Respecting the Middle: The Wire's Omar Little as Neoliberal Subjectivity

Eric Beck

Staying stratified—organized, signified, subjected—is not the worst that can happen; the worst that can happen is if you throw the strata into demented or suicidal collapse, which brings them back down on us heavier than ever. [...] It is through a meticulous relation with the strata that one succeeds in freeing lines of flight, causing conjugated flows to pass and escape and bringing forth continuous intensities for a [Body without Organs]. Connect, conjugate, continue: a whole "diagram," as opposed to still signifying and subjective programs. (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 161)

[1] In a scene during the first season of the American television series The Wire, Omar Little, a gay black man who makes his precarious living and iconic reputation by stealing money and drugs from local gangs, watches from the window of a distant apartment as one of those gangs ransacks his latest crash pad and torches his van. Behind him, a destitute junkie who Omar supplies with free drugs stares into space, momentarily floating in a heroin high but soon to be weighted down by its inevitable crash. On his lap sits the junkie's child, whose head he calmly caresses as he impassively takes in the scene around him. Omar occupies the in-between: Situated amid the operations of the highly stratified gang organization and the suicidally destratified junkie high, he creates spaces and causes conjugations from the middle that attempt to elude the strata's organizational demands.

[2] This is not the only time that Omar inhabits the middle. Indeed, the cramped spaces between various configurations of The Wire's molar strata—drug gangs, the police, the judicial apparatus, and the Nation of Islam, among others—are his usual space. At the same time, he maintains the "meticulous relation" with those strata that are required to forge connections in the middle and ride lines of escape. Free, by both refusal and rejection, from institutional affiliation and stable forms of life but nonetheless dependent on those institutions and forms in many ways, Omar embodies a kind of subjectivity that corresponds to, and in instructive ways departs from, the demands of neoliberal capitalism. It is this correspondence that this essay will explore. It will begin by sketching a synopsis of The Wire's story arc and themes and locating Omar's place in it. It will next outline a pair of concepts created in the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, stratification and axiomatics, that can help make sense of neoliberalism's institutions and subjective commands. Then it will survey some recent attempts at describing neoliberalism and its subjective consequences and point to some of the inadequacies of those attempts. Along the way, departures on Omar Little and The Wire will highlight various features of neoliberal subjectivity and some of the dangers and openings presented by contemporary politics.

A City Mapped

[3] The Wire is unique among the innovative and acclaimed television series of the past decade in that it attempts something approaching an exhaustive portrayal of society. Taking Baltimore, a formerly thriving now decaying city, as its specific object of study, the series examines the various forces, institutions, and modes of living that make up the modern city. [i] Season one introduces the two social strata whose interactions will limn the entire series: the police and the criminal drug gangs, or, to put it more generally, the judicial apparatus and the crime apparatus. Not content to merely show the interactions between the two apparatuses, the show delves into how each exists for itself: the criminals as well as the cops are shown to have loves, desires, inheritances, and disabilities that form and inform their lives. And so it is with successive seasons, each of which adds another stratum to The Wire assemblage, while always returning to the relationship between the cops and the criminals. The second season focuses on labor unions on the city's dilapidated docks, whose mostly white, male members' accustomed way of life is under siege both by rapidly changing economic circumstances and by corrupt churches, politicians, and organized crime syndicates trying to profit from their misery. Season three introduces the machinations taking place at city hall and the effects of those on the police and other political bodies. The fourth season treats the city's public schools, and season five depicts media's role in city life.

[4] What this adds up to is an overdetermined mapping of how the modern city functions. The Wire presents each grouping or collection of people in its own internal complexity and in its network of relations with the others. Internally, the classes are composed of elements and subjects that are torn in contradictory directions, characters that attempt escapes only to crash back down, characters that escape their conditions without even trying. In their relations with other strata, nothing is predetermined and events are rarely attributable to one group simply exercising its will on another group. Each strata is always open to alteration and contingencies. The story arc that perhaps reflects this most clearly, and poignantly, occurs in the fourth season, among four junior-high-aged friends in the West Baltimore milieu: Naimon, the son of the imprisoned head of a drug gang's security force who is destined for a life of crime, a future he seems to welcome but who, among other things, sports a ponytail that he refuses to cut, even though it makes him more conspicuous to the police; Randy, an orphaned child whose strict foster mother tries to ensure that he won't become a product of the criminal life unfolding outside her home; Duquane, the son of addicts who seems to have the life of a junkie laid out before him but who is smart enough to capture the attention of one of his teachers, who offers him an opening to escape his fate; and Michael, the son of an addict and a gangster who seems to have a natural talent for The Game—as the drug trade is called—but who isn't yet prepared to embrace that future. These characters end up living lives that don't coincide with paths laid out for them. Or rather, they do occasionally, but only accidentally and imperfectly: Naimon, precisely because of his gangster heritage, is chosen to participate in a pilot program at school for troubled kids, and it's in the program that he meets a person who agrees to take him in, allowing him to escape the drug gangs. Randy, at his foster mother's urging, tells the police what he knows about a murder, and even though the police say they will protect him from recrimination, they fail to and his house is burned, his foster mother dies, and he is forced into a group home, where he is known to be a snitch and takes regular beatings for it. Duquane briefly accepts the opening offered by the teacher, but when his living situation becomes unstable, he has no other choice than to take up with a group of homeless junkies. Michael eventually accepts the gang's overtures, but after rising quickly through its ranks, a variety of circumstances—familial, moral, historical—make him decide to quit; eventually, he is sticking up the very drug gangs he worked for and, the final shots of the series suggest, has become an unaffiliated freelancer, an heir to Omar.

[5] The existences experienced by these boys assert the contingency of relations: their interactions within their milieu and with elements from other milieus allow, or not, escapes from the lives that have been set out for them and form the basis of new modes of living, or of death. These are perhaps banal points, but they are ones that the show makes repeatedly and, as we will see, are ones worth repeating in light of contemporary theories that see working, cultural, and dispossessed classes as pitiless victims of neoliberalism. The Wire continually affirms the independence, but not the absolute autonomy, of the sectors that the police and politicians try to command, and it does so in several ways. For one, many characters associated with the criminal milieu have access to ways of escaping or evading control: besides Omar, Naimon, and Michael, there is Cutty, an ex-con who upon his release from prison tries to get back into The Game but lacks the will to do so just as he lacks the desire to work waged labor, and so he starts a neighborhood boxing gym as a way to avoid both. More memorably, there is Bubbles, a professional junkie, thief, con man, and police informant who, à la Mother Courage, pushes a shopping cart around the West Baltimore war zone selling consumer flotsam to other junkies and dealers. Each of these characters finds a way to inhabit the space of the slums without being completely subjected to the command of the drug gangs. The show, however, doesn't glorify them. Far from it; their lives are almost always dangerous and they are at best one step ahead of death. But it's significant that in the police and political milieus there are no margins that people can inhabit. The nearest anyone comes to finding one is McNulty, the police officer who is the closest thing The Wire has to a protagonist, but the only means of escape he knows is the normalcy of being a good cop and the domesticity and security of a nuclear family.

