Contesting Civil War: Tiqqun & Agamben

June 30th, 2010 | 14 comments

Semiotext(e) have recently published the text Introduction to Civil War by the pseudonymous authorial collective Tiqqun. The text is number 4 of the Intervention series which has set for its mission the publication of recent works in political philosophy and political economy, including Christian Marazzi’s The Violence of Financial Capitalism (a crucial analysis of the recession) and The Invisible Committee’s manifesto of contemporary insurgency, The Coming Insurrection [download here].

These texts should not be taken lightly – or rather, these texts weigh heavily on the paranoia of the French state. In France, the alleged author(s) of The Coming Insurrection were violently arrested under “preemptive” measures that identified them as “pre-terrorists”. What is striking – and frightening – is that the Tarnac 9 by all accounts were not a revolutionary cell, but a small alternative commune living off the grid. Apparently such existence, outside of a few norms, is enough to invite the living nightmare of State hostility. Whether Julien Coupat wrote The Coming Insurrection is irrelevant. The text resonates with the zeitgeist that exploded in the banlieu riots of 2005. It is rightly anonymous as its claims are that of a world. Tiqqun’s Introduction to Civil War suggests the experience of the Tarnac 9:

Spectacle’s genius is to have acquired a monopoly over qualifications, over the act of naming. With this in hand, it can then smuggle in its metaphysics and pass of the products of its fraudulent interpretations as facts. Some act of social war gets called a “terrorist act,” while a major intervention by NATO, initiated through the most arbitrary process, is deemed a “peacekeeping operation.” Mass poisonings are described as epidemics, while the “High Security Wing” is the technical term used in our democracies’ prisons for the legal practice of torture. Tiqqun is, to the contrary, the action that restores to each fact its how, of holding this how to be the only real there is. (Civil War §82: 189).

The State response to these texts has only highlighted what Tiqqun outlines with so much clarity: the frightening reality of a military complex that operates in a world of pre-emptive strikes and precognitive assurance in preventative measures. Never has Philip K. Dick’s short-story-turned-Hollywood-epic, Minority Report, rung out with such unfortunate resonance. The world is now temporally adjudicated before the act. You are accused before you commit – and this you is the general you, the Blooms, the interpellated subject in all of us – and committed to imprisonment before acting upon the accusation. Orwell called it thoughtcrime, but the current manifestation is all the more insidious, as the outward signs of State repression are not nearly so theatrical. Instead, as Tiqqun analyses, we live in a nonsociety of atomistic “Blooms”, or “citizens of Empire” that, in the mode of Foucauldian discipline and biopower, self-censor and self-regulate the mechanics of subjectivity.

Giorgio Agamben observed that Tiqqun managed to radicalize and blur the two strains of Foucault’s later work: the analysis of techniques of governance and the processes of subjectivation (see video above & here; this translation here). Agamben (roughly translated):

Thus, as demonstrated by Foucault, in a microphysics of power, power does and always has circulated in mechanisms of all kinds; legal, material, etc. For Tiqqun, power is nothing more than that. It doesn’t stand as a sovereign hypostatic entity in relation to civil society and life; it coincides internally with life and society.

Power cannot be understood as having a center anymore; it is a mere accumulation of mechanisms into which subjects, or in Foucault’s words “processes of subjectivation”, are entangled.

In this context, Tiqqun tries to cause the two plans, the two analyses kept separate in the work of Foucault – mechanisms and techniques of governance, subject – to fully coincide with one another. There is a text in one of the essays published in the book called “métaphysique critique”, and it says it very clearly: “a theory of the subject is only possible as a theory of mechanisms.” [from the translation]

The subject is a mechanism. Clearly, this position accords with Deleuze and Guattari’s perspective on the subject as a machine (or an assemblage thereof), and perhaps more intriguingly, with work in philosophy of technology that articulates the subject as technically constructed, or rather perpetually reconstructed through technics (such as in the deconstructive work of Bernard Stiegler and Mark Hansen, or Bruno Latour’s Actor Network Theory). With Tiqqun, subjectivity is likewise kept in a state of perpetual reconstruction through the reactionary forces of Empire, which is not a positive object (and certainly not a sovereign entity or even operation of sovereignty). For Tiqqun, Empire is a wholly negative and reactionary force; it only comes into being through its policing actions. The place of the sovereign Prince is now occupied by the Principle:

Empire exists “positively” only in crisis, only as negation and reaction. If we too belong to Empire, it is only because it is impossible to get outside it. […] This is why Empire is not only without a government, but also without an emperor: there are only acts of government, all equally negative. In our historical experience, the phenomenon that comes closest to this state of affairs is still the Terror. (§51; Gloss B, 125-126).

