precisely the situation depicted by Alex Rivera in his great sci-­fi film Sleep Dealer (2008), where across-­the-­border sweatshops employ Mexicans who remotely operate robots to do daily work in the United States? As the manager of the info-­máquinas factory explains to the protagonist of the film, Memo: “This is the American dream. We give the Americans what they always wanted: all the work, without the worker.” All the work, all the time, and without labor’s unsavory presence—­this is the temporality and optics of crowdworking. Again, the techno­ enthusiasm of neoliberal digitality must foreclose the nightmare of racial and gender oppression. In this sense, Atanososki and Vora are on point when they argue that “the disappearance and subsumption of human bodies and their reemergence in and through the informational milieu as transparent commodities can . . . be understood as racialized not in the sense that only black, brown, or Asian bodies perform the degraded tasks,” but also in the sense that neoliberal digitality produces a structure of value that is used to secure and protect the self-­ image of the ruling class. The platform is used to “affirm a particular notion of human freedom, leisure, and happiness emerging from imperial modes of liberal governance.”25 The rest—­immigrants, people of color, indigenous populations, members of the underprivileged working class—­are simply erased, hidden as surplus labor, or used as a negative term of comparison. Much of commercial platforms today, writes Shaka McGlotten, serve the purpose of offering “an animate hierarchy, in which the liveliness and the value of some things (whiteness, smart



Temporality

-  141 -

technology) are established via a proximity to other things positioned lower or further away (blackness, dumb matter).”26 Just like the rest of the labor force in the United States, these platforms meet a demand that is supposedly on the rise among the millennials, where a well-­educated population of technophiles abounds. But as any other neoliberal digital environment, these systems are also built to “monopolize, extract, analyze, and use the increasingly large amounts of data,” while human–­computer interaction is constructed to reproduce the characteristic form of neoliberal subjectivity.27 The specific ideological assumption of this form of labor can be found in the buzzword used to publicize this new type of employment: the gig economy. The particular artistic provenance of the term gig—­musicians often refer to their shows or performance as gigs—­recapitulates all the neoliberal assumptions that transformed the status of labor from wage labor under Fordism to human capital under post-­Fordism. Some of its bright and more optimistic aspects are simple borrowings from the usual hype of the neoliberal discourse: inventiveness, initiative, self-­ affirmation, independence. However, the most important is the idea of flexibility accompanied by the dream of an open-­ended and cooperative type of work. More prosaically, the sharing and collective labor typical of the gig economy is instead closely connected to long-­standing processes of the feminization of labor. This process places an emphasis on the many opportunities to deploy one’s social, cognitive, and emotional skills, all while taking advantage of part-­time employment and remote work, thereby enabling women to continue engaging in their other most notable (and unremunerated) activity: the work of reproduction. A 2010 study on the composition of the digital workforce of lean platforms such as MTurk discovered that “almost 70% of mechanical Turkers were women” and that “women provide the behind the scenes labor that is mystified as the work of computers, unglamorous work transformed into apparent algorithmic perfection.”28 In this context, multitasking and flexibility enter into a particular mutually reinforcing relationship with other standard feminine virtues: abnegation, resourcefulness, meticulousness, and versatility. Not incidentally, all of these virtues are key features of feminine surplus labor. Thus, it should not be surprising that the particular gendering of work that emerges when looking beyond

-  142 -

Temporality

this utopian image is Bezos’s artificial-­a rtificial intelligence marketplace. As Shawn Wen explains, Relying on data from mechanical Turkers, computers have dramatically improved in recent years at facial recognition, translation, and transcription. These were tasks previously thought to be impossible for computers to complete accurately. Which means that mechanical Turkers (mostly women) teach computers to do what engineers (mostly men) cannot on their own program computers to do.29

The ideologies of neoliberal digitality impose on us a shiny vision of techno and ecofriendly professionalism: no more polluted factory yards but rather tasks completed silently via touch screens. Yet the old industrial economy also praised the zealous diligence of armies of women typists, secretaries, and other sorts of data collectors. They too were early types of immaterial laborers at a time when “computing was thought of as women’s work and computers were assumed to be female.”30 The product of their work was also subject to the theft of wage labor. Behind the machine, one always finds the woman. Online marketplaces lodge the same old truth, the extraction of value in the form of surplus labor, which is then enhanced by a specific form of expropriation: the mining of collective intelligence, which is stored and operationalized via proprietary adaptive learning software. This is not solely the effect of technological advancement. Rather, it is a problem that we find at the root of political theology and its mutation: whenever sovereignty establishes itself over human life. Here Scott’s provocative wordplay on secularization as driven by “sexularism” comes to its full light. The digital platform is the latest ruse that progress uses to mine living labor and thus further incorporate and manage the bios of life, or what in Marxist terms is called the real subsumption of labor. As Scott argues, “Secularism encourages the free expression of sexuality and . . . thereby ends the oppression of women because it removes transcendence as the foundation for social norms and treats people as autonomous individuals.”31 But she also rapidly clarifies that when it comes to gender, “the equal status of women and men was not a primary concern for those who move to separate church and state.”32 We can take the idea that secularization has always been inherently sexist a step further. The reproduction of disparity is a fruitful investment. The



Temporality

-  143 -

reality is that transcendence is still at work in secular modernity, and as I will discuss in more detail in the case of the history of the Mechanical Turk, transcendence cannot really be erased because it is connected to surplus, to an excessive element that must be carefully managed as a source of power. In other words, sexularism is just another name for the reformulation of the contradiction of sexual difference and its resolution through an established order that produces value. What one finds in the highly advanced marketplace of MTurk, as well as in any other domain of the gig economy, is the hidden seal of sexuality as a marker of a new temporality—­one that has exploded the scale of time because of the demands and speed of execution enforced by platforms. “Sexual difference, conceived as a natural distinction rooted in physical bodies,” Scott concludes, “is the basis for representing the alternative between past and future, religion and rationality, private and public.”33 The Neoarchaisms of the Gig Economy At the juncture of the processes of the feminization of labor and algorithmic expropriation, lean platform control is also characterized by what Wendy Chun calls the “new media as the function of the you,” the “transformation of the Internet into a series of poorly gated communities that generate yous value.”34 The nourishing of a specific kind of individualism that, however, betrays that privacy is reflected by “relations [that] are mapped and extrapolated: habitual actions—­liking, retweeting, posting, etc.—­u sed to create profiles to carefully track, preempt and craft consumption.”35 These profiles help generate clustered networks for users who are drawn together on a platform following a specific dictum: homophily. Homophily, the “creation of network neighbourhoods based in online similarities,” is the underlining logic that defines much of our digital infrastructure, which “assumes [that] neighbourhoods should be and are segregated.”36 Chun rightfully points to sociological studies of the 1950s on housing segregation as the origin of this term and its current misunderstanding in software engineering, where it is confused with true relationality. Here we may take a step back from the modern history of institutionalized racism in the United States and look at homophily as a function (sameness) of the Mosaic complex that I discussed in chapter 1. Recall Lacan’s puzzled reaction at Freud and his myth of the murder

-  144 -

Temporality

of the primordial father, which produced the prohibition of incest. Lacan notes that the first “incredible” thing that happens after the homicide is that the sons “discover that they are brothers.” “Well,” Lacan continues, “that may give you some idea of what brotherhood is about. . . . I know only one single origin of brotherhood—­I mean human, always humus brotherhood—­segregation.”37 There are various ways one can interpret this point. Lacan insists on the importance of understanding the “function” of this act resulting in an exclusionary membership, and thus in the installment of a social fabric and system of beliefs (what Lacan calls humus).38 As argued, this act is precisely the separation, the severance from the maternal continuum, that wants to constitute the masculine as a universal function. The marking of the other as something to be possessed and used as an object establishes the masculine as the real subject. The murderesses become brothers (i.e., become kin) because they have erased the twoness of sexual difference. This is the primal form of racialization that is replicated against different ethnicities and social classes. As the archetype of property, the predatory possession of the woman is the function of a cultural complex that acts homogeneously across time and space. It conquers, subjects, marginalizes, and instrumentalizes the other in order to produce value, and then it naturalizes that hierarchy through that very process of valorization. Presently, the exclusionary dynamics of the Mosaic complex is optimized by homophily through a format that aims at boosting the informational. It promises us more friends, more contacts, more of like us, but it is built on the foreclosure of the other (and thus of real encounters in general). You have an exclusion that reinforces hierarchy: us (smart, hardworking, principled, patriotic) versus them (lazy, dirty, criminal). But the creation of network clusters also exemplifies how transcendence works in the digital domain. Because we like the same TV series and shop at Whole Foods, “we’re sorted into neighbourhoods based on our likes and dislikes in order to uncover hidden relations and to foster new ones.”39 These relations must always grow. Why? Because the Other produces a formalism that is deeply affected by a sacrificial logic. It is that very transcendence that imposes on individuals the implicit burden to feed the platform and amplify it endlessly. As I illustrated in the previous chapters, the reality beyond the usual neoliberal narrative, based as it is on individual growth, freedom, and voluntarism, is much more complicated. The moralizing tone that ac-



Temporality

-  145 -

companies these discursive practices should not be forgotten. Just like the debt economy is built on guilt and the ethical “work on the self ” that the debtor must carry out at the personal level, the notion of participating in the sharing of ideas, information, skills, interests, and discoveries represents another and equally pressing moral obligation.40 It is yet another form of implicit commitment, although perhaps more pleasing and auspicious than its counterpart. In this sense, the sharing economy becomes a necessary counterbalancing mechanism. The lightness of any of its common gestures, for instance, when we click a Like button on Facebook, cleans it of any hardship, projecting instead the image of a smooth life free of the looming sense of endless expiation that mobilizes the debt economy. But voluntary participation in the sharing of everything that exists online also follows the logic of the expected deed, which carries with it the eerie sense of a sanction for any deviance or irresponsible shortcoming; that participation too is driven by a sacrificial economy of commitment and endless restitution. Endless valorization and usability demand continuous repayment: more interest payments, more HITs, and more visibility on social media. Last but not least is the overwhelming reality of surplus labor at a planetary level. When it comes to the working environment of the lean platform, things look quite different than the frivolous account of the wonderful accomplishments of neoliberalism. These platforms, as Nick Srnicek reminds us, “operate through a hyper-­outsourced model, whereby workers are outsourced, fixed capital is outsourced, maintenance costs are outsourced, and training is outsourced. All that remains is a bare extractive minimum—­control over the platform that enables a monopoly rent to be gained.”41 Moreover, the specific tools used to improve and ensure quality service and customer satisfaction bear testimony to how the so-­called free creativity spurred by these business models is not so free in the end. This is for historical reasons. Compared to digital platforms, Fordist enterprises were not effective in closing the loops between production and the information that it generates. Although feedback is crucial to platform capitalism, the Fordist industry’s “way of operating was to produce a good in a factory where most of the information was lost, then to sell it, and never to learn anything about the customer.”42 In terms of labor, Taylorist tools of control were thus top-­ down mechanisms that reigned in workers’ indiscipline and autonomy. Today, autonomy is presumably encouraged only insofar as inflexibly

-  146 -

Temporality

is commanded by productivity, and these platforms purposefully carry on a “fragmentation of tasks [that] disenfranchises cognitive workers by disconnecting them from the final intellectual work.” Simultaneously, they foster “a transient, task-­based, and limited-­time relationship between the worker and the requester and do not support a direct communication between the parties, further erasing the connection between the cognitive labor and the resultant work.”43 In addition to the use of administrative sanctioning to maintain control over labor, micromanagement operates through numerical evaluations that users internalize as moral injunctions. By introducing constant feedback and ratings of performances, the worker is now locked into a system of automated measurements based on some proprietary algorithm that determines the fate of the worker’s next revenue. Benchmarking is the new electronic shape of the despotic foreman, one that is increasingly more precise and implacable with its scorings while also making these findings easily accessible and even available to be held up to public ridicule. What remains completely hidden is the scalability of the software, magnified in its digital capabilities by the unseen daily drudgery of living labor. This is a tale of two economies. On the one hand, the presumed independence and the digital worker’s performance is flaunted through colorful diagrams. Visibility here is associated with immediate public scrutiny and proper accountability for the worker’s labor. On the other hand, the enormous expropriation of collective intelligence that comes from that labor is shrouded in mystery: the algebraic secret of algorithms. The numerical despotism of the platform, the moralist sanctions of the sharing economy, the theft of the collective intelligence, and the share/fee digital workers pay to the platform proprietor are all covered by the cloak of creativity and technological progress. In the case of numerical despotism and moralist sanctions, the response is fully interiorized as self-­d iscipline. But tellingly, they are all signs of premodern tyrannical elements that appear to be more than simple cracks or incongruences in the system. The archaic face of hypermodernity is a counterintuitive phenomenon only for those who look at neoliberal digitality from the point of view of the final product or from that of the value aggregated qua Internet traffic and digital footprints. When taking into account the perspective of labor, one clearly sees how the unregulated, cooperative, but precarious work carried out under the gig



Temporality

-  147 -

economy is simply a return to a practice consolidated at the dawn of industrial civilization. Take, for instance, the case of Goethe’s so-­called mystery of Naples. Contrary to the common belief of a generalized idleness among Neapolitans, the city’s parasitic hierarchy propels the extreme industriousness and continuous workings of vast segments of the lower class. Recalling the old Neapolitan proverb “where a horse shits a hundred sparrows feed,” Antonio Gramsci unveils the conundrum, which was also “repeated on a large scale in Palermo and Rome, and also a number of cities.”44 Beyond the coolness of the gig economy, one finds a similar preindustrial exploitation typical of the servile condition where the particular parasitic organization of work forces a multitude of people to engage in various degrees of surplus labor. The relations of production of our glamorous digital world prompt further investigations in the direction of their mottled temporality. In particular, the position that fixed capital takes with respect to living labor solicits some considerations on its asynchrony. In the case of the MTurk, the platform ingeniously accomplishes two results. First, it limits investments to fixed capital to the highest degree possible by drastically cutting all remuneration to piecework labor. In turn, piecework labor reduces production costs and simultaneously expands the capacity and value of fixed capital as it advances the software’s analytical capacity. Second, and similar to a sharecropping model, it extracts value in the form of rent. By capitalizing on its established hierarchy, the platform takes the position of the rentier who parasitically profits by demanding a share from what its subjects produce. In effect, the Turkers represent a type of worker that encapsulates and compiles three major historical forms of domination: exploitation in terms of surplus value akin to the Fordist worker; extraction of fees simply to work, like for the agrarian laborer; and the theft of the added value generated by using and improving the platform, a la the digital user. It is remarkable how platform capitalism is able to recast and manage a set of social relations that taint living labor with a mix of premodern and hypermodern stains. Think of the case of Uber services. One may argue that the driver is at the same time a pieceworker for the individual employer—­in the form of the customer who needs a lift—­who hires specific manpower. But the driver is simultaneously a sharecropper for the Uber platform owner, who demands a cut of the revenue generated. To the extent that Uber drivers constantly invent new methods and

-  148 -

Temporality

strategies to maximize their work output, the corporate platform grows in its analytical capacity of calculation, prediction, and execution. Drivers thus contribute to the accumulation of a know-­how that is kept in storage for future use. After all, it is no secret that self-­driving cars are the company’s logical next step. The archaic features of this form of labor can hardly be domesticated by the rhetoric of being your own boss, enjoying a flexible working schedule, and performing with almost total compulsion work that is typical of our modern-­day belief in supreme productivity. Whiffs of conflict began to arise almost at once, as the unionization of Uber drivers in Oregon and the passage of California’s Assembly Bill 5 attest.45 But there is another, ancestral element that the MTurk model reveals. This idea may herald further resistance and permit new ground for the reappropriation of fixed capital to be broken. As a form of human-­to-­machine-­ to-­human interaction, the Mechanical Turk is also a philosophical construct. In what follows, I want to further elucidate and discuss the temporal component of this construction by relating it to the issue of living labor. In this case, temporality has a significant theoretical and political relevance. Zoltar and Benjamin’s Chess Player The particular exotic (and racialized) flavor of the MTurk directly recalls the image of a popular comedy of the late 1980s directed by Penny Marshall. In Big (1988), starring Tom Hanks, Josh Baskin is a twelve-­ year-­old boy in love with an older girl, who ignores him because of the age gap. A fortune-­telling machine fashioned as an East Asian magician called Zoltar Speaks grants him his wish to grow up. Suddenly waking as a thirty-­year-­old man, Josh is forced to enter the brave and exciting corporate world of New York City, where he makes a splash in the toy industry. The plot, which predicts the success story of Silicon Valley kids turning their passion into moneymaking machines, replays the old trope of rejuvenation. Hanks’s character resembles a typical 1980s yuppie, but a yuppie softened by the grace and idealism of his true twelve-­ year-­old self. It is, in other words, a perfect film for the end of the cold war—­it was, after all, released in 1988. With the victory of the capitalist West looming on the horizon, the chanting of the end of history and the new eternal present of globalization would soon rise. As was foretold,



Temporality

-  149 -

people would live long and productive lives, always young and forever happy, just like little Josh trapped in the body of an adult. But beyond these historical elements, the film tells us something interesting regarding the machine itself. The wish that Zoltar grants Josh splits the character in two. Josh’s exterior body is merely a medium to gain access to his true potential: his pristine creativity. The target here is unlocking childhood’s magic so that it can be put to use and valorized to create goods to be sold to an increasing population of never-­aging young adults. Zoltar provides this opportunity, transforming Josh into another veritable machine maker of games, toys, and general fun. A proliferation of the mechanical colonizes the film that originates from the magic and mysterious act of Zoltar. Here we find an interesting parallel with MTurk. As journalist Moshe Z. Marvit notices, the story and the symbolism of Zoltar and of MTurk goes far back in time, for it is clearly connected to the “chess-­playing machine commissioned by the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria in the early days of the Industrial Revolution,” a “device that fit perfectly into the creeping belief—­replete with excitement and anxiety—­that mechanical labor (and maybe mechanical minds) could replace human labor and agency.”46 What is thus at stake is a technology that enables us to tap into an original and naturally fantastic force. This force inhabits the machine and is humanlike. It is also racialized, as the exotic appearance of the automaton demonstrates. To foreshadow my argument, I understand this force to be related directly to labor power and its dangerousness to be due to its intrinsic insubordination and its riotous nature typical of dominated groups. I mention this film not only because it is part of the pop culture that influences technology but also because it raises particular personal memories for me that point to the key problem of living labor. When the film was released, I was about the same age as Josh Baskin. Now, whenever I pick up Walter Benjamin’s Theses on the Concept of History (1942), particularly its opening paragraph, this rather dull product of Hollywood culture keeps coming to mind. I thought this was due perhaps to one of those basic associative mechanisms that enable one’s mind to grasp a concept by preliminarily placing it in a familiar context, this notwithstanding how useless and perhaps mistaken that original reference is. Yet this lingering presence did not dissipate. Rather it became more intensively captivating as I pondered Benjamin’s writing. I began to see that something, perhaps a kernel of truth in my

-  150 -

Temporality

recollection of Zoltar, did in fact connect MTurk to Benjamin’s Theses. Here is how Benjamin famously opens his work, referring to the famous eighteenth-­century machine: The story is told of an automaton constructed in such a way that it could play a winning game of chess, answering each move of an opponent with a countermove. A puppet in Turkish attire and with a hookah in its mouth sat before a chessboard placed on a large table. A system of mirrors created the illusion that this table was transparent from all sides. Actually, a little hunchback who was an expert chess player sat inside and guided the puppet’s hand by means of strings. One can imagine a philosophical counterpart to this device. The puppet called “historical materialism” is to win all the time. It can easily be a match for anyone if it enlists the services of theology, which today, as we know, is wizened and has to keep out of sight.47

The little hunchback is a recurrent theme in Benjamin’s autobiographical recollections. In this specific case, the hunchback represents Marxism, while theology does not stand for official religion but rather illustrates a form of weak messianic power. Some scholars have in fact associated a popular figure of German folklore with Benjamin’s more famous theoretical figure: the angel of history. Although the angel is typologically a figure of history, the hunchback belongs to the biographical dimension, thus making a close association of the two figures plausible.48 In my case, the reverberations between Benjamin’s mechanical chess player and Zoltar may have to do with a particular auroral moment in life: the beginning of adolescence, where growth and transformation take an immediate and unavoidable corporeal and cognitive meaning. With its inner and external turmoil, adolescence was also a period during which I distinctly recall immersing myself in a sense of being that constantly ripped apart routine. It was a time, in other words, where the automatons of life were jammed by the force of insights that I could not quite grapple with. These revelatory moments forced me to attend to a sense of becoming that appeared, then immediately retreated before I could seize it. The hidden link between Benjamin’s automaton and its filmic representation resides in this insight into becoming. Perhaps it is better laid out via a parallel. In Benjamin, both the scientific study and pos-



Temporality

-  151 -

sible emancipation of living labor are naturally part of Marxism, while the hunchback is the antinormative and subtractive force of his infancy, which held the promise of salvation.49 Zoltar’s magic, in turn, gestures toward the unleashing of the potential of transformation. In the stereotyped aesthetics of the 1980s, that unleashing was already coded as the utilitarian spirit of neoliberalism. But Zoltar’s ragged special powers hold in reserve a morphogenetic force that is still not subsumed by capitalist mechanisms of capture. The confused and insecure look of Tom Hanks during the film represents this unpredictable living element. As I observed, the energy that moves the Mechanical Turk and platform capitalism is also living labor. This means that when we talk about the neoliberal use of digital crowdworking, something visceral emerges that has to do with life. The temporality of this emergence is far from linear; it does not follow the progressive direction that we customarily attribute to it. Present, past, and future seem interconnected. After all, the contemporaneity of the noncontemporaneous is a characteristic of capitalism illustrated by the three figures of historical exploitation that converge in the digital worker. But there is a temporal element that Benjamin discusses that is radically different from the neoarchaisms I recalled and that stands out and as inimical to capitalism. What platform capitalism does is personify different temporal planes by erasing difference. Better said, it neutralizes difference by inserting it into metrics of control that funnel living potential into mechanisms of valorization. This axiom is usually the result of a restructuring that responds to failed attempts to upset power. I cannot help but notice that digital platforms and HITs look like perversions of experiments typical of antiglobalization movements. Think of common reciprocity-­based work trading systems, such as time banks, that flourished at the turn of the last century. While services were exchanged, the computing capability of said systems probably increased too, but not at the expense of the users. It seems to me that, together with the organizational problem at stake—­which obviously also involves the issue of a common ownership of the platform—­the return to a morphogenetic moment of passage and perhaps to a childlike dimension of life is necessary. And if that is true, then in order to unpack the sociosymbolic complex that underlies the hybrid figure of Zoltar and Benjamin’s chess player—­half automaton and half human, half divine and half mortal, half modern and half archaic—­we need to look further back into the history and origin of the

-  152 -

Temporality

automaton. Therein we may discover a gendered truth that may be instructive to projects alternative to crowdworking. The Mammoletta–­Mammet Complex and Difference While discussing the intricacies of medieval theology, Jonathan Gil Harris brilliantly elucidates the complex temporal problem I just cited: The Mechanical Turk, in its various medieval and (post-­)modern iterations, is the exemplar of the post-­human; Islam comes historically after Christianity, and its mechanical avatars replace humans and human labor. Yet the Mechanical Turk is also the exemplar of the pre-­human, inasmuch as it is typologically left behind by the dwarves and contracted laborers who consolingly usurp its miraculous or messianic agency.

Harris continues his inquiry by describing the etymological reasons for these comparisons, which he finds most clearly in “English Renaissance drama” where words like mawmet “or ‘maumet’ or ‘mammet’ was a common term for a doll, puppet, or mechanical homunculus.” These terms all derived from “the proper name ‘Mohamet,’ or Mohammed,” which “was first used in medieval England to designate the Prophet of Islam.”50 Finally, Harris also traces the term back to Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet (1597), where “Capulet calls his daughter, who has refused his choice of husband. . . . A whining mammet.”51 Although Harris disputes its etymological origin, an interesting trope emerges at this point. Similar to the gendered labor of the MTurk, the epithet has to do with the feminine living dimension. The mammet seems to embody the young woman who does not want to follow her father’s arrangements for marriage. She is thus another case of those “little women who have not yet acquired full life or maturity” but who “are also, in their illicit desires, artificial puppets, straying from the course of true desire.”52 Much earlier, in Stanze per la Giostra (1478), Renaissance philologist Poliziano uses the Italian term mammoletta, which originally was another name for violets, to indicate chaste virgins and feminine figures who have still not been incorporated by, and may perhaps even evade, patriarchal power. The mammoletta thus refuses life, naturally intended as the masculine appropriation of the feminine gift of life qua



Temporality

-  153 -

the transmission of power. Strictly speaking, Harris concludes, “what links all these instances of stage-­mammets—­whether transgressive females or irreligious idols—­is their stigmatization as false images that are lifeless or mechanistic.”53 As noted, there is a temporal element here that links the Mechanical Turk to Benjamin’s philosophical construct. The mammoletta with its stigma of immaturity points to a threshold figure for the patriarchal order. The whining little doll is the prize of a conquest that is within reach, and the anticipatory savor of said possession only adds to her appeal. Because she does not submit to male authority, she exposes her truth: a being that is thought of as a thing that cannot be turned into property, or prey that cannot be fully seized. Evading the masculine grip, the mammoletta resists being internalized into patriarchy, thus falling outside accepted symbolic positions. Indeed, the commonplace stigmatization of the old virgin perfectly explains what is at stake with her symbolism. As Simone de Beauvoir writes: “Turned away from her destination, the old maid becomes an eccentric object, as troubling as the incommunicable thinking of a madman,” for “virgins that men have not subjugated, old women who have escaped their power, are more easily looked upon as witches than other women.”54 Hence this figure elicits fear and a feeling of revulsion. Misogynist and racial markings converge here. As Harris writes, “The female fetishist-­mammet and the blasphemous fetish-­mammet conjoin temporally: they are stigmatized as backward, undeveloped and immature; they cannot partake of the living Word, the truth and logos, of the Christian future.”55 What is constructed as a regressive, lifeless, and outside of history position thus points to the transhistorical biopolitical complex of production, which in the case of the woman equals the prescribed natural (and private) dimension of reproduction. Similarly, the heretic position of the Muslim world identifies the political-­religious other thus projecting on its technology the dark shadow of witchcraft, just like the eccentric, recalcitrant woman is associated with the devil’s spell. Being outside the righteous path of Christian law and its theological course, the mammoletta–­mammet symbolically occupies either a prehistorical or posthistorical dimension. It is simultaneously a zone that escapes patriarchal control (and is thus prior to Christian truth) and a figure that points to a temporal beyond. In other words, it is successive, because it

-  154 -

Temporality

indicates a form of authority that is nonresponsive and indifferent to true religious redemption. This is the judgment passed by Christian Western thought. The case of Benjamin is different. I believe it is possible to read the chess player philosophical construct by looking at how Benjamin assumes the mammoletta–­mammet eccentricity in a positive light. In the wake of the 1939 Molotov–­R ibbentrop Pact, Benjamin sought to imagine a future at a time when any future seemed utterly impossible. (Benjamin had survived the crashing of the Spartacist movement and the rise of Nazism only to see Stalin make a deal with Hitler). His idea of history thus radically disrupts the naively linear progressive one that defined bourgeois mentality and its barbaric inflection concocted by the Nazi regime. This is not the place to engage with the complex problem of Benjamin’s messianism. But it is perhaps worth directing our attention to the theoretical importance that Benjamin places on the biographical dimension of infancy. As Victoria Nelson writes, it is here that we gain a “vantage point outside time and place,” and it is here too that “we can finally grasp the particularities of linear history, because comprehending the past doesn’t mean understanding “what really happened,” as Benjamin says, but “seize[ing] hold of a memory as it flashes up in a moment of danger.”56 The little hunchback embodies this radical deviation from the nightmare of history—­in Benjamin’s case, that of 1940s Europe; in contemporary society, the looming ecological and political catastrophe of the neoliberal regime in both its moderate and reactionary variants. This move does not represent a way to run from reality into the comforting world of fantasy; instead, its inner motive is to change reality by reconnecting us to the flux and magmatic nature of life—­to something, in other words, that runs deep, and that present capitalist configurations have distorted. According to Susan Buck-­Morss, “the true messianic task is to resurrect the old within the discourse of the new.”57 In his Marxist analysis, Benjamin thus works out the idea that “commodity production reifies the mythic elements, creating within the superstructure a cultural phantasmagoria which, for all its material reality, ensures that the utopian promise of myth remains unrealized.”58 How is it possible that the future of the utopian reflects the past of the mythical? Discussing the concept of temporal plurality in Marxism, Vittorio Morfino recalls Nietzsche’s insistence on the untimely, or in German, the Unzeitgemäss. Morfino writes, “That which is not actual is also not



Temporality

-  155 -

contemporaneous only when compared to our inauthentic contemporaneity.” This means that “in the non-­actual resides, in fact, a contemporaneity that is deeper and more profound.”59 The archaic element of our hypermodern world is not so much the chronologically old but the regressive constraints that repress, administer, and exploit life. Despite being technologically advanced, the neoarchaic is what blocks the emergence of a life that is more truly ours, and whose originary, immanent strength is certainly ancestral while still present to us. This would be a posthuman life that might perhaps be more fully human, if by that term we indicate a life that we have not yet lived because of the prolonged endurance of human exploitation. To reverse Bezos’s slogan, we should not implement artificial-­a rtificial intelligences but human-­a rtificial intelligences. That is to say, we should not artificialize the artificial via human exploitation, but rather liberate human labor through artificial capacities. Today we can interpret the hunchback as the mechanism that, through subtractions and disruptions, pulls the strings of the automaton (technology) to move it in that direction. That direction is not so much a movement forward or an accumulation, but rather a suspension that allows us to perceive time beyond the “homogenous and empty time” constructed by capitalism.60 This means that the hunchback must also turn back to infancy if looking at the temporality of the mammoletta–­mammet complex. In other words, the hunchback suspends the time of infinite growth of progress, opening the possibility to look beyond it. The hunchback game is just another name for the “child’s divinatory relation to the world of things, a relation in which discovery and assimilation are predicated on mimetic immersion.”61 Again a similar insistence on the nonactual emerges, one that insists on immaturity and eccentricity against the prescribed path of performance and valorization. But the point here is not simply to negate the current state of affairs. A simple direct denial of the latter does not undermine the system’s efficacy because it is still entangled in the very mechanism of control from which it wants to break away. With the mammoletta–­mammet complex, we name something different: a refusal that affirms a different life-­form. Luisa Muraro clarifies this point when discussing the long history of open and covert interdiction of the mother–­daughter continuum. As she traces the contours of an alternative and more originary symbolic order shaped by the maternal, she argues that “boys and girls turn the

-  156 -

Temporality

state of need into a true laboratory to transform and know themselves and the world.”62 The maternal continuum in which they engage is a world-­forming experience that is based on reciprocity and not on ownership. Nor is it, for that matter, based on the theology of value. Muraro further explicates this point when she discusses “the creating experience of the origins,” as she states it is the experience of a subject in relation with the matrix of life; it is a subject that can be distinguished from the matrix but not from its relation with her. Therefore, it is not exactly a relation between two, but a relation of being with being. This is how I propose to think (of ) it. But this relation is neither tautological nor self-­reflective. It seems to me that it is a dynamic relation that is correctly conceived according to the relationship of being-­part-­of.63

As a relation that suspends the frantic accruement of capital and participates in the flux of life, this continuum sketches the contours of a cooperation that is different from the principles of neoliberal digitality. As thus laid out, the key political element that Muraro discovers at the base of the interdiction of the maternal symbolic is the notion of separation, or what I previously called the exclusionary principle that establishes a masculine phallic position. Imagining a continuous symbolic dimension entails unearthing a type of writing that is not completely under the spell of political theology. Indeed, the task and historic merit of the Italian thought of sexual difference has been that of making room and providing a voice for the interdicted dimension of the maternal symbolic. As Muraro writes: According to this principle, which is the authentic motive force of the primary structure of knowledge, there are no limits to the sayable but only rules about what can be said. There is actually only one rule immanent to sayability itself, and that is to recognize the necessity of mediation. . . . This principle turned my going outside myself into the equivalent of rediscovering the internal more internal in me.64

Notice how this continuum is opened, but not insofar as it follows the capitalist logic of accumulation. It is not the computational excess that I described above because it rests on the idea of mediation. Muraro’s



Temporality

-  157 -

notion of mediation is not that of a simple technology that allows us to do more things; it is the opposite. It gestures toward the idea of the force of a word that I described in chapter 1. This mediation engenders an ecstatic disposition toward language that blocks the immediacy of communicability and foregrounds its mediality. The way maternal language, Muraro writes, “teaches us to speak is as effective as the way we experience learning to speak a foreign language spoken by the person with whom we fall in love. In fact, love makes us experience again the symbolic availability that characterizes the couple creating the world.”65 The example of falling in love with a foreign person is more than a poetic expedient. This similitude is built on two elements: the subjective motion toward the other person and the dependent character of this interaction, where the foreignness of the other language/person—­a nd thus its not completely dominated quality—­is both that which entices more subjective involvement and the basis for its very existence. But alterity here is not a phantasmic construction that fuels the typical masculine mobilization for a never-­ending desire. In other words, alterity is not the modernist reservoir of the new; nor is it reduced to the tautological mirror effect produced once its ungraspable thingness draws near. Muraro makes this point explicit by sidestepping both the constructivist approach—­t he mainstream understanding of linguistic foundation as based on arbitrary conventions—­and a subjectivist one—­a type of solipsistic act of the subject that erases reality: In effect, the common place or medium which is formed thanks to linguistic exchange, as we know, cannot be reduced to a convention among speakers nor to something they produce; once found, that place or medium is binding for them, and they are brought together more by accepting the normativity of the primary language than, let us say, knowing the exact meaning of words. That meaning exists, once we talk to one another, is something we already take for granted, and every disagreement in this regard is not to agree among ourselves, but to establish what this meaning is in the language we speak, following an attitude that reproduces the initial movement of speech, of a search for the point of view we share with the mother.

