Guattari’s Eco-Logic

WILD ECOLOGIES - Featured post #2: Here Bill Rose summarizes and interprets 
Guattari's 'ecosophy' as it is laid out in the book and elsewhere, 
on the way to a quasi-anarchic approach to becoming.

Guattari’s Eco-Logic

by Bill Rose

A strategy that bypasses politics as usual is required of us if the biosphere is to survive; a strategy that isn’t reducible to social-environmental reforms but goes down deeper and spreads far wider than any party or player could take us. The object of concern turns out to be not an object at all but relationships held together by systemic interactions forming a field whose limits only seem to expand or shrink.

This field is precisely what needs to be put into question: the borders, the shape, the constitution of our setting are due for a rethinking. This problem has been creeping up on us for too long now and it is time to fashion the tools required to relate to our environment, society, others, and ourselves in non-destructive ways. The Three Ecologies by Felix Guattari provides a good place to start on this daunting task (though it is probably already underway on some level) for a number of reasons but uniquely because it is a short and accessible work of around 25 pages. The areas of concern in the project of transforming relationships at a fundamental level (crucially without falling into social utopian planning) are plainly laid out in three easy pieces:

1) The Environment

2) Social Relations

3) Human Subjectivity

The three form no particular shape nor does one stand atop the others in structure, organizing them as a transcendent authority. The division is a practical one and these categories will prove useful in sorting things out in our imagination. The tripartite grouping maintains the inter-connectivity demanded by a planetary ecological crisis, keeping in mind the inseparability of one’s personal and social symbols of attachment and the material environment. The three are linked together in a way that a change in one can only call for a revolutionary change including the others.

“The only true response to the ecological crisis is on a global scale, provided it brings about an authentic political, social, cultural revolution, reshaping the objectives of the production of both immaterial and material assets.” (p.20)

What Guattari and I are referencing by revolution cannot stop at forces pertaining to the states, nations, or federations for the forces of the earth could care less about the dynamics of political composition. A revolution fit for ecologically sustainable living must not get stuck fighting old targets and adapt like what it opposes: a globalized capitalist class (the 1%) which evades national laws in tax havens and spreads out to wherever it can exploit resources and labor cheaply, making our climate uninhabitable and most people impoverished. Zeroing in on any one of the three points (environment, society, subjectivity – self) to the exclusion of the others limits the potential for transforming our lives and restructuring material processes. The kind of change required to alter relations on a global scale must have a perspective relative to the challenge it faces.

Capitalism is no doubt incompatible with an ecologically responsible existence. The profit motive that quantifies value and captures desire has so successfully integrated with the great outpouring of technological innovations of the last century that the entire global infrastructure now depends on perpetual growth. The assumed good in-itself of “economic growth” has metastasized with the help of a very complex array of cold calculations, mostly done through computers. Growth is believed to be a constant variable by those at society’s helm regardless of the colossal extraction of resources and speedy transport needed to sustain it. This kind of growth is unsustainable on a finite planet and, not only that, it is ruining the lives of the animals inhabiting it presently. The biosphere itself may be damaged beyond repair (beyond repairing itself) by this not-nearly-questioned-enough project of regulated, steady capital growth. A post growth economy will have to be sensitive to the instruments that lock growth into a uniformed march of death: usury, interest-rates, debt-slavery.

Capitalism taps into desire to an even greater extent than desire could be manipulated in the rise of Nationalism, it encourages an expansion of creative outlets and produces subjectivities that may or may not be linked up with national identification. The boundaries always seemed to be pushed outward in the location and exposition of ever new “pop culture” genres and styles to be advertised to the population at large. But these new developments always face the prospect of integration into the social-cultural history in the same way that new technologies tap into resources and integrate them into a synchronized supply lines of economic exchange. The important point is that capitalism is now forced to grow into ever new territories that do not end with material objects or places but extend into the immaterial symbols of the imaginary. The rise of financial capitalism – where money creation by intermediary allocation, investment, and speculation – coincides with the infinite variety of imaginative subjectivities for sale, both have a fictitious element that produces wealth for some with immaterial processes. The demands of capitalist growth produces subjects and demands they be new and inspiring while at once conforming to economic and judicial standards of efficiency.

