Hickman on The Life Death Drives

Here is S.C. Hickman aka Dark Chemistry’s rather generous and no less rigorous reading of my doctoral dissertation The Life Death Drives…

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“Myth is the hidden part of every story, the buried part, the region that is still unexplored because there are as yet no words to enable us to get there.”
      – Italo Calvino

“We shall defend the complications of our theory so long as we find that they meet the results of observation, and we shall not abandon our expectations of being led in the end by those very complications to the discovery of a state of affairs which, while simple in itself, can account for all the complications of reality.”
     – Sigmund Freud

“Visibility is a trap.”
     – Michael Foucault  

Cengiz Erdem in his work The Life Death Drives describing Foucault’s use of Hobbes’s Leviathan in his work on Jeremy Bentham’s Panoptican in Discipline and Punish as a “metaphor of the modern power structure which has nothing/ness at its centre” turns that allegorical beast into a machine, and continues saying that “this machine is itself in a process of transformation today, and is taking the form of something that is neither organic nor inorganic, neither visible nor invisible, but felt. This is power as affective force” (39). [1]  Erdem tells us that Foucault did not go far enough and that with new knowledge of just how technology operates subjects live in a fantasy land where they “pretend that they are free floating across the Superpanopticon” but are in truth “locked deeper into the Panopticon; there finding themselves dismembered, losing themselves in the terrible condition of being pushed further into the hitherto undiscovered corners of their own rooms, in their cells” (40). 

The boundary between life and death, organic and inorganic is erased, Eros and Thanatos have switched places and their very drives generate the affective force of this great beast of a machine whose very productivity is nothing other than illusion of a false Utopia where an “illusory sense of oneness with the world” exists.  Like flagellants in a self-imposed world of endless production of torture, these subjects “are locked in an agonizing process, which is destroying both of them” (41). Instead of escape, cannibalism is the order of the day. The consumer consumes himself in a commodity fetishism supplied by the Superpanoptic state: a machinic world in which consumer and consumed are both part of the endless production of pleasure as death. Between social and metaphysical production a new order of impossibility arises in which subjects live out a “non-illusory and non-antagonistic mode of being” (41). Through a use of Melanie Klein‘s theories of introjection/projection Erdem tells us that this new mode of being is “giving birth to the negativity of the other, or otherness as negativity” (41). We are “projecting all our bad qualities onto the others and then accusing them of being negative towards us” (41). As Slavoj Žižek is fond of saying, quoting from Mao: “There is great disorder under heaven, the situation is excellent.” 

Erdem’s thesis is a fascinating look at many of theories stemming from Freud, Lacan, Deleuze, Adorno, Marcuse, and many other threads of modern and postmodern cultural and political thought across the spectrum, it offers some interesting insights into those theoretical enclaves of the post-structural worlds. Yet, as he tells us his “aim was to theorize a practical way of looking at the world which could be turned into action in accordance with the demands of the present” (42). As he looked long and hard into these strange worlds of thought  he discovered a far more insidious power structure in play than these dark progenitors were willing to admit. He discovered that this vast machinic entity of power increases its dominance as it decreases its visibility, and that the slaves of this new system are governed not by a reality principle but by the pleasure principle. Think of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World rather than Orwell’s 1984

He agrees with Walter Benjamin who asserted that both the aestheticization of politics and the politicization of aesthetics in the wrong hands might turn out as part of a vast fascist propaganda machine. (43)  Yet, again, Benjamin did not go far enough, for what remains unthought is an understanding of the “ideology of representational and metaphysical conceptions of non-reason, which is itself the problem inherent in the structure of the system” (43). He explores the digital revolution in music and how its materialist “creative and experimentalists logics” are rewiring our inner landscapes producing unnerving affective relations among subjects that is producing not Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World but the Superpanoptican’s Rave New World:  a “world in which the well known and the so called lines between mind and body, fantasy and reality, nature and culture, organic and inorganic, life and death, are not just blurred, but have completely disappeared. And yet, at the same, these lines are in the process of reappearance” (46).  The transglobal beast of late-Capitalism exploits this new wave of electronic culture to its own benefit through the “exploitation/oppression of the life/death drives, as the inorganic replaces the organic, and the real of death in the midst of life is expelled” (48).

 The critiques offered by both Benjamin and Marcuse are no longer viable in this time in which the inorganic/organic divide is no longer clear cut, when the inside/outside have migrated into each other and a “reverse of the roles of the inside and the outside means nothing in this perilous time” (48). In our time one might even need to become a traitor to certain outmoded forms of thought, to “shake the foundations” of our subjective modes of being and produce new conditions of existence and form new paths toward freedom that “at least undertake opening up spaces so that light can shine among all, or death can manifest itself” (48-49). In a transglobal world the subject is a commodity, an object to be traded or substituted for other objects, an object in a vast infotainment system of desire and consumption that produces nothing other than the cannibalistic feeding of self and other. Organic machines that are already dead, zombies floating among the debris of late-Capitalism like broken toys of some merciless anti-god feeding on each other’s darkest desires: desiring machines without thought, producers of affectless objects consumed by a machinic god.

Our very philosophies are in support of this vast machine in that they have subverted the power of the subject, the self as antagonist or agonist of the heroic, as a heroic counter-force against this seething indifference, and instead they have produced or substituted in its stead a nullity, a subject without affect, the affectless subject: a subject that is no longer organic, but inorganic; one that has been zombified, in which difference is no longer a differance  but a mindless nothingness in which the “subject no longer has to carry the burden of being different” (52). As Erdem makes explicit, we exist in a time in which global capitalism is “creating not only the conditions of possibility for the subject to forget itself but also the conditions of impossibility for a remembrance of self, producing the non-knowledge of self as the counter-knowledge” (52).

That I cannot do justice to this fascinating work in a short space is to say that it is a work to be pondered and incorporated into one’s own ongoing thoughts, to be returned to and challenged and teased into a new counter-philosophy that might portend a new mode of being toward freedom. 

I will allow only for a final tour of the Stoic and Skeptic that Erdem gives voice to at the end of his unique thesis:

Stoic: I think we who are alive, or at least think we are, are infinite beings by nature, but turn into finite becomings in and through our cultures. I say we are infinite beings because infinity has no beginning or end, so it’s impossible for an infinite entity to be a becoming, only a being can be infinite, whereas a finite entity has a beginning from which its becoming starts taking its course and comes to a halt at the end. Since the concept of time is a cultural construct imposed on nature by human beings, because we see other people die, we have come to imagine that we are limited by finitude and surrounded by infinity, when in fact it is the other way around; that is, we are infinite beings and death constitutes an internal limit to our being in the world, giving birth to our idea of ourselves as finite becomings. Do you understand? 

Sceptic: Yes I do. We don’t have to strive for immortality, for we are always already immortals who are incapable of realising their immortalities. 

Stoic: Shall we leave it at that, then?

Sceptic: Let’s do so.

Stoic: No last words?

Sceptic: None at all.

Stoic: No worst of all words.

Sceptic: None worse than last words.

Stoic: Well then, the end to which we are all devoted shall be to raise our glasses to this worsening suffering!

Sceptic: To what end last words?

Stoic: To what end suffering?

Stoic and Sceptic: Oh, dear!   

1. Cengiz Erdem, The Life Death Drives, The University of East Anglia  (May 2009) 

via Dark Chemistry


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