The Extinction of Being

The Task: Destroy Worlds, Not Create Conceptions

The conspiracy against this world will be known through its war machines. A war machine is itself “a pure form of exteriority” that “explains nothing,” but there are plenty of stories to tell about them (TP, 354, 427). They are the heroes of A Thousand Plateaus—Kleist’s skull-crushing war machine, the migratory war machine that the Vandals used to sack Rome, the gun that Black Panther George Jackson grabs on the run, and the queer war machine that excretes a thousand tiny sexes. “Each time there is an operation against the state—insubordination, rioting, guerilla warfare, or revolution as an act—it can be said that a war machine has revived” (386). War machines are also the greatest villains of A Thousand Plateaus, making all other dangers “pale by comparison” (231)—there is the constant state appropriation of the war machine that subordinates war to its own aims (418), the folly of the commercial war machine (15), the paranoia of the fascist war machine (not the state army of totalitarianism) (230–31), and, worst of them all, the “worldwide war machine” of capitalism, “whose organization exceeds the State apparatus and passes into energy, military–industrial, and multinational complexes” to wage peace on the whole world (387, 419–21, 467).

“Make thought a war machine,” Deleuze and Guattari insist. “Place thought in an immediate relation with the outside, with the forces of the outside” (TP, 376–77). Two important inventions follow: speed and secrecy. These are the affects of the war machine, its weapons of war, which “transpierce the body like arrows” (356, 394). The resulting violence is not so vulgar as to encourage blow-by-blow bloodletting or a once-and-for-all immediate killing but institutes an economy of violence whose hatred is unlimited and therefore durable. The war machine engages in war along two poles: one forms a line of destruction “prolongable to the limits of the universe,” while the other draws a line of flight for the “composition of a smooth space and of the movement of people in that space” (422). Deleuze and Guattari would prefer to promote the connectivist line by saying they “make war only on the condition that they simultaneously create something else” (423). But today, that path leads to collusion with capitalism’s drive toward creative destruction (Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, Democracy, 87). This is certainly not lost on those in Silicon Valley who spread the mantra of “disruptive innovation.” We can thus take heed of Deleuze and Guattari’s warning against treating terms as having “an irresistible revolutionary calling” (387). It is time to accept Nietzsche’s invitation to philosophize with a hammer, rendered here in the voice of Krishna: “I am become Time, the destroyer of worlds.” We must find an appetite for destruction that does not betray Deleuze and Guattari’s “abolitionist dream.” This takes the “progressive, anxiety-ridden revelation” that destroying worlds is just another way of “smashing capitalism, of redefining socialism, of constituting a war machine capable of countering the world war machine by other means” (385, 417, 372).

Make the whole world stand still. Indeed, it may be the only way to think the present in any significant sense. To be clear: the suspension of the world is not a hunt for its conditions of reproduction or a meditative “rhapsody of sensations” (DR, 56). It is thought that treats the world as if struck by an unspecified disaster, where the best friends you have left are your own ideas. This is not the banal disaster movie, whose ambitions are usually limited to teaching us what are the bare essentials to survive. Writing the disaster is how we break free from the stifling perpetual present, for the present carries with itself a suffocating urgency. The present imposes material limits. To it, the past and the future are the empty form of time, and they must endure the complications of having a body to become part of the present (LS, 146–47, 165). The past and the future exist in their own right only through representation—the former in history as the present memorialization of things passed and the latter in the yet to come as the projection of an image of the present (147). Such re-presentation is why the future appears with the distinct impression that “we have seen it all before” (Flaxman, Fabulation of Philosophy, 392). The productivist sees the event of thought as an eminently practical reorientation toward the present achieved while generating a new image of the future (WP, 58). In contrast, those learning to hate the world must short-circuit the “here and now” to play out the scene differently. While still being in this world, they turn away from it. This is the life of characters so agitated that they force the world to stand still—Dostoyevsky’s Idiot, the head of Kurosawa’s seven samurai (TR, 317–18). Against bleating urgency that “there a fire, there’s fire . . . I’ve got to go,” they insist that everything could burn to the ground but nothing happens, because one must seek out a more urgent problem!