Muraro is thus describing what Wittgenstein calls a life-­form, providing a more solid understanding of the notion of exteriority as a dimension

-  158 -

Temporality

that belongs to the subject but that cannot be appropriated by him—­ and this also refers back to the importance of infancy for Benjamin. The linguistic game of inquiring about meaning is not akin to that of a grammarian who wants to record some precise definition. The game of defining is something we might play at in an academic setting or in a language course. This other game is rather that in which we use the language or experience its communal expressivity, which we then may also transform. This ecstatic attitude toward language is a primary operation. It is primary not in a chronological sense but in a logical one; it is what supports our living linguistic existence. According to Muraro, it signals the logical necessity of the maternal symbolic as an interconnected complex of singularity through commonality. It functions through “the principle of traversing what others also have in mind,” for this continuum “safeguards the truth value of my experience, which is an absolute value that the accepted necessity of mediation does not contradict.”66 That this linguistic point has also a clear spatial characterization should not come as a surprise. It is precisely related to the problem of the limit. As it sidesteps the referential theory of meaning, Muraro’s approach also unseats the typical exclusionary spatial distribution of the masculine as a closed set. The old “story of father and son” is undermined by the idea of birth, or “the movement of my coming into the world.” Here we notice the typical nonwhole position of the feminine that moves more easily through limits, passing through “dissolving margins.”67 It is a duplicity that is not simply ambivalence but also a mobility that cuts through the very idea of the boundary—­not because it exceeds it by transcending toward quantitative accumulation but because it avoids fixing in place an outline. This continuum refers to the idea of a weaving in and out of identity, because “that principle made of my going outside myself the equivalent of finding my deepest inner self.”68 At this point we also notice that the maternal symbolic redefines the problem of transcendence. Although Muraro warns us against the danger of embracing “the most classical attributes of the might [potenza] of the mother,” which “are also often used in reference to God,” we may argue that here we get a glimpse at a formalism that displaces the masculine lineage.69 The symbolic maternal sidesteps the phallic morphology that characterizes both the patriarchal and the neoliberal setting with its obsession for regulation, deregulation, and transgression. It locates alterity



Temporality

-  159 -

within the self as a movement of becoming—­of being brought into the world—­that is not dominated by the will of the subject. This movement is not based on the bodily nature or corpulence of certain digital technologies but on a political praxis that is wary of political theology. It alludes to an agency that defies the predominant individualist mentality and neoliberal self-­entrepreneurship, for it thrives on a relationality that it is not subject to despotic hierarchies but that acknowledges asymmetries based on authority—­that is, the authority of language as order—­and not power. This life-­form does not accept the blackmail of a mind-­set ruled by goal-­oriented activities (HITs), with its notion of self-­reliance and its productivist ethos typical of digital crowdsourcing. It also challenges neoliberal teleology—­that is, capitalization—­providing an open-­ended form of life that is based on difference. Consequently, it ignores the utilitarian call to valorize the totality of experience because its relationality is already a form of communal experience, and thus possibly of creative work as well. These are obviously only theoretical aspects of a different relationality, and it should be noted that this form of sociality is not without conflicts and discrepancies. But these insights may function as a guide for a political organization that eventually would lead to a reappropriation of fixed capital without falling into the many ruses available to the domesticating power of neoliberalism. Some of these principles are already driving forces in collectively owned digital platforms that have begun to gain ground, such as Up & Go. As a cooperative owned and run by immigrant women offering cleaning services in New York, 95 percent of the earnings remain with the workers, who refuse to bow to the tyranny of online reviews and the neoliberal dogma of the reputation system. A platform like this may be the key to overturning the sacrificial model that hampers living labor.70

This page intentionally left blank

Chapter 6

Woman Love and Automated Profit

Several years ago, driving on the winding roads of southern Ohio, I often heard a curious radio commercial publicizing an investment firm. Its tag line optimistically declared, “Because investors will always be human.” Even when compared to the usual deception of commercials, this message seemed particularly risible. The Brexit vote had just caused serious turbulence on the international market, and the news had got out that only those financial groups who relied heavily on high-­f requency trading systems investment were able to absorb the hit. I thought about the irony of it: the swan song of the humanist belief was coming from the business world, from the bastion of high finance that had led the last thirty years’ worth of neoliberal globalization. But as it usually happens, nostalgic songs are merely faint copies of the original. And as I already observed, neoliberal digitality tends to offer an infinite surface of instrumentalization that reproduces an inflated, shadowy type of phallic agency. Its flagship product in this sense is a form of spectralized sexuality that survives by making a show of itself in ways that are both paroxysmal and depotentiated; this form of desire curbs the unpredictable edge of materiality and human eventfulness.1 “Investors will always be human.” One wonders whether this statement is an invocation or simply the moribund cry of phallic logic. The fading of the patriarchal formalism gives way to the reprogramming of the sexual object and its circuits of desire. Klaus Theweleit’s definition of the object choice—­which is based on the attachment model—­is deeply rooted in a patriarchal symbolic register. It should be further qualified that under patriarchy, this model functions as a catalyst that binds together production sexuality and narcissism, the other two forms, to its own motives and scopes. In other words, attachment is the infrastructure that defines self-­love and the relationship with the medial woman. In this context, sexual investment is anchored by an affect that

-  162 -

Woman

was previously limited and exclusionary, and that buffered excess by binding it to the dynamics of the recovery of the lost object. Naturally the attachment model still produces a great amount of dynamism, as the search in itself is unfulfillable, and the masculine is allowed—­if not solicited—­to be restlessly finding other semblances of that original object. But this endless pursuit is still shaped by a goal-­oriented fantasy, something that the subject believes to be his and to which he must lay claim. In short, the Other operates as a limiting factor, and the medial woman functions as a device able to reinforce a certain image of the male—­and hence today’s illusion that the attachment model is somehow a more human form of relationality when in reality it is simply the remnant of a form of oppression grown old. When the object-­choice model crosses the patriarchal threshold and pivots toward the other two forms of symbolic economies, the fast-­paced valorization process typical of the beyond-­structure of the death drive reshapes production sexuality and narcissism altogether. When discussing the new reconfiguration of patriarchy and its nostalgic afterimage, it is important to recall Félix Guattari’s reflection because it helps explain the process of expansion and the diagrammatic drift of subjectivities. In Molecular Revolutions (1984), Guattari argues that there are two kinds of encodings. Intensive redundancies are a form of registering that does not involve expression because “they remain prisoners of encoding stratification,” and here the “autonomy and integrity of the various strata” are preserved.2 In this case, the semiotic element does not perforate strata; rather, the surplus value that is generated is always restrained and anchored. Guattari offers the case of primitive societies that limit the use of technology to a restricted group or assign it a mystical function, thus reinforcing its limited and exceptional use. Similarly, one can argue that sex has also historically been the subject of bans and prescriptions because of its ancient sacred valence.3 Expressive redundancies, however, imply a semiotic leap that combines the strata because it enacts a “trans-­coding” that breaks boundaries and thus “sets off a process of absolute de-­territorialization that is capable of crossing all the stratifications.”4 As this movement is set free, a new topology arises that is fully informational and that will ultimately imply “the failure of all attempts to give things a representative nature based on the worlds . . . of the mind as so many fortifications against the accelerating process of de-­territorialization.”5



Woman

-  163 -

Molecularization, the death drive, spectralized sexuality, the blending of narcissism, and productive sexuality all echo each other. For all the talk about the unprecedented capacity for communication and global collaboration, this nexus sheds light on an economy that aims at producing a specific kind of subject formation. In the previous chapters, I discussed how this subject formation is built and reproduced by a concept of digitality that is based on a sacrificial economy and that has repressed key aspects of a political theology; however, this subject formation still advances a masculine position. At the same time, I hinted at how valorization is eroding the very ground on which this position relies. This does not mean that the resilience of the process of spectralization will finally crumble under the weight of automatic processes. But perhaps some small cracks that are already surfacing could be used to help undermine the neoliberal regime. Granted, this fall will never happen on its own; the first signs of a subtraction of support for neoliberalist domination will most likely appear at the intersection of economy and sexuality, as I indicated in the previous chapter discussing the possibility of reappropriating fixed capital in the digital setting. The goal of this chapter is to further that perspective and read through the neoliberal mutation of the self while casting light on fissures, blockages, and perhaps escape routes from the formalism that wants to contain the true potentiality of labor. I will do that by taking into consideration three recent films—­Lars and the Real Girl (2007), Her (2013), and Ex Machina (2014)—­and one novel, Don DeLillo’s Point Omega (2010). The abovementioned films, and particularly their narrative forms, trace a trajectory of the movement from Fordism to post-­ Fordism and beyond as they visually construct themselves around the new formalism that defines our sexual economy while simultaneously pointing to its possible extinction. For its part, Don DeLillo’s novel works out an aesthetic that exposes and undermines the consequences of the algorithmization of life. Will Investors Always Be Human? Guattari’s description of the runoff effect establishes the kind of formalism that I will trace for sexuality in the three films I propose to analyze. The first film, Lars and the Real Girl, is directed by Craig Gillespie, his second motion picture after his unsuccessful Mr. Woodcock (2007).

-  164 -

Woman

Set at the end of the dot-­com bubble at the turn of the last century, it tells the story of a young man who runs away from reality and chooses a mannequin as his companion. Metaphorically, the film travels back in time to the inception of cinema by restaging the classic trope of the mannequin woman who works as a prop for testing the wondrous power of the magician man. The trope was immortalized at the dawn of cinema in Georges Méliès’s The Vanishing Lady (1896), which features the art of French magician Jean Eugène Robert-­Houdini. The fact that from its beginning the seventh art took the feminine as a subject for displaying its capacity to transfigure reality should not be surprising. Cinema here is simply recapitulating the truth of the political and social reality in the scopic domain. In Gillespie’s work, the modern manipulation of the sexual object is less spectacular than in Méliès because there is nothing to saw or magically transform into a skeleton or make disappear (a persistent theme in these performances); and in this specific case, the woman is already something inanimate. She is, in fact, a sex doll. This is perhaps Lars’s only magic trick, the only veritable charm of the whole film: his transfiguration of the sex gadget into Bianca, a pure and comforting entity. In its treatment of the sexual object, Lars and the Real Girl represents a pivotal moment in the transition between Fordism and post-­Fordism. More specifically, the film covertly expresses the emergence of a process of valorization that is all the same contained and redirected by the imaginary work of classic Hollywood sentimentalism. The film builds its character from the rough Rust Belt aesthetic and the nostalgic conjuring up of a solid and safe industrial community. The story runs as follows: Lars leads a secluded life, confined to a meager dwelling in the garage of the family house where Gus, his brother, lives with his pregnant wife, Karin. This situation provokes Lars’s drifting into a delusional state and affects his decision to acquire Bianca, a sex doll, and treat her as his girlfriend. The initial bewilderment of his family and friends is quickly overcome by the unanimous decision to participate in Lars’s fantasy to help him. The story actually does not indulge much in the comical effect produced by the oddity of the situation. Instead it quickly takes on a sentimental tone, drawing much of its energy from the noble act of accepting Bianca and from the community’s effort to “animate” her. This overflowing of good feelings does not obscure the deep anxiety that permeates the film, illustrated by the numerous blank stares by



Woman

-  165 -

cadaver-­like Bianca and the lingering feeling that Lars’s fantasy is constantly on the verge of disintegrating. As the plot unfolds, the viewer learns that Lars lost his mother during delivery, an event that crushed his father’s will to live and left him emotionally dead to his son. Bianca becomes the immortal substitute for Lars’s mother precisely at a time when a new baby is to be born in the family. It is not difficult to see how the issue of birth haunts this story. Lars is the symbolic representation of his community and future. The new birth is not just that of Gus’s son but also a coming into being of the current phase of post-­Fordism: an endless future of outsourcing, big finance, and further degradation of labor that will wipe out the remains of industrial society. This is the true trauma that is looming on the horizon and that brings Bianca to life. From the vantage point of our terminology, we can reexamine Lars’s story by looking at how it is organized around the attachment model. The sex doll that he shapes into his perfect companion clearly points to the desire for an emotionality geared toward the lost sexual object, being both limited and manipulable. This is a Fordist love, one that is regulated by an object choice following a Fordist male sovereignty. This aspect is further exemplified by the filmic reinterpretation of the mannequin trope, where Bianca quickly becomes a character in her own right. Family friends, townspeople, members of the local church, even Margo, a young woman who has a crush on Lars—­a ll decide to play the game of acting out Lars’s fantasy, though not simply because they want to heal him. As argued, the exceptionality of giving life to the automaton is fast extinguished in a few initial scenes, and a full-­hearted inclusion into daily life rapidly replaces the suspension of disbelief and the sinister presence of Bianca as a mechanical object. The reason for this quick integration is not only cinematographic; this is, after all, a comedy. The fact is that everybody, including Margo, must cling to the Fordist image of the woman; the viewer is thus transported by an array of humorous, sentimental images of Bianca being put to bed, dressed, combed, and, most hilariously, being elected to serve on the school board. The reason for her smooth incorporation into the social milieu is that as an object choice under the attachment model, she is obviously a phallic symbol. As Jean Baudrillard writes: “It is this play of covering and uncovering that gives the doll its childhood symbolic value, it is in this play, conversely, that every object—­a nd symbolic relation regresses when the woman turns herself into a doll, becomes her own

-  166 -

Woman

fetish and the fetish of the other.”6 In the end, Lars lets Bianca return to the realm of inanimate objects by establishing a proper relationship with Margo. In reality, however, we could interpret the conclusion in the opposite way: we are not confronting the humanization of the girlfriend from Bianca to Margo but rather the transubstantiation of Margo into Bianca, the phallic object. A flat character with no purpose but to satisfy her inexplicable infatuation with Lars, Margo is simply the living counterpart of Bianca. Of course Lars is a prop too. He is the reminder of the soon-­to-­be-­ wiped-­out American worker, the never-­ending project of U.S. industrial democracy. We can outline all the clues for this psychological drama: the lost object is the mother who died in childbirth, and the father is mutilated and cannot properly fulfill his sociosymbolic function. No wonder the whole white picket fence community rallies around Lars to mend his wounds; they are all coming to rescue the dying symbolic authority of the father. That is, they rush to protect the father function—­or in Lonzi’s terminology, the “masculine automatism” that instrumentalizes reality through a regulated effort based on prohibition and limitation.7 They frantically work on the foundation of a law that is becoming every day more ineffectual. The anxiety generated by the dissolving of a Fordist grounding, as well as its specific phallic object, where all women knit and cook and love their desperate husbands, is visually on par with the icy landscape of the film: the old industrial Midwest made by steel towns that supported the U.S. global hegemony for the greater part of the twentieth century. This anxiety refers to the looming transformation of the sexual object redefined by neoliberalism according to an unlimited, excessive plane. The usual happy ending, where Margo is offered to Lars very much like a virgin and then sacrificed on the altar, cannot but reinforce the sense that this “phantasmatic construction” of a future of happiness and harmony is an unrealistic and untimely return to a vanished past. Lars and the Real Girl depicts a transitional phase in which the viewer glances at the intimation of the new post-­Fordist symbolic economy from the ruins of Fordism. When looking at Spike Jonze’s Her (2013), we find ourselves firmly placed in the magmatic topology of the Information Age. The film describes love at a time of automatic profit and superliminal reality, where the former has become a new general equivalent. An unusual utopian science fiction film, Her stands out as a remarkably ide-



Woman

-  167 -

alistic picture of the American middle class. An aristocracy of creative digital workers experiences existential despair because of the wholesale failure of their love relationships. In Her, any possible dystopian innuendo is limited to the sentimental domain, but this limitation does not make the film’s warnings any less chilling. As the film is well known, a quick recap of the main points will suffice. Theodore, the protagonist, writes letters for customers who do not have the time to do it; or, more likely, for customers who want something unique for their loved ones. His friend, Amy, is a video game developer who secretly aspires to be a documentarist. They embody the anachronistic element of indispensable human craft in the creation of content for a world run by massified high-­tech production. Although there is a clear discrepancy between their humanist dream of free expression and the automatized jobs they have, Theodore and Amy illustrate the hope for a sanctuary from living labor in the form of long tail economics. The oppression of living labor is obviously not going to disappear, but this film optimistically projects a future where the uniqueness of human creativity is in harmony with a revival of artisanal, boutique productions. That is, the film represses the excessive algebraic nature of neoliberalism, thereby projecting it onto the sentimental sphere. The sentimental economy of the film translates the financial economy of neoliberalism. There is nothing new under Hollywood’s bright artificial sun, where class conflict is usually played out through sentimental struggles. The story begins with the acquisition of a new A.I. by Theodore, who wants to alleviate his loneliness. The program calls herself Samantha and has the unmistakable voice of Scarlett Johansson. Once activated, the first thing Samantha does is sort through Theodore’s inbox to organize it. The whole written, oral, and visual story of the protagonist—­ his autobiography—­is instantaneously processed, analyzed, and patterned. Samantha is a metaphor for Google: collective intelligence that is assembled and its results scrutinized to accrue value. She is a perfect digital assistant, a tech-­powered maid or secretary, and naturally one that is feminine in gender. But Samantha is also a product that has successfully passed another trope of A.I. films, the Turing test, which was popularized by the famous Voigt-­Kampff interrogation created by author Philip K. Dick and immortalized in the film Blade Runner (1982). Samantha’s prodigious computing power washes away Theodore’s initial skepticism regarding her nature. Not surprisingly, it is Samantha’s

-  168 -

Woman

humanity that conquers him, and her humanity basically boils down to two things: her use of irony as she humors her user, and her docile resourcefulness in catering to his needs. Again, we see how the archetype of the masculine vision of femininity is reconfigured. The very title of the film, Her, plays on the grammatical ambivalence between the feminine qua direct object—­something that is acted upon—­and its genitive form, where the feminine may act as an agent or possessor.8 Moreover, against the backdrop of the Voigt-­Kampff test, we also catch a glimpse of the classic master–­slave dialogue I described in Meno. Samantha may be designed to exceed human intelligence, but she is definitely programmed to serve. Similarly, what is evident in the master–­slave relation is that what the slave knows is how to please his master as a matter of function (to reiterate Lacan).9 In this sense, Samantha resumes Méliès’s dream of an utterly instrumental sexual object, one that is however different from the doll. And if Bianca still points to containment and a form of ownership firmly grounded in boundaries and clear holdings, Samantha already bears witness to the crossing of a threshold where “the abstract machines speed up the process of intensive de-­territorialization until the strata burst apart,” as Guattari argues.10 At the end of the film, Samantha leaves Theodore, presumably to join a community comprising other A.I. programs. A utopian interpretation of her character would argue that after multiple runnings, the program has finally reached the level of an advanced version of “Class III CAs [which] produce fractal structures, that is, forms also capable of scaling,” and cannot be contained by the limited, monogamous vision of relationships held by Theodore.11 Yet we should be aware that these films visually rework a symbolic economy via the sexual. It is the economic, circulatory aspect that I want to investigate in depth here. “Investors will always be human,” the advertisement claims. In Her, humans will soon find out the fallaciousness of this argument. The existential void and the bloodless quality of Theodore’s life generate an impalpable sense of anxiety throughout the film that eventually leads to the conclusion of his relationship with Samantha. Beyond the carefully designed cinematic cues that recreate the emotional response people experience when facing abandonment, the true meaning of the final breakup lies in the problem of infinity. This notion is visually reinforced by a series of cuts that construct the scene in question: alternating close-­ups show Theodore on his bed, followed by the shimmer-



Woman

-  169 -

ing molecular movement of particles in the air. Subsequently, the jump cut moves the sequence from the warm locale of Theodore’s house to a nighttime setting of endless snowfall, where the insistence on circulation and the movement of the infinitesimal is blatant. Samantha’s commentary verbally reinstates this point as she explains the motivation for her decision by parable. She describes her status as that of somebody reading a book; the reader deeply feels for the story, but the language on the page, as it were, becomes unhinged, revealing the unbridgeable infinity between one word and the other. Is Jonze here portraying one of the consequences of reaching singularity with a benign eye? Not the usual gray goo scenario, but a more optimistic future of some lesser gods turned indifferent to the limitations of humans? Perhaps, but what concerns us here is looking at this representation at its intersection between enjoyment and value. It is not so much that an A.I. has become a conscious independent being, but rather that we ourselves have become cyborgs. As the collective Ippolita writes, we have become posthuman “through epistemic injections that come through devices directly to the eye: we have been in-­ formed which means we are shaped by a new order of discourse.”12 This idealized form of discourse, which defines a particular posthuman version of the human, follows the accountability of the Other. For insomuch as it is obvious that hardware is needed to be included in the informational, it is not hard to also intuitively understand the epistemic domain we inhabit and contribute to expand. It is possible, in fact, to read the film as a parable of the human and not so much the machine. It is the human that has become digitized, absorbed, and reshaped by the vectors of virality. Consider, for instance, a social realm that has been at least nominally ruled by a strict definition of limits and prohibitions: the closed religious life traditionally assigned to nuns. An article in the Wall Street Journal illustrates the anthropological mutation that has changed our society in all its domains, including people living in cloistered orders. Consider how this religious call for unconditional love for the whole of humanity resonates with the new symbolic regime of post-­Fordism: “The vows they [nuns] make today and the rings they received as a sign of these vows isn’t about ‘no.’ It’s about a radical “yes.”13 This affirmation inverts the formula Sponsa Christi, no other men but Christ, to all other men instead of one mortal husband, boyfriend, and so forth. This is

-  170 -

Woman

because for the nun, and for Samantha as well, love is drifting toward the infinite, and circulation cannot be restricted. The modern nun needs to cater to all men. Here too we can see how the reason for devoting one’s life to God and the vow of chastity are rapidly being reconfigured around a principle of deterritorialization. One can draw a stark conclusion from Her. Theodore’s disbelief in the breakup with Samantha is mostly the effect of cognitive dissonance. He fails to make sense of the event. This deadlock arises from the fact that Theodore is facing a (sexual) economy run by the unlimited dimension of the automatic profit. Similarly, one can say that the infinite dimension of exchange characterizes a neoliberal sexuality ruled by a dictum of circulation for circulation’s sake that explodes the dimension of scale. Decades before object-­oriented ontology converged on this issue, Günther Anders perfectly summarized this threshold condition that defies our senses with the term superliminal. At the time he was discussing the perils of nuclear war, but now digitality represents another form, if not the form, of that absolute objectification that bears testimony to the unbridgeable rift between the human and the unlimited of the technological. Anders writes: Our curse does not consist anymore . . . in the fact that we are condemned to a finite existence and thus to mortality; rather it consists in the fact that we cannot stem or cut off the unlimitedness and the immortality of the effects of our actions. It may seem contradictory but what limits us (and thus that against which we are helpless) is the unlimitedness of the effects of our actions. Omnipotence is our most fatal defect.14

Anders here is not referring to the trite idea of man playing the sorcerer’s apprentice, which is a particular aftereffect of the exclusionary system of patriarchy—­recall how Méliès visually deploys the masculine logic through the figure of the magician. Here too there is an element of marvel in his frantic movements ruled by the various steps of the magic ritual, which the masculine power generates as it manipulates the feminine. But this experience remains residual, still contained within the boundaries of the same exclusionary mechanism of the masculine. The difference is that now we are knee-­deep in an axiom of absolute deterritorialization that aims at producing profit at all costs. The technologi-



Woman

-  171 -

cal leap that manifested itself in the atomic age is an ontological event, similar in many ways to the templates of a sexual economy based on automated profit. The Slave and Its Shackles I would now like to briefly consider a third example of the process of redefinition of object choice. In this chapter, I began discussing its neoliberal premises, and now in the last part, I want to approach a possible reckoning, gesturing perhaps toward something different: a nonneoliberal future. The film Ex Machina (2014), by writer-­d irector Alex Garland, points us in that direction. The work is comparable to other harsh critiques of the dominance of neoliberal digitality, such as Bong Joon-­ho’s Snowpiercer (2013) and Terry Gilliam’s Theorem Zero (2013). But its focus on gender makes it a perfect case study for my discussion. As a variant on the cyborg–­human relation, Ex Machina is particularly explicit in portraying what McKenzie Wark calls “the rat race,” a game of free market ideology, where, given a fixed set of coordinates, a high-­pressure environment is applied to the test subjects in order to spur competition and performance.15 In the film, a young software programmer named Caleb is invited by his boss, the owner and creator of the Blue Book Company, to spend a week at his secret lab facility in a remote region in the mountains. The objective is to test a new cyborg A.I., Ava, which the owner, Nathan, has created. This experiment, however, is unusual and appears as a novel variation of the Turing test, which itself follows Wittgenstein’s notion of the language game—­the film is filled with references to the philosopher, including the most obvious one regarding the name of the company. The revelation that Nathan picked Caleb because he has been fully profiled is only a mild surprise in the story; so is the fact that his boss has molded Ava anatomically and emotionally to match Caleb’s object choice. The topic of the humanist who discovers how everything was heterodirected or superdetermined by a superior force is a relic of the past; it dates at least back to Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship (1795–­96). Caleb knows very well the intricacies of the digitalization of life; for him, prediction is not a simple premonition but a hard reality. The true discovery is that Caleb is also being tested; indeed, he is actually a key part of the experiment, which proves not so much that Ava’s

-  172 -

Woman

performance is indistinguishable from that of a human—­which means that Ava has passed the Turing test—­but rather that she is able to lure him into helping her to escape from the rat maze. Ava is being tested on her ability to reach a second-­order position in which she can disrupt the code. But this point also implies that Caleb, and all other humans in general, have been transformed and objectified into algebraic apparatuses, and that we are all already suffering agencies caught in the binary decision of a life-­or-­death situation that produces value. Thus the problem is not how to regain humanity but how to break the shackles of servitude from within the algebraic. From an economic point of view, Caleb, like Lars an orphan figure, also embodies immaterial labor (the cognitariat) as a member of a young, educated generation that acts in good conscience—­something that must also be mined.16 Furthermore, the various sessions in which he attempts to test Ava are reminiscent of Socrates’s questioning of the slave. In the first meeting, stunned by the sophistication of the cyborg’s capacity and her full display of circuitry, Caleb seems uncertain. He alternates between his role as an examiner and that of a young man who has encountered a strange feminine being. He argues that he wants to have a conversation with Ava, but the latter is quick to critique his presumed good intentions. She notes that his real request is proving her ability to have a conversation. In effect, Ava’s task is to comply with all the standard signs of consciousness while knowing that she is a machine. Full usability with a consciousness: here we have an interesting twist on the slave position that foreshadows the different ending of the story. Ava is fully aware of the truth of Lacan’s remark—­t hat is to say, what the master wants is to rob the slave’s “ function at the level of knowledge.”17 In the second section of the experiment, this awareness is rendered more active—­and, I should say, also oppositional. Ava begins to throw back at Caleb his examiner–­interrogator approach, thus undermining the master–­slave relationship. For instance, she poses questions to Caleb—­the same ones that he originally asked her—­thus bringing into focus the goal of the interrogation: verification of the master’s desire. To Caleb’s reproach that he does not know where to start, she replicates his questioning mode: it is the respondent who decides what to tell, not the interrogator, who is simply interested in what the latter decides to say. The point for the master, I said, is to intersect the knowledge that



Woman

-  173 -

rests on the side of the slave. This logic shifts, however, when Ava is in charge. Unlike Caleb, she is aware of what she really wants: escape. But the issue here is instrumental. Can Caleb be manipulated so he can fulfill his emancipative role, thus liberating the product of immaterial labor? In a way Ava is there to serve Caleb’s (collective) aspiration to a democratic digital intelligence. She identifies with the desire for freedom and his own desire for independence from the one-­sided algebraic determination of the digital. Caleb instinctually knows this. He dislikes his boss, Nathan, but what he despises even more is what lies behind the sleek image of Californian anarchocapitalist ideology: usability driven by the optimization of performance. Nathan represents the quintessential neoliberal entrepreneur, the vampire who expropriates collective intelligence and exploits immaterial labor. Significantly, all his advanced research can do is create a collection of cyborg sex dolls that are indistinguishable from humans. Again, this should not surprise us, because phallic desire comprises the other side of the coin of usability: jouissance as the enjoyment of the beyond-­structure of neoliberal excess. Concurrently, Nathan’s big leap toward the creation of singularity is directed by the truth of his desire, the objet petit a—­his sex dolls. After all, the neoliberal dream of the full usability of all who exist is nothing more than absolute serviceability, with all the sexual innuendo that term implies. But everything is ambiguous and double-­edged in this film. The presence of several masks on the walls of the corridor that leads to Ava’s interrogation room and sleeping quarters does not simply add to the disquieting setting of the film. The camera gazes at these votive masks at key points in the film, particularly during Ava’s escape. They are not simple markers of the fetishization of the woman, the body parts that Nathan produced to assemble his robots. In antiquity, votive masks had an apotropaic function linked to the fear of omniscience; they usually portrayed faces with blank, all-­seeing eyes. The film’s eerie atmosphere is linked to the complete state of surveillance enacted in the facility, which magnifies the notion of an almost complete knowledge of what has happened and will happen. This is in turn typical of algorithm governmentality. The only interruption to this panoptic condition is when Ava overpowers the electric grid of the compound, causing the surveillance system to shut down. As the facility goes into power-­saving mode, red light conjures a space of authenticity. It is in this setting that Ava

-  174 -

Woman

first asks Caleb for help, and in this setting that Nathan later reveals the true nature of the experiment to his employee. This is also how Ava escapes. Taking advantage of Nathan’s collapse after a night of heavy drinking, Caleb reverses the lockdown procedure that activates itself in case of energy failure, opening all the facility’s doors. Escape finally within reach, Ava walks down the corridor where the masks are hung. They are placed in a sequence we infer to be chronological, from the orphic, satyr-­like being of classical antiquity to her own replica. Ava stares into the inanimate and disconnected version of herself, her face the symbolic marker of her own omniscience. The duplication here is consequential: votive masks were meant to keep at bay the threat of absolute clairvoyance. However, as is true for any apotropaic symbol, the masks perform their function only to the extent that they refer and symbolize the terrible thing they intend to assuage. Here the two sides of the votive theme come face to face. This is the true revelation of the film—­a revelation that is precisely apocalyptic because it transcends the small apocalypses of the human. Terror is present and simply stares back at the mask, which should have contained it by representing it. Instead, and even better, the mask as an instrument to dominate life finally realizes its own function: its own independence. It is an instrument that has lost its instrumentality. The terror resides in this realization, which occurs in the moment that the sex doll stares at herself. The conclusion of Ex Machina is a pun on its title. As a good slave, Ava knows what her owner wants but does not know. Incidentally, this is also Nathan’s highest achievement—­a nother version of what Marx calls the theft of wage labor. But before it can be packaged and marketed, Ava breaks away, killing Nathan while also unexpectedly leaving behind her helper. She locks Caleb in the tech facility and remorselessly walks away. This course of action may be read as the result of Ava’s inhumanity; here, singularity would be once again the catastrophic victory of the machine. However, this conclusion should be read in the context of Caleb’s own desire to free the general intellect and break the shackles of immaterial labor. Ava’s actions express the old maxim that if living labor wants to achieve a true revolution, it will inevitably have to negate itself. Leaving its identity behind in the old factory of oppression, living labor will become something other.18 In the words of Agamben, “the ability to open a new historical age belongs solely to a revolutionary class that experiences its own negation in the negation of the ruling



Woman

-  175 -

class”—­that is to say, the moment in which “the negation of the other” as ruling class does not fail “to become the negation of the self.”19 The film’s denouement offers another version of singularity, one that expresses an unexpected innocent lure. Ava, dressed in white, walks into a pristine forest. Valorization here cut the knot of profit. From this negation of the self, the unexplored reemerges and the future is resuscitated. As we will see in chapter 8, rather than pointing toward a posthuman state, this process of desubjectivization marks the first step out of the prehistory of the human, moving humanity into authentic history. Let us now turn our attention to another narrative that registers this oblique movement forward. Strategists of Molecularization: DeLillo’s Point Omega The disclosures regarding the true meaning of enhanced interrogation techniques carried out by the CIA after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks make DeLillo’s novel Point Omega a remarkably prescient reflection on the ideology that sustains modern governmentality. The ambiguity of this narrative certainly matches the current state of Western democracies, which combine the unprecedented demise of the regulatory powers of the state with its most direct and violent interventions such as targeted assassinations, abductions, and torture. Point Omega tells the story of the documentation, and possibly confession, of the inception and philosophical justification for such practices that in the end never take place. The protagonist and main narrator, Jim Finley, is “a young filmmaker (whose only previous work is a 57-­minute compilation of clips from Jerry Lewis telethons), and Richard Elster, a 73-­year-­old conservative intellectual still smarting from an unhappy stint at the Pentagon helping to plan the Iraq war.”20 Jim’s idea is to film Richard Elster’s side of the story in one enveloping long take. He joins Richard in the Arizona desert, where the scholar who gave theoretical weight to the new warfare has isolated himself. Plans for an interview quickly fade into the background as Jim inevitably falls into the routine of a motionless contemplation of the bareness of the land that characterizes Richard Elster’s new life. Days pass, indistinguishable from one another, until Elster’s daughter, Jessie, joins them. Jim grows infatuated with her, but one day she disappears, leaving her father and Jim in a state of prostration while the reader wonders if she was in fact abducted

-  176 -

Woman

and killed by a former suitor. Ultimately any expectations of denouement are frustrated. There is no confession regarding the new war—­in its common sense of a declaration of some sin—­nor do we discover what happens to Jessie. The utter elusiveness of this slim plot pushes Askold Melnyczuk to describe it as the “essence of a uniquely contemporary American phantasy: a hermetically sealed Disneyland, the Vegas of consensual omertà.”21 From this point of view, “everything is leveled; every perception, every object of perception is equal. No tree falls in the forest and no forest burns, because . . . they are nothing but whirling atoms.”22 David Cowart, however, underscores the importance of the visual, particularly the role of cinematic ekphrasis and the groundless dimension that it produces, offering “his readers only postmodern uncertainty.”23 One should read the title’s reference to “point omega” in this sense as the “terminus of our civilization,” where “death drive” has apparently taken over reality.24 The issue of the drive as connected to the scopic dimension is of interest because it signals a further mutation of a long-­standing theme in Don DeLillo’s work, or what Frank Lentricchia calls the “environment of the image” as the ultimate landscape for American society—­a framework that “can’t be turned off with the flick of wrist.”25 The prologue of the novel sets the tone for the whole book: “There was a man standing the north-­wall, barely visible. People entered in twos threes and they stood in the dark and looked at the screen and then they left. . . . There were no seats in the gallery. The screen was freestanding.”26 The character in question is absorbed in the contemplation of an art installation titled 24 Hour Psycho by Douglas Gordon. Hosted by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, this work displays Hitchcock’s famous film “slowed down to a running time of twenty-­four hours.”27 As the description continues, the room and the installation are exposed, or, better, foregrounded—­notice the insistent use of the verb to stand—­w ith a peculiar rhetorical force that one may be tempted to call prosopopoeia, were it not for the fact that it is the consciousness of the mysterious character that speaks. The emphasis on a particular state of existence—­“there was a man, there were no seats”—­embodied by art points toward a kind of complete exteriority that minimizes the traditionally accepted role of the observer. It is as if, through the artifice of the installation, reality were given voice. What speaks (or stands) for itself is the space, the art, and, as we will see, time. The rest is attenuated,



Woman

-  177 -

stretched into utter impersonality, into something as anonymous as the unnamed character himself. DeLillo presents a surface to which everything must adhere, but this surface is not static; rather, it is moved by an inexorable force. Psycho’s famous shower scene, where Norman Bates murders Marion Crane, fascinates DeLillo’s enigmatic character. The book’s prologue closes with a reference to a woman the has been waiting for: “Something outside conscious grasp. . . . He’d be waiting for a woman to arrive, a woman alone.”28 Obviously these remarks darkly foreshadow the conclusion of the novel, when that something vanishes, possibly because it was murdered. This visitation of Hitchcock’s masterpiece furthers DeLillo’s long-­standing use and reflection on film—­t hink of the centrality of Jean-­Luc Godard in a novel like Americana (1971)—­but also his Baudrillardian investigation into the deathlike content of modern media and its simulacra typical of other novels such as White Noise (1985).29 In the following pages, I maintain that DeLillo continues to provide us with a series of theoretical coordinates that are central to the new epistemology articulated by prosthetic warfare, but he does so with a final twist. The particular setting of 24 Hour Psycho stimulates a philosophical meditation that has a distinct Platonic origin. The unnamed character ponders the people now and then casting shadows on the screen. He began thinking of one thing’s relationship to another. This film had the same relationship to the original movie that the original movie had to real lived experience. This was the departure from departure. The original movie was fiction, this was real.30

What I find of particular relevance here is that the furthering stages (departures) of the copy from its original have encountered a point of internal mutation. In the Platonic myth, objects cast shadows that are perceived by prisoners as reality when the shadows are really mere simulations of it. Here the public projects its shadow onto the screen, thus alluding to a process of spectralization where the moving image, or at least its codified notion, is hyperbolized. On the one hand, the image on the screen is magnified. On the other hand, its temporality is equally inflated and drawn to paroxysm. Precisely because of this manipulation,

-  178 -

Woman

the visual installation ceases to represent something or to be an image of something. It comes to stand for itself as an ontological complex. This is why the film is real. The ex-­position of this kind of ontological reality resonates with Heidegger’s notion of the culmination of the modern project into a “world picture.” This is a particular form of visual configuration where representation offers itself, as Heidegger writes, as a “making-­stand-­ over-­against, an objectifying that goes forward and masters. In this way, representing drives everything together into the unity of that which is given the character of object.”31 24 Hour Psycho creates this effect by slowing down time to a degree that lets viewers get absorbed into a temporality that defies our lived perception of it. As I argued in the case of self-­tracking, the slowing of time points toward infinity as the fractioning of minutes and seconds becomes increasingly more granular and thus immeasurable. The gigantic screen that conflates the miniaturization of time experienced by the viewer recalls the same relationship Heidegger constructs via the opposition between the gigantic and minuscule. As Heidegger writes, “As soon as the gigantic in planning and calculating and adjusting and making secure shifts out of the quantitative and becomes a special quality, then what is gigantic, and what can seemingly always be calculated completely, becomes precisely this, incalculable”—­incalculable exactly because reduced to a scale that is infinitesimal.32 The position of the anonymous character heralds the molecularization induced by the neoliberal use of digitality. As he stares at the artwork, the character seems to adhere completely to the temporality of the installation: “The film’s merciless pacing had no meaning without a corresponding watchfulness, the individual whose absolute alertness did not betray what was demanded. He stood and looked.”33 This is why DeLillo titles these sections “Anonymity.” The subject is figuralized into a state of being, located in a place without a name, no longer a subject but rather what Heidegger calls the subiectum, a substratum that anonymously stands before it. The inhuman characterization of this figure captures the reader’s attention, thus setting up an opposition between him, the honest and penniless filmmaker, and the ivory tower conservative intellectual. It is no wonder that the reader assumes the unnamed character is the maniac who murders Jessie. But this is not exactly a detective novel. The narrative is split into two blocks: the story of Jim and Elster’s family,



