January 16th, 2011 / 5:23 pm

“Writing has never been capitalism’s thing. Capitalism is profoundly illiterate.” —Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus


  1. reynard

      capitalism is a celebration of mediocrity
      sunbeams shooting out of assholes indeed

  2. Kyle Minor

      I agree that unrestrained capitalism is prone to terrible abuses. I wish that capitalism would be in every case hybridized with a compassionate socialism. Capitalism works better when it is subject to rules of engagement that don’t allow all the wealth to be concentrated in the hands of a very small percentage of the population. The mindset of some versions of capitalism, which values nothing higher than the profit motive, can be disastrous. However, as a person who has spent a lot of time in the Third World, the lack of functional, operating markets is perhaps a worse disaster. Since we lack a system proven to outperform capitalism in getting resources to people, and since capitalism has more or less won and is not going away, perhaps it would be better to think about how to make capitalist systems more equitable and less exploitative alongside our bitchings about them.

      As for Deleuze/Guattari’s claim about writing and capitalism, I’m not sure it holds up. For one thing, their writing and literacy (and that of their cohorts) rises from their raising in and engagement with, among other things, capitalism. I don’t think non-capitalist systems have a stranglelock on literacy, writing, or literature any more than capitalist systems do. And I think that the grievance against capitalism’s sometimes antagonistic stance toward some manifestations of literacy, writing, and literature could be equally raised against any other system of governing power or cultural hegemony.

  3. andy folk

      i guess that explains why ayn rand’s prose is so poor.

  4. Kyle Minor

      (The claim that might better hold up — that capitalism co-opts writing/literacy/literature — is one to which D/G are likewise vulnerable, even as they make the claim.

      (But what is pure, anyway? Artists and thinkers are always products of the culture with which they are in dialogue or opposition or godhelpus harmony.)

  5. Scott Riley Irvine

      “Writing against capitalism with the mental baggage and vocabulary that comes out of capitalism is a waste of time.” -Julio Cortazar

      Semi-related, just reminded me of this.

  6. NLY

      Capital, and the various systems of capital, has been the single most consistent factor in spurring great literature into existence, surpassing even God.

  7. Nat Otting

      Jackie (& Kyle), sorry to double post (pace/pax Reynard) over your posts. I tried time stamping them so they’d fall between LIVING and Wikipedia vs. Literature (good company), and by the wayside. But I obviously don’t know what I’m doing in more ways than one. Anyway, I would like to listen to an unabridged audio book of Capitalism and Schizophrenia. And, to add to this, tho I can’t see what I I’m typing, here’s Stanley Crawford paraphrasing Camus (in a letter to Noy Hoolland in The Blvr): what prevents you from doing your work becomes your work.

  8. Nat Otting
  9. Mike Meginnis

      Yeah, I often feel like you can write “Capitalism is X” and it doesn’t matter what goes into the X, I’m supposed to sort of sit there in mute appreciation/awe.

      I tend to think capitalism is a bit large, as it exists in practice, for adjectives. And purity is silly.

  10. yizzurp

      deleuze appeals a lot to people who are almost smart

  11. deadgod

      [What is up with the “new comment” box? – glitched due to reconfiguring/reinforcing the spam filter?]

  12. deadgod

      Perhaps some more context:

      DG go on to talk about ‘reading signs’ in terms of “linguistics of flows” as opposed to, and preferable to, “linguistics of the signifier”. “Linguistics of flows” (emphases mine):

      – “abandons all privileged reference”.
      – “describes a pure field of algebraic immanence that no longer allows any surveillance on the part of a transcendental instance”.
      – “substitutes the relationship of reciprocal precondition between expression and content for the relationship of subordination between signifier and signified”.
      – enables the relation “between two convertible deterritorialized planes” that generates or discloses or enables “figures that are no longer the effects of a signifier, but [somethings] that collapse the wall of the signifier, pass through and continue on beyond”.

      In my probably too-simple understanding, DG take up the Marxist critical view that capitalistic circulation and exchange – capitalistic political economy; the capitalistic generation of markets – necessarily entail extraction, parasitic sovereignty.

      This capitalistic system means – I don’t know why this entailment is necessary or ontological (?) – that “literacy” within it depends on a “linguistics of the signifier”, and that the contradictions of capitalism, by way of the contradictions of that “linguistics”, have given rise to the “linguistics of flows”, (some of) whose lineaments I’ve copied above. This “linguistics of flows” could reasonably be called a ‘linguistics of deterritoriality’.

      This revolutionary linguistics produces – or will produce – a literacy which is (my terms!) ‘engagement with and by “sign” as non-accumulative porosity‘ (to continue DG’s metaphor or sense of “membrane”).