There are those who say that we already have one foot in utopia; but would it not be more suitable to say that we have both feet firmly planted in a present slouching toward dystopia? Deleuze and Guattari call on utopia in their search for a new people and a new earth (WP, 99). They look to Samuel Butler, dissecting his Erewhon as a simultaneous “now-here” and “no-where” (100). Yet a closer examination of his novel reveals utopia to be a farce. While not exactly a dystopia, the utopia Erewhon is a comic satire of the British Empire. The narrator is a crass traveler with settler colonial dreams who catalogs the strange ways of Erewhon—in chapters 10 and 11, he outlines how they punish the sick (“convicted of aggravated bronchitis”) and sentence the misfortunate to hard labor (“ill luck of any kind . . . is considered an offense against society”) but nurture financial transgressions with medicine (“taken to a hospital and most carefully tended at the public expense”). Beyond being an object lesson in reading footnotes, Deleuze and Guattari’s reference to Erewhon demands an attention to the exact configuration of conceptual devices (dispositifs) and how power flows through them. Link thought with its epoch, they suggest, begin with a survey to identify whatever forces are already circulating and then work with them—“connecting up with what is real here and now in the struggle against capitalism, relaunching new struggles whenever the earlier one is betrayed” (100). They warn of “proud affirmation” as the guise of restoration that opens the door to transcendence, such as appeals to truth, right, or authority (100). For Butler, Erewhon summons neither a new people nor a new earth but is instead a field guide to negate everything he finds intolerable in his present. Utopia becomes the map to transform the now-here into the no-where.

“It should have been an apocalyptic book,” laments Deleuze, disappointed that the “old style” Difference and Repetition did not make apparent a key implication—he killed God, humankind, and even the world (xxi). The Death of God began long before Deleuze, who sees Feuerbach as completing it long before Nietzsche with the proposition that “since man has never been anything but the unfold of man, man must fold and refold God” (F, 130). Nietzsche identifies a different problem: that God was reborn in the form of Man. For Deleuze, it takes Foucault to establish the finitude of humanity—“Man has not always existed, and will not exist forever”—thus sealing its fate (F, 124). But to destroy the world . . . that is the truly heretical proposition. A small group of dissident Deleuze scholars have rallied around the slogan that “there is no ‘ontology of Deleuze’”—Gregory Flaxman, Anne Sauvagnargues, Gregg Lambert, and François Zourabichvili, to name a few (Zourabichvili, A Philosophy of the Event, 36). The statement does not imply that ontology is an illusion, but criticizing those who build a Deleuzian system around a coherent ontology of the world is ill considered, as it fails draw a line to the outside—“to incalculable forces, to chance and improvisation, to the future” (Flaxman, “Politics and Ontology”). Blazing such a path may require “the extinction of the term ‘being’ and therefore of ontology,” or in so many words, a destruction of this world (37). Deleuze and Guattari suggest as much when they propose to “overthrow ontology” (TP, 25). Summed up, this stance names the “joyful pessimist” Deleuze. Too restless to stop there, the Dark Deleuze broadens the coup de force into a fierce pessimism that shatters the cosmos.

The Subject: Un-becoming, Not Assemblages

Subjectivity is shameful—“subjects are born quite as much from misery as from triumph” (N, 151). It grows from the seeds of a “composite feeling” made from the compromises with our time: the shame of being alive, the shame of indignity, the shame that it happens to others, the shame that others can do it, and the shame of not being able to prevent it (WP, 108, 225). Existence is the result of a disaster, yet it says very little about us; it does not explain but rather must be explained. This is what makes shame “one of philosophy’s most powerful motifs” (108). The subject is always something derivative that “comes into being and vanishes in the fabric of what one says, what one sees,” resembling “specks dancing in the dust of the visible and permutations in an anonymous babble” (N, 108). This does not keep some from clinging to their shame. On this account, Deleuze has nothing but scorn for identity politics—“we have to counter people who think ‘I’m this, I’m that’ . . . arguments from one’s own privileged experience are bad and reactionary arguments” (N, 11–12). Shame is our defense against these people, queer theorists remind us, and it must be put to work on them as a weapon—an affect that acts as a solvent to dissolve whatever binds it to an identity (Halperin and Traub, “Beyond Gay Pride,” 25). There are those who have worked to square identity with Deleuze (Donna Haraway, Tim Dean, Jasbir Puar, Édouard Glissant). Their theorizations only avoid the problem of shame to the extent that they make identity’s many perforations into points of leverage and transformed differences into a million cutting edges.

