A reflection on anthropology, on the search/need for a negative anthropology, in which all sure grounds of knowledge of the other crumble, in which all of the hierarchical theories and categories for the ordering of the other’s life are dismantled: a reflection on politics. In the speed of hyper-capitalism, the subject, history, truth, time dissolve into disconnected moments of presence; moments that are repeated in a refrain of the self-identical, and embraced as such (nihilism). What rebellion remains possible? What sense can still be given to revolution? If these last preserve any meaning, it is to be found in the very heart of this nihilism, in the clinamen that plays with the possibilities of the negative. To affirm, define, fix with authority, is to restrain, confine and rule. To prefer not to is to embrace the negative as the condition of creativity.
“To have opinions is to sell out to yourself. To have no opinions is to exist. To have every opinion is to be a poet.”
Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet
Written by Toby Austin Locke and originally posted on through europe (09.01.2014)
Breathing has become difficult, almost impossible: as a matter of fact, one suffocates. One suffocates every day and the symptoms of suffocation are disseminated all along the paths of daily life … There are no more maps we can trust, no more destinations for us to reach.
In everything I demand that there should be life, the possibility of existence, and then all is well; we are not then called upon to ask whether the work is beautiful or ugly. The feeling that what has been created has life comes before either consideration and is the only criterion in matters of art.
Everywhere we look there are crises. A banking crisis, a crisis in the Eurozone, an ecological crisis, a humanitarian crisis, a democratic crisis – crises in economics, crises in morality, crises in attitudes. Of course we know the power of the crisis narrative, we know that it is endlessly employed in order to perpetuate that which it presents as in crisis, in order to adjust itself an amount just small enough to avert collapse without any real change to form, we know that it serves as a scapegoat and a mass motor of subjectivity. But does this mean there is no crisis to be found beyond discursive webs? Does crisis simply remain a plane of discourse, somehow separate from ontology? No. There are crises today, crises of subjectivity, discourse and ontology. We are in the midst of an anthropological crisis, a crisis of vitality, of the very foundations of intimate relations and of what it means to live.
The bombs that fell on Hiroshima are gone. Not that they have disappeared from the face of the Earth entirely, but, no longer does their capacity to threaten rest with the great powers of the globe. Their threat is now the threat of terror. The nuclear holocaust is no longer in the hands of two powerful ends of a polemic but runs throughout the fabric of life, throughout the chasms in subjectivity and becoming, throughout the ruptures of what it means to be alive, what it means to be social, and what it means to be a citizen. The danger of nuclear annihilation comes from within, and it’s not just the 1922 committee that knows it. Within the wall-less expanse of Empire, terrorists sit, fingers on red buttons, prepared to force realisation of the nuclear threat; and beyond this, even true citizens of Empire hold within them the threat of nuclear annihilation, in the ruptures which make them foreign even to themselves and the speedy march of fusion technology which both fuels existence and threatens it.
But there are more bombs. Ecological bombs plague our existence, seeping into the hidden corners of metropolis – an invisible enemy, again produced of ourselves, another emergent and explosive force, biding its time, coming from within and without. The ecological bomb seems inescapable, its unnerving power is its position of simultaneous interiority-exteriority, its immanent-emergence, its position of fabrication and threat.
Informational bombs too. As The End of Geography that Fukuyama should have theorised becomes more and more ubiquitous, our means of understanding the vast acceleration of reality remain underdeveloped. With no ontology or political economy of speed, our capacities to come to terms with the politico-institutional, discursive and ontological earthquakes of our era are next to non-existent. This is the crisis of anthropology running alongside the anthropological crisis.
