AS A PROLEGOMENA to any future negativity in Deleuze, this book risks being too condensed. The moves I make are quick, and many will appear perverse to friends of the Joyous Deleuze. For justification: the force of thought is a matter of style and not the specification of concepts, or to use proper names, Nietzsche contra Kant (DR, 5, 13, 306). I therefore build my case through formulations that are “rigorous yet anexact” like Deleuze’s, whose “essentially not accidentally inexact” concepts modulate enough between books to deserve different names (TP, 367, 555). I promote minor terms through extensive footnotes generated through a deep reading of Deleuze across the breadth of his complete works. So on one hand, I am so indebted to Deleuze that one could say that I merely provide a new nomenclature for old Deleuzian concepts. On the other, this is a book that Deleuze himself could never have written, as his age was not one of obligatory positivity, distributed management, and stifling transparency. My basic argument is that a new untimeliness in a time not Deleuze’s own requires a negative project that his work introduces but does not sustain: the Death of this World.
The end of this world is the third in a succession of deaths—the Death of God, the Death of Man, and now the Death of this World. This is not a call to physically destroy the world. The Death of God did not call for the assault of priests or the burning of churches, and the Death of Man did not propose genocide or the extinction of our species. Each death denounces a concept as insufficient, critiques those who still believe in it, and demands its removal as an object of thought. In the Death of Man, we learned that the human sciences were impotent in the face of the systemic injustices of this world. Rather, Foucault shows how expert inquiry makes exploitation, sexism, racism, poverty, violence, and war into the constitutive elements of how humanity defends itself. He shows that attempts to save this humanity created a biopower that “makes live and lets die,” which paradoxically administers life through “a power to expose a whole population to death” that tends toward wars of all-out destruction (Foucault, History of Sexuality, 135–37). Elaborating on this condition, subsequent theorists say that we have already been killed but have not yet died, making us an “already dead” that makes us already ready to adopt a revolutionary orientation that sacrifices our current time and space for a new, not-yet-realized future (Cazdyn, Already Dead, 9). Seen from this perspective, runaway climate change, the Sixth Extinction, and many other impending catastrophes are all essential parts of this world. The Death of this World admits the insufficiency of previous attempts to save it and instead poses a revolutionary gamble: only by destroying this world will we release ourselves of its problems. This does not mean moving to the moon, but that we give up on all the reasons given for saving the world. In my own announcement of the death of this world, I propose critiques of connectivity and positivity, a theory of contraries, the exercise of intolerance, and the conspiracy of communism.
Contemporary Deleuze scholarship tends to be connectivist and productivist. Connectivism is the world-building integration into an expanding web of things. As an organizational logic, it is the promiscuous inclusion of seemingly unrelated elements into a single body to expand its capacities. Academics are not alone in endorsing connectivism—I argue that connectivism drives Google’s geopolitical strategy of global influence, which proceeds through a techno-affirmationist desire to annex everything. Commentators use different names for their webs of connections, such as rhizomes, assemblages, networks, material systems, or dispositifs. I simply call them “this world” and plot for its destruction. Productivism links up with the autonomous, ceaseless autoproduction of the real. The most naive productivists sentimentally cherish creation and novelty for their own sake, whether as dewy-eyed admiration for the complexity of nature or a staunch Voltairine defense of all types of diversity. The productivists worthy of criticism are those who, in the name of “finding something about this world to believe in,” affirm what is given as if this wretched world already included all materials for a better one. I find that in relinquishing the power of destruction, they can only capitalize on production through the logics of accumulation and reproduction. So in founding a new world on the terms of the old, its horizon expands barely beyond what already exists. The alternative I propose is finding reasons to destroy this world.
The greatest crime of joyousness is tolerance. While mentioning tolerance may have marked one as a radical in Deleuze’s time, Wendy Brown argues in Regulating Aversion that liberal tolerance is now essential to the grammar of empire’s “domestic discourse of ethnic, racial, and sexual regulation, on the one hand, and as an international discourse of Western supremacy and imperialism on the other” (1, 7). Today’s tolerant are to blame for a “liberal Deleuze,” such as William Connolly, who names Deleuze as an antirevolutionary who inspires his belief that “transformation is neither needed nor in the cards today; what is needed is creative modes of intervention posed at several strategic sites in the service of reducing economic inequality, foster intra- and inter-state pluralism, and promoting ecological sanity” in his book on pluralism (Pluralism, 159). Deleuze criticized a similar position many decades ago when denouncing the media-hungry form of the Nouveaux Philosophes, who had “inscribed themselves perfectly well on the electoral grid . . . from which everything fades away” (“On the New Philosophers,” 40–41). Liberal Deleuzians can be criticized accordingly—for endorsing the usual abstractions of the Law and the State that hide the workings of power; for denouncing Marxism “not so much because real struggles would have made new enemies, new problems and new means arise, but because THE revolution must be declared impossible”; and for reviving the subject as part of a general martyrology. What stands between liberalism and revolution is intolerance, but in a peculiar way. Intolerance arises out of this world as “something intolerable in the world” to prove that there is “something unthinkable in thought” (C2, 169). Which is to say, it is when we find it all unbearable that we realize “it can no longer think a world or think itself” (170). This is where the Dark Deleuze parts ways with the joyful by inviting the death of this world. There are many fellow travelers of revolutionary intolerance, including Wendy Brown and Herbert Marcuse. Newton argues in his autobiography Revolutionary Suicide that the revolutionary task is to risk one’s life for the chance of “changing intolerable conditions” (5). In his essay on “repressive tolerance,” Marcuse extends tolerance only to the left, subversion, and revolutionary violence and proposes a militant intolerance of the right, this world, and “benevolent neutrality.” Together, they express the dark truth of the intolerable as the lived present of being trapped by something so unbearable, so impossible, that it must be destroyed. To be completely clear: the point is not to grow obstinate but to find new ways to end our suffocating perpetual present.
Darkness advances the secret as an alternative to the liberal obsession with transparency. Foucault smartly identifies transparency’s role in the “science of the police,” which is used in the task of maintaining order through the collusion between the state and capital from liberalism’s beginnings in the German notion of the police state through to contemporary biopolitics (Security, Territory, Population). The conspiracy is against the consistency of everything being in its proper place, and the secret is the fact that nothing is as it seems. Such a conspiracy is not the pursuit of the ineffable or sublime, as it is neither esoteric nor mystical. It circulates as an open secret that retains its secrecy only by operating against connectivism through the principle of selective engagement. The lesson to be taken is that “we all must live double lives”: one full of the compromises we make with the present, and the other in which we plot to undo them. The struggle is to keep one’s cover identity from taking over. There are those whose daily drudgery makes it difficult to contribute to the conspiracy, though people in this position are far more likely to have secret dealings on the side. Others are given ample opportunities but still fail to grow the secret, the most extreme example being those who live their lives “with nothing to hide,” often declaring that they are “an open book.” Some treat the conspiracy as a form of hobbyism, working to end the world only after everything else has been taken care of—the worst being liberal communists, who exploit so much in the morning that they can give half of it back as charity in the afternoon. And then there are those who escape. Crafting new weapons while withdrawing from the demands of the social, they know that cataclysm knows nothing of the productivist logic of accumulation or reproduction. Escape need not be dreary, even if they are negative. Escape is never more exciting than when it spills out into the streets, where trust in appearances, trust in words, trust in each other, and trust in this world all disintegrate in a mobile zone of indiscernibility (Fontaine, “Black Bloc”). It is in these moments of opacity, insufficiency, and breakdown that darkness most threatens the ties that bind us to this world.