Unproductive expenditure and the spatial ground of the Earth

Bataille on the other side of Deleuze and Guattari

Julie Wilson

Bataille on this side of Deleuze & Guattari

When Georges Bataille speaks of sumptuary, nonproductive expenditures or consumptions in connection with the energy of nature, these are expenditures or consumptions that are not part of the supposedly independent sphere of human production, insofar as the latter is determined by “the useful.” They therefore have to do with what we call the production of consumption. See Georges Bataille, La part maudite, precede de La notion de depense (4).

In the opening pages of Anti-Oedipus, in matter-of-fact, footnote manner, Deleuze & Guattari betray a certain- and as I will argue significant- affinity for the philosophical project of Bataille, in particular his category of unproductive expenditure. In all likelihood this momentary display of affection can be traced back to shared energeticist precepts; as Lysa Hochroth (foot)notes is her essay “The Scientific Imperative: Improductive Expenditure and Energeticism”: “This note by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari is one of the rare indications of an awareness of Bataille’s energeticism.” While I will argue that Bataille’s notion of unproductive expenditure is not exactly identical to Deleuze & Guattari’s notion of the production of consumption-- or antiproduction-- it is precisely this preceptual dimension of the relationship between Bataille and Deleuze & Guattari that guides the exploration attempted here.

The preceptual dimension of the relationship between Bataille and Deleuze & Guattari is defined by a common ontological sense: universal life as immanent movements, growths, energies, intensities, attractions, and repulsions. In the pages that follow, I will examine the homologous structures that articulate and interdigitate the energeticist ontologies of Bataille and Deleuze & Guattari. I will pursue the continuities and discontinuities in their respective philosophical projects-- specifically those surrounding the category of unproductive expenditure-- until we find Bataille on the other side of Deleuze & Guattari. To get there-- or rather to find Bataille here—is to produce what will refer to later on as the spatial ground of the Earth.

War and the war machine

Both Bataille and Deleuze & Guattari’s ontological projects are fueled by attempts to understand the most radical of human movements through a conceptualization of war and its different forms. These different forms of war are absolutely fundamental for grasping the political claims of each project, not to mention the stakes that surround the category of unproductive expenditure. In the thought of Bataille two different forms of war emerge: war as mystical or inner experience, and war in the more conventional sense as death and destruction on the battlefield. Much of Bataille’s wartime writings can be read as attempts to see an equivalence between actual war and mystical experience. In his book Saints of the Impossible: Bataille, Weil, and the Politics of the Sacred, Alexander Irwin references Bataille’s own words in “The Practice of Joy before Death:” “’I want to show that an equivalence exists between war, ritual sacrifice, and the mystical life.’ All these forms of behavior reflect ‘the same play of ‘ecstasies’ and ‘terrors’ in which man joins in the games of heaven’”(136). Bataille thus sees a fundamental similarity between the violence of the battlefield and mysticism in the ecstasy and terror that characterize both experiences; his insistence on the equivalence stems from both his energetic framework-- better known as general economy-- and the latter’s commitment to thinking through the category of unproductive expenditure, or the moment when production (and/or growth) has reached its terrestrial limits and must turn unproductive, or rather, destructive of energetic resources.

For Bataille, the emergence of war in both instances is intimately bound up in the category of unproductive expenditure; in fact, war is the moment and movement of unproductive expenditure, or profitless expenditure. In the energeticist ontology of Bataille, unproductive expenditure—consumptions and dissipations—are linked to the realm of the necessary; thus, so is war. In “The Practice of Joy before Death,” Bataille writes: “’I MYSELF AM WAR.’ I imagine human movement and excitation, whose possibilities are limitless: this movement and excitation can only be appeased by war” (Visions of Excess, 239). War, for Bataille, is the necessary and universal response to expansive and growth-seeking being; in this sense, war as profitless expenditure is fundamental to maintaining the balance of forces on Earth. War (and thus unproductive expenditure) engender destructions of forces and energies, but what Bataille desperately wants us to understand is that although war in-itself is immanent to and necessary for life, the form it will take is not an a priori. In Volume One of The Accursed Share, Bataille clarifies the central claims of his ontological project:

The living organism, in a situation determined by the play of energy on the surface of the globe, ordinarily receives more energy than is necessary for maintaining life; the excess energy (wealth) can be used for the growth of the system (e.g., an organism); if the system can no longer grow, or if the excess cannot be completely absorbed in growth, it must necessarily be lost without profit; it must be spent, willingly or not, gloriously or catastrophically (21).

