rhizomes.07 fall 2003

Towards a Postmodern Political Art: Deleuze, Guattari, and the Anti-Culture Book
Benjamin D. Carson

[1] The efficacy of political art has been called into question under the hegemony of multinational capitalism, the cultural logic of which goes by the name of postmodernism. Now that the critical or aesthetic distance necessary for an oppositional cultural politics, a politics which positions "the cultural act outside the massive Being of capital, from which to assault the last," no longer obtains due to the implosion of the base and the superstructure and the subsequent loss of the "semi-autonomy of the cultural sphere" as Capital has increasingly saturated what Habermas calls the life-world, we are confronted with a situation in which art no longer has a political, emancipatory function, but is rather just one more "pop" in an all pervasive pop-culture, what Debord calls the "society of the spectacle" (Jameson, "Cultural Logic" 48).

[2] In an attempt to find a way out of what could be called a crisis of art, this essay will explore the work of two of the critics of the so-called Frankfurt School who have spent their careers diagnosing the socio-economic problems of their times vis-à-vis mass culture and political art, while articulating possible solutions to those problems, solutions which have with time become increasingly problematic, if not outmoded. After revisiting a number of the individual and collaborative works of Adorno and Horkheimer, sketching and assessing the strengths and weaknesses of their position(s) within our current socio-economic climate, I will turn briefly to Baudrillard, whose work not only responds to and then extends the critique of art within mass culture articulated by the Frankfurt School, but marks the transition from consumer society and the critique of political economy to postmodernism and the critique of the political economy of the sign. I will then, in the final section of this essay, consider the work of Deleuze and Guattari and how their abandonment of a critique of political economy and dialectical thinking, the critical categories which define Marxism proper, opens new avenues for re-thinking art as an instrument of revolution. While the work of the Frankfurt School and Baudrillard is concerned with culture, the work of Deleuze and Guattari marks a shift a way from culture to its social infrastructure, constituted, they argue, by desire. What the Frankfurt School, the early work of Baudrillard, and Deleuze and Guattari share is a neo-Marxian framework, though it is the work of Deleuze and Guattari which, like Baudrillard's work following Consumer Society (1970), seemingly moves the furthest away from a Marxist paradigm and towards what could be considered a theory of the postmodern. This shift away from culture and, in the case of Deleuze and Guattari, to the social infrastructure (an anti-cultural critique), can be seen as a response to the inadequacy, even the impotence, of cultural critique in the face of the "massive Being of capital" itself.       

[3] While postmodernism by definition eschews categorization, one characteristic of postmodernism that a number of critics seem to agree upon is its ubiquity, a result of the "expansion of culture throughout the social realm, to the points at which everything in our social life—from economic value and state power to practices and to the very structure of the psyche itself—can be said to have become 'cultural' in some original and yet untheorized sense" (48). This merging of economics and culture results in a commodification of all things (living or dead). If, then, as Jameson argues, in "Theories of the Postmodern," "it seems ... appropriate to assess the new cultural production within the working hypothesis of a general modification of culture itself with the social restructuring of late capitalism as a system" (a restructuring Harvey sees as the movement from Fordism to flexible accumulation), it is essential to consider the affects of this restructuring on culture and cultural acts, i.e. politics, the production of art, etc. (Jameson 62). Whether revolutionary politics or the production of revolutionary art is even possible within this new socio-economic configuration is one of the most disconcerting realities that proponents of radical politics must confront. In fact, as Jameson argues, "'postmodern political art' might turn out to be just that—not art in any older sense, but an interminable conjecture on how it could be possible in the first place" (65). That political art might not be possible is due to the power of capital to co-opt and then commodify dissent. Whether it is The Sex Pistols, MC5, Rage Against the Machine, Marilyn Manson, or "gangster" rap, the impulse to revolt against "the machine" (i.e. multi-national capitalism, middle class morality) is quickly bottled by corporations and sold back to the putative dissenters who now become the consumers whose capital oils the machine against which their rage is directed—and in the process, whatever political counter-resistance such art forms held is contained. In a terrible irony, the success of a band like Rage Against the Machine is directly proportionate to the power of capital to make it its own. It could be argued, though, that commodified culture provides some limited forms of resistance to bourgeois morality, even to capitalism itself. But this resistance remains muted by the reality that it does not finally threaten the powers that be; that is, it does not threaten the massive Being—the machine—of Capital itself.