If Empire is a negative policing operation, existing positively only in the moment of its negativity, which is to say in a perpetual state of emergency, then so is the subject. The subject exists only when interpellated. The difference with Althusser is, however, that Empire only exists within the same logic of interpellation; the microphysics of power reveals only the apparatuses of its circulation. There is no centre to this power, nor to the subject; it is this core of absence which upholds the transcendent violence of the absolute Principle. So it is that the subject and Empire come into effect through circulations of force, and that Tiqqun’s absent-centre at the heart of both Empire and the subject remains profoundly indebted to Derrida: the subject as a feedback loop of consciousness through a nonsovereign other constructed through the technics and force of the sign is explored throughout Of Grammatology.

In this respect – and remaining exterior to the French cliques that unfortunately segregate radical discourse – I find it utterly senseless that Tiqqun attacks not only deconstruction as the “weak thought” of Empire (145) but Toni Negri in his “ridiculous hope for a global democratic state” (159). I would tend to unfortunately agree that all too often deconstruction has been reduced to academic exercises in pseudonihilism and the soft ethics of hospitality. That said, the force of Derrida’s work cannot be said “to dissolve and disqualify all intensity, while never producing any itself” (§57, 145). On the contrary, Derrida’s work, through its interplay of exoteric to esoteric discourses, intensifies and accelerates the texts it comes into contact with through its affirmative acts of parasitism.  And as Tiqqun likes asking “what X has actually done” (160), then Tiqqun must account for the fact that Derrida as a figure intensified debate to the boiling point throughout the world, adhering both followers and detractors, and causing entire upheavals within disciplines and departments (like, I should add, Foucault, who remains sanctimonious and unchallenged in Tiqqun’s work). Further, Tiqqun must also account for its own erasure: we cannot ask, in turn, what Tiqqun has done (other than to anonymously write texts).

As for Negri, his utopianism is palpable in attempting to rethink a telos of the multitude, or rather, prescribe a telos to the content of multitude in such texts as The Porcelain Workshop. Yet, this is no reason to discredit multitude as a useful descriptor of global interconnectedness stemming from precarious and cognitive labour. Paulo Virno has offered several analyses of multitude that think the multitude without content, which is to say, sans the telos of a definitive positive class (a.k.a. the digital proletariat). Yet Tiqqun appears to pay no attention to the accuracy of these socioeconomic analyses, all the more surprising given their accuracy in dissecting the global economic crises post-2007.

It is also frustrating that Tiqqun attacks Negri’s work with the ridiculous charge of “aspiring to hold institutional positions” (161). Here Tiqqun descends to a fruitless level of name-calling that lacks respect for Negri as a political prisoner.

Moreover there is a greater point at stake here that undermines Tiqqun’s own position, or rather reveals its lack of coherency. In brief, Tiqqun at times wavers between contingency and determinism, positivism and negativism. Tiqqun does not clearly distinguish between what is and what should be (or what ought to be) nor between its own means and those of its proclaimed enemies.

To take one particular, though telling example: Tiqqun claims that as Empire and the subject are negative and thus reactionary effects, deconstruction, as such a negative operation, must be complicit with the operations of Empire. Indeed, apparently deconstruction operates as the officious discourse of Empire. (A similar critique has been advanced by Zizek of Deleuze and Guattari: the dazzled reader of D&G advocating nomadic deterritorialization has just swallowed transnational capital’s modus operandi — hook, line & sinker. Tiqqun uses D&G and Foucault without question in this respect. Such claims tend to lead nowhere. What matters is what one does with the tools — including their reshaping or repurposing. Everything is complicit. Nothing is outside Empire.)