[6] Another way the show affirms the independence of the criminal milieu is through the police's inability to actually understand, or even apprehend, the criminals. The wiretaps that give the show its name, far from being omniscient modes of surveillance, are blunt, crude devices that require lots of interpretation and guessing, often lead to dead ends, and are frequently fooled. After Stringer Bell—first lieutenant, and occasional acting head, of the Barksdale drug gang, which the show follows over the first three seasons—is killed, the police raid his apartment, expecting him to live in a squalid hovel. Instead they are shocked to find he lives in an immaculate, nicely decorated loft. As McNulty spots a copy of The Wealth of Nations on Stringer's bookshelf, he asks, "Who the fuck were we chasing?" Despite the huge sums of money and amount of manpower the police spend on surveillance and information gathering, their knowledge of their targets is at best partial.

[7] Notably missing from The Wire's presentation is any sort of overt portrayal of what is perhaps the primary institution of the neoliberal era: business. But this is not an oversight. Instead, business is represented by the drug gangs. Not interested, however, in merely averring the moral equivalency between selling Big Macs and selling heroin, the show instead emphasizes how the capitalists and criminal gangs utilize common forms of operation, layers of hierarchy, and controls on labor and wages. In The Wire, bottom-level street dealers, like McDonald's fry cooks, live with their moms, or in condemned buildings. This conflation of legitimate business and street business becomes even more manifest in the third season, when Stringer—who is in charge of the Barksdale organization while its boss, Avon, is in jail—begins taking college business classes, forms an association of drug gangs, conducts meetings according to Roberts Rules of Order, frets about marketing and security, and funnels drug money into developing condos. West Baltimore may have little legal economic activity, but it doesn't lack capitalist forms of control.

Enter Omar

[8] It's in this network of forces that Omar Little finds himself, or rather, into which he inserts himself, by holding up and stealing a large drug stash from the Barksdale gang. As punishment for his transgression, the gang brutally tortures and murders his lover, Brandon, and leaves his mutilated body on display as a warning not only to Omar but to others who might think of crossing them. Distraught at the death of his lover, and equally at the Barksdales' desecration of Brandon's beauty, Omar is thrown into a state of anger. He collaborates with the police in order to exact revenge on the Barksdales, but then, as if expiating for the collaboration, he decides to assassinate Avon himself. After his attempt fails, The Game becomes too dangerous, and he has to quit Baltimore.

[9] Eventually, however, he returns, and with a new lover. After observing the considerable stickup skills of two women criminals who also steal from drug gangs, he teams up with them. Together, they perform all sorts of creative and elaborate heists. Omar and his crew seem to be in The Game more for the thrill of the hunt and the excitement of planning and executing a plan than for the money they get out of it. While Omar carries out his street experiments, Stringer becomes increasingly exasperated with Omar's heists, which are making the Barksdale gang look weak. He tries to deceive Omar into killing Brother Mouzone, a Nation of Islam hitman whose considerable connections would make Omar's life in Baltimore extremely difficult, by telling Omar that Mouzone had killed Brandon. Omar finds Mouzone and shoots him in the shoulder, but before he can finish the job Mouzone tells him that Stringer has duped him. Omar spares Mouzone's life, even calling an ambulance for him. Stringer has become Omar's number-one enemy.

[10] Later, after one of Omar's female partners is killed in a botched heist, Omar is tormented by guilt and regret. He declares a unilateral a cease-fire with the Barksdales, a cease-fire that is broken when Stringer orders the assassination of Omar as the latter takes his grandmother to church. Omar leaves his group of street artists to pursue the destruction of the Barksdale gang on his own. He eventually teams up with Brother Mouzone, and the two of them trap Stringer in a building that he is developing into condos. As Stringer offers them money in exchange for his life, they bathe him in a hail of bullets. After that Avon is imprisoned, and the Barksdale organization is all but decimated.

[11] After Stringer's death, Omar becomes bored with his street life. The thieving becomes routine and unchallenging. He provokes West Baltimore's new dominant drug gang, led by Marlo Stanfield, by robbing from them. After the Stanfields frame him for murdering a civilian—something Omar would never do as it would violate his beliefs, and "a man must have a code," as he says—he is almost energized: The Game has become a challenge again; it's become fun. Omar pulls off another incredible heist, reuniting with one of the women from the previous group and some other street misfits: queers, Latinos, disabled people. After that heist, and despite his renewed interest in The Game, Omar decides to give it up because he is putting others around him in danger. He leaves with his lover to Puerto Rico, where they live until the Stanfields drive him back to Baltimore by killing Butchie, his mentor and advisor. Omar is brought back into the street life not because he desires to be but because he feels compelled by the Stanfields' actions, and he acts in ways that violate his own code: he kills a mid-level Stanfield security agent and terrorizes other low-level players. He responds to Marlo's masculinist, street-warrior taunts with macho, territorial taunts of his own. Omar has stopped living apart from the street strata and joined them on their turf. As he walks into a convenience store on his quest for Marlo, he is shot in the head by a little boy. Omar has died.


[12] As the too-brief and far-from-exhaustive outline above tries to show, The Wire is concerned with the complex, contingent relations between different parts of society and the ways in which some of them exercise, or try to exercise, control over others. Utilizing some concepts created by Deleuze and Guattari, we can begin to understand these complicated dynamics and also avoid the pitfalls associated with other theories of contemporary capitalism. The first of these is stratification. In the work of Deleuze and Guattari, stratification is a universal process that animates all kinds of formations, from geologic and organic configurations to subjective and social orders. Stratification is "a very important, inevitable phenomenon that is beneficial in many respects and unfortunate in many others" (1987, 40). Too little stratification spells death, while too much stratification means an utter loss of independence—that is, death. Stratification is the process whereby a stratum obtains enough form and energy to subsist and to appropriate enough material from other strata to transform and adapt. But strata are also fundamentally colonizing: Deleuze and Guattari describe them as imperialist lobsters that "rear up and stretch their pincers out in all directions at all the other strata," attempting to capture foreign flows (63). [ii]

[13] Strata are composed of contents, forms, expressions, and intensities that exist on each stratum's interior. A stratum has interactions with other strata and can borrow materials from those strata, which are called substrata and form an exterior milieu to the stratum. Interior and exterior, Deleuze and Guattari emphasize, "are relative; they exist only through their exchanges" (49). There are no essences in strata, only relations in which materials are borrowed and copied. There exists a third kind of milieu, called the associated milieu, which strata relate to through a parastrata and from which they derive propulsive energy—for instance, the abilities to perceive, discern, and act in organic strata, or organs, territories, and technologies in social and subjective strata. The epistrata, governing membranes that exist at the limit of a stratum, regulate all the interactions between the strata and the three milieus (interior, exterior, and associated). Substrata, parastrata, and epistrata are not just milieus that exist to serve a single stratum but are complex strata in their own right and have relations with other strata. There is no hierarchy among strata, no evolution from one form to a higher form. Each stratum is a unique and irreducible complex of materials and formations.

