Brian Massumi 10 years passed & never so relevant as now

[Brian Massumi 10 years passed & never so relevant as now]

Interview with Brian Massumi by Benjamin Hoh of AntiPopper

The approach toward Deleuze that Brian Massumi takes is one that is at once rigorously theoretical, and yet, unlike much of the French intellectual stance, completely willing to answer the questions of North American pragmatism in a way very unlike the comparatively de-radicalized explanations one finds in Richard Rorty's reduction of Derrida, for example. Moreover, Massumi lives what he speaks, in his personality and manners, in who he is. He is not an angry person--he has discovered and forged his own path out of the trap of activist cynicism & burn-out. He is an example of the balance that can be struck by following radical analyses in the world of academia that sustain a discourse with students, academics, readers and activists alike, much like Michael Hardt and Manuel de Landa. Moreover, I find Massumi's perspective often strikes a chord with my own. Here's an interview I found today, from 1993, that could just as well be 2003, save for an avoidance of the politics of fear that now grips post-911 analysis, a politics of fear that Massumi also defined in the early '90s, as editor of The Politics of Everyday Fear. How's that for reciprocal, prescient time-travel?

In any case, this interview perhaps answers some of the rightful criticism Anne Galloway has thrown my way for maintaining an influenced opinion of Deleuze that takes up points struck by Massumi. This is true, perhaps not only because of the reasons above, but also for reasons that are pedagogical. For the take on Deleuze I encounter is also one that is based upon a perspective which calls to attention the need to investigate the tendrils and yet the cohesiveness of a theory, and which, after completing undergraduate training in "Literary Criticism," is ultimately suspicious of the ways in which easy theories such as the "rhizome" are recycled over and over again without much thought given to the fact that this entry-level concept is just that & that simply making links between the internet and the rhizome is a rather obvious gesture. While stealing bits of Deleuze for comp-sci analyses of networks is exactly what needs to be done, it also needs to be done at a level which is above and beyond simple meme-translation of sexy concepts. Now, I'm not saying that any of the citations Anne has mentioned are at this level (although I think LitCrit & CultStud often are), but that often I remain healthily suspicious of buzzword applicationism. Plug-in Deleuze .. but how to do it without sounding like another pop-up for the Rhizome Party? That's why I turn to Massumi, who is one of the few who has advanced Deleuze's thought.

//--excerpts, because this interview is "Extremely Important:"

Creating social networks and social forms is extremely important as an alternative to participating in the organisational forms as we find them, but in a way it's also exactly what the economy does now. In a sense it's participating in a creative aspect of capitalism, which (according to a lot of theorists now) is precisely about that: the products which capital produces are less consumer objects, but the forms of cooperation that go into making them. You can see that in relation to the information economy - not only in the media, and circulating forms of cooperation, but also in cybernetics and informatics, creation of software, games, networking through computers, billboards and other kinds of (as yet fairly uncontrolled) ways of communicating. It's conveying a difference and creating something on the order of a new form of cooperation, while it's also participating in a general movement in the economy.

One of the fatal flaws of progressive movements in the Sixties and early Seventies was the idea that you could simply step out of the system - drop out and attack it from outside. That's a way of not seeing what you bring with you, because you've internalised a lot. The way you stay alive is by having a job and participating as a supposedly productive member of capitalist society; you have to deny that to operate in this framework - as if there's a kind of purity that you can step out into - and that's unsustainable, especially when unemployment is most developed countries is running to ten to thirteen percent... most people don't have the luxury anymore.


...I think that self-extinction is perhaps one of the most important goals that an individual or organisation can make, in the sense that if you really are affirming potential, and the future, you are in a sense negating what you are now. To become, you have to undo yourself, and your organisation will have a built-in lifespan, a kind of planned obsolescence.


Now, people like Negri think that another step has been taken, and that figures of marginality aren't as key as they were, since the economy itself has learned how to profit from marginality, to profit from difference, and to actually create difference. Now they're looking around for strategies for situations where the centre is the margin and vice versa. There isn't a margin that exists anymore; the economy is completely global - it's taken over the entire ex-Soviet-bloc; it's intensely colonising or re-colonising the "Third World", so there isn't that inside/outside, margin/centre. But at the same time, that means that forces of production are being decentralised and disseminated everywhere, and that they have to deal with the creation of new potentials that might be hijacked towards non-capitalist ends.


I'd say that the message is very different: difference is everywhere - find it where you are, and further it. I think it's self-serving to take these negative stances: "you should not do this, because it doesn't meet my standards of action". One of the refrains of traditional Marxist thinking is "the conditions aren't right - don't do it"; that's what was said in Italy, that's what was said in May '68, that's what was said in the States during the Sixties... there's a continual refrain: "we have to have a complete, correct analysis before we act" - and that means that they never act, or they act to keep people from doing things. I think what's important is to keep thinking and acting in the situation you're in: attempting to connect it with larger situations and global patterns, but never pretending to function on that global or totalising level - because that also is a fiction. It's only a disciplinarian move; it's to try to create a definition of the proper kind of action and the proper conditions.


It seems to me that there's a need to beyond self-interest, but not in the sense of selflessness; I would call the difference between self-interest and desire the difference between conceiving yourself as being complete but somehow stifled and trying to find a way to express what you are and have it recognised and attended to... and the idea that you're in a world: you're directly open onto it, you're under its influence, you don't necessarily have control over that, but you're always responding, reacting and acting within it; that you're constantly being changed, and changing, whether you perceive it at a particular time or not... that the world is a cauldron of change. And that's beautiful. I guess I would see it more as aesthetic - to put yourself on the side of change, against self-interest - because if you do change, you'll no longer be that self, and will no longer have the same interests. I see desire as trying to hook up with potential, rather than with interests; I think there's a difference between potential-to-become-something-different and an interest in being who-you-are to a greater extent.


So I think it's much more important to affirm the process of that differentiation, of that change, and to revel in it, and to find your desires in it - pleasures. If you're a member of any organisation, and it's not an intense experience, well, then it's probably not worth doing. So I think there has to be a valorisation of the present moment and the untapped potential in the present, and that's what you should really be oriented towards, because if you're oriented towards a possibility that you can project from right now... even if you get there, you won't be satisfied - it will be a shadow of what really could have been, because the potential of the present is always much greater than any possibility we can extract from it, or give a name or image to. I think that's one of the lessons of feminism and maybe one of the lessons of the Sixties: the process itself is much more important than the end point, and so the question of "were they self interested?" becomes irrelevant. Instead: were they alive? Were they intense? Are there ways that we can connect with that, and attempt to further it, and further differentiate it? So it's more like an ethics of invention and intensity, rather than a moral politics saying that "people failed, so let's be pessimistic, so let's not do anything."


posted. Fri - September 19, 2003 @ 12:21 PM           |