notes on molecularisation of control

The psychotropic body is a body modeled “from the inside,” no longer passing through the per-spectival space of representation, of the mirror, and of discourse. A silent, mental, already molecular (and no longer specular) body, a body metabolized directly, without the mediation of the act or the gaze, an immanent body, without alterity without a mise en scéne, without transcendence, a body consecrated to the implosive metabolism of cerebral, endocrinal flows, a sensory, but not sensible, body because it is connected only to its internal terminals, and not to objects of perception (the reason why one can enclose it in a “white,” blank sensoriality – disconnecting it from its own sensorial extremities, without touching the world that surrounds it, suffices), a body already homogeneous, at this stage of plastic tactility, of mental malleability, of psychotropism at every level, already close to nuclear and genetic manipulation, that is to say to the absolute loss of the image, bodies that cannot be represented, either to others or to themselves, bodies enucleated of their being and of their meaning by being transfigured into a genetic formula or through biochemical instability: point of no return, apotheosis of a technology that has itself become interstitial and molecular.

Baurdillard. “Clone Story” in Simulacra and Simulations. 

Baudrillard’s statements on the molecular body don’t operate via the function of metaphor. This is a literal account of the body’s molecularity and its control by psychopharmaceuticals. The opening is crucial: no representation, no mirror, no discourse. A very quick rejection of an entire tradition up to and including Lacan and Foucault. The body is no longer placed in spaces or within discourses, is no longer the object of representation (“x is the good body”) that it must be induced into correspondence with, and is no longer produced through specular imagos. Baudrillard’s hyperbolic statements always lead him to that theory-fiction space he designated for himself, but here we might wonder if he is describing tendencies that are far more advanced that we might credit. After all, imagos still populate popular consciousness, and psy-discourses still circulate. But did they ever operate to make bodies conform to this or that image? Aren’t they really machines for setting bodies in motion? 

Today we live in a world of psychopharmacological management. Like a dark Deleuze Baudrillard sings the praises of what can be done to a body. What is this molecular body? It isn’t the conjunctive becoming-other of the days before the emergence of semiocapitalism. It is even less the connective operationalist body that the theory of semiocapitalism says has been born. This body has no ‘mise en scene’ and so it is completely decoupled from the theatrical-cinematic modes of subjectivation analysed by Goffman: this isn’t a body that presents itself, that hides some aspects to let others forward, and isn’t a body that responds to and acts via injunctions that it perform specific affects, that it undergoes emotional work. All those cunning techniques of power for the inducement of subjectivities, the conducting of microgestures, the biographisation of lives, these are, by and large, finished with. There isn’t even a gaze to be spoken of: panopticism has been rendered unnecessary. There is no need for an all seeing eye, or even for the possibility of an all seeing eye.

no more mirrors, but mirror neurons for everything. But no more mirror neurons. Baudrillard said of Foucault’s analysis of power that he could see it everywhere because it was disappearing. Well, here you are: mirror neurons explain empathy and the synchronisation of social behaviours, essentially as a neuro-theory of sociality itself, and this is because- is it to far to say?- sociality is disappearing.  

Baudrillard is said to never really define his concept of the code. How do you define the code? The code is what controls the possibility of definition. In the eyes of a theorist for whom reification has become complete the code might stand as the real subsumption of language. Psychiatric reification is the application of the code onto the experience of the psychotic, for instance. But even this term- psychotic- is an instance of the code at work.

An entire semiological horizon is deployed, a network of significations that couple to the bodies of voice-hearers and invest their bodies with all kinds of violating meanings. The psychotic is the madman who will kill you for no reason, everyone knows that. Who knows it? It isn’t a form of knowledges, its an accusation, a suspicion, maybe even a challenge? But already we’re on the praxis of discourses. They don’t totally disappear but become more and more supplementary. They are machines first of all. It is justifiable to drug the psychotic. The body of the voice-hearer is thrust into a particular movement: the psychotic rhythms have be managed, have to be regulated. Here is a particular curiosity about neoliberal capitalism.

Minimally what does neoliberalism entail? The complete deregulation of everything and, as its necessary correlate, the opening up of violence and accumulation. But when everything is deregulated there is also the spread of regulation: the tightened regulation of meanings via the code, but also the rhythmic regulation of bodies via the psychopharmacological management of psychopathologies. neoliberalism is thus less about deregulation and more about the covert displacement of regulation. 

