Interview with Luciana Parisi
© Luciana Parisi and Figure/Ground
Luciana Parisi was interviewed by Stanimir Panayotov. August 17, 2016.
“To Engineer the Time by Other Means”
Luciana Parisi is Reader in Cultural Theory, Chair of the PhD programme at the Centre for Cultural Studies, and co-director of the Digital Culture Unit, Goldsmiths University of London. Her research draws on continental philosophy to investigate ontological and epistemological transformations driven by the function of technology in culture, aesthetics and politics. Her writing aims to develop a naturalistic approach to thinking and technology. She is interested in cybernetics, information theory and computation, complexity and evolutionary theories. Her writing addresses the technocapitalist investment in artificial intelligence, biotechnology, nanotechnology. She has written extensively within the field of Media Philosophy and Computational Design. In 2004, she published Abstract Sex: Philosophy, Biotechnology and the Mutations of Desire. In 2013, she published Contagious Architecture. Computation, Aesthetics and Space. She is currently researching the history of automation and the philosophical consequences of logical thinking in machines.
Your work has been primarily oriented towards sex, not gender. However, you have had a good reception in both gender constructivism and the sexual difference tradition (which puts more emphasis on the materiality of the female body). These two traditions orient themselves differentially around questions of gender and sex as a dichotomy that organizes them accordingly. It seems to me that your work has been received well by different writers like Rosi Braidoti or Patricia Reed. Also, your work has very successfully flagged the interfaces between biotechnologies and postgender/posthuman ideologies. Yet you mostly stick with the biological datum of sex; that said, it is difficult to categorize your work as a “French theory” feminist. You were one of those people who created a language in the early 2000s to speak about biological sex in an accelerating global world. Has this interest changed and what is your intellectual evolution or alienation from the concept of sex in its biological dimension?
I guess my decision to think of sex, or the necessity of rethinking sex, was there when I wrote my book, Abstract Sex. At the time there was a lot of discussion about debunking sex in terms of its biological connotation; sex is given and biologically constrained and this is where the bias of sex/gender emerges, so the only possibility for us to act politically is through gender. And gender is performance, speech, articulation of language, or bodily performativity, in terms of signs, of signifier but, on the other hand, you had the cyborg, which was also operating on the level of gender hybridity as one possible questioning of essentialism and the sex/gender bias. My attempt at the time was, being incredibly influenced by materialism methodologically, to question the kind of enclosure of feminist politics within language, and especially within the framework of textuality. From this standpoint, my sole emphasis on sex was to say: let us go back and look back at nature, because we cannot just assume sex is a natural given and the only opportunity that we have to manipulate or to intervene politically is through proliferation of gender methodology or gender critique. I wanted to focus on both a philosophy of nature and also on sex.
The nature of sex for me was on a spectrum between rethinking the biology of sex and challenging theories of evolution, whereby sex was mainly understood in terms of reproduction, or in terms of sexualization, in terms of feminine/masculine. I turned to theories of endosymbiosis, influenced by the challenging work of Lynn Margulis, who welcomed me in her labs at Amherst, where I could understand more closely that endosymbiosis enables an evolutionary – hence material – understanding of sex as a mode, not only of reproduction but also of connection and transmission of information. And therefore we need to go to the very source of a theory of sexual reproduction and look instead at how, in evolutionary theory and especially in terms of what endosymbiosis provided, it is the beginning of life or of sex taking place; sex as transmission of information, how it actually works before a distinction of biological cells in terms of female and male.
It was very important for me to question the kind of dichotomy male/female based on the eukaryotic evolution of cells, the kind of cells that constitute all kinds of more complex organisms, looking at how bacteria actually invented or performed another mode of transmission, connection and exchange that was not determined by male/female chromosomes. I took Deleuze and Guattari’s idea of stratification (from their book, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia) to emphasize how nature is already stratified, to unpack a process of stratification within nature, by which there is this kind of molar, molarized mode of sexual diversification on the biological multicellular level. I guess the reason why this work was important for queer theory and especially post-gender theory was to look at how the materiality of sex poses the question of a multiplicity of sexes, so that we can intervene in rethinking the natural and biological constitution of sex and not just work on the level of gender, enculturation, gender signification. I aimed at extending intervention in the sex/gender binarism, or the sex/gender identification, and opening up sex to a plethora of sexes where bacterial, viral modes of exchange and reproduction were made of a different kind. They were not just mediated by male/female chromosomes. Important for me was the understanding of how mitochondria (the generic information transmitted from mother to daughter) was a different kind of code, a little viral code that, again, persisted within the molar organism determined by male/female genes. Together with male/female genes there is this other mitochondrial level of information transmission whose origin is bacterial; they would proliferate and be transmitted bacterially in a non-linear way and non-sexually reproductive way, by cloning. This allowed me to talk about a feminine, a generalized femininity, or feminization of sex, which I allied with the question: How do you become a woman? There is always a feminine within you, biologically and materially speaking. So that was the intervention: we need to look at nature and challenge theories of evolution not just in terms of discourse, but also in terms of what kind of imaginary and what kind of scientific evidence is a mode of sex that is not One, as argued by Irigaray. This not being One for me was to be explored through the analysis of the material constitution of a body. So that was my intervention at the time and I think that shifting towards a more computational and logical mode of understanding gender allowed me to add another level of intervention, to rethink code and abstract formal language too. It seemed that it was not enough to address a politics of sex based on complexity of nature and persistence of bacterial and viral and mitochondrial mode of sex activity, which goes below our perception of what sex is and what happens when bodies encounter each other. For me gender is the theory of sex, as it were, a kind of elaboration of a complex stratification on the natural level; an extension on the formal code of intelligibility of this complex; sex poses the question of how do we articulate it; that is, not just in terms of speech acts, or language performance or semiotic meaning as approaches that would exclude the material.