One must see how value/money and the individual/subject are processes in a much larger ecological game of which capitalism is thoroughly dominating.

“Integrated World Capitalism (IWC), tends to increasingly decenter its sites of power, moving away from structures producing goods and services towards structures producing signs, syntax, and – in particular, through the control which it exercises over the media, advertising, opinion polls, etc. – subjectivity.”

We ignore the subjective dimension at our peril. The individualism in euro-american culture that places the individual body of the person at the forefront of the freedom debate masks a more thoroughgoing control of subjects. There lies a comprehensive field of enticements and fantastic symbols with which one can identify with, and more and more are required to meet the demands of a hyper-s(t)imulated desire. The reactive gesture is to lament and dismiss the corruption of our dear traditional culture, and there is plenty of that to go around, but the opposite track which progressively applauds the diversification of cultural symbols (multi-culturalism) does the work of integration. Increasingly deviant subjectivities and the scenes that support them are acceptable so long as the whole to which they sprang from is not disturbed too much. Both reactive and progressive dimensions push and pull in such fierce polar opposition as to keep the social space for conceiving subjectivities edgy and expansive yet coherent and tame.

As a psychoanalyst, Guattari is sensitive to the subjectification of patients in the discourse of psychiatry. Here science meets subjectivity in a way that treats the subject as an object of study in an institutionalized practice legitimated by the authoritative stamp of the scientific method. The meaning of the subject-object relationship, a distinct understanding of each one without conflation, has never been easy to reach consensus on in any mode of discourse. More of a conceptual problem for philosophers, the distinction is often drawn for the sake of navigating the quandaries of human language, perception, and the external world. The rise of social science has allowed the conceptual difficulties of objectifying peoples to be passed over in light of the immense data and statistical regularity that it has produced. Again, here it is the standard of production and wealth of results that grants the discourse its institutional status. The respectable field of knowledge goes unchallenged when it produces – whether the products be careers, tuition revenue, or a normalized body of knowledge. In short, subjects are treated as objects of various kinds that have already crystallize, preventing a fluid development of newer subjectivities under the guise of scientific authority. But the authority that is invoked by making a science out of the social, and out of the subject, takes ready-made subjectivities for objects unquestioningly.

“I myself have come to regard the apprehension of a psychical fact as inseparable from the assemblage of enunciation that engenders it, both as a fact and as expressive process. There is a kind of relationship of uncertainty between the apprehension of the object and the apprehension of the subject; so that, to articulate them both, one is compelled to make a pseudo-narrative detour through the annals of myth and ritual or through supposedly scientific accounts… I am suggesting that this pseudo-narrative detour deploys repetitions that function, through an infinite variety of rhythms and refrains, as the very supports of existence… It is only through these repetitions that incorporeal Universes of reference, whose singular events punctuate the progress of individual and collective historicity, can be generated and regenerated.”

Combining the subjective dimension with the objective dimension has the strange effect of becoming extra-discursive – from within a discourse, a detour through narrative and into “the very supports of existence”. Guattari writes here of a transcendent authorization claiming to reach into discourse from outside but only first passing through “myth”, “ritual”, and “narrative” which then produce repetitions within discourse. The repetitions come by way of myth and discourse (people talking in a common symbolic frame of reference) whether they admit this narrative component or cover over it; these phantasmic repetitions perform the creation of subjects via cultural events, gatherings, or just things to talk about with one another. This process of repetition within discourse of an extra-discursive organizer from without is what the incorporeal Universe feeds off of, creating a ’world’ of symbols from which a subject can become a part of. The subject is integrated always within this world which at least passes through myth and forms the background of fantasies to which it can repeat: “I am… I am…”.

Guattari is seeking a logic and analysis that will allow for the awakening of new subjectivities by remaining open to singularities that transform material processes attached to the three ecologies. This logic would not be over-concerned with the objects under study, either ignoring the subjective compliment or reducing it to a prefixed, coherent object and dismissing its malleability – the objective scientific attitude. He writes:

“While the logic of discursive sets endeavours to completely delimit its objects, the logic of intensities, or eco-logic, is concerned only with the movement and intensity of evolutive processes. Process, which I oppose here to system or to structure, strives to capture existence in the very act of its constitution, definition, and deterritorialization.”