For some, the world is made up of assemblages, and all assemblages are subjects. In no time, people, hurricanes, and battles all get addressed in the same register (as all subjects should be afforded proper names)! Although this is, perhaps, technically true, such assemblage-thinking misses the point—it reduces subjectivity to the name we use to pin down the sum of a body’s capacities (AT, 256–57). It sanctifies a bloodless world by cataloging the networks that make up its many attributes. This is why assemblage-modeling is a perfect fit in a world where capitalism produces subjectivity “the same way it produces Prell shampoo or Ford cars” (AO, 245). Further proof of its noxious conservativsm is arch-thinkers Manuel DeLanda’s and Bruno Latour’s dismissive rejection of Marxism. Fortunately, Deleuze already warned us by channeling Spinoza on the limits of adequate knowledge, in the often-repeated words that “we do not know what a body is capable of” (NP, 39). The phrase should not be read as an appeal to some evasive essence but simply as applying a principle of Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism, which holds that the conditions of actual experience are not represented through empirical tracing (DR, 95, 221, 321). This is crucial, because philosophy is too easily thrown back into the transcendental illusions through the personal identitarian experiences built by self-centered habits of mind (DR, 207–8, 73, 119). The pitfall of run-of-the-mill empiricists is that even in the best-case scenario, when they step out of the perspective of the subject, they still reduce existence to conditions of reproduction or chart something’s “degree of freedom.” For us, then, the subject should be spoken about scornfully as simply the sum of a body’s habits, most of which are marshaled to evade thought.

The undoing of the subject is un-becoming. Deleuze withholds praise for the subject but does not deny it a place, unlike Althusser, who theorizes “subjectivity without a subject” (Badiou, “Althusser,” 58–67). But subjects are only interesting when they cast a “line to the outside”—in short, when they stop being subjects (with a double emphasis on “being” and “subjects”) (N, 99). This process is how Deleuze describes Foucault’s subjectivization, which is not a “coming back” to subjectivity to rescue it but the disintegration of the subject as it evaporates into a field of forces where neither persons nor identities survive (N, 93). This is the secret to becoming, for it has nothing to do with “subjects developing into more of themselves.” Becoming is really a process of un-becoming. In what Elizabeth Grosz calls “undoing the givenness of the given” of Becoming Undone, un-becoming exercises undoing, a process that works to “undo the stabilities of identity, knowledge, location, and being” (210, 3). But in proposing undoing as an alternative to subjectivity, it is necessary to be specific about how to orient the process. While it is easy for an aesthete to indulge in the powers of the outside like a good after-dinner drink, “letting loose, freeing up, and putting into play,” undoing can fulfill the higher purpose of nursing a hatred for this world (55). For it is only when we locate something intolerable outside ourselves that we will “leap beyond shame” and “transform [our] paltry undertakings into a war of resistance and liberation” (ECC, 125).

Existence: Transformation, Not Genesis

Philosophy “has always maintained an essential relation to the law, the institution, and the contract” (DI, 259). Foundations thus hold a special place in philosophy, with philosophers obsessively writing and rewriting the book of Genesis. It is Kant, the great thinker of the genetic “condition,” “who finally turns the philosopher into the Judge at the same time that reason becomes a tribunal” (WP, 72). Deleuze refuses to disown his own “in the beginning.” But for him, the movement of thought follows an explosive line whose genesis comprises problems manifest from imperceptible forces that disrupt habits of mind. Such thinking does not build a courthouse of reason whereby each advance in thought confirms more about what was already self-evident, as if developing an elaborate mirror of the world (N 38–39; DR 129). In contrast, the “enemy” Kant does something intolerable by creating a theory of law that diverts the ungrounding called thought, ending its journey to an unrecognized terra incognita (DI 58; DR 136). He does this by reversing the Greeks, making it so the law does not depend on the good like a material substrate and instead deriving the good from law—“the good is that which the law expresses when it expresses itself” (K, 43). Expressing their disapproval, Deleuze and Guattari draw a “portrait” of Kant that depicts him as a vampiric death machine feeding off the world (WP, 56). But even as Kant makes the law rational, he opens up a way out in the third critique through a synthesis that allows a free harmony of the faculties, though he is quick to betray it (WP, 32, 46, 100). Latching on to this furtive insight, Deleuze advances a “mobile war machine” in its place, to be used against the “rational administrative machine” of philosophers who “would be the bureaucrats of pure reason” (DI, 259). And in making thought into a siege engine, it gains the nomadic force of transformation. The key is to avoid founding a new order on a new image of world. Fortunately, we can follow the pure idea of Toynbee’s nomads who shed their habits so they do not have to leave their habitats.