Fires burn in the streets of London, Barcelona and Paris, they burn across Europe in what should be the safe and secure home of Empire. The global middle classes are no longer content simply to be citizen and Bloom. Fires burn in solidarity with faceless co-conspirators, great beacons of promised ruptures. In a small village in France, nine political activist are arrested as terrorists supporting The Coming Insurrection; Empire seeks out its enemy within and the enemy within writes:
We decadents have frayed nerves. Everything, or almost everything, wounds us, and what doesn’t will likely be irritating. That’s why we make sure no one ever touches us. We can only stand smaller and smaller—these days, nanometric—doses of truth, and much prefer long gulps of its antidote instead. Images of happiness, tried and true sensations, kind words, smooth surfaces, familiar feelings and the innermost intimacy, in short, narcosis by the pound and above all: no war, above all, no war. The best way to put it is that this whole preemptive, amniotic environment boils down to a desire for a positive anthropology. We need them to tell us what “man” is, what “we” are, what we are allowed to want and to be. Ultimately, our age is fanatical about a lot of things, and especially about the question of man, through which one sublimates away the undeniable fact of Bloom. This anthropology, insofar as it is dominant, is not only positive by virtue of an irenic, slightly vacuous and gently pious conception of human nature. It is positive first and foremost because it assigns “Man” qualities, determined attributes and substantial predicates. This is why even the pessimist anthropology of the Anglo-Saxons, with its hypostasis of interests, needs and the struggle for life plays a reassuring role, for it still offers some practicable convictions concerning the essence of man.
But we—those of us who refuse to settle for any sort of comfort, we who admittedly have frayed nerves but also intend to make them still more resistant, still more unyielding—we need something else entirely. We need a radically negative anthropology, we need a few abstractions that are just empty enough, just transparent enough to prevent our usual prejudices, a physics that holds in store, for each being, its disposition toward the miraculous. Some concepts that crack the ice in order to attain, or give rise to, experience. To make ourselves handle it.”
And these are our crises. An entire series of crises running in a non-geometric, intersectory, parallelism; all too fast for us to grasp with no faithful conception or understanding of speed. And with an anthropology caught between the colonial project and the postmodern academy, an anthropology that remains incapable of not enforcing and producing rigid, institutionalized, definitions of what it means to be human, there is little hope of escape. This positive anthropology which has come so far in sowing the seeds of our own destruction will undoubtedly see that they blossom into horrific Blooms. So this is where we are now, on the edge of chalk cliffs at the turn of the tide, unsure and uncertain as to whether the soft support beneath us is capable of withstanding the endless and immense expanse below; and with each further positive object of discourse hammered into the anthropological cliff face, the integrity of the entire island suffers, coming closer and closer to irreversible collapse. The water will rise as we fall unto it; and both shall have been our own doing.
So now, having pushed as far as we can, unto the very limit of the island, to that point where sea and land, something and nothing, meet, there is now one path we cannot tread. We must abandon all hope for a positive anthropology. This is the anthropology of genocide, of capital, of civil rights, and the only future it offers is bleak. No longer can we call upon academia for specialised knowledge, for an expert and nuanced understanding of a particular form-of-life, plane or becoming. No, the only call now is for modes of community and forms of experience. And, if it is not to fall with the island, anthropology must become radically negative; not simply a return to the pessimistic anthropology of warring multitudes, but the emergence of an anthropology which utterly refuses to define what humanity is, refuses to reduce forms-of-life to an object of truth. We need a framework flexible enough, transparent enough, ambivalent enough, to give rise to possibility and potential without than quashing it in a highly striated structure of knowledge.
And so, on the dawn of destruction in the desert of the real a new anthropologist must lift their head. Start abandoning the old categories, right down to the very notion of practising fieldwork – which, in its reduction of forms-of-life to stratified objects of knowledge dissolves all contents, rendering them mundane, and assimilates life to a subservient order of things. Perhaps the best the new anthropologist may hope for is a literary excursion, a stream of consciousness, a poematic simulacrum, a mode of descriptive and creative writing with absolutely no hold on the real, and no means of rigid categorisation: a fabricated poetry.