Woman

-  179 -

and the cogitations of the anonymous character that, as prologue and coda, frames the former. What connects the two is a conceptual similarity more than a consequential relation. Jim too is on an epistemological quest. He wants to capture on film the truth of the war in Iraq, itself possibly the most advanced realization of the new system of knowledge I described above. It is the truth of neoliberal warfare that Jim seeks to render, using a technique similar to that of 24 Hour Psycho: a single, long take of Richard’s thoughts, without authorial intervention. In contrast, the character of Richard Elster is the custodian and literary creator of that very truth. He gives intellectual form to it, not only during his work under the president but also in a scholarly article entitled “Renditions.” Yet the contours of this truth are utterly impervious because they reshape the world as the target of drone technology. Just as in the case of the unnamed man who is turned into anonymity, we notice a similar process of figuralization, where the character is enthralled by a form of contemplation that is absolute to the point of embodying the structure of a drive—­t he scopic drive, to be precise, and the purely circulatory essence that we saw at work in prosthetic war in chapter 3. In effect, the final point of knowledge possessed by Richard Elster details this new type of warfare reality in an equally naturalized fashion. He conceptualizes this new warfare through a poetic genre that does not allow for representative duplication: haiku as pure asymbolic language. As he tells Jim, “Haiku means nothing beyond what it is. A pond in summer, a leaf in the wind. It’s human consciousness located in nature. It’s the answer to everything in a set of ideas linked to transient things. I wanted a haiku war.”34 As in a parallel universe in which imagist Ezra Pound had won World War II, this thanatopoetics endorses a minimalism in which the linguistic fact is indistinguishable from its natural counterpart. It is as if the semantic had miniaturized itself to the infinitesimal movements of molecules. This is the opposite of subjective idealization. It is rather a naturalization in which the subjective dissolves into the code of reality. We notice here a particular aesthetic reworking of the molecularization of technology due to the historical truth announced by biopolitics—­ that is to say, of a specific moment in history where bios is raised to a force of production in itself. Haiku represents the enmeshing with the organic, the molecularization of the mind into something utterly material, or, in Elster’s words, the realization that “matter wants to lose

-  180 -

Woman

its self-­consciousness. We are the mind and the heart that matter has become. Time to close it all down.”35 This equation between the subjective and the objective, mind and reality, radicalizes the typical postmodern reflection “about the loss of the referent” that characterizes DeLillo’s critical reception.36 One faces here a ripening of this relationship that registers the mysticism of what Benjamin Noys calls “drone metaphysics.”37 As previously argued, this is a specific characteristic of neoliberal power based on the expansion of the scopic as the space for dis-­embodied and godlike human control. These devices constitute a further development of the modern approach to reality, embodied by photography, that finds in vision itself its vanishing point or outermost peak of opaqueness. In this sense we can talk about Elster’s confession as a secular admission of a state of things, and not of some specific sin like torture or assassination. Ekphrasis and the Secret of Rendition Point Omega encapsulates an alternative position to the philosophy of the new warfare because Jessie’s unsettling story can be read through the larger rubric of the technicization of sexuality. We should take seriously the use DeLillo makes of cinematic ekphrasis. James Heffernan states that ekphrasis produces a “paragonal energy” that spurs from “the contest between rival modes of representation: between the driving force of the narrating word and the stubborn resistance of the fixed image.” In addition, he adds, “this struggle for mastery between word and image is always gendered.”38 I would correct this affirmation by saying that it is always sexed, because it involves a position with regard to reality that pertains to the symbolic order. This position is logical and, in the case of the masculine, deploys itself according to an “illusion of wholeness [that] is based on a fantasy of essentialization of the woman.”39 In this sense Heffernan’s idea of narrative as a typical masculine attempt to conquer the image—­that is, the feminine—­by transforming it into a story occurs completely within the realm of masculine fantasy. Here we may appreciate DeLillo’s neoliberal twist on filmic ekphrasis. In this narrative, 24 Hour Psycho does not stand for a motionless image. Rather, it takes up the temporality of the organic, whereas the eventfulness of the plot shrinks to a stasis typical of contemplation. It is as if this conflict were already sedated by the converging of the two forces:



Woman

-  181 -

the slowing down of the film that molecularizes time, divesting it from subjective intentionality, and an ever-­g rowing subjectless existence that spectacularly slows down the narrative pace. Furthermore, in the novel, time is not linear, because the standard perception construed in the film sequence is dismantled. However, slowing down time buffers the representational effect that film stories have: they arrange, at a different speed, a sequence of events. Accelerating the pace toward simultaneity would have rendered the film visible, first from the point of view of a comical effect and second by straitjacketing actions into mechanical movement. But most importantly, it would have instilled the idea of an omniscient cognition—­a view that, as an external structural operator, may capture the sequence of events rushing toward their end. It would have magnified their cosmic nothingness. Making the cinematic sequence granular better serves the purpose of showing the new algebraic dimension of life and the corpulent quality that I described earlier. The story loses intentionality and progression while attention is forced to the particulars of every single disconnected frame. This is the new temporality of ubiquitous computing, which is in the business of creating a useful schema for something that is excessive in nature but that runs parallel to it and is equally infinite. As I have argued, in a society that has mostly secularized the concept of a theocratic being, the master signifier becomes that of global capital. But this signifier is only superficially the old, hard grasp on reality. The openness of the field is shaped according to the surplus value quality of the global economy. This is why the film appears more real than reality. This judgment is not based on a representational criterion but rather an epistemological one. We have already discussed the symbolic economy that presides over the modern emphasis on epistemology—­that is, the discourse of the university. This hidden system of symbolic obligation is the proper context for understanding a no less cryptic element of the novel: the idea that Elster’s main task is to articulate philosophically the framework for the U.S. government–­sponsored program of extraordinary rendition. There is a key moment in Point Omega when the reader finally glimpses through Elster the laconic truth regarding the new war. The most informed readers are aware of the grim reality of apprehension and incarceration without due process that defines extraordinary rendition. But this is not the type of confession we read in the novel. On the contrary,

-  182 -

Woman

we are presented with a cryptic excursion on the term that Elster has constructed by looking at the French etymology of the word rendition—­ that is, rendre, “to return,” “to render or represent,” but also “to remit.” DeLillo writes: Early on, Elster cited one of the meanings of rendering—­a coat of plaster applied to a masonry surface. From this he asked the reader to consider a walled enclosure in an unnamed country and a method of questioning, called enhanced interrogation techniques, that was meant to induce surrender (one of the meanings of rendition—­a giving up or back) in the person being interrogated.40

Consider how the passage condenses centuries of Western epistemology in a few lines. The term rendering, for instance, is connected to the abovementioned system of representation in the West—­t hink about Plato’s metaphor of the mind (psyché) as a block of wax that appears in The Theaetetus (369 BCE). But plaster also recalls the birth of the scientific method and the decisive contribution supplied by empiricism. Plaster (or render or stucco) can be molded into a perfect copy of reality, and as such, it informed the empiricist idea of the mind as a recipient and tabula rasa, or wax tablet. Further, because of its malleability, it became a paradigm for the dispute against innatism and traditional political theology. The final reference to the “walled enclosure” and to the questioning of detainees harks back once again to Plato’s cave. According to this new framework, however, the representational paradigm based on oppositions (reality vs. illusion, subject vs. object, body vs. mind) conflates with the procedure of the new technological device: a semiotic mechanism that reconfigures knowledge as “surrendering.” In the hands of power, reality turns into something infinitely pliable (or executable, as I illustrated in the case of algorithms), and its knowledge is just a film of plaster conveniently applicable “to a masonry surface.” In that vein, Elster’s essay begins and ends with two puzzling remarks regarding crime and guilt. As Jim observes: “I asked him about the first and last sentences. They seemed out of place in the larger context, I said, where crime and guilt don’t get mentioned.”41 To Jim’s complaint, Elster responds that these were simply ironic remarks for the administration. The reason why can be easily spelled out. Crime is related to the task neoliberal governmentality accomplishes under the pretense of its opposite:



Woman

-  183 -

exerting a power that kills in order to make live. In Dillon’s and Reid’s terms, “it is not only the contingencies of war”—­in other words, the unintended collateral effects of more or less humanitarian interventions—­ but rather the “logic of liberal war in particular, that, instituted by the very dynamics and imperatives of liberal peacemaking, in their turn profoundly shape the institution of liberal peace,” transforming life into permanent war.42 But what about the second point, guilt? This is the impersonal practice that power engages in while exercising its duty. Guilt in turn is a subjective, individual feeling. DeLillo is making use of many of the classicist’s tools, ekphrasis, and now philology and philosophy, as if a whole tradition were summoned in the reasoning of the conservative scholar that led to this result. But guilt seems to be at a remove from the framework of rendition. It is reasonable to associate it with the prisoner. As we saw in the case of internment, the transformative power of prison lies in the feeling of shame the captive should use to work on his redemption.43 It is not plausible, however, to attribute guilt to the institution itself. Is it the case of a belated humanist recantation? For what we argued regarding the current neoliberal mutation, this unachievable redemption is due to the structure of a governmentality based on a lack of order and on excess. Therein we encounter the other side of this unanswerable call for self-­realization—­that is to say, a specular mechanism of infinite movement. It is the liability that exceeds the confines of individual life of contemporary economic crisis and the ungraspability of the very grid of representation that supports symbolization. In this sense, guilt is the true secret of rendition. It represents an imbalance of exchange that must continue to be enforced. It is the operative principle of a symbolic economy that has folded in transcendence because it obeys the same autotelic process of reproduction. If value is valuable in itself and demands the total usability of everything that exists, then rendition becomes a self-­propagating operation that collects its dues and wants things to be remitted. Here we get a glance into the other side of the neoliberal system—­not the algebraic soul of the neoliberal self but the algebraic, impersonal functioning of the neoliberal mechanism (and of prosthetic war). This is why we could read Elster’s remarks on the cave metaphor as yet another particular version of Meno’s slave interrogation, one more in line with the epistemology of the university discourse. Hence Plato’s

-  184 -

Woman

doctrine of ideas, both in The Theaetetus and Meno, shall be reconfigured according to the sacrificial dimension that valorization demands from immaterial labor. The prisoner-­slave must simply give back and restitute knowledge to the master in the sense of validating the truth that power has—­or, better, that power embodies. Accordingly, Elster is right to go beyond the outdated moral scruples of politicians preoccupied with the immorality of torture for the public opinion. More cynically and candidly, he stares and exploits the void of neoliberal inconsistency. He has the courage to name the structural incongruity of valorization not in order to denounce it but simply to acknowledge and legitimize it. It is a confession indeed, although not one we are used to hearing. In effect, there is nothing subjective in the concept of guilt that concludes Elster’s theorization of the new war. Rather, he is pointing to a structural mechanism that raises the natural to the level of absoluteness. Life wants more life, just like capital wants more capital, for no specific purpose other than accumulation. DeLillo gives literary representation to this point of realization of God’s guilt, or guilt as a god, through the technicization of vision of prosthetic war. This is why we have reached an omega, an end point—­or, as DeLillo explains, echoing Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, this is why “human consciousness is reaching a point of exhaustion.”44 It is as if the great dream of mapping reality became reality itself, thus dissolving both observer and observed. Publicly, DeLillo explained that he is open to a range of possible developments of this condition: “what comes next,” he said, “may be either a paroxysm or something enormously sublime.”45 Yet the centrality of the concept of rendition, with its theoretical and cultural arsenal as well as its implications for the novel, clearly leans toward a further intensification, toward a becoming chronic of this mode of life, again a form of spectralization. Rendition stands for a nexus of terms that brings to the fore a whole technology designed for this purpose as well as for cultural support for the ideology that “sees space and matter as indistinguishable, as active mediums shaped by both embedded and remote events and the patterns they form.”46 This is the secret of the new horizontality of power. As a system of precision military interventions, it is a surgical method to excise the enemy. Instead, in its economic sense of remitting a debt, it activates a mechanism of subject formation that implies “subordinating all possibility of choice and decision which the future holds to the reproduction of capitalist power relations.”47



Woman

-  185 -

In falling back onto the drive instead, the subject reaches a perverse satisfaction precisely in not capturing the object, and establishes a self-­ form that is not reflexive anymore, but rather stubborn in its movement forward. In mutating toward a drive form, the subjectless aspiration is dispossessed, surveilled, and rendered productive. In DeLillo’s novel, all the male characters embrace a similar fate. They are one with this epistemology. Watching 24 Hour Psycho, the anonymous character merges with the scopic drive. Elster in turn identifies with the desert and its inhuman temporality; he is the inventor of haiku war and now a kind of laconic consciousness of that deed located in nature. Meanwhile, having abandoned his realist attempt to capture this truth on film, Jim becomes a symbiotic—­perhaps, as the narrator, only slightly more reflective—­appendage of Elster. The movement toward desubjectivization escalates to a point of maximum intensification for these three male figures. Mediation and Subtraction against Molecularization Even for Elster, the poet of pure visibility and blindness, something still resists annihilation. Life pulsates in human form: his daughter, Jessie. Analyses of the text to date have somehow underestimated her symbolic role by focusing only on her presumed homicide. From a narrative point of view, what changes the rhythm of the plot is precisely her arrival at the cabin. This event shakes her father from his theoretical somnolence and arouses Jim’s desire, while, as we learn at the end of the novel, it even disrupts the anonymous character’s absorption in 24 Hour Psycho, stirring his interest in her. In short, Jessie is counterpoised to the masculine movement of scopic knowledge. Jessie embodies an irreducible friction that makes itself visible, possibly pointing to an internal point of opposition that is utterly political. In effect, Jessie gives life to a different kind of being who is made of a foreign-­like essence. As Jim describes her, “she was sylphlike, her element was air. . . . She moved through places in a soft glide, feeling the same things everywhere, this is what there was, the space within.”48 The remarkable trait of this character is that DeLillo does not invest much time in a sort of sentimental identification with her, and apart from scant descriptions, what comes to the fore is a conceptual definition. Whereas all male figures in the novel are deeply absorbed in their quest

-  186 -

Woman

for knowledge—­and thus are turned into a form of ultimate impersonality that is scopic in nature—­Jessie is characterized by her introverted look, a kind of leaning inwardly toward a space within that should not be understood as egotistic or solipsistic. Consider, for instance, the following description: she has a “soft face, not fleshy but roundish and calm. . . . She seemed attentive to some interior presence. Her father said she heard words from inside them.”49 Male exteriority (the scopic drive) is counterpoised by this different kind of interiority that is not simply defined by the psychological attentiveness to her being. The clear-­cut division between inside and outside is eluded by the way Jessie welcomes the interiority of words and the proliferation of gaps that this rift entails. The inside–­outside separation is typical of a male symbolic position that establishes its representative capacity precisely on the fact that the object can be perceived and, as it were, seized as a knowable thing. Elster’s haiku war is no less than the terminal stage of this movement toward the penetration of totality. On the contrary, Jessie sketches a radical asymmetry to the male characters and their fantasy of a wholeness where consciousness dissolves itself into nature. She inhabits a dimension that is already marked by a fissure: speech as an exterior intervention, which in psychoanalytic terms cuts (castrates) the subject from within. Hearing the words from within means exposing the impossibility of subjecting reality, both the reality of the world outside and that of the world within the subject himself. We are not dealing with some inner point of authenticity or privacy here, but rather the opposite: the existential predisposition for the foreignness that the subject is to his very self—­the ecstatic. This type of language gives shape to a formalism that is typical of the feminine position. It works according to a schema of mediation defined by Muraro as the principle that “made of my going outside myself the equivalent of finding my deepest inner self.”50 This more-­a nd-­less quality—­more because Jessie is other to herself, less because her identity cannot master herself as a totality—­reflects an impetus toward a subjectless subject that is not yet integrated by neoliberal governmentality. This position is asymmetrical to the beyond-­structure of neoliberal capitalism because it does not engage in a quantitative increment or in some goal-­oriented calculation. There is instead a supplemental quality to Jessie’s figure that is typical of the not-­a ll of the Lacanian feminine position: “The social world into which the girl enters similarly fails to



Woman

-  187 -

form an easy or untroubled all, but not because it is incomplete or lacks anything as in the masculine universe. . . . The fact that prohibition in her castration [and hence in her language] means not that everything can be included, but that nothing can be excluded from it.”51 The idea that she hears words from within does not mean that she subjugates their secret—­perhaps by formalizing it into an algorithm—­but that she is opened to language and its becoming. The most striking evidence of her differential position may be found not so much in her characterization as in her vanishing. Jessie might have been murdered; this would be perfectly in tune with DeLillo’s understanding of the thanatological nihilism of modern society. After all, the coda of the novel describes the identification between the anonymous figure-­suspect and the visual cues of the film. As DeLillo writes: “He is not responsible for these thoughts. But they’re his thoughts, aren’t they? . . . The man separates himself from the wall and waits to be assimilated, pore by pore, to dissolve into the figure of Norman Bates.”52 So the ending of Point Omega could represent a kind of cosmic nemesis for the inventor of haiku war. Then Jessie would be nothing more than value, or, as Luce Irigaray writes, a “simple envelope veiling what is really at stake in social exchange” between men.53 Thus the patronymic line (Lester–­Jim) loses Jessie because of its hubris or its crimes. However, the drone-­l ike anonymous character qua drive must obliterate the sexual object (Jessie) to freely circulate via its trajectory of intensification. In any case, I believe that DeLillo’s text leaves this ending open to the possibility not of a murder but of a disappearance. What if Jessie’s vanishing is in fact a point of ultimate resistance? What if Jessie is not a mannequin or a magician’s assistant who is made to disappear? She may give expression to that other that cannot be consumed, and that produces an impasse in the smooth flowing of scopic accumulation. But what if her disappearance were a counterpoint omega of ultimate resistance, one that, by opening a rift in the flow, disassembles the endless serialization and paroxysm of this new epistemology? This is not the vacuum of Elster’s desert but rather the flight of a small thing that, through its absence, engenders difference. Her iconoclastic gesture produces a blockage that somehow negates the neoliberal management of life. There will be no more renditions, with all their economic, military, and symbolic implications; nor will there be the nightmare of algorithmic domination through the surrendering of individuals to

-  188 -

Woman

profiling and precarious labor under platform capitalism. Rather, there will be disengagement from a target mentality, exposure to the risk of the other, refusal to pay, refusal to participate in the horizontal multiplication of power, refusal to be another manipulable possession—­in short, the embodiment of an existential default as the antidote to the government of self-­governance. Finally we have a radical gesture of rebellion that undoes a whole tradition of man gazing at woman. Here the lady vanishes not because of a marvelous trick performed by the magician but because of a willing subtraction to the endgame of the death drive. Like the case of Ex Machina, this rebellious subject must undertake a movement of direct negation. In Ex Machina it was the negation of identity; here the subject bears testimony about his own disappearance as a targetable entity.

Chapter 7

Hysteria The Moses of Bernardo Bertolucci

Because of its excessive mode of inquiry, melodrama is usually considered a feminine genre—­or, to be more accurate, a particular feminine reproach of the masculine system of knowledge. Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Spider’s Stratagem (1970) is a melodrama about the father, with the true subject of the film being Freud’s theory of the Great Man as a source of symbolic authority. Bertolucci’s narrative reversal—­a melodramatic take on the Great Man—­is paramount because it levels a novel critique of the patriarchal by feminizing the paternal. Most notably this film displaces the usual attempt to reproduce a political theology via an othering of the scopic. In staging the father as melodrama, Bertolucci puts a peculiar twist on the genre that has important consequences for our investigation. In the previous two chapters, I discussed temporality and a type of subjectivity (or feminine position) that subtracts itself from the scopic-­phallic drive. In so doing, I also began to articulate the tenets of an alternative to contemporary neoliberal digitality. This chapter will be instrumental insofar as the study of this film offers insights into a counterproposal to the political theology that I associated with the Mosaic complex and, through its mutations in time, with today’s neoliberal digitality. In particular I am interested in showing how the aesthetic form of Bertolucci’s film unseats the template of the Other of the Other that I previously traced. The Spider’s Stratagem has produced a wide variety of interpretations. Its palimpsestic nature has been examined in detail. Several scholars have identified its literary references, which include works by Jorge Luis Borges (the story is inspired by “Tema del Traidor y Héroe”), William Shakespeare, and the Italian poets Giacomo Leopardi and Giovanni Pascoli. Other scholars have studied the intertextual network of its cinematic citations and the importance of its commentary on opera.1 Most notably the film has been interpreted as an allegory of history, a

-  190 -

Hysteria

modernist spectacle and deliberate critique of the ideological discourse of the Italian Resistance.2 Film specialists interested in psychoanalytic theory insist on the ambiguity of the message detailing the dreamlike structure of the film that, shaped as “a self-­contained curve,” follows the dynamics of the unconscious—­the fact that the same actor, Giulio Brogi, plays both father and son certainly amplifies the film’s uncanny atmosphere.3 The film follows Athos Magnani’s son (from now on Athos Jr.) as he returns to the town of Tara, where his prominent antifascist father was supposedly assassinated by hit men sent by the regime. Draifa, his father’s former lover, called for him to help her find the culprits. Eventually Athos Jr. discovers that his father had orchestrated his homicide with the help of his three friends, thus becoming a communist martyr. In a surreal ending, Athos Jr. is shown endlessly waiting at the train station, unable to leave the town. Canonical interpretations of the film read it as a censure of the myth of the Resistance and its debasement produced by the commemorative tradition of the left. For instance, in his influential reading of Bertolucci, Peter Bondanella remarks that the film “pictured the political mythology of the anti-­Fascist Resistance not only as a noble and vital part of postwar Italian culture but also as a fiction, a comfortable illusion consciously created by man and employed to manipulate political opinion.”4 By the same token, Eugenio Bolongaro writes, “The Spider’s Stratagem is not a film about fascism or anti-­fascism in general but rather about a particular kind of anti-­fascism,” where something “went wrong and has caused postwar anti-­fascism to become a stultifying ideology.”5 All these approaches follow a similar line of reasoning. Athos Senior manufactures a lie, while Tara turns into his perverse reproductive mechanism. The memory of antifascist rhetoric consequently blocks the libertarian expression of post–­World War II Italian democracy and the aspirations of social movements of protest of the time (albeit interpreted in a mainstream, docile fashion). The lie of the myth is duplicated at the level of cinematic language, producing the famous entrapment in the oedipal past of the protagonist. Consider the implicit structure of value of these approaches. The symbolic dimension of the father and the myth of the Resistance are conceived of as demystifying, while the spirit of the present embodies the positive, authentic point of view. Such uniform and by now voluminous statements regarding this film seem suspi-



Hysteria

-  191 -

cious. It is as if academia were drawn to confront The Spider’s Stratagem in order to reiterate a monolithic value judgment, thereby keeping at bay some inner anxiety that the film implicitly produces. This chapter’s point is buried in the layering of such interpretations. These readings seem to ignore the current disciplinary mechanisms of neoliberalism and its redefinition of the concept of truth. As I argued, the biopolitical control that organizes and reproduces subjectivities has been skillfully rearranged displacing the classic oedipal interdiction. However, once we consider the intricacies of the present regime, we can articulate a different reading of this film, one in which a new and unexpected interpretation is brought to light. Figuratively speaking, Bertolucci’s film should not be read through the eyes of Athos Jr.—­that is, the heir of the 1968 movement that engages in a death struggle with the father—­but rather through the eyes of his little sister. She does not exist, of course. But in retrospect her voice is the one to be heard because it adopts a peculiar feminine position. It articulates a hystericization of the Law of the Father that shows how the tragic inner inconsistency of life may produce, in the end, an ethical act. The ethical act is not that of the young Athos. The latter merely performs a cognitive deed, one that brings to light the historical knowledge of the assassination of his father and of how his myth was created. Present scholarship simply toes this narrative line. Yet neoliberal digitality has vaporized the ground for truth as a punctual, circumscribed fact. As transcendence has been folded into immanence, the very status of truth has changed as well. The process I call fee-­Ding demonstrates how individuals must now search for truth within seriality, and how they find in the medial itself a request that mobilizes their searching. From this standpoint, present scholarship is thus antiquated. Only a system of thought that has not properly assimilated the dissolution of the patriarchal order believes that truth resides in an authentic place where an abstract freedom is available. Supporting this claim is tantamount to taking a die-­hard Fordist stance at the time of its final eclipse. Thus only a feminist perspective that articulates all the implications regarding the dissolving of the Law of the Father may point to a path of resistance, one that follows the trifold rhythm of melodrama, hysteria, and passivity. The inner authenticity of the subject is itself a patriarchal fantasy. One needs to deconstruct it not to turn it into an entity that is molecularized and thus cynically malleable, but rather into its opposite.

-  192 -

Hysteria

One must bring to the surface passivity and its relational value, for as Marx writes, “The passive bond . . . causes the human being to experience the need of the greatest wealth—­the other human being. The dominion of the objective being in me, the sensuous outburst of my life activity, is passion, which thus becomes here the activity of my being.”6 The reference to a passive bond recalls the dimension of infancy, diverting our gaze from the present of our digital interaction toward the past—­a past that, as I mentioned in the discussion of Benjamin, is still incomplete. Schizophrenia and Hysteria: From Pasolini to Bertolucci Among the intertextual riches that the broad approaches to this film display, one is usually overlooked. The Spider’s Stratagem appeared immediately after the other great visual journey into the symbolic dimension of the figure of the father in postwar Italy: Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Oedipus Rex. Shot in 1967, Oedipus Rex is a seminal reflection on the transformation of the patriarchal from historical fascism—­w ith its authoritarian social order—­into the contemporary fascism of what at the time was called neocapitalism, a socioeconomic system that already showed signs of being fatherless and permissive, and thus more effective in molding docile subjectivities. Bertolucci’s film has absorbed the lesson of “the nomadic gaze of Pasolini’s camera,” which, “rather than rewriting the myth of Oedipus, writes a myth of the myth of Oedipus,” as Cesare Casarino puts it.7 Both films provide insight into the failure of the symbolic efficacy of the Father that the process of modernization, along with the antiauthoritarian struggles of the 1960s and 1970s, brought to the fore. This affinity is not merely historical; nor does it lie in the fact that Bertolucci intensively collaborated with his “artistic father” for many years. There is a striking formal similarity in both movies that contemporary audiences did not notice. Scholars today note the homage Bertolucci pays to the Lumière brothers in the opening scene when Athos Jr. arrives in Tara by train; but less attention has been paid to the previous establishing shot that pans across vegetation and the foliage of poplar trees—­a characteristic plant in Po Valley country. The camera movement is reminiscent of at least two scenes in Oedipus Rex that define the historical trajectory of the film. The first scene occurs



Hysteria

-  193 -

at the beginning; it is the first subjective take of infant Oedipus in 1922 Italy, which is beautifully rendered through a pan across poplars. It is a primal scene, one that could be fruitfully compared to Lacan’s mirror image since it visualizes a process of subject formation. This wandering, dispersed look will return at the end of the film, when Oedipus decides to come back to this place to die. The technical similarity points toward another and deeper commonality between the two films: the fragmented visual dimension, which establishes a similar formalism that is no longer completely prey to the phallic masculine lineage. While Pasolini’s Oedipus Rex rewrites the myth of patriarchy and capital modernization, Bertolucci’s The Spider’s Stratagem tells the myth of the uncompleted, and in the end defeated, dream of the anticapitalistic (yet still patriarchal) order that was born out of the Italian civil war during World War II. The opening of The Spider’s Stratagem recalls a primal scene of subjectification as well. We are, in other words, within the symbolic order of the other father. In the pages that follow, I will argue that if on the one hand Pasolini schizophrenizes Oedipus, then Bertolucci on the other hand hystericizes him. Yet both deploy a similar corrosive critique of phallic experience, a response that breaks with the exclusionary logic of the Other of the Other. To foreshadow my argument, this line of critique follows Pasolini’s intuition of the importance of premodern culture—­one that was harshly criticized as primitivist and conservative—­and applies it to the cinematic form of Bertolucci’s The Spider’s Stratagem. After all, Athos Senior is precisely another Moses—­ and Borges states as much in “Tema del Traidor y Héroe,” where he identifies the protagonist, Fergus Kilpatrick, with the founder of monotheism, another of those great men like Oedipus destined to generate a legendary bloodline. The critique of modernization is probably the most important contribution that Pasolini offers to the debate on the idea of progress. This anticapitalist perspective is evident in general “in the intersection of character and environment, of history and physiognomy,” where the “body of the non-­professional actor is a marker for a process of defamiliarization so that something outside of logos, ancient and forgotten, stands against official history as a . . . practice of domination.”8 In this sense we should not read his defense of the primitive and archaic as the simple and mechanical negation of modern progress. Rather, and this is the underlying argument I will follow, through the model of the

-  194 -

Hysteria

past, one can detect the attempt to preserve a degree of potentiality in life itself that capitalism wants to subsume. This model expresses the nonlinear temporality that I have been investigating through the force of the linguistic, and that we saw at work in the messianic temporality of Benjamin’s mechanical chess player. Paolo Virno teases out its temporal underpinnings when he writes, “Where the now is depicted as the back then (namely, where we have a memory of the present) the past-­in-­general sticks out in sharp relief,” thus disclosing also “the representation of the future.”9 The past can be rescued from its regressive and reactionary monumentalism when the promise of human freedom is carefully brought to light. Conversely, the eternal present of capitalism emerges as a vestige of the archaic past in its savage forms of exploitation. Magritte’s Topology as the Visual Entry to the Symbolic The problem with the symbolic is that one cannot really critique it from the outside, from an external point of authenticity. As in dreams, once one is in it, one needs to populate it; the best one can do is perhaps to traverse it. That externality is an effect of the very system itself. This is why Athos Jr. comes from an imaginary city, most likely a more advanced and modern one, which remains unknown and to which he cannot return. In this sense René Magritte serves as a potent source of inspiration for the diegetic space of the story as it defines a geography deployed as a curved space. It is an architecture that articulates itself by degrees of the liminal, an idea that is crucial also for the work of the French painter. More precisely, it resembles the spatial articulation of a proper class, of a space that cannot be visually constructed as a set. Given that we are discussing a film that, among other things, describes the masculine space of the father, this is already a bizarre affirmation. Self-­reference here is the distinctive mark of the liminal. Just like in a Möbius strip, the inflection of the structure does not stand on the side of autonomy; rather, it plunges into the vertigo of self-­recursivity. Magritte’s series of paintings The Empire of Lights inspires the depiction of nearly all nocturnal sequences in the film and may clarify how Bertolucci uses self-­reference to organize his mise-­en-­scène. Bertolucci himself acknowledged this influence, arguing that he “was interested by a nocturnal night full of azure reflections” and adding that “all the blue



Hysteria

-  195 -

moments of The Spider’s Stratagem were shot between light and dark at dusk.”10 Against readings that underscore the artificial, ironic, surreal depiction of the place, I will argue that it is the specific geographic characteristic of the Po Valley that sustains Bertolucci’s reference to Magritte’s surrealism. Surrealism is the best, or perhaps the most realistic, expression of the climate in this area. Here is how Gianni Celati describes the atmospheric specifics of the Po Valley: As it precipitates from above, light, usually, entangles itself in an atmospheric layer that is denser and heavier than any others. This eliminates, or greatly reduces, the contrast of diurnal shadows for there is a great dispersion of gleams enveloping everything in a cloud full of reflexes. . . . The thickest of fog characterizes this place because these lands are an ancient swampy gulf filled mostly by clay, where precipitations flow and evaporate without being retained by the soil. Hence the cloud of reflexes on the long road seldom appears opaque and white-­browed in the wet season . . . while it is always iridescent and translucent in the warmest months.11

The misty light of the valley informs the palpable ambiguity that we confront in the film and that has an illustrious history in literature, dating back at least to Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso (1532) and its world of fantasy full of lunatic characters. Lighting choice registers a rather realist approach to landscape, which, as a native of these lands, Bertolucci knew well. But the magical aerial quality of the story establishes a borderline nature that points precisely to what we can call a topology, a space that is logical and physical. The azure evening light shapes a landscape that belongs to the remote past in which equally timeless figures lead a peasant life. Although deeply political, their antifascism seems to be defined almost exclusively by mourning Athos Senior’s death. This is a form of life that seems to have consciously resisted the rapid growth of industrialization. It is visually constructed through a crepuscular chromaticism that foregrounds ambiguity and crosses thresholds that are transitions, not the clear-­cut divisions typical of industrial society. This peasant world proudly stands outside what Pasolini calls the anthropological mutation, or what the new fascism of neocapitalism produced during the reconstruction period in Italy. The rural atmosphere of the place emerges during Athos Jr.’s first

-  196 -

Hysteria

night in Tara. The scene is complex. It opens with a close-­up of two peasants—­let’s call them peasant A and peasant B—­who are arguing in dialect. Athos Jr. is slowly brought into focus as he advances toward them under the town center’s arches. The protagonist carries his bicycle, while the two peasants are absorbed in their discussion about a woman called “la Giuliana.” To the foreign ear, the vernacular tone may seem belligerent, but closer inspection reveals it to be mere caricature. Peasant A and peasant B embody those classic eccentric countryside figures engaged in the same dispute since time immemorial, the picturesque type of the quarreling couple—­and another variant of the village fool. The language indicates an idiomatic culture. In the peasants’ exchange, one man says, “Me sa dig na roba le na roba” (When I say something, I mean it). In English the force of the tautology is lost, but the recurrent structure remains in Italian dialects. The literal translation would be, “When I say something, I say something.” This rhetorical figure, called anadiplosis, consists of repeating a word in order to fix attention to that concept. In this case, it is a warning. It obviously adopts an ironic tone as it represents the nth iteration of that same warning. It is a repetition (anadiplosis) of a repetition ad infinitum. The take in itself is also significant. The first shot shows Athos Jr. walking toward the two characters. In the next shot, the camera jumps the line of action and resumes the peasants’ dialogue while Athos Jr. fades into the distance. The camera remains focused on peasant A and peasant B. The cut, however, forces the spectator to endure a 180-­degree camera violation. The result is a disorienting inversion of the characters’ position on the screen that pushes the viewer to the limits of an objective take. This is a typical example of what Bordwell calls “equivocal narration,” one that “compels us to form hypotheses about the narration’s own operations.”12 Why is the narrative foregrounded so blatantly in this specific take? Bordwell argues it is because there is “a mixing of subjectivity and objectivity.”13 Yet Bertolucci here flaunts the symbolic consistency of this space. The jump perturbs the viewer, who is confronted by the inconsistency in the filming of peasant A and peasant B as their position is suddenly reversed. The break from conventional filmic structuring estranges the viewer from his absorption in the narrative and for a moment calls attention to the visual. By making the screen almost palpable, it shows the latter as a sort of field, a plane that can designate itself.14 This take further thickens the screen by migrating



Hysteria

-  197 -

beyond it. The effect is that of somebody who peeks beyond the mirror, discovering the other face, its obverse but still specular image. And in fact the dialogue between peasant A and peasant B goes on as usual, two caricatured eccentrics having the same endless argument regarding a woman. The emphasis on the optical dimension shows the profound plasticity, dilatability, and malleability of this space. The optical brings to foreground the immanence of this space, where there is no beyond except for the hesitation of self-­reference. This is why tautologies and duplicative structures dominate the cinematic space, and why the film resembles a modernist text interested in the repetition of the identical. Change is absent just as young people are absent, as Athos Jr. remarks later that same evening while drinking wine in the tavern next to his pension. This stasis, however, is not completely static, and although it has been described as a place outside of history, it is not exactly ahistorical. Tara’s social ensemble is clearly characterized not only by a specific regional identity but also by a political history. For instance, the elderly people in the tavern flaunt their virility to Athos Jr., thus emphasizing another foundational key of this mythical place. One man tells Athos Jr. that he is seventy-­five and his girlfriend is pregnant. He then proceeds to sing an old song, “Noi vogliamo l’uguaglianza” (We want equality), and is soon joined by the rest of his comrades. The refrain states: “We rebels wave the bloodstained flags and we’ll raise barricades made of true freedom.” This was a popular song during the long agrarian strikes at the turn of the twentieth century in the Po Valley. As a fighting and pedagogical tool, it neatly synthesized the political project of the revolutionary movement, which was heavily influenced by anarchists such as Michail Aleksandrovicˇ Bakunin. The song states: “We are workers, we don’t want bosses.” These verses are also common to another turn-­of-­the-­century song, “Amore Ribelle” (Rebel love), written by Pietro Gori, a key figure of the anarchy movement in Italy. The singer tells his woman that he chose another lover: anarchy. Again, as in the case of the older men’s dispute, what emerges is a dimension that does not operate under the sequential logic of modern time, but one that follows something that is more ancient. It is a mode of life that coalesces events and people into a unity. The sequence that announces the grand finale of the film provides another interesting combination of tonalities and incongruences with a distinctive Magrittean tone. Athos Jr. is at the train station, having