[14] Strata primarily function, as the common connotation of their name implies, to create distinctions, levels, and rankings. They are constantly ordering, which for Deleuze and Guattari means that they can never be sources or modes of liberation and escape. There is no such thing as an emancipatory end to be found in stratification. But this doesn't mean that the strata can be ignored and unproblematically left behind: "if you blow apart the strata without taking precautions, [...] you will be killed, plunged into a black hole, or even dragged toward catastrophe" (161). The key to dealing with stratification is to draw from strata only what's necessary to sustain life and to find some small amount of territory that faces away from the strata and toward the Body without Organs, or plane of consistency, which for Deleuze and Guattari is a site where the "connection of desires, conjunction of flows, continuum of intensities" are collected (161). In other words, one should find some place in the middle that is near enough to use the strata but distant enough to allow strategic escapes.

[15] Deleuze and Guattari's work on stratification offers a way of reckoning with "structures" without reducing them to singular identities—classes, institutions, organizations, and the like. This does not mean that it is impossible or wrong to speak of such things; too often they are reified, however, and the affects, effects, and processes that produce them and are produced by them are subsumed and considered secondary, mere machinations of those molar identities. Stratification theory can rectify this by emphasizing and accounting for the composition of and changes that occur in structures without fetishizing and essentializing their existence. It's the process of stratification more than the identity of the strata that is important.

[16] Departure 1: The Wire is all about stratification. The show presents a huge number of organized and organizing strata—police, drug gangs, government, drug addicts, labor unions, families, criminal syndicates, schools, courts, prisons, media. It dramatizes the internal workings of these strata, but each stratum is also imbricated and mutually implicated with other strata, which it requires to function and with which it exchanges contents and forms. The drug gangs, for instance, borrow subjects and socialities from the schools, but that doesn't mean the schools act purely as training grounds for the drug trade. They also serve as substrata for families, courts, police, and drug addicts, just as prisons and media serve as substrata for the schools, providing them with elements of subjectivation and socialization. In The Wire, the strata are interconnected, but there is no simple one-to-one correspondence of exchange between them. The borrowings are complex and uneven, involving different kinds and quantities of flows that interact in contingent, unpredictable ways, and don't imply the simple domination of one strata over another.

[17] The main stratic relation, the one that is woven throughout the show's five seasons, is between the police and the drug gangs. The two need one another, and not just in the ontologically reductive sense: cops need criminals and criminals need cops. Instead, they constantly borrow forms and other materials from each other, the actions of one rebounding on the other. When the bodies from turf wars start to pile up, bringing increased heat from the police and landing Avon Barksdale, the drug kingpin of West Baltimore, in jail, the city's drug gangs decide to form a cooperative that can help them broker disagreements, reducing the body count and thus the watchful eye of the police. The drug gang strata is transformed, borrowing forms from government and trade association substrata. But the relationship between the police and the drug gangs is not a simple one of stratum and substratum. Each is crossed with lines from other strata, some of them shared, some exclusive. In the vocabulary of Deleuze and Guattari, while the police have an almost infinite number of substrata—lovers and drug dealers, the court system and telephones—from which to exchange materials, they draw their energy (parastratic relations) almost exclusively from the drug gangs and are primarily regulated (epistratic relations) by city government. The drug gangs, on the other hand, operating from a cramped corner of society, have a relatively small number of substrata and parastrata (mostly drug users and a small number of territorial corners) but a large number of epistrata: government, police, courts, prisons, among others. But, as an indication of the complexity of stratification, despite being touched by a large number of regulators, the drug gangs operate with more freedom over more territory than do the police. Indeed, those inhabiting the criminal milieu in general are able to find margins to escape to that are not available to those associated with the police and political bodies: Naimon's ponytail, Cutty's gym, Bubbles' shopping cart, and Omar's homosexuality are all lines of flight that can be ridden.


[18] Capitalism, for Deleuze and Guattari, is unique among social formations in that it requires and is founded upon flows—of money, capital, labor, desire—that are deterritorialized and decoded. Utilizing such flows means that capitalism does not depend on, and so can't be easily upset by, particular territories, beliefs, and ways of life. As Jason Read (2003) notes in comparing capitalism with precapitalist forms, the latter

repeat and conserve their conditions and presuppositions. [...] This repetition exposes the precapitalist forms to a particular type of vulnerability: They are threatened by changes in the production of subjectivity and in the production of material life. In contrast to this, the capitalist mode of production has at its formation and foundation a collective subject that is "free" from the constraints and guarantees of a particular form of life. (62)

But this doesn't mean that capitalism lacks organization; that would spell its death. It also doesn't imply that capitalism is content to exploit this "free" subject and leave it as it is. Capital is fundamentally constructivist: It attempts to bend forms of life to correspond to and enable its productive requirements. To accomplish this, it depends upon what Deleuze and Guattari call an axiomatic, which functions to regulate the decoded flows, connect them and organize them in ways that can meet its productive demands.