True, the old ethnography gave us comfort, it assured us that humans are not all that different, not all that incommensurable, whilst simultaneously declaring our absolute singularity: a relativistic-universalism. But as the terrorists wrote, we have no more need for comfort. No longer do we need the comforting reassurance that forms-of-life may be reduced to a series of significations of the most specialised and exclusory order. Now, we favour uncertainty, Finnegan and the nonsensical – it is in these spaces that potential finds the greatest freedom; and if we are to avoid an irreversible collapse, it is potential that we must release and it seems that structure and stratification is rarely a friend to the free movement potential.
Whilst it is true, as the authors of HAU have made clear, that we can no longer turn to the great philosopher kings for our proofs and evidence, we declare that neither can we theorise from the ethnographic. Indeed, the philosopher king is dead. But, the very sovereignty of philosophy crumbles as soon as the anthropologist introduces it to the world of things, to the plane of reality. And for this reason, among others, we denounce philosophy’s use as proof, its use in constructing courthouses of reason; it was never intended to prove, but simply to give rise to possibility and potential – perhaps Bataille, Nietzsche and Artaund knew this best and the Greeks most certainly had the freedom to become lost in their own minds, in planes of forms and essences. And this is where it remains of use to the anthropologist, not in order to constitute a certain form of subject, a certain object of its discourse, but in the endless questioning and crumbling of categorisation and stratification, in the eternal return to planes of immanence.
We denounce theorising from the ethnographic for the following reasons:
α) To theorise from the ethnographic enforces a separation between the realms of theory and practice (or that absurd intermediary praxis); a separation which instantly assimilates ethnography the real and theory to the abstract – converting subjectivity to subject and objects of discourse, and discursive ontology.
β) Ethnography has been consistently used as a tool for maintaining states of domination. To further abstract the findings of the ethnographic to theory shall only increase the frequency and ease by which networks of power enforce these states of domination. There is still much to be done to bring an end to the colonial project that now extends itself, through Empire, across the entire biopolitical mass, and seeps deep into our vectors of subjectification.
γ) We reject both theory and ethnography and instead promote potential and possibility and all the nuanced and varied intensities of forms-of-life, becomings and bodies through fabricated poetries.
If anthropology is not to collapse with its islands of reality it must move beyond the very notion of the real and thus beyond the ethnographic. We have no more use for reality. It is this notion which serves as the ultimate justification for all our abysmal practices – this is just how it is, this is reality, there is no changing the real. And anthropology has been unto now a servant of all number of planes of reality.
It is The End of Geography that means the end of the field site as well as the elevation of speed to the fundamental element of power and will. Cultural studies did exceptionally well in observing the death of the geographic as the death of the field site. A radically negative anthropology can have no use for a field site, our field sites are so diffuse, so fragmented, so expansive, that giving them such a name is absurd. The trend in positive anthropology to study migration is reflective of this fragmentation; but we-those few who seek to be radically negative-know that no form-of-life and no intensity can truly be delimited and studied in space-time without complete dissolution of contents.
The traditional field site is a means of discursive control and delimitation. It is a means of cordoning off a sector of the globe, a certain series of planes of consistency and immanence, in order that a set of positive determinations may be made.
The Gaza strip is the greatest form of reification of the death of the geographic. The border that separates Israel-Palestine does not exist, or rather exists in an objective relativism. In each person’s consciousness, at each point of the biopolitical mass, the border finds an alternate form of actualisation. There is no Israel and no Palestine, so long as the boundaries of both are so endlessly contested not only by the atrocious bombardment of resistance fighters, but by the subjectivities of all. Indeed, even the weapons which practise the enforcement of a state of war and marginalisation upon the Palestinian people are not Israeli, their geographic origin may not always be traced, although when they can they all too often lead back to the most anti-geographic state in existence today: America. Israel is at once the highest representation of the state, and a complete non-state, an extension of the metropolis of Empire but one which is in constant upheaval, constant crisis, and constant readjustment – this grants part of its extra-worldly power.