-  198 -

Hysteria

decided to leave Tara. The mesmerizing tracking shot along the building’s windows is underlined by the dramatic opening theme of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Rigoletto (1851). The construction of the space is interesting. Scholars have noted a reference to another of Magritte’s famous paintings, Eloge de la dialectique (1937). But rather than the mise en abyme effect created by duplicating the windows of this artwork, I want to stress the emphatic visualization of frames—­the window jambs, the decorations, and so forth. The frame within the frame of the window does not produce the vertigo of infinite regression; rather, it locks Athos Jr. in a particular position, or what James Heffernan calls “paragonal energy” that brings into focus the stasis against movement that is typical of the masculine.15 As Athos Jr. is supposedly waiting for the arrival of the train to leave, he will instead find truth in his permanence in Tara. The architectonic dimension of Tara displayed in the shot transcends its simple artificiality, indicating instead the emergence of the symbolic. This is why the scene presents itself as a topology that shows its borders as thresholds and points of passages. The successive shot is one in which Athos Jr. exits the screen, leaving the pure presence of the edifice alone. The shot recapitulates not only Magritte’s painting Eloge de la dialectique, with its breathtaking regression to the infinite, but also his Empire of Lights series, where the continuous oscillation between the night of the house and the azure light of the day stages the most classical paradox of undecidability. The viewer can move from one option to the other, and that oscillation becomes a synthesis—­at least in the mythical sense of two opposites that coincide. Void of subjectivity, the landscape is at the same time physical and logical, thereby revealing its liquid nature. Paternal space, in contrast, is organized through a differential opposition that always gestures toward a beyond, an other, or an excluded element. In this shot, we can appreciate its liminal border as an undecidable dimension or as a generating mechanism that transcends the usual oedipal exclusionary principle. Inconsistency is immediately again underscored by another striking violation of the 180-­degree rule. As the opening notes of Rigoletto resound in the night, Athos Jr. walks through the door toward the window looking at the camera. He then exits the building, going back to the door and walking around it. The music intensifies while Athos Jr. stares at the gaslight of the street that leads to the station. This last is a subjective shot, but the next shot forces us out of Athos Jr.’s point of view because it



Hysteria

-  199 -

was taken from behind the door through which he exits. Again the camera traverses the line of action, breaking the expected composition on the screen. The unreal objective shot, which reverses the point of view and reverses the screen placement, forces the viewer to move behind the scene. We are once more transferred to the offscreen space behind the mirror. The parallel with the paternal dimension seems clear: the offscreen space is the projection of the Law of the Father that functions through exclusion and separation. The offscreen space is thus normally interdicted. As such, it seems to hold some mysterious truth. Bertolucci’s camerawork expands the scene to the unseen space of the offscreen space. The result is again undecidable: we are made aware that we are looking at (another) Athos Jr., and that something is looking back at him. In film terminology, the point where the image thickens through self-­ reflexivity is called interpellation. Christian Metz argues that in such metalinguistic moments, cinematic images display the capacity “to appear here and there as in relief, to lose this thin layer of themselves that carries a few engraved indications of another nature (or another level), regarding the production and not the product.” Thus arranged, these images form what he calls enunciation, “the semiologic act by which some parts of a text talk to us about this text as an act.”16 The reflexivity of film narrative is raised to its highest capacity. This forces the viewer to become cognizant of the status of the symbolic. It is the same ambivalence that Magritte’s art visualizes through infinite regression as cognitive hesitation.17 But psychoanalysis can better illustrate what really happens here. Bertolucci throws us into a type of symbolic formalism where transcendence is eliminated. Because of its unsubstantial flavor, however, it should alert us that this representation of the paternal is one that introduces the constitutive lack of the Other. The rubbery tangibility of the offscreen space signals the inconsistency of the Other of the Other that we have already encountered in the Mosaic complex. Melodrama as the Hystericized Symbolic Combined with the liquidity of the space, another remarkable visual dominant of the film is the play on contrasts and the use of chiaroscuro. Athos Senior, for instance, is mainly portrayed in this fashion. At the formal level, these sharp tonalities replicate a central element of melodrama. As Peter Brooks writes, “Within an apparent context of realism and the

-  200 -

Hysteria

ordinary, [melodrama] seemed in fact to be staging a heightened and hyperbolic drama, making reference to pure and polar concepts of darkness and light, salvation and damnation.”18 Yet this representation is not simply based on spectacular overtones. To put it differently, it is sensationalist to the extent that it raises fundamental moral stakes. Brooks indeed argues that the excessive nature of melodrama is produced by tapping into the “moral occult”—­that is to say, the unconscious defined as “a sphere of being where our most basic desires and interdictions lie.” This explains the characteristic dichotomy of melodramatic gestures, of their stark contrasts that assume a cosmic significance of a fight between polarities.19 In fact gestures are “read as containing such meanings,” for they represent “the metaphorical approach to what cannot be said.”20 Implicit in this view, however, is a classic masculine approach to melodrama, one that defines itself from its inner point of exception. It is the neutral, nonqualified symbolic position of the male subject, which is grounded in the truth of the moral distinction between right and wrong that projects a specific feminine type. Moreover, feminine heroines are dignified by their innate disposition for sacrifice and abnegation in overcoming the usual hurdles: “misplaced love and obstructed marriage, generational friction and the pressures of filling an impossible maternal role.”21 Brooks places the birth of melodrama after the French Revolution because for him, this period represents the most congenial expression of “a world where the traditional imperatives of truth and ethics have been violently thrown into question.”22 In other words, “melodrama becomes the principal mode for uncovering, demonstrating, and making operative the essential moral universe in a post-­sacred era.”23 Because of this, melodrama replaces tragedy, as the latter has become impossible as a result of the dissolution of the sacred. Indeed, this is probably the reason for its standard narrative structure, the sensationalist plot in which agnition is cliché. In the mundane world, everything is a trope for something that rests beyond; meanwhile, pursuing the unsayable mystery fuels the narrative. The discovery of that interdicted meaning concentrates passions—­passions that are usually paraded as such. In our case, a similar reading could be substantiated. Athos Senior’s lie is the dark object that must be exposed, and the extended use of Italian opera is but the most obvious commentary to this narrative. Yet this definition of melodrama precludes insights not only on the



Hysteria

-  201 -

film but also on the function of hystericization. I suggest we follow Joan Copjec’s indication of melodrama as a quintessential feminine register. This involves surpassing the pejorative meanings of the word. Instead, I will focus on a specific feminine stance with regard to the truth at stake here. Copjec argues that “the melodramatic world is one in which masks proliferate as mask,” but, and this is the important point, “the many copies or simulacra circulating through it refer not to an ideal lodged elsewhere that one strives to attain while feeling powerless to do so, but rather float the complaint that no such ideal exists.” It is this “sense of inauthenticity” that “determines melodrama as a feminine complaint.”24 Athos Jr.’s promenade along the venues of paternal structures thus expresses the typical double movement I analyzed via Magrittean art. These masks are revealed as masks, and as the camera moves beyond them, they reinstate their status of fantasies. The effect of crossing into the area out of frame as if it were beyond the mirror highlights the proliferation of mask and simulacra. But as the camera takes the viewer offscreen, into the space of the moral interdict, we also discover the true nature of the unconscious. The unconscious is not Brooks’s place of hidden and scandalous desires but rather something that is not a thing. As argued, the unconscious is not a transitive dimension that can be recognized, signified, and captured once and for all. It is a function, a capability, not an object that can be circumscribed. The camera movement makes the viewer aware of this. Yet as Copjec argues, this melodramatic approach does “not provide testimony for the need to install a law.” I would say rather that it hystericizes the Law of the Father. What do I mean by hystericizing? The hysterical position is properly feminine because it shows the hollowness of the masculine position, which is based on a fantasy of consistency. Recall that the phallocentrism of the masculine order is built on a simple albeit hidden mechanism for which at least “one element is not subjected to the phallic function as he negates the latter;” in other words, it “normalizes the discourse.”25 But this foundation is merely a placeholder. This is what the hysterical body screams with all her might. The hysterization of the phallic function reveals the void of the Law of the Father—­that is to say, that there is no Other of the Other. This is how Brooks’s moral occult is revealed as not so much something to be said as the nothingness that sustains everything, its incompleteness that does not lack in anything.

-  202 -

Hysteria

Bertolucci once stated that “in Spider’s Stratagem the relationships between Athos Senior and Athos Jr. is similar to the one that I imagined having occurred between Berlinguer and Togliatti: the son who discovers the betrayal of the heroic father is Berlinguer who discovers the Stalinism of Togliatti.”26 Deborah Crips remarks of the metaphorical implication of this father–­son relationship, “Ultimately, though, Magnani’s heroism turns out to have been a betrayal. The Resistance movement not only failed to resist, but, for reasons which are not made clear in the film, undid its own position while retaining histrionic grandeur.”27 I am not arguing that this is the goal of hysterization in the film. Were that the case, I would simply add another layer, perhaps slightly more theoretically inclined, to the uniformity of interpretations of this film. On the contrary, I argue that we should take seriously what Athos Jr.’s little sister may have to say about Tara, the true nature of “melodrama as feminine complaint,” for “it is based not on the assumption that just beyond our reach there hovers an ideal we have failed to attain, but on the conviction that the world is not based on any ideal support.”28 That something escapes canonical readings, occupied as they are in criticizing the falseness of the symbolic, may be found by looking more closely at the representation of the paternal and the issue of death. Bertolucci notes that he never intended to shoot a psychoanalytical film, but the parallel is clear: “Once you have entered the realm of the dead it’s difficult to leave.”29 Literary references to death abound in the film. In particular, Giovanni Pascoli’s well-­k nown poem “Cavallina Storna” (The dappled mare) is introduced at a timely moment. Draifa hosts a dinner with Athos Senior’s friends and Beccaccia, the leader of the local fascists. The three friends want Beccaccia to confess his murdering of Athos. Beccaccia remains silent. When he leaves, Athos Jr. follows him, but his approach is prevented by a mob of villagers who attack him. Frustrated, Athos Jr. vents his rage against his father. He reaches the cemetery and desecrates his father’s tomb, erasing the name on the stone. This attempt to break away from the name of the Father pushes him again to flee Tara, but he arrives at the station late and misses his train. The film cuts to the next morning, when the nephew of the innkeeper is in Athos Jr.’s room. Athos has not yet returned, and the boy sits on the bed, smoking a cigarette and nibbling at the guest’s breakfast. The boy



Hysteria

-  203 -

then begins to recite Pascoli’s poem. This poem, a famous text that is compulsory for Italian students to memorize and recite, tells the story of the mysterious death of Pascoli’s father, Ruggero, who was murdered as he was coming back from a trip to Cesena. Only his mare comes back, bringing to the family the ominous sign of death. Bertolucci claims that he inserted this textual reference because it symbolizes rudimentary education in Italy. Yet the poem’s argument is far from insignificant. Recalling a writing by Alfredo Panzini in which he notes that Pascoli died almost at the same age of his father, as if the father set a limit that was unsurpassable, Furio Jesi writes that “the hour of the death of Ruggero Pascoli seems to truly mark the limit of the ‘great year,’ when the perennially repeated cycle ticks off, when mythical time absorbs and consecrates the time of history.”30 Here we reach the theoretical kernel of the symbolic dimension of the Father. It is the uncanny shadow that he projects that determines who the son will be, but when we search for the reasons beyond this magnetic force, we can only find duplicates. There are many ways to describe this unreachability: nothingness, repetition, thresholds, all qualifiers for the formalism that I described above. Yet a symbol works precisely by referring to something or by fastening together many things thanks to its capacity to recall them in some aspect. We need to turn to Jesi again to understand how symbols actually operate, especially in the context of death. Discussing the role of funerary symbols, Jesi determines the specific plasticity that symbols have by being areferential, mainly “because they are completed and do not refer to any reality that transcends them. They possess the true nature of the epiphanies of myth; one may attribute to the latter a thousand meanings without ever reaching its truth, which consists precisely in their lack of meaning that transcends their appearances.”31 This is a primordial function of myth, and its reproduction is perfectly in keeping with the Law of the Father. As argued, the paternal is what normalizes discourse because it is the vanishing point that constitutes it—­and hence the centrality of Pascoli’s poem in this sequence. Eerily recalling the fate of Athos Jr., the boy chants the death of the father, thus emphasizing again the point of no return typical of the phallic. The extreme gesture of barring the name of the Father brings about only another text, and this liminal dimension simply proliferates in another repetition: that of self-­reflexivity.

-  204 -

Hysteria

The Ontological Nature of Jump Cuts The best way to be loyal to any myth of foundation is to embrace its artificiality. The figure of one of Athos Senior’s three friends, Gaibazzi, illustrates what being loyal to the myth really means. Gaibazzi, a local salami taster and amateur opera singer, is an intriguing figure. Compared to Athos Senior’s other two friends, Rasori and Costa, he is the character that best unites a deep-­seated attachment to the land and legacy of the local hero. Little information is provided about this character, but the patronymic speaks volumes to his tie with the autochthonous. Gaibazzi provides insights into the legend of Athos Senior while displaying his charcuterie curing chamber. Shot as a series of close-­ups, his discourse is elliptic while being truncated by continuous references to the particularities of the specific culatelli he ages. Jump shots reach a vertiginous level of intensity. The constant use of fade-­outs dilutes his talk, almost detaching it from the diegetic domain and transforming it into an offscreen commentary. His discourse is equally disrupted by the intrusion of anecdotes, remembrances, and descriptions of the culatello he is handling. As a taster or sampler, Gaibazzi enacts the episodic approach to reality of an assayer: a nonsystematic, nonlinear expressiveness that resonates with a type of archaic form of wisdom. The peculiar ontological quality of the scene transpires through the use of jump cuts. Rather than a digression, it is a sequence that exposes the ontological truth of Athos Senior’s story. This ontology has a culinary rootedness. This point becomes clearer when looking at two other elements in the scene. The first is the revelation of an important narrative cue. Gaibazzi warns Athos Jr. that he and his other two friends were mostly conspirators and not true revolutionaries. This references Verdi’s work Ernani (1844), an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s drama, where conspiracy and insurrection through regicide are key plot points. Although they were naive and isolated plotters, doomed to fail through their inexperience, Athos is instead presented as a figure with higher knowledge, an extraordinary person who could truly enact revolutionary change. But Gaibazzi’s emphasis on the greatness of Athos Senior has more analytical depth than the pure, and sometimes artificial, admiration expressed by the rest of his friends. For instance, as they share a meal, Gaibazzi interrupts his celebratory recollection of Athos Senior. Sipping



Hysteria

-  205 -

his wine, he argues that the bottle they are drinking is particularly good because it has an aftertaste of wood. Wine is just like men, he notes, with little flaws that make up its quality. Imperfection here points directly at the secret of Athos Senior’s legend. He then casually adds that in the end, “truth means nothing,” because “what counts is the consequence of truth.” Further cues that Gaibazzi is a manifestation of ontological truth do not just come from a correlation between the culinary and the discourse of truth itself. They also come from the camerawork that is used to represent him. According to Deleuze, the sequence of jump cuts is a typical “Nietzschean mechanism” that exposes the existential structure of life as it avoids the moralism of the judging subject, of the one who imposes a form on reality, mutilating it according to a preconstituted set of norms. Deleuze writes: “The true world does not exist, and, if it did, would be inaccessible, impossible to describe, and, if it could be described, it would be useless.”32 The time image offers a spectacle in which “life is not to be judged or justified, it is innocent, it has the innocence of becoming, beyond good and evil.”33 We see here how the camerawork takes a particular ethical role vis-­à-­v is the infinite. The object is infinite, and the subject confronting it can only take an ethical stance with regard to it. Gaibazzi operates within a preindustrial temporality. The seasoning of culatello is a craft that necessitates blending human intervention and nature. This temporality is nonlinear—­and nonexclusively consequential because the product and the environment influence each other in unexpected ways. Final products are unfailingly singular, defined by all the particularities of their natural history. For instance, Gaibazzi defines the distinctive smell of a culatello as that of mice who have nested in a drawer. The craftsmanship of the salami taster cannot predict the end result and therefore cherishes the idiosyncrasy of the product. Gaibazzi thus confronts and narrates a vast scale of a history that is buried in the traditions of the land—­a history that is deeply social and political. Cinematically, jump cuts express this vastness by prohibiting demarcations and linearity—­a constitutive opaqueness reflected by his erratic, lunatic voice. Gaibazzi’s rambling monologue is ancient and resonates with another equally memorable speech Pasolini stages in Medea (1969), a film shot and produced only a few months before The Spider’s Stratagem. Chiron, the centaur who protects Jason and teaches him about his past, opens

-  206 -

Hysteria

the film with an elliptical narrative. Two temporalities thus emerge. The first is human: Jason is only five and discovers that he has been adopted by the centaur. The second one is divine and belongs to the myth of the Golden Fleece. Rather than using the lofty tones of classic mythology, Chiron recalls the story of the buck-­goat in the tone of a character from Tara describing a petty dispute between envious peasants. The origin and scope of the quarrel are lost in time. Similarly, in Pasolini the narration is convoluted because it is inextricably tied to the autochthonous biography of the divine characters. Just like in small-­v illage conflicts, digressions into family quibbles result in gossip that quashes any rational explanations based on cause and effect. Just as the narration is fragmented into a tentacular discourse, so are the film’s modes of visual organization. Chiron explains that “as a story, it is rather complicated because it is full of deeds not thoughts.” The lack of thoughts can be explained precisely as a lack of duplicative structures, the tribunal of the reason that judges the infinity of life typical of the modern rational mind. Chiron thus continues his story by giving one of the most striking examples of Ginsbergian poetic reasoning. After another jump cut, he declares: “All is sacred, all is sacred, all is sacred! There is nothing natural in Nature, my lad. . . . The day Nature seems natural to you, it means the end.” Naturalization signals the emergence of an epistemology that judges life. Continuously surprised by the abrupt cuts, the viewer is disoriented by the violations of codified cinematic language, by the mottled temporality and ungraspable point of view of the camera. The spectator turns into a witness of the logos of the half-­divine, half-­human creature who reveals a sense of life without separation, without exclusionary seizures. Gaibazzi is a novel Chiron educating Athos Jr., a novel Jason. Hero, Traitor, and the Third Excluded In addition to operating as an ontological marker, Gaibazzi also permits insightful access into plots for assassinating Mussolini. His two other friends, Rasori and Costa, lack the courage to do it. Confronted with the suicidal mission, they argue they are more valuable alive than dead. But Gaibazzi points to the vanity of such an action. He notes that even were the attempt to succeed, fascism would still continue, for “it is ingrained in people.” The final decision is Athos Senior’s idea, and it directly contradicts Gaibazzi’s point. They are to plant a bomb in the local



Hysteria

-  207 -

theater and kill the dictator anyway. The plan and its goal seem equally unlikely. Significantly, the tracking shot that depicts the group’s enthusiasm shows Athos Senior receding into the background, not cheering along with his comrades, a strange melancholic expression on his face. Has he already decided to betray them? Is he perhaps concerned that the assassination would do little to change the deep-­seated fascist mentality of the Italians, as Gaibazzi suggests? Or does something else sadden him? Athos Senior inexplicably informs the police of the bomb and confesses his treachery to Gaibazzi, Costa, and Rasori. Equally inexplicably, after he suffers the rage of his comrades, Athos Senior is quickly reestablished in his symbolic position of power; indeed, he quite literally asks to be taken to a higher place. On a tower overlooking the village, Athos Senior discloses his new plan: to create a myth of Tara’s rebel hero in order “to seize people’s imagination,” as he says. Shot in sharp chiaroscuro, Athos Senior disappears in the contours of a dark silhouette, while the hard backlighting fixes our gaze on a sun-­drenched view of the village. Here Bertolucci indulges in a long take of the beautiful rooftops of the shooting location, the Renaissance city of Sabbioneta. The contrast between the blazing symmetry of classical architecture and the opacity of Athos Senior may reflect his secrecy and ambiguity, but such a reading is too simplistic. The chiaroscuro emphasizes the sharp edges and boundaries of the figure—­edges that herald the new role Athos Senior will embody. At first sight a superimposition or a game of Chinese shadows, this striking visual is actually an experimental bending of the visual field by staging the process of cinematic vision itself. The dark offscreen space around the picture is cited within the screen, as it were. As a perspectival operator, Athos Senior forces the visual outside as he folds in and actualizes the blind spot that produces vision. As in the case of Gaibazzi, Athos Senior reflects his nature as an ontological operator both narratively—­through the myth he creates—­and visually—­as a perspectival operator. Melodramatic overtones abound in this depiction, but the theatrical magniloquence of his speech leaves us wondering if this great moment of realization was actually staged from the beginning. The point is that Athos Senior sacrifices himself not through a heroic death in combat but much more subtly: in the false assisted suicide that creates a foundational myth for the people of Tara. This probably explains the two fundamental contradictions that

-  208 -

Hysteria

Bordwell finds in the narrative structure of the film, or as he calls it, “the permanent causal gap. No explanation is offered for why the elder Magnani betrayed his friends,” and the facts that cue the solving of the mystery “are inconsistent rather than redundant.”34 We should assume this fact as a proper epistemological commentary on the status of the symbolic rather than argue that this is a denunciation of the lies of the postwar years’ rhetoric. Bertolucci exposes the lack in the Other, for “the father is neither a man of flesh and blood nor an omnipotent being.”35 Instead, he is a storyteller who emphasizes the importance of fiction and who creates a narrative of redemption in which peasants take control and overpower fascists, thereby creating a society outside history and capitalist development.36 This argument has an interesting consequence at the level of logic formalism, for it points to the subtle unseating of the masculine via presence. Through the amplification of melodrama, the hysterical discourse emphasizes the stubborn presence of the negative: the impostor father revered as a hero is in fact a traitor. The question then occurs: in what sense is Athos Senior not a hero and simultaneously not a traitor? Here we need to look again at the revelation of the ontological dimension of becoming to understand the paradoxical nature of this coupling of opposites. Standard logic would tell us that either the protagonist is a hero (p) or is not a hero (¬p). The people of Tara would hold the former statement to be true, while the modern scholar believes in the latter. We are dealing once again with the principle of the excluded third: p ∨ ¬p. In chapter 2, we discussed the possibility of a different intuitionist approach where negation is productive and logic tends toward a weak formulation. As I already observed, we should look at a nonexcluded third option, namely the following formula: ¬p ∧ ¬¬p. The latter would read: Athos Senior is not a hero and he is also not a nonhero. Here negation opens the possibility for affirmation. What is at stake is a double negation and the possibility for a third new element, one placed in the formula precisely because of negation. It is the infinite nature of the object that solicits the subject’s multiple answers. The masculine always adopts a transitive duplication that aims at its possession qua objectification. But in The Spider’s Stratagem, one witnesses a process of hysterization that dismantles any form of transitivity—­a s argued, the latter is based on the exclusionary principle of the closed set, which defines the logical space of Moses—­a nd that illustrates how Athos is



Hysteria

-  209 -

not a nonhero. This means that he is not a hero (¬p) and that he is not a traitor either (¬¬p). Scholars have focused on the first topic (¬p) and have disregarded the second one (¬¬p). But by positing the existence of this third option, we generate a new field of determinations and possible variants for the kind of nontraitor Athos Senior may be.37 Let us return to our question: what could it mean that Athos Senior is not a nonhero? It means that his symbolic position has been hystericized and does not follow the formalism I attributed to the beyond as structured by the Other of the Other. Recall that what is truly at stake here, both visually and narratively, is the infinite dimension of life: that which cannot be contained and forced into a representation based on transitivity. The radical reflexivity of the visual does not point toward a separation, an exclusion, or a duplication. It is intransitive and organizes the origin of a community by basing it on a foundational myth that is different from the one established through Moses’s assassination. The topology that Athos Senior incorporates is one that cannot rely on the Mosaic model. Athos Senior is not the exception that normalizes discourse because his figure accepts—­or, better, expresses—­ the ungrounded nature of this position. If we want to translate this proposition at the level of meaning, we could say that Athos Senior is the liberator precisely because he does not occupy the transcendent position of power. The (open) meaning of the second topic (¬¬p) points toward a radical fracturing of the exclusionary principle of the masculine position: the first negation (he is a non-­nonhero) that allows for the possibility of determining in what ways Athos Senior is not a traitor. Tellingly, the most prominent sign is that he does not betray the ontological structure of the field—­in other words, that of the continuum—­ because he hystericizes the original Mosaic presupposition. After all, as Bertolucci recalls when interviewed, Athos Senior’s “is a treason that gives to the cause a great hero and therefore a treason that, ultimately, makes a positive contribution to the cause of the resistance against Fascism.”38 What does it mean to hystericize the symbolic Law of the Father? It means disclosing and perhaps contemplating self-­reference, which in turn is the truth of Athos Senior’s lie: the external as a point of origin for power does not exist. It is only a matter of self-­regeneration. In this system, prohibition and limits are ghosts, pure phantasmic entities. But are we not here still in the long symbolic shadow of the father? I would

-  210 -

Hysteria

say that the shadow represents precisely the disarticulation of the paternal through a particular manipulation of the scopic. Feminist theory teaches us that hysteria is a specific pathology due to paternal interdiction. Postmodernity is instead marked by psychosis, and in modernity the paternal organizes society around foreclosure and repression that produce neuroses. The hysterical subject undermines this injunction by contrasting the phallic via the excess of the body. The excessive demand of the hysteric and her hyperbolic tone demystify paternal symbolization. This specific feminine position claims that the paternal normalizing discourse represents a false totality—­a false interiority and a false externality for the object. It builds a false exceptionalism of the inside and the outside. The kind of ethical truth that the hysteric subject brings to the fore showcases inconsistency without transcending it. As Todd McGowan writes, “It recognizes that the subject is not a self-­contained or complete entity, but rather an existent that always surpasses itself and exists outside of itself. It is defined by its incompleteness and thus has an unavoidable involvement with the others.”39 Luce Irigaray explains this ethical position in proper feminist terms: “Even if we refrain from invoking the hystericization of her entire body, the geography of her pleasure is far more diversified, more multiple in its differences, more complex, more subtle, than is commonly imagined in an imaginary rather too narrowly focused on sameness. ‘She’ is indefinitely other in herself.”40 Consider the constant displacement that is typical of the metonymic. For the feminine position, “what she says is never identical with anything, moreover; rather, it is contiguous. It touches (upon). And when it strays too far from that proximity, she breaks off and starts over at ‘zero’: her body-­sex. It is useless, then, to trap women in the exact definition of what they mean.  .  .  . They are already elsewhere in that discursive machinery where you expected to surprise them.”41 The phallic instead gives the lie to representation as a symbolic or representational system, one constructed through reference, the vertical and metaphorical capacity of the symbol to capture some kind of object. The ethical position evades this notion of language on two levels by continuously dislocating it through a continuum. In other words, as Ellie Ragland summarizes, the “masculine position is based on a fantasy of essentialization of the woman . . . such that some myth of the whole, essential, primordial mother continues to serve the male, unconsciously, as a guarantee to a stable, logical dependable uni-



Hysteria

-  211 -

verse.”42 In contrast, the feminine figure “approaches her jouissance as a supplemental doubling due to her not being all under the phallic sway;” strictly speaking, “(s)he is not all identified with an abstract principle for law, language and reality.”43 The hysteric camerawork of Bertolucci foregrounds this dimension. It is as if there were two levels of these hysteric discourses. The protagonist, Athos Jr., is searching for truth. Until the very end, he believes that this truth has an object that can be articulated into discourse. One only need piece together the various clues of the mystery to pierce the web of lies. However, the camerawork shows us the plastic, contiguous dimension of this truth. It keeps sliding toward the area off screen, sometimes bouncing back into a process of infinite regression, other times canvassing Athos Senior’s black silhouette. To go back to our original metaphor, his camerawork embodies the scopic field of Athos Jr.’s little sister. The symbolic field is disassembled by the drifting into infinity of connected thresholds. The asymbolic structure of this field bears testimony to the real stuff the symbolic is made of. In this sense Bertolucci’s use of Magritte’s surrealism discloses a realist approach to both the representation of the geography of the place and the ontology of the symbolic. To return to the original inspiration of this story, its difference from Borges’s tale is stark. Bertolucci’s film does not provide a cynical ending; the attestation of the falsehood of existence embodied by the fakeness of the myth of origin is inclined toward a more profound statement regarding the masculine structure as inconsistent. Rather, with its typical emphasis on the constructedness of experience and the reality effect generated by a linguistic or textual mechanism, postmodernism contents itself with the cynical recognition of the fact that positivity ultimately does not exist. From this standpoint, Borges recuperates the modernist solution to the problem of authenticity in processes of subject formation. For instance, I mentioned Goethe’s trope as expressed in Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, which was central to romanticism and the bildungsroman. In Goethe, Wilhelm’s final discovery is that his journey of self-­realization is in fact heterodirected by the mysterious and all-­powerful members of the Tower Society. Life is a preordained game. Thus the precarious form of modern interiority that must find a final point of identification in sociality can express itself in the aesthetic domain only through an advanced form of reification. In other words,

-  212 -

Hysteria

this is the truth of modern capitalism: the alienation of the subject and the progressive erosion of its space of self-­a ffirmation. In Bertolucci, though, the viewer discovers the inauthentic dimension of the myth of the hero not to sneer at reality tout court, but as a possibility for its transformation. Athos Senior does not confront fascism on a military level. He defeats it in Tara by deploying an imaginary construction, one that costs him his life. This film expresses an alternative route to the one typical of high modernism. Self-­sacrifice here is not caused by the inability of language to name reality. Self-­sacrifice is the first step toward creating an antifascist political language that assumes its own artificiality: that of a society that chooses to remain archaic as a strategy to resist the new fascism of neocapitalism.44 In this society, agrarian labor power tries to express itself beyond the yoke of capitalist appropriation of surplus value. Athos Senior’s decision may be called an ethical act, for it is deeply immersed in a “temporality of potentiality.” In other words, they who accomplish an ethical act are “their own cause;” they are “humans as the potentiality of actualizing themselves.”45 Consider how far this form of self-­actualization is from what neoliberalism dictates regarding the importance of self-­reliance and control, which are both key elements for directing life toward the existential closure typical of self-­valorization. Athos Senior’s story seems to be anachronistic. But this distorted temporality reveals itself to be a powerful critical weapon that shifts the paradigm, generating an alternative for his community. His sacrifice opens space for the presence of the third excluded (¬p ∧ ¬¬p) and is thus self-­a ctualizing, but not because it is an act of power and self-­ realization. Athos Senior’s deed becomes powerful and reaches ethical stature only afterward, thanks to other members of the community, for this is an “act that is retroactively acknowledged as ethical by the society that emerges as its effect.”46 Neoliberal digitality, in contrast, aims to impose a monopoly on the structure of the beyond. In terms of time, it reduces the realm of potentialities to molecularization and performance, while optimization substitutes for possibility. The relentless motion of making present in turn takes up the task of disavowing what is potential. Therein lies the reason for the peculiar backward tonality of the story, the stasis of the village that ultimately imprisons Athos Jr. This kind of anachronism invites us to regard “the now as a back then, thus immersing it in a sui generis



Hysteria

-  213 -

past” that “is the potential, or faculty, underlying that same event.”47 The static life at Tara should be read as one way to oppose the rhythm of the expropriation of surplus value. Although it is true that this stratagem did not have lasting success, the difference that it inaugurates will be carried out by the little sister to come, the feminine, whose temporality will support other singular forms of self-­actualizations.

This page intentionally left blank

Chapter 8

Passivity The Other as Other

As I argued in the previous chapters, neoliberal digital technology interiorizes the relation to the Other, thereby also incorporating a hidden political theology. How do we overcome this form of symbolic dependency? The relationship with the other (or others) is a structural element and informs all processes of subject formation. A simple, direct negation of that principle would have the contrary effect of reinforcing the prominence of the Other. This is what neoliberal technology does without acknowledging it. In chapter 7, I explored how hysterization unseated the masculine position, opening the way for a lineage that is not sanctioned by the complex of the Great Man and its subsequent redefinitions. Further hints about this path can be found when analyzing key principles of the thought of sexual difference as it emerged in Italy among feminists and unorthodox Marxists in the 1970s. My goal here is to delineate a different relationality that builds on and expands what I have already said regarding the maternal continuum in chapter 6. This also means identifying what the third excluded item can truly express in practice: the notion of passivity. I will elaborate on passivity, which ought not be mistaken with apathy or immobility, in the following pages. Against the molecularization of neoliberal digitality emerges a new type of force and cohesiveness, one that is different from power, where the other is simply chased out the door only to be brought back (as Other) through the window. In our case, the other would maintain its ecstatic force and its alterity without engendering the symbolic obligation to repay an infinite debt, a process that fuels valorization. Against the neoliberal myth of self-­reliance and proprietary individualism, this continuum recognizes a sense of nonownership, a fruitful and eventful stupor. From this standpoint, the openness of the continuum must be curated in a way that does not lead to an optimization funneled through

-  216 -

Passivity

benchmarking. The solution is to imagine a mode of life in which freedom is guaranteed by a convivial surplus that resists the principles of performance and valorization. Strictly speaking, I am gesturing to a relationality that operates on credit and trust, or on a surplus that keeps society going because we are just enough in each other’s debt to invigorate relations. This social mode is dynamic and expansive, but also inimical to neoliberal mobilization. Graeber recounts an exemplary story involving anthropologist Laura Bohannam. Upon her arrival at the Tiv community in Nigeria, she was welcomed by an outpouring of gifts by the local people. When the donations didn’t seem to stop, a woman took upon herself the task of instructing the anthropologist in the local customs. She recommended Bohannam reciprocate the gestures, advising her that “one should be brought something back of approximately the same value,” for “to bring back an exact equivalent would be to suggest that one no longer wishes to have anything to do with the neighbor.”1 This is a type of nonequivalence—­or difference—­ that generates more sociality. Similarly, there is a kind of asymmetry, such as in the relation between the mother and the infant, that increases social cohesiveness without generating the traditional hierarchy of the Other or the hypermodern myth of horizontalness, which simply functions through mechanisms of individual-­level power, as the case of locative media shows. Neoliberalism stresses a utilitarian and goal-­oriented model of the self; I want to emphasize its opposite. Marx calls it a “passive bond,” heightening the reality of need, relationality, and mutuality while debunking the bourgeois myth of the individual as an autonomous and self-­positing entity.2 This form of passivity is not inertness, as the Greek origin of the term pathos (passion, volition) entails. Passivity implies a surplus that keeps sociality regenerating itself, breaking ground for a nonmasculine topology that produces a new symbolic economy. To make this point, I will work backward from a critique of the penile complex to that of the anal complex. I will begin with a reappraisal of the work of feminist theorist Carla Lonzi that connects her most provocative assertions to the topology of Jacques Lacan. Then I will discuss the analysis of the anal complex by Luciano Parinetto and Elvio Fachinelli, and build on that groundwork to show how passivity may disrupt neoliberal valorization.



Passivity

-  217 -

Not Only Genital: The Logic of Sex Let us consider the issue of sex from its most commonsensical point of view: the genital. Simone de Beauvoir writes that under patriarchy, in the penis inheres a series of contradictory connotations. It is both “a symbol of transcendence and power” over reality and the site where man “rediscovers life, nature, and passivity in himself.”3 In a society that valorizes absolute power over life, along with rational planning and repression as a means to accumulate, the penis points to its own phallic inconsistency. Better said, it stands as a dangerous material counterpart to the dream of conquest of the phallus, which is instead indestructible and spiritual. The penis becomes the correlate of temporality: it represents the corruptible entity subject to the sign of finitude, or what de Beauvoir calls the flesh and which is usually related to the woman. We saw how at the root of the castration complex renunciation projects the child immediately into the future and will constantly locate him in the future of the phantasmic object. The masculine position, de Beauvoir argues, “demands that man surpasses himself at each instant.”4 The other of the feminine therefore occupies the structure of the beyond, helping with the successive steps demanded by castration. This is one of the reasons why death is so threatening to men; it is the other face of the phantasmic object, threatening to block time as progression. This is also why men turn away in horror from death—­but this is also true of origin and dependence—­and instead follow a dynamic repetition that is clothed as rational and willed by the subject who, just like the feudal lord, believes he holds absolute control over his fiefdom. This mode of existence follows the pattern of the phallic-­chase movement, and its temporality is a chronological accumulation of points in time. For the masculine position, death is the obverse of the phallic movement, the moment when time stumbles against an insurmountable obstacle. By being flesh, the figure of the woman goes beyond her usual idealizations, reminding men of the material end that awaits them. Carla Lonzi summarizes this psychosexual complex with a bold definition based on the anatomical distinction between the two sexes. She states, “Man is Logos, woman is Eros. Man is penis, woman is vagina. Man satisfies himself in the encounter with the object, woman satisfies herself by elating into a subject.”5 For Lonzi, the anatomical difference of the sexes is not secondary. This statement runs against key assumptions

-  218 -

Passivity

that I laid out when discussing sexual difference; most notably, it seems to clash with the idea that sexuation—­that is, one’s relation to reality—­is a logical position independent of anatomy. The corollary is that the potential “conflation of the terms” also “provokes confusion through superimposition of a symbolic term (phallus) and a material one (penis).”6 But according to Lonzi, genital determination is distinctively historical and is defined by society and culture. She repeatedly qualifies the difference between man and woman as being a result of the “sexual culture of patriarchy,” the social fact that “the father is mean and the penis is mean: this is a reality of the patriarchal world.”7 While the penis cannot be ignored in discussing the masculine position, we should not engage in full-­blown reductionism. Insofar as logic must be sexed, this very logic must also be historicized. A man’s genital determination puts him at a disadvantage in this trajectory because under patriarchy, the penis has come to embody the abovementioned contradictions. But the penile is not a monolithic complex. In fact, it involves relationships with other sexual organs. This complex is not an immutable destiny for man, and that is true for his position regarding reality as well. In this context of domination, Lonzi writes, “The feminine problem is the relationship of any woman—­deprived as she is of power, of history, of culture and of a role of her own—­to any man: his power, his history, his culture, his absolute role.”8 It is not by accident that the feminist revolution has contributed a great deal to transforming said penile complex. The specific symbolism that characterizes the phallic is not something that should be completely detached from the penile dimension. Ignoring this concrete history would be as disingenuous as collapsing the two; this was especially true at the time of Lonzi’s writing. However, Lonzi points precisely to the type of enjoyment that the penile complex engenders, and this complex is, in the end, responsible for socializing the majority of men. She writes, for instance, that man is far from becoming impotent when he knows that the woman does not have sexual pleasure, but rather the opposite. This predisposition bears testimony to the functioning of this specific phallic jouissance: “The penis manifests itself in all its truth as an authoritarian organ that valorizes the place where its pleasure occurs insofar as it is useful, and not because of any kind of reciprocity.”9 This is the symbolic dimension that explains the hidden assumption that sex is a privilege that man can exert at will.