In associating all of deconstruction with Empire (as a discursive network, series of texts, and a mode of inquiry), what Tiqqun implies is that its own discourse is not reactionary nor weak thought of Empire. By contrast, it is – and must be, unless qualified – positivist and actionary. Yet, and somewhat ironically, it is this very positivist force that Tiqqun charges Negri with not only holding in his theses concerning Empire, but as projecting from a positivism of his own self (!):

The entire Negrian perspective boils down to this: to force Empire to take on the form of a universal State, by staging the emergence of a so-called “global civil society.” Coming from people who have always aspired to hold institutional positions, who thus have always pretended to believe in the fiction of the modern State, the absurdity of this strategy becomes clear; and the evidence to the contrary in Empire itself acquires historical significance. When Negri asserts that the multitude produced Empire, that “sovereignty has taken a new form, composed of national and supranational organisms united under a single logic of rule,” that “Empire is the political subject that effectively regulates these global exchanges, the sovereign power that governs the world,” or again that “[t]his order is expressed as a juridical formation,” he gives an account, not of the world around him, but of his own ambitions. (§63 Gloss B, 161-162).

Many would agree with Tiqqun’s critique, which is precisely why Virno’s account of a multitude without content – and its exodus – appears all the more significant for articulating power without a sovereign centre. On the contrary, Negri explicitly argues for the telos of potentia (however contingent), and this unfolding of quasi-determined historicity nonetheless ensures the inevitable revolution of the (proletarian) multitude. Even if Tiqqun decontextualizes much of Negri’s complexity on these points, and descends into a personal attack, their critique accurately reflects the contestable elements of Negri’s position. That said, what can Tiqqun offer? Tiqqun appears to pose a theoretical bind: deconstruction on the one side, Negriism on the other. Yet the more one advances into a reading of Tiqqun, the more it appears that Tiqqun remains unsure of their strategy:

(a) After denouncing deconstruction as weak thought of the Empire in §58, in §59 Gloss A Tiqqun adapts the very procedure of deconstruction and the substantive form of one of Derrida’s most well known theses:

Because no one is ever depersonalized enough to be a perfect conductor of these social flows, everyone is always-already, as the very condition of survival, at fault in the eyes of the norm, a norm that will only be established after the fact, after the intervention. We call this state a blank blame. It is the moral condition of the citizens of Empire. It is the reason why there are, in fact, no citizens, but only proofs of citizenship.

What Tiqqun has described is the law of the supplement articulated in its political negativity. One could rewrite the last sentence in its logical form: there is no positive X, but only its signs or effects, its force, which is why a supplement, added after the fact, is always added to that which must appear whole, even as its substantive content is lacking. This is precisely why there is no X, but only its always-already effect after-the-fact. The temporality of the supplement is such that it provides the content after the fact through the delay and differal of signs. Mark the Derridean language: always-already, survival (sur-vivance), the fault, etc. This entire thesis is not only deconstructive, it is the thetic form of deconstruction itself. Later, deconstructive articulations inhabit Deleuze’s war machine in the observation that “the war machine has a supplemental relation to war” (§79, 186) — a marked convergence of D&G to Derrida’s strategy that has been oft ignored.

(b) While denouncing multitude as a general abstraction akin to that of “society”, and taking its meaning directly from Hobbes without considering its rearticulation by Autonomist thought, Tiqqun claims that its enemy is not Empire itself (as there is no positive content to Empire, no subject) but the formidably abstract hostis, “a nothing that demands to be annihilated, either through a cessation of hostility, or by ceasing to exist altogether” (§19, 47). Tiqqun sets as its enemy a nothing which demands its annihilation. The entire means of how – which forms the essential question of the essay “How Is It To Be Done?” – is moreover thrown into confusion. How does one combat nothing? At first, it would appear that this is to be answered through the reclamation of violence as “what has been taken from us” (§11, Gloss A, 34). Yet, annihilation above is expressed in a cessation of hostility. Is hostility, then, not equivocal to an operation of violence? Is Tiqqun advocating Ghandi-esque methods that nonetheless reclaim violence? Later, in §71, we read that

For us, the hostis is this very hostility that, within Empire, orders both the non-relation to self and the generalized non-relation between bodies. Anything that tries to arouse in us this hostis must be annihilated. What I mean is that the sphere of hostility itself must be reduced.