The code isn’t just a literary phenomenon. It can’t simply be more discourse. The quoted text above is taken from one of Baudrillard’s many ruminations- he is a ruminative thinker- on cloning. In connection to cloning the code can only be the biological code, the genetic code. For Baudrillard the genetic code is a reproduction machine. The genetic code in cloning becomes a self-replication machine for the infinite repetition of 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1. At various times he speaks of this as a kinds of cancerous metastatic repetition. This idea, the idea of the reproduction-replication machines, is also at work in Richard Dawkins genetic theory. In Dawkins the body is reduced to the status of ‘survival machines’ for the ‘selfish molecules known as genes’. Our bodies are nothing other than aggregates of these genes, themselves self-replicating survival machines. Machinism penetrates to the core, revealing that there is no core. But how do genes survive? How do they replicate? First of all there must be a plan, a blue print, information on what it is that is to be replicated. no representation, no mirrors, no discourse. There is information in the form of a code: the genetic code. So, in fact, it is the genetic code that is primary: it is the code that is replicated. 

For Baudrillard this discovery of the genetic code overtakes the semiotic idea of the code. In his later works it seems to be the genetic code that take on the importance. For our present concerns we need to pay attention to what he says in the text above. Bodies have their being and their meaning stripped of them by way of their transformation from more-or-less autonomous designates to ‘genetic formula’ or ‘biochemical instability’. We’re are in proximity to two of the most popular materialist aetiologies of madness, often dove tailing as one theory: madness is the genetically activated chemical imbalances in the brain. Baudrillard finds all this very sad. It is a familiar sadness. It is the sadness of nihilism. But nihilism doesn’t interest us. We’re coming after nihilism. Its no longer a question of whether machinism, but of which machinism. 

Why should we be interested then? Because this is a literal molecularisation of control. Forget the old metaphorics. This is for real. What is at stake? The movement from broadly theorised representational-discursive time of power to the molecular time of control is about a specific form of endocolonisation of the body. There is nothing in and of itself horrific or oppressive about technology. There is nothing sad about technology. But let’s be sure to also remember that there is nothing essentially liberatory or uplifting about it either. Which is not quite the same as asserting its neutrality. 

In the discursive regime the effects of power had to be induced by all manner of techniques that connected literary technologies with disciplinary actions. The literary technologies are still in place, but they are de-centred, supplementary, perhaps even operating on the principle of distraction- consider how much time the new antipsychiatry spends critiquing the validity of the DSM, as if the nosological territory were anything but a series of pragmatic machines. Forget it. Power doesn’t need to induce the body in these ways. It doesn’t even need to put a gun to its head. Between the subtle and the brutal, the soft and the hard, there appears a malleable power, a power in a molecular package, power, in fact, as a molecule. 

Psychotropic drugs are regulated. Its true. They still appear in a juridical order. But it is a different kind of order. You can incite bodies to act in specific ways by use of laws, texts, rules, regulations and codifications of all kinds, but it takes time, effort, and its always a risky procedure. There are blank spots, there are inconsistencies, backdoors, technicalities, and there is the prospect of widespread illegalism, the emergence of ideas of popular justice, the refusal of the entire legal order. Anarchism always haunts Law. But psychotropics are a more perfect form of regulation. First, the drugs themselves are regulated legally but their application, their administration, although not without legal context are nonetheless liberated from much of the legalities that appear to constrain the police. The consumer choice, the only choice left in neoliberalism, or at least so it would proclaim, is removed when the consumer is the service-user of psychiatric treatment. The choice becomes the ultimate false choice: voluntarily submit to treatment or be sectioned…and then the body is submitted a level of abuse seen in no other setting in western society. 

Psychoactive substances are perfect. They operate by altering consciousness. Defenders of the chemical imbalance theories will tell you that chemical imbalances are evidence of disease. no such evidence exists. Instead, chemical imbalances are what the drugs aim at producing as their mechanism of action. And this is why the body at this point becomes a ‘plastic tactility’ and a ‘mental malleability’. What the diagnostic encoding simulates in semiological terms, the drugs can stimulate in molecular terms. Subjectivation isn’t just psychological anymore, it is neurological and so directly material. Power acts not on bodies as surfaces, but on brains as locations of coupling. Brains are uncoupled from bodies, are uncoupled from environments and so uncoupled from the production of worlds. Or at least this is their tendential direction. 

The success of chemical stimulation of neurological circuitry doesn’t just operate on the brains of psychiatric patients, and isn’t limited to increasing market for cognitive enhancement that renders all brains as susceptible to molecular control. Today the molecular flows that Deleuze and Guattari called desire are also under threat. The neuromolecularisation of control means that power is already inside the body. Libidinal economy gives way to a neurologicistics: no longer is it a question of desire but of dopamine; no longer a question of sexuality but serotonin. In one respect this is just the work of science as normal and should be celebrated. But it is the political use of this new knowledge that we should question. The drug addict and the psychiatric patient are becoming the hegemonic subjective formations insofar as they are the bodies already caught up in this neurochemical machinic subjugation, what Beatriz Precadio calls pharmacopower. 