We can ignore or forget the fact that the ground we live on is little other than a field of multiple destructions. Our ignorance only has this incontestable effect: It causes us to undergo what we could bring about in our own way, if we understood (23).

Here we see clearly the two faces of war or unproductive expenditure: the catastrophic war that destroys life through violence turned against peoples/ war experienced as undergone; and the glorious inner experience of the mystic/ war brought about in one’s own way. In the case of actual war, unproductive expenditure is the privilege of the ruling classes; in inner experience, unproductive expenditure is a sovereign moment or movement of desiring subjects.

Deleuze & Guattari’s work follows a similar structure evidenced in the concept of the war machine. In the nomadology plateau of A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Deleuze & Guattari differentiate between the war machine that takes war for its object and the war machine that draws a creative line of flight. They write:

The war machine is not uniformly defined, we have tried to define the two poles of the war machine: at one pole, it takes war for its object and forms a line of destruction prolongable to the limits of the universe. But in all of the shapes it assumes here—limited war, total war, worldwide organization—war represents not at all the supposed essence of the war machine but only, whatever the machine’s power, either the set of conditions under which the States appropriate the machine…or the dominant order of which the States themselves are now only parts. The other pole seemed to be the essence: it is when the war machine…has as its object not war but the drawing of a creative line of flight, the composition of smooth space and the movement of a people in that space…(422).

Thus, for Deleuze & Guattari the war machine at one pole has war for its object, yet this form of the war machine is not representative of the essence of the war machine; at the other pole, the war machine fulfills its essence through what they understand as deterritorialization, or drawing/following a creative line of flight.

Furthermore, these two poles of the war machine appertain to two forms of antiproduction. At one pole, war is the anitproduction of the State apparatus. In Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, they write:

The State, its police, and its army form a gigantic enterprise of antiproduction, but at the heart of production itself, and conditioning this production. Here we discover a new determination of the properly capitalist field of immanence: not only the interplay of the relations and differential coefficients of decoded flows, not only the nature of the limits that capitalism reproduces on an ever wider scale as interior limits, but the presence of antiproduction within production itself. The apparatus of antiproduction is no longer a transcendent instance that opposes production, limits it, or checks it; on the contrary, it insinuates itself everywhere in the productive machine…(235).

And at the other pole, opposing the war machine captured by the State, is the antiproduction associated with the body without organs:

The body without organs is nonproductive; nonetheless it is produced, at a certain place and a certain time in the connective synthesis, as the identity of producing and the product…The full body without organs belongs to the realm of antiproduction; but yet another characteristic of the connective or productive synthesis is the fact that it couples production with antiproduction, with an element of antiproduction (8).

In the body without organs plateau of A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze & Guattari write: “ The BwO is the field of immanence of desire, the plane of consistency specific to desire” (154). For Deleuze & Guattari the essence of the war machine is only realized in the production of antiproduction, on and through which an “identity of producing and the product” on an immanent plane of desiring is realized.

Bataille’s understanding of war as either catastrophic destruction or inner experience and Deleuze & Guattari’s vision of the two poles of the war machines suggest a certain affinity in thought. Underlying both systems are two primary forms of war: 1) war as a project/object of an order, and 2) war as a creative force of subjects.

War brought about by an Order

War as catastrophic expenditure
War as the object of the war machine that has been captured by the State
War brought about by subjects
War as inner or mystical experience
The war as the creative activity of nomads
Deleuze & Guattari

Sovereign thought and outside thought

As the previous discussion demonstrates, the respective categories of unproductive expenditure and antiproduction are central to the energeticist philosophical projects of Bataille and Deleuze & Guattari and betray a certain homology in their philosophical systems. The question thus emerges: what is the degree of identity between Bataille’s category of unproductive expenditure and Deleuze & Guattari’s conceptualization of antiproduction?

Towards an answer, the images of thought that guide these seemingly homologous projects must be clarified. For both Bataille and Deleuze & Guattari, the movements that constitute thought on the plane of immanence cannot be understood apart from force fields of desire. Both Bataille and Deleuze & Guattari are commited to an immanentist image of thought, to a smooth(er) space, to understanding that thinking happens on a plane of consistency. In each philosophical system, this field of immanence is connected to the categories of unproductive expenditure and realization or actualization of virtual desires. For both, the Universe- or the Earth- is the object of desire that corresponds to the thinking associated with their image of thought. However, the status of the on-- the relation of thinking itself to the plane-- is perhaps the major moment of discontinuity between their projects; while both understand the thinking linked to unproductive expenditure or antiproduction as a thinking that marks a qualitatively different intensity, these thinkings are situated at different crossroads. While Bataille draws strict lines between the realm of productive and unproductive expenditure, Deleuze & Guattari insist on antiproduction within production itself.

