A Deleuze for intolerable times

Andrew Culp, Dark Deleuze (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016). 90pp., £7.99 pb., 978 1 51790 133 2

This book follows in a sequence of deaths: Nietzsche’s Death of God (after Feuerbach), Foucault’s Death of Man, and now, with Andrew Culp, the Death of this World. As with its predecessors, Culp’s announcement of death is also an attempt at its actualisation. The book begs us to inhabit a deep pessimism: to ‘give up on all the reasons given for saving this world’. In Nietzsche, it is Zarathustra who makes the announcement of death. For Culp, the harbinger of doom goes by the name of ‘Dark Deleuze’.

In creating such a figure, the book launches a convincing assault on existing tendencies within Deleuzian scholarship, which, for Culp, has been wrongly overwhelmed by a “‘canon of joy’’ that celebrates Deleuze as a naively affirmative thinker’ concerned with ‘transversal lines, rhizomatic connections, compositionist networks, complex assemblages, affective experiences, and enchanted objects.’ Michel Serres, for example, is so convinced of Deleuze’s uplifting orientation of philosophy that he maintains a steadfast refusal even of the idea that Deleuze’s death was suicide, instead proclaiming that it must surely have been an accident.

Dark Deleuze is Deleuze minus Spinozist vitalism and joyful affirmation, or Deleuze as thinker of negativity, whose conceptual prefixes (de-, a-, non-, un-) are as commonly negative as the affects of monstrosity, screaming, the false, cruelty and war machines by which he was lured. To introduce us to this figure, Culp invents a set of ‘contraries’: third terms coming from ‘the outside’ that complicate simple oppositions between concepts. One particularly poignant contrary comes out of his reading of Deleuze’s conceptualisation of the subject. Deleuze’s idea of un-becoming is cast against assemblage-thinking which, for Culp, reduces subjectivity to the sum of a body’s capacities. Dark Deleuze’s subject is something more elusive, something that is always vanishing from preconceived identities, and, since we cannot predetermine what a body might be capable of, that is irreducible to any empirical tracing. Other conceptual contraries include ‘asymmetry’ (rather than complexity), ‘unfolding’ (rather than rhizome), and ‘transformation’ (rather than genesis), each of which invite Deleuzian scholarship to push beyond a vitalist impetus.

Yet Culp does more than offer a dark theoretical reading of Deleuze. He pushes Deleuze beyond Deleuze, or rather, he spins him towards a Nietzschean taste for destruction, giving rise to a more revolutionary alter ego. This is no longer the Deleuze that Slavoj Žižek famously critiqued for being an archetype of the cultural excesses of postmodern capitalism. Instead, Culp hopes to give name in Deleuze to a political figure suited to our times of compulsory happiness, overexposure and decentralised control.

This is a ‘barbaric’ Deleuze that avoids ‘the liberal trap of tolerance, compassion, and respect’, preferring instead a politics of escape, which involves becoming secretive, retreating from the biopolitical logic of transparency that is central to maintaining order in times of internet protocols and digital capitalism. Escape also pulls us towards the need to get rid of the ‘body’, or rather, of the body put to use for ‘useful labour’ in the form of capitalist labour or species reproduction. A Dark Deleuze resists, then, Antonio Negri’s incorporation of Deleuzian thought as an enthusiasm for ‘productivity’ as a central force around which to mobilise international action.

Finally, and perhaps most provocatively, escape is the refusal to engage the social: parliamentary democracy, news media, labour unions, and so on. Escape means leaving behind attempts at inclusion in society. This is a Deleuze who stands in line, for example, with those afro-pessimists for whom affirming blackness automatically affirms the oppression of anti-blackness violence, and against those (like Donna Haraway) who have sought to make Deleuze compatible with identity politics. If writers such as Jodi Dean view contemporary politics as stuck within a refusal to engage with parliamentary politics or any cohesive strategy, then for Culp this is where we find its fiercest strength – if only it would push itself further over the cliff.

What Dark Deleuze works towards is, in this sense, a powerful case for what Culp calls a ‘conspirational communism’ – a communism not reliant on any metaphysical consistency offered by the state, political parties or coherent identity. In this way, conspirational communism is much closer to the insurrectionary anarchism and communisation of groups such as Tiqqun and The Invisible Committee, than it is to a communism of pro-state Marxism, democratic socialism, left (and right) accelerationism or fully-automated luxury communism.

Dark Deleuze is a tiny book with large, even monumental, ambitions: ‘the end of this world, the final defeat of the state, and full communism.’ The pages are crammed with grand statements, swift movements and the sometimes premature brushing-off of diverse fields of study. This makes it easy, at times, to dismiss the book as simple provocation. In one particularly frustrating example, in which he makes a case for ‘cruelty’, Culp dismisses, in two snappy sentences, a multifarious swath of affect scholars. Cruelty here takes on a meaning different to the one commonly ascribed to it: cruelty is a dissociative force that unlinks us from ourselves.

While occasionally frustrating, moments such as these do not undermine the serious scholarship apparent in the book’s readings of Deleuze and Nietzsche. Instead, Culp’s text is more fruitfully read in the way one tends to read Jean Baudrillard’s later work: as hyperbolic writing that fulfils the political purpose of enacting shocks to thought. Nonetheless, Dark Deleuze’s announcement of the end of this world alone, however attractive its premises, will not suffice to bring it about. One is left, then, with the hope for more negative theories, analyses and actions; ones that not only assemble around the force of pessimism and the promises of full, non-state communism, but that also make them ever more tactile.