The eco-logic of intensities is sensitive to ruptures in the three ecological spheres (mental, social, environmental) that show signs of

“expressive subsets that have broken their totalizing frame and have begun to work on their own account… Ecological praxes strive to scout out the potential vectors of subjectification and singularization at each partial existential locus.” (p.30).

The eco-logic or ecology deals with the singularities and intensities reorganizing a raw matter that cannot be treated as objects (raising the problem of excluded subjectivities and where to draw the boundaries of the objects). Singularities are the processes by which matter becomes reconfigured, how stuff is morphed into a completely new and unforeseen orientation. The singularity itself evades representation being a kind of environmental organizer that cannot be found occupying a determinate position, though it is localizable. The singularity does show itself in the way matter and energy flows and interlocks various functions together; emerging narrative worlds are formed in Guattari’s pragmatic categories outlined in three ecologies, complimenting the swirling natural “stuff”. Examples of emergent subjectivities would be found in ’the Proletariat’, ’Brazilian’, or ’Punk’, all formed by singular developments in matter/energy but producing common incorporeal signs of attachment which in turn shape the organization of matter/energy in the potency of those signs.

Eco-logic takes matter as unformed, embracing the changes that matter is constantly undergoing however subtly while giving its expression a chance to *form itself*. Guattari is trying to elaborate a different logic than the one that traditionally passes for a rigorous, objective scientific discourse where objects interact dynamically and fit models of study (natural laws, equations, algorithms, a thorough quantification, etc.), but do not promote the emergent formation of new environmental relationships, social objects, and subjectivities, only reacting to them in detached inquiry. Respecting the singularity would entail allowing for an autonomous self-expression without an immediate interpretation from without. Recent developments that seem to come from “nowhere”, since an explanation was not ready-made to account for them, are most definitely the outcome of these material processes of singularity; but for the singularity to come to fruition in the incorporeal, expressive domains, a discipline carrying along with it an ordered world and a history of its own must not be taken at face-value with regard to this sudden event. Such are the forces that could potentially ’explain away’ a budding singularity, barring the expression required for the formation of an assemblage.

“At the heart of all ecological praxes there is an a-signifying rupture, in which the catalysts of existential change are close at hand, but lack expressive support from the assemblage of enunciation; they therefore remain passive and are in danger of losing their consistency – here are to be found the roots of anxiety, guilt and more generally, psychopathological repetitions.” (P. 30)

Tying this back up with the capitalist organization of matter/energy, Guattari repeatedly emphasizes how global capitalism has spread itself out not just by supply lines, markets, and debt but by monopolizing our imagination – the modes of expression from which one can articulate oneself within discourse.

“Social ecology will have to work towards rebuilding human relations at every level of the socius. It should never lose sight of the fact that capitalist power has become delocalized and deterritorilized, both in extension, by extending its influence over the whole social, economic and cultural life of the planet, and in ’intension’, by infiltrating the most unconscious subjective strata.” (p.33)

Speaking of a globalized capitalism invading every real or imagined territory can make its logic feel like a basic fact of life or an inescapable totality one can only adjust to, rather than a unique logic at work and working very well at self-perpetuation. The point that Guattari is trying to get at and doing his darnedest to make us understand is a different logic (eco-logic) welcoming to a break with dominant systems and cultivating the means to creative expression within a another not-yet-system in the process of generation. These uncultivated potentials are organized by capitalism’s specific organizational power into “tried-and-true” productions found all across the cultural landscape at a personal and social level. Mass-media at the finger-tips of every household via television and, lately, pocket via mobile internet devices grants access to an expanding field of consumer-subjects that fit nicely into the capitalist paradigm. The prevalence of capitalist logic is here represented as one force among many other forces but one that extended itself through contingent historical developments and geostrategic victories.

