“Politics is not made up of power relationships, it is made up of relationships between worlds.” –Jacques Ranciere, Disagreement.
“Small love ain’t no kind of love at all.” –Toni Morrison, Beloved.
The power of worlds, not the World of Power
We begin with worlds, not with power. We seek to understand how to connect worlds, worlds that are fundamentally incommensurable. This is not a project to make one world, or even to unite all the worlds. We seek not an ideal flow of perfect communication. Rather, we begin with the premise that there cannot be one world, and we begin with the understanding that language is opaque. The place this paper begins is not a pessimistic place. It is not with the attitude of “Well, we make do with what we have.” I would not want to make only one world, even if I thought it were possible. So, the irreducible multiplicity of worlds is a source of superabundance and not a state of scarcity. Difference is a source of joy and energy, not an obstacle to be overcome. These are all tropes I return to.
It is important where we begin. It matters politically if we begin with our analysis with Power or with possibility. If we begin with Power and all its vicissitudes it means we start the mutilation of our thought. Our thought becomes mutilated by bending it till it matches the contours of Power in our practices of resistance. Suddenly, Power becomes all we are worried about. We begin our various analysis with wondering where Power is (or one of its vicissitudes; viz. inequality, domination, oppression, etc.), and therefore search everything for the taint of Power. In these hermeneutics of suspicion a certain paralysis takes hold among questions of “Can this be co-opted?” and “Is this a product of false consciousness?”. Our agency seems to become a double agent, and we are forced to denounce anything we think associated with power. Power’s perceived ability to infiltrate, infuse, and infect can be only meet by a resistance that puts up walls to keep Power out. Worlds, therefore, construct borders and police them to keep Power out. In this world of suspicions, denunciations, borders, and police I end up wondering, “Is this what we fought for?” So, we begin with our worlds, and the joy and energy we receive from them becomes the (un)ground of our politics. Power will be dealt with, but our antagonism to Power is merely the organic correlative of our desire for world connecting.
Laws, Egos, and Parts
The idea of Natural Law proposed by philosophers of Antiquity (such as Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics) was the predominate form of political philosophy in Europe for thousands of years. It conceived of the natural as the Good. The natural was not what already pre-existed before society, but it was rather the goal or telos that society must orient itself towards. What was required, therefore, was a Wise Man whom knew what the Good was and had the power to make society take the necessary steps in order to reach the Good. However, this view of political philosophy ended with the eighteenth and nineteenth century philosophers of Natural Right.
The Natural Right philosophers (such as Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau) conceived of the natural as that which proceeds society. Thus, we are treated with various theories about the State of Nature. Political philosophy, now concerned with beginnings, is interested in compact or contract theory. Civil society is conceived of as a way for atomistic individuals to resolve differences in ways that could not be resolved in a State of Nature. For Natural Right philosophers the problem of civil society is the negotiation of the correct way to limit the egoism of individuals. What we have then is no longer the question of the Good, but rather the negotiations of egoisms.
In neither conception of political philosophy is there any room for politics. Natural Law’s goal of thinking nature and law, physis and nomos, together eliminates space for politics. No one can object, “There is no room for me in your world.” because the point is not for you to have a place, but for you to know your place. However, Natural Right provides no more ground for politics. All that is allowed is for you to renegotiate your contract, and the only methods for this renegotiation are the ones already within civil society. Regardless, other worlds are only accepted so long as they remain out. This is the move of the private/public dichotomy; politics is only allowed so long as it enters and follows the rules of the sanctioned public sphere. But once we get to that point, it means the only way to have new worlds enter is for the new worlds to mutilate and assimilate. We have in either case not politics but the police.
David Hume, who worked during the time of the Natural Rights theorists, conceived of a political philosophy where politics is possible. As opposed to the Natural Rights philosophers, Hume did not conceive of humans as naturally atomistic. Rather, Hume thought humans were naturally partial. We are born into families, and therefore are born into collective social relationships and sympathies. However, our sympathies are reserved for only those within our sociality, or to put it another way, our sympathy is reserved only for people within our world. The problem is not how to limit egos, but how to extend sympathies. Civil society is not a question of contractual limitations and obligations, but rather it must be produced collectively. I do not necessarily agree with Hume’s answers, but I believe he proposes a useful formulation of the problem.