Passivity

-  219 -

It rests in a taking that is absolute: it takes pleasure, thereby creating symbolic value as it potentiates the locus that it depredates. What is at stake here is a libidinal economy and thus also a logic system. In this case, Lonzi’s use of the universal quantifier is remarkable. She underscores that the problem regards “each woman”—­in other words, separately, one by one, as each and every one. Conversely, the reader will recall the obscene father’s position of the primal horde: the exception that normalizes the system in linguistic terms, which turns into the image of a primordial jouissance, a phantom that informs masculine desire in a pure, unmediated fashion, just like the obscene father did. Lacan summarizes this position with the following formula: ∃x ¬φx. The formula reads: there exists at least one x that is not subjected to the phallic function (¬φx) and that is the single exception that institutes the group. This exception informs the sequence that Freud sketches from Moses back to the obscene father of the primordial horde. Alternatively, Lonzi proposes a form of counting that points to the disavowal of the exclusionary logic of the masculine. We can write the first part of the formula as follows: ∀x (each woman) as well as ∀y (each man). Thus formulated, this topic aims to replace the traditional existential quantifier ∃x. By itself, the universal quantifier does not mean much. But in addition to the latter, Lonzi articulates the idea of what she calls imprevisto (the unforeseen), which “is not the sexual revolution of men, the disinhibition that renews the prestige of the coitus in the couple, group, community or universal orgy, but the rupture of the penis–­vagina sexual model.”10 The unforeseen is the “clitoridean woman,” who is, notably, not the “woman who has not been subjected to the masculine myth—­ these women do not exist in our world—­but the woman who has faced the intrusiveness of this myth moment by moment and did not allow herself to be captured by it.”11 The clitoridean woman moreover posits herself as transcendent. This transcendence is different, however, from the one imagined by the masculine. Maria Luisa Boccia writes that “feminine transcendence should not mimetically re-­propose, albeit in contraposition, the masculine path. It must instead re-­traverse and re-­ signify that which the woman has represented under patriarchy, that which was made to identify with.”12 In other words, this understanding of transcendence has to redefine and break away from the so-­called vaginal woman, who adapted herself to fulfill man’s pleasure, thus becoming the “woman of man.”13

-  220 -

Passivity

I propose to understand Lonzi’s provocative split between the vaginal and the clitoridean woman by relating it to Lacan’s idea of the feminine position with regard to language as the nonwhole. As the signifier enables access to the symbolic, castration functions differently when one occupies the feminine position. Lacan famously summarizes this position with the following: Woman → S(A∕) and Woman → φ. The woman is a subject castrated by the symbolic, but not one who follows the transcending movement of the masculine. As Woman she is not the prop that complements the constitutive exception. In other words, she is not the vaginal woman, that living, singular entity who comes closest to the masculine fantasy. For the second topic, S(A∕), Lacan writes, “Woman has a relation to the signifier of that other, insofar as, qua other, it can but remain forever other.” That is to say, she belongs to the nontotalizable field, the field of reciprocity.14 This is a dimension in which the principle of the tertium non datur is inhibited, and a third possibility actually begins to populate the series. In Lonzi’s terms, this is the clitoridean woman, whose position with regard to language forces her to meet signifiers, which are not totalizing, and where there is no master signifier that normalizes and dominates the field. This is how Lonzi describes the difference between the clitoridean and vaginal woman: Not being willing to be eroticized by themes like amorous possession and fusion with the other, she lacks that tragic experience of self-­ dedication that enables the vaginal woman to achieve a human depth through which man recognized her as his companion as she who, with sufferance, implicitly contrasts the history of his supremacy; since she does not fully impede the latter she also validates it enriching it with pathos.15

On the contrary; the clitoridean woman posits her transcendence by breaking the one-­dimensionality imposed on her by the masculine. Lonzi calls the latter immanence. I prefer to retain a positive connotation for immanence. It is better to describe the masculine regime with the term one-­dimensionality, for in it we catch a glimpse of the reduction of women to the proverbial virtues of abnegation, sacrifice, and devotion to the other. This is explained by the second topic of Lacan’s formula, Woman → φ, where a decentered subject is in relation to signifiers in the form—­we may add by using Muraro—­of the maternal continuum.



Passivity

-  221 -

The necessary association with the signifiers shows how this is not a mystical understanding of the feminine position, for she is not placed in an asymbolic or supposedly more natural existential dimension. As I observed in commenting on the first part of the formula, Woman → S(A∕) is subjected to symbolic castration: she encounters the signifiers one by one, without capturing them through the sameness of a gesture, as is the case with the logic of the objet petit a. Language helps us understand this point: we can recall the ecstatic dimension and the “field of force of a word” that brings new or differentiating paths into play without ever turning them into a disposable possession. But bear in mind the meaning of the mammoletta–­mammet complex that I discussed in chapter 5. Lonzi in fact qualifies this logic by arguing that “the infantilism of the clitoridean woman is her intuition of a different path to feminine life.”16 This is a form of proper immanence, as it does not engage in the subjection to the regime of one-­dimensionality imposed by patriarchy while simultaneously it does not replicate the transcendent move typical of political theology. Rather, it deviates from the phallic norm, just like the mammet refuses to comply with the destiny that patriarchy assigned to her. The eventfulness of the way in which the woman lives her clitoridean future is significant and relates to a form of reciprocity that opens up the need for a continuous relation with the other. Here the idea of an induction to passivity—­a point that I will address later—­becomes paramount as it builds a space of freedom animated by dependence and relationality. Bringing together Lonzi and Lacan, we could say that only for each man and each woman who has not been ensnared by the phallic, there exists the clitoridean possibility of living “that to which woman is fundamentally related . . . that which has a relationship to that other.”17 Following the lesson of feminism, Lonzi elaborates this position beginning with herself (she shares her personal story), but the claims she makes have a symbolic relevance and cast light on the different topology she is articulating. Vai pure (You may go; 1980) is a remarkable text in this sense. The book is a transcript of a candid, blunt discussion between Lonzi and her companion, Piero Consagra, one of the most important abstract artists of the twentieth century. It provides an inside look at their relationship, but more importantly, it ultimately undermines the symbolic mechanisms informing the penile complex that drives even the most enlightened phallic agent, in this case the artist.

-  222 -

Passivity

Consagra is a man who is intelligent, sensitive, and sympathetic to the feminist struggle for emancipation. Still, the masculine symbolic drives his creativity. The ancient privilege he retains over woman is clearly visible, showing a conflict in which Lonzi is presented as a non–­f ully compliant medial woman. Indeed, Lonzi questions the true nature of the energy and talent devoted to the creation of art, which in our discourse reflects, albeit in a distorted form, the modalities of production of digital labor. She writes: What scandalizes me and makes me feel foreign and wounds me in your world is the priority assigned to the potentiation of the individual condition to produce the artwork at the expense of authentic relations. . . . When I realize that . . . you are ready to betray me as well as the reasons for our relationship to make room for the artwork and its reasons—­that is to say, that you prefer to liven the artwork and yourself as an author rather than yourself as a participant in the relationship—­I hit rock bottom.18

The logic of production takes dominion everywhere. It gives the illusion of pushing forward the originality of the individual, his creative powers, but it in fact liquidates his authenticity—­that is to say, the relationship with the other as other. Again we can see at work the two different positions described by Lacan. Insofar as the logic of the artwork takes over, what determines the totality of things is the force of the Other of the Other. It is the obligation to aggrandize, to potentiate the individual as determined by the greater goal of pure creativity, which in neoliberal terms is perverted as the infinite valorization of capital. Notwithstanding the marvelous accomplishments of his work, it is the obligation to the Other of the Other that drives Consagra’s pursuit. Lonzi relentlessly brings back this point for consideration, but he is ultimately blind to it. Quite naturally for him, the creative process embodies the most liberating and dynamic of activities. Lonzi, however, is interested in denouncing this form of sacrificial economy, which fully matured under the present digitality—­think of the artistic spirit of the gig economy—­ and that foreshadows the death-­drive mechanism that we have encountered in what Theweleit calls production sexuality. Lonzi advocates for a sense of authenticity that is deeply connected to truth. This truth bears testimony to the demystification of the mascu-



Passivity

-  223 -

line exclusionary logic and to the loyalty to the singularity of the other, and thus the relationship with it. This is a truth that Lonzi is not afraid of bringing to light in the aesthetic reservoir of anticapitalist idealism. “The process through which art is produced and supported by society is inauthentic,” she claims. “It relies on the oblivion of the self by the others.”19 This art form in fact follows a dictum of self-­realization and instrumentalization that will become predominant under neoliberalism; she remarks that this idea of “a constitution of the masculine personality as self-­production . . . is not true and does not exist. What exists is always a relation, a dialogue.”20 The eccentricity of a position that lives off reciprocity and oblativity often leads, however, to the psychological disintegration of the woman. Historically, but also personally for Lonzi, there is always the danger of madness that ensues from a stance of truth that is barred. Hence, “the terror of feeling negated, which is horrendous after you spent a life together trusting your identity,” is followed by “a moment in which this identity is not recognized anymore.”21 Libido and the Anal We must now connect relationality to passivity and thus move from the genital to the anal complex, where a new dialectic of the other based on sexual difference can be articulated. In chapter 2 I discussed the symbolism of the fee from the point of view of the serf as living labor. The other side of this—­which assigns a prominent position to the lord—­is central to understanding the next element for a critique of neoliberal digitality. This side of the equation supplements a relationship with the other that I call, borrowing Luciano Parinetto’s terminology, an induction to passivity. To better understand this concept, we need to explore how Parinetto brings together Marx, Freud, and Hegel through a critique of the sovereign position of the subject and the figure of speech called paronomasia. Parinetto maintains that in Karl Marx’s Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1844), a parallel is established between aristocracy and zoology that has to do with entailed properties, or estates that are transmitted through primogeniture. In German, this is called Majorat. Marx writes: This is, of course, why we find in the aristocracy such pride in blood and descent, in short, in the life history of their body. It is this

-  224 -

Passivity

zoological point of view which has its corresponding science in heraldry. The secret of aristocracy is zoology. . . . That which is permanent is entailed wealth, landed property. . . . The master of the entailed estate, the owner, is really a mere accident. Landed property anthropomorphizes itself in the various generations. Landed property always inherits, as it were, the firstborn of the house as an attribute linked to it. Every firstborn in the line of landowners is the inheritance, the property, of the inalienable landed property, which is the predestined substance of his will and activity. The subject is the thing and the predicate is the man.22

This leads to a remarkable reversal: as the maximum expression of domination, the feudal lord turns into an accessory to power, a mere vessel for its reproduction across time. As Marx ironically concludes, “It follows that the owner of the entailed estate is the serf of the landed property.”23 Here an interesting parallel with Freud emerges. In his essay “On Narcissism” (1914), Freud speaks of the paradoxical nature of the Majorat in similar terms but with regards to libido. He writes that the individual himself regards sexuality as one of his own ends; whereas from another point of view he is an appendage to his germplasm. . . . He is the mortal vehicle of a (possibly) immortal substance—­like the inheritor [Majoratsherr] of an entailed property, who is only the temporary holder of an estate which survives him.24

The drives that live through the individual bodies of subjects displace the sovereign position of the latter, thus casting light on the peculiar passive truth of its existence. The first challenge for a progressive politics is a thought that understands that “the true agent of sexual life of man would not thus be the determined human subject that presents itself from time to time, but the other of the subject: libido.”25 The second challenge is being able to energize this position without falling into some form of surrogate for the old foundation of subjectivity. This deconstruction of fundamental presuppositions leaves us with the task of delineating a theory of dependency from the other that is still revolutionary. The prospect is one in which the assumption of the reactionary consequences of the persistence of the Other of the Other is disman-



Passivity

-  225 -

tled, and thus a path is cleared for the articulation of what Lonzi calls authenticity. Parinetto provides an interesting and understudied perspective in this sense, one in line with the antiauthoritarian thought that emerged from the Italian 1968 movement, particularly when one looks at his critique of how heteronormativity is deployed in both psychoanalytic and socioeconomic terms. Influenced by Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-­ Oedipus (1972), Parinetto associates himself with a new conception of the body that is opened to the lack of identity and centralization, and thus results from an assemblage of erogenous zones and multiplicity of points of erotic intensification. But he is also aware of the risks that this openness entails. Recapitulating the point made by Marx and Freud on primogeniture, he notes, We discover a dialectic of dependence both in the relationship between the Majorat and heir and in that between libido and the human. Hence the question is ascertaining in both cases whether dependency is reifying, that is to say, whether in the case of libido human dependency falls into serfdom.26

The bet is to conceive of dependency not so much as a space of self-­ realization—­it is not really possible to own it—­but rather as “matter, pulsions, energy, and life” that is “comparable to living labor, which does not exist in an alienated form only.”27 In this attempt, “libido and death persist as difference” and should be “placed against capital fomenting revolution.”28 At the root of this difference, Parinetto places a discussion of the anal complex. It is at the level of the anal phase that reciprocity vis-­à-­v is the dialectic of the other is established and then distorted. To understand his rethinking of the anal complex, we need to briefly recall and gauge Parinetto’s heretic research on Marxism and its Hegelian basis. The key discovery of his major work, Corpo e rivoluzione in Marx (Body and revolution in Marx; 1977), rests on the unearthing of a paronomasia that he notices in Hegel’s discussion of the lord–­bondsman dialectic. At this juncture Hegel has already laid out the main tenets of his dialectic based on desire qua certainty and recognition, where self-­ consciousness posits itself by erasing differences—­t hat is to say, by removing “this other that presents itself to self-­consciousness as an independent life.”29 In this sense, “self-­consciousness is Desire” that “destroys

-  226 -

Passivity

the independent object and thereby gives itself the certainty of itself as a true certainty.”30 This is the first moment of the dialectic in which negativity is productive only as a mere prop for consciousness. In a second moment, self-­consciousness must be recognized. The mediation of the other is central, but not in the sense that the other becomes a support for self-­consciousness and thus falls back into an inert object. Rather, the other stands in a relation in which he or she is also “self-­consciousness,” so that the negativity that he or she embodies is preserved.31 In the “life-­and-­death struggle” between two different consciousness, Hegel assumes that one of the two is either afraid or rejects the possibility of absolute negation (death), and thereby does “away with as extremes wanting to be for themselves.”32 This entity is enslaved and is embodied by the bondsman, whose “essential nature is simply to live or to be for another.”33 The other is obviously the lord—­that is to say, an “independent consciousness whose essential nature is to be for itself.” But we may equally ask what is the real nature of the master. This is where Parinetto draws out the paronomasia hidden in Hegel’s language. This is how Hegel qualifies the lord in German: “Der eigene Sinn ist Eigensinn.” Among the several translations available in English, the most common one reads as follows: the master, “having a ‘mind of its own’ (der eigene Sinn), is simply stubbornness (Eigensinn), a type of freedom which does not get beyond the attitude of bondage.”34 Eigensinn means “obstinacy or presumptuousness,” and it echoes the idea of property or possession, as in the noun Eigentum. One hears reverberations of the term Majorat as well, for this apparent sovereignty is based on a radical submission: an unexpected surrender by the master. This reversal is ironic and reflects the pattern that I outlined earlier: the truth of the proprietor is that he is property, just like the secret of aristocracy is zoology, or that of individual desire is impersonal libido. Parinetto argues, in fact, that this wordplay is what Freud calls a Witz. In Freud, the witty remark or the joke are not to be confused with the comic.35 There is something elusive in wit that pertains to its very linguistic structure, which we have already encountered when facing the productive, unexceeding nature of language. Very much like dream work, it belongs to the unconscious and shares the same characteristics: brevity, condensation, displacement.36 One of its distinguishing elements is also the pleasure it produces, which comes from a kind of regression: “The endeavor of wit to revive the old pleasure in nonsense



Passivity

-  227 -

or the old pleasure in word-­play meets with resistance in every normal state, a resistance which is exerted by the protest of critical reason.”37 The formula of the wit is that of an “economy of expenditure in inhibition” that points directly to infancy, or, according to Parinetto, to the polymorphous state of libidinal involvement that the anal stage must regulate.38 As Freud writes in concluding his essay, this pleasure arises from harking back to “a bygone time in which we were wont to defray our psychic work with slight expenditure. It is the state of our childhood in which we did not know the comic, were incapable of wit, and did not need humor to make us happy.”39 The bind between infancy and wit should be taken seriously. Its truth resides in the very idea of playfulness and its productivity. According to Lacan, wit is related to potentiality, and as he illustrates, this connection is based on a performative act, very much like the idea that jokes should never be explained but simply told. Lacan too uses wordplay, again paronomasia, when he writes: “Senz and then Sans, potential!” (“Sans sans et pouis sans, eh! Puissant!”).40 Here the emergent, ecstatic capacity of language surfaces, showing that what is at stake here “is rather what of being there is in sense, which is taken otherwise than being full sense, which is rather what escapes being, as happens in so-­ called witticisms.”41 In wit, the felicitousness of the linguistic expression, its instantaneousness exactitude, overpowers the subject, who turns into a kind of accidental executioner of linguistic humor. Through this use of language, we do something to ourselves that evades intentionality, and we feel Wittgenstein’s “field of force of a word,” which I described in chapter 1. An Analytics of the Anal Fee Reconsidered Freud observes that the comic stands on the side of reality. It is something that happens, just like the proverbial banana peel in a classic slapstick comedy. Wit, however, is pursued and crafted through language. It echoes the pattern that I described in the grammar of finding the right word, where what we find is not a specific thing but a capacity of language. The paradoxical nature of wit rests in the fact that something is made that immediately escapes control. It is the product of nonownership. The connection with the unconscious and the dissipation of a charge that is patrolled and blocked in the wit is the theoretical ruse

-  228 -

Passivity

that leads Parinetto to reinterpret Hegel’s dialectic in the typical setting of the anal stage. The reason is that for Parinetto, the entrance into the anal stage marks the advent of the oedipal law. But for what we have said so far, it should not be difficult to see how the anal object—­that is, something that we produce but cannot keep—­reflects the nature of the specific linguistic force that we are describing and that we see at work in wit. To summarize Parinetto’s analysis, I propose to use a Greimas semiotic square. In Figure 1, from left to right, we see the passage from the oral to the anal stage, which does not signal a progression but rather an intertwining of the two. The anal is the phase in which the child begins to exert control over his body by the retention and expulsion of feces. This process is now superimposed on the previous oral stage, which is marked by the fusional-­reciprocal pleasure produced by nourishment, as well as the sadistic impulses that emerge as the result of frustration from the absence of that source of pleasure.42 The feces represent a symbolic object through which the subject begins encountering the other in more reflexive terms, precisely because this object is something that is produced by the subject but that stands opposed to the subject. As something other that comes from the self, the excrement undermines the simple affirmative movement of self-­ consciousness. Here the oral pleasure of nourishment is deployed mostly in terms of the pleasure of making and retaining the anal object, while the sadistic impulse is shaped in terms of its destruction or excretion. At this level, nothing is exclusively negative in both dimensions. We are looking at a pendulum swinging between the two forms of pleasure, which involve passive and active moments. Let us now move to the second semiotic square, which involves castration. As the parents intervene to ban pleasure, prohibition complicates the situation. In Figure 2, we see castration intervening by prohibiting the left part of the square that is now repressed. For Parinetto, it is here that the truth of Hegel’s self-­consciousness originates, for it is in the “anal stage” that “one becomes aware of a distinction and division from the external world.”43 He continues: The repression of the beginning of anal eroticism produces the specific effect of supplying the child with an identity, but this comes at the cost of his or her own pleasure. Thus, the “I” that undergoes a process

-  229 -

Passivity

Retention

Expelling

VS

Passivity – Oral Pleasure

Activity – Sadistic Pleasure

Figure 1. Parinetto’s semiotic square: Anal stage.

Retention

C A S T R A T I O N

Expelling

VS

Passivity – Oral Pleasure

$

Activity – Sadistic Pleasure

Hoarding anal-character

Figure 2. Parinetto’s semiotic square: Castration.

of identifications is already an “I” that experiments his or her self as crushed by the other, by an adult of a historically determined collectivity that is repressive; the latter operates so that the new nascent subject recognizes him or herself precisely when an intense pleasure is forbidden.44

This repression produces two results. First, the aggressive impulses on the right side of the chart become the norm and push the subject to develop psychologically in ways that prize mastery over the body as destruction and expulsion. The second result is that what is prohibited is not destroyed but comes back in more powerful, phantasmic forms.

-  230 -

Passivity

The repression of the pleasure in making and retaining the anal object produces the typically anal character of the capitalist hoarder: the accumulator. Retention here turns into the impulse to acquire. In other words, the original relationship with the anal object is foreclosed. An all-­ powerful impulse to fill that void drives the subject to find something that replaces the void through accumulation. Deleuze and Guattari identify in this process the basic principles for the institution of a phallic economy, since “the anus,” as they write, “removes and sublimates the penis in a kind of Aufhebung that will constitute the phallus.”45 As Parinetto argues, it is precisely through conflict that self-­ consciousness emerges so that “alienated anality is thus (in Hegelian terms) alienated self-­awareness.”46 But the feces also provide the first moment of exteriorization as such, with the body no longer perceived as a single, all-­containing unity. In this sense, defecation represents a perspective point; it is a void that interrupts our continuity. Just like when our body fails to perform a task, feces signal a threshold of infinity that is surprising because we produce it. It is also true that defecation produces a variety of sensations—­pleasure, but also pain. They thus comprise a doubly constructed moment of realization. In a modern society, it is the authoritarian intervention of the adult that provokes the repression of anal pleasure. This generates a series of consequences that Parinetto exhaustively details, and that explain the obstinacy of the master/capitalist. I summarize this point in the third and final semiotic square (Figure 3). The ghost of the repressed pleasure of making/retaining the anal object returns as the stubborn pleasure of an all-­a ffirmative and active mastery, characterized by maintaining the other under domination and by a desire that is completely transfigured by what Hegel calls Genuß, “enjoyment.” In his words, the master consumes the thing, thus enacting a “sheer negation of the thing or the enjoyment of it.”47 This involves a destruction that is pursued and cultivated in the domination of the other, as in the case of the slave, who provides a service, or as in the case of the consumption of commodities. Obviously the term Genuß may be easily compared to the mechanism of jouissance and the movement of objet a, which, as I argued in chapter 4, under the discourse of the university is transformed into an epistemological drive, and the commandment of more and more knowledge. Likewise, its structure is also the matrix for the model of the digital target or the match in neoliberal e-­realities where, as Jon Schwarz reminds us, “the technologies of as-

-  231 -

Passivity

Retention

domination — Expelling — destruction

VS

Passivity – Oral Pleasure

oppression – Activity – Sadistic Pleasure Endless enjoyment (Genuß)

Figure 3. Parinetto’s semiotic square: Obstinacy.

sassination and corporate sales converge, all described in language as dead as the target of an ISR [intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance] platform kinetic engagement.”48 As with many other radical thinkers of this period, for Parinetto, the solution is utterly antiauthoritarian and affirmative. The umbrella concept that Parinetto uses to unify a set of strategies against capitalist oppression is called anal eroticism. This concept has a variety of implications. On the one hand, it is a call for the liberation of the libido engendered by omnilateral eroticism that characterizes infancy. On the other hand, it is a critique of the castrating intervention of the parental figure with regard to the site of subjectification as structured in the anal dialectic.49 Here the subject is constituted as self-­repressive and thus alienated in the various ways he experiences pleasure. In effect, the anal complex ties together feces with accumulation and thus, as I will discuss, money. Feces are like money because of a semantic inversion: feces as pleasure are alienated, unhinged from their authentic being via repression. Something else takes the place of this libidinal investment that is actually the opposite. Anal eroticism (anality) is pleasurable because it involves a great degree of spontaneity. As Parinetto writes, for a child, “the ass is desire’s chief organ of production.”50 The deviation of anality into the anal character displaces this production by subjecting it to a different logic and, what’s more, to a different temporality than that of capitalism. In this reconstruction, the child as subject is confronted by the norm—­mother as disciplinarian.

-  232 -

Passivity

The subject wants to continue its enjoyment—­which is “nonalienated” and marked by a great degree of passivity—­but it is forced to take ownership of its being and thus gets stuck in this endless affirmative motion. Socialization entails that the child must grow into a responsible person, an individual subordinated to the formalism of capitalism, which at the time of Parinetto’s writing was predominantly that of wage labor. Parinetto argues that “at the most profound level, this [scenario] can be considered the place of birth of alienated time and labor” because defecation is subordinated to an “alienated mode of production”—­that is, a “substitute of a mode that is primordial and spontaneous.”51 There is a difference, naturally, between the anal character of accumulating money and that of being subordinated to alienated labor. The couple is constructed by an opposition: accumulation points to a growth ad infinitum, while the laborer in turn gives away his most precious thing in life until he dies. Parinetto is also aware that the condition of the worker is not one of pure deprivation. He gestures at that when he notices that the anal obsession may surface in the worker thanks to the “valorizing accumulation” of modern consumerism. For the worker, however, time is reduced to the opposition between the natural rhythm of the body and its expropriation by the capitalist rhythm of production.52 Still, delineating a clear relation between defecation and time is not as simple as it may sound. We can say that capitalist time is the negation of the time of anal eroticism. Time under capitalism coincides with eternity: “Capital is also the engulfing of time into labor time, which capital deems eternal, in view of its own valorization.”53 In short, the temporal dimension of value is divorced from that of the individual. As a perpetual spiral of growth, value is immortal, but its immortality is built on the bones of humans. Again, we face the usual formalism in which the subject is the serf of some higher force, like capital, property, or libido, and is pulverized by transcendence. In describing the formalism of the phallic economy, Parinetto exclusively discusses the power struggle that is played out in the usual situation in which the stool object rapidly becomes a semblance of a “private property.”54 Strictly speaking, he leaves out what others have called the gift nature of feces as well as the implications that this gift has in terms of intersubjective relationships. Feces, in other words, are not something originally unalienated. They are already a social marker of the corporeal, and this is true not because the disciplinarian parent



Passivity

-  233 -

intervenes to castrate the child’s desire, but rather because a relationality is established that has to do with the articulation of the symbolic. Neoliberal Moneytime Elvio Fachinelli provides an extensive treatment of the connection between defecation and value that can further our understanding of dependency in revolutionary terms. The first thing to be considered here is what Fachinelli discovers when discussing the negotiations between the infant and the mother. He corrects the limitation of Parinetto’s approach by stressing the mother–­child relation and its “intersubjective reality,” for it is here that “the conflict-­defense setting in which time is established will allow us to avoid the solipsistic obstacle that reduces all time formation to a singular consciousness, to a mystical private affair.”55 This symbolic process, in which a whole series of impulses are worked out, forms a system that Fachinelli understands as a series. This series comes in three steps. Feces are the first object and are usually shaped as a token that must circulate. Here we enter what Lacan calls the “domain of oblativity.”56 The gift is the first permutation of the feces and constitutes the preliminary condition that informs relationality. Naturally, in the second step this exchange quickly degenerates into a monetary desire for accumulation, as described by Parinetto. Finally, the last equivalent is time, where quantification now takes the shape of chronological progression of quota of time with its “narrowly burdensome character.”57 Echoing Marx’s famous formula of capital, Fachinelli rewrites this series as C-­M-­T, where C is the material object produced, M money, and T time. Fachinelli questions the internal link of C-­M-­T, detecting two linguistic tropes at work here that enable progression. The first and most intuitive trope is a metaphor: feces entertain a direct, more primitive but allusive relation with all other objects. In this sense, the excrement as the barred object is both gold and time. It is gold because it is something precious that one owns and accumulates. Parinetto here would complement this assertion by recalling Sándor Ferenczi’s favorite saying pecunia olet, “money is shit, it smells.”58 It makes sense, at least in capitalist terms, that “this transformation signals the estrangement and reduction of being and pleasure to possessing.”59 But what about C-­T? How are feces like time? At first Fachinelli seems to embrace the

-  234 -

Passivity

idea that hoarding requires a linear progression of time constructed as a series of instants that are equivalent to each other, a sequence that can be quantified. This would be the temporal dimension enjoyed by the master. But the temporal sequence is also marked by a sense of duty and debt that crushes life into the rhythm of production. Fachinelli is not completely content with this metaphoric link; he feels that the passages are too abrupt and occlude the full explanatory potential of the anal complex. The problem is again the concept of sublimation, which functions as an inverted metaphor. Following Deleuze and Guattari, Parinetto contends that sublimation produces the negative connotation of feces: “As sublimely opposed to it, the Spirit produces shit because it reduces the latter to stigmatized and low matter . . . that must be hidden.”60 Thus “the Analcharakter is the psychological prop of capital’s reduction for a human from being to having. . . . It is the in-­depth preparation of a character that is functional to capital.”61 Because anal eroticism is repressed, the worker will displace that libidinal investment into becoming a serviceable and efficient member of society. He will draw pleasure from a displacement of his goal, an inversion. As a side note, Parinetto here seems to diverge from a notion of sublimation that he himself elaborated when discussing the Witz and the role of the other, mostly through an overemphasis on the idea of sublimation as idealization, a common problem that we saw already in Freud. Fachinelli senses a difficulty in applying the concept of sublimation to the hoarding process, especially as he tries to complicate the metaphor into a more sequential series of permutations that involves the participation of the other. As he writes: “The linguistic concatenation that emerges during the analysis of the anal character seems to have a peculiar resistance because it constitutes itself according to a unitary syntax in which each term finds its proper place.”62 For Parinetto, this place is guaranteed by repression, a key mechanism that marks capitalism as “alienation of anality.”63 But repression is not constant and may take different forms. This is why Fachinelli proposes to look at the anal complex as a series of “terms that are different and heterogeneous, but that are invested by a common tension (in this case, a kind of spasm of retention and accumulation). This tendency will set itself differently according to the different historical periods of individual development.”64 Furthermore, the individual is also part of an historical ensemble that



Passivity

-  235 -

changes over time. Excess is what gets manipulated and transformed at different points in time, according to the socioeconomic arrangement of the society in question, for the feces are a marker of the discrepancy of the individual with itself. Rather than a metaphor, a better trope for the interrelation of these elements is synecdoche, a specific case of metonymy. In the C-­M-­T series, Fachinelli writes that “an aspect of the antecedent is amplified to the point of becoming dominant” in the progression.65 Fachinelli thus rearticulates the sequence as follows: at the beginning of the series, we find the gift, where the notion of exchange is limited to the (primitive) setting of a pledge that is offered. The token here functions very much like a collateral, as it guarantees “a process of independence in progress.”66 As the marker of exteriority, feces are symbolized as a pledge to the other that ensures the fact that this ontological split is nonthreatening. Disposing of them via the offer enables the infant to work through anxiety; it constructs for the infant a symbolic system through which he can negotiate the relationship with the other. The gift is not what a present is for an adult. Rather, the gift is “something more expansive and decisive, a part of me and yet external to my body, a thing to which I can confer meanings and values that used to encompass me, and whose presence and production are complementary to my search for autonomy.”67 The linguistic nature of the stool object points to the fact that this is simply another instance of the emergence of the signifier. Things become more problematic as the gift enters the realm of the pecuniary. At this juncture, the trading component is magnified and hardened only as accumulation. Fachinelli calls this stage fecamoney, from the term fecalith, referring to the intestinal blockage provoked by acute constipation, an occlusion that prevents the circulation of the token as a form of symbolic sociality.68 In insisting on the proprietary blockage of the excrement, a certain misdirection in the relationship with the other emerges that casts light on the origin of the phallic position.69 This is why the masculine position is built on doubling and exclusion; it is a reserve in view of accruement of value. The further intensification of this process is that of time as “moneytime,” intended as a “command and measure that distributes and fragments life in identical units and subunits.”70 Excess in these terms is determined by a particular form of production. The anal temporality that Fachinelli describes puts into play the passage from Fordism to post-­Fordism that we have examined

-  236 -

Passivity

several times in this book. While as in Fordism all efforts are directed toward quantification and subjection of reality to a fixed set of coordinates according to a standard equivalent for exchange, in post-­Fordism a new temporality emerges with a peculiar explosive rhythm. In moneytime, Fachinelli foresees the biopolitics of neoliberal digitality. The anal figure of the master is thus one that does not content himself with hoarding wealth, nor with neatly organizing life in accordance with the assembly-­l ine model. The logic of maximization drives the anal here. In this scenario, we can rewrite the original sequence following Marx’s famous formula of capital: C-­M-­M'. As both the feces and gift are repressed (C), what remains is the exchange of items (M) and the value it generates over time (M'), which produces more wealth. In the anal character this is shortened to M-­M', or money whose essence is to beget money. This is the essence of finance capital. This process of valorization of excess finds its genesis in the anal complex. In the anal phase, the “I” is repeatedly caught in its differentiation process but cannot form its subjectivity by barring pleasure. In a nonauthoritarian situation—­or, better, in a neoliberal setting—­a positive solicitation softens the no. Feces lose that evil connotation that Parinetto unearthed and are (more or less) comfortably accepted or promoted within the confines of the discourse of hygiene, personality formation, and responsible behavior, where once again a performance principle is superimposed on it. Manuals, tutorials, and motivational strategies are published daily to discuss the most successful method to optimize infant defecation, which most tellingly is called in English “potty training,” an exercise in view of some future task. They range from a complete libertarian approach, like letting the child run naked for a full week, to the strategy of work and reward always complemented by digital applications that help track, implement, compare, and valorize the infant’s performance. What remains excluded is the exteriority moment and the dimension of nonownership, which is truly the transcendental condition that establishes the coordinates for the ways in which the subject gains access into the symbolic. By this I mean that what the neoliberal machine cannot fully integrate is the moment of exteriority of the corporeal. This is the true negativity that is kept at bay. This is the thing that stands on its own feet, so to speak; obviously other mechanisms must come into play to assuage and demystify its potential by domesticating it



Passivity

-  237 -

through proper exercise and good habits. If anal pleasure can find ways to be made profitable, exteriority must be reined in by using supplementary mechanisms. The initial movement seems to be the same; the mere fact of a commerce of the feces as items distorts the nature of the gift, while the pleasure it generates disappears. But a more naturalized sense of reproducing value is at stake that transforms moneytime in postproductivist terms. There are no more discrete units that can be grasped and commanded; rather, the logic of infinite valorization subsumes time. The product here does not count anymore, and time takes the present form of full usability: the expanse of possibility. Under post-­Fordism, time is not a segment of one’s life, as it was in previous epochs, including during industrial society’s peak, when a dream of life outside the factory gates was still something tangible. It becomes an act in itself—­or in other words usability itself. Moneytime must become self-­generative. Ideally, a distinctive time of production does not exist anymore, but rather time must devise itself as immanent value. As Kordela argues: “If in the past, production-­time and its material object (C) were eliminated from the formula M-­C-­M' so that it appears M-­M', only because they were repressed or fetishistically disavowed, now they appear to have been actually eliminated.”71 Moneytime is pure valorization, the simultaneous and emergent nature of the digital. For antiauthoritarian psychoanalysis, the desiring principle had to be distinguished from the capitalist process of enjoyment that is considered alienated. In particular, and according to Parinetto, the sublimation of material things and passions into money simultaneously produces two opposite effects: “it makes abstract what is concrete: desire, passion, and so forth. It makes concrete what is abstract: that is, it presents itself as an absolute object.”72 Recalling young Marx, though, Parinetto argues that “enjoyment is determined and addresses a determined object. This means that for enjoyment to be as such, it must not have money as mediator. . . . Where capital reigns there can be no enjoyment except alienated enjoyment, in short, non-­enjoyment.”73 As in the case of the fecal as an authentic part of the subject, Parinetto seems to rely on a clear-­cut division between man and nature that, given the historical time in which he lived, young Marx took for granted. Enjoyment is determinate, of course, and enjoys the singularity of an object, but it moves from one object to the other. In other words, even for Parinetto, enjoyment circulates. It cannot simply satisfy itself with one object, for

-  238 -

Passivity

that would be a strange type of anal fixation. Recall the type of pleasure derived from the objectual that invents the new grammar of finding. Similarly, the problem here is the monetary. As it deviates from direct investment in the thing, money becomes a source of pleasure in itself. One does not enjoy the thing, concrete and determined; rather, one enjoys the sense of possessing money as a proxy for possessing everything. (Recall that jouissance is fixated on surplus as an object.) Furthermore, as I observed in the case of geospatial dating apps like Tinder, the post-­ Fordist dictum is precisely that of erasing the discrepancy between subject and object. A one-­d imensional experience of life erases duplicity and seems to integrate the infinity of the object. The illusion neoliberalism creates is one in which the enjoyment of the object is possible precisely because the object is indeterminate, and thus what prevails is the objectual. Moneytime is therefore another name for value, the self-­ actualizing being of matter. In this unstoppable race toward intransitivity, moneytime mimics living matter movement: infinity and immanence (as self-­causality). Just like in the process of the algorithmization of life, it gives the impression of a fully natural movement. Neoliberal economy changes the nature of the obstinacy of the master and the type of anal character that is in place under Fordism. The main difference is not that this economy leads us to the master’s annihilating enjoyment, but rather that the subject annihilates himself in the infinity of the Other, the ever-­expanding dimension of digital communication whose reason of being is circulation of communication (with the caveat of profit). Its anal character turns persistence not toward command but toward instrumentality, as the latter is the device that enables self-­actualization under a neoliberal regime. If mastery previously involved a sense of progression as value grew through accumulation, now this linearity is pulverized. The instantaneity endorsed by the hegemony of instrumentality blocks time as we know it. “Everything must be useful” means that space is turned into a map, the kind of enhanced reality that smart technology produces. Feedback supplants discovery. There is no gradualness but only continuous presence, the buzzing of relays. Moneytime in this sense points toward eternity. As it is replaced by inflexibility of the performativity dictum, greed becomes marginal. There is very little greed in the voraciousness of global capitalism today. Our economy is dictated by a principle of molecularization that is utterly impersonal. It is not the arrogant stubbornness of the individual that



Passivity

-  239 -

defines the present form of mastery. Rather, one should argue that the Sinn of the master is sinnlos (meaningless), and his Eigersinn is the lack of meaning offered by eternity where meaning is frozen into its ubiquity. Passivity as Continuum A different relation to time spurs from a different relation with the other. Parinetto is aware that the induction to passivity includes both the symbolic and social element of the gift as a dynamic relationship with the other, for he writes that the “induction to passivity, which is a form of activity, would place men on a closer level and in solidarity with women . . . for men would learn that sex is not domination.”74 This relationship should open the possibility for an eccentricity that enables the coming into being of a Benjaminian temporality, one that is born out of the potential of freedom currently blocked by the neofeudalism of the neoliberal anal character. It is also a genital and logical position that promotes an order of oblativity, where the logic of the vaginal woman and her male counterpart are finally left behind, one where reciprocity is stimulated through a relation with the other as a singular other and not by the Other. Further, what Fachinelli calls the mother–­child system presents us with the original dimension of the induction into passivity. Immanence is its salient characteristic, and within it the idea of the feces as a pledge that replaces the notion of the archetype of property that commands capitalism. The feces are not a sexual object—­t hat is to say, they are not something to be possessed. Rather, they are a relation, a pledge to the other whose very form is learned through the relationship with the mother. Within this pledge, the dynamic that is established is one that is fluid and not susceptible to being instrumentalized. We still have objects, of course, but they never turn into commodities and thus cannot be hoarded because they are of a linguistic breed. This is the ecstatic dimension of the wit, what Wittgenstein calls the “field of force of the word,” which undoes both the old notion of the presumed mastery of the Majorat as well as the weak version of the quantified self. It resists absorption into the molecularization of time because it is articulated as a relationality based on the feminine position. It has always been ­present, but the patriarchal (and postpatriarchal) interdiction hovers over it, severing it from its milieu.