So can we call what you are describing data-mining of gender? Given that you say gender is already the theory of sex. The difference with constructivism is that you are actually going into the biological data of the performance of sex. While the tradition of reading gender as always already sex (and the other way around) does not necessarily explore the scientific data.
Yes. It is always very important for me to start from the material, the non-inferential, the incomputable or what is not being logically inferred through language or theory or thought or reflection or conception. On the other hand, you cannot pretend that before the theory of gender there is a tabula rasa. Instead, if the non-inferential level is important, it is because it is there to remind us that more theoretical adventures need to be deployed so as to expose the fact that the artificiality of gender continues in its techne, instrumentality; gender as a theoretical artifice, embedded in the instrumentalization of patriarchy, has created its own vocabulary, its own language, its own meaning and this allows for a political intervention on the levels of language, theory, signification.
What is feminist about your work?
I guess what is feminist about my work can be contextualized in relation to what the debate or the feminist enterprise is: on the one hand, to claim a metaphysics and hence, ontological and epistemological articulations of another kind. I would not relativize the feminine, but I would suggest that one has to politically understand the feminine becoming itself: historically, and ultimately, metaphysically. On the other hand, feminism has been the political moment of, and for, an artificiality of nature, embracing the historico-metaphysical condition in which the reproductive and instrumental body of patriarchal capital is also the moment of ontological origination, of the de-stratification of the feminine, of sex and of gender, precisely as instruments of patriarchal reproduction. For instance, I think that “queer” was initially deduced from a feminist mode of re-articulating gender that is not just reactive to the patriarchal system of norms, but is a way of re-inventing a mode of feminist politics beyond this reaction; i.e. as a way to claim another point of origination, unmaking the ideality of the sex/gender bias. So, queer politics is an extension of feminism. From this standpoint, one could argue that the feminist project of sexual difference still maintains a philosophical decision about the primacy of organicity of the feminine and maintains a kind of assumption about the femininity of nature, owned by the feminine body. My attempt, instead, was to extend the feminine to other modes of being. I guess it is still a feminist project, but a feminist project that wants to re-evaluate and emphasize the alliance with techne. For me, to think of gender in terms of artificialization, is a feminist project. This is a very difficult enterprise because you can say: Why, if queer allows you to think of these multiplicities of sexes and invention of gender of another kind, why is it still feminist? It is still feminist because initially, I think, if one does not become woman one cannot understand and intervene in the political project of what it means that the historical origination of the body of reproduction aspires towards autonomy and freedom in the articulation of the artificiality of all kinds.
This feels like a description of the becoming-woman debate in Deleuzo-Guattarian feminism (e.g. Camilla Griggers’ Becoming-Woman, as well as Dorothea Olkowski and Rosi Braidotti’s work). I am saying this because you have said you cannot just transition from becoming-man or being-man to revolutionary, that you have to go through the becoming-woman, and that is a very interesting thought – it is precisely on this point that Deleuze and Guattari’s work was always questioned in feminism, by certain strands of “choice feminism”; i.e. that they are reactionary.
Of course the kind of reaction is: yes, they are male philosophers, so it is easy for them to say “I am becoming-woman”, but it is also the kind of intellectual or conceptual tools they provide to look at the stratification of sex, to look at this kind of questioning of nature from within, that allows for a becoming-woman and the question of what it means to be in a minority position. To be in a minority position is something to be pursued, so the fallibility, the lack, the incompleteness of being is to be pursued as a mode of articulating and inventing others. It is a way not to erase the negativity of the condition, but to ask the question: How, from this condition, one can become a woman; what could this be? It is more like an experiment of which you have a partial hypothesis, a conceptual trajectory that has yet to be worked through by discovering proofs. There is not a given set of instructions that you can become a woman in this or that way. To become a woman is to experiment with a process of de-stratification, which is then entering and maintaining an understanding of zones of vulnerability, but then, from there on, it means to rearticulate this zone towards a constructive alienation, a speculative living of what becoming-woman could be. It is a going back in order to go forward.