The Hunger of Being
“Protean being” (Anzaldua), “nomadic being” (Deleuze), “productive being” (Negri), “energetic being” (Lefebvre); all of these are conceptions of our living within a fundamental superabundance. Our being; protean, nomadic, productive, and energetic; is world making. In this sense not only do we belong to worlds, but we make them, and always have the power to remake them.
The origins of all great social change lie in mystification. In order for a revolution to end, it must seem as if both the revolution took place and simultaneously no future revolutions can take place. We come to believe that history is dead, that history is some rotting giant’s corpse that we live in. So maybe it is the perceived stench that has caused people to believe that change is impossible. Because I want to know, when did people’s dreams die? I want to shake people and yell, “When did hope become too hard to bear? When did love become so scarce you have to weigh every bit before giving it away?” I see the dreary eyes, their sad and pinched faces, as they tell me what I want is impossible. But isn’t that the only thing worth wanting? That’s what history is, after all. Stories of things that were impossible until they happened. Change is always possible. It lives in our bodies, it lives in life itself. We carry this power with us, all that it requires is our desire be big enough.
The hunger of being is always for new worlds. This striving, this hunger, is part of the expansive and energetic nature of our being. This hunger can be satisfied in two ways: One way is a colonialist or fascist desire that seeks to make all worlds one. This was the desire of the colonists, of the Nazis, and of global capitalism. It is both a genocidal desire, and a suicidal one. The Nazis made this very clear when they greeted each other with “Long live death!”. And like all suicidal tendencies, it is a deeply depressive desire. The other way is a revolutionary desire for worldly proliferation, founded upon the joy of creation.
Chiliasm; Or When Worlds Collide
One of the most fabulous conceptions of two incommensurable worlds connecting is in the idea of when Heaven and earth will meet. The conception of that time is called millenarianism or chiliasm. It has become a conservative ideology used to justify atrocities. How it came to be repressive is my concern here, rather I wish to explore the original, radical understanding of chiliasm. Chiliasm was the message preached by the Anabaptists, particularly Thomas Munzer. They were a protestant branch that was both communist and anarchist. The spread of chiliasm as a belief coincided with the Peasant Revolt. The Peasant Revolt is interesting because it represents the first modern revolution in Europe. What I mean by this phrase is that the Peasant Revolt was the first time a strata of society revolted against another strata of society. Until this time European revolutions had been about replacing political leaders. This is the first time that a strata revolted for itself. The other interesting thing is that the Peasant Revolt is not connected with any particular intellectual leader. The closest idea associated with the Peasant Revolt is chiliasm, and it is not a political philosophy but a certain energetic conception of time.
Chiliasm should be seen as a rejection of mysticism, and what is most rejects is a mystical conception of time. The mystic is always stuck either remembering ecstasies of the past or anticipating ecstasies of the future. Often people perceive revolutionary thought as stuck in a similar way; either in the romanticism of the past or a yearning for a utopian future. Chiliasm is not mystical time, but rather a profound presentness. Not present in that we all have some here and now, spatially and temporally, but rather the realization that within the present lays the possibility that which is inward can burst out and transform the world.
The Chiliasts expects a union with the immediate present. Hence they are not preoccupied in their daily life with optimistic hopes for a future or romantic reminiscences. Their attitude is characterized by a tense expectation. They are always on their toes awaiting the propitious moment and thus there is no inner articulation of time for them. They are not actually concerned with the millennium to come: what is important for them is that it happened here and now, and that it arose from mundane existence, as a sudden swing over into another kind of existence. The promise of the future which is to come is not for them a reason for postponement, but merely a point of orientation, something external to the ordinary course of events from where they are on lookout, ready to take the leap.