[4] It was precisely this reality which led Adorno and Horkheimer to write their most spirited polemics against what they called the "culture industry." While it cannot be said that Adorno and Horkheimer were living in postmodern times, the culture industry of their day parallels in any number of ways the "new cultural production" of ours. What Adorno and Horkheimer, and the Frankfurt School in general, theorized was consumer society, that is, "capitalist society as a commodity-producing society" (Kellner, Critical 147). In consumer society, as Kellner argues, "culture and aesthetics blended with production and advertising to create a way of life focused on consumption of goods, services, mass images and spectacles" (146). The Critical Theorists of the Frankfurt School argued that in consumer society "commodification and consumption were playing fundamental, constitutive roles in the contemporary development of capitalist modernity, and attempted to theorize its new configurations" (147). Thus, any critique of consumer culture must consider political economy—the relationship between cultural production and the economic system which underwrites and gives rise to it. The transition from consumer society to postmodernism, then, is the result of a condition "in which images, codes, and models became primary determinants of everyday life" (146).

[5] It is Baudrillard's work, especially Consumer Society and For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign, which most directly traces and responds to this transition. Baudrillard's work can be read, then, as a continuation of the work of Adorno and Horkheimer, whose polemics against consumer society laid the groundwork for Baudrillard's critique of postmodern culture, the consummation of consumer society. Though unlike the work of the Frankfurt School, which was always grounded in political economy, Baudrillard's work is concerned with the political economy of the sign, that is, with the ways in which commodities signal happiness, comfort and social prestige. This move away from political economy toward a "semiological theory of the sign to describe the world of commodities, media and the consumer society," Kellner argues, takes the "Frankfurt School theory of 'one-dimensional society' to a higher level" (19), marking, again, the movement from consumer society to postmodern culture.        

[6] In order to understand fully the emergence of postmodern culture out of consumer society, and the efficacy of political art within these two socio-economic formations, we will need to take a step back and look closely at the work of Adorno and Horkheimer, whose critique of consumer society set the stage for contemporary critiques of postmodernism.

Adorno and Horkeimer on the Culture Industry

[7] While Adorno and Horkheimer wrote a number of essays on the culture industry independent of one another, their most polemical stance on the culture industry was written in tandem as part of a larger critique of the Enlightenment known as Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947). "The Culture Industry: Enlightenment As Mass Deception" is a scathing critique of the culture industry, what Adorno and Horkheimer call "the iron system," a system which "impresses the same stamp on everything ... a system" made up of "films, radio and magazines ... which is uniform as a whole and in every part" (120). This monolithic, homogenizing industry imposes (from above) its beliefs on consumers, who, according to Adorno and Horkheimer, are nearly powerless to resist: "The consumers are the workers and employees, the farmers and the lower middle class. Capitalist production so confines them, body and soul, that they fall helpless victims to what is offered them. As naturally as the ruled always took the morality imposed upon them more seriously than did the rulers themselves, the deceived masses are today captivated by the myth of success even more than the successful are. Immovable, they insist on the very ideology which enslaves them" (133-34).

[8] The "deception," Adorno and Horkheimer argue, "is not that the culture industry supplies amusement but that it ruins the fun by allowing business considerations to involve it in the ideological clichés of a culture in the process of self-liquidation" (142-43). The amusement supplied by the culture industry is simply a distraction; it is used "to defend society ... [because] to be pleased means to say Yes" (144). And to say Yes is to affirm the industry, the enemy of the "thinking individual" (149). "Pleasure," they go on to write, "always means not to think about anything, to forget suffering even where it is shown. Basically, it is helplessness. It is flight; not, as is asserted, flight from a wretched reality, but from the last remaining thought of resistance" (144) In fact, the objective of the culture industry is "to overpower the customer, who is conceived as absent-minded or resistant" (163). As the culture industry—and the economic system which underwrites it—saturates "hitherto 'reserved' or 'resigned' areas of experience and practice and meaning," resistance, whether in the form of political praxis or political art, becomes increasingly difficult, if not impossible, as the desire to resist is increasingly liquidated (Williams 125-26). Pleasure assuages, even if momentarily, the sense of alienation and disorientation felt living under the dominant order. The culture industry morphs pain into pleasure, and in the process fends off resisters simply by bringing them into the fold. It might be said that the best way to keep dissenters like, say, Rage Against the Machine, in line, is to give them a million dollar recording contract. The well-fed rarely throw themselves willingly on the barricades. The break up of Rage Against the Machine speaks directly to this point. Zack da la Rocha's departure from Rage was not only due to the fact that the band's "decision making process had completely failed," undermining its "artistic and political ideal," but, more specifically, to Zack's realization that the band itself had become a commodity, that it had become part of the very thing it consciously and conscientiously set out to resist (Vineyard). The demise of Rage, like the demise of The Clash, is a testament to the power of Capital to eviscerate even the most mighty cultural forms of resistance.