Understanding Bataille’s vision of the relationship between thinking and the plane of immanence requires elaboration of his notion of the intimate order. Bataille posits an intimate order that stands absolutely separate from what he refers to as the world of things, or the realm of production. For Bataille, life seeks to situate itself via constituting immanent relations between beings; in other words, life desires intimacy with the Universe. However, production—linked to the advent of the tool, projected ends, diachronic temporalities, and subject-object relations— dramatically alters the conditions of possibility for experiencing intimacy. Production alters the conditions of possibility for intimacy by rendering them impossible in the world of objects and for the consciousness derived therein. Subjects pursuing the production of knowledge of the universe (thought) have little choice but to situate themselves in the realm of production, to seek intimacy here. But, as we shall see, production for Bataille is always linked to homogeneity, and thus is of little value when trying to think radical forms thought and social revolution. Therefore, Bataille insists that the transfer of power from any order (that defines the world of things) to individuals necessitates accessing the intimate order. In The Theory of Religion, he explains:

The intimate order cannot truly destroy the order of things (just as the order of things has never completely destroyed the intimate order). But this real world having reached the apex of its development can be destroyed, in the sense that it can be reduced to intimacy. Strictly speaking, consciousness cannot make intimacy reducible to it, but it can reclaim its own operations, recapitulating them in reverse, so that they ultimately cancel out and consciousness itself is strictly reduced to intimacy (100).

So while Bataille recognizes that intimacy is indeed impossible, the operations that make it such can be reclaimed and reversed. Bataille’s project seeks the smooth space of the intimate order—nonrepresentable and nondiscursive being. Bataille recognizes that the object-ive fulfillment of desire is an impossible prospect, especially from the perspective of production, project, and perhaps even thought itself. However, Bataille nonetheless sees in particular movements and moments, which he refers to as sovereign, a reversal of perspective. In the sovereignty volume of The Accursed Share, Bataille writes:
Sovereign thought considers the possibility of sovereign moments that are not grasped as things…Sovereign thought, which corresponds to the “man of sovereign art,” who first expressed himself in the work of Nietzsche…envisages a complete separation from the world of things (from objective activity) and from subjectivity. It has two aspects, then. The first is the world of free subjectivity; the second is that of objectivity freed from subjectivity insofar as the latter frees itself from objectivity: these two aspects are interdependent, whence the ambiguity of this work which, wanting to reach the sovereign moment, considers practical questions so as to separate them from it, and conversely (428).

Bataille situates the thought linked to unproductive expenditure at the crossroads of the “impossible, yet there.” Sovereign thought corresponds to the war of inner experience and can be thought in terms of a strategic straddling of the interiority and exteriority by a subject that does away with any distinction between the two for and in the subject.
In Deleuze & Guattari’s system, outside (or nomadic) thought emerges as the form of thought that relates to antiproduction and the war machine. They write:

To place thought in an immediate relation with the outside, with the forces of the outside, in short to make thought a war machine, is a strange undertaking whose precise procedures can be studied in Nietzsche…Every thought is already a tribe, the opposite of a State…But the form of exteriority of thought—the force that is always external to itself, or the final force, the nth power—is not all another image in opposition to the image inspired by the State apparatus. It is, rather, a force that destroys both the image and its copies…But the form of exteriority situates thought in a smooth space that it must occupy without counting…(A Thousand Plateaus, 377)

Sovereign thought is inner experience, and outside thought is a war machine. However, it is important to note that in Deleuze & Guattari’s image of thought, the plane of immanence is always already achieved, always already there. Rather than situated at the crossroads of the impossible yet there, outside thought emerges as an ontological category; in other words, outside thought in always already inside and vice versa, situated at the crossroads of the always already there. It is my contention that both Bataille and Deleuze & Guattari’s insistence on seeing some equivalence between actual war and creative subjective experiences stem from their attempts to understand thought itself through the category of unproductive expenditure or antiproduction. Furthermore, both sets of thinkers attempt to apply their image of thought-- envisioned through categories of unproductive expenditure-- to social reality and the power relations that constitute productive processes. For Bataille, thinking social reality through unproductive expenditure is to produce conceptually negativity with no use. Deleuze & Guattari, on the other hand, seek to do away with all conceptual negativity in order to find the nomadic subject always already there. Thus, for Bataille, unproductive expenditure is necessary yet non-ontological; it must be brought about by a subject at the crossroads of the impossible. For Deleuze & Guattari, the creative movement of the nomad emerges as an ontological category, as the possibility for (anti)production is always already there in every instance of thought and every human action.