The means of this reduction are again unclear. Furthermore, how can a nonsovereign, nonsubstantive Empire compose and enforce an order? The negativity of Empire here is often articulated in a positivism that appears not within the policing actions of the State of Emergency (this or that operation), but of a general condition in which Empire would, then, be perpetually positive in its negativity. The positivity of Empire would, of course, serve justification for Negri’s position in regards to Empire’s substantive qualities that Tiqqun despises. Moreover, this dialectical relation of negativity/positivity would also lead one to consider with more weight a deconstructive analysis of these operational concepts.

In regards to reducing the sphere of hostility, the dividuals that are supposed to accomplish this act appear to unite only in their abstraction as near-essentialist “forms-of-life” which are not “cultures” or “styles” but communist relations to “how I am what I am” (§5, 22) that form the core of their ethical relations, a relation situated before politics. In short, forms-of-life are contingent in their communality; they are constructed as ethical relations before political ones. However, this raises questions, even traditional ones, concerning the ethical construction of contingent communism, or, in philosophical terms, of how we know that we have the good life, how we know that we are acting ethically, and so on. Indeed, is not the collective inquiry into these questions precisely that of politics? Yet, Tiqqun dismisses such avenues of questioning thought in §6 as “meaningless” and as betraying “only a rejection,” if not a “fear of undergoing contingency.” On the contrary, such questions embrace contingency as inherently malleable in their content and means and advance their questioning as essential to the ethico-political relation. If forms-of-life are contingent, then should we not inquire how to create, share, and remix them? Is this not the ethical question par excellence? The problem here is that Tiqqun has severed the relationship between ethics and politics while nonetheless claiming communism as an ethical good.

In this respect Tiqqun seems to fear strategies that would elevate questions of contingency to a political level, given its repeated emphasis on the ethical dimensions of its positions before politics – an “ethics of civil war” (§31, §95). Tiqqun would appear to avoid addressing how it is that its contingent, though fundamental theses concerning forms-of-life are precisely that: forms without content, and thus without ethical content nor foundation. What constitutes “an ethics of civil war” if forms-of-life are contingent, and war is advanced before politics? Such questions are meaningless in this schema; no ethics can exist in a war of all-against-all. It is a war not even of ethics, but of the free play of power itself. As Tiqqun writes, “Civil war is the free play of forms-of-life; it is the principle of their coexistence” (§10). Yet this play is free only insofar as it would be unequal and ruthless – which is to say, without ethics it would operate without constraint. Surely Tiqqun is not trying to convince us Blooms of Rousseau’s myth of the Noble Savage? And are we really supposed to believe that the State impoverished an ethics of civil war by translating it into economic (or class) war? For Tiqqun, it is a question of

how the “war of each against each” is instead the impoverished ethic of civil war imposed everywhere by the modern State under the name of the economic, which is nothing other than the universal reign of hostility. (§42)

(c) In regards to the state of civil war, and Tiqqun’s mission to seek it through communist forms-of-life, these communes of unquestioned sameness (§13) must be pursued in an ethical capacity, which is to open oneself to other forms-of-life. If there is an ethical dimension, it is usually sought in the relation to the other: the ethics of hospitality. For Tiqqun, our capacity to be affected by other forms-of-life appears not in our relations to the other, and the choices made in relation to the other, but by abdicating the Bloomesque notions of freedom and choice and following one’s form-of-life “right to the end, to the point where it vanishes” (§6, gloss B, 25). In short, one must take up a form-of-life and pursue it to the end in order to be affected by others. The more one pursues the communism of a form-of-life to the point of its disappearance, to the point of forgetfulness, to the point of incorporation without memory, to the point wherein one forgets one is pursuing a contingent ethics, the more one is affected by others. There is a deeply troubling aspect to this thesis, for it is a position that wishes to bury, without memory, the contingency of its form. One is reminded of every attempt to start at Year Zero.

Surely the autonomist language of exodus develops a contingent position from which to articulate a new political relation much better. Through exit or organised retreat a collectivity can reset the parameters for a new republic. Rave culture demonstrated such a movement. Exodus organises the parameters of its  alternative world (the latter a term that Tiqqun also uses).