[19] The axiomatic—unlike precapitalist codes, overcodings, and recodings, which are only operative in specific circumstances—can be applied in a general manner and used across different times and spaces. This allows capitalism to function without requiring or getting attached to subjective or productive specificities and enables it to profit from an almost endless range of social organization. The axiomatic itself is composed of individual, autonomous axioms, each of which is self-contained and can be added to or subtracted from an axiomatic at any time, leaving the axiomatic still functioning, albeit differently. The axiomatic and the axioms relate to, but cannot be reduced to, the law, as they also undergird contracts and agreements. Indeed, under capitalism, every social bond is underwritten by an axiom. New axioms are invoked and applied, or, conversely, revoked, when capital reaches one of its internal limits. They help capital push back that limit into new frontiers and into new realms and intensities of production. [iii]

[20] The advantage of Deleuze and Guattari's work on the axiomatic and axioms is that it provides a means for understanding capital's extreme suppleness: Breaking the threshold of capitalism is difficult because of its infinite ability to push past and reset its limits; it can just add a new axiom. Undermining capitalism with protest and resistance is difficult because it is already built upon a deterritorialized and decoded foundation. The "pessimistic" response to this situation points to the futility of resistance, to capital's endless ability to co-opt, and suggests grabbing hold of the axiomatizing machine and pointing it toward socialistic ends. The "optimistic" response, on the other hand, links infinite demanding and omnipresent resistance to the creation of new classes and forms existing autonomously from capital's commanding. Both of these responses are based on a series of misunderstandings: of the strata, of axioms, and of contemporary subjectivation.

[21] Deleuze and Guattari's work on axioms also allows for the bypassing of contemporary theory's mania for identification of epochs. Contemporary theory is constantly locating new eras and heralding the death of old ones. Axiomatics and axioms help notice the continuity of capital and see changes not as the explosion of new structures and novel strata but as new configurations of strata and subjectivity. At the same time, axioms allow, through their addition and subtraction, for locating changes in the relationship between the various strata and for the possibility of describing social, economic, and political transformations. [iv]

[22] Departure 2: Given the complexity of interactions between the strata and the difficulty of specifying which functions "belong" to which strata, rather than speaking of the police and the criminals in The Wire as discrete organizations, it is more accurate to speak of the law, specifically the capitalist appropriation of law. For Deleuze and Guattari (1987), under capitalism, "the entire historical figure of the law changes. [I]t increasingly assumes the direct form and immediate characteristics of an axiomatic" (453). Laws become a legal code, a set of independent statements that can be applied generally, to populations, not just in specific circumstances to specific people. The effect of this generality is that it attempts to bring everyone into relation with the law. In The Wire, there are the lawman and the outlaw, but neither cops nor criminals can escape the law.

[23] Omar Little's precarious position arises out of his trying to elude finally landing on either side of the law. While he breaks the law by stealing and killing, he also collaborates with the police to get revenge on the Barksdale gang for torturing and killing his lover. While he plays The Game—the drug trade—he doesn't accept its counter-law, such as the one that says you must off anyone who crosses you. Adhering instead to his own code, he chooses to kill only high-level players that have tried to kill him. Omar doesn't obey the axioms of either the law or the counter-law, just as he refuses permanent affiliation with both the cop and the criminal strata. In this individualist ethic, he shares a lot with the long tradition of American cinematic archetypes, dating back at least to Humphrey Bogart's stick-my-neck-out-for-no-one characters. But Omar's relation to the law is different. While Bogart characters deny specific institutional affiliation, they nonetheless start as they finish, on the side of the higher moral law. Omar doesn't. Though he claims to have a code, it is not a code that relies on abstract, universal, transcendental principles. His code is simple and pragmatic: don't kill people who don't have the authority to order the deaths of others. Other than that, the actions he takes and the alliances he forms are determined by the situations he finds himself in.


[24] Stratification and the axiomatic. They could also be called, respectively, the relations and the tool used to transform those relations. The two concepts can be applied to specific circumstances and used to describe the 'content' of the current era. In the rest of this essay I would like to utilize Deleuze and Guattari's concepts with and against other, more recent theories of neoliberalism. While these theories reveal a lot of important things about the current conjuncture, each of them is, I think, insufficient in crucial ways—ways that might help in evading or other otherwise overturning some of neoliberalism's commands.

[25] Recent work put forward by writers such as David Harvey and Wendy Brown, among many others, has attempted to outline the specific social rearrangements generated by neoliberal capitalism by describing how neoliberal governmentality has transformed the state, democracy, and the economy. Though they tend to concentrate on neoliberalism's institutional operations, they also pay attention to its specific ontological claim, which Harvey (2005) describes thusly:

Neoliberalism is in the first instance a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade. (2)

For Harvey, as for Brown, neoliberalism's primary subjective axioms relate to freedom and entrepreneurialism. Neoliberal subjects are, in their accounts, commanded and shaped to be individualistically free, self-sufficient, and constantly enterprising.

[26] Of course, producing free subjects is not new or specific to neoliberalism. As Marx, writing in the 1850s, made clear, freedom is one of capital's primary axioms and is produced by capitalist exchange: "the exchange of exchange values is the productive, real basis for all equality and freedom" (1973, 245). This reverses the relationship that existed with precapitalist forms, in which exchange depended on the activity of already free subjects. Exchange freedom, however, is just "the surface process, beneath which, [...] in the depths, entirely different processes go on" (247), including the division of labor, the money form, socialization, and a whole series of other compulsions that preexist the moment of exchange. For Harvey, neoliberalism's specific compulsions entail a severing of the connections that bound the postwar, Keynesian era: specifically, the bond between the worker-citizen, labor unions, and the state. In place of this bond, neoliberalism has substituted a freedom marked primarily by negative and individualist articulations.

[27] Following Karl Polanyi, for whom "negative freedoms" include "the freedom to exploit one's fellows" and "the freedom to profit" (36), Harvey says that neoliberalism's axioms regarding freedom tend toward social dissolution:

[T]he drive towards market freedoms and the commodification of everything can all too easily run amok and produce social incoherence. The destruction of forms of social solidarity and even, as Thatcher suggested, of the very idea of society itself, leaves a gaping hole in the social order. It then becomes particularly difficult to combat anomie and control the resultant anti-social behaviors such as criminality, pornography, or the virtual enslavement of others. The reduction of 'freedom' to 'freedom of enterprise' unleashes all those 'negative freedoms' that Polanyi saw as inextricably tied in with the positive freedoms. (80-1)

Like Polanyi, Harvey insists that capital's intrinsic slide toward negative freedom and "social incoherence" can be restrained by a regime of external regulation and planning. In a word, the state. Not only can such a regime control negative freedoms, but it can in fact produce positives: "Juridical and actual freedom can be made wider and more general that ever before; regulation and control can achieve freedom not only for the few, but for all," as Harvey quotes Polanyi approvingly (37). Under neoliberalism, however, negative freedoms have been unleashed just as positive freedoms have been all but erased. This has been accomplished by a noninterventionist state—one that no longer reterritorializes capital's deterritorializations, and has led to the enrichment of some strata (capitalist centers, the wealthy), the destruction of other strata (labor unions, civil society), and the immiseration of still others (the working class, the dispossessed).

