Zero’s Non-identity and the Commodification of Identity-Formation; or: Sketches for a Subtractive Ethics of Zero

[following from my previous post on the positive ontological status of zero]

so as i get closer to the end of guy debord’s the society of the spectacle and see him moving away from a description of the spectacle towards his taking on marxist orthodoxy (economism, leninism-stalinism and its bureaucratic betrayal of the proletariat, etc.) and getting into philosophical, marxist-hegelian conceptions of time, i want to flesh out something of the text’s earlier bits and their relation to d&g’s anti-oedipus before i forget.

debord’s text, although it came out a year before ’68 and 5 years before A-O, can usefully be seen as a corrective to some of the problems w/ the d&g soixante-huitard text.  debord critiques the reification of lived experience involved in the consumption of the spectacle’s representations.  he does this for our benefit:–our inability to get to self-conceptualizations that are grounded in lack–the alienation that is part and parcel of the spectacle culture itself, no matter the joys that may come w/ it for better and worse–prevents the re-purposing of alienation as a crucial universal fit for taking the concerted elaboration of “the human” as its commitment, its collectivity as what is most deserving of the full efforts of a practical reasoning.  in other words, debord wants us to reclaim a kind of territory from which we can be informed about the spectacle, form an ethical-political navigation in relation to it, and from which we can learn to critique and refuse the plethora of produced identities for consumption.  he would say to d&g something like: “you fools!  you got so carried away by the extreme ideological affect of the machinic desire of your machinic ontology that you didn’t see how problematic the schizo could be, as the contemporary production of subjectivities moves from the formation of individuals to dividuals.  the way you both valorize a schizo process that has actually already been co-opted, such that it continues intra-personal alienation and the cynicism that refuses the freedom of the humanist project, the taking the inhumanist elaboration of the human seriously.  running away from the desire to form more powerful human collectives with others so we have better qualities of life as we become less alienated.”

ok, a bit long, but i think you get the idea.  perhaps we can say that it’s debord’s hegelian-marxist negativity that provides this impetus to refuse the present distribution of things, the dissatisfaction that rises with it as our collective alienation–being unified in our consumption that separates us–becomes increasingly intensified under capitalist productive development.  one has a negativity that can say “i am not this, nor that, nor that”…all which means to say, it desires the space of non-identity.  the ability to abstract from what rivets us to particular self-models in ways counterproductive to the sorts of ethics and humanist politics that we would like…one that includes a greater intimacy and relation w/ the human as a way to even more successfully conduct ethics and politics that take the problem of the freedom of the human in present times into account as a non-negotiable imperative.  a norm that is not derived, a la kant, from a sort of theological duty, but instead a more spinozistic conative imperative that knows the benefits that comes from unifying w/ the human in ways that alleviate alienation and engender our capacities to live more ethical and politically invested lives.  engineering ethical encounters for the production of machinic results needed for a leftist or progressive political subject today (e.g. increased trans-individual oxytocin levels producing inter-human bonding that conditions more successful fidelity

to humanist projects).  this is what debord makes so imperative, so non-negotiable from his hegelian-marxism: the human cannot be renounced.  not only as a negative formulation, however.  but it is also the subversive power of love that raoul vanegeim names later that is so key.  we want intimacy and non-alienated being, for the reproduction of our lives in ways that are not only fulfilling and capacitating, but also key for the political struggles which aim to lessen alienation, lessen living lives that can too easily become “inauthentic” or “spectral”…the non-negotiable imperative to refuse dissatisfactioncynicismbare life.  taking seriously spinoza’s political question of “why do people desire their servitude as if it were their freedom?” and finding ways to continually unlearn our learned helplessness (e.g. negarestani’s take on committing to freedom in his “labor of the inhuman” essay).