[9] In "Art and Mass Culture" Horkheimer continues his assault on the culture industry and its ability to render political art (and the desire for social transformation) impotent. Here, as in his work with Adorno, Horkheimer argues that the culture industry, or mass culture, is dispossessing "authentic art" of its utopian function. Authentic, "autonomous" art, for Horkheimer and for Adorno, like the private realm of experience, is being "menaced" by mass culture. Authentic works of art, "which are at once products of specific social processes, and yet embody a truth content that is autonomous of society," not only preserve individuality but "harbor principles through which the world that bore them appears alien and false" (Edgar 46; Horkheimer 275). But art in mass culture has become affirmative; that is, it uncritically reproduces prevailing values. Unlike "popular" art, the kind of art praised by Mortimer Adler in Art and Prudence, the kind of art which is "popular" presumably because it is preferred by (and not forced onto) the masses, authentic art makes the "mass draw back in horror ... [and] in giving downtrodden humans a shocking awareness of their own despair, the work of art professes a freedom which makes them foam at the mouth" (280).

[10] Here Horkheimer is restating a fear he shares and has written about with Adorno: the fear that the collapse of the "opposition of individual and society" precludes the existence of authentic art, which provided the only form of resistance to the "restraints imposed by society" (274). Adorno, in "Culture Industry Reconsidered," makes this point clearly when he writes, "'legitimate' culture," unlike mass culture, attempted "to maintain a grasp on the idea of the good life," a life in which "independent individuals" are able to "judge and decide consciously for themselves" rather than having their thoughts and judgments dictated from above (104, 106). The ability of individuals to think and judge for themselves is, according to Adorno, the "precondition for a democratic society which needs adults who have come of age in order to sustain itself and develop" (106). As did the social order in which Adorno and Horkheimer lived, the culture logic of late capitalism not only puts into question the efficacy of political art—an art in the service not only of consciousness raising but a wholesale revaluation of the categories which constitute consciousness—but the possibility for a democratic order.

[11] While mass culture valued works which, rather than resisting the "restraints imposed by society," readily embraced and reproduced prevailing values, Adorno praised the work of modernist artists like Schoenberg in music and Kafka and Beckett in literature. These artists produced works which were technically difficult and not easily consumed by the masses, and therefore escaped commodification in the process. The atonality of Schoenberg's music (and the music of the Vienna Circle) and the fragmented, disjunctive texts of Kafka and Beckett demand an "intensity of concentration" which challenges the listener or reader (Bloch, Aesthetics 107). It was in this state of concentration that the reader or listener experiences a "freedom which makes them foam at the mouth" (Horkheimer, "Art and Mass Culture" 280). But, for Adorno, that freedom is in grave danger. In "On the Fetish Character in Music and the Regression of Listening" Adorno addresses the art form most dear to him, music. In typical Marxian fashion, Adorno argues that under capitalism use value is replaced by exchange value, "which precisely in its capacity as exchange value deceptively takes over the function of use value" (39). It is in this "quid pro quo" that the "specific fetish character of music lies" (39). The "counterpart to the fetishism of music," Adorno suggests, "is a regression of listening" (46), that is, "contemporary listening which has regressed, arrested at the infantile stage. Not only do the listening subjects lose, along with the freedom of choice and responsibility, the capacity for conscious perception of music, ... they stubbornly reject the possibility of such perception" (46). "The delight in the moment and the gay façade," what Benjamin in "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" calls "distraction," becomes," for Adorno, "an excuse for absolving the listener from the thought of the whole, whose claim is comprised in proper listening" (32). For Adorno, an authentic artist must "continuously revolutionize his/her own style in order to retain the non-ideological character of his/her work" and to avoid the "totalitarian integration of the particular into the general process which characterizes social life in contemporary capitalism" (Johnson 93). It is this constant experimentation which accounts, as well, for the artist's avantgarde status. Yet unlike the historical avantgarde, as defined by Burger in Theory of the Avant-Garde, Adorno does not wish to collapse the art-life distinction, and in this sense then, his aesthetic is (putatively) apolitical.   