Making Faces, Making Love
There is something very profound in a mother’s threat to her child, “If you don’t stop making faces it’ll stay that way.” What is left unsaid is that if you do not make faces, you do not play with your face, then it is already stuck. Of course, what is more profound still is the children’s tendency to make faces. What is it that pushes children to puff out their cheeks, to roll their eyelids up, to curl their lips inside out? In short, what is it that pushes children to make faces exceed the normal range of human expressions and end up with monster faces? Yet is also a game I have not meet a child that does not enjoy playing. It is as if children want to see what their faces can do; see if their faces can be otherworldly, monstrous, alien, a mask; before they are taught to mask their faces. Making faces is what one does before we are trained to let our faces show only what we want them to show, before women are taught how to “put on their face”, before we have our poker faces.
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari spend a long time analyzing the connection between faciality and signification. It is the face that performs a particular signification that traps us in a regime of signs. One tries to “read” faces, or in turn, one keeps a face that says only that which is intended. Either way, we get trapped deciphering and guarding. Deleuze and Guattari explain that this process expands:
The head, even the human head, is not necessarily a face. The face is produced only when the head ceases to be part of the body, when it ceases to be coded by the body, when it ceases to have a polyvocal corporeal code—when the body, head included, has been decoded and has to be overcoded by something we call the Face. This amounts to saying that the head, all the volume cavity elements of the head, have to be facialized. […] But the operation does not end there: if the head and its elements are facialized, the entire body can be facialized, comes to be facialized as part of an inevitable process. […] Hand, breast, stomach, penis and vagina, thigh, leg and foot, all come to be facialized.
Deleuze and Guattari, in response to the total facialization of the body, go on to propose a methodology for dismantling the face. Gloria Anzaldua discovers the same problem of faciality in her Borderlands/ La Frontera, but deploys a completely different strategy.
She learns how to dismantle the faces given to her by making and proliferating faces. “I want the freedom to carve and chisel my own face.” She takes the faces of goddesses, serpents, and many more. She knows what the children know, the best way to fight signification is take the face beyond signification (which is why the children’s faces are always considered absurd). Many faces in one world, many worlds in one face. And when she writes, “Looking, always looking, and I don’t have enough eyes,” I want to respond:
And I don’t have enough tongues! How do I make a face? How many years have I been searching for a face? When was it that I woke up and decided I had lost my face? Which is really to say I had lost my ability to make my face. I want to pull out all my needle and thread, I want to learn to sew skin, to stitch up muscle, to lace blood. I want to learn how to add fur, scales, eyes, teeth, tongues. It is important to be able to decide where the holes will go, where the gaps in the face will be. I want to know how to add this face to my body, to change where the face will be. The functions of my face, the machinery of my face-- It’s chewing talking spitting kissing watching breathing hearing growing eating--all need to be redefined. Maybe I will make a face of a monster. Maybe I will make my face yours. Maybe I will have made enough faces to save one for a rainy day.
Of course it is true that adults make faces still. We see it when the body itself is experiencing things that exist outside of signification. We see it on the faces of people who are experiencing great pain or great pleasure. We see it on the faces of those that are “making love,” and it does not matter if the love that is being made is solitary at night or massive works of love of people trying to change the world. The faces of lovers are changed, transformed in making love (just as love itself transforms).
This phrase, making love, is one I have to admit to truly liking, but not for its euphemistic purpose. Rather, so often when we talk of love we treat as a place. We talk about finding love; we talk about falling in love. When we talk of making love the emphasis changes; love becomes no longer something that is stumbled upon, something that happens to us or exists outside of us. Rather, love is something we make, that we have to produce. And making love is always something we do with others, something that can only be done collectively. Love gets us entangled with others; the production of love is making worlds come together. The production of love is making worlds together.