The heterogeneous and the deterritorialized

In “The Psychological Structure of Fascism,” Bataille differentiates between the realms of homogeneous and heterogeneous reality; social homogeneity is connected to the realm of production. He writes:

Production is the basis of a social homogeneity. Homogeneous society is productive society, namely, useful society…The common denominator, the foundation of social homogeneity and of the activity arising from it, is money, namely, the calculable equivalent of the different products of collective activity…According to the judgement of homogeneous society, each man is worth what he produces; in other words, he stops being an existence for itself…(Visions of Excess, 138).

To social homogeneity, Bataille opposes a social heterogeneity that is connected to the realm of the unproductive elements of society, stating that “the heterogeneous world includes everything resulting from unproductive expenditure…This consists of everything rejected by homogeneous society as waste…(142). Hence unproductive expenditure emerges in a society as the useless, rejected, and unassimulatble parts, including the lower classes (impure forms) as well as sacred (pure) forms. However, Bataille sees in the useless and unproductive the real power of the intimate order. He writes: “Heterogeneous reality is that of a force or a shock. It presents itself as a charge, as a value, passing from one object to another in a more or less abstract fashion, almost as if the change were taking place not in the world of objects but only in the judgments of the subject” (143).

What is crucial in Bataille’s discussion in this essay is his careful distinction between the State and sovereign forms. While the State is indeed the producer and enforcer of social homogeneity, the organizer of productive forces par excellence, the State in-itself is not a sovereign form of organization. Bataille writes:

…the protection of homogeneity likes in its recourse to imperative elements that are capable of obliterating the various unruly forces or bringing them under the control of order.

The State is not itself one of these imperative elements; it is distinct from kings, heads of the army, or of nations…This part is an intermediary formation between the homogeneous classes and the sovereign agencies from which it must borrow its obligatory character, but whose exercise whose exercise of sovereignty must rely upon it as an intermediary (139).

Sovereign power belongs to the realm of the heterogeneous; the state therefore can only produce or consume itself in a sovereign manner by capturing certain affective, outside, heterogeneous forces. Consider the following passage from The Theory of Religion where Bataille describes the production of sovereignty specific to empire:

The empire submits from the start to the primacy of the real order. It posits itself essentially as a thing. It subordinates itself to ends that it affirms: it is the administration of reason. But it could never allow another empire to exist at its frontier as an equal. Every presence around it is ordered relative to it in a project of conquest. In this way it loses the simple individualized character of the limited community. It is not a thing in the sense in which things fit into the order that belongs to them; it is itself the order of things and it is a universal thing. At this level, the thing that cannot have a sovereign character cannot have a subordinate character either, since in theory it is an operation developed to the limit of possibilities. At the limit, it is no longer a thing, in that it bears within it, beyond its intangible qualities, an opening to all that is possible. But in itself this opening is a void. It is only thing at the moment when it is undone, revealing the impossibility of infinite subordination. But it consumes itself in a sovereign way. For essentially it is always a thing, and the movement of consumption must come to if from the outside (66-67).

Sovereignty for Bataille is not essentially related to the order of the productive realm. Rather, it is a specific configuration of desire and force, a particular relation of productive processes to the intimate order, a certain movement or judgement that effects the capturing of heterogeneous forces.

What Deleuze & Guattari understand as deterritorialization corresponds to Bataille’s notion of capturing heterogeneous forces. Deterritorialization “is the movement by which ‘one’ leaves the territory. It is the operation of the line of flight” (A Thousand Plateaus, 508). Deleuze & Guattari’s description of deterritorialization as a connecting up with an abstract desiring machine is very close to what Bataille understands as the force or shock of heterogeneous reality; deterritorialization is an ontological category and testifies to the existence of what Bataille understands as the heterogeneous realm. According to Deleuze & Guattari, processes of territorialization homogenize and stratify social existence, while deterritorialization is a movement that escapes the homogeneous realm and opens onto a body without organs, the smooth space of the plane of consistency that is the condition of possibility of all heterogeneous forms and experiences. Thus, deterritorialization is a decoding and freeing up of energetic flows, and, as the opening up onto the smooth space of the body without organs, an operation of antiproduction.