[12] In terms of political art, then, Adorno's (like Horkheimer's) aesthetic is paradoxical, paradoxical in that the art which Adorno values is not a politically committed one. It is not politically committed because authentic art, for Adorno, necessarily rises above the social fray—even while it is at once a product of specific social processes. Authentic art must have autonomy in order not be co-opted by the culture industry, in order to escape commodification. Art that escapes commodification, art which escapes the tentacles of the culture industry, acts "as the last preserve of human yearning for that 'other' society beyond the present one" (Jay 179) Or as Horkheimer writes in "Art and Mass Culture," "Art, since it became autonomous, has preserved the utopia that evaporated from religion" (275). In this sense, then, "Adorno ... holds in charged tension two diverging tendencies: on the one hand aestheticism's insistence on the autonomy of the art work and its double-layered separateness from everyday life (separate as work of art and separate in its refusal of realistic representation) and, on the other hand, the avantgarde's radical break with precisely the tradition of art's autonomy" (32).

[13] But while the critique of art's autonomy, in terms of the l'art pour l'art tradition, is important to consider, it is Adorno's insistence on art being "separate as [a] work of art and separate in its refusal of realistic representation" (in contradistinction to Lukács) that most interests us here. It is on this question of art's autonomy that Adorno's aesthetic theory, and the possibility for an efficacious political art, runs aground in the postmodern age. The great divide between high and low art has effectively collapsed, and the kinds of art Adorno valued (again, Beckett, Kafka, Schoenberg, to name a few) are no longer avant-garde in any sense. In many respects these works have become a part of the "institution art" against which they were reacting. As Jameson has argued, "canonization and academic institutionalization of the modern movement ... is surely one of the most plausible explanations for the emergence of postmodernism itself, since the younger generation of the 1960s will now confront the formerly oppositional modern movement as a set of dead classics, which 'weigh like a nightmare on the brains of the living,' as Marx once said in a different context" ("Cultural Logic" 4). Adorno's aesthetic under postmodernism runs aground on the inability of art to remain autonomous, and the institutionalization and banalization of the works of art which formerly were "received as being variously ugly, dissonant, obscure, scandalous, immoral, subversive, and generally 'antisocial'" (4).  

[14] Adorno's aesthetic theory and its continued relevance in postmodernism will be taken up again later in this essay in conjunction with Deleuze and Guattari, where I'll argue that the movement from Adorno's aesthetic to that of Deleuze and Guattari's will entail a movement away from culture all together, to an anti-culture position, in an attempt to respond to a socio-economic configuration with obviates cultural critique, and that while Adorno and Deleuze and Guattari do not share much in common ostensibly, they do share, among other things, an interest in certain works of literature, texts which they believe best serve their (anti-)aesthetic and political positions. But before these issues are taken up, I would like to trace briefly the movement away from what have for Marxists been the crucial, constitutive elements of their political project: critique of political economy and the dialectic.  

Excursus on the End of Political Economy and the Dialectic

[15] If the idea of the future as been called into question under postmodernism (history having given way to a series of present moments or traces), so has critique of political economy and the dialectic, both of which are essential "interpretive keys to the type of Marxism professed" by Adorno and Horkheimer (Kellner, Critical Theory 12). In the Grundrisse Marx defined the method of political economy to which Adorno and Horkheimer adhered: "As soon as these individual moments had been more or less firmly established and abstracted, there began the economic systems, which ascended from the simple relations, such as labour, division of labour, need, exchange value, to the level of the state, exchange between nations and the world market. The concrete is concrete because it is the concentration of many determinations, hence unity of the diverse" (237). Marx, in his Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, further developed this position, arguing that "it is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being ['men in their actual life process'] that determines their consciousness" (85). It is this position which will become the foundation of Marxism, a position, then, which was axiomatic for critics of the Frankfurt School, like Adorno and Horkheimer.  These critics, as Kellner shows, also "utilized the dialectical categories of totality, mediation, the relative autonomy of the superstructures, and reciprocal interaction between base and superstructure as fundamental elements of their theory and method" (10). Yet, as we have seen, under postmodernism, the base-superstructure distinction has collapsed (the cultural sphere having consumed the economic sphere), and the notion of totality has been replaced by multiplicities which do not add up. As Deleuze and Guattari argue in Anti-Oedipus, "we live today in the age of partial objects, bricks that have been shattered to bits, and leftovers ... We no longer believe in the primordial totality that once existed, or in a final totality that awaits us at some future date" (42). In postmodernism "unity of the diverse" becomes diversity of the multiple. The notion of an economic system "ascending" from "simple relations" is problematic in postmodernism because cause and effect relations have given way to "difference-difference/trace" (Hassan 123-24). Political economy "as an organizing principle of society," then, has given away, in the words of Baudrillard, to "the procession of simulacra," the production and reproduction of signs (or signifiers) without an origin (Kellner, Baudrillard 61).