The unification and synchronization of emotion and subjectivity is allowed by the elevation of speed. This is perhaps the most dangerous affect of The End of Geography. When all becomes totally synchronised, there will no longer be any need for government, rights or armies: Empire will have won and its victory shall be irreversible. Speed too will no longer be called for, having realised its terminal velocity. With 3D printing and Google Glasses this terminal velocity comes closer and closer, approaching a point where nothing escapes absolute instantaneity and simultaneity, all provided in neatly branded little packages.
The acceleration of movement between identities to which each Bloom succumbs, produced of capitalism and increased by so-called post-fordist practice, destabilises the continuity of community and forms-of-life.
The hipster of today, lost in a sea of hollowed out images, abstractions and significations, is made possible by the elevation of speed to the fundamental element of power. Through temporal contraction, the contemporary hipster is given access to an entire range of images and signification which would otherwise remain beyond their reach, they are images and significations, however, which speed has already hollowed of contents, making each an element of positive attribution and alienation simultaneously, at once assigning identity and making that identity forgiven, even–or rather, especially- to the hipster themselves. The hipster is at least a few steps ahead of other Blooms, they have already reached a terminal velocity rendering all signs and images to which they attach themselves and through which they pass entirely hollow. They are truly simulated peoples, anthropological simulacrums.
If time is money, as Benjamin Franklin tells us, and speed contracts temporality then speed brings into question the value of our currencies, if they were not already. Hence the introduction of all kinds of new social currency: digital profile individualisation, experiential marketing, the brand.
The acceleration of discourse reduces its intensity. As the academy endlessly pours out drones who pour out reports which are read by more drones which pour out more reports, the intensity of discourse, anthropological or otherwise, goes through processes of deintensification.
Making it so that even the anarchists have a flag has been the greatest triumph of fascism. The red and black anarchist banner must be burned with all the others, and along sides all modes of mass cohesion. We have no more need for flags, asides being, at their root, fascist objects, they are also objects of positivity. Each flag serves as a representation for an ideal model of citizenship, abstracted beyond any actual form-of-life, developed to the point of pure and simple form. Flags, like money, the state and society, represent spectacular and biopolitical means of coercion, modes of mass subjectification. We negative anthropologists have no need for such forms, indeed we fervently oppose them. Each flag represents a set of criteria, abstracted beyond any reference to substance and taking on the shape of hollow form. Liberté, égalité, fraternité, we have no room for such determinate assumptions.
Instead we accept differences between all the varied intensities and forms-of-life which, even under the stifling force of Empire, spectacle, biopower and abstraction, still find room for existence. Not the differences themselves as positive categories and objects of attribution but the fact that difference itself exists and simply this fact of its existence, no more. And it is our role to nurture each and even one of these, to find lines of flight which lead to planes of potential and away from planes of stratification, which give rise to experience and event, which grant new planes of becoming. We are happy to celebrate the individuated, but not the individualised and especially not the individual.
A radically negative anthropology has no methodology. There is no framework that would allow for the production of potential, to produce potential is to quash it and instead produce strata. As such, the production of potential contradicts itself before it has begun. There is no system, no schema, for a negative anthropology; for the will to a system is a will to positivity, a will to a schema which may assign attributes and produce objects of knowledge and as Nietzsche has warned us: this is fundamentally dishonest. We do not ask: is it ethnographic? Is it anthropological? Instead we ask: is it of interest? Does it release possibility? Does it work on the side of potential or, does it limit it? We shall never seek to produce further strata upon an already stratified plane of consistency, instead, our goal is to dismantle the strata, find new lines of flight and potential flows, to the extent that we bring under question the very plane of consistency upon which these strata rest. We favour a return to planes of immanence. The radically negative anthropologist seeks out zones of opacity where bodies become indistinct and the what no longer supersedes the how.
We have no need for society, only communities and forms of life realised through themselves; that is to say, each with its own metaphysics, milieu, sphere and continuity, each become-practice and each with its own consistency. Perhaps it simply comes down to this: negative anthropology is closer to art, than the popular conception of science.
