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Colebrook’22 |Claire Colebrook is Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English at Penn State University. Phd in Philosophy from the University of Edinburgh. “Deleuze after Afro Pessimism” in From Deleuze and Guattari to Posthumanism. Bloomsbury edited by Rosi Braidotti. 2022|KZaidi

In both Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari describe the formation of the human as the effect of a particular mode of relations, and in this respect, they need to be contrasted with certain forms of posthumanism that relinquish the singularity of the human. On the one hand, and this is the strand of Deleuze and Guattari’s thought that is taken up by Viveiros de Castro, ‘man’ is a specific modality of a broader potentiality of the human, and what is required – in order to understand man and his others – is a political, racial and sexual history of the ‘humanity’ that has become the transcendent figure for human life in general. ‘Man’ would be bound up with capitalist social formations, where there is no transcendent authority – no despot or law – and only the axiom of maximizing the flows of labour and property. In Anti-Oedipus they mark out the three formations of primitivism, despotism and capitalism, where relations among bodies that are formed by the selection of qualities, become subjected to a single body as the origin of the law (despotism) and then becomes further deterritorialized with the single capitalist axiom of maximizing flows: there is no overarching body of law other than the capacity to exchange. However, when one thinks about neoliberalism one can at least acknowledge, by its own admission, that it is the ‘end of man’:14 no norm or ideology rules the whole, in a world that is nothing more than the free flow of capital – where capital includes affects, data and apparent resistance. Being a good subject does not amount to adopting the norms of the man of reason, nor does it entail obeying the morals of the upright soul. Foucault argues in Discipline and Punish that the soul is the prison of the body; discipline is achieved by way of techniques that turn attention and care inwards.15 In neoliberalism, the discipline enabled by technologies of the self shifts towards the control mechanisms that quantify and maximize life. The subject becomes nothing more than a point of flow; the corporations that manage big data know all too well the value of a certain flat and affect-laden posthumanism. Be nothing more than the feels and resistances of one’s screen time: one can purchase pussy hats, ‘Black Lives Matter’ merchandise and copies of Franz Fanon on Amazon. The neoliberal university wants nothing more than public impact of research, which amounts to quantifying citations and more inventive outputs. It does not matter what is said, so much that one’s output is circulated – where impact is measured in keeping the flows going; grants beget grants, projects beget projects and impact delivers the further funding that will then be measured in terms of impact. One might think of this type of posthumanism as seemingly ontologically flat but ultimately equivocal: everything flows in the same mesh or web of relations, and yet everything is thought of according to an overarching conception of life (or affect or relationality). What cannot be thought of is either differences of register or a radical perspectivism. What if one were to admit that there are different – radically different – ways of thinking about perspective? What if each aspect of the word unfolded with its own sense of the infinite? Rather than the lofty gaze of the anthropologist who understands all others as human ‘just like me’ one might consider that there are other-than-human conceptions of the whole, points of view for whom the grand inclusiveness of ‘humanity’ might appear oddly parochial. Univocity would demand that relations be liberated from ‘the human’, and this would include liberating relations from posthumanism’s faux humanisms – where everything is part of one vital domain of life or affect.16 Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition concludes with the radical affirmation of univocity; such a thought would require that no term or set of relations provides a privileged way to think the whole; each aspect of the whole opens to its own infinite: Opening is an essential feature of univocity. The nomadic distributions or crowned anarchies in the univocal stand opposed to the sedentary distributions of analogy. Only there does the cry resound: ‘Everything is equal!’ and ‘Everything returns!’. However, this ‘Everything is equal’ and this ‘Everything returns’ can be said only at the point at which the extremity of difference is reached. A single and same voice for the whole thousand-voiced multiple, a single and same Ocean for all the drops, a single clamour of Being for all beings: on condition that each being, each drop and each voice has reached the state of excess – in other words, the difference which displaces and disguises them and, in turning upon its mobile cusp, causes them to return.17

It is important to think of the difference between neoliberal posthuman vitalisms and affects, and the more radical and singularly hyper-human Deleuze and Guattarian modes. Foucault’s claim, in The Order of Things, that ‘life itself did not exist’18 prior to the eighteenth century is not at all in conflict with Deleuze and Guattari’s apparent vitalism in A Thousand Plateaus. What Foucault would be critical of is life as an explanatory ground, a way of reducing all relations to a single register. In The Order of Things, he would also be critical of anthropology and ethnography, along with the general modality of the human sciences – where ‘the human’ would become a being to be explained within a general paradigm that would increasingly allow for the expertise of biopolitics. Foucault’s resistance to an explanatory and managerial conception of life met its limit with his own relation to neoliberalism,19 but one thing was clear: life enables a shift from normativity to normalization. As long as life is maximized (and increasingly managed and quantified), there is no external limit or subjection, only the imperative to be fruitful and multiply. What cannot be tolerated is saying ‘no’ to a life that should be forever in a condition of difference and becoming. The media’s embrace of highly normalized queer, trans and Black lives makes this apparent. Queer Eye for a Straight Guy markets queer as a form of super-stylized consumption. I Am Cait allows trans life to be a personal journey of finding one’s self, valorizing the trajectory of self-acceptance while leaving the terrain of monetarized, pathologized and intensely normalized procedures out of the frame. Race, perhaps more than any other political force, demonstrates the shift from the morality of man to the normalization of life. There is a plethora of feel-good morality tales about race, where the production of sympathy and affect overcomes the rigidity of prejudice. These contemporary conceptions of a post-racial world of potential harmony, in which race is but one predicate among others, are haunted by archaisms – especially in philosophy. One might nevertheless mark a transition between the faux-post-racial present in which one can claim not to see colour, and a more explicit past of denying humanity to Blackness. Hegel could claim that Africans are a ‘race of children that remain immersed in a state of naiveté’20 and in so doing continued a long philosophical history of placing racial differences within the history of man as a rational animal. Even Heidegger, despite his resistance to the metaphysics of life and bios, saw thinking as a potentiality that would fulfil its journey of revelation in Europe.21 Where Foucault locates the shift to biopolitics in the eighteenth century, race remains as one of the archaisms that haunts philosophy. Kant may well have argued that subjectivity was transcendenta – not a thing within the world, but the condition for the possibility of the world – and yet he could also argue that ‘The Negroes of Africa have by nature no feeling that rises above the ridiculous’.22 Theories of reason in general held on to racist archaisms, subtended by what Deleuze and Guattari refer to as racial delirium: The first things to be distributed on the body without organs are races, cultures, and their gods. The fact has often been overlooked that the schizo indeed participates in history; he hallucinates and raves universal history, and proliferates the races.

The success of global capital and state strategies of power depend on the disinterment of subjugated histories, which are the central resource of the academy’s counterinsurgent archival power. This means the historical and epistemological project central to the affirmative’s politics is precisely the medium through which the academy as a unique site of counterinsurgent edification develops the handbook for state and capital adaptation, management, and violent domination.

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