[16] The dialectic, which seeks equilibrium in a reconciliation of opposites (thesis—anti-thesis—synthesis), is equally outmoded. As Baudrillard argues in Fatal Strategies, "the universe is not dialectical: it moves toward extremes, and not toward equilibrium; it is devoted to a radical antagonism, and not to reconciliation or to synthesis" (188). With the dissolution of the critical distance between the individual (the subjective psyche) and society (the social processes in which the subject is historically situated), and the subsequent crisis of representation which follows (due to the unmooring of identity from a specific historical process as it becomes one sign or one intensity among a multiplicity of others), it makes little sense to mobilize the dialectic in an attempt to reconcile opposites which no longer even recognize each other as such.

[17] Identity, then, is no longer stable, as it was for Adorno and Horkheimer, who held on to "a monadic or 'bourgeois' notion of the subject" (Huyssen 26). In postmodernism the monadic subject has been replaced by a schizophrenic subject, a multiplicity, whose experience, now that there is no longer a unifying past, present and future, is a "series of pure and unrelated presents in time" (Jameson, "Cultural Logic" 27).

[18] For a number of thinkers on the Left, the dissolution of the subject, the flattening of the distinction between the subject and object, base and superstructure, reality and illusion, and the abandonment of the critique of political economy and dialectical thinking has resulted in the Left being without a solid ground from which to launch an oppositional politics. Equally in jeopardy, as we have seen, is an efficacious oppositional political art. Yet for Deleuze and Guattari (of the radical Left), it is only by freeing oppositional politics from political economy, from dialectical thinking, and from the hands of the monadic subject that real revolutionary action, and an efficacious political art, can emerge.

[19] It is the work of Baudrillard which marks the transition from political economy to the political economy of the sign and the end of dialectical thinking, a transition which was, in the words of Adorno, "forced upon culture by history," that is, by capitalism itself (Prisms 23). It is also the work of Baudrillard which demonstrates how the end of political economy and dialectical thinking neutralizes oppositional art. As Baudrillard argues in For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign, all modern art (especially pop art) is an "art of collusion vis-à-vis the contemporary world. It plays with it and is included in the game. It can parody this world, illustrate it, simulate it, alter it; it never disturbs the order, which is also its own" (110). "Modern art," he goes on to argue, "wishes to be negative, critical, innovative and a perpetual surpassing, as well as immediately (or almost) assimilated, accepted, integrated, consumed. One must surrender to the evidence: art no longer contests anything, if it ever did" (110). Here Baudrillard seems to be responding directly and elegiacally to the theorists of the Frankfurt School, whose aesthetic and political praxis was founded on "negative" critique.

[20] What Baudrillard's work demonstrates is the impossibility of an efficacious political art in the cultural sphere (which has now been integrated into the economic sphere). Opposition art is now only part of the larger global (capitalist) system. Recognizing and then responding to the impossibility of forging a political aesthetic in the cultural sphere, Deleuze and Guattari developed a theory which is radically anti-culture. While this theory can be read as a break with, even while it is a response to the conclusions drawn from the work of, the Frankfurt School, it is also, in a very real sense, a return to Marxism—before critics like Benjamin, Bloch, and other critical theorists of the Frankfurt School began theorizing culture. Deleuze and Guattari's work takes us underground, into the unconscious, to desire, the constitutive element of culture, culture now being epiphenomenal, a constellation of "arborescent pseudomultiplicities" (Thousand Plateaus 8). This move away from culture and to the unconscious has profound implications for political art.

Towards a Postmodern Political Art: Deleuze and Guattari

[21] While Adorno and Horkheimer (like their comrades Benjamin and Bloch) were primarily concerned with culture, that is, the superstructure, Deleuze and Guattari concern themselves less with culture per se, than with its infrastructure—desire—which constitutes culture and all of its manifestations (however small or large). Like the history of class struggle was for Marx, desire, for Deleuze and Guattari, is the primordial soup from which all things take form. It runs through the veins of culture; it "creates all social and historical reality," and coagulates into organized unities only when it is corralled by "dominant sociolinguistic powers, tyrannical signifiers, political despots, the authorities of normalizing institutions, or a host of micropractices of everyday life" (Best 101). Deleuze and Guattari argue that the goal of revolutionary politics is the liberation of desire from these organized unities, from "the narrow cells of the type 'couple,' 'family,' 'person,' 'objects,'" the constellations which prevent desire from flowing freely (Anti-Oedipus 294).