In the works of Deleuze & Guattari, absolute deterritorialization—or deterritorialization with no reterritorialization afterward or conjugations of lines of flight-- emerges as a primary concept intimately bound up in two important discussions: the discussion of nomad and the discussion of the capitalist axiomatic which represent respectively the positive and negative forms of deterritorialization and correspond to the two poles of the war machine. The concept of the nomad corresponds to positive deterritorialization. Deleuze & Guattari write:

….nomads have no points, paths, or land, even though they do by all appearances. If the nomad can be called the Deterritorialized par excellence, it is precisely because there is no reterritorialization afterward…With the nomad, on the contrary, it is deterritorialization that constitutes the relation to the earth, to such a degree that the nomad reterritorializes on deterritorialization itself. It is the earth that deterritorializes itself, in a way that provides the nomad with a territory. The land ceases to be land, tending to become simply the ground (sol) or support. The earth does not become deterritorialized in its global and relative movement, but at specific locations…(A Thousand Plateaus, 381).

In the case of the nomad, the Earth itself is taken to be the object of higher unity—the One-- through which deterritorialization proceeds. Here we are reminded of Bataille when he writes that subjects desire a smoother space “where objects are on the same plane as the subject, where they form, together with the subject, a sovereign totality which is not divided by any abstraction and is commensurate with the entire universe” (Accursed Share, Volume 2 112). For Deleuze & Guattari what is always at stake is the One that all deterritorialization requires in order to move; in the case of the nomad, the war machine takes the energetic and heterogeneous Earth. On the other hand, there is the decoding of flows that corresponds to the mandates of the capitalist axiomatic, or negative deterritorialization par excellence, which takes the commodity form as its One. Deleuze & Guattari explain that “Capitalism…is not at all territorial, even in its beginnings; its power of deterritorialization consists in taking as its object, not the earth, but ‘materialized labor,’ the commodity” (A Thousand Plateaus, 454).

In both cases—the deterritorialization of the nomad and the deterritorialization of capital—the body without organs emerges as the smooth space, the plane consistency or the field of immanent relations of force. Thus, the horizon of integrated world capitalism is not striated capital, which is connected to the power of States, but rather smooth capital, which finds as its medium the network power of transnational corporations and the global organizations established to facilitate their transactions and flows. Deleuze and Guattari write:

Striation, of course, survives in the most perfect and severest of forms….however, it relates primarily to the state pole of capitalism, in other words, the role of the modern State apparatuses in the organization of capital. On the other hand, at the complementary and dominant level of integrated world capitalism, a new smooth space is produced…the essential thing is instead the distinction between striated capital and smooth capital, and the way in which the former gives rise to the latter through complexes that cut across territories and States, and even different types of States (A Thousand Plateaus, 492).

Striation is thus linked to the existence of State apparatuses that have captured the capitalist war machine; however, integrated world capitalism, as absolute negative deterritorializaton, seeks and produces a new kind of smooth space that must be recognized and confronted.

Capitalism, ontology, and the Earth

What interests me most about both Bataille and Deleuze & Guattari’s projects is perhaps their shared understanding of how capitalism finds its heterogeneous force at the level of ontology, either through ordering the world of things and production or through the negative deterritorialization of late capitalism. Both understandings resonate with Guy Debord’s understanding of the commodity as spectacle, for as Debord writes: “The spectacle is a permanent opium war waged to make it impossible to distinguish goods from commodities, or true satisfaction from a survival that increases according to its own logic. Consumable survival must increase, in fact, because it continues to enshrine deprivation” (Society of the Spectacle, 30). For both Bataille and Deleuze & Guattari, the commodity-- taken as the object of higher unity and the logic of all production—leads to the systematic and expansive neutralizing of subjective, heterogeneous reality, which for both Bataille and Deleuze & Guattari, can be thought as an indexer of “true satisfaction.”

