In 2016 Rome hosted the Deleuze Studies Conference, which was graced, over a period of three days, by close to two hundred speakers. Their papers covered such topics as writing-machines becoming sorcerers, rhizomatic object-orientated ecologies of garbage, voids and virtualities in quantum mechanics, and the like. It was, to borrow a line from Andrew Culp, whose Dark Deleuze is the object of this review, a massive gathering of “rootless rhi-zombies, dizzying metaphysicians, skittish geonaturalists, enchanted transcendentalists, passionate affectivists” (1), and other Deleuzian spawns from across the body of the Earth. Although there may have been a time when Deleuze was difficult to digest, today he is being thoroughly cannibalized by the academic establishment, and the twenty first century looks on course to become Deleuzian indeed: affirmative, connected, and inescapably joyful.
Dark Deleuze by Andrew Culp, the aforementioned booklet of seventy pages, hopes to frustrate the dominance of the happy Deleuzians in order to salvage a minor deleuze that might, with luck, avoid capture both by the affirmationist bloc and by its techno-apocalyptic rivals. Does it succeed?
BLASPHEMING AGAINST THE WORLD
There was a time not so long ago when would-be revolutionaries rallied around the banner that said ‘Another World Is Possible!’ Nowadays, after financial meltdowns, imposed austerity, and subdued radical governments, with the promise of violence not just on the outskirts of Empire but within the very center of the hegemon, such hopefulness from the previous decade appears quaint at best. Instead, ‘There Is No World For Us :’(’ would be a much more fitting expression of the revolutionary sentiments of the present. To find a book like that of Andrew Culp, then, which argues in favour of a “mad black communism” (43) that avoids “any temptation to engage the social” (48) and “wants to consume the flesh and blood of the entire cosmos” (53) for the purposes of bringing about “the Death of the World” (64)—in a time like ours this is not very surprising.
What is genuinely unexpected, though, is that such a dark little book advocating the destruction of the world would take its cues from nobody else but the “lava lamp saint of Californian Buddhism” (7), Deleuze the great affirmationist thinker himself. Obviously, it requires considerable effort and ventriloquism to make Deleuze speak in such foul language, and the question naturally follows: Why bother? Possibly because, in spite of organized international efforts to tame and integrate Deleuze into the contemporary circuits of neoliberal knowledge production, there is a hard kernel there that even the sharpest tools of the intellectual factory have not been able to breach yet; a hard kernel of radical thought that can be utilized against the very factory itself.
To pervert its chosen philosopher, Dark Deleuze follows a tripartite logic of argumentation supposedly embraced by Deleuze himself: polemics—recovery—substitution. If we were to schematize the content of our object of review along those lines, the result might look like this:
|ANTI-CONNECTIVISM||DISTANCE||secretive and conspiratorial “mad black” communism to Destroy the World|
The style of writing taken up by Culp is aesthetic rather than analytic—“Nietzsche contra Kant” (65)—and, in line with its conspiratorial thesis, can be a little cryptographic by way of embellishment. Therefore, our task should be, rather than restating the critiques of connectivism, productivism, and ontology, to break the cipher and decode the meaning of the most singular part of the book: the substitution.
What, exactly, does it mean to destroy the world? It is important to remember that Dark Deleuze is not a manual for immediate street activism; rather, it is a manual for thought. As such, ‘the world’ refers less to the practical realm of politics and more towards the intellectual, where destruction means doing away with consistent ontologies and those who would congeal Deleuze into a metaphysician of unbounded (and deradicalized) production of natural philosophy. Instead, Culp reiterates the importance of the outside, which undercuts attempts at a stable set of categories and concepts.
What does it mean, exactly, to “cast a line to the outside” (38)? Dark Deleuze, ingenious as it is at bringing attention to the importance of the outside for deleuzian thought, flounders a little bit when it comes to articulating what the outside is. No wonder: it is certainly difficult to speak of that which is nonconceptual (or is it pre-, infra- or a-conceptual?) and which comes at us from the unawares. Perhaps, as a start, it is important to simply affirm that the outside exists, against all the theses of Empire and the like, which pronounce that there is no longer anything except for capitalism? Of course, it is imperative to not attach any transcendent meaning to the outside, but it is also just as important to not treat it as a mere epiphenomenon created by the system itself: The outside is neither otherworldly nor the fertile excrement of the system; it lies in the dark interstices between various nodes of the connectivist network, to be taken up by the right conspiracy.
What, exactly, is a conspiracy? To begin with, it “is not the pursuit of the ineffable or sublime, as it is neither esoteric nor mystical” (69). We could, instead, treat the conspiracy as a form of self-care or subjectivation, premised upon escaping the demands of transparency, availability, and openness; an adoption of secrecy as a mode of living. Furthermore, this secret at the heart of a conspiracy is an open one: “Even if she ends up spilling everything, it turns out to be nothing” (18). Under the dispositif of confession, conspiracy involves becoming a secret oneself (becoming-secret?), yet, paradoxically, secrecy is not a retreat into some gated anarcho-commune, which would only foster cheap escapism; on the contrary, it is public to the extreme as an open (and tautological) confession of keeping secrets whose only content is the formal secrecy of the conspiracy itself—a lunatic Kantianism.