[28] Concomitant with the proliferation of negative freedoms is the production of strictly individualist kinds of freedom. In part, these are created through and for the mechanisms of consumerism: "Neoliberalization require[s] both politically and economically the construction of a neoliberal market-based populist culture of differentiated consumerism and individual libertarianism" (42). Harvey, however, sees individual freedom not just as an expression of marketing-created consumerist desire but also as the subjective condition of those who have been stripped of their organizational manifestations by three decades of union-busting and repression of dissident and activist groups: "Independent trade unions or other social movements [...], which acquired considerable power under embedded liberalism, have to be disciplined, if not destroyed, and this in the name of the sacrosanct individual liberty of the isolated labourer."

[29] Harvey's neoliberal subject is shorn of strataic affiliation and representation, without unions to direct its activities or a state to clear its path to freedom, and enslaved to a particular form of life that has been created and imposed by capital, the victim of a social order not of its own making.

[30] Departure 3: Omar repeatedly refuses to be a victim. Though his lack of institutional affiliation has sometimes been externally compelled, he nonetheless continually affirms his place in the middle. Habituated to being free from molar organizations, he accepts and even savors the precarious existence created by his refusals and his rejections. But Omar's separateness from major strata is not the same as Harvey's individualist freedom. This is so for a couple of reasons. For one, no matter how much neoliberalism attempts to axiomatize otherwise, there is no such thing as strict individualism. As Deleuze and Guattari (1987) remind us, strictly individualized enunciation does not exist: "the statement is individuated, and enunciation subjectified, only to the extent that an impersonal collective assemblage requires it and determines it to be so" (80). Omar is merely an expression of whole populations that exist exterior to The Wire's molar strata. For another, Omar does in fact participate in organizations. He forms numerous alliances and groups, most of which are marked by a high degree of horizontal decision-making, camaraderie, dissension, love, and transitoriness and which are usually populated by women, gay men, and other minor characters from the drug trade. In season 3, Omar's group is rocked by the death of one of its members in a shootout with the Barksdale gang. After this killing, and after much dissension and mourning within the group, they jointly agree to curb their activities and steal from easier targets, thus reducing the risk to themselves. Later, however, after the Barksdales try to assassinate Omar as he's taking his grandmother to church, Omar decides that he must kill Stringer Bell and Avon Barksdale. Rather than bend the will of his comrades to his task, he sees his new mission as personal business, and disbands the group.

[31] Omar's relations to each organization is typified by how that organization responds to specific problems, not its existential viability. He agrees with Katja Diefenbach's (2007) appraisal that

organizations ought to be seen not as organs of leadership and mediation or in the confrontation between spontaneity and the directive, between mass and leadership. It should be the other way round: the forces of cooperation should be acknowledged in organization, which bring clashes and conflict with them as much as relief from the burden of constant self-mobilization.

Such conceptions of organization are sometimes unrecognizable for theorists like Harvey because they lack the structure and permanence associated with strata such as states, labor unions, and civil society. But this doesn't make them any less real or organized. Like the participation in group activities of affinity groups, or Pakistani home-care workers who start their own union rather than join an existing one, or the thousands of individuals that collaborate to dig tunnels under borders, Omar's participation in groups and organizations is for specific purposes, and he disdains loyalty and works toward solving a discrete problem, not toward the reproduction of the organization. Rather than meet neoliberalism's organizational axioms with attempts at either the institutional restratification advocated by theorists like Harvey or the individualist destratification advertised by capital, these movements attempt something else: a working with, rather than against, their precariousness that maintains a minimum of contact with the strata and with territory while adhering to pragmatic organizations instead of organizational pragmatics.

[32] Neoliberal subjectivation is usually compared to post-World War II, Fordist subjectivity, which experienced security through permanent employment, molar institutional representation, and a comprehensive regime of social guarantees. This comparison makes historical sense, since, at least in North America and Western Europe, the Keynesian era preceded the neoliberal era. In Harvey's account and in others', Keynesianism is taken as both the norm and the telos—the measure of neoliberalism's failures and the goal neoliberal subjects should aspire to. But as Angela Mitropoulos (2006) has pointed out, "The experience of regular, full-time, long-term employment which characterised the most visible, mediated aspects of Fordism is an exception in capitalist history." Unacknowledged by partisans of Keynesian-worker security is that it was largely underwritten by highly uneven sub- and parastratic relations with the peripheral—by "vast amounts of unpaid domestic labour by women and hyper-exploited labour in the colonies." It was revolts in the household and in the colony that helped put an end to the racialized, genderized lines on which the Keynesian truce between factory labor, capital, and the state were drawn.

[33] But the revolt happened within the factory as well. As Mitropoulos notes, "the flight from 'standard hours' was not precipitated by employers but rather by workers seeking less time at work. This flight coincided with the first wave of an exit from unions." The Fordist workers broke their epistratic bonds with unions, mimicking domestic and colonial workers, who had long operated without union regulation, and with the state. Severing these bonds was an articulation of workers' ability to operate apart from their molar institutional expressions. As Mario Tronti (1965) wrote when the Keynesian compromise first began to crumble:

The capitalists have not yet invented—and in fact will obviously never be able to invent—a non-institutionalised political power. That type of political power is specifically working class power. The [...] working class [...] exists independently of the institutionalised levels of its organisation This is why destroying the workers' political party does not mean—and has not meant—dissolving, dismembering, or destroying the class organism of the workers.

Though capital eventually formulated an advantageous response to deinstitutionalization—that response being, of course, neoliberalism—workers and subalterns themselves initiated the break and provided the raw materials with which neoliberalism was built: flexibilization, casual employment—in a word, precarity. And capital still hasn't created a nonstratic political power. Capital is irredeemably stratified; workers can maintain a connection with the Body without Organs.

[34] For Harvey (2005), neoliberalism's primary departure from Fordism is that it operates by "accumulation by dispossession," by which he means that the "main substantive achievement of neoliberalization [...] has been to redistribute, rather than to generate, wealth and income" (159). However, this kind of end-of-history-ism for anticapitalists normalizes Fordist productivity and fails to notice that a primary difference between Keynesianism and neoliberalism is that while the former constantly added axioms—it was an "axiom laboratory," as Deleuze and Guattari say—the latter operates as much by subtracting axioms as by adding them, which perhaps accounts for Harvey's equation of the death of Keynesianism with the end of capitalism. But subtracting axioms is still axiomatizing. Neoliberal capitalism has, on the one hand, been forced to subtract some axioms, particularly those relating to labor productivity, because workers, the traditional instigator of new axioms, have become less massified and have ceased making demands of the state. The consequence of this is that capitalism is not pushing beyond its limits with as much regularity and with as great a force as it used to. It has become internally impoverished and ascetic, which manifests itself in growth rates in the "core" capitalist economies that are much slower than during the Keynesian era, the time of maximum axioms. On the other hand, neoliberalism has increased certain of its axioms, particularly in the regulation of life, channeling more and more of nonwork existence toward productive activity. This has manifested itself in nearly unprecedented levels of income and wealth disparity and rates of profitability, not to mention neoliberal subjects' seemingly endless capacity to accumulate debt.