[22] Their revolutionary project is articulated in their "Introduction to Schizoanalysis" in Anti-Oedipus. There they begin their critique of psychoanalysis, to which they oppose schizoanalysis. "The task of schizoanalysis," they argue, "goes by the way of destruction—a whole scouring of the unconscious, a complete curettage. Destroy Oedipus, the illusion of the ego, the puppet of the superego, guilt, law, castration" (311). Psychoanalysis, as Deleuze and Guattari see it, transforms desire by confining it to the family. Unlike psychoanalysis, schizoanalysis is a-signifying; it resists representation, and finds its enemy in the ego: "The task of schizoanalysis is that of tirelessly taking apart egos and their presuppositions" (362). It is to create subjects that defy representation by undergoing the schizophrenic process or deterritorialization (the shedding of segmented lines), and becoming a body-without-organs (a body free of molar lines), which exists "well below the conditions of identity" (362).

[23] Deleuze and Guattari call on art to help in the process of deterritorialization. Like Adorno, Deleuze and Guattari invoke the kind of art which resists or defies representation. And in this sense, then, again like Adorno, Deleuze and Guattari would vehemently disagree with Lukács, who argues that the real revolutionary texts are the works of the important realists. For Lukács, modernist texts—and it is fair to assume postmodernist texts as well—fail to penetrate to the objective reality, whereas realist texts "pierce the surface to discover the underlying essence, i.e. the real factors that related their experiences to the hidden social forces that produce them" (Bloch, Aesthetics 36-7). "Great realism," he goes on to argue," does not portray an immediately obvious aspect of reality but one which is permanent and objectively more significant, namely man in the whole range of his relations to the real world, above all those which outlast mere fashion" (48). It is not difficult to see the objections Deleuze and Guattari would have with Lukács. First of all, for Deleuze and Guattari, representation is the enemy. And secondly, there is no objective, dialectical reality to represent, because there is no "reality" as such—there is only desire in all of its manifestations. The hidden social force that produces "reality" is, for Deleuze and Guattari, desire. If the goal of realist fiction for Lukács is "to represent reality as it really is" (33), the goal of fiction for Deleuze and Guattari is to liberate desire by pushing "our spatiotemporal limits," and breaking open the constellations which bind us, which manacle us to certain ways of thinking and being (Kaufman 8).

[24] Deleuze and Guattari, then, value works which defy representation and identification, texts which force the reader to see the categories with which they read, perceive, and experience the world around them as categories, and in this way aid in the schizophrenic process of deterritorialization: breaking apart the mental fetters that seek to bind us to certain ways of thinking. These are the texts, then, and not Lukács's realist texts, which have revolutionary significance—and hence become political art. Henry Miller's Sexus, Andrzejewski's The gates of paradise, Casinière's The Emergency Book, as well as the works of Kafka, are paradigmatic examples of what Deleuze and Guattari call "Rhizome-books" (TP 23). To this list we should add the works of Thomas Pynchon and Kathy Acker; works such as Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo, Theresa Cha's Dictee, Clarence Major's Reflex and Bone Structure; the cyberpunk fiction of William Gibson, and any number of other works which fall under the rubric of postmodern fiction. These texts multiply "narratives like so many plateaus with variable numbers of dimensions" (23). They eschew stability and representation; they fracture identity, forcing us to ask ontological questions—"'Which world is this?' 'What is to be done in it?' 'Which of my selves is to do it'?"—questions which open up the possibility not only for social transformation, but for a mutation in consciousness itself (McHale 10). We are able to consider what other kinds of worlds there are, how they are constituted, and how they differ from the one we live in (10). We are able to experience miracles, "the intrusions into this world from another, a kiss of cosmic pool balls" (Pynchon 124).

[25] Unlike the rhizome- or anti-culture book, "the culture book," a work of "realist" fiction, for example, "is necessarily a tracing: already a tracing of itself, a tracing of the previous book by the same author, a tracing of other books however different they may be, an endless tracing of established concepts and words, a tracing of the world present, past, and future" (Deleuze and Guattari, TP 24). In other words, these texts re-present a putatively established reality, a reality constituted of sedimented concepts and words which are "natural" and "represent reality as it truly is" (Bloch, Aesthetics 33). Such texts are anti-culture, then, because culture has become, in Marcuse's words, "affirmative culture" (Negations 95). For Deleuze and Guattari the culture book is part of this affirmative or arborescent culture, a culture, or dominant system, organized hierarchically, a culture which presupposes a center—an organizing structure or principle, e.g. God, the (capitalist) State, which grounds reality and dictates desires and needs; and as Debord argues in The Society of the Spectacle, "the more readily [the spectator] recognizes his own needs in the images of need proposed by the dominant system, the less he understands his own existence and his own desires" (23). The anti-culture book is anti-culture because it seeks to explode the organizing structure of the dominant system, which dictates needs and desires, in order to free desire and open the way for new ways of thinking.