Alternatives pushing hard against the capitalist logic from within yet unable to stop the advancing onslaught should not be interpreted as the contradictions of that logic converting it into the next stage of the process of history. This Hegelian-Marxist interpretation treats the process history as a science, and a linear one at that. Guattari is giving us an alternative notion of process as a line of flight shooting away from a logic or territory that has not yet become articulate or expressed adequately enough to challenge that which it came from and is trying to oppose. Such an articulation or expression would first need a period of germination – to cultivate a novel form of expression a certain unfolding from within and without interference is necessary to establish the possibility of autonomy. Capitalist logic is well practiced at recycling fringe movements and lines of flight back into itself through the process of accommodation. To counter this process, the content of the flows seeking escape must be allowed to form themselves with aesthetic significance in the social, subjective and environmental domains if a material arrangement is to achieve a clean break in its processual rhythm and flow. “I repeat: the essential thing here is the break-bifurcation, which it is impossible to represent as such, but which nevertheless exudes a phantasm attic of origins…” (p.37).

Capitalist logic is one of perpetual growth accommodating everything that distances itself from it. Guattari is trying to elaborate an eco-logic that operates by detecting intensities as they escalate and allow them to continue escalating in material content by imposing no formal interpretation on the apparently spontaneous surge. Such a intense outgrowth is capable of self-expression, and the three ecological categories Guattari makes use of are not timeless formal constraints but different lenses from which to view shifts and resonances within a complex cultural field.

Scientific practices share with religious dogma an air of authority and certainty (though they differ in many other regards of course!) that satisfies the need to respond to recent unsettling anomalies. However,

“This new ecosophical logic – and I want to emphasize this point – resembles the manner in which an artist may be led to alter his work after the intrusion of some accidental detail, an event-incident that suddenly makes his initial project bifurcate, making it drift far from its previous path, however certain it had once appeared to be.” (p.35).

This is the logic that will inspire a mobilization that will put up a direct challenge to a capitalist logic laying waste to the biosphere. This can be stated because it makes no predictions and gives no guarantees but leaves the practitioner open to transformations on multiple fronts.

– “a nascent subjectivity”

– “a constantly mutating socius”

– “an environment in the process of being reinvented” (p.45)

This eco-logic’s openness to singularities and withholding of preconceptions puts one in the position of uncomfortable bafflement, lest finding oneself immersed in the process of singularization and so profoundly morphing relations with the social, subjective and environment. Far from being indecipherable, the rift, crack, break, bifurcation, or singularity is given expression in active involvement as the actor changes along with it.

3 responses to “Guattari’s Eco-Logic

  1. This statement seems to be inclusive of many of the notions surrounding a Exit: “Capitalist logic is well practiced at recycling fringe movements and lines of flight back into itself through the process of accommodation. To counter this process, the content of the flows seeking escape must be allowed to form themselves with aesthetic significance in the social, subjective and environmental domains if a material arrangement is to achieve a clean break in its processual rhythm and flow.”

    I think Berardi in his The Uprising moves in this direction toward art and aesthetic relations. I’ve bee reading his biographical friendship with Guattari, Feilix Guattari Though, Friendship, and Visionary Cartography of late. In one of their conversations Guattari envisioned a movement of exiles from capitalism building small rafts of language and aesthetic habitation to carry them over the bridge of chaos that seems suspended between our belated age and the next. That we are living in the moment of creative destruction that so many once theorized is beyond doubt; yet, for those living through it the theoretical has lost its hold on our minds, while the actuality of the slow corruption of capitalism impinges upon us all. As said many times before: we must start from the beginning, try harder, fail better…

  2. Some things to note about this piece: I wrote it about two years ago and I most definitely had the Occupy movement in mind. It seemed the movement that could actually achieve escape velocity for reasons that I thought Guattari covered well enough in under thirty pages. Adding the urgency provided by climate change and an ecological focus on place (together with a subjectivity in waiting – larval – and new human relationships in that place – the square) it feels like The Three Ecologies is giving us a rough and stylish map of an uncharted future. Any movement or uprising that can break past Capitalist impasses and preserve the biosphere must deal with these three facets, whatever other forms they take.

    Another writer I’m reading now mapping a future is Arrighi in The Long Twentieth Century with the cycles of accumulation and predictable waves and flows of capital across the earth, though mostly with history as his tool.

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