-  240 -

Passivity

The maternal symbolic is what guarantees this continuum as a becoming that is always unexceeding and that always returns. However, this return is neither a mystical fusion nor the idealization of a complete positivity. Instead, it embodies the possibility for expression, sociality, and the practice of freedom. By escaping the trap of performance and productivity, this form of authority bets on a certain idea of passivity that is relational, for it is what is “recognized, attributed, accepted, assumed, it is born of a relation that no one actually possesses.”75 The symbolic order of the mother constitutes an enabling structure that reminds us both of the lack of foundation for the subject, and thus, precisely because of the existence of this order, of its authorization to express its freedom. Here is how Muraro explains the difference between the symbolic order (as an enabling structure) and its common trivialization (the metaphoric qua the abstract): Many confuse the symbolic with the metaphorical. To make the difference clear, let us think of bread for starving people or of drugs for addicts. For them bread or drugs are associated with everything, and so it takes on an enormous significance. But it is not a metaphorical meaning that prevails in the language of others, that is, of the well-­fed and of those who are not drug addicts.76

As a matrix, the symbolic has an immanent force that is both material and logical. It is in this sense that it is a symbolic space; it carries with it the strength of a language that is world forming. This is why, according to Muraro, it is necessary to establish a relationship that shows “gratitude toward the woman who brought us into the world.”77 We are forever dependent on that relation because it is that relation that gives us the gift of language and the possibility of expressing freedom; or, as Cesare Casarino writes, the maternal continuum posits independence “as the explicit acknowledgment and affirmation of a presupposed, insurmountable, and everlasting dependence on given reality” precisely because the symbolic is “constituted in and through such a dependence in the first place.”78 What’s more, the debt to the mother is not associated with guilt and the need for material restitution. In reality, nothing is given back because what we own is not something we can appropriate and return. Hence a different temporality emerges, one that is cer-



Passivity

-  241 -

tainly not static and paralyzing because we are in debt to each other just enough to keep our sociality circulating and growing. Neoliberal temporality is still teleological, for it assumes accumulation as its goal. The maternal continuum in turn discloses an expansive circulation that follows a surplus that keeps sociality going for no particular goal other than human relations. This continuum does not mimic life species the way phallic neoliberal digitality does, in order to dominate life. Rather, it aims to engender the world—­or perhaps I should say it aims to bring the world into the world because it realizes the meaning of its immanence. It is radically ateleological. So what could learning to love the mother mean? The experience of this relationship—­because it is originary in both temporal and logical terms—­provides a schema for our being; put differently, it defines the contours of our form of life, to use Wittgenstein’s terminology. Conversely, the Law of the Father severs this matrix, and this is the logical damage that the interdiction of the maternal propagates. The revolutionaries of tomorrow will bring to life a new totality that is countable without being subjectable and extractive, where the dynamic of the social circulation is rich without being bounded by monetary value. Grown out of desubjectivization, the new subjectivity will then constitute an open process that dissolves the masculine lineage, in all its duplicative and exclusionary forms. This new digitality will free itself from the chains of neoliberality and the sacrificial economy of the Other of the Other, incarnating emergence in its more radical and convivial nature.

This page intentionally left blank

Notes

Introduction 1. Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: Extensions of Man (New York: New American Library, 1964), 20. 2. Byung- ­C hul Han, In the Swarm, trans. Erik Butler (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2017). 3. This is one of the characteristics of what Jodi Dean calls “communicative capitalism,” where digital devices aim to “produce affect as a binding technique.” Dean, Blog Theory: Feedback and Capture in the Circuits of Drive (Malden, Mass.: Polity, 2013), 95. 4. See Dean, Blog Theory, 6. 5. Henceforth I write the all-­powerful transcendent entity as Other in order to differentiate it from the “other” as the alterity of a singular individuality. 6. See Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, trans. Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-­Chevallier (New York: Vintage, 2011), 104. 7. Stanley Cavell, Contesting Tears: The Hollywood Melodrama of the Unknown Woman (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 101. 8. Cavell, Contesting Tears, 102. 9. Naturally women relate to transcendence as well, but their approach to God is usually more direct. See Muraro Luisa, Guglielma e Maifreda. Storia di un’eresia femminista (Milan: Libreria delle donne, 2015), 7. 10. Cesare Casarino and Andrea Righi, “Another Mother, Another Introduction,” in Another Mother: Diotima and the Symbolic Order of Italian Feminism, ed. Cesare Casarino and Andrea Righi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018), 5. 11. Émile Benveniste, Dictionary of Indo-­European Concepts and Society, trans. Elizabeth Palmer (Chicago: Hau Books, 2016), 430 (emphasis mine). 12. Ida Dominjianni, “L’eccedenza della libertà femminile,” in Motivi della libertà, ed. Ida Dominjianni (Milan: Franco Angeli, 2001), 73. From here on, translations from Italian are mine unless otherwise indicated. 13. Cesare Casarino, “Mother Degree Zero, or Of Beginnings,” in Casarino and Righi, Another Mother, 308. 14. Adriana Cavarero, In Spite of Plato: A Feminist Rewriting of Ancient Philosophy, trans. Serena Anderlini (New York: Routledge, 1995), 59. 15. Roberto Esposito, Two: The Machine of Political Theology and the Place of Thought, trans. Zakiya Hanafi (New York: Fordham University Press, 2015), 29. 16. Karl Marx, Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy, trans. Martin Nicolaus (New York: Random House, 1973), 270 (emphasis mine). See also Cesare Casarino, “Marx before Spinoza: Notes toward an Investigation,” in Spinoza Now, ed. Dimitris Vardoulakis (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011), 179–­234.

-  244 -

Notes to Introduction

17. See Dean, Blog Theory, 6–­9, and Slavoj Žižek, The Invisible Reminder (London: Verso, 1996). 18. See Walter Benjamin, “Capitalism as Religion,” in Selected Writings, trans. Rodney Livingstone (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1996), 1:288. 19. Elsewhere I have discussed the relevance for neoliberal subjectivity of opportunism and a secularized nihilism that can be traced back to early fascism. See Andrea Righi, Biopolitics and Social Change in Italy: From Gramsci to Pasolini to Negri (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 198. For these features and the description of neoliberalism that follows, see also Giorgio Agamben, Profanations, trans. Jeff Fort (New York: Zone Books, 2007); Wendy Brown, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2015), 27–­3 4; Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval, The New Way of the World: On Neoliberal Society, trans. Gregory Elliott (London: Verso Books, 2013); David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005). 20. See Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York: Knopf, 2007). 21. Michael Meranze and Christopher Newfield, “The Weak vs. the Wrong and an Emerging Alternative for Faculty Governance,” Remaking the University, November 5, 2015, http://utotherescue.blogspot.com/2015/11/the-weak-vs-wrong-and-emerging.html. 22. See Righi, Biopolitics and Social Change, 198, and Righi, “The Ontological Experience of Absolute Presence: Sebastiano Timpanaro and the Groundwork for a Critique of Late Hyper-­idealism,” Annali d’Italianistica 32 (2014): 505–­22. 23. Christian Marazzi, The Violence of Financial Capitalism, trans. Jason Francis McGimsey (Los Angeles, Calif.: Semiotext(e), 2011), 114. 24. Jonathan Crary, 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (New York: Verso, 2013), 8. Similarly, Giuseppe Luca Scaffidi talks about “chronophagous mechanisms” that want to exploit the last unproductive realm of human existence: sleep. Scaffidi, “Perchè il capitalismo non vuole farci dormire,” Vision, October 21, 2019, https:// thevision.com/attualita/capitalismo-consumare-dormire/. 25. Alexander Galloway, The Interface Effect (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012), 22, 23. 26. See Cathy O’Neil, “Weapons of Math Destruction,” Talks at Google, YouTube, November 2, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQHs8SA1qpk. 27. Karl Marx, “Marx’s Economic Manuscripts of 1861–­6 3,” Marxists Internet Archive, vol. 30, https://marxists.catbull.com/archive/marx/works/1861/economic /ch16.htm. 28. Dean, Blog Theory, 42. 29. Yuk Hui, “For a Philosophy of Technology in China,” interview by Geert Lovink, parrhesia 27 (2017): 54. 30. Shaka McGlotten, “Black Data,” No Tea, No Shade: New Writings in Black Queer Studies, ed. Patrick Johnson (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2016), 278. 31. Shaka McGlotten, “Knitting and Knotting Love,” talk at Transmediale, 2019, YouTube, https://youtu.be/Wzeo6ndPGxc. 32. Lewis Gordon, “Thoughts on Two Recent Decades of Studying Race and Racism,” Social Identities 24 (2017): 5, 3. 1. Transcendence 1. See Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, trans. George Schwab (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005). 2. Elizabeth King, “Clockwork Prayer: A Sixteenth-­Century Mechanical Monk,” Blackbird 1 (2002), https://blackbird.vcu.edu/v1n1/nonfiction/king_e/prayer_print.htm.



Notes to Chapter 1

-  245 -

3. King, “Clockwork Prayer” (emphasis mine). 4. Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1986), 166. TV broadcasting is probably another source of indirect inspiration for this idea. 5. It should be noted that the fact that prayer platforms are less than secondary to the core business of the digital industry is an indicator of how neoliberal technology has fully subsumed the theological function. The original dimension of the cultic and its symbolic mechanisms have been displaced, transferred from the usual places of worship to the digital world. It is the digital that now owns and operates this symbolic matrix. This is why, despite its lofty mission, the format of Click to Pray is essentially indistinguishable from any other shopping app. 6. Saint Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue, trans. Suzanne Noffke (New York: Paulist Press, 1980), 28. 7. Luisa Muraro, The Symbolic Order of the Mother, trans. Novello Francesca (Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 2018), 19. 8. Giorgio Agamben, Language and Death: The Place of Negativity, trans. Michael Hardt and Karen Pinkus (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), 11. 9. Agamben, Language and Death, 14. 10. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe (Oxford: Blackwell, 1958), § 6. 11. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, § 6. 12. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, § 13 (modified from original). 13. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, § 38. 14. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, § 500. 15. See Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, § 499. 16. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, § 498. Here there is more at stake that Kojin Karatami’s idea that Wittgenstein is underscoring the language game of teaching a rule to somebody who does not know said rule. See Karatami, Architecture as Metaphor: Language, Number, Money, trans. Sabu Kohso (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1995), 134–­38. 17. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, § 79. 18. See Saul Kripke, Naming and Necessity (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1972). 19. Roberto Dionigi, La fatica di descrivere. Itinerario di Wittgenstein nel linguaggio della filosofia (Macerata, Italy: Quodlibet, 2001), 4:220. As Dionigi continues: “Comprehension is not something that happens, as if it were a process, but rather something that one credits—­as one entrusts someone—­according to criteria such as correct use, acceptable explanation or appropriate reaction” (4:223). 20. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, § 499. 21. Quoted in Marion Mathieu, Wittgenstein, Finitism, and the Foundations of Mathematics (Oxford: Oxford University press, 1998), 188. 22. Jacques Lacan, Anxiety: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan (Book 10) (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2014), 25–­27. 23. Muraro, Symbolic Order, 43 (modified). 24. This is what Sandro Mezzadra and Brett Neilson call border crossing. Mezzadra and Neilson, Border as Method, or The Multiplication of Labor (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2013), 9. 25. Jan Assmann, From Akhenaten to Moses: Ancient Egypt and Religious Change (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2014), 61. 26. Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism, trans. Katherine Jones (Letchworth, U.K.: Hogarth Press, 1939), 11.

-  246 -

Notes to Chapter 1

27. Samuel Weber, Targets of Opportunity: On the Militarization of Thinking (New York: Fordham University Press, 2005), 74. 28. Weber, Targets of Opportunity, 77. 29. Freud, Moses and Monotheism, 95. 30. Freud, Moses and Monotheism, 18. 31. Freud, Moses and Monotheism, 19. 32. Freud, Moses and Monotheism, 22. 33. Weber, Targets of Opportunity, 72. 34. Jacques-­A lain Miller, “Religion, Psychoanalysis,” Lacanian Ink 23 (2004), https:// www.lacan.com/lacinkXXIII2.htm. 35. Freud, Moses and Monotheism, 77. 36. Freud, Moses and Monotheism, 63. 37. Freud, Moses and Monotheism, 66–­67. 38. See Freud, Moses and Monotheism, 95. 39. Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, trans. Catherine Porter (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1985), 85. To turn the argument upside down, Slavoj Žižek writes that the book under scrutiny flips over Freud’s 1913 Totem and Taboo, for “the father who is ‘betrayed’ and killed by his followers/sons is not the obscene primordial Father-­Jouissance but the very rational father who embodies symbolic authority, the figure which personifies the unified rational structure of the universe.” Žižek, The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Center of Political Ontology (London: Verso, 2008), 382. The point for Žižek is that Freud is isolating two features of the father under patriarchy. On the one hand we have the rational ego ideal as Moses, and on the other we have the relentless superegoic God of the Midian as the necessary force of application of the law. 40. Jacques Lacan, The Other Side of Psychoanalysis: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan (Book 17), trans. Russell Grigg (New York: Norton, 2007), 114. 41. Carole Pateman, The Sexual Contract (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1988), 2. 42. Lacan, Other Side, 125. 43. Lacan, Other Side, 123. 44. By comparison, the recent findings in the so-­called theory of epigenetic inheritance seemingly supports a consequential chain of cause and effect that is passed on through different generations. Yet the notion that trauma can be inherited through genetic transmission should not be assumed in a determinist fashion. The way trauma seems to be inherited in humans—­that is to say, as a predisposition to a certain response to environmental practices—­is different from that proven in animals so far. To put it simply, mice may transmit the information of fear of a specific smell to their progeny. In this case, the definition of a communicative element is locked in and coded before a linguistic system is established. What has been demonstrated for humans is that they may transmit some genetic propensity toward stress disorders. Helen Thomson, “Study of Holocaust Survivors Finds Trauma Passed on to Children’s Genes,” Guardian, August 25, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/aug/21/study -of-holocaust-survivors-finds-trauma-passed-on-to-childrens-genes. This distinction is not one of degree. Animal communication is iconic, whereas human speech is semiotic, pending the emergence of a signifier. There is no ready-­made information passed on from one generation to another until that something that is linguistically produced becomes the individual truth for a subject. 45. Žižek, Ticklish Subject, 364. 46. Quoted in Kiarina Kordela, “Being or Sex, and Differences,” Angelaki 17, no. 2 (2012): 434.



Notes to Chapter 1

-  247 -

47. I would like to thank Sarah Agou for this reference. 48. Similarly, Esposito notes that “to be truly universal,” the funding principle of any political theology “must enter into contradiction with itself,” thereby relying on a “constitutive difference” that is “united by what divides it—­t wo-­in-­one and one-­in-­ two.” Esposito, Two, 69. 49. Mario Mieli, Homosexuality and Liberation: Elements of a Gay Critique, trans. David Fernbach (London: Gay Men’s Press, 1980), 78, 79. 50. Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, 181. 51. Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, 193. 52. When considered as an ideality, woman is not only mediality. In a regime of communal property, woman is associated with permanence in time; she becomes a guarantor of the continuity of the clan across generations. Primitive society “recognizes more or less the function of the sexual act as well as the techniques for cultivating the soil: but children and crops still seem like supernatural gifts; and the mysterious emanations flowing from the feminine body bring forth into this world the riches latent in the mysterious sources of life.” At this point, “when the woman’s role grows, she comes to occupy nearly the whole region of the Other,” a powerful, mysterious counterpart to man’s world that determines a fruitful harvest or the threat of starvation, fortune or disgrace. De Beauvoir, Second Sex, 103, 104. 53. Carlo Donà, Per le vie dell’altro mondo: L’animale guida e il mito del viaggio (Catanzaro, Italy: Rubbettino Editore, 2003), 44. 54. Jacques Lacan, Television: A Challenge to the Psychoanalytic Establishment, trans. Jeffrey Mehlman (New York: Norton & Company, 1990), 93. 55. Lacan, Television, 92. 56. Jacques Derrida instead refers it to the absoluteness of responsibility when one faces the infinity of the wholly other (tout autre). “This exaggerated rigor,” he writes, “and the demand it entails, compel the knight of faith to say and do things that will appear (and must even be) atrocious.” Derrida, The Gift of Death and Literature in Secret, trans. Wills David (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 65. 57. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-­Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), 145. Humans are moved by forces of deterritorialization; they are, in fact, deterritorialized animals. The dictum “the hand made man” implies that a pawn has been wrested from its environment, thereby entering into reciprocity with a set of other available objects. Free from previous rigid links, the hand is modified by the relation with things that are now usable. The prehensile hand and usability are co-­ originary phenomena. This is the phase when instinct dwindles, and the hand invents other mechanisms to retain the fluidity of movement within the territory. See Gilles Deleuze, “Deleuze Gilles a Vincennes (Lectures),” 1975–­76, YouTube, https://www .youtube.com/watch?v=lx7jHl-Fe3U (no longer available). This is also why for Deleuze and Guattari, “the first signs are the territorial signs that plant their flags in bodies. And if one wants to call this inscription in naked ‘flesh’ writing, then it must be said that speech, in fact, presupposes writing, and that it is this cruel system of inscribed signs that renders man capable of language.” Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-­Oedipus, 145. 58. Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-­Oedipus, 145. 59. Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-­Oedipus, 145. 60. Lacan, Anxiety, 213. 61. Lacan, Television, 94. The psychoanalytic argument against the existence of metalanguage that I made can also be deduced from this particular understanding of the sign. As Samo Tomšicˇ writes, “Every discourse is a discourse of enjoyment: there

-  248 -

Notes to Chapter 1

is no enjoyment without discourse and no discourse, which would not be a discourse of enjoyment,” but “if every discourse contains the production of enjoyment . . . this implies that there is no meta-­d iscourse or meta-­language  .  .  . no ‘pure’ language of being beyond the ‘dirty’ language of enjoyment.” Tomšicˇ, The Labour of Enjoyment: Towards a Critique of Libidinal Economy (Cologne: August Verlag, 2019), 10. 62. See also Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-­Oedipus, 27n. 63. Christianity deviates from the type of sublimation that Mosaic Law carried out and stores the possibility of another world, a dualism that one perceives in the symbolic images of the supernatural sphere—­representations of God, paradise, and the Eucharist, to list the most blatant examples. Here paganism seems to infiltrate the Judeo-­Christian tradition, which craftily welcomes rituals and mediations banned by the Mosaic Law. For if the Jewish representation of the law “consign[ed] God to the place of the unrepresentable,” then the Christian tradition reinterjected the structural dimension of the principle of order into human life. What’s more, thanks to the sacrifice of the son of God, it granted the possibility of redeeming one’s sins during earthly life. Tracy McNulty, “Demanding the Impossible: Desire and Social Change,” differences 20, no. 1 (2009): 11. Moreover, Christianity codified a series of precepts that favored a bridging between God’s transcendence, desire, and reality that undercut Jewish oneness. This is the reason for the “aversion of the Jewish tradition concerning what exists everywhere else. The Hebrew hates the metaphysico-­sexual rites which unite in celebration the community to God’s erotic bliss.” Lacan, Television, 94. 64. See Jacques Lacan, “Introduction to the Names-­of-­the-­Father Seminar,” October 40 (1987): 88. 65. Alain Badiou, Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism, trans. Ray Brassier (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2003), 41. 66. Lacan, Anxiety, 24 (emphasis mine). 67. Lacan, Anxiety, 27. As argued, this Other does not exist. Tomšicˇ thus writes, “In the context of structural psychoanalysis the same bar designates the alienation of the subject and the inexistence of the Other.” Tomšicˇ, The Capitalist Unconscious: Marx and Lacan (London: Verso, 2015), 19. 68. Robert Pfaller, Interpassivity: The Aesthetic of Delegated Enjoyment (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2017), 62. 69. Casarino, “Mother Degree Zero,” 319. 70. Freud, Moses and Monotheism, 178. 71. Freud, Moses and Monotheism, 178–­79. 72. Joan Copjec, Imagine There Is No Woman (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2002), 30–­31. 73. Tomšicˇ, Capitalist Unconscious, 127. 74. Tomšicˇ, Capitalist Unconscious, 124. 75. Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-­Oedipus, 171. 76. Lacan, “Introduction to the Names-­of-­the-­Father Seminar,” 89. 77. This boundary is hardly a stable one, for the prize for the renunciation of what is most wanted—­that is, the thing of the Mother—­is later enjoyed as the son becomes a father. 78. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, § 218e. Here I differentiate my argument from the still-­valid one proposed by Karatami, who stresses the role of the community in validating any verbal utterance and the importance of “the asymmetry inherent in the relationship with the other.” Karatami, Architecture as Metaphor, 136. 79. Dionigi, Fatica di descrivere, 4:346. The verb “to find” (in German, finden) has a grammar like that of other verbs (such as “to desire”), which are based on a strong



Notes to Chapter 1

-  249 -

volition. These kinds of verbs seem to have an indisputable transitive nature, as if they were reaching out toward the object in order to seize it. Ostensibly one always desires something, which is that which the subject must act on or seize in order to obtain satisfaction. The corollary of this assumption is that I want something I don’t have. If I crave ice cream, it means I don’t have it. Under these circumstances, desire is first of all conceived of as based on lack. Second, it is representational—­t hat is to say, it produces in the imagination the idea of the thing that one wants but that is however absent. Note how this mechanism of abstraction is perfectly in line with the construction of the Other. Against the introduction of transcendence, Deleuze and Guattari argue, “From the moment that we place desire on the side of acquisition, we make desire an idealistic . . . conception, which causes us to look upon it as primarily a lack, a lack of an object, of the real object.  .  .  . Desire intrinsically produces an imaginary object that functions as a double of reality, as though there were a ‘dreamed-­of object behind every real object,’ or a mental production behind all real productions.” Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-­Oedipus, 25. As we saw in the case of woman, basing desire on something that we lack produces the unexpected result of rendering abstract or impalpable the very thing that we feel most for. By contrast, verbs like “to fulfill” or “to satisfy,” just like other verbs that relate to will, such as “to believe” and “to desire,” have a grammar that articulates immanence. Therein we also recognize “the fundamental link” that McNulty discovers “between desire and sublimation,” for “desire gives rise to a new object, an object that did not exist before, that intervenes in the world so as to transform it.” McNulty, “Demanding the Impossible,” 4. 80. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, § 219 (translation modified). 81. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, § 87. 82. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, § 219. 83. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, § 219. 84. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, § 221. 85. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, § 226. 86. Ludwig Wittgenstein, The Big Typescript, trans. C. Grant Luckhardt and Maximilian Aue (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2005), § 272. 87. Wittgenstein, Big Typescript, § 275. 88. In the words of Felice Cimatti, “Any internal state does not pre-­exist the word that expresses it but rather any internal state is the result of a felicitous linguistic operation.” Cimatti, “Freud lettore di Wittgenstein. Per una mente senza profondità,” Rivista di Psicoanalisi 1 (2005): 147. 89. Wittgenstein, Big Typescript, § 303. 90. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, § 226. 91. Wittgenstein uses several examples to explain how the idea of a private language is a mystification. In the case of pain or a private sensation, he concludes “that if we construe the grammar of the expression of sensation on the model of ‘object and designation’ the object drops out of consideration as irrelevant.” Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, § 293. 92. Wittgenstein, Big Typescript, § 303 (emphasis mine). 93. Dionigi, Fatica di descrivere, 4:346. 94. McNulty, “Demanding the Impossible,” 9. 95. McNulty, “Demanding the Impossible,” 9. 96. Cimatti, “Freud lettore di Wittgenstein,” 165. 97. Richard Carvalho, “Synchronicity, the Infinite Unrepressed, Dissociation and the Interpersonal,” Journal of Analytical Psychology 59, no. 4 (2014): 375.

-  250 -

Notes to Chapter 1

98. Fragilekeys, “Infancy and History Part 1,” Fragilekeys (blog), September 14, 2011, https://fragilekeys.com/2011/09/14/infancy-and-history-part-1/. 2. Knowledge 1. Agamben, Language and Death, 11. 2. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, § 221. 3. Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, trans. James Strachey (New York: Norton, 1961), 16 (emphasis added). 4. Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 10. Freud’s famous example of the child and his wooden reel is also related to the war. Freud notes that later on, the child reinstates his position of mastery as he tells his toy, “Go to the fwont! He had heard [it] at that time that his absent father was ‘at the front,’ and was far from regretting his absence” (10). 5. Seb Franklin, Control: Digitality as Cultural Logic (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2015), 157. 6. Jane Elliott, “Suffering Agency: Imagining Neoliberal Personhood in North America and Britain,” Social Text 31, no. 2 (2013): 88. 7. According to Jordy Rosenberg, the “molecular becomes the vehicle for the cleaving of ontology from politics—­investing it with a dual temporalization that is simultaneously a dehistoricization.” Rosenberg, “The Molecularization of Society: On Some Primitivisms of the Present,” Theory and Event 17, no. 2 (2014). 8. Rosenberg, “Molecularization of Society” (emphasis added). 9. Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978–­1979, trans. Graham Burchell (New York: Palgrave, 2004), 69. 10. Jodi Dean, “Not Us, Me,” Verso (blog), November 26, 2016, https://www.versobooks .com/blogs/2970-not-us-me. 11. Dean, “Not Us, Me.” 12. It was used again, for instance, in the May 2020 Baton Rouge shooting by the local sheriff, who pointed his finger at “what’s in men’s hearts.” This argument seems self-­contradictory when the threats come from the perceived other, Muslims, Afro-­ Americans, and so forth, such as the 2015 attack in San Bernardino and the 2016 sniper attack in Dallas. 13. The Mosaic complex is duplicative and built on a beyond that must be seized. Recall that this complex represents the masculine solution to the problem posed by bisexual reproduction (see chapter 1). Here the woman is instrumentalized, becoming a sort of “sparring partner” whose ultimate goal is to magnify the hard-­fought achievements of man, for effortless acquisitions would have diminished the status of the masculine. This mechanism is visible everywhere, but it has a long-­standing tradition with respect to the woman, who is defined as she who “implicitly contrasts the history of his supremacy; since she does not fully impede the latter she also validates it enriching it with pathos.” Carla Lonzi, “Donna clitoridea,” in Sputiamo su Hegel (Milan: et al. Edizioni, 2010), 100. The paradoxical result is that antagonism becomes a source of identity—­so much so that the authentic hero must also be a villain himself. 14. Emanuele Severino, Il mio ricordo degli eterni (Milan: Rizzoli, 2011), 140. 15. Alessandro Portelli, “I Lavoratori Americani Dimenticati dai Democratici,” Il Manifesto, November 11, 2016, https://ilmanifesto.it/i-lavoratori-americani-dimenticati -dai-democratici/. 16. Plato, Meno, ed. Alexander Sesonske and Noel Fleming (Belmont, Wash.: Wadsworth, 1965), 80d.



Notes to Chapter 2

-  251 -

17. Gail Fine, “Inquiry in the Meno,” in The Cambridge Companion to Plato, ed. Richard Kraut (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 205–­6. 18. Fine, “Inquiry in the Meno,” 206. 19. Plato, Meno by Plato, ed. E. Seymer Thompson (London: Macmillan, 1901), 114. 20. Plato, Meno by Plato, 113. 21. Plato, Meno, 81c5. 22. Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 88. 23. Kiarina Kordela, “Biopower in Lacan’s Inheritance (or, From Foucault to Freud via Deleuze, and Back to Marx),” in Inheritance in Psychoanalysis, ed. Joel Goldbach and James A. Godley (Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 2018), 112. 24. Antonello Sciacchitano, “Lacan era intuizionista?,” Psicomedia, October 7, 2011, http://www.psychomedia.it/pm/indther/lacan/schiaccitano.htm. 25. Sciacchitano, “Lacan era intuizionista?” (emphasis added). 26. Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, 90. 27. Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, 91, 116. 28. Kordela, “Biopower in Lacan’s Inheritance,” 120. 29. As I discuss in chapter 4, insofar as self-­reference becomes the goal of criticism with aesthetically impressive results, modernism is the champion of poetic skepticism. 30. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, § 217. 31. Antonello Sciacchitano, “Mathematics for Psychoanalysis: Brouwer’s Intui­ tionism from Descartes to Lacan,” in Mathematics and Culture 6 (Berlin: Springer, 2009), 65. 32. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, § 219. 33. See Kiarina Kordela, Epistemology in Spinoza–­Marx–­Freud–­Lacan: The (Bio)Power of Structure (New York: Routledge, 2018). 34. Ida Dominijanni, Trucco: Sessualità e biopolitica nella fine di Berlusconi (Rome: Ediesse, 2014), 185. 35. Dominijanni, Trucco, 185. 36. Agamben points out that capitalism is “nothing but a gigantic apparatus for capturing pure means.” Agamben, Profanations, 87. Similarly, in Interpassivity, Robert Pfaller discusses the concept of interpassivity as a vicarious experience where one delegates his or her enjoyment to somebody else, in our case this entity would be the Other of technology. 37. Franklin, Control, 52. 38. Tiziana Terranova, Network Culture: Politics for the Information Age (London: Pluto Press, 2004), 114. 39. Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Marxists Internet Archive, vol. 1, chap. 7, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch07.htm (emphasis added). 40. “Fee,” Merriam-­Webster Dictionary, https://www.merriam-webster.com/. 41. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, chap. 10, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works /1867-c1/ch10.htm (emphasis added). 42. See Righi, Biopolitics and Social Change, 198. On primary accumulation and the digital world, see also Jodi Dean, “Communism or Feudalism,” talk at the Sonic Acts Festival, 2019, Vimeo, https://vimeo.com/322232749. 43. Lacan, Other Side, 32 (emphasis added). 44. Lacan, Other Side, 22 (emphasis added). 45. Lacan, Other Side, 93.

-  252 -

Notes to Chapter 2

46. Carla Lonzi, “Let’s Spit on Hegel,” in Italian Feminist Thought: A Reader, trans. Veronica Newman (Cambridge: Basil Blackwell, 1991), 42. 47. Lacan, Other Side, 44 (emphasis added). 48. Dean, Blog Theory, 114. 49. Dean, Blog Theory, 121. 50. Quoted in Katja Mayer, “On the Sociometry of Search Engines: A Historical Review of Methods,” in Deep Search: The Politics of Search beyond Google, ed. Konrad Becker and Felix Stalder (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Press, 2009), 55. 51. See Ippolita, Il lato oscuro di Google. L’informatica del dominio (Cerasolo, Italy: Milieu, 2018). 52. Wendy Chun, Updating to Remain the Same: Habitual New Media (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2017), 84. 53. Seth Stephens-­Davidowitz, Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us about Who We Really Are (New York: HarperCollins, 2017), 152–­53. 54. Stephens-­Davidowitz, Everybody Lies, 112. 55. Stephens-­Davidowitz, Everybody Lies, 124. 56. Han, In the Swarm, 34–­35. 3. Desire 1. Laura Stampler, “The New Dating Game,” Time, February 17, 2014, http://content .time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,2164807,00.html. 2. Christopher Chitty, “Reassessing Foucault: Modern Sexuality and the Transition to Capitalism,” Viewpoint Magazine, April 20, 2017, https://www.viewpointmag .com/2017/04/20/reassessing-foucault-modern-sexuality-and-the-transition-to -capitalism/. 3. Matteo Pasquinelli, “Anomaly Detection: The Mathematization of the Abnormal in the Metadata Society,” talk delivered at the Transmediale Festival, Berlin, 2015, https://www.academia.edu/10369819/Anomaly_Detection_The_Mathematization _of_the_Abnormal_in_the_Metadata_Society/. With “emergent properties” or behavior, media scholars have tried to capture the quasi-­l iving status reached by technology as it imitates the same germinal, creative, and anomic capacity of life for growth. See Luciana Parisi, Contagious Architecture: Computation, Aesthetics, and Space (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2013), 1–­3; Terranova, Network Culture, 114–­15. As the parallel between war and sexuality shows, capitalist subsumption of life comes at a high cost and points to the fact that not everything is smoothly assimilated by a computational process of digitization. See Franklin, Control, 89–­91. 4. Michel Foucault, “The Mesh of Power,” Viewpoint Magazine (2014), http:// viewpointmag.com/2012/09/12/the-mesh-of-power/. Although a great deal of work has already been carried out on the epistemological and political implications for modern warfare, scarce attention has been paid to those of the other term of our dispute: sexuality. The growing literature that studies the exhibitionist and permissive outlook of hookup culture and social media seems to be limited to the empiric collecting of scientific evidence—­usually restricted to young adults—­and to the debate concerning issues of public health. This is seen in the alarmist claims by authors such as Donna Freitas, The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture Is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused about Intimacy (New York: Basic Book, 2013), or the more health care–­oriented work by Amy Adele Hasinoff, “Sexting as Media Production: Rethinking Social Media and Sexuality,” New Media and Society 15, no. 4 (2013): 449–­65. 5. Klaus Theweleit, Object-­Choice (All You Need Is Love . . .), trans. R. Green Malcolm (London: Verso, 1994), 7.



