Deleuze, Desire, Strategy and Revolution

A two part interview with Andrew Robinson at the New Left Project on Deleuze, desire, political strategy and revolution (Part 1 and Part 2).

A rather handy reading list of some relevant original works (Societies of Control), standalone versions of 1000 Plateaus chapters (Rhizomes, Nomadology), secondary analysis (on utopia, anarchism, fear etc.), and video lectures is at the end of the second part. Although I would add work by Nicholas Tampio and Thomas Nail to the list too.

There’s a section from Galloway’s The Interface Effect (2012) that is more than appropriate to the questions posed to Robinson in the second part. He categorizes the work of Deleuze as combining an ‘aesthetic of coherence with a politics of incoherence’ (p. 49). This is what Galloway calls a poetic regime of signification (or mode of operation). He suggests he elevates the art of philosophy over other concerns. The other concern that Galloway is primarily talking about is politics, political alignment and political strategy. One of the questions Robinson faces is ‘[w]hat is the Deleuzian model of political organization?’ The answer he provides tallies with what Galloway says, that Deleuze’s political mode is incoherent:

Eyal Weizman has written of the ways in which the Israeli Defense Forces have deployed the teachings of Deleuze and Felix Guattari in the field of battle. This speaks not to a corruption of the thought of Deleuze and Guattari but to the very receptivity of the work to a variety of political implementations (that is, to its “incoherence”). (p. 50)

He goes on to suggest that Deleuze’s work is ‘open source’ (p. 50) in the same way open source software does not preclude appropriation. Deleuze’s work does not intrinsically suppose a political project, let alone an emancipatory and progressive one. Moreover, from the other side, that appropriation of rhizomatic concepts, the construction of non-hierarchical formations and other Deleuzian strategies are necessarily automatic paths to freedom. There are theoretical and methodological dangers in supposing either. These are normative judgements on an otherwise non-aligned and incoherent Deleuze.

Mengele’s Skull

I posted back in August about Keenan and Weizman’s upcoming Mengele’s Skull: The Advent of a Forensic Aesthetics and have now got round to reading it. Firstly, it’s a small and short book with a fair number of colour images. It is these pictures that are critical to Keenan and Weizman’s narrative. Although I don’t want to spoil it for those who maybe haven’t had the chance to read it (an earlier version can be found in Cabinet here), or have not been acquainted with the Forensic Architecture project more broadly, I do still want to say a few things.

The exhumation of (supposedly) Josef Mengele’s body inaugurated (page 11) a rather unique form of war criminal investigation. One different to that of either the testimony of the witness (of which Adolf Eichmann was sentenced under), or that of the textual document that many traditional criminal investigations are centred upon (Nuremberg Trials). That of the forensic.

Each type of investigation, say Keenan and Weizman, operates in a particular space or ‘forum’. Or better still (as the space does not pre-exist it’s operation) is constructed through a set of investigative performances, where disputed and otherwise fractious entities (human/non-human; scientist/skull) are brought together for a particular purpose. In this case, an inversion of the perhaps now standard CSI approach; an interrogation of the skeleton with different presumptions and inverse purpose.

It was not a case of asking the skeleton “how did you die?”, but – with the identity of the person in question: “who are you?” (17-18). As Keenan and Weizman point out, “the Mengele investigation was conducted in much the same way as a missing persons investigation would be” (19). Perhaps ironically, the many people who were ‘forcefully disappeared’ by dictatorial forces in South American during the 1970s were re-identified using the very same techniques employed during the Mengele investigation. In doing so, this ‘methodological proximity’ helped to move such investigation “beyond the ethical categories of victim and perpetrator” (61), and establish it firmly within a material forum (with identity the only aim).

The success of the Mengele investigation was in many ways down to German forensic scientist Richard Helmer, who had developed a technique he called ‘electronic visual mixing’. In essence, an apparatus whereby Helmer could superimpose an image of the individual (Mengele) onto a clay cast (Mengele’s skull) and work a video camera between the two to establish a match between photo and cast. These image overlays could be produced in different splits so as to produce a rather haunting image of the skull cast complete with pictorial facial features from the photograph (even with Mengele’s felt hat perched upon it). In doing so, Helmer was able to persuade, quite decisively, many of the other forensic scientists and anthropologists involved in the investigation. Moreover, it was this process that also persuaded the many other victims, witnesses, state officials and media personnel eager to hear of the results of the investigation. This analytical method served as a foundational moment in forensic anthropology, and the construction of a faithful ally in the pursuit of now-dead war criminals (the skeletal object or ‘super-subject’ as a truthful witness[66]), whom in death had escaped the legal, juridical, bodily and political repercussions of their crimes.

But of course, this notion of the truthful ‘super-subject’ has something of a twist. Whilst one of the most prominent members of the Mengele investigation, Clyde Snow, said that “[b]ones make good witnesses” (quoted on 66) – it is indeed this construction of the truthful object that forms the most crucial point of this event. Snow, Helmer and all the other scientists were present to do one thing: persuade. It was up to them to persuade all relevant parties as to their level of doubt. Previous to the introduction of Helmer’s techniques, the doubt, arguably, would have been much higher. How would the skeleton otherwise have been interrogated? If they had not succeeded in persuading all parties how would forensic anthropology look now? Would forensic anthropology even exist? Moreover, how would the witness and textual investigations fare considering this apparent failure in a new investigatory technique? As Keenan and Weizman say:

Something which was not perceivable, which did not count, made its way into the domain of evidence and judgement, and in doing so had to alter the stage on which it appeared. (68)

Helmer’s ‘electronic visual mixing’ not only transformed the field of forensic science/anthropology, but also radically changed the shape of war crimes fora. The assignation of the bones of Mengele with an agential – and legal – force the scientists in the Mengele investigation allowed them, as Snow says above, ‘to speak’. Not only a political act of expanding such fora to include the otherwise non-human but also a transformation of the protocol, discourse and procedure within. Alongside the witness and the textual document stood the object; imbued with all the power to speak (or, more correctly, be spoken for), to be discussed and to be disputed.

Long live postcolonial theory!

Eyal Weizman’s talk at Society and Space’s 30th anniversary lecture on his long-running Forensic Architecture project below. The project website is here. There’s some really fantastic resources in there, some tangible ‘postcolonial’ elements without the burden it brings. Mengele’s Skull (Sternberg Press) is a forthcoming title co-authored by Thomas Keenan and Weizman, and a short description is available here too.