[35] Put differently, the subtraction of axioms shouldn't be confused, as it is in many accounts of neoliberalism, with a complete abandonment by the state of responsibility for individuals. Creating subjects that care for themselves would be impossible without the strategic use of the seemingly opposite principle: interventions into their lives. Indeed, if the neoliberal era has seen the deregulation of capital, it has also witnessed new and aggressive regulations of populations—surveillance, incarceration, etc.—and of individuals. Neoliberalism has seen a huge transformation and intensification in the epistrata. In the United States, for instance, "the end of welfare as we know it" has not meant a dramatic decrease in money spent on social programs but rather their reorganization into different programs that can more tightly monitor and modify recipients' behavior: workfare programs, family and parenting classes, smoking cessation and diet counseling, drug testing, and the like. [v] In this ironic way, Keynesian social guarantees, which are often held out as the social form that should be resurrected, have acted as a technique for implementing neoliberalism's axioms.


[36] Capitalism, as I've tried to show, is not content to rely on the formal compulsion of mass labor. Instead, it attempts to construct specific modes that are productive in a double sense: producing both a commodity that yields surplus-value and a subjectivity that can create surplus-value efficiently. Strictly speaking, though, capital is pretty bad at producing subjectivities, despite its self-image as a great innovator; it mostly reproduces them, through an axiomatic that allows a seemingly infinite number of subjectivities to act as modes of realization and through the favorable conjugation of interstratic flows. Neoliberalism's specific subjective axioms—and if subdivisions of capitalism into eras such as neoliberalism, Keynesianism, etc., are to have any meaning, they must pay attention specifically to these—require subjects to create and maintain their own intellectual and affective motivations for being productive and to provide for their own reproduction. In other words, to use Foucault's famous phrase, to take care of their selves. Neoliberalism, as Thomas Lemke (2001) says, devises "techniques for leading and controlling individuals without at the same time being responsible for them" (201). The nexus of caring for the self and producing surplus-value for capital is what I call entrepreneurialism, which today is more or less coextensive with sociality.

[37] Lemke's and Brown's accounts emphasize neoliberalism's micropolitical and entrepreneurial dimensions, particularly the simultaneous internalization of economic calculations and criteria and their generalization to aspects of life that had enjoyed relative autonomy from them. Lemke notes that neoliberalism

aspires to construct prudent subjects whose moral quality is based on the fact that they rationally assess the costs and benefits of a certain act as opposed to other alternative acts. [...] Neo-liberalism encourages individuals to give their lives a specific entrepreneurial form. (200, 201)

For Brown (2005)

neoliberalism normatively constructs and interpellates individuals as entrepreneurial actors in every sphere of life. It figures individuals as rational, calculating creatures whose moral autonomy is measured by their capacity for "self-care"—the ability to provide for their own needs and service their own ambitions. (48)

The vicissitudes of calculation reaches all corners of society. As Lemke points out, in neoliberal theory, no less a figure than the "criminal is a rational-economic individual who invests, expects a certain profit and risks making a loss" (199). Even the political terrorist, that historical figure of pure principle, is, under neoliberalism, subject to thinking calculatingly: "Will this suicide bombing kill enough people to gain attention but not too many to turn people against us?" the terrorist must always ask.

[38] The construction of a calculating subject requires more than just governmental regulation and a vibrant self-help publishing industry. It needs a material, economic basis as well, and this basis can be found in what Harvey (2005) calls the "hegemony of financial capital" (8) that has been achieved by neoliberalism. The neoliberal era, in which the financial sector has finally won its long battle for control over the productive sector and its managers, has seen an increase in the amount of unutilized capital floating around the world. In recessions during this time, recoveries have been slow because there has been a general hesitation to advance capital for fear that it won't be returned. Paradoxically perhaps, then, the generalization of risk—the spread of risk-taking to nonfinancial sectors, the financialization of daily life [vi]—instead of routinizing risk-taking, has actually meant an increased aversion to it and a flight toward preservation. Financialization, far from being the embrace of risk and loss, has inscribed a conservationist instinct at the heart of subjectivity. No longer is the entrepreneur "a person who [goes] about to contrive ways and means of turning technological resources to new uses" and who "work[s] out an adventurous experiment rather than watchfully waiting for the turn of events," as Thorstein Veblen (1948, 378, 379) described the captain of industry in the 1920s. Neoliberalism's axiomatic excludes experimentation from entrepreneurialism, thereby reducing it to pure calculation.

[39] Departure 4: Omar is always experimenting. The middle is not a blessed space, a place of repose for the beautiful soul, but one where innovation is required in order to survive. Omar and his cohorts constantly create elaborate ruses for stealing from the drug gangs, including Omar's pretending to be a wheelchair-bound old woman, one of the members of his group feigning to be a mother whose child has been abducted, and even using a neighborhood child to gain entry to a drug-dealer's stash house. Omar is committed to the experimental life and thinks with Randolph Bourne (1992) that "life is a laboratory to work out experiments in living" (157). He loves hatching these plots and taking on new roles, and his groups' activities are ecstatic street theater compared to the drug gangs' grimly mechanical administration. The difference between the two becomes even clearer over the show's fourth and fifth seasons, after the Stanfield gang has replaced the Barksdale gang as Baltimore's dominant organization. While the Barksdales were frequently shown bantering, partying, and having sex, the Stanfield gang is humorless and libidoless; life has become governed by a stark businesslike seriousness and asceticism. Omar tries to reverse this polarity by continuing his experiments, but it's clear that he doesn't have power to do so. The Game has become joyless.

[40] Neoliberal entrepreneurialism, as a generalized social ontology, erases old distinctions between life and work. As Paolo Virno (2004) says,

the multitude in the post-Ford era is characterized by the immediate connection between production and ethicality, "structure" and "superstructure," the revolutionizing of the work process and sentiments, technologies and the emotional tonalities, material development and culture. (84)

Though work and nonwork are immediately connected, for Virno the specific axioms that neoliberal production requires "are the result of a socialization that has its center of gravity outside of the workplace" (85). This socialization produces a "proliferation of linguistic games, the uninterrupted variation of rules and techniques" (85) that accustom post-Fordist workers to the shock of constantly changing production requirements, regulations, and organizational forms. While Fordism primarily sought workers with exact, specialized skills and a socialization generally wedded to specific occupations, neoliberalism requires a generic, infinitely fungible subjectivity that is capable of adjusting to instability and that receives its motivations to work from life. Unlike in previous economic eras when it was possible to leave one's job at the workplace, nonwork time becomes the workers' primary parastrata.