And likewise, we have no need for truth. Truth, as a category, is the residue of our desperate attempts to describe in discourse, through reason and understanding, our perception of the event. The event once perceived as a series of phenomenon, once subjected to interpretation by the understanding and organisation by reason, becomes a truth, a static object of discourse entirely removed from the event which can have no form as does truth.
Literature provides a radically negative anthropology one of its many sources of possibility and potential. Such creative writings offer lines of flight from planes of consistency to planes of immanence, they offer points of escape from the strata to the body without organs. The freedom of literary cosmology is to be celebrated. There are ways in which an American Psycho tells us more of the spirit of capitalism than a protestant work ethic ever could, whilst maybe failing on producing a myth of origin, and The Trial is perhaps the greatest theory of bureaucracy ever written. And what of explorations of consciousness? – The Atrocity Exhibition, The wake of Finnagean and the Journey to Ixaltan trump all the writings of Freud, Jung and Lacan with ease. Our objection to their writings boils down to their essentially positive approach. Even Jung cannot help himself assigning attributes to humanity, telling us what we are, when we are ill and when we are healthy. Our emotions are presented unto us, and we must adhere.
We have no theory of the subject. There is no use for the theory of a positively developed delimited entity such as the subject other than in the maintenance and constitutions of apparatuses of domination and control.
A radically negative anthropology is not a goal, its realisation is not a problem to be solved nor even realised. It is a technical question, not a problem. It is always a question of how and never what. There are no decisions in a negative anthropology, no conclusions: substantive or otherwise. When examining a form of life or becoming, we never ask what it is, seek to provide a definition, instead we look at how it is what it is, at the grounds of potential and possibility which is immanent in its existence in all its irreducibility and singularity. We are asking ethical questions, not moral ones. Our questions concern good and bad not Good and Evil, that which increases a bodies power to act, or decreases it – a primary objectivity, but one that is partial, conditioned and relative.
We never ask what a person is, what group they belong to, what they ‘are’, how they are positioned within being; our questions concern becoming and never the what, we are concerned with the how, the process. There is no need for a product, no need for a goal, in an anthropology that is at its base negative; the act of production returns to the familiar, it reengages us with the world of things and those principles of functional reality, and we regard function, product and thinghood with great suspicion and distain. A goal, aim or product tends to subordinates people to servile existence, the life, the experience, the event, the becomings of subjectivities, are all relegated in relation to the realisation of an impossible point. Once an aim is set, the game is lost – it’s not the result which is of importance but the process which actualises the result and if the result is removed from the process and introduced to an objective reality, our movements of detteritorialization are faltered and rigid stratification becomes a definitive factor: the judgment of god after the death of god.
And we mean this last point quite literally – the judgment of god, if anything, has become all the more powerful following the death of god. This is one of Latour’s great contributions, the revealing of a Modern Cult of Factish Gods, which executes its judgment through the vast number of apparatuses and discourses supporting, maintaining and constituting royal science. And it is not simply a matter of stating the obvious, that we fetishize science and truth, it comes down to action – to the masking of action by theory. And it is this masking of action by theory that makes tiqqun so relevant and necessary, in metaphysics, ontology and epistemology becoming-actual, in reification, in the becoming-real of centuries of intellectual masturbation.
The death of god leaves not a void in becoming but a void in our ontologies of meaning and form, one which is so malleable, so formless, as to allow it to be filled but an innumerable sequence of form-states. Hour by hour, day by day, technocrats, bureaucrats, legislatures and all those highly rational and reasonable individuals come up with inventive new states of form through which domination, judgment, morality and subjectification may be executed. Science now carries with it the full force of divine judgment. And it is not that people are not ready for the discoveries of an ever-advancing science, it is quite simply that people are not what science states. The positivists create people, they create states of form, they do not discover and only define them.
NOTE. This first, failed and incomplete manifesto was, for the most part, written at the beginning of 2012 and has long since been abandoned due to its numerous failings and shortcomings, as well as it’s general air of naivety and arrogance. It is revived now with the wistful hope that there may perhaps remain in these pages words of interest.