debord gives an ethical perspective–if we understand a spinozist ethics to be that which aims at personal and collective human freedom as its highest goods–that is not given in d&g.  and this is why i find a key distinction btwn an ethics of freedom and an inhumanist agency.  debord adds the former to the latter that A-O is concerned with via its machinic ontology.  the intimacy (in their section on desire and the critique of psychoanalysis and lack) and the inhuman agency involved in a “general economy” of production.  especially re: inhuman agency, we see from the POV of their conceptual framework applying a transcendental empiricism that universalizes the principle of sufficient reason so as to better emphasize the non-human processes occurring that we are immanently enmeshed in–“desire is part of the infrastructure”–and traversed through by.  the conjoining of the more idealist account of desire with the more materialist machinic agency attempts something like what sellars called the stereoscopic view.  the machinic ontology, as a way of modelling reality conceptually–which includes the inscription of subjectivity within such models–helps provide heuristics and a familiarity w/ the non-human and the pure multiplicities when needed.  while it may not give the account of normativity that debord seems to be suggesting w/ his critique of the spectacle, it seems that the toolbox afforded by machinic ontologies is so far peerless in being able to think nature as production as well as the knowledge and learning taken from such a conceptualization.  superior empiricism indeed.  only when the machinic ontology fails to account for the exceptionality of the problem of the human–collectivity of alienated species-being that can be developed and elaborated to improve quality of life and move away from forms of bare life, the desire for recognition, the joys of human connection possible, etc.–does it risk becoming alienated once more, unconnected to humanist projects of freedom.  although this doesn’t mean that posthumanist or antihumanist ontologies cannot produce their own truths in exploration.  or more helpful models.  like how desire itself is never exempt from a generalized, productivist principle of sufficient reason.  yet, these things can be re-purposed to aid humanist projects.  the trickiness of empiricism w/ normativity.  i think it’s too quick to just condemn the empiricism of d&g–it can be quite helpful.  but to say that it has an explicitly humanist political program–like debord, and his negativity towards the spectacle–is not quite hitting the money either.  a generalized production of lack for all finite things that have affectivity, ok, but not really the sense of the importance of a transindividual or transversal human collectivity to be the collective leftist political subject–an anti-oedipus.  by focusing on a kantian take of experience and its production–philosophizing from the idealist side of a desiring subjectivity involved in the process of a general economy of production–they are unable to think the strategic import and value of such a transindividual collective subject.  that requires an embracing of alienation that they would at times like to move away from through the schizo process.  they take the approach that is already alienated:–they already see the human as a problem that is too restrictive, too oedipal, laying too many expectations w/ all the madness that causally ensues from such harmful exposure.  in this way, they are still perhaps too individualist at times, bordering on a leftist libertarianism that compromises w/ the spectacle a bit too much.  the glorification of alienation from the side of the difficulties of alienation, difficulties which, at the best of times or w/ the best of encounters, can provide a rebirth, a detachment from what places us in the sad passions and even what places us in activity.  but there is also the threat of the catatonic schizo that they come up w/ 8 years later in ATP as a way of suggesting: “by no means is the schizo process intrinsically liberatoryand can actually continue one’s status as an alienated dividual, against oneself.  a move is required–one from the valorization of the dissolution of selves through injections of the schizo process (which capital has so successfully co-opted, w/ its creation of “false needs,” its economic exploitation of our desire to communicate and to have identities to be through consumption, requiring another element…) towards the ability to think the non-identity of subjectivity in alternative ways other than by excess.