[41] Virno might have added that productive demands also rebound on sociality outside the workplace. The occupational axioms to network, to maintain constant connections with clients and colleagues, and to call business dialogue "conversations" extends to the social realm, where on so-called social-networking websites like MySpace and Facebook an ever-expanding web of hundreds or even thousands of business and social contacts are called "friends." A whole raft of activities are refashioned to align with the axioms of labor: shopping, education, political activism, among others, are seen as "opportunities" and chances to "network," and so become punctuated with the rhythms and ethics of work. In our life as in our jobs, we are told to think outside the box, create, think for ourselves, just do it.

[42] Neoliberal subjectivation effaces distinctions between life, work, love, and politics. Always tenuous and open to alteration anyway, these realms increasingly become indistinguishable, blurred and blended to the point of unrecognizability. The biopolitical axioms that bolster this indistinction are capital's response to and attempt to profit from the politics of 1968: specifically, the feminist credo that the personal is political and what Diefenbach (2007) identifies as the "merging of minoritarian politics with discipline [that] led to a mobilization of life at every level." The cramped space [vii] in the middle, which Deleuze and Guattari (1986) say "forces each individual to connect immediately to politics" and which allows for the possibility of political creation, has become crossed with lines of calculation, debt, and financialization. It has become colonized by neoliberalism—the connection between subjectivity and politics is fully mediated by work.

[43] Departure 5: Omar's response to the blockages of his cramped space is to retire to Puerto Rico, which he does in the correct way: by not clinging to his criminal identity after the historical moment for it has passed, by maintaining a "meticulous relation" with his connections in Baltimore, and by freeing beneficial lines of flight that ensure his departure is a desired escape, not a negative fleeing. How different, then, is his return to Baltimore and The Game, which is intentionally hastened by the Stanfield gang's murder of his friend and mentor. Though Omar tries to maintain his code, his desire for revenge causes him to eventually break it by killing a mid-level member of Stanfield's gang. Rather than rely on his cunning and theatrical experimentation to achieve his goal, he resorts to pure force. He seems to have severed all relations with his compadres and with collectivity, and he taunts Stanfield on the latter's turf, challenging his manhood and protesting the legitimacy of his rule. In short, though he has returned to the physical site of his minor life, he has abandoned its cramped spaces for the guarantees of a molar identity as a street warrior. The result for Omar is death.


[44] What's needed, then, is a way to counter capital's invasion of all aspects of life without surrendering the middle ground that allows workers and other dissidents to remain on the offensive against capital and to selectively escape its axiomatic and stratifications. Wendy Brown's work on mourning is an attempt at just that. As the title of her 2005 essay makes clear, neoliberalism has spelled the death of liberal democracy. Despite its many shortcomings and failings, Brown says, liberal democracy represented an outside to capitalism that was used by it but wasn't wholly reducible to it. For Brown, "liberal democratic principles of governance—liberalism as a political doctrine—have functioned as something of an antagonist to [capital's] stratifications" of race and gender and have "provided over the past two centuries a modest ethical gap between economy and polity" (46). The end of liberal democracy has meant the death of this antagonist, the closing of this gap; the result is that democracy has become subsumed under, if not quite yet identical with, capital. The realization that the state and democracy no longer present an outside to capital is a profound loss of representation and agency. For Brown, the left—that is, those opposed to the neoliberal order—must deal with the end of liberal democracy in a way that honestly and thoroughly reckons with the consequences of this loss. She insists on a process of mourning, which is necessary in order to accept the loss and move forward free from aggression and resentment. Failure to properly mourn can lead to profound melancholy, which can in turn lead to an idealization of and renewed attachment to the lost object. The danger in insufficient mourning lies in the possibility of valuing and repeating features of the deceased object that were considered undesirable when it was living. In the case of neoliberalism, a failure to mourn can manifest itself in an uncritical defense of liberal democracy's axiomatic demands and stratifying institutions. A proper kind and period of mourning can help prevent this.

[45] Departure 6: The third season of The Wire is a time of reckoning with loss. As the season opens, a group of mid-level players from the Barksdale organization watch the planned implosion of the public-housing towers that were both their workplace and their home. They share stories, in a mournful tone, about losing their virginity in the towers, about the formative experiences they had in them, about how they are going to miss the place despite its horrors. These scenes are interspersed with a meeting being led by Stringer, the acting boss of the Barksdale organization. The leaders of the gang are nervous because Avon Barksdale, the actual head of the gang, has been imprisoned, they are unable to secure the drugs they need to make a living, and their corners are being encroached on. Their habitual way of life is under siege. Stringer, however, is unworried. He has a plan: to move beyond the territorial battles of the old days and form a cooperative with the other drug cartels that can increase efficiency and profit while at the same time ending the intra-gang bloodshed that had been racking Baltimore. As Stringer describes it, in what could be the motto of neoliberals in the capitalist centers, "It ain't about the territory no more. It's about the product." Stringer refuses to mourn the death of his former way of life, which he won't cling to because he knows that conditions have changed and that a return to the old days is as impossible as it is undesirable.

[46] Omar's ad hoc posse, meanwhile, has suffered the death of a female comrade in a heist gone wrong. He blames himself; thrown into an intense mourning, he punishes himself by smashing lit cigarettes into his palm and denying himself the body of his lover. Paralyzed by grief, Omar torturously questions not only his actions in the heist but his form of life, his passionate attachment to The Game. He even considers giving it up.

[47] Brown's attention to the consequences of improper mourning and lapsing into melancholy serve as a warning about the dangers of recodings of the past, such as Harvey's attachment to Keynesianism. As a feminist, Brown knows the stratifications that animate Keynesianism and liberal democracy. She insists, for instance, in maintaining the crucial distinction "between a liberal enthusiasm for the welfare state and a left critique of its ideological and regulatory dimensions" (55), and she acknowledges the left's wary relation to liberal democracy, that the left has always tolerated it more than it has embraced it. Brown compares the demise of liberal democracy to "the loss of the hated but needed father," a highly ambivalent loss that is no less traumatic for that ambivalence (Brown et al. 2006, 32).

