Nomad Citizenship revisited, Part Two of Three

This is the second installment of an essay on “Nomad Citizenship revisited” (announced and outlined in a post here at the beginning of February).  It includes most of the first installment, here rewritten and expanded.

Deleuze and Guattari’s fundamental agreements with Althusser are numerous: the attempt to salvage Marxism from Hegelianism by drawing instead on Spinoza; the “Problematic” status of the economic as a virtual structure both expressed and masked by actual solutions; the importance of the division of labor as social multiplicity (relative to class struggle); and the “becoming-necessary” of a mode of production as a result of machinic processes, rather than the mode being given as a point of departure.  Yet despite these fundamental areas of agreement, Deleuze and Guattari vehemently rejected the notion of ideology – even the new and improved version Althusser proposed, drawing on Lacan, in his famous essay on Ideological State Apparatuses.  They rejected standard notions of ideology for overemphasizing cognition and ignoring the primacy of desire: ideology would not be an instance of “seeing is believing” (empiricism), but of “believing (desiring) is seeing”: people see what they want to see, what they desire.  But Althusser’s Lacanian version of ideology does center on desire: desire as desire of the Other.  Althusser thereby ingeniously redefines ideology as the constitution of the Subject through interpellation by what Zizek (following Lacan) calls the “big Other” – a composite and ultimately fictitious figure based on such real-life authorities as fathers, teachers, preachers, leaders, the police, and the boss.  Crucial for Althusser is that all these figure-heads operate within various Ideological State Apparatuses, and that these Apparatuses all align to reproduce the capitalist mode of production, which is the core function of the State. While recognizing the preponderance of (usually State-run) school-systems in fulfilling this function, Althusser dramatizes the structure of ideology by staging a scene where the Subject emerges through interpellation by turning around when a police officer shouts “Hey you!”

Deleuze and Guattari would agree that a kind of chain of equivalence links the various figure-heads ranging from father to boss as Oedipal authorities, since the father’s authority within the Oedipus complex is itself derived from various forms of despotic authority within social institutions such as the church and the State to begin with.  But what Althusser actually describes is not the ideological constitution of the Subject, but only of the citizen.  This is most dramatically evident in the scene of interpellation with the policeman; but insofar as the function of ideology in all institutions is to reproduce (or challenge the reproduction of) the State, what Althusser indentifies as subjectivity is actually no more than citizenship.  Subjectivity is in fact far more polymorphous than this: the subject qua child, sibling, student, worker, hobbyist, parent, lifestyle-consumer – don’t all align on the citizen-subject, which exists alongside them rather than subsuming them.  The State is not, in other words, the “big Other” from which other instances of institutional authority derive, nor does it found or guarantee their coherence or alignment: just as much as the mode of production, the State only tends toward consistency or is always only becoming-necessary as a result of machinic processes which are themselves disparate, heterogeneous, multiple.  (This is to say, in a very different idiom, that subjectivity is always “intersectional”.)

Yet schizoanalysis never denies that the nuclear family contributes to the constitution of subjectivity.  What schizoanalysis does deny is that the nuclear family is the only or even the most important factor in the formation of subjectivity: rather, the family operates alongside of other institutions; and indeed, it serves to relay determinations from these other institutions to emergent subjectivity in its earliest stages of formation.  And schizoanalysis also denies, perhaps even more importantly, the Oedipal precept that the relation to the Father or the name-of-the-Father is ultimately the most important axis of intersubjectivity within the nuclear family.  For placing the Oedipal Father at the core of the nuclear family privileges relations of obedience/disobedience in the constitution of subjectivity – precisely the relationship that is central to the Subject’s interpellation by the police and the other big Others in all of Althusser’s ISAs: citizen-subjects either consent or refuse to contribute to the reproduction of the mode of production at the behest of the State.  (Notice that the relationship to the big Other and the binary alternative obey/disobey situate the Father-relation predominantly in the Symbolic and Imaginary registers.)  What’s more, focusing on the Father obscures relations with the Mother, which Deleuze and Guattari consider more important and more fundamental.  Originary maternal relations are comprised not by the binary alternative between obeying and disobeying, but by an exceedingly complex admixture of pleasure and nourishment, of desire and need.  They are part-object relations situated in the body, rather than whole-object relations defined by meaning.  They are Real relations that subsist even while getting over-written in the Imaginary and Symbolic registers, and even when the placenta and then the breast get displaced by other, more worldly sources of nourishment and gratification, as the Subject moves beyond the breast and the nuclear family through other institutions such as school cafeterias, grocery stores, and restaurants, nightclubs, shopping malls, and online dating sites – each and every one of which contributes in some degree to the polymorphous constitution of subjectivity.

Importantly, such institutions do so not by means of interpellation alone, but also by a process of “solicitation” or attraction promising some measure and form of nourishment and/or gratification, however attenuated, sublimated, varied or perverse.  Following Bergson and Jung, Deleuze considers institutions as the key site where “instinctual need” gets mapped onto objects.  Grocery stores and restaurants, for example, both respond to the basic need for nourishment, but in differing admixtures of the satisfaction of real need, the gratification of interpersonal desire, and the sheer enjoyment of eating – distributed differently, of course, over the various subject-positions involved, ranging from the interpellation of the waiter by the boss, whom he obeys, to the satisfactions of working as a team (or a pack) with other members of the wait-staff, to the consummate enjoyment of the customers enjoying their meals (while also satisfying, at some level, a real need for nourishment).  So the originally “maternal” relations are not “pre-Oedipal” in any strict chronological sense: they remain in effect, as Real and as necessary, throughout life; in this sense, they are as much “post-Oedipal” as they are “pre-Oedipal”.  But in a more important sense, they are anti-Oedipal: as part-object relations, they defy all logics of identity and unification, denying the (Imaginary) authority of the big Other, the (Imaginary) coherence of the Symbolic order – and any (equally Imaginary) alignment of institutions on the sole State function of reproducing the mode of production.  In reality, then, what Althusser calls “ideological state apparatuses” are neither ideological nor state-centric: what they constitute is not a citizen-subject – or not only a citizen-subject – but a polymorphous, intersectional, schizophrenic subject in continuous, though continually-changing, contact with the part-object Real through a whole variety of institutions.