Olivier Assayas’ 2003 French film Demonlover is perhaps one of the first films to explore the ontological effects of global flows of capital and the production of what Deleuze & Guattari understand as smooth capital. The film pursues its exploration at both the level of narrative and spectatorship. At the narrative level, the film follows Diane, a corporate double agent, who has been sent undercover by Mangatronics-- an anime porn distributor-- into the heart of a French multinational whose eminent purchase of an anime porn production company and subsequent distribution deal with competing American distributor—Demonlover-- would destroy Mangatronics. Diane drugs a powerful co-worker and arranges an assault that ultimately lands Diane in a position to negotiate the Demonlover deal, seemingly putting her in control of the fate of Mangatronics. The narrative changes radically at the moment when Diane appears to have murdered a Demonlover executive who discovered her double identity. Diane awakes from the violent encounter alone; all evidence of the event erased. From this point on, the narrative collapses onto itself, as all that seemed to be is not. Diane learns that the multinational she has infiltrated is full of Demonlover double agents; moreover, these agents are connected to the production and distribution of numerous other porn outfits, of particular import is an interactive internet torture site that allow users to devise sadistic fantasies and view the actual torture of virtual characters. Reality in the world of the film becomes totally subsumed in the de-coded power relations between characters that mirror the de-coding of flows of capital between corporate entities. Ultimately, Diane’s story-boarded loss of power over her desire is simultaneously her loss of narrative power-- a loss that in turn effects a de-stabilization of identification with regards to the spectator. Diane’s existence is (anti)produced as smooth capital, as her body eventually becomes the literally tortured site of global exchange; the film closes with a shot of a pre-pubescent, American upper-middle class boy directing the actual torture of Diane’s body (now in Mexico) fantasized as Storm from the X-men in between dinner and his homework. In Demonlover, Debord’s warning that the spectacle is “not a collection of images” but rather “a social relation that is mediated by images” finds its full force (Society of the Spectacle, 12).
I have chosen to look briefly at this text in order to articulate the present political stakes in the conditioning of the category of unproductive expenditure and, simultaneously, to expose the different crossroads at which the ontological projects of Bataille and Deleuze & Guattari are situated. Specifically, I am interested in the critique that Demonlover offers of understanding absolute deterritorialization as an ontological category.

Deleuze & Guattari’s Demonlover

As discussed earlier, deterritorialization for Deleuze & Guattari is an ontological category. All thought is always already there-- territorializing, deterritorializing, and reterritorializing though with varying degrees of speed and intensity. Demonlover is thus an exploration par excellence of what Deleuze & Guattari understand as the force of global capitalism: to move intensively like thought itself and to actualize through the One of the commodity form the abstract desiring machines that are its medium. For Deleuze & Guattari, the line between the force of capitalism and the force of thinking itself—hence the line between capitalism and ontology—is virtually non-existent. Rather, what matters for Deleuze & Guattari is the One through which each proceeds: in the case of smooth capital, deterritorializing proceeds through the commodity form, while in the thought of the nomad, deterritorializing proceeds through the Earth. In Demonlover what I will call the spatial ground of the Earth—the Earth of positive deterritorialization-- is nowhere to be found. The film creates an excess of interior spaces and production sites—airplanes, corporate offices, hotels, restaurants, unidentified compounds-- which Diane and her desire flow through unobstructed.

It is important to see, however, that Diane is a nomad; moreover, through Diane, the film produces a nomadic spectator—a spectator who “goes from point to point only as a consequence and as a factual necessity…points for him are relays along a trajectory” (A Thousand Plateaus, 380). The life of the spectator viewing Demonlover is always in-between the narrative coding and decoding of images, spaces, relationships, and events. Diane and the spectator occupy the smooth and open space produced by deterritorialization. In this story that relies so heavily on the production of an excess of space, time has little symbolic or narrative value; smooth capital relies less on a concept of absolute and infinite time (that circumscribes the work of bodies) and more on a concept of absolute and infinite space (that circumscribes the desire of bodies). In the wake of smooth capital, space emerges less as an extensive category and more as an intensive category. In this way, Demonlover, read through Deleuze & Guattari’s framework, functions as an effective and affective critique of the smooth space of smooth capital and absolute negative deterritorialization.

What is obviously at stake in the question of a spatial ground is the Earth is how to make deterritorialization proceed through an abstract machine that takes the Earth for its object of unity. The questions that concern me in the wake of Demonlover seen through Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophical framework are as follows: What is the spatial ground of the nomad? How, in the face of the smooth capital of integrated world capitalism, do nomads find the earth? Can an ontology of production, an ontology that sees deterritorialization itself as an always already instance of thought, effectively produce a concept of the spatial ground of the Earth? If there is no line that separates the movement of thinking and the movement of capital, how can one effect positive deterritorialization? Ultimately, isn’t the Deleuze/Guattarian concept of nomad subjectivity in the wake of integrated world capitalism an ontologization of global capitalism?