At last, what constitutes, exactly, the death of the world? “Each death denounces a concept as insufficient, critiques those who still believe in it, and demands its removal as an object of thought” (66). The death of the world, a critical discursive project, could not be further away from vulgar violence. Instead, one could very well construe it as a call for the end of messianism and its concomitant attempts at purifying, redeeming, and saving the world, all of which tend to lead to the auto-immune disasters of the political system. The world (as a concept, as an organizing discursive function) has fallen—there is nothing left to salvage, and it was not too big to fail.
In the face of this demise and death of the world, Culp is quick to caution against taking the easy way out and “founding a new order on a new image of world” (30), thereby supposedly replacing a flawed ontology with a corrected one, like, for example, switching an affirmationist one with another based on negativity (which would only turn out to be yet another affirmationist construct). For once, negativity needs to run its course, unbounded and unshackled to anything but the most negative diagram of ‘destroy this’ and ‘remove that’. The name of this destructive motion, we are told, is communism.
BLASPHEMING AGAINST DARK DELEUZE
It is perplexing to find communism playing such a central role in the work of Culp, for whom nothing of this world must be kept, and yet few things are as much a legacy of this world and this modernity as communism. One can almost see a potential betrayal of the conspiracy already present in the dark text: We will destroy everything except the one ray of light that happens to agree with our disposition, and so forth. Perhaps this is a result of a slight hesitancy that is present in Dark Deleuze: on the one hand, ”[a] truly dark path undoes everything that makes up this world” (45), and yet “the ultimate task of Dark Deleuze is but a modest one: to keep the dream of revolution alive in counterrevolutionary times” (19). An immodest call to destroy the world downgraded to a modest task of preservation—a contradiction, an absurdity? Let us call it a needless swerve and provide for Andrew Culp the same advice he gives to the Deleuzians: Shed your final bits of shame and modesty, let go of your last worldly possessions, and embrace a life without world and without communism.
The proposition of daylight conspiracy is also a problematic one. The call to resist total transparency and the accompanying transnational regime of surveillance is certainly a worthwhile one, but the form of the open conspiracy, shorn of any historical considerations of how such publicly conspiratorial regimes actually worked out in practice, sounds naive at best and, at worst, is susceptible to the materialist critiques of totalitarianism that emerged in the twentieth century. Moreover, the conspiracy devoid of specific content has to face up to the same vulnerabilities as does any empty formalism, most importantly, the possibility of such a formalism being easily co-opted by forces much less disposed towards the revolutionaries.
This brings out the most acute problem of the text: it is one thing to invoke Nietzsche contra Kant, and another to live up to it. Whatever his style, Nietzsche had more than aphorisms and abstractions to offer, whereas Culp borrows the hyperbole but not the substance. To blame is the rapidity of the gloss: Dark Deleuze certainly references plenty of material by Deleuze, but it cruises past it at the speed of light. The resulting impression is one of inflated grandiloquence and minimal context, of unmoored statements that have little to no backing other than the self-proclaimed Nietzschean authority of the writer. A more accurate slogan for such a mannerism might be ‘hipster abstraction versus theoretical rigor’.
Dark Deleuze would like to see itself as an untimely book, but whether that is true, again, is another matter. On the contrary, its timing could not be better and more appropriate as it takes up the much-needed mantle of resistance against a majoritarian trend, along with many pressing political issues. A truly untimely book we would not even be capable of registering, so out of step with the times it would be, whereas this text is a prominent war-machine against an intellectual behemoth and a global trend. Dark Deleuze is timely to the point of embarrassment, therefore becoming uncomfortable—reaching such an intensity of discomfort, perhaps, whereby it reverts itself into a form of untimeliness after all…
Returning to the initial question—does Andrew Culp succeed in resisting the affirmationist bloc in favour of a minor deleuze?—the final response cannot be anything but ambivalent: Dark Deleuze certainly points in the right direction without engaging it in a meaningful way. Of course, the book is a very short and tiny one, printed in a series based on blog entries and other forms of piecemeal communication, but then why the grandiose tone? Adopting a style of overstatement as means of unnerving the reader is legitimate, but using it as a justification for lack of substance is not. Unfortunately, a minor reading of Deleuze still awaits its dark interpreter.
Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism
1. Deleuze with a capital refers to the major Deleuze as he has been integrated into the academic world: affirmative of everything, on the side of totalitarian immanence, the beloved of resistance. Uncapitalized, deleuze conjures up his minor double—harder, colder, apocalyptic—whom authors like Andrew Culp are attempting to claw back from the Church of Affirmation.
Culp, Andrew. Dark Deleuze. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016.