kenotic technique of non-identity

this is where badiouvian subtraction comes in, a subtraction that not only goes back to the lacanian subject (which either d&g implicitly presupposed knowledge of or simply tossed away) that has a relation of negativity to the identities its consumes, but also that seeks a reduction of the valorization of identities that take us away from the struggle against alienation and bare life that we have w/ the project of human freedom as part of a generic humanity.  a space for abstraction, for exploring the lacanian subject’s desire that we must not give up on.  and the ability to elaborate the formulation of this desire as the formulation of human freedom, including its desire for collectivity, its distaste for the violences that maim or impoverish life and make us content w/ the multiplication of cults of death and the hyena-ish laughter that finds fecundity in the salves of the sad passions.  a desire that does not give up on itself, on what it wants.  and being able to include processes of reasoning to aid the development of our individual autonomy in humanist collectives so that we can more effectively stay w/ what our desire demand.  the emptiness of the lacanian subject not as an impoverishment, but as a space to achieve desire and engage w/ freedom in.  and the potential of forming a generic humanity–generic b/c of sharing their negativity of not really being any of their identities regardless of degree of reification, sharing the non-identity that desires in a way much more minimally than the desire overloaded on the consumption of the spectacle.  a desire of the zero that seeks not the nomadism of moving btwn identities overloaded with the reification of representation–the commodification of “all the names of history” that is part of the nietzschean bomb w/in A-O–but the nomadism that finds itself more capable of achieving the dynamics of a desire unburdened by the excess of selves-as-models and the economic-psychoanalytical imperative to consume them.  zero not by overwhelming, but by subtraction–the positivity that negativity is capable of–towards the abstract minimalism of non-identity. interestingly enough, we see a flash of this in A-O when d&g quote henry miller: “From the little reading I had done I had observed that the men who were most in life, who were moulding life, who were life itself, ate little, slept little, owned little or nothing.”  a non-identity that is not so easily ensnared by the illusions of reified identities such that it becomes better positioned to do what it must for freedom, and a freedom that provides a space for thinking a generic humanity as the end result of operations of subtraction.  a method to refuse subjectivity as a positive process–the positivity of negativity, as badiou says, that which is not a destruction.  and important, a positive result as well, when the minimization of the dramatization of the consumption of multiplicities of identities can think of and desire and opt for and imagine other than the spectacle and “communicative capitalism” (jodi dean) today, and the “there is no alternative” put forth by globally integrated capitalism / post-cold war neoliberalism / capitalism as necropolitical “thanaticism” at our historical conjuncture of problems.  subtraction as a useful (and thereby, also ethical and political) operation that can think the dissatisfaction of the spectacle–always w/in a narrow set of parameters, always producing the unity of separate consumption…the falsity of an ideological “end of history”–and desire to construct otherwise.  the dissatisfaction w/ the spectacle as it fails to aid humanist processes and collectives of freedom and autonomy.  i think this is why debord comes down so hard on what he calls “the autonomy of the image,” since he sees it as sapping us away into an alienation that finds great difficulty w/ desiring the reduction of the suffering that comes w/ such alienation.  the operation of subtraction as something that enables a fidelity to a truly nomadic desire to emerge (badiou’s subjective necessity as the quantification of the infinite into finitude), while also making the space for a generic and inhumanist humanity more likely (although i’m not yet familiar w/ how he makes that argument).  a different conceptualization of non-identity from the energetics involved in dissolution of selves:–a more abstractive non-identity which finds itself closer to the infinite zero by thinking of zero as necessarily irreducible to a zero thought of as excess, as energetic degree “= 0”.  a zero that can take the affective conceptualization of thermodynamics and hydraulic desire as yet another model–and quite a useful one–, and in no way equal to what is infinite zero.  only infinite zero is infinite zero, and even that deceives in so far as it encounters all the problems of A = A that zero cannot be subsumed under as it is that which differs from itself.  subtraction as the operation that can better deliver the non-identity of zero than the ethical praxis of an energetic excess, since it allows for the abstractive space whereby desire can be understand as a quantification of the infinite, as something that can be rationally elaborated in a co-development w/ a more truly nomadic desire.