Ontology: Materialism, Not Realism

Our appetite produces the real. But do not mistake the real for a simple projection—it is real through and through. “I take my desires for reality because I believe in the reality of my desire,” says the streets of Paris in 1968 (Anonymous, “Graffiti”). In response, Deleuze and Guattari say that “the real is not impossible, on the contrary, within the real everything is possible, everything becomes possible” (AO, 27). The only reason that we lack anything, they say, is that our social system deprives us of what we desire. On this account, our taste is not a correlationist yearning, as Quentin Meillassoux calls it in After Finitude, which would say that we are reaching for a thing-in-itself always outside the grasp of our perception. Yet this should not lead us to embrace the philosophical realism that connectivists apologize for as an attack on anthropocentrism. “Things exist independently of perception,” the realists assert to bring the Death of Man. But they forget that “there is no such thing as either man or nature” when there is “simply the production of production itself” (AO, 2). So while there is no man, nature also must vanish. Without treating the real as truly artificial, thought is regrounded as a theology of this world that plugs all the leaks to the outside.

A superior materialism “constructs a real that is yet to come” (TP, 142). It does not follow so-called new materialism, which is really just a new form of animism, but Marxist materialism as the revolutionary subversion of material necessity. Deleuze and Guattari find their superior materialism by exchanging the theater of representation for the factory of production. It is the materialism of Epicurus and the atomism of the swerve as the necessity of contingency (Althusser, Philosophy of the Encounter, 174). This permanent revocation of the fait accompli is at work in politics of destruction, which has too long been mistaken for deliberation but is instead exemplified by the war machines of popular insurrection whose success is registered by the streets themselves—consider the words of the Invisible Committee in To Our Friends: “Like any specific strike, it is a politics of the accomplished fact. It is the reign of the initiative, of practical complicity, of gesture. As to decision, it accomplishes that in the streets, reminding those who’ve forgotten, that ‘popular’ comes from the Latin populor, ‘to ravage, devastate.’ It is a fullness of expression . . . and a nullity of deliberation” (54). By showing the nondurability of what is taken as real, so-called reality itself, communist politics is a conspiracy that writes the destruction of the world.

Difference: Exclusive Disjunction, Not Inclusive Disjunction

“Too much!” is a potential rallying cry—too many products, too many choices, too much of this world! Instead, become contrary! Difference, for Deleuze, is the result of a “disjunctive synthesis” that produces a series of “disjointed and divergent” differences (LS, 174–76, 177–80). Importantly, these differences can be immediately brought together at a distance through resonance, globally coordinated, or contracted into a divergent multitude (172–76). Following the rule “always perversify,” Deleuze and Guattari propose including disjunctions in a mad mixture of “world-historical, political, and racial content” as a strategy for scrambling oppressive codes (AO, 15, 88–89).

Global capitalism quickly caught on. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have shown us how it rules over a virtual Empire of difference that eagerly coordinates a wide arrangement of diverging differences while also producing many more of its own (Empire, 44–45, 138–56, 190–201, 339–43). Capital is now indistinguishable from the exemplary subject, the schizo, who is voiced by Nietzsche in his wild claims to be “all the names of history” (AO, 86)! Power is now diffuse, and the antagonism of Marx’s class war has been drowned in an overwhelming sea of difference. This development calls for a reorientation that entails learning how to become contrary. In the case of Dark Deleuze, the contrarian position is the forced choice of “this, not that.” Deleuze is perfectly happy to demand “no possible compromise between Hegel and Nietzsche” (NP, 195). Why not experiment with our own exclusive disjunctive synthesis that is limited, restrictive, and constrained? Hardt and Negri take their cue from those in the Global South who “homogenize real differences” to name “the potential unity of an international opposition, the confluence of anticapitalist countries and forces” (Empire, 334). A better response has been the terrifying screams of no that occasionally break apart its grand accords (Holloway, “The Scream,” 1). Though not demanding the suppression of difference, the problem of Empire reignites the necessity of conspiracy, the power of hatred, and the task of destroying worlds.