Yet Tiqqun’s articulation is troubling also in its linearity – its simplism of relations to the other. Here, the ability to be affected by others (and one would suppose this includes empathy) follows from the linear yet forgetful development of one’s form-of-life in relation to those whom one is already affiliated with (here one is somewhat reminded of Stirner). In this logic, the ethical capacity is suspended or reduced until one’s form-of-life has reified to the point of its disappearance. In short, after shaping one’s form-of-life to the point of its absolute introjection (to put it in psychoanalytic terms), the other can no longer trouble it: one’s contingent foundations for ethical relations is no longer open to question. Is this not precisely the policing operation of biopower and self-regulation that Foucault investigates? Is this not precisely the methodology of indoctrination, of all forms of unconscious programming?

For Tiqqun, ethical relations are not relations of disagreement, but of political hostility through civil war (§12). All encounters with the other are hostile until proven innocent. Unless the other is the same – and thus not the other – the encounter is always one of hostility (§18). This means that each encounter is not open to questioning but only to hostility and by necessity takes place within a politics of civil war (§12) without recourse to an ethics of hospitality. The “capacity to then be affected by other forms-of-life” is only a capacity to enter into hostile relations. Other forms of life that appear as nonhostile are not other forms-of-life, but the same forms-of-life that serve to reinforce reified power through the strengthening of the same community (§13, §16). This is perhaps why Tiqqun ends up with civil war as the point of view of the political, rather than seeing the contingent construction of ethical relations as the genesis of the political to begin with. If Tiqqun did see it this way, then the relation to the other would always already be at stake in the perpetual – and necessary – renegotiation of ethico-political relations.

Finally, Tiqqun’s position admits only a pure, positivist subjectivity without unconscious alterity. There can be no schizoid subject, no heteronymous multiple, no incorporated ghosts. All of this must be forgotten in the indoctrination of one’s form-of-life. This is the precise point at which Tiqqun defeats itself. No subject is functional, nor seemingly whole in its holes of memory, without alterity. What Tiqqun desires is an isolated subject, a cloistered subject raised without exposure to otherness, so that when otherness is encountered, it is viewed as hostile, and its relations to it, those of civil war. Without question. This is precisely the agenda of every authoritarian State that constructs its New Youth through the means of erasure that eradicates of alterity. If this is so, then how are Tiqqun’s means at all different from those of State biopower?

(c) Civil war (§12). Even though this term is qualified throughout, Tiqqun views the political perspective of the world as one of competing forms-of-life held in a perpetual state of Civil War. Tiqqun’s view is militantly anti-Statist (without question, even). Moreover, Tiqqun holds an entirely romantic view of what preceded the State:

In the West, the unity of the traditional world was lost with the Reformation and the “wars of religion” that followed. The modern State then bursts on the scene with the task of reconstituting this unity – secularized, this time – no longer as an organic whole but instead as a mechanical whole, as a machine, as a conscious artificiality. (§35, 74).

Political theory always fails when it takes up such hopelessly lost narratives, and Tiqqun is no exception. Even as forms-of-life are the perfectly contingent communities of Civil War prior to the State, the State itself is viewed as a new form — a construct. Are not the preceding nonStatist forms also constructs? In any case, the State is apparently a machine that disrupts the organic whole of the nonartificial unity of the world. This line of theorisation never fails to win its adherents among those who enjoy all the benefits of the State. At its worst, such positions are a justification for contingent violence. Moreover, I fail to see why the State is not merely the most successful community of the same in this schema.

Secondly, why Tiqqun accepts Hobbes’ polarisation of the State vs. Civil War remains unclear. Tiqqun dislikes Hobbes, so why accept his schema? Tiqqun’s apparently radical thesis is to wholeheartedly embrace Civil War over the State, and thus to render the contingency of the communities of Civil War into a positively ethical dimension. How a contingent form-of-life wrought in a community of the same can only contain ethical content is again unclear. A deconstructive analysis would question – which is to say intensify – Hobbes’ dichotomy to begin with. I have no real desire to fight an impossible struggle against the State. Exodus offers precisely an abdication of such heroic naratives. Nor would I desire to blindly accept a violently idealist vision of civil war that reeks with all the musk of patriarchy, the kind of vision that casts about with homoerotic dreams of warrior nomads.

/ exit /

There is more – much more – to be writ in response to Tiqqun’s text, which despite its romantic idealism contains many cogent theorisations of Empire and organisation, especially where it turns toward exodus. When Tiqqun write that “To begin again means: to exit the suspension” (201), they begin to articulate the means, the very how, of what has already been taking place. When Tiqqun deconstruct Lenin’s question “What is to be done?”, asking instead “How is it to be done?”, they reset the stakes for political strategy. Yet their fundamental theses remain flawed — if not marred with the same inadequate and romantic theorisations that have long plagued weak anarchist thought.