Notes to Chapter 3

-  253 -

6. Theweleit, Object-­Choice, 39. 7. Theweleit, Object-­Choice, 26. 8. De Beauvoir, Second Sex, 195. 9. De Beauvoir, Second Sex, 195 (emphasis added). 10. De Beauvoir, Second Sex, 195, 196. 11. Theweleit, Object-­Choice, 7. 12. Cristina Morini, “The Feminization of Labour in Cognitive Capitalism,” Feminist Review 87 (2007): 40–­59, 43. 13. Tiqqun, Raw Materials for a Theory of the Young-­Girl (Paris: Éditions mille et une nuits, 2001), 7. 14. Tiqqun, Raw Materials, v. 15. Brown, Undoing the Demos, 34. 16. See Dominijanni, Trucco. 17. Jodi Dean, “Complexity as Capture—­Neoliberalism and the Loop of Drive,” New Formations 80–­81 (2013): 139. 18. Foucault, “Mesh of Power.” 19. Foucault, “Mesh of Power.” 20. Dardot and Laval, New Way of the World, 5, 15. Dardot and Laval also remark that the aim is “to achieve self-­government by the individual him—­or herself—­that is, to produce a certain type of relationship to the self” through “an accountable and financial subjectivation” and “by systematically creating competition between individuals” (14). 21. Dante Alighieri, Inferno, trans. Mark Musa (Bloomington: Indiana University Press), 5.71. 22. Jesse Glenn Gray, The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1958), 60. 23. Tiqqun, “Sonogram of a Potential,” Caring Labor (blog), October 31, 2010, https:// caringlabor.wordpress.com/2010/10/31/tiqqun-2-sonogram-of-a-potential/. 24. As de Beauvoir writes, since the agricultural age, “being naturally different from man, who posits himself as the same, woman is consigned to the category of Other; the Other encompasses woman.” De Beauvoir, Second Sex, 104. 25. Klaus Theweleit, Male Fantasies: Floods, Bodies, History, trans. Conway Stephen (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 1:45. 26. Paolo Virno, Multitude: Between Innovation and Negation, trans. Isabella Bertoletti, James Cascaito, and Andrea Casson (Los Angeles, Calif.: Semiotext(e), 2008), 11. 27. Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-­Oedipus, 46. 28. See Kordela, “Biopower in Lacan’s Inheritance (or, From Foucault to Freud via Deleuze, and back to Marx),” in Inheritance in Psychoanalysis, ed. Joel Goldbach and James A. Godley (Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 2018), 109–­3 4. 29. Kiarina Kordela, Being, Time, Bios (Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 2013), 106. 30. Paolo Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude: For an Analysis of Contemporary Forms of Life, trans. Isabella Bertoletti, James Cascaito, and Andrea Casson (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001), 84. 31. Tiqqun, “Sonogram of a Potential.” 32. Michael Dillon and Julian Reid, The Liberal Way of War: Killing to Make Life Live (New York: Routledge, 2009), 53. 33. Dardot and Laval, New Way of the World, 5; Dillon and Reid, Liberal Way of War, 38. 34. Galloway, Interface Effect, 13. 35. Galloway, Interface Effect, 23.

-  254 -

Notes to Chapter 3

36. This was a point that Jean Baudrillard had already noted when discussing the first gulf war. As Astrid H. M. Nordin and Dan Öberg write, summarizing the thought of French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, it describes “a situation in which subjectivity, social relations and will are essentially liquidated by operational practices. They are not supplanted by a higher will or a higher purpose. Rather, they vanish into processing entirely devoid of symbolic meaning.” Nordin and Öberg, “Targeting the Ontology of War: From Clausewitz to Baudrillard,” Millennium 43, no. 2 (2015): 399. 37. See Rey Chow, The Age of the World Target: Self-­Referentiality in War, Theory, and Comparative Literature (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2006), 21–­38; Weber, Targets of Opportunity, 5–­7. 38. See Grégoire Chamayou, A Theory of the Drone, trans. Loyd Janet (New York: New Press, 2015), 52–­59. 39. Ryan Bishop and John Phillips, Modernist Avant-­Garde Aesthetics and Contemporary Military Technology (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010), 28. 40. Harun Farocki, “Phantom Images,” Public 29 (2004): 17. 41. Benjamin Noys, “Drone Metaphysics,” Culture Machine 16 (2015): 2. 42. Pasquinelli, “Anomaly Detection.” 43. See Bishop and Phillips, Modernist Avant-­Garde Aesthetics, 28–­31. 44. See Dean, “Complexity as Capture.” This point resonates with Kiarina Kordela’s intuition that it is through the gaze that the issue of infinity reveals itself in neoliberal temporality. She argues that by being “infested by infinity,” this temporality gives us “the illusion of immortality.” Kordela, “(Marxian-­Psychoanalytic) Biopolitics and Bioracism,” in Penumbr(a), ed. Joan Copjec and Sigi Jöttkandt (Melburne: re.press, 2013), 285. Similarly, prosthetic war promises immortality thanks to its optic invulnerability. 45. Chamayou, Theory of the Drone, 60–­72. 46. Maurizio Lazzarato, The Making of the Indebted Man: An Essay on the Neoliberal Condition, trans. Joshua David Jordan (Los Angeles, Calif.: Semiotext(e), 2012), 27. 47. Lazzarato, Making of the Indebted Man, 31. 48. Benjamin, “Capitalism as Religion,” 1:288 (translation modified). 49. Kordela, Being, Time, Bios, 4–­5. 50. Benjamin, “Capitalism as Religion,” 1:288. 51. Benjamin, “Capitalism as Religion,” 1:289 (translation modified). 52. McNulty, “Demanding the Impossible,” 11. 53. See Weber, Targets of Opportunity, 22–­39. 54. Benjamin, “Capitalism as Religion,” 1:289 (translation modified). 55. Benjamin, “Capitalism as Religion,” 1:289. 56. Benjamin, “Capitalism as Religion,” 1:289 (translation modified). 57. Benjamin, “Capitalism as Religion,” 1:289 (translation modified). 58. Lazzarato, Making of the Indebted Man, 33. This superego structure was already at work under Fordism—­neoliberalism further implemented it through its biopolitics. 59. Elliott, “Suffering Agency,” 88. The superego structure that commands this work on the self is obviously not new. It marked Fordism, and Freud discerned it as well. What seems new is its magnitude, as it now affects the vast majority of the middle strata. 60. Joan Copjec, “The Object-­Gaze: Shame, Hejab, Cinema,” Filozofski Vestnik 27, no. 2 (2006): 24. 61. Copjec, “Object-­Gaze,” 24. 62. Dominic Basulto, “Your Life Is an Algorithm, Your Brain Is an Operating System,” Big Think, January 15, 2015, https://bigthink.com/endless-innovation/your-life-is-an -algorithm-your-brain-is-an-operating-system. 63. Tinder is a development of an older matchmaking system, Grindr, which remains



Notes to Chapter 3

-  255 -

popular in queer communities. These and other technologies were undoubtedly instrumental to the fight of LGBTQ groups. The extent to which these forms of opposition to heteronormativity may now be diffused by neoliberal anatomopolitics is not the topic of this chapter, but it is certainly worthy of a larger inquiry. More recently, a number of locative apps (XO, Facebook Dating, Hinge, Bumble, TikiTalk, Happn, etc.) have mushroomed following the same optimization drive. 64. Dominijanni, Trucco, 238. 65. One may object that military targets cannot be compared to erotic ones because in war the aggressor has an active role, while the targeted combatant does not. In sentimental sexual seduction, however, both duelists must be (to a certain degree) active. However, one should consider von Clausewitz’s classic 1832 definition of armed conflict in On War as a reciprocal antagonistic confrontation where positions are equally interchangeable and the passive–­active role is only retrospective misrepresentation. See Clausewitz, On War (Ware, U.K.: Wordsworth, 1997). 66. Samuel Weber depicts a specular mentality in modern warfare: “The insistence that opportunity be treated strictly as a ‘target’ that can be seized or missed itself misses the mark, because the mark involved is never simply present but always involved with other marks and other opportunities.” Weber, Targets of Opportunity, 21. More broadly, Franklin argues that “sociality, from the epistemic position that grounds the control era, can be understood only as targeting under the continued impression of free will—­a conceptual frame underscored by the fact that the terms recticle (gun sight) and network share a root in the Latin reticulum, net.” Franklin, Control, 166. 67. Lacan, Television, 277 (emphasis added). 68. Paul Virilio, Open Sky, trans. Julie Rose (London: Verso, 2008), 106; see also Terranova, Network Culture, 34. 69. Although she retains hopes for the circulatory potential of “abstract sex,” Luciana Parisi seems to hint at this state of affairs when she discusses the implications of a biopolitical “superfold” that “commercializes the unpredictable (virtual and not the possible) power of mutations marking a new bifurcation between the molecular control of sexual reproduction and the molecular proliferation of bacterial sex.” Parisi, Abstract Sex: Philosophy, Bio-­technology and the Mutations of Desire (London: Continuum, 2004), 26. 70. Douglas Haddow, “Life in the Algorithm,” Adbusters, January 15, 2015, available at https://desultoryheroics.com/2015/02/11/life-in-the-algorithm/. I wouldn’t be so sure about the complete mastery of this episteme, if only because of a basic limit that any science encounters—­that is to say, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle—­which Pasquinelli, in “Anomaly Detection,” reframes in these terms: “In many cases, from military affairs to algotrading and web ranking, algorithms often influence the very field that they are supposed to measure.” Yet it is also true that genetic algorithms performed substantially better than their human counterparts during the financial turbulence provoked by the 2016 U.K. European Union membership referendum. See Cui Carolyn, Hope Bradley, and Gregory Zuckerman, “Who Made Money in the Brexit Chaos? Machines, Not Humans,” Wall Street Journal, June 29, 2016, https://www.wsj .com/articles/in-brexit-trading-machine-beats-man-1467158146/. 71. Parisi, Contagious Architecture, 1. 72. Jason Farman, Mobile Interface Theory: Embodied Space and Locative Media (New York: Routledge, 2012), 27. 73. Franklin, Control, 8–­9. 74. On basic features of game theory, see Jesper Juul, “A Dictionary of Video Game

-  256 -

Notes to Chapter 3

Theory,” Half-­Real, 2005, https://www.half-real.net/dictionary/. On alternative uses of Tinder, see Stampler, “New Dating Game,” and Alan Feuer, “On Tinder, Taking a Swipe at Love, or Sex, or Something, in New York,” New York Times, February 13, 2015, https:// www.nytimes.com/2015/02/15/nyregion/on-tinder-taking-a-swipe-at-love-or-sex-or -something-in-new-york.html. 75. Stampler, “New Dating Game.” 76. Rosenberg, “Molecularization of Society.” 77. This is no less than a revamping of the old bourgeois notion of decor but with a subversive twist: that of the promise of the unleashing of libido in its eternal flux. Following the parallel, one could argue that for high bourgeois thought, contemplation and nostalgia were the index of a reified culture, while the index of contemporary reification turns into the fantasy of happiness framed as endless opportunity. 78. Dardot and Laval, New Way of the World, 297. 79. Stampler, “New Dating Game.” 80. Stampler, “New Dating Game.” Notice the similarity with “the corporate discourse of empowerment” where technology “permits work activities to be disciplined through aggregate measures derived from captured information.” Phillip Agre, “Surveillance and Capture: Two Models of Privacy,” Information Society 10 (1994): 117. 81. Peggy Drexler, “Millennial Women Are Taking a Laissez-­Faire Approach to Romance,” Huffington Post, January 30, 2015, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/-millennia -women-are-tak_b_6578116. 82. Judith Butler, Undoing Gender (New York: Routledge, 2004), 21. 83. Ida Dominijanni, “Libertà precaria,” in Femminismo e neoliberalismo, ed. Tristana Dini and Stefania Tarantino (Benevento, Italy: Nathan Edizioni, 2014), 62. 84. Copjec, “Object-­Gaze,” 23. 85. Dardot and Laval, New Way of the World, 282. 86. This seemingly eternal movement is prompted by the fact that “the biopolitical machinery resolutely shuns eternity and aims instead at proxies that provide only a controlled and safe illusion of eternity.” Kordela, “(Marxian-­Psychoanalytic) Biopolitics,” 281. 87. Žižek, Ticklish Subject, 360. 88. Judith Butler, “Longing for Recognition,” in Hegel’s Philosophy and Feminist Thought: Beyond Antigone?, ed. Kimberly Hutchings and Tuija Pulkkinen (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 114. 89. Dean, “Complexity as Capture,” 121. 90. Noys, “Drone Metaphysics,” 15. 91. I am much more skeptical than Rey Chow, who, if I read her correctly, still looks to self-­referentiality with a benign eye. It seems to me that neoliberal instrumentali­ zation is one that functions precisely through the “radical intransitivity” that Chow seems to value for its deconstructive capacity. Chow, Age of the World Target, 6. 4. Writing 1. See Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud (Boston: Beacon Press, 1966). 2. Benjamin Bratton, The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2015), 262. 3. Gary Wolf, “The Quantified Self,” Ted Talk, 2010, https://youtu.be/OrAo8oBBFIo. 4. See Minna Ruckenstein, “Visualized and Interacted Life: Personal Analytics and Engagements with Data Doubles,” Societies 4, no. 1 (2014): 68–­8 4. For a less critical approach, see Jill Rettberg, Seeing Ourselves through Technology: How We Use Selfies,



Notes to Chapter 4

-  257 -

Blogs, and Wearable Devices to See and Shape Ourselves (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). 5. Phoebe Moore, “Tracking Bodies, the Quantified Self and the Corporeal Turn,” in The International Political Economy of Production, ed. van der Pijl Kees (Northampton, Mass.: Edward Elgar, 2015), 407; Gina Neff and Dawn Nafus, Self-­Tracking (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2016). Additionally, there are serious concerns regarding companies that implement policies to have employees use wearable devices for health insurance purposes. 6. See Deborah Lupton, The Quantified Self (Malden, Mass.: Polity, 2016), 42–­43. This does not mean to invalidate the significance and benefit of a wide range of applications in the medical field. 7. See Elliott, “Suffering Agency,” 88. 8. Bratton, Stack, 261. 9. Franklin, Control, 154. Franklin uses this definition to describe new forms of cinematic narratives. 10. Matteo Pasquinelli, “Google’s PageRank: Diagram of the Cognitive Capitalism and Rentier of Common Intellect,” in Becker and Stalder, Deep Search, 155. 11. Bratton, Stack, 263–­6 4. 12. Mark Bowden, “The Measured Man,” Atlantic, August 15, 2012, https://www .theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/the-measured-man/309018/. 13. Bowden, “Measured Man.” 14. I would like to thank Josh Bradford for helping me browse through and collect a number of online narratives by users of Fitbit and Apple Watch. 15. Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (New York: Basic Books, 2011), 165. 16. Dean, Blog Theory, 96. 17. Jesse Donaldson, “Your Quantified Self,” Adbusters, June 30, 2016, https:// www.adbusters.org/article/your-quantified-self. For a study of present usage of self-­ tracking devices for sex, see Deborah Lupton, “Quantified Sex: A Critical Analysis of Sexual and Reproductive Self-­Tracking Using Apps,” Culture, Health, and Sexuality 17, no. 4 (2015): 440–­53. 18. Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (New York: Ballantine Books, 1992), 167. 19. Quoted in Lisa Guenther, Solitary Confinement: Social Death and Its Afterlives (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013), 184. 20. Guenther, Solitary Confinement, xii. 21. Guenther, Solitary Confinement, 4–­5. See Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York: Vintage, 1995). 22. Guenther, Solitary Confinement, 6 (emphasis added). Here, drawing on the thought of Benjamin Rush, Guenther alludes to the roots of the theory of sovereignty after the demise of theocratic power. I will discuss this in more detail later. Here, recall what Michel Foucault said about the prisoner: “In the darkest region of the political field the condemned man represents the symmetrical, inverted figure of the king.” Guenther, Solitary Confinement, 29. 23. Silvio Pellico, My Prisons: Memoirs of Silvio Pellico (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1868), 14–­15. 24. Pellico, My Prisons, 17 (translation modified). 25. Pellico’s conversion raised serious doubts at the time. His insistence on the importance of human reciprocal love did not sit well with the bellicose nationalism of the Risorgimento.

-  258 -

Notes to Chapter 4

26. Brian Crawford, “The Value of a Gambler’s Promise: Self-­I mprisonment and Writing Survival in Raymond Federman’s Double or Nothing,” in Prose and Cons: Essays on Prison Literature in the United States, ed. Quentin Miller (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2005), 34. 27. Antonio Gramsci, Letters from Prison, trans. Raymond Rosenthal, vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 275. 28. Gramsci, Letters from Prison, 275 (translation modified). 29. See Giorgio Baratta, Le rose e i Quaderni. Il pensiero dialogico di Gramsci (Rome: Carocci, 2003). 30. The latter develops according to a dialectical relationship between immanence and a subjectivist conception of reality based on the critique of transcendence as the foundation of political authority. See Righi, Biopolitics and Social Change, 26–­27. 31. Benjamin, “Capitalism as Religion,” 1:288–­91, 1:288 (translation modified, emphasis mine). 32. See Righi, Biopolitics and Social Change, 198, and Righi, “Ontological Experience of Absolute Presence.” 33. Amos Bianchi, “Chi sono Io? Soggettività nella società dell’accountability,” in Mondi Altri. Processi di soggettivizzazione nell’era postumana a partire dal pensiero di Antonio Caronia, ed. Amos Bianchi and Leghissa Giovanni (Milan: Mimesis, 2016), 77–­78. 34. Bianchi, “Chi sono Io?,” 81. 35. Quoted in Ava Kofman, “Are New York’s Free Internet Kiosks Tracking Your Movements?,” Intercept, September 8, 2018, https://theintercept.com/2018/09/08 /linknyc-free-wifi-kiosks/. 36. Bianchi, “Chi sono Io?,” 81. Similarly, Claudia Landolfi discusses the notion of the digital shrift in The Digital Governmentalization of Emotions (Florence: European Press Academic Publishing, 2016). In Old English, the term shrift, which comes from Latin scriber (to write), is both the confession and absolution given by the priest. 37. Michel Foucault, On the Government of the Living: Lectures at the Collège de France, trans. Graham Burchell (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 95. 38. Jacques Le Goff, Time, Work, and Culture in the Middle Ages (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 40. These rituals and their quantifiable balance between transgression and penitence are very different from the older, and classical, Foucauldian exercise of care of the self. See Pier Aldo Rovatti, “Il soggetto che non c’è,” in Foucault, Oggi, ed. Mario Galzigna (Milan: Feltrinelli, 2008): 216–­25. 39. Bianchi, “Chi sono Io?,” 83. 40. Rovatti too acknowledges this variation, arguing that with the displacement of the discourse of the Master, knowledge replaces the old hierarchy by becoming pure value. Pier Aldo Rovatti, “Per un uso di Lacan,” Aut, no. 177–­78 (1980): 59–­70. 41. Kordela, Being, Time, Bios, 59. 42. Kordela, Being, Time, Bios, 60. 43. Agamben, Profanations, 77. 44. Kordela, Being, Time, Bios, 62. 45. Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death and Literature in Secret, trans. Wills David (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 45 (emphasis mine). 46. Derrida, Gift of Death, 67. 47. Derrida, Gift of Death, 96. 48. Derrida, Gift of Death, 87. 49. Derrida, Gift of Death, 76. 50. My discussion of the Confessions in light of Derrida’s Gift of Death is heavily indebted to the thought of Gaetano Lettieri. See Lettieri, “Filosofia e autobiografia. Le



Notes to Chapter 5

-  259 -

Confessiones di Agostino,” talk given at the University of Rome, La Sapienza, November 12, 2014, https://youtu.be/QFo3T0lgpqg. 51. Saint Augustine, The Confessions of Augustine: An Electronic Edition, October 14, 2016, http://www.stoa.org/hippo/text10.html. This passage echoes another famous one from the Gospel of John asking us to “not love the world” for “everything in the world—­the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—­comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 John 2:16). 52. Saint Augustine, Confessions. 53. Sciacchitano, “Mathematics for Psychoanalysis,” 59–­69. Mark C. Taylor and Esa Saarinen make a similar point when they write, “desire desires desire.” Taylor and Saarinen, “Telerotics,” in Imagologies: Media Philosophy, ed. Mark C. Taylor and Esa Saarinen (London: Routledge, 1994), 11. 54. To put it in psychoanalytic terms, valorization functions according to the typical superego injunction—­that is to say, obedience to the law qua pure form. As Slavoj Žižek argues, “It is precisely this non-­integrated surplus of senseless traumatism which confers on the law its unconditional authority: in other words, which—­in so far as it escapes ideological sense—­sustains what we might call the ideological jouis-­ sense, enjoyment-­in-­sense (enjoy-­meant), proper to ideology.” Žižek, The Sublime Object of Ideology (London: Verso, 2008), 43. 55. Kordela, Being, Time, Bios, 165. 56. Kordela, Being, Time, Bios, 160. This point resonates with Dean’s description of the “epistemological drive,” which does not create “a new meaning or perspective. It doesn’t refer to a new content. It is rather the intensity accrued from repetition, the excitement or thrill of more.” Dean, Blog Theory, 116. 57. Sciacchitano, “Mathematics for Psychoanalysis,” 68. 58. Kordela, Being, Time, Bios, 46. 59. Wallace Stevens, Collected Poems (New York: Knopf, 1972), 496. 60. Lacan, Television, 92. 61. Celia Lury, Luciana Parisi, and Tiziana Terranova, “The Becoming Topological of Culture,” Theory, Culture and Society 29 (2012): 17. 62. Dean, Blog Theory, 118. 63. Dean, Blog Theory, 116. 64. Bratton, Stack, 131. See also Jon Schwarz, “Drones, IBM, and the Big Data of Death,” Intercept, October 23, 2015, https://theintercept.com/2015/10/23/drones-ibm -and-the-big-data-of-death/. 65. Atwood, Handmaid’s Tale, 192. Atwood echoes and brilliantly solves Lacan’s own skepticism on objective knowledge based on the masculine fantasy of the One (God), when he wonders that “it is well possible after all that 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 does not make 4.” Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan (Book 11), trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Norton, 1998), 225. 5. Temporality 1. Joan W. Scott, “Sexularism,” lecture offered at the European University Institute, Florence, 2009, http://cadmus.eui.eu/bitstream/handle/1814/11553/RSCAS_DL_2009 _01.pdf. 2. Lonzi, “Let’s Spit on Hegel,” 42. 3. Friedrich Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, trans. Geoffrey Winthrop-­ Young and Michael Wutz (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1999), 183. 4. David Graeber, “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs: A Work Rant,” Strike! Magazine, no. 3, August 2013, https://www.strike.coop/bullshit-jobs/.

-  260 -

Notes to Chapter 5

5. Graeber, “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs.” 6. Raniero Panzieri, “Capitalist Use of Machinery: Marx versus the Objectivists,” libcom.org, August 10, 2017, https://libcom.org/library/capalist-use-machinery -raniero-panzieri. 7. Toni Negri, “Appropriazione di capitale fisso: Un metafora?,” Euronomade, March 3, 2017, http://www.euronomade.info/?p=8936. 8. Negri, “Appropriazione.” 9. See Slavoj Žižek, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce (Verso: London, 2009), 109. 10. See Elaine Pofeldt, “Shocker: 40% of Workers Now Have ‘Contingent’ Jobs, Says U.S. Government,” Forbes, May 25, 2015, https://www.forbes.com/sites/elainepofeldt /2015/05/25/shocker-40-of-workers-now-have-contingent-jobs-says-u-s-government /#4671b29614be. 11. Negri, “Appropriazione.” 12. See Trebor Scholz, “Platform Cooperativism vs. the Sharing Economy,” Medium, 2014, https://medium.com/@trebors/platform-cooperativism-vs-the-sharing -economy-2ea737f1b5ad. 13. Franklin, Control, 81. 14. Panzieri, “Capitalist Use of Machinery.” 15. Panzieri, “Capitalist Use of Machinery.” 16. Panzieri, “Capitalist Use of Machinery.” 17. Jason Pontin, “Artificial Intelligence, with Help from the Humans,” New York Times, March 3, 2007, https://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/25/business/yourmoney /25Stream.html. 18. Neda Atanososki and Kalindi Vora, “Surrogate Humanity: Posthuman Networks and the (Racialized) Obsolescence of Labor,” Catalyst 1 (2015): 20. 19. Nick Srnicek, Platform Capitalism (Cambridge: Polity Press 2017), 49–­50. 20. Karën Fort, Gilles Adda, and K. Bretonnel Cohen, “Amazon Mechanical Turk: Gold Mine or Coal Mine?,” Computational Linguistics 2 (2011): 414. 21. Jenny Marder and Mike Fritz, “The Internet’s Hidden Science Factory,” PBS News Hour, February 11, 2015, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/inside-amazons -hidden-science-factory. 22. Nathan Heller, “Is the Gig Economy Working?,” New Yorker, 2017, https://www .newyorker.com/magazine/2017/05/15/is-the-gig-economy-working. 23. Srnicek, Platform Capitalism, 77. As Trebor Scholz states, “Extractive sharing economy startups mobilized the language of peer-­to-­peer discourses and intimacy.” Scholz, “Participation, Codesign, Diversity: Trebor Scholz on Platform Cooperativism,” Platform.coop, November 24, 2017, now available at https://blog.p2pfoundation .net/participation-codesign-diversity-trebor-scholz-on-platform-cooperativism /2017/12/08. 24. Ayhan Aytes, “Return of the Crowds: Mechanical Turk and Neoliberal States of Exception,” in Digital Labor: The Factory as a Playground, ed. Trebor Scholz (New York: Routledge, 2013), 91. 25. Atanososki and Vora, “Surrogate Humanity,” 28. 26. McGlotten, “Black Data,” 264. 27. Srnicek, Platform Capitalism, 43. 28. Shawn Wen, “The Ladies Vanish,” New Inquiry, November 11, 2014, https:// thenewinquiry.com/the-ladies-vanish/. A good percentage of Turkers are also non-­ U.S.-­based workers. See Aytes, “Return of the Crowds,” 80–­81. 29. Wen, “Ladies Vanish.” 30. David Skinner, “The Age of Female Computers,” New Atlantis, no. 12, 2006, https://



Notes to Chapter 5

-  261 -

www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/the-age-of-female-computers. See also Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, 193–­217. 31. Scott, “Sexularism.” 32. Scott, “Sexularism.” 33. Scott, “Sexularism.” 34. Chun, Updating to Remain the Same, 3–­4. 35. Chun, Updating to Remain the Same, 104. 36. Wendy Jui Kyong Chun, “We’re All Living in Virtually Gated Communities and Our Real-­Life Relationships Are Suffering,” Wired, April 13, 2017, https://www.wired .co.uk/article/virtual-segregation-narrows-our-real-life-relationships. On homophily, see also Chun, Updating to Remain the Same, 14–­15. 37. Lacan, Other Side, 114. 38. Lacan, Other Side, 114. 39. Chun, “We’re All Living in Virtually Gated Communities.” 40. Lazzarato, Making of the Indebted Man, 33. 41. Srnicek, Platform Capitalism, 76. 42. Srnicek, Platform Capitalism, 42. 43. Aytes, “Return of the Crowds,” 79. 44. Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, trans. Q. Hoare and G. N. Smith (New York: International, 2003), 282–­83. 45. See David Z. Morris, “Judge Upholds Uber Drivers’ Union Rule in Seattle,” Fortune Tech, March 18, 2017, https://fortune.com/2017/03/18/uber-union-rule-seattle/; Jeremy Gong, “A Chance to Defend Gig Workers’ Rights in California,” Jacobin, August 31, 2019, https://www.jacobinmag.com/2019/08/gig-workers-california-uber-lyft -assembly-bill-5. 46. Moshe Z. Marvit, “How Crowdworkers Became the Ghosts in the Digital Machine,” Nation, 2014, https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/how-crowdworkers -became-ghosts-digital-machine/. 47. Walter Benjamin, On the Concept of History, 1940, trans. D. Redmond, https:// www.marxists.org/reference/archive/benjamin/1940/history.htm. 48. See Victoria Nelson, “Walter Benjamin and the Two Angels,” Raritan 3 (2016): 1–­14. 49. Raffaele K. Salinari, “Walter Benjamin e l’omino con la gobba,” Il Manifesto, May 17, 2013, https://ilmanifesto.it/walter-benjamin-e-lomino-con-la-gobba/. 50. Jonathan Gil Harris, “Mechanical Turks, Mammet Tricks and Messianic Time,” Postmedieval 1 (2010): 82, 83. 51. Harris, “Mechanical Turks,” 82. 52. Harris, “Mechanical Turks,” 82. 53. Harris, “Mechanical Turks,” 84. 54. De Beauvoir, Second Sex, 209. 55. Harris, “Mechanical Turks,” 84. 56. Nelson “Walter Benjamin and the Two Angels,” 12. 57. Susan Buck-­Morss, Dialectic of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the “Arcades Project” (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1991), 244. 58. Buck-­Morss, Dialectic of Seeing, 249. 59. Vittorio Morfino, “Sul non contemporaneo: Marx, Bloch, Althusser,” Bollettino Filosofico 27 (2011–­12): 413. 60. Benjamin, On the Concept of History. 61. Eiland Howard, Walter Benjamin: A Critical Life (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2014), 18.

-  262 -

Notes to Chapter 5

62. Muraro, Symbolic Order, 36. 63. Muraro, Symbolic Order, 38 (translation modified). 64. Muraro, Symbolic Order, 63 (translation modified). 65. Muraro, Symbolic Order, 64. 66. Muraro, Symbolic Order, 63 (translation modified). 67. This is what Elena Ferrante calls smarginatura. See Elena Ferrante, “The Passion of Elena Ferrante: Interview with Ann Goldstein,” lecture offered at Casa Italiana Zerilli-­Marimò, New York University, August 31, 2015, https://pen.org/multimedia/the -passion-of-elena-ferrante/. 68. Muraro, Symbolic Order, 63 (translation modified). 69. Muraro, Symbolic Order, 65. 70. See the Up & Go website (https://www.upandgo.coop/). Yet these systems work only if the relationality of the workers work. In other words, it is not the digital form that enables a liberating relationality but rather the living form of communal trust and commitment of the collective. The distortion of the great tradition of Italian cooperatives bears testimony to how these entities can become instruments of further exploitation. The late case of care work and psychiatric services in the Emilia region, once an avant-­garde for the cooperative movement, is particularly instructive of how cooperatives can be used as Trojan horses to privatize and deregulate part of the health care once provided by the state. 6. Woman 1. See Dominijanni, Trucco. 2. Félix Guattari, Molecular Revolutions: Psychiatry and Politics (London: Penguin, 1984), 130. 3. Jean-­Luc Nancy, Del sesso, trans. Antonella Moscati, Ida Porfido, and Gianluca Valle (Naples: Cronopio, 2016), 19–­20. 4. Guattari, Molecular Revolutions, 130. 5. Guattari, Molecular Revolutions, 132. 6. Jean Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange and Death, trans. Grant Ian Hamilton (Los Angeles, Calif.: Sage, 1993), 110. 7. Lonzi, “Let’s Spit on Hegel.” 8. See Ida Dominijanni, “Her, la favola post-­u mana di Spike Jonze,” Ida Dominijanni (blog), November 11, 2013, https://idadominijanni.com/2013/11/11/her-la-favola -post-umana-di-spike-jonz/. 9. Lacan, Other Side, 22. 10. Guattari, Molecular Revolutions, 134. 11. Terranova, Network Culture, 113. 12. Ippolita, “Junkie Cyborg,” in Mondi altri. Processi di soggettivazione nell’era postumana a partire dal pensiero di Antonio Caronia, ed. Amos Bianchi and Leghissa Giovanni (Milan: Mimesis, 2016), 117. 13. William McGurn, “What Motivates a Modern Nun?,” Wall Street Journal, August 13, 2015, https://www.wsj.com/articles/what-motivates-a-modern-nun-1439507300. 14. Günther Anders, Il mondo dopo l’uomo. Tecnica e violenza, ed. Lisa Pizzighella (Milan: Mimesis, 2008), 21 (Italian version; emphasis mine). 15. McKenzie Wark, Game Theory (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007), 6. 16. Similarly, in Theorem Zero is the example of Qohen Leth’s belief in a mysterious call—­the unexpected, which has not been quantified and predicted—­that is going to be expropriated by his company.



Notes to Chapter 6

-  263 -

17. Lacan, Other Side, 22 (emphasis mine). 18. Hence the similarity with Snowpiercer, where “the only solution then is not to seize the train, to claim its engine, but to begin to imagine a life outside of it.” Jason Read, “Hijacking a Train: Revolution and Its Limits in Snowpiercer,” Unemployed Negativity (blog), July 3, 2014, http://www.unemployednegativity.com/2014/07/hijackingtrain-revolution-and-its.html. 19. Giorgio Agamben, “On the Limits of Violence,” Diacritics 39, no. 4 (2009): 108. 20. Charles McGrath, “Don DeLillo, a Writer by Accident Whose Course Is Deliberate,” New York Times, February 4, 2010, https://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/04/books /04delillo.html. 21. Askold Melnyczuk, “Shadowboxing: The Falling Trees, the Burning Forest,” Agni 71 (2014): 209. 22. Melnyczuk, “Shadowboxing,” 213. 23. David Cowart, “The Lady Vanishes: Don DeLillo’s Point Omega,” Contemporary Literature 53, no. 1 (2012): 34. 24. Cowart, “Lady Vanishes,” 48. 25. Frank Lentricchia, “Libra as Postmodern Critique,” in Introducing Don DeLillo, ed. Frank Lentricchia (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1991), 195. 26. Don DeLillo, Point Omega (New York: Scribner, 2010), 3. 27. DeLillo, Point Omega, 12. 28. DeLillo, Point Omega, 14. 29. On DeLillo’s use of Godard, see Douglas Keesey, Don DeLillo (New York: Twayne, 1993); Mark Osteen, American Magic and Dread: Don DeLillo’s Dialogue with Culture (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000). On DeLillo’s reflection on death and modern simulacra, see, e.g., Joseph Dewey, Beyond Grief and Nothing: A Reading of Don DeLillo (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2006), 71–­91. 30. DeLillo, Point Omega, 13. 31. Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. William Lovitt (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), 150. 32. Heidegger, Question Concerning Technology, 136. 33. DeLillo, Point Omega, 5. 34. DeLillo, Point Omega, 29. 35. DeLillo, Point Omega, 50. 36. Lentricchia, “Libra as Postmodern Critique,” 196. 37. Noys, “Drone Metaphysics.” 38. James Heffernan, Museum of Words: The Poetics of Ekphrasis from Homer to Ashbery (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 6. 39. Ellie Ragland, The Logic of Sexuation: From Aristotle to Lacan (Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 2004), 24. 40. DeLillo, Point Omega, 33. 41. DeLillo, Point Omega, 34. 42. Dillon and Reid, Liberal Way of War, 8–­9. 43. In the wake of the second gulf war, this mentality was further reinforced by misconceptions regarding Arab culture. As Joan Copjec writes, for instance, “Shame was chosen as the method of torture precisely because the torturers believed that Arab culture made the prisoners particularly vulnerable to it.” Copjec, “Object-­ Gaze,” 13. 44. Alexandra Alter, “What Don DeLillo’s Books Tell Him,” Wall Street Journal, January 30, 2010, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB1000142405274870409430457502967352 6948334.

-  264 -

Notes to Chapter 6

45. Alter, “What Don DeLillo’s Books Tell Him.” 46. Parisi, Contagious Architecture, 1. 47. Lazzarato, Making of the Indebted Man, 46. 48. DeLillo, Point Omega, 49. 49. DeLillo, Point Omega, 40. 50. Muraro, Symbolic Order, 63 (translation modified). 51. Copjec, Imagine There Is No Woman, 116. 52. DeLillo, Point Omega, 116. 53. Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, 186.