[48] At the same time, Brown, by assuming a monolithic view of the left, by insisting on a mourning without revealing its content or processes, and, most importantly, by positing the death of liberal democracy as arising solely from the hands of neoliberal axioms, performs her own kind of recoding, one that is less in danger of idealizing the past than of misunderstanding it. Absent from Brown's account of the death of liberal democracy is any culpability that the left itself may have had. For Brown, its passing was suicide, not murder; the left's own desire played no part in it. What Brown forgets is that a multiplicity of oppositional movements assailed Keynesian democracy before neoliberalism finally buried it. What are feminist and ethnic-minority politics if not a struggle against liberal democracy's racial-fraternal social contract? What are migrant and labor struggles if not a rejection of Keynesian-nationalist governmentality? It is perhaps telling that Brown frames the matter as left vs. neoliberalism, as discourse that evokes a left often implies not only a (fictive) unity of oppositional movements but also the actions of a volunteerist consciousness that leaves its ground to rise up in protest.

[49] Ida Dominijanni (2006), working on many of the same concerns as Brown, including the politics of mourning, emphasizes that the existential challenge to democracy begins in 1968 with the introduction of difference into politics:

(Sexual) difference is not an element that can be expansively included in democracy. It is rather the explosive and unhinging element. If the democratic order constructs itself on an identitarian base and consolidates and globalizes itself through the assimilationist and homogenizing valence of equality, difference is the element that disorders this double base by unhinging it. (105)

This is not a mournful development—or if it is, it's a mourning that sees not "the end" of something, but the process by which "displacement and disorientation can become an opening" (92). Contra Brown, for whom the disruption of democracy has meant a suspension of politics—an interregnum in which new political and economic forms are sought—Dominijanni says difference is itself the basis for a new politics:

If, in the democratic order, the identitarian root and assimilationist and homogenizing valence of equality suffocate human and political freedom, decomposing them in the liberty of the (neutral) citizen assured by rights [...], difference is the refounding element of freedom or, to put it another way, the category with which to rethink the subject. (105)

For Dominijanni, the novelty and radicalness of 1968 was that the injection of difference interrupted both the passing of the axiomatizing machine from the father to the son and the establishment by the sons of a new fraternal axiomatic. This disruption was, on one hand, the result of stratic circumstances: women existed outside the democratic contract. But it was also the result of a decision to insert desire into politics. Differential desire, even after it announces its arrival, abjures becoming a "signifying and subjective program" (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 161). In the aftermath of 1968, women have sometimes been excluded from politics, but they have just as often have been asked to be a part of it, an invitation that is usually declined, as "women resist capture by this process" (Dominijanni 2006, 96), preferring to remain in their cramped territory.

[50] Departure 7: At the end of The Wire's third season, Omar and Stringer have their final showdown. Omar has a gun aimed at Stringer's head. Stringer, who has been investing in real estate and bribing public officials in hopes of becoming a legitimate businessman, offers Omar money and security in exchange for his life. Omar, who has been through an intense mourning for his dead comrade but has weathered the crisis and not abandoned his existence in the middle, silently refuses. As soon as the words are out of Stringer's mouth he knows their futility. Omar may want a lot of things, but money and security are not among them. He pulls the trigger.


[51] The neoliberal era is often seen as an unmitigated tragedy for noncapitalists across the globe. And so it has been, but probably not any more than previous eras. Instead, "what is registered," as Mitropoulos (2006) says, "is actually [the tragedy's] discovery among those who had not expected it"—that is, by "the national Worker, qualified, male and over thirty-five," in Yann Moulier Boutang's phrase. [viii] This increased visibility is hardly cause for celebration, but it also indicates an opening. As Lisa Duggan (2003) puts it:

The realities of economic disaster and the collapse of social supports under neoliberal policies around the globe [...] make the world an increasingly dangerous and tragic place. But they also expose neoliberalism as a ruse of neo-imperialism, founded in force and coercion, rather than [a] program for world peace [and] prosperity.

What's often elided in accounts of neoliberalism is the way that its axiomatic and stratic transformations are responses to, even accommodations of, workers' and dissidents' demands. There's no need to be sad that capital has been able to incorporate and profit from them, just as there's no need to despair when protest is met with silence or disregard. That's what capitalism always does, and using its response as a measure not only ensures defeat from the outset but has nothing to do with political desire. None of this is to deny that neoliberalism presents new challenges. As this essay has tried to show, the colonization of nonwork life by the axioms of labor has had a suffocating effect, and neoliberalism's axioms regarding freedom have made organizing a more delicate and dangerous proposition. Despite this, neoliberalism still has not solved capitalism's fundamental problem: It requires for its substratum a subjectivity that is independent of it.

[52] Political movements that take comfort in this brute fact, however, are not worthy of the name. Omar Little prefers his space in the middle, but not because it allows him a respite from the dangers of life. Guarantees in The Wire exist only for the molar strata. Instead, the middle permits the most room to create and experiment. And that, in the contemporary conjecture, is a good start.


[i] A whole essay could be written about what exactly The Wire's five seasons are attempting to represent, and indeed about what they say about representation itself. An abbreviated version: The show sees Baltimore as both typical of life in the neoliberal era and as a special case; the former in that the institutional, and institutionalized, decay of the city's westside slums and other social entities is consonant with changes that have occurred elsewhere in the United States and the world, and the latter in that, unlike in areas of, say, New York or Miami, the city's internal colony has not been the target of new labor regimes--there are no green or dotcom jobs in Baltimore--or even of gentrification. It has been completely abandoned. Further, in the show's utter lack of interest in locating a single perpetrator, or a conspiracy of perpetrators, of the decay, it both hints at the unrepresentability of capitalism and offers a critique of art and social theories that attempt to name the offenders.

[ii] The main discussion of stratification appears in A Thousand Plateaus, pp. 40-73.

[iii] The primary discussions of the axiomatic are in Anti-Oedipus, pp. 245-53, and A Thousand Plateaus, pp. 455-73.

[iv] Deleuze and Guattari (1987) explicitly make the connection between axioms and strata: "axiomatics deals essentially with stratification" (57). That lone statement, however, is the extent of their direct examination of the relationship.

[v] For a particularly caustic version of this playing out in Britain, see Tlank (2008).

[vi] The phrase comes from the title of Martin's book (2002), which contains a far more detailed and subtle account than I can offer.

[vii] For an excellent exploration of the role "cramped space" plays in Deleuze and Guattari's thought, see Thoburn (2003), which has informed my use of the concept.

[viii] Quoted in Deleuze and Guattari (1987), p. 469.


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