[26] An "arborescent system" is characterized, by Deleuze and Guattari, as a "Tree" whose roots are firmly grounded in a (putatively) solid foundation. The state of an individual within this system—the location of the individual on one of the branches on the tree—is determined hierarchically, or in relation to what comes before it and what comes after it. In contrast to arborescent systems, Deleuze and Guattari posit the "rhizome," an "acentered," asignifying system with "finite networks of automata in which communication runs from any neighbor to any other, the stems or channels," unlike those predetermined paths within the arborescent system, "do not preexist, and all individuals are interchangeable, defined only by their state at a given moment—such that local operations are coordinated and the final, global result synchronized without a central agency" (TP 16-7). In the rhizomatic, asignifying system, where hierarchy (root to tree) has been displaced by multiplicity (crab grass or a swarm of rats), by indeterminate lines of flight away from rigid segments or blockages, the individual's location or identity is indeterminate.

[27] As Deleuze and Guattari argue, the history of Western civilization has been an outgrowth of arborescent thinking. Their project, then, a "complete curettage" of consciousness grounded in such thinking, begins by removing blockages, by digging up "Trees," roots and all. They are "tired of trees," and argue that "we should stop believing in trees, roots, and radicles. They've made us suffer too much. All of arborescent culture is founded on them, from biology to linguistics" (15). In other words, the very categories with which we think—e.g. the triumvirate race, class and gender—and the hierarchical system in which such categories become intelligible, are manacling us to ways of thinking which need to be discarded, because "they've made us suffer too much." The existing categories with which we think are responsible for past, present, and future suffering, and Deleuze and Guattari argue that by blowing "apart strata, [cutting] roots, and [making] new connections," we will be able to change the way we think; by seeing the unconscious not through the lens of psychoanalysis but rather of schizoanalysis, and thus arriving at "an entirely different state of the unconscious"—an acentered system or a "machinic network of finite automata"—we will see that we are able to "produce the unconscious" rather than merely reflect or trace it (18). And with that new unconscious, now freed from arborescent thinking, we will be able to produce "new statements, different desires," and the possibility for social transformation.

[28] The rhizome- or anti-culture book, which for our purposes here is synonymous with postmodern fiction, "is the only way out" of arborescent culture and arborescent thinking (19). Art and science, they argue, "hold in the first place ... a revolutionary potential, and nothing more ... [They] cause increasingly decoded and deterritorialized flows to circulate in the socius ... which force the social axiomatic to grow ever more complicated, to become more saturated, to the point where the scientist and the artist may be determined to rejoin an objective revolutionary situation ... against authoritarian designs of a State that is incompetent and above all castrating by nature" (AO 379). Unlike novels which "promote identifications and sympathy in the reader," the rhizome book, or postmodern fiction, resists identification (Nussbaum 5). Rather than promoting identification, postmodern fiction, like the fiction Adorno and Horkheimer valued, alienates the reader, and forces open an imaginative space wherein the reader can experience a new kind of freedom. The work of art professes freedom by blowing apart the categories (race, gender, class, the ego), the "mind forged manacles" (in Blake's words), and connections which have enslaved the reader to certain ways of thinking, to certain worlds, and to their own despair.

[29] It is in this sense, then, that the anti-culture book is best suited for radical social change. And while Adorno, as Huyssen has speculated, might have "panned those facile citations of the historical idiom in postmodern architecture and music," and would have seen the "disintegration of modernism as a return to its prehistory" (Huyssen 42), it is ironic that the kind of texts he valued, texts which now are no longer in any sense autonomous, are the very texts which are being put to use in the service of autonomy—the freeing of desire from arborescent thinking, through decoding, through deterritorialization. The works of Beckett and Kafka in Adorno's time are in our time the works of Pynchon and Acker. Like Adorno, Deleuze and Guattari championed the work of Beckett and Kafka, yet how Deleuze and Guattari approached these texts and what they valued in them is rather different. While Deleuze and Guattari and Adorno value the anti-representational quality of the work of Beckett and Kafka, the monadic subject which, for Adorno, approaches such texts, has, for Deleuze and Guattari, been dissolved. And while Adorno, like Deleuze and Guattari, valued the untotalized perspective of reality offered by Beckett and Kafka, Deleuze and Guattari deny the notion of a correct rendering of objective (and, for Adorno, necessarily dialectical) reality.