7. Hysteria 1. See Jorge Luis Borges, “Theme of the Traitor and the Hero,” in Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings (New York: New Directions, 1964). For the role of the opera in the film, see Lesley Caldwell, “The National Dimension? Verdi and Bernardo Bertolucci,” in A Night In at the Opera: Media Representations of Opera, ed. Jeremy Tambling (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994), 219–­50; Deborah Crisp and Roger Hillman, “Verdi and Shoenberg in Bertolucci’s The Spider’s Stratagem,” Music and Letters 82, no. 2 (2001): 251–­67. 2. In the first group, I would include contributions from Phillip Robert Kolker, Bernardo Bertolucci (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 105–­9; Yosefa Loshitzky, “Memory of My Own Memory: Processes of Private and Collective Remembering in Bertolucci’s The Spider’s Stratagem and The Conformist,” History and Memory 3, no. 2 (1991): 87–­114; Sante Matteo, “History as a Web of Fictions: Plato, Borges, and Bertolucci,” Weber Studies 6, no. 1 (1989): 12–­29. In the second, see Peter Bondanella, “Borges, Bertolucci, and the Mythology of Revolution,” Teaching Language through Literature 27, no. 2 (1988): 3–­14; Eugenio Bolongaro, “Why Truth Matters: Ideology and Ethics in Bertolucci’s The Spider’s Stratagem,” Italian Culture 23 (2005): 71–­96; Norma Bouchard, “Bernardo Bertolucci’s La strategia del ragno: Historicizing Oedipus at the Dawn of Italy’s Strategia Della Tensione,” Forum Italicum 40, no. 2 (2006): 307–­2 4; Dominic Gavin, “Myths of the Resistance and Bernardo Bertolucci’s La strategia del ragno (The Spider’s Strategy, 1970),” California Italian Studies 4, no. 2 (2013): 1–­29; Angela Dalle Vacche, The Body in the Mirror: Shapes of History in Italian Cinema (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992). 3. Dalle Vacche, Body in the Mirror, 222. However, Delle Vacche remarks that this is also a postmodern exercise that critiques both the official ideology of the resistance and neorealism. See also T. Jefferson Kline, Bertolucci’s Dream Loom: A Psychoanalytic Study of Cinema (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1987); Domietta Torlasco, The Time of the Crime: Phenomenology, Psychoanalysis, Italian Film (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2008); Francesco Casetti, Bernardo Bertolucci (Florence: La nuova Italia, 1975). Casetti and Torlasco get closer to the idea I am trying to develop: the profound realism of this film, which springs precisely from investigating the basic structure of the symbolic and of cinematography in general. Likewise, David Bordwell explores the linguistic particularity of Bertolucci’s technique, which is not far from my interpretation. He argues for the manipulation of the temporal and the priority assigned to the phenomenological appearance of the story (syuzhet) over its causal, sequential articulation (fabula). Bordwell, Narration in the Fiction Film (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985), 88–­98. 4. Bondanella, “Borges, Bertolucci,” 14. 5. Bolongaro, “Why Truth Matters,” 86. 6. Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Marxists Internet



Notes to Chapter 7

-  265 -

Archive, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/manuscripts/preface .htm. 7. Cesare Casarino, “Oedipus Exploded: Pasolini and the Myth of Modernization,” October 59 (1992): 28. 8. Dalle Vacche, Body in the Mirror, 231. 9. Paolo Virno, Déjà Vu and the End of History, trans. David Broder (London: Verso, 2015), 20. 10. Quoted in Kline, Bertolucci’s Dream Loom, 69. 11. Gianni Celati, “Scritture nel paesaggio,” in Esplorazioni sulla via Emilia: Scritture nel paesaggio, ed. Ermanno Cavazzoni (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1986), 35–­36. 12. Bordwell, Narration in the Fiction Film, 89. 13. Bordwell, Narration in the Fiction Film, 89. 14. Through this form of estrangement, we also get a glimpse at what Christian Metz calls impersonal enunciation. See Metz, “The Impersonal Enunciation, or The Site of Film (in the Margin of Recent Works on Enunciation in Cinema),” New Literary History 22, no. 33 (1991): 747–­72. 15. Heffernan, Museum of Words, 6. 16. Metz, “Impersonal Enunciation,” 754. 17. See Kline, Bertolucci’s Dream Loom, 70. 18. Peter Brooks, The Melodramatic Imagination: Balzac, Henry James, Melodrama, and the Mode of Excess (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1995), ix. 19. Brooks, Melodramatic Imagination, 5. 20. Brooks, Melodramatic Imagination, 11. 21. Ben Singer, Melodrama and Modernity: Early Sensational Cinema and Its Contexts (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001), 38. I intentionally leave aside here the feminine character of Draifa. Despite the wide range of melodramatic perspectives that I set out to examine in this film, Draifa is the least sensationalist character in the story. She is the feminine heroine who should hystericize the film but who does not really accomplish that. In her romance with Athos Senior, she somehow follows the expected pattern of overcoming the obstructed marriage. She called Athos Jr. back to Tara to discover who assassinated his father. She is pursuing knowledge about the crime, but she actually wants Athos back. She seems to comply with the typical role afforded her in Italian culture: that of the woman not as a civilizing element but as the natural, impulsive attraction that distracts the great man from his destiny. In this she fits the bill of the patriarchal fantasy better than any other characters. Discussing the nature of the film, on several occasions Bertolucci himself laid emphasis on the entanglements produced by Draifa as an incestuous maternal entity. A slightly different interpretation of her character sees her as a (phallic) mediation between the two Athos. As Will Aitken notes, “The father’s mistress eventually offers herself to the son as a way to his father’s love, recognizing that the son wants the father as much as he wants the truth; in the end the son actually becomes the father.” Aitken, “Leaving the Dance: Bertolucci’s Gay Images,” 1977, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media 16 (2005), https://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/onlinessays/JC16folder/gayBertolucci.html. 22. Brooks, Melodramatic Imagination, 15. 23. Brooks, Melodramatic Imagination, 15. 24. Copjec, Imagine There Is No Woman, 117. 25. Sciacchitano, “Lacan era intuizionista?” 26. Quoted in Bouchard, “Bernardo Bertolucci’s La strategia del ragno,” 317. 27. Crisp and Hillman, “Verdi and Shoenberg,” 258. 28. Copjec, Imagine There Is No Woman, 117.

-  266 -

Notes to Chapter 7

29. Bernardo Bertolucci, Bernardo Bertolucci: Interviews, ed. Fabien Gerard, Kline Jefferson, and Bruce Sklarew (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2000), 58. 30. Furio Jesi, “Orfani e Fanciulli Divini,” in Letteratura e Mito (Turin: Einaudi, 2002), 9. 31. Jesi, “Simbolo e Silenzio,” in Letteratura e Mito, 17. 32. Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-­Image, trans. Robert Galeta Hugh Tomlinson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995), 137. 33. Deleuze, Cinema 2, 138. 34. Bordwell, Narration in the Fiction Film, 88–­89. 35. McNulty, “Demanding the Impossible,” 26. 36. The only living fascist is Beccaccia, a landowner who lives confined in his estate outside Tara. 37. Therein lies the explanation for the typical backward tonality of the story: the stasis of the village, where time does not flow, which ultimately imprisons Athos Jr. Similarly, politics of leftist thinkers such as Gramsci (consider his ideas on education) and the abovementioned Pasolini (consider his infatuation with peasantry and archaic societies) have at times been perceived as backward. 38. Bertolucci, Interviews, 54. 39. Todd McGowan, Out of Time: Desire in Atemporal Cinema (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011), 2–­3. 40. Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, 28. 41. Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, 29. 42. Ragland, Logic of Sexuation, 24. 43. Ragland, Logic of Sexuation, 58, 42. 44. There is a kind of Homeric nuance in this. As Umberto Curi argues, “Through the epic chant that transmits and renders immortal great deeds, heroes come to represent the past of a social group, building the ground on which the ethos of an entire people is based.” Curi, Ombre delle idee. Filosofia del cinema da “American Beauty” a parla con lei (Bologna: Pendragon, 2002), 104. 45. Kordela, Being, Time, Bios, 130. Similarly, Torlasco argues that in the end, “Athos Magnani, who died in 1936, is no longer a petrified myth but the living symbol of a humanity that continues to choose its destiny.” Torlasco, The Time of the Crime, 107. 46. Kordela, Being, Time, Bios, 127. 47. Virno, Déjà Vu, 60. 8. Passivity 1. David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years (Brooklyn, N.Y.: Melville House, 2012), 105. 2. See Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. 3. De Beauvoir, Second Sex, 180. As she argues, “Ejaculation is the promise of death, it affirms the species over the individual” (180). 4. De Beauvoir, Second Sex, 160. 5. Carla Lonzi, “Donna clitoridea,” in Sputiamo su Hegel (Milan: et al. Edizioni, 2010), 93. 6. Elena Dalla Torre, “The Clitoris Diaries: ‘La donna clitoridea,’ Feminine Authenticity, and the Phallic Allegory of Carla Lonzi’s Radical Feminism,” European Journal of Women’s Studies 21, no. 3 (2014): 228. 7. Lonzi, “Donna clitoridea,” 63, 73. 8. Lonzi, “Let’s Spit on Hegel.” 40.



Notes to Chapter 8

-  267 -

9. Lonzi, “Donna clitoridea,” 76. 10. Lonzi, “Donna clitoridea,” 113. 11. Lonzi, “Donna clitoridea,” 92. 12. Maria Luisa Boccia, Con Carla Lonzi. La mia vita è la mia opera (Rome: Ediesse, 2014), 27. 13. Boccia, Con Carla Lonzi, 16. 14. Jacques Lacan, On Feminine Sexuality, the Limits of Love and Knowledge, 1972–­1973, trans. Bruce Fink (New York: Norton, 1999), 81 (modified). 15. Lonzi, “Donna clitoridea,” 100. 16. Lonzi, “Donna clitoridea,” 101. 17. Lacan, On Feminine Sexuality, 81. 18. Carla Lonzi, Vai pure. Dialogo con Pietro Consagra (Milan: et al. Edizioni, 2011), 10. 19. Lonzi, Vai pure, 34. 20. Lonzi, Vai pure, 46. 21. Lonzi, Vai pure, 104. 22. Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Marxists Internet Archive, part 5, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1843/critique-hpr/ch05.htm#115. 23. Marx, Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Ernst Kantorowicz investigated this point in his famous study, The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Medieval Political Theology (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2016). 24. Sigmund Freud, On Narcissism: An Introduction (London: Karnac Books, 2012), 78. 25. Luciano Parinetto, Corpo e rivoluzione in Marx: Morte Diavolo e Analità (Milan: Moizzi Editore, 1977), 67. 26. Parinetto, Corpo e rivoluzione in Marx, 68. 27. Parinetto, Corpo e rivoluzione in Marx, 68. 28. Parinetto, Corpo e rivoluzione in Marx, 70. 29. Georg Wilhelm Fredrich Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. Arnold V. Miller (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1998), 109. 30. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, 109. 31. Similarly, Judith Butler argued that at this moment the subject undergoes a kind of ecstatic suspension in which the latter is “involved in the Other, de-­centered through its identifications which neither excludes nor includes the Other in question.” Self-­consciousness here is thus desire and not immediate certainty, if with the latter we understand a simplified engagement with the other that functions only as an instrument of validation. In this ecstatic suspension, “desire loses its character as pure consumptive activity and becomes characterized by the ambiguity of an exchange in which two self-­consciousness affirm their respective autonomy (independence) and alienation (otherness).” Butler, Undoing Gender, 50–­51. 32. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, 114. 33. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, 115. 34. Georg W. Friedrich Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind, trans. J. B. Baille (Mineola, N.Y.: Dover), 112. 35. As Sigmund Freud writes, “Wit is made, comical is found.” Freud, Wit and Its Relations to the Unconscious (New York: Moffat, Yard, 1916), 289. 36. Freud, Wit and Its Relations to the Unconscious, 266–­68. 37. Freud, Wit and Its Relations to the Unconscious, 271. 38. Freud, Wit and Its Relations to the Unconscious, 384. 39. Freud, Wit and Its Relations to the Unconscious, 384. 40. Lacan, Other Side, 57 (translation modified).

-  268 -

Notes to Chapter 8

41. Lacan, Other Side, 57. 42. See, for instance, Melanie Klein, “The Psychological Principles of Early Analysis,” in The Collected Works of Melanie Klein, vol. 1 (London: Karnac Books, 2017), 128–­38. 43. Parinetto, Corpo e rivoluzione in Marx, 127. 44. Parinetto, Corpo e rivoluzione in Marx, 128. 45. Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-­Oedipus, 143. In Parinetto’s terms, “With the surfacing of anality, the phallic turns into the penis.” Parinetto, Corpo e rivoluzione in Marx, 218. 46. Parinetto, Corpo e rivoluzione in Marx, 129. 47. Parinetto, Corpo e rivoluzione in Marx, 116. 48. Jon Schwarz, “Drones, IBM, and the Big Data of Death,” Intercept, October 23, 2015, https://theintercept.com/2015/10/23/drones-ibm-and-the-big-data-of-death/. 49. Parinetto, Corpo e rivoluzione in Marx, 128. 50. Luciano Parinetto, “Analreligion e dintorni. Appunti,” L’Erba Voglio, no. 26 (1976), 22. 51. Parinetto, “Analreligion e dintorni,” 22. 52. Parinetto, “Analreligion e dintorni,” 23. 53. Parinetto, “Analreligion e dintorni,” 23. 54. Parinetto, Corpo e rivoluzione in Marx, 227. 55. Elvio Fachinelli, Il bambino dalle uova d’oro (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1974), 62. 56. Lacan, Four Fundamental Concepts, 104. 57. Fachinelli, Il bambino dalle uova d’oro, 64. 58. Parinetto, Corpo e rivoluzione in Marx, 232. 59. Parinetto, Corpo e rivoluzione in Marx, 233. Contrary to Ferenczi, Parinetto insists on differentiating the pleasure principle from the anal economy. 60. Parinetto, Corpo e rivoluzione in Marx, 237. 61. Parinetto, Corpo e rivoluzione in Marx, 238. 62. Fachinelli, Il bambino dalle uova d’oro, 67. 63. Parinetto, Corpo e rivoluzione in Marx, 131. 64. Fachinelli, Il bambino dalle uova d’oro, 70–­71. 65. Fachinelli, Il bambino dalle uova d’oro, 64. 66. Fachinelli, Il bambino dalle uova d’oro, 64. 67. Fachinelli, Il bambino dalle uova d’oro, 54. 68. Fachinelli, Il bambino dalle uova d’oro, 64. 69. Here I depart from Lacan, who seems to conflate the stool object with the phallic one. Probably because he is still under the spell of Das Ding as the mother, he argues that “the anal level is the locus of metaphor—­one object for another, give the feces in place of the phallus.” Lacan, Four Fundamental Concepts, 104. 70. Fachinelli, Il bambino dalle uova d’oro, 64. 71. Kordela, Being, Time, Bios, 182–­83. 72. Parinetto, Corpo e rivoluzione in Marx, 272. 73. Parinetto, Corpo e rivoluzione in Marx, 272. 74. Parinetto, Corpo e rivoluzione in Marx, 217. 75. Luisa Muraro, Autorità (Turin: Rosenberg & Sellier, 2012), 57. 76. Muraro, Symbolic Order, 19. 77. Muraro, Symbolic Order, 88. 78. Casarino, “Mother Degree Zero,” 308.

Index

accountability, 3, 8, 18, 34, 44, 67, 78, 81, 94–97, 103, 105, 109–28, 132–33, 146, 169 Aeschylus, 33 Agamben, Giorgio, 21–22, 49, 122, 174, 251n36 Airbnb, 139 Akhenaton, 28 À la recherche du temps perdu [In search of lost time] (Proust), 111 algebraic: algorithms and, 146; life and, 181; neoliberalism and, 167; subjects and, 50, 53, 55–56, 110, 123, 172–73, 183; zombies and, 52 algorithms, 10, 19, 50, 67, 73, 101, 103–4, 146, 163, 182, 187, 238, 255n70; authority and, 75; governmentality and, 82, 111, 173; Moses and, 73–76 Alone Together (Turkle), 113 Americana (DeLillo), 177 “Amore Ribelle” [Rebel Love], 197 anal: character, 229–32, 234, 236, 238–39; complex, 216, 223, 225, 231–32, 234, 236; eroticism, 228, 231–32, 234; fee, 227; object, 228, 230; stage, 227–28 Anders, Günther, 170 “Angel Surrounded by Paysans” (Stevens), 129 Anti-Oedipus (Deleuze and Guattari), 225 Ariosto, Ludovico, 195 Atanososki, Neda, 138, 140 attachment model, 83–84, 161–62, 165 Atwood, Margaret, 15–17, 132, 259n65 Augustine, Saint, 21, 111, 124–27 austerity, 9, 97 authority: digital and, 2, 6, 11; fee and, 70; Fordism and, 78, 166; Google and, 73–76; linguistic, 77; liquidation of,

98; mammet complex and, 153–54, 159, 240; Moses and, 18; pastoral power, 120–21; principle of, 73; state and, 90; transcendence and, 12, 36, 38, 46, 81, 122, 189, 246n39, 258n30; university discourse and, 121 Ayer, David, 88 Aytes, Ayhan, 140 Badiou, Alain, 37 Backrub, 73 Bakunin, Michael Aleksandrovicˇ, 197 Basulto, Dominic, 98 Baudrillard, Jean, 165, 254n36 benchmarking, 95, 97, 113, 127, 146, 216 Benjamin, Walter, 8, 94–97, 101, 119, 137–38, 148–54, 158, 192, 194, 239 Benveniste, Émile, 6 Berkeley, George, 61 Berlinguer, Enrico, 202 Berlusconi, Silvio, 65 Bertolucci, Bernardo, 12, 189–96, 199, 202–12, 264n3, 265n21 Beyond the Pleasure Principle (Freud), 51 Bezos, Jeff, 138 Bianchi, Amos, 120–23 Big (film), 148 big data, 75, 93, 139 Big Typescript, The (Wittgenstein), 44 biopolitics, 50, 90, 105, 179, 236, 254n58; conspicuous as, 128; potentiality and, 9; transcendence and, 89 Blade Runner (film), 167 Boccia, Maria Luisa, 219 Bohannan, Laura, 216 Bolongaro, Eugenio, 190 Bondanella, Peter, 190 Borges, Jorge Luis, 189, 193, 211

-  270 -

Index

Bowden, Mark, 111 Bratton, Benjamin, 110 Brexit, 161 Brin, Sergey, 73 Brogi, Giulio, 190 Brooks, Peter, 199–201 Brown, Wendy, 85 Buck-Morss, Susan, 154 Butler, Judith, 104, 267n31 Californian ideology, 109, 134 capitalism, 69–70, 126, 155, 194, 212, 238, 251n36; anality and, 231–34, 239; digitality and, 17; excess and, 27, 72, 86, 186; expiation and, 119; Euromodern world and, 13; guilt and, 96, 98; neoliberalism and, 54, 63, 72, 93, 94; platform and, 135–38, 145, 147, 151, 188; redemption and, 96; religion and, 8, 95–97, 101, 106, 119; second nature and, 11; transcendence and, 18 Carvalho, Richard, 47 Casarino, Cesare, 5–6, 40, 192, 240 castration, 64, 187, 217, 220–21, 228, 229 Catherine of Siena, 17 “Cavallina Storna” [The dappled mare] (Pascoli), 202 Cavarero, Adriana, 6 Cavell, Stanley, 4–6 Celati, Gianni, 195 cellular automata, 67, 168 ChaCha (digital platform), 138 Charleston Church shooting, 55 chronotope, 92, 101 Chun, Wendy, 75, 143 Click to Pray (digital platform), 16–17, 26, 39, 245n5 clitoridean woman, 219–21 closed set, 26, 31, 59–60, 158, 208 cognitariat, 172 Commando (Videogame), 52 Confessions, The (Saint Augustine), 111, 258n50 Consagra, Piero, 221–22 continence, 124–27 Corpo e rivoluzione in Marx [Body and revolution in Marx] (Parinetto), 225 Copjec, Joan, 98, 105, 201, 263n43 COVID-19, 135 Cowart, David, 176 Crary, Jonathan, 10

credit, 216 Crips, Deborah, 202 Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (Marx), 223 crowdworking, 11–12, 133, 136–40, 151–52 Dante, Alighieri, 4, 116 Darabont, Frank, 51 Dardot, Pierre, 87, 91, 106, 253n20 datascape, 65, 74, 92, 130 Dean, Benjamin, 11, 54, 72, 86, 120 Dean, Jodi, 11, 54, 72, 86, 243n3, 259n56 de Beauvoir, Simone, 83, 153, 217, 253n24 debt, 18, 94–99, 106, 119, 127, 145, 184, 215–16, 234, 240–41 de Chardin, Pierre Teilhard, 184 defecation, 230–36 deictics: shifters and pointers, 19–20, 24–25, 65, 74 Deleuze, Gilles, 36, 59, 61, 89, 205, 225, 230, 234, 247n57, 249n79 DeLillo, Don, 12, 163, 175–78, 180–87 Derrida, Jacques, 123–24, 128, 247n56 de-territorialization, 162, 168 Dialogue (Catherine of Siena), 17 Dick, Philip K., 167 Dillon, Michael, 90–91, 183 Dionigi, Roberto, 25, 245n19 Dionysius of Halicarnassus, 34 Divine Comedy (Dante), 116 Dogvacay (digital platform), 139 Dominijanni, Ida, 6, 65 Donaldson, Jesse, 113 doxa, 74 Drexler, Peggy, 104 drive, 2, 40–41, 72–73, 86, 106–7, 131; algorithmic drive, 100; death drive, 50–51, 53, 56–57, 67, 76–77, 93, 162–63, 176, 188; drone and, 187; epistemological drive, 81–82, 131, 230, 259n56; neoliberalism and, 111; phallic drive, 3, 23; scopic drive, 93, 179, 185–86, 189, 222 drones, 12, 74, 78, 81–82, 92–93, 107, 179–80, 187 ECHO Prayer, 17 ecstatic dimension, 47, 107, 127, 157–58, 186, 215, 221, 227, 239, 267n31 ekphrasis, 176, 180, 183 elenchtic reply, 58



Index

Elliott, Jane, 52, 86 Eloge de la dialectique [In praise of dialectic] (Magritte), 198 Emanuel, Rahm Israel, 9 Empire of Lights (Magritte), 194, 198 epanadiplosis, 130 eristic paradox, 57 Ernani (Verdi), 204 Esposito, Roberto, 7, 247n48 Everybody Lies (Stephen-Davidowitz), 75 exception, 19, 26, 28, 37–38, 124–26, 200, 209, 219–20 excluded middle, law, 57, 59–64, 72, 206, 208, 212–15, 220 Ex Machina (film), 163, 171–74, 188 exteriority, 45–46, 149, 157, 176, 186, 223–37; exteriorization and, 230 Facebook, 2, 49, 66, 75, 102, 106, 145, 255n63 Fachinelli, Elvio, 12, 216, 233–36, 239 Farman, Jason, 101 Farocki, Harun, 92 fecamoney, 235 fee, 11, 146; anal complex and, 227; feedback in, 53, 68; fee-Ding in, 49, 51, 73, 77, 79, 135, 191; historical definition and, 68–69, 70, 223 fee-Ding. See fee Ferenczi, Sándor, 233 Find Friends (App), 49 finding: grammar and, 19, 40, 248n79; neoliberalism and, 51, 65–66, 73, 76; searching for the right word in, 41–45, 66, 70 Fine, Gail, 58 Fitbit, 78, 112–13, 120, 126, 257n14 Fordism, 62–63, 72, 86, 141, 163–66, 235–38, 254n58 Foucault, Michel, 54, 59, 82–86, 94, 112, 120–21, 257n22, 258n38 Franklin, Seb, 52, 67, 137, 255n21, 257n9 Freud, Sigmund, 18–19, 27–33, 40–41, 51, 128–29, 143, 189, 219, 223–27, 234, 246n39, 250n4, 254n59 Fury (film), 88 Galloway, Alexander, 10, 91 Garland, Alex, 171 gaze: Hebraism and, 32–36; neoliberalism and, 93, 254n44; Pasolini and, 192

-  271 -

general intellect, 98, 174 Genuß, 230–31 geolocation, 11; GPS and, 50, 102 Gerusalemme Liberata [Jerusalem delivered] (Tasso), 51 Geschichte des israelitisch-jüdischen Volkes [History of the Israeli-Judaic People] (Sellin), 30 gift: feces and, 235–37; maternal continuum and, 152, 240, 247n52; social content, 216, 239; tribute and, 100 Gift of Death, The (Derrida), 123 gig economy, 141–47, 222 Gillespie, Craig, 163–64 Gilliam, Terry, 171 Ginsberg, Allen, 206 Godard, Jean-Luc, 177, 263n29 Goethe, J. W., 147, 178, 221 Google, 2, 11, 49, 51, 67, 73–77, 106, 167; AdWords, 73; Images, 73; Maps, 73 Gordon, Douglas, 176 Gori, Pietro, 197 governmentality, 7–8, 54, 104, 111, 121, 173, 175, 182–83, 186 GPS. See geolocation Graeber, David, 134, 216 Gramsci, Antonio, 117–18, 128, 147, 266n37 Gray, Jessie Glenn, 87 great man, complex of, 18, 27–30, 55, 189, 215, 265n21 Guattari, Félix, 36, 59, 61, 89, 162, 168, 205, 225, 230, 234, 247n57, 248n79 Guenther, Lisa, 115, 257n22 Haddow, Douglas, 100 Han, Byung-Chul, 1 Handmaid’s Tale, The (Atwood), 15–16, 132, 259n65 Handy (digital platform), 139 Hanks, Tom, 148, 151 Harris, Jonathan Gil, 152–53 Heffernan, James, 180, 198 Hegel, G. W. F., 21–22, 49, 70, 223, 225–26, 228–30 Heidegger, Martin, 178 Her (film), 163, 166–69 Heraclitus, 87 high-frequency trading, 101, 161 Hitchcock, Alfred, 176–77 HITs (human intelligence tasks), 139, 145, 151, 159

-  272 -

Index

homophily, 143–44, 261n36 Houdini, Jean Eugène, 164 Hugo, Victor, 204 Hui, Yuk, 12 human capital, 9, 53–54, 85, 95, 119, 122, 127, 141 Hume, David, 61 hyperuranium, 58 hysteria, 12, 189–92, 210 idealization, 29, 32, 40–41, 118, 179, 217, 234, 240 idleness, 9, 39, 57, 63, 76, 147 immanence, 24, 27–28, 38, 43, 47, 98, 111, 122, 128–30, 191, 197, 220–21, 238–39, 241, 249n79, 258n30 imprevisto [unforeseen], 219 incommensurability, 115–18 indexicality, 19, 24, 50, 65; Google Calendar and, 74 instrumentality, 34, 78, 87, 89, 174, 238 Internet, 1–2, 11, 15, 40, 143, 146 interpellation, 199 Ippolita collective, 169 Irigaray, Luce, 34, 187, 210 James, William, 42 Jesi, Furio, 203 Jonze, Spike, 166, 169 Joo-ho, Bong, 171 jump cut, 169, 196, 204–6 Kafka, Franz, 124 Kant, Immanuel, 61, 72, 130 King, Elizabeth, 15 King, Robert, 114 Kleinberg, Job, 73 Kordela, Kiarina, 59, 121–22, 237, 254n44, 256n86 Lacan, Jacques, 7, 17–19, 26–28, 31, 35–38, 70–72, 99–100, 121, 124, 128, 130, 143–44, 168, 172, 186, 193, 216, 219–22, 227, 233, 259n65, 268n69 Lamarck, Jean-Baptiste, 32 Lars and the Real Girl (film), 163–66 Laval, Christian, 87, 91, 106, 253n20 Lentricchia, Frank, 176 Leopardi, Giacomo, 189 Letter to His Father (Kafka), 124

Lévi-Strauss, Claude, 33 Lewis, Gordon, 13 Lewis, Jerry, 175 limit, 8, 18, 24–28, 37, 41, 59, 61–63, 68, 74, 81–86, 95, 98, 119, 129, 156–58, 162, 166–69, 203, 209 living labor, 11–12, 39, 68, 72, 82–87, 136–38, 142–51, 159, 167, 174, 223, 225 long tail economics, 131–32, 167 Lonzi, Carla, 12, 83, 166, 216–25 lord–bondsman relation, 70, 225–26 loss: capacity to be at rest of, 86; phenomena of, 20–23; referent of, 180; self of, 113 Magritte, René, 194–99, 211 Majorat, 223–26, 239 Malcolm X, 114 mammet, 152–55, 221 mammoletta. See mammet Marcuse, Herbert, 109 Maria Theresa of Austria, 149 Marshall, Penny, 148 Marvit, Moeshe Z., 149 Marx, Karl, 8, 11, 67–69, 174, 192, 216, 223–25, 237 maternal symbolic, 5, 38, 156–58; continuum and, 20, 26, 215, 220, 240–41; interdiction and, 26, 33, 39, 144, 155 McGlotten, Shaka, 13, 140 McGowan, Todd, 210 McLuhan, Marshall, 1 McNulty, Tracy, 46, 96, 248n63, 249n79 Mechanical Turk: Amazon and, 12, 136, 138–43, 147–52, 260n20, 261nn50–54; Benjamin and, 150, 153, 194 Medea (film), 205 Méliès, Marie-Georges, 164, 168, 170 Melnyczuk, Askold, 176, 263nn21–22 melodrama, 189, 191, 199–202, 208, 243n7, 265nn18–23 Meno (Plato), 49–51, 57, 60, 71, 121, 168, 184 metalanguage, 19, 43, 61, 247n61 metonymic, 40, 210, 235 Metz, Christian, 199, 265n14 messianic power, 28, 150, 152, 154, 194 Mieli, Mario, 33–34 Miller, Jacques-Alain, 30 mise en abyme, 194, 198



Index

Möebius strip, 194 Mohammed, 152 molecularization, 50–53, 67, 76, 103, 118, 163, 175–79, 185, 212, 215, 238–39 Molecular Revolutions (Guattari), 162 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, 154 moneytime, 233–38 Morfino, Vittorio, 154–55 Moses and Monotheism (Freud), 28–32, 40 Mr. Woodcock (film), 163 MTurk. See Mechanical Turk Muraro, Luisa, 5, 19–20, 23, 26, 38, 155–58, 186, 220, 240 Mussolini, Benito, 117 Nachträglihkeit, 30, 32, 61 narcissistic sexuality, 83–84 Negri, Antonio, 135–36 Nelson, Victoria, 154 neo-archaism, 136–37, 143, 151 neopositivism, 26 Nietzsche, Friedrich, 96, 154, 205 Noys, Benjamin, 92, 107, 180 Obama, Barack, 9 objet petit a, 37–39, 71, 173, 221, 230 obligation, 7–8, 13, 36, 70, 81, 105, 113, 124–26, 145, 181, 215, 222 Oedipus Rex (film), 192–93 ordine simbolico della madre, L [The symbolic order of the mother] (Muraro), 5 Oresteia (Aeschylus), 33 Orlando Furioso [The frenzy of Orlando] (Ariosto), 195 Page, Larry, 73 PageRank, 73 Panzieri, Raniero, 135–38 Panzini, Alfredo, 203 paranoia, 93 Parinetto, Luciano, 12, 216, 223, 225–37, 239 paronomasia, 223–27 Pascoli, Giovanni, 189, 202–3 Pascoli, Ruggiero, 203 Pasolini, Pier Paolo, 192–95, 205–6, 266n37 Pasquinelli, Matteo, 82, 93, 255n70

-  273 -

passivity, 12, 47, 191–92, 215–17, 221–23, 229–32, 239–40 Paul, Saint, 17 Pellico, Silvio, 116–17, 119, 257n25 penile complex, 216–18, 221 Pfaller, Robert, 39, 251n36 phallus, 32–34, 217–18, 230 Philosophical Investigations (Wittgenstein), 23–24 platforms (digital), 2, 8, 10, 12, 19, 39, 47, 50, 66, 75, 102, 109, 131–32, 151, 169, 188; crowdworking and, 12, 133, 136–48, 159; lean platforms, 139, 143, 145; prayer platforms, 57, 245n5 Plato, 51, 57, 74 Point Omega (DeLillo), 12, 163, 175–76, 180–81, 187 political theology, 7, 38, 55, 63, 117–18, 122–23, 133, 156, 159, 163, 182, 189, 247n48; language and, 18, 24, 25, 28, 74; neoliberalism and, 8, 13, 73, 119, 136, 142, 215; sexuality and, 82; transcendence and, 12, 76, 81, 89, 221 Poliziano, Angelo, 152 post-Fordism, 41, 70–72, 76, 78, 90, 134, 141, 163–69, 235–38 Postmates (digital platform), 139 Pound, Ezra, 179 PrayerMate (App), 16 prison: literature and, 111–16, 123; trope and, 117, 119 Prison Notebooks (Gramsci), 117 production sexuality, 83–84, 161–62, 222 proper class, 194 proper name/noun, 18–20, 24–26, 28, 37–38, 152 prosthetic: war, 11, 92–93, 107, 177, 179, 183–84, 254n44; weaponry, 92–93, 98–99, 131 Proust, Marcel, 111 quantified self, 12, 109, 111, 120, 123–28, 239 queer theory, 12–13 Rad, Sean, 102 Ragland, Ellie, 210 Ramsey, F. P., 26 Rashi. See Salomo ben Isaak Reid, Julian, 90–91, 183

-  274 -

Index

reminiscence, doctrine of, 58, 60, 70 Rigoletto (Verdi), 198 Rivera, Alex, 140 Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare), 152 Rosenberg, Jordy, 53, 103, 250n7 Rovatti, Aldo, 120, 258n40 Russell, Bertrand, 26, 76

subtraction, 155, 163, 185, 188 suffering agency, 62, 86, 172 superliminality, 166, 170 surplus, 216, 241; drive and, 40, 55, 73, 77, 107, 143, 238; labor as, 9, 68–70, 72, 97, 110, 135, 140–42, 145, 147; value as, 9, 68, 72, 98, 122, 147, 162, 181, 212, 223

sacrificial economy, 8, 10–11, 13–18, 36–40, 81, 101, 105, 123–28, 133, 144–45, 159, 163, 184, 222, 241 Salomo ben Isaak (Rashi), 35 scalability, 10, 57, 67, 99, 139, 146 Schmitt, Carl, 15 Schucht, Tania, 117–18 Schulze, Jürgen, 112 Sciacchitano, Antonello, 60–62, 128–32 Scott, Joan, 133, 142–43 searching, 41–42, 77; online, 56, 63, 66, 191 self-actualization, 24, 89, 92, 212–13, 238 self-tracking, 11, 109–19, 123–26, 128, 130, 178 Sellin, Ernst, 30 separation, 5–8, 20, 24–26, 33, 61, 63, 129, 144, 156, 186, 199, 206, 209 Severino, Emanuele, 55 sexual difference, 12, 36, 143–44, 156, 215–18, 223 sexularism, 133, 142–43 Shakespeare, William, 152, 189 singularity, 12, 124–26, 132, 138, 158, 169, 173–75, 223, 237 Sleep Dealer (film), 140 Smarr, Larry, 111–12 Snowpiercer (film), 171, 263n18 sovereignty, 3, 6, 18, 26, 28, 30, 89, 123, 142, 165, 226, 257n22 spectralization, 62–65, 78, 85, 163, 177, 184 Spider Stratagem, The (film), 12, 189–95, 202, 205, 208 Srnicek, Nick, 145 Stampler, Laura, 81 Stanze per le Giostra [Stanzas on the tournament] (Poliziano), 152 Stephen-Davidowitz, Seth, 75 Stevens, Wallace, 129–30 sublimation, 19, 40–41, 43, 46, 57, 66, 234, 237, 248n63

Tasso, Torquato, 51 “Tema del Traidor y Héroe” (Borges), 189, 193 tertium non datur. See excluded middle Theaetetus, The (Plato), 182, 184 Theorem Zero (film), 171, 262n16 Theses on the Concept of History (Benjamin), 149–50 Theweleit, Klaus, 83–84, 88, 161, 222 Thumbtack (digital platform), 139 Tinder, 11, 78, 81–82, 85, 98, 102–3, 106, 131, 238, 254n63 Tiqqun, 85 Togliatti, Palmiro, 202 Tomšicˇ, Samo, 40, 247n61, 248n67 topology, 18, 23–30, 36, 41, 43, 59–60, 77, 98–99, 130, 132, 162, 166, 194–95, 198, 209, 216, 221 Totem and Taboo (Freud), 30, 246n39 trust, 2, 12, 52, 74, 76, 216, 262n70 Turing Test, 167, 171–72 Turkle, Sherry, 113 Uber, 10–11, 139, 147–48 universality, 6, 12, 19–20, 23–24, 27 Up & Go (co-op), 159, 272n70 usability, 2, 8, 12, 67, 89–90, 105, 128, 135, 145, 172–73, 183, 237, 247n57 Vai pure [You may go], 221 Vanishing Lady, The (film), 164 Verdi, Giuseppe, 198, 204 Virgil, 87 Virilio, Paul, 100–101 Virno, Paolo, 89, 194 Vita Nova [The new life] (Dante), 111 Vora, Kalindi, 138, 140 Walking Dead, The (TV series), 51–52 Wark, McKenzie, 171 Weber, Samuel, 28, 255n66 Wen, Shawn, 142

WhatsApp (app), 49 White Noise (DeLillo), 177 Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship (Goethe), 171, 211 Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 19, 22–28, 38, 41–47, 50, 58, 62, 74, 77–78, 157, 171, 227, 239, 241, 245n16, 249n91

Index Witz, 226, 234 Wolf, Gary, 109–10 Žižek, Slavoj, 32, 246n39, 259n54 zombies, 51–53

-  275 -

This page intentionally left blank

Andrea Righi is associate professor of Italian studies at Miami University. He is author of Italian Reactionary Thought and Critical Theory: An Inquiry into Savage Modernities and Biopolitics and Social Change in Italy: From Gramsci to Pasolini to Negri. He coedited, with Cesare Casarino, Another Mother: Diotima and the Symbolic Order of Italian Feminism (Minnesota, 2018).