Nowhere does Tiqqun speak of political economy beyond thinking it as impoverished Civil War (§42); everywhere the question is of the subject and the State, and even when Empire is the prevailing condition, it remains the Liberal state turned inside out (§53). Nevertheless, many intriguing theses remain: whereas the modern State attempted to eliminate Civil War, Empire attempts to manage it (§58). Of course, this calls into question the very strategic direction of Tiqqun in advocating Civil War.

And the question of political economy remains. Are Empire’s economics reactionary and negative, or only its military force? According to David Harvey, financial capital has been entirely innovative – in the sense that it seeks to transcend its barriers – and not reactionary. Marazzi, Berardi, Negri, Virno and others have  already outlined how capital commodified the very schizoid & nomadic forms of resistance dreamt up by the likes of Deleuze and Guattari as an antidote to Freudian repression (to give Deleuze and Guattari credit, they address this development in their last works, as well as in various passages of A Thousand Plateaus that don’t receive nearly enough attention).

A question then arises: if the economics of capitalism – a phrase not to be found in Tiqqun – do not operate merely or only as a negative impoverishment of Civil War, then what precisely is to be made of the substantive violence and innovative workarounds of global economic capitalism? In Tiqqun’s schema, what is the relation of the global capitalist economy to Empire’s military-policing operations? Or: what is the relation of the positive to the negative? Is economics a double negative, a shadow of Empire’s negativity? Or: how Hegelian is this all, really? For Negri, capitalist economics are reactionary and this is precisely why he argues that the multitude produced Empire, or rather that Empire formed as a reaction against the organisation of increasingly globalized labour. Negri retains the dialectics of the negative — a dialectics of history that is, at points, even deconstructive. But Tiqqun?

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    14 Responses to “Contesting Civil War: Tiqqun & Agamben”

    1. Contesting Civil War: new post on Tiqqun's "Introduction to Civil War" & Agamben on fugitive.philosophy >> #tiqqun

    2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Rodrigo Sepúlveda, tobias c. van Veen. tobias c. van Veen said: Contesting Civil War: new post on Tiqqun's "Introduction to Civil War" & Agamben on fugitive.philosophy >> #tiqqun […]

    3. Fugitive Philosophy with a useful analysis of Tiqqun's recently translated Introduction to Civil War: #tiqqun

    4. Fugitive Philosophy with a response to Tiqqun's recently translated 'Introduction to Civil War' – #tiqqun

    5. Fugitive Philosophy: a response to #Tiqqun's recently translated 'Introduction to Civil War' – #Agamben (via @mdieter)

    6. suzughia says:

      RT @semioticmonkey: Fugitive Philosophy: a response to #Tiqqun's recently translated 'Introduction to Civil War' – #Agamben (via @mdieter)

    7. RT @semioticmonkey: Fugitive Philosophy: response to Tiqqun's translated 'Introduction to Civil War' – via @mdieter

    8. […] multitude on the retreat? Is this other we, now, caught in a civil war, whether we like it or not, as Tiqqun claims? Or, like in the 1930s, will this other multitude give up its hope, and turn over the reigns of […]

    9. mark duff says:

      Tiqqun has provided an excellant analysis of 21stC Capital. the Empire is intervention, no action is required by militants, if you have the wrong books, you go to jail.i was home-invaded and called the police.the police noticed my posters and books..when leaving one cop said to the other,’im referring this guy to Intell’….

      • tV says:

        Indeed, what is so frightening is how banal the cops are — “oh look! revolutionary books! quick, ping Intel!” As if the presence of books somehow still matters when political presence, likes, dislikes, reads, affiliations, comments, postings, and so on are already so easily determined through a simple Google search. Perhaps the materialization of the belief still carries some weight. Of course, this is all to say how disgusting it is for cops to abuse their powers of entry when they should be *cough* aiding the average citizen.

    10. […] posted with vodpod Thanks to: Fugitive Philosophy […]

    11. sabine w says:

      Contesting Civil War: Tiqqun & Agamben « fugitive philosophy