Put another way, if we take Deleuze & Guattari at their word, can there be an anti-capitalist logic? As expounded in the introduction to their book, Deleuze & Guattari’s project in A Thousand Plateaus is to produce what they refer to as the logic of the and, a logic of conjunction and connection, a logic that seeks to situate thought on the plane of immanence constituted by machinic assemblages of territorialization and deterritorialization, a logic that corresponds to the deterritorializing movements of the rhizomatic production of nomads. However, in the smooth space of smooth capital, what is to separate nomad subjectivity from capitalist subjectivity? Isn’t the logic of the and just the logic of infinite growth, or more concretely, the logic of the growth (productive) imperative of capital?

Guattari’s 1989 essay “The Three Ecologies” is perhaps the text that best represents how Deleuze & Guattari might respond to the questions posed above. Here Guattari sets out to resolve the “nagging paradox” that obstructs all attempts to effect what Deleuze & Gauttari under as positive or nomadic deterritorialization:

On the one hand, the continuous development of new techno-scientific means to potentially resolve the dominant ecological issues and reinstate socially useful activities on the surface of the planet, and, on the other hand, the inability of organized social forces and constituted subjective formations to take hold of these resources in order to make them work (31).

The latter end of the paradox, Guatttari attributes to the production of capitalist subjectivity:

A capitalist subjectivity is engendered through operators of all types and sizes, and is manufactured to protect existence from any intrusion of events that might disturb or disrupt public opinion…Therefore, it endeavors to manage the worlds of childhood, love, art, as well as everything associated with anxiety, madness, pain, death, or a feeling of being lost in the Cosmos…IWC forms massive subjective aggregates from the most personal…Capitalist subjectivity seeks to gain power by controlling and neutralizing the maximum number of existential refrain (50).

Guattari’s solution to capitalist subjectivity is the production of a logic of intensities that he refers to as eco-logic:
Ecological praxes strive to scout out the potential vectors of subjectification and singularization at each partial existential locus. They generally seek something that runs counter to the ‘normal’ order of things, a counter-repetition, an intensive given which invokes other intensities to form new existential configurations…

…the expressive a-signifying rupture summons forth a creative repetition that forges incorporeal objects, abstract machines and Universes of value that make their presence felt as though they had been always ‘already there’, although they are entirely dependent on the existential event that brings them into play (45).

Thus eco-logic is a logic of the and that produces anti-capitalist subject groups that deterritorialize nomadically at strategic locations, taking the deterritorialized Earth itself as their object of universal yet singular reterritorialization. Underlying Guattari’s argument is a dual commitment: a commitment to the logic of the and and the ontological status of deterritorialization, and a commitment to productive forces. Deleuze & Guattari’s geophilosophical project is thus one that seeks to “reevaluate the purpose of work and human activities according to different criteria that those of profit and yield (The Three Ecologies, 57). Deleuze & Guattari advocate for the production of singularized subject group formations constituted by new Universal value systems and processes of production.

It is my sense, however, that trying to hold on to this dual commitment effects a perculiar ontologization of capital, especially the smooth space of smooth capital. Here Walter Benjamin’s critique of vulgar Marxist projects the characterized German labor movements resonates. In “Thesis on the Philosophy of History,” Benjamin writes:

Smelling a rat, Marx countered that “…the man who possesses no other property than his labor power” must of necessity become “the slave of other men who have made themselves the owners…” However, the confusion spread, and soon thereafter Josef Dietzgen proclaimed: “the savior of modern times is called work. The…improvement…of labor constitutes the wealth which is now able to accomplish what no redeemer has ever been able to do.” This vulgar-Marxist conception of nature bypasses the question of how its products might benefit the workers while still not being at their disposal. It recognizes only the progress in the mastery of nature, not the retrogression of society…The new conception of labor amounts to the exploitation of nature, which the naïve complacency is contrasted with the exploitation of the proletariat. Compared with this positivistic conception, Fourier’s fantasies, which have so often been ridiculed, prove to be surprisingly sound. According to Fourier, as a result of efficient cooperative labor, four moons would illuminate the earthly night, the ice would recede from the poles, sea water would no longer taste salty, and beasts of prey would do man’s bidding. All this illustrated a kind of labor which, far from exploiting nature, is capable of delivering here of the creations which lie dormant in her womb as potentials. Nature, which, as Dietzgen puts it, “exists gratis,” is a complement to the corrupted conception of labor (Illuminations, 259).