      The linguistics that DG write of are those of this guy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Hjelmslev . I think I get how Hjelmslev complicates Saussure’s schema of ‘the sign’ interestingly, perhaps with no small linguistic utility. I know I don’t understand how Hjelmslev’s linguistic ideas function so radically differently from Saussure’s that one could see in the movement from the latter to the former a linguistic analogy or version or “plane” of the revolution of capitalistic political economy.

  13. zusya

      in the most extreme sense of the word, i’d rather have a capitalist publishing industry than one run by the state. then again, that’s assuming said state cares and decides what you get to read, can and will change what you read, and that privately owned companies won’t go ahead and do just the same thing. in practice, political buzzwords are all bankrupt in meaning. they tend to express nothing of substance w/r/t actual economic reality, nothing of its constantly fluid nature.

  14. Hank

      Has economic history finally come to an end?

  15. Hank

      Has economic history finally come to an end?

  16. Hank

      And I would rather have a stateless, collectivized publishing industry rather than a capitalist one or a state-run publishing industry.

  17. Hank

      And I would rather have a stateless, collectivized publishing industry rather than a capitalist one or a state-run publishing industry.

  18. zusya

      this is kinda what i mean by political buzzwords having nothing to do with economic reality. by my definition of the word, ‘stateless’ might as well refer to the congo, or kurdistan, basque country, etc. states (responsibly run ones, anyway) tend to provide security enough for the composition of art to progress unabated. ‘collectivized’? i could be mistaken, but wouldn’t that on some level imply writing/editing by committee? again, i’m just going by my understanding of the word, and i’m not sure how a non-private, subsidy-less publishing complex would pragmatically be able to function, in economic terms, as in: where’s all the paper and binding material and salaries for editors and the like going to come from?

  19. Hank

      Yes, stateless can refer to the Congo, Kurdistan, Basque country, etc., but statelessness and the absence of governance aren’t necessarily the same. Typically, the state is considered to hold a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, but it should be obvious why that’s only a myth; governance, on the other hand, is possible without making claims to monopolies on legitimate violence and things like that because — believe it or not — it is actually possible for people to come together and create institutions that are voluntary and democratic, meaning that a) you are not obligated to take part (whereas you are always obligated to take part in the state apparatus where one exists) and that b) the workings of the institution depends on the consent of those who do take part (as opposed to a corporate or state-structure that depends on underlings taking orders from bosses – yes, yes, one can always quit their job when working for a corporation, but that doesn’t change the fact that when working for a corporation or other similarly organized institution one is always in the position of having to take orders, more or less). Preferably, being an anarcho-syndicalist or something thereabouts, I would rather live in a world without a state, but with governance as I’ve described – voluntary and democratic. (Of course, too, this requires a world peopled by those who have values that are similar, in general, to my own, but I assume that most people would rather live in a world where everyone’s values – in general, not necessarily in particular – are similar to their own.

      As for what I refer to when I talk about ‘collectivization’, I’m not talking about writing/editing by committee (though I certainly don’t preclude that in some instances). The best way I know of to describe what I mean is simply to quote from the ‘about’ section on AK Press’s website:

      AK Press is a worker-run collective that publishes and distributes radical books, visual and audio media, and other mind-altering material. We’re small: a dozen people who work long hours for short money, because we believe in what we do. We’re anarchists, which is reflected both in the books we provide and in the way we organize our business. Decisions at AK Press are made collectively, from what we publish, to what we distribute and how we structure our labor. All the work, from sweeping floors to answering phones, is shared. When the telemarketers call and ask, “who’s in charge?” the answer is: everyone. Our goal isn’t profit (although we do have to pay the rent). Our goal is supplying radical words and images to as many people as possible.

      (They go into a little bit more detail on the page about how a collective works: http://www.akpress.org/about/aboutakenglish)

      Just to give you an idea of what collectivization can be like. In my original comment, I was talking about having publishers with a similar structure as something like AK Press, as opposed to the corporate structure. As far as where resources would come from? Well, where do they come from otherwise? –There’s a demand for a product (in this case books) and books require certain materials (as do other products), so people raise funds in order to procure the materials which they then put to use producing books (this is assuming that this collective exists as part of a ‘market’ with money, et al.). The books are then sold and the funds retrieved from those sales go back into the collective for maintenance of the collective and its members. Obviously, this is incredibly simplified and I’m no expert on how collectives work as all I know about them is what I’ve read about them on the internet and that’s only a little bit. But it’s not impossible – just difficult in a capitalist economy when every other business’s first goal is making a profit.

  20. zusya

      i could formulate a disagreement, but what would be the point! thanks for the link. ‘fear of the animal planet’ looks like a good read.