The Plague of Subjectivity
Power is afraid of one word: contamination. Michel Foucault proposes a triad of Power; sovereign, disciplinary, and bio. Each form of Power is historically and spatially contingent, and all forms of Power to some degree or another work within the other forms of Power. Sovereign Power is the Power to kill. At any point a sovereign has the right to kill her/his subjects. The sovereign is also invested with the ability to steal from the end of production. Disciplinary Power is the Power over the body. Disciplinary Power works through spaces of enclosure that trains the body to be productive in certain ways. Whereas a sovereign may still from the end of production, in disciplinary Power one learns how to produce in particular ways. Bio-Power is the Power over life itself. Which is to say that it takes as its object populations, and seeks to control and regulate the populations. We could spend a very long time exploring and excavating all the nuances and meanings of the different forms of Power within Foucault’s work. However, what interests me is a particular commonality all the forms of Power have, a commonality found within the models that the Powers take up.
The Power of the sovereign is based upon the model of societal relationships to leprosy. Lepers were cast out of society, they were excluded. However, when a plague strikes it must be regulated, it must be contained. A series of precise partitions must be created and scrupulous upheld in order to keep the plague from spreading. It is this plague society that disciplinary Power is modeled after. Bio-power is not modeled after any disease, but rather modeled after the fear of racial impurity. With the rise of State racism fears are produced about how races will mix. Therefore a variety of controls are born in order to precisely regulate populations. What we have at all points are Power’s reactions to fears of contamination. Foucault understood this point well when he wrote: “Behind the disciplinary mechanisms can be read the haunting memory of ‘contagions’, of the plague, of rebellions, crimes, vagabondage, desertions, people who appear and disappear, live and die in disorder.”
This is why love is produces an organic antagonism against Power, because love entangles people, forces them to intermix, to contaminate one another. We must produce a plague of subjectivity, in which all our worlds are constantly connecting, constantly intermixed. This involves world-traveling as Maria Lugones explains it. World-traveling is a way of being in multiple worlds at once, it is a strategy that Women of Color have learned out of survival, but can also be a strategy of empowerment. The ability to love (in a non-arrogant fashion) is the key to world-traveling. This type of love is something that can be learned, and can be made. But a plague of subjectivity means something else as well. It means a valorization of your world to other worlds (not over other worlds); it means a joyful celebration of your life. A joy that is excessive is key here, because it must always exceed the confines of a world, it must spill out. We said that it is the multiplicity of worlds that provides our energy, and this is what I meant. The superabundance of being spills its creations in excess of the its world, and the joy and energy are taken from other worlds, and multiple.
World connecting is a joyous activity, but also clearly a life making activity. Valorization of life becomes the response to Power. As Deleuze understood while examining Foucault’s notion of bio-power:
Life becomes resistance to power when power takes life as its object. […] When power becomes bio-power resistance becomes the power of life, a vital power that cannot be contained within species, environment or the paths of a particular diagram. Is not the force that comes from outside as certain idea of Life, a certain vitalism[?]
The plague of subjectivity is spread through love and valorization of life. It is what our being makes, and forms our politics of joy.
The schema between Natural Law and Natural Right is set up in Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1965.
My understanding of Hume’s theory of human nature comes from Gilles Deleuze, Empiricism and Subjectivity. Trans. Constantin V. Boundas. New York: Columbia University Press.
To differentiate my use of the world making from Heidegger’s is the job of more than a footnote. So suffice it to say, any similarity is purely coincidental.
For more on the suicidal nature of fascist desire, see Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota 1987. pp. 229-231.
See Thomas Munzer, Revelation and Revolution: Basic Writings of Thomas Munzer. Lehigh University Press, 1993. Much of my understanding of Thomas Munzer has been influenced by Ernest Bloch’s Thomas Munzer as Theologian of Revolution, 1921.
Deleuze and Guattari pp. 167-191
Ibid. p. 170
Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands/ La Frontera. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1999. p.44
Ibid. p. 72
On the distinction of leprosy and plagues, see Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage Books, 1977. pp. 195-200.
On the fear of racial impurity, see Foucault, Michel. “Society Must Be Defended”. Trans. David Macey. New York: Picador, 2002. pp. 254-263
Foucault 1977 p. 198
Maria Lugones, Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003. pp.77-100.
Deleuze, Gilles. Foucault, trans. Sean Hand. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota 1988. pp. 92-93