two things that i forgot to add during my writing last night.  (1) one is making explicit the concept of a subject that is abstract, that navigates through abductive reasoning, that minimizes quantitative multiplicities so as to allow for qualitative intensive shifts that allow a more robust desire to issue forth:–this all depends upon the exploration of aneurophilosophical individual that can be expressed well w/ thomas metzinger’s phrase of “being no one.”  this also works w/ the mode-individual as immunological agential system from my thesis, the thinking that would conceptualize the human mode as third person reflexive pronoun.  the movement towards articulating non-identity, which includes also articulating non-identity from the side closest to a non-identity that is closest to the anonymity of infinite zero…a zero of which “excess” is only a moment or a modality, and one that can become dogmatically obstructive when taken to be exhaustive.  so how to articulate the ontological zero of a modal “being no one,” such that we can understand why there is a desire for consumption of identities, how we interact w/ identities as capacities that are essentially modelling processes, and how the positive capacities of subtractive operations towards anonymity can allow for a productive negativity that can desire otherwise.  this will require looking at some of badiou, the elements of deleuze and d&g’s thought that explores the anonymity of becoming-indiscernible and the counter-actualization of qualitative intensity that provides a greater nomadic movement than the positivity of the distribution of actual quantitative multiplicities, but especially the brassier and negarestani and metzinger (for starters) that seek more explicit developments of the problems of non-identity as it relates to subjectivity, agency, resistance, rational activity, and processes of freedom.

(2) making explicit how the spectacle–especially the “spectacle of disintegration” of today’s “over-developed” world, a la the wark-SI fusion–engenders the dissolution of attention, of humanist identification, the production of sociopathologies and psychopathologies, the production of a machinic desire that can go overboard through the hyper-connectivity of contemporary network culture by which capital commodifies our desire for intimacy and communication.  the compulsion to identify, which is always promoted from within the “acceptable” parameters of the spectacle, becomes a prison of multiplicity, of mutilated half-desires that struggle to muster the activity and desire for freedom.  becoming-dividual:–the informational person of the age of metadata and pattern recognition of our control society that quantifies our fragmentation and intensifies our self-divided alienation, making it more difficult to think of the transindividuality required for a collective human subject elaborating itself by opting for greater freedom.  united in our alienated consumption of merely empirical differences, both inter-personally as well as intra-personally.  becoming yet again alienated from our labor, and the way it stands against us to sap our creative energies.  this is schizophrenic desire as malady, as what cuts us off from our capacity to act.  the over-exposure relating to economic relations of production, circulation, and consumption that demand our total and complete subsumption into the identitarian fantasies of the spectacle, of becoming the representations of “all the names of history.”  this is what i would like to call a transindivudal neuro-toxicity that is the contemporary trap of getting stuck in the passions, esp if we take the passions to be the passivity of a receptive sensitivity that precludes an ethical process of judgment and selection for the activity of freedom.  the persistent insistence that counters the spectacle’s logic that says “that which appears is good, [and] that which is good appears.”  we see the affective elaboration of this problem in albums like sufjan stevens 2010 the age of adzand st. vincent’s 2014 eponymous album.  the post hoc coming to terms w/ the schizophrenic subjectivity proper to the dividuals we find ourselves becoming more and more of as the consumption of identities is increasingly commodified and encouraged by contemporary capital relations.  a new form of alienation that deceives us by positing the sufficiency of a schizophrenic intimacy w/ what exists…and how such non-human intimacy can cut us off from the transhuman intimacy that we would like to formulate with others in meaningful ways.  holly herndon’s 2015 platform makes this recuperative dynamic explicit, and insists that we do not give up on the subversive capacities of love even against the over-developed hyper-connectivity of contemporary network culture and advanced machinic capitalism.  making explicit how the commitment to the human–which becomes an inhumanist elaboration of the human as a (spinozist) “common idea” that we transindividually share together while being fully immersed and conscious of the non-, in-, and un-human elements of a “substance” that is not intrinsically in favor of “subject”–is desirable for a more free life, as that which combats the deceptive alienations of schizo-rhizomatic culture.  what is particularly noticeable about holly herndon’s platform is the way that she nonetheless retains elements of a machinic desire and wants to engage w/ the complexity of elaborating the human by re-purposing the elements of our machinic naturalist conceptualizations for the human.  rejecting the sterile mechanical-vital dualism in favor of a desire that can select the elements it needs for the success of humanist projects.

