A friend pointed this out — calling it, with questionable gender politics in my opinion, an “ultraleftist cat fight”; Monsieur Dupont’s critical response to some recent work by the Tiqqun people. I’ve been reading a bit of this stuff, trying to get my head around communization and other such impenetrabilities. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I liked very much of what Dupont had to say. I find none of the positive content appealing (and so no quotes from any of that) but the criticisms strike me as largely on point.

Dupont quotes Tiqqun:

“Us – it is neither a subject, nor something formed, nor a multitude. Us – it is a heap of worlds, of sub-spectacular and interstitial worlds, whose existence is unmentionable, woven together with the kind of solidarity and dissent that power cannot penetrate; and there are the strays, the poor, the prisoners, etc., etc.. In short all those who, following their own line of flight, do not fit into Empire’s stale, air-conditioned paradise. Us – this is the fragmented plane of consistency of the Imaginary Party.”

Then he comments “But this is not a community. It is a gang. Or a congregation.” What it really is, is a group of students fetishizing other people – “the strays, the poor, the prisoners,” they might as well say the poor, the tired, the huddled masses….

Dupont refers to “Tiqqun’s urgent need for group consummation” and to “Tiqqun’s constant movement towards self-reference”. “The ‘we’ of Tiqqun, even as it denounces subjective formations and identity politics, nonetheless still locates in its own practice a transcendent alternative to the lives of the ‘them’, the herd, the spectators, the sometimes silk but usually plastic and always contemptible Blooms of conventional existence: ‘They are born collaborators.’ Tiqqun belong to the tradition of that greater ‘we’ which has descended through time as the small group, as the sect, which extrapolates from the fragment of the world which is itself into a potentially generalisable condition. With Hellfire Club style exultations in images of ‘abandoning ourselves to our inclinations’, Tiqqun set themselves qualitatively against the masses who are to be understood in terms of ‘Fake self-control, restraint, self-regulation of the passions….’ Tiqqun define the ‘us’ form-of-life, their civil war, as an exponential increase of excitations, a contagious sense of their ‘being carried away’. Grand gestures of relinquishment sets their ‘us’ apart from the acquisitiveness of others.

It is not difficult to identify the presence of historical traces of modernist misanthropy by which previous subject formations in the multiple traditions of Nietzsche, Lenin, Heidegger, the Surrealists, Sartre and Vaneigem (amongst so many others) have all constructed small-group, avant-garde leadership ethics in contradistinction to the cracked and passive masses of the many.”

Dupont takes them to task for this quote – “the resentful ones, the intellectual, the immunodeficient, the humanist, the transplant patient, the neurotic are Empire’s model citizens” to which Dupont writes that “Hatred of the weak and sick is a crude rhetorical device which has also been deployed by the Futurists, Lawrence, H.G. Wells, Nietzsche, Leiris. In fact it has become a Bloomesque commonplace.”

“For a ‘how to’ manual, Introduction To Civil War is surprisingly biased towards the framing of an abstract ethical theory rather than to the description of practical techniques which might be deployed in the field. There is a lengthy description of what we are expected to recognise as an unprecedented form of power which Tiqqun describes as ‘Empire’ and which should be understood as an immanent mode of governance, or an infinite, depthless network of discreet normalising techniques which realise the categories of biopower and spectacle. Empire, as Tiqqun describe it, permits no ‘outside’.xvii They insist that this Empire defines our reality and that it has supplanted the state (which it has ‘turned inside out’).xviii They also helpfully indicate that the ‘Manichaeist’ Empire which they oppose bears no more than a passing resemblance to the historically ambivalent Empire of Hardt and Negri. ‘…imperial domination can be described as neotaoist…’

The tendency for conceptual reframing of power relations obviously has its libidinal rewards; there is always a fetishistic kick to be derived from a fevered portrayal of the exquisite degree of totality. But there is also a long post-Enlightenment precedence for describing power in terms other than those which power itself deploys, and Tiqqun’s metaphor for current productive relations does enable them to conjure some just-so assertions worthy of Rousseau. And yet, the usefulness to others of the term Empire is uncertain as plainly what Tiqqun describes is not actually an ‘empire’ in any historical sense. It is a metaphorical empire of interconnectivity which has as much conceptual grip as the term ‘Multitude’.”

Dupont prefers instead to see “the social relation as fundamentally unchanging in nature throughout the period of real domination by capital (even though this domination has often undergone periodic exacerbations). In opposition to this frozen world, social critique has continued to make fragmentary conceptual tools available (even where these tools are encrusted with reifications) which make it possible to grasp and reveal the stations of capitalised existence without lapsing into either immediatist metaphor or objectivist ‘explanation’. It is still possible to get one’s bearings.

There is no Empire as such, only a continuing social relation based on the mechanism of commodity production which is subjected to fluctuating internal pressures: the rising organic composition of capital; the tendency of the rate of profit to fall; the increasingly complicated process of extracting surplus value from a shrinking industrial proletariat; the resetting of the productive relation via value destruction, crises and write-offs. These pressures, alongside resource depletion and proletarian disenchantment, require the intervention within the productive apparatus of a hyper-vigilant governance and a corresponding planned integration of all productive functions. There has been no shift in regime from state to Empire, only a cycle where phases of hyper-intensification of process are followed by periods of laissez-faire drift.”

Dupont also suggests that Tiqqun falls into the trap of thinking “that there is some sort of mission failure if there is not produced a unified general ‘theory of everything’.”

“It must often occur to such readers of experimental works that the massive conceptual machinery which has to be deployed in order to achieve a break from conventionality, the pages and pages of re-definitions and descriptive shadings, are productive only of a small output of practical and communicable knowledge of divergence. Tiqqun’s findings, and we must not doubt the great expenditure of their energies on the project, have about as much relevance to most people’s lives as, for an equivalent, Bataille’s concept of ‘The Accursed Share’. True, a few people to my knowledge have directly quoted variations on the theme of, ‘The state of exception is the normal regime of the Law’, but where that gets them, I am still not sure.”

“This tireless work of early adopters should not be underestimated, and even now these will be redeploying such conceptual formulations as, ‘The Imaginary Party is the Outside of the world without Outside’, in sometimes more and sometimes less directly practicable frameworks.xxiii But it is difficult not to conclude that Introduction to Civil War, despite the efforts of its authors to the contrary, is still too much a permissible, even exemplary, work in the style of Anti-Oedipus and (of all the fields of applicability in the world) it is probably most fitting to the radical philosophy departments of French academe.”

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