Against the kind of whole-object personification involved in subject-construction according to Sartre, Lacan, and Levinas, the schizophrenic subject is constituted through interpellation and solicitation not in relation to a person or even the figure of a person (father, police officer, sujet-supposé-savoir), but in relation to a set or series of institutions and situations, which include people (as part-objects) but also include real things, material processes, and institutional arrangements.  The authority denied to the Symbolic Other gets displaced onto actual institutions and situations, which (as political theorist Mary Parker Follett has argued) contain authority immanently as assemblages of what she called “related difference” (as nomadic multiplicities).  In this respect, subject-constitution in Deleuze & Guattari is closer to Badiou than to Lacan and Althusser – inasmuch as Badiou’s militant subject gets constituted in relation to an actual historical Event (with a capital E) rather than a person or authority-figure.  But there are at least two crucial differences: first of all, whereas the commitment of Badiou’s militant to history is a matter of steel-willed fidelity to the Event, the engagement of Deleuze and Guattari’s schizophrenic subject is a complex combination of attraction to and responsiveness to the prospects for the satisfaction of needs and the gratification of desire as conditioned by adherence to institutional rules and recognition of situational opportunities and limitations.  Equally important, while truly historical Events for Badiou are rare, for Deleuze & Guattari, it is historical coherence and continuity that are rare, while signal events within it are practically ubiquitous: they are called becomings.  For Deleuze & Guattari, then, schizophrenic subjectivity at its most productive is constituted not in relation to a single authority-figure or a singular Event, but in relation to (some of) the multiple becomings inherent in any institutional situation.  Crucially, these becomings open institutions to the entire social field (if not to a singular History with a capital H, as in Badiou).  Just as much as the nuclear family, institutions are situated within the force-fields of society at large, whose flows cross their permeable boundaries in both directions.

I say “society at large” and not “society as a whole” because, given a fractured Symbolic order, society does not form a whole.  Neither Deleuze & Guattari nor Althusser, however, go as far as Gibson-Graham in denying society law-like or deterministic behavior altogether.  Drawing on Deleuze (though using the term in a quite different sense), Althusser ultimately describes structural determination as always “becoming-necessary” rather than always-already necessary.  And in the second volume of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Deleuze & Guattari reject the primacy of the mode of production, which had figured so centrally in the first volume, insisting that the mode of production is determined by machinic processes rather than the other way around.  In this light, the perpetual “becoming-necessary” of a mode of production depends on the degree of consistency attained by the multiple institutions comprising a social formation – not just on the degree to which members of a given institution enact or resist obedience to its authority functioning as a stand-in for the State, nor on the number of institutions that obey compared to the number that don’t.  At one pole of a spectrum, an institution will tend toward “becoming-consistent,” with its formal power-structure and/or the substance of its practical activity aligning with and reinforcing  those of the State and of capital; at another pole, an institution may tend toward “becoming-revolutionary,” as its structure and aims challenge the continued reproduction of the State and capital; and there are many other poles.  But with respect to society at large, each institution embodies what Lyotard called a language-game, whose relationship to other institutional language-games is indeterminate, just as within each institution, there are multiple incommensurate language-games operating in tension with one another – the obedience-game with respect to the boss, for example, in tension with the teamwork-game of the wait-staff.  These disparate language-games must achieve a certain degree of coherence or consistency for the institution to survive or thrive, just as institutional language-games at the next level must maintain a sufficient degree of consistency for the mode of production or social formation to continue “becoming-necessary”.

In a purely nomadic, purely self-organizing group (were such a thing possible), the mantle of authority would fall on whoever happened to express the becoming best suited to the event or situation at hand (even if what is “best suited” to a given situation can ultimately only be determined by experimentation).  Although in a sense all groups are self-organizing, groups become institutions by fixing a certain organizational form in an explicit and more or less permanent structure (by means of a charter, for instance), and as often as not by assigning specific individuals to more or less permanent positions of authority – regardless of the situation and of their expressive capacity or incapacity in relation to it.  Relative to nomadic groups, institutions thus run the twin risks of subordinating the pursuit of the aims for which it was founded to the preservation of the institution itself, and of sacrificing its flexibility in responding to novel events and changing circumstances to the maintenance of the established power-structure and the power-status of its current appointees.  The organizational charter of the Orpheus Symphony Orchestra, let me say in passing, is instructive in this regard: rather than appoint their conductor, artistic director, business manager, and so on, on a permanent basis, the group selects whoever seems best suited to each position according to what piece they are preparing to perform, so that authority repeatedly devolves to different members of the group in line with their differing expressive capacities in relation to the group’s changing repertoire.  The contrast with Orpheus is instructive precisely because institutions as a rule tend to lose such flexibility and responsiveness, and end up forfeiting their real reason for existing in order to perpetuate their existence for its own sake.

The next step will be to suggest what nomad citizens working within existing institutions can do to regain some of that lost flexiblity and responsiveness.


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