the ethics of a zero moving towards the anonymity of a “zero-space” produced by the positivity of subtractive operations is therefore not something to be seen as a luxury, one possible capacity appearing among other capacities to choose–the “market” approach to ethical subjectivity’s auto-modulation opting for the activity of personal and collective human freedom.  such an anonymous ethics is crucial for the ability to withdraw from the production of one contemporary avatar of incapacitating lack, that of becoming overwhelmingly paralyzed by the neuro-toxicity of network culture and its inhuman expansion of platforms of communication that nonetheless still prove to be too constricting for the kinds of communication conducive towards the activity of freedom.

or to use two quotations, one from spinoza and the other from deleuze:

spinoza: “I submit that the world would be much happier, if men were as fully able to keep silence as they are able to speak.”

deleuze: “We sometimes go on as though people can’t express themselves. In fact they’re always expressing themselves. The sorriest couples are those where the woman can’t be preoccupied or tired without the man saying “What’s wrong? Say something…,” or the man, without the woman saying … and so on. Radio and television have spread this spirit everywhere, and we’re riddled with pointless talk, insane quantities of words and images. Stupidity’s never blind or mute. So it’s not a problem of getting people to express themselves but of providing little gaps of solitude and silence in which they might eventually find something to say. Repressive forces don’t stop people expressing themselves but rather force them to express themselves; What a relief to have nothing to say, the right to say nothing, because only then is there a chance of framing the rare, and ever rarer, thing that might be worth saying. What we’re plagued by these days isn’t any blocking of communication, but pointless statements. But what we call the meaning of a statement is its point. That’s the only definition of meaning, and it comes to the same thing as a statement’s novelty. You can listen to people for hours, but what’s the point? . . . That’s why arguments are such a strain, why there’s never any point arguing. You can’t just tell someone what they’re saying is pointless. So you tell them it’s wrong. But what someone says is never wrong, the problem isn’t that some things are wrong, but that they’re stupid or irrelevant. That they’ve already been said a thousand times. The notions of relevance, necessity, the point of something, are a thousand times more significant than the notion of truth. Not as substitutes for truth, but as the measure of the truth of what I’m saying. It’s the same in mathematics: Poincaré used to say that many mathematical theories are completely irrelevant, pointless; He didn’t say they were wrong – that wouldn’t have been so bad.”

the focus on the ability to desire other than through the repressive forces demanding our forced identification, demanding our compliance w/ the spectacle and staying w/in the vast (but truly restricted and restrictive) parameters of the spectacle that have become sanitized, have become prepped and available for acceptable consumption.  the valorization of and the call to “self-expression” as a trap that rivets us to an economic process of consumption that reproduces the relations of capital as it seeks to continually accumulate value…an end that is explicitly anti-humanist and anathemic to humanist projects of freedom.  self-expression that is actually not an “expression” of the self, but the consumption of identity of a self-as-modelling-process (from the POV of anonymous, indiscernable “zero-space”) that overladens desire w/ the norms, expectations, and activation of conflicting desires proper to such “packages” of identities that produce a schizophrenic ambivalence robbing us of our ability to be faithful to the exigencies of our desire…including our desire for alleviating and replacing the hegemony of alienation w/ a constructive counter-hegemonic transindividual humanism.  when d&g critique forms of desire bound up to duty, to expectation, to becoming subject to the reified representations that so easily ensnare us, i find the charitable way of taking such injunctions to be less about a “childish” refusal of commitment, of the work of elaborating the commitments involved in activities of (in)humanist freedom, and more about the refusal to become subjected to processes of identity-consumption that divide us from our capacities for activity, for seeing “what a body can do.”

4 responses to “Zero’s Non-identity and the Commodification of Identity-Formation; or: Sketches for a Subtractive Ethics of Zero

  1. Its ironic that you put that quote by D, because while i undetstand it, but im not really sure what you are saying: which appears to be the point of D quote.

  2. if you help me understand what in particular you don’t understand, perhaps i can clarify some aspects of my sketching out an ethics related to positive zero such that the intended communication be made

  3. Pingback: Non-identity and negation | The Charnel-House·

  4. Pingback: Non-Identity and Negation: “Identitarianism” & The Affirmation of Difference | Ross Wolfe – CATHARSIS·

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