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The Society of Partial Deterritorialization
Black Ice or Breakthrough?
What is “deterritorialization” ?
In Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze & Guattari propose a novel approach to political, economic and social transformation that is based on the difficulty that schizophrenia poses to standard forms of psychological order. They call this deterritorialization.
A schizoid, in a sense, is always one step ahead of the rational investigator — always providing a new, inconsistent claim that transgresses standard categories and carries the engagement into a place where authority does not yet know how to impose itself.
When the expert tries to deal with your seemingly sincere claim to be the Biblical Satan, they are already too late. Now quite insistent that your toes are in telepathic control. And, what’s more, you don’t even have toes!
The analogy to social and political action is very attractive. It is a shifting, protean, category-evading & deeply creative attempt to undermine the epistemological grid upon which existing habits of social control operate. If you are moved to challenge (or challenge forward) the existing systemic habits then gonzo is an important tactic. You’ve got to leap between zones, undefined yourself and risk nonsense in order to even have a chance to counteract a super-adaptable, global power system.
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The current inter-national political, economic, military and cultural order is superflexible, customizable & metastable. Join the government to change the government? Probably won’t work. Join a revolutionary movement against corporatism? Probably won't work. It is unbelievably good at dodging, ignoring, powering through and adaptively assimilating anyone. So if you think the seeds of injustice and planetary danger are embedded in that system then you may have to adopt an even more flexible and constantly-self-configuring strategy. You’ll have to constantly deterritorialize your efforts and accomplish fluid contextual shifts if you have any chance of staying one step ahead of the spider:
Yet somehow it is not that simple.
This is not just a matter of becoming the perfect techno-Taoist who slips the bonds of every ice-sculpture prison by turning into pure water. Water is always turning back into ice and, even in its liquid form, it has a consistent underlying molecular structure — implicit forms of order that cannot be evaded but only discovered.
The implicit structure is attractive to people who style themselves as post-deterritorializing & post-pluralistic. The agents of the great emerging and living cathedral of integrative trans-categorialism. Those folks expect, I’m sure, that if you make healthy links and conscious leaps across existing contexts of meaning you will eventually start to see-and-embody a supermap that provides the foundation for a psychological and social order that may truly solve many of our personal and collective problems. We may wonder how many schizophrenics actually solve their difficulties by producing a flexible, higher-order metamind. On the other hand, legends tell us that the shamans are those who have cured themselves…
Let’s put aside that happy ideal situation and look more closely at the ways in which the water becomes ice again. What happens as “the system” continually adapts to the deterritorializations?
It begins to resemble them.
Complexity, transgression, enjoyment, subversion, malleable identity, revolutionary rhetoric — these become, slowly but surely, hallmarks of the status quo. Consider these two examples from the United States:
The “tea party movement.” You remember the corporately-funded, pseudo-populist, right-wing backlash against the 2008 financial crisis? I would call them half-hippies. The very sort of people (rural, gun-toting, Christian, ethnocentric, patriotic, constitutionalist conservatives) who pushed back against the cultural revolution of the 1960s were suddenly having their own Woodstock! Here they were — out in public having deterritorialized communion, wearing crazy, colorful costumes, drinking and taking their drugs, trying to hold power accountable, insisting on their free speech & fighting “the Man.” Even directly challenging the limiting power of rational thought. It was like seeing people frozen halfway through the process of the cultural awakening. Are we looking at conservativism, partly deterritorialized, without ceasing to be pro-authoritarian, anti-socialist, quasi-sexist, quasi-racist, pro-traditionalist?
This week (early April 2021) two interesting things happened with the US Military (the largest and most powerful patriarchal-imperial military force in the history of the planet Earth — the definition of mainstream power). They confirmed that they will be using visual augmentation technology, organized by a quasi-AI, to direct soldiers AND they announced an official policy that soldiers will be treated according to the gender designation of their choice.
It was not too long ago that (a) self-authoring your gender choice (b) moving between real & virtual worlds (c) accepting the direction of non-human intelligences would all have been viewed as radical acts of deterretorialization — breeching conventional contexts of meanings and carrying human agents beyond the reach of the normative status quo power categories. Now, however, those acts are all firmly within the status quo power categories. Odd.
Well, perhaps we should not be surprised that deterritorialization deterritorializes itself by slipping past its own meaning?
Anyone who has lived in a place with a serious Winter will know that the most dangerous driving conditions are when then ice/snow partly melts and then refreezes forming “black ice” on the highways. Is that where we are now? Is this what Zizek is always complaining about: a new ideological constellation in which apparently revolutionary acts are already embedded in the regenerative control patterns of a system that, regardless of its benefits, is slipping off the road at high speed toward a cascading and convergent set of multiple crises?
Try to think all of this stuff altogether.
(1) The conservative-traditionalist appropriation of the forms of deterritorialization
(2) The rapid, dramatic & ongoing self-reconfiguration of the normative power hierarchy to express itself through the methods of deterritorialization — despite the fact that it must only partly accomplish this because of its need to retain control.
(3) The possibility of discovering deeper, more nuanced and more stable forms of organic order that can be mapped only by the experiential crossing of categories and novel linking of contexts.
Are we trapped in the refreeze of deterritorialized fluidity OR is this the transition to a new territory that can only be found through the risk of deterritorialization?