[30] In terms of inaccessibility, language and "aesthetic affectation," though, postmodern fiction goes a long way towards meeting Adorno's aesthetic criteria. As Adorno insisted:

Defiance of society includes defiance of its language. The others share the language of men. They are 'social.' The aesthetes are as far ahead of them as they are asocial. Their works measure themselves against the recognition that the language of men is the language of degradation. To steal language from them, to renounce communication, is better than to adjust. The bourgeois glorifies the existing order as nature and demands that his fellow citizens speak 'naturally.' This norm is overturned by aesthetic affectation. (Prisms 225)

Rather than trace or represent the "language of men," postmodern fiction—through aesthetic affectation—disavows it. Postmodern fiction, in this sense, then, "signals a Refusal" (Hebdige 3). For Hebdige, "this Refusal" is all we have. In Subculture he writes, "I would like to think that this Refusal is worth making, that these gestures have a meaning, that the smiles and the sneers have some subversive value, even if, in the final analysis, they are, like Genet's gangster pin-ups, just the darker side of sets of regulations, just so much graffiti on a prison wall" (3). Yet, because a work of postmodern fiction, being an anti-culture book, seeks to cut off the Tree of arborescent thinking at its roots, and thereby explode arborescent consciousness, it must go beyond mere Refusal. Deleuze and Guattari are not satisfied with rearranging the furniture in a cell nestled within the walls of arborescent thinking. They want to tear down the prison. They want autonomy on a grand scale.

[31] While the kind of aesthetic autonomy Adorno desired is no longer possible under the hegemony of multi-national capitalism, the kind of autonomy sought by Deleuze and Guattari, with the aid of the anti-culture book, requires a confrontation with capitalism from within capitalism itself, a confrontation which is part and parcel of their project of schizoanalysis. Capitalism, as Deleuze and Guattari see it, is a process of deterritorialization, a process whereby codes are dismantled and scattered, releasing desire. Yet capitalism quickly reterritorializes the flow of desire within molar aggregates. "Capitalism," they write, "institutes or restores all sorts of residual and artificial, imaginary, or symbolic territorialities, thereby attempting ... to recode, to rechannel persons who have been defined in terms of abstract qualities. Everything returns or recurs: States, nations, families" (AO 34). But the schizophrenic process, Deleuze and Guattari argue, is a threat to capitalism. The ego, a product of capitalism, is here decentered, dispersed, and therefore escapes the "residual or artificial territorialities of our society" (35). The "schizophrenic deliberately seeks out the very limit of capitalism," and in the process becomes a subversive force, capitalism's "exterminating angel" (35). The deterritorialization of the ego, then, not only subverts arborescent thinking, but it subverts capitalism itself. When the private ego goes, so too does private property. Both are dispensed with in the process of decoding—opening the way for a radically new dispensation.

[32] It is Deleuze and Guattari who open the way for an efficacious political art, the kind of art which confronts capitalism on its own terms in order to subvert it. Against those who argue that postmodern art—and postmodernism more generally—is a kind of capitulation to capitalism, I would argue that postmodern art, and postmodern literature particularly, as an anti-"cultural" phenomenon, is radically opposed to the economic system which gave rise to it, and which it eventually eclipsed in an act of cultural matricide. Postmodern fiction, then, threatens capitalism by threatening the ego, by dissolving identity, by refusing representation, and in the process releases desire, a desire which can seek out new connections, new pathways, new miracles—new worlds. The work of the Critical Theorists of the Frankfurt School set the stage for this project. Yet their work, unlike the work of Deleuze and Guattari, was founded on political economy, dialectical thinking, a monadic subject, and necessarily concerned itself with culture—even while opposing it. The work of Baudrillard, which morphs critical theory into a semiological theory, substitutes political economy for the political economy of the sign, dispenses with dialectical thinking and the monadic subject, illustrates the impossibility of an oppositional art within the "cultural" sphere, and thus serves as an elegy for the Frankfurt School. Deleuze and Guattari, then, move away from culture altogether and toward its constitutive element, a move which positions them well within a neo-Marxist tradition: Deleuze and Guattari having substituted desire for class struggle, while arguing for the importance of both a micro- and a macro-politics. This project necessarily cuts deeply; it cuts to the marrow of our social infrastructure. But any oppositional politics (aesthetic or otherwise) which does not consider the primacy of the liberation of desire—which does not attempt to free us of the mental fetters which have imprisoned our thinking, and which have been the source of much suffering for far too long—must be content with re-tracing graffiti on the prison walls of its own making.

 

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