Benjamin’s point here is important: the valorization and fetishization of productive forces is linked to an understanding of the Earth as gratis, free for exploitation by man. This understanding of the Earth forecloses the possibility of free and cooperative communities. What is required for a properly Marxist, ecological praxis is thus a particular valuing of the Earth, in other words, taking into consideration the loss of natural resources and energies when attempting to evaluate productive practices. The question thus emerges: Does Deleuze & Guattari’s image of thought, situated at the crossroads of the already there, committed to seeing antiproduction within production itself, enable an understanding of the Earth as non gratis?
In order to answer this question in the affirmative, it is my contention that Deleuze & Guattari need Bataille more than they may care to admit; for it is precisely as the crossroads of thought that Deleuze & Guattari must find what Bataille understands as the loss principle, the principle of unproductive expenditure that is beyond all thought and productive activity. It is my contention that the logic of the and needs a but that would mark the limit, specifically the terrestrial limit of growth that corresponds to the spatial ground of the Earth. What Guattari sees as needing to be reevaluated in regards to the principles of the world of human works and activities is perhaps just the understanding that not everything can ontologically belong the realm of the productive and infinite growth. The already there is not necessarily antiproduction within production itself (which is the absolute logic of late, globalized capitalism) but the unproductive expenditure that belongs to the impossible, yet there, the logic of a but, that corresponds to an understanding that the earth itself is not free precisely because energetic resources are not infinite. A logic of a but understands that, at some points, operations of production must be reversed and forces must flow back and be lost to the outside which is beyond thought.

Bataille’s Demonlover

Demonlover emerges in the wake of Bataille as a slightly different text, precisely because Diane is not a nomad, or to use Bataille’s corresponding category, a being that occupies heterogeneous social reality and is capable of experiencing war in any form. Rather, Diane is invested in the order of work to such an intensive degree that she cannot touch the intimate order, much less reclaim and reverse its operations. The film is a chronicle of her loss of sovereignty and desire at every turn, an experimental poem that explores the inability of subjects like Diane to reclaim and reverse the operations of consciousness and to grasp the impossible. Diane’s desire-- and thus existence-- is totally subsumed by the organization of productive forces particular to global capital. Furthermore, the emergence of the smooth space of smooth capital is in effect a massive overcoding- not decoding- of energetic flows that negates all terrestrial spatial limits (the spatial ground of the Earth) in order to accumulate heterogeneous forces the bring about what Debord sees as “the perfected denial of man” through “augmented survival” (Society of the Spectacle, 27-30) Demonlover seen through Bataille is thus a critique of not only the smooth space of smooth capital, but also a critique of deterritorialization taken as an ontological category; Demonlover demonstrates that deterritorialization taken as an ontological category is just the heterogeneous force of global capital.

The way to find the spatial ground of the Earth is to think the limits of growth--ontologically and terrestrially-- the points at which productive force must turn unproductive. Deterritorialization as the instance of thought is just the force of capital; however deteritorrialization as the movement of thought beyond itself, situated as the crossroads of the impossible yet there is an effective strategy for freeing energetic flows from capitalist processes of production. Ultimately, Bataille understands that the Earth is not free, precisely because there are always already limits to all aspirations of growth and expansion. To find Bataille on this side of Deleuze & Guattari is to find the spatial ground of the Earth-- the One of positive deterritorialization-- that the smooth space of smooth capital seeks at every turn to negate.

Works Cited:

Bataille, Georges. Accursed Share, Volume One. New York: Zone Books, 1991.

Bataille, Georges. Accursed Share, Volumes Two & Three. New York: Zone Books, 1993.

Bataille, Georges. Theory of Religion. New York: Zone Books, 1989.

Bataille, Georges. Visions of Excess Selected Writings, 1927-1939. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985.

Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations. New York: Schocken Books, 1968.

Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. New York: Zone Books, 1995.

Deleuze, Gilles, & Guattari, Felix. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983.

Deleuze, Gilles, & Guattari, Felix. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987.

Guattari, Felix. The Three Ecologies. London: Athlone Press, 2000.

Hochroth, Lysa. “The Scientific Imperative: Improductive Expenditure and Energeticism.”
Configurations 3.1 (1995): 47-77.

Irwin, Alexander. Saints of the Impossible: Bataille, Weil, and the Politics of the Sacred. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002.

little site banner