Power no longer acts on bodies. It acts of synapses, on neurotransmission, and on endocrinology. In this way pharmacopower is an intensification of physiological interventions inside the body that no longer require the production of depth interiority the way that psychoanalysis did. The drugs act on these literally molecular systems of production, transmission, uptake in a way that means that power- and capital with it- is less immaterial and more invisibly material. The drugs work as transmitters of chemical codes that bodies can’t read. Power no longer appeals to bodies, bodies as organisms, but to their material molecular condition. Power is ingested, and more and more often it is ingested happily, willingly. It circulates not in social capillaries but in actual capillaries. It crosses the brain-blood barrier.The era of the politics of the body is over.

And this is coming to light at a time when it is already on its way out. Pharmacology is a blunt instrument. It acts of mediating chemicals and as such remains a disappointingly analogue technology. The brain is an electrical device and neurocontrol requires electrical technologies. Direct electrical operations of power are emerging. Already substance-using bodies are hooked up to netbox treatments that work directly on the craving circuit of the brain, cancelling the craving for heroin so that the subject simply doesn’t feel it. And deep basalganglia stimulation eschews the neurochemical thinking about depression. In the netbox electrodes are connected to the head and a control box is worn, but in DBS a surgical operation is carried out to place a pace-maker type tool in the brain. The neurostimulator sends electrical currents through specific brain regions in order to intervene in their endogenous production to alter rhythmic patterns of activation. After the surgery,

Once the DBS has been programmed, you are sent home with instructions for adjusting your own stimulation.

Perhaps the movement from disciplinary societies to societies of control is best seen as a movement from forms of power that aim at docile bodies to forms of power the seek to directly stimulate bodies. In that sense, perhaps they also correspond to the movement Marshall McLuhan sums up as the passage from mechanical to electric societies. We approach the ambiguity of situation wherein nervous systems and laboratory produced electrical systems are becoming fully integrated. Control becomes molecular and electric. What remains of communism under these conditions? Is there a communist repurposing of molecules? Does communism still come at the end of a process of full electrification? Is it possible we’ve discovered the actual molecules of power just at the time when capitalism has embraced the electric model of power, and, in an almost perverse reactivation, moved away from social engineering to neural engineering? Is it possible to make use of these technologies in a libertarian communist way, or are the new Leninists the ones on the right track?

5 responses to “notes on molecularisation of control

  1. Yea, more and more I’m convinced that even the smallest living cell, the unit that defines us, the trillions of cells that act like desiring machines, factories of production, of information processing power that channel information from cell to cell to cell through biochemical transformations all the way up, level by level, scale by scale. We have built our technologies of such information, the membrane as that permeable borderland between intensive intrinsic and extrinsic machinic processes that communicate beyond to couple and decouple with other communicants in endless translations of encoded messages. From those singular mobile molecules to the great global networks systems we’re seeing this same process.

    Power is only the ability to intervene in this process, to modulate its pathways, and disrupt its flows. Power blocks, dams up, repurposes those flows toward goals never intended. Communism is a viral agent seeking out these blockage points, clearing a path around them, a creature that mimics the system and turns it back on itself from within thereby unraveling the Gordian knots that would bind us all to desires not our own.

    • I had a quick twitter exchange with McKenzie Walk about molecules, about taking them seriously and not as a way of talking, and he mentioned his next book is exactly on that topic. Think it’ll be a good one.

      But yeh, completely agree. I’ve always begun from the body, but the more I go reading into psychiatry and its medicines the more convinced I am that the body is the wrong scale of measure when we’re talking about power. One of the serious implications is that bodily forms of resistance may also be the wrong scale, or at least the wrong emphasis. Part of why I spoke about bodies in the Stoic sense- if something exists it is a body- was to get away from that scale…but maybe even the word itself remains too tied to a particular semiological network.

      I like the image of communism as a virus. neither living nor dead, spreading between hosts, itself a code that has to infect enter other tissues and replicate itself.

      • Yea, I wasn’t specifically centered on the body metaphor, which is more of the atomistic and individualistic notions of libertarian freedom, anarchy, social libertarianism (Chomsky), etc. I was thinking specifically of the notions of membranes… the cells to become cells, both independent by open to environmental exchange had to create membranes that allowed for the exchange of information and communication: the biochemical factories within cells produced information, and communicated it through the membrane by way of algorithmic codes or encoded biochemical messages, etc.

        It’s this sense of virus, of as you said inserting the messages into the hosts in such a way that the original host is suddenly through its own internal processes of biochemical reaction and communication transformed into its viral twin producing a new form of being. Communism as virus no longer as a visible threat, but as the process of information and communication technologies infiltrating the very systems of capital and democracy and transforming them from within through new communicative algorithms. A lot of Luhmann and other types of thinking within this: Virilio, Deleuze, Serres, etc.

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