I would like to continue on the note of “being a reactionary” in contemporary theory. You were sympathetic to and endorsed Laboria Cuboniks’ “Xenofeminist Manifestо.” The gist of the manifesto is to say that we have to reinstate the role of reason for how we do feminism in the 21st century. (I am also thinking of curbing off the dogma of gendered cultural specificity, which was part of the editorial programme in the recent volume by Katerina Kolozova and Eileen Joy After the “Speculative Turn”: Realism, Philosophy and Feminism, and especially Nina Power’s chapter “Philosophy, Sexism, Emotion, Rationalism.”)
What is proffered, one can say, is the re-abduction (per Peirce) of reason from a feminist perspective. Given this orientation and the feminist turn to biology and materiality, there is an ongoing worry: is not the feminist re-appropriation of reason a reactionary mainstreaming of “thought” within the very feminist tradition (which of course presupposes a “universal” kind of feminism)? As somebody who sympathizes with the “Xenofeminist Manifesto,” how would you respond to people charging Laboria Cuboniks as being unaware, right-wing feminist accelerationists, dangerously associated with the NRx and being a sort of digital maverick kind of steampunk feminism?
I have endorsed them because of their kind of rethinking and re-appropriation of rationality, of truth, of models for feminist politics. It comes at an important time in the crisis of critical thought: whilst it is impossible to erase the history of patriarchy, it is also true that one cannot abandon projects and remain trapped in the polarization of debates, especially disregarding the critical work of re-articulating the meaning of reason and the origination of other Enlightenment histories. This re-articulation is to be located between Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto and Sadie Plant’s Zeroes and Ones. My concern, however, is more specifically related to techne. The repurposing of technology for the origination of an alien reason. What has not been explored in this context, however, is a logic of techne that cannot just be repurposed for social and political ends, a logic of machines that is doing its own work: how to elaborate this relation of the logic of techne that develops its own reasoning with the idea of reason itself? The idea of reason cannot just be assumed or incorporated without this compulsive confrontation, the contemporary condition of media or technology, where reason is not accorded the same status as it was. Some argue that Kant’s understanding of reason is a general, completely artificial theorization of the relation between function, imaginary and conception. For Kant, reasoning was already artificial: it was constructed through layers and layers of intelligibility, imagination, conceptualization, function, and so on. But what is not accounted for in Kant’s model is how and what is reason once it becomes techne. The instrumentalization or mechanical reproduction of reasoning has forced reason to be more than the domain of human species. The xenofeminist reflection on the relation between gender and technology could perhaps be pushed further since you cannot just re-appropriate reason without looking at the logic of reason that has been challenged and changed from within machines.
And there have been modes of reasoning that originate through and within technology. On the one hand, the view that the xenofeminist argument is easily appropriated by reactionary argument is, for me, a rather weak assumption. It is true that it is not simply a question of inheriting a model of reason from Kant or a certain Kantian argument without doing the work of critique; that is, without unpacking how the Kantian model needs to be reassessed in the context of accelerationism, which is the context of technology and its capitalist use. On the other hand, the political possibilities opened by xenofeminism start from an awareness of a contemporary situation in which reasoning is debunked by its own tools, through theories that challenge and yet still argue against the formal model of reasoning without understanding that it has changed. You can look at the Kantian model and understanding of reason in terms of deduction logic, but looking at other logics, complexity logic, or abduction and other dialogical models, allows another view of logical reason involving dialogue, collectivity, sociality. For pragmatism, for instance, logic is not an abstract schema of ideas, but is something achieved through collective endeavor, that starts from a material reality that is negotiated, articulated, elaborated. So reason cannot be taken as it is; it needs to be worked with. And thus, if the account of reason for feminism does not do this work, then it may look reactionary, because reason will mainly be taken at face value. But one has to unpack, explain, speculate with reason. Some theories affiliated with acceleration, such as Ray Brassier’s, are looking at rethinking reason through Wilfrid Sellars and Robert Brandom, but also by questioning Brandon, who is working on another kind of functional pragmatism; i.e. pragmatic reasoning to undermine and re-write rationalism. In the “Xenofeminist Manifesto” you do not see that. Instead you see more of this kind of critical endeavor in some of their particular projects, but there is a lot of work to be done in order to actually say: we shall be going back to the Enlightenment project of reason so as to claim back alien versions of reasoning. But to claim it back requires taking into account the historical moment in which, in the name of reason, patriarchy and colonialism became enterprises of domination. The legacy of reason and the history of instrumental reason need to be debunked and reconstructed, and not just adopted.
How we ended up living in an age of accelerationist thinking? You were an important member of the philosophy group in Warwick and CCRU and my question here is historical. I was wondering, given your involvement in this group, and the way its achievements are rather far-reaching, how would you asses the overall influence of CCRU now that it has no longer existed for almost 15 years? What do you think were the main intellectual achievements of CCRU and its spin-offs/next generation thinkers, some of whom were (pre-)accelerationist?
The CCRU was really a moment, a place where one wanted to think of machines and through the medium. So it was very much about understanding the form of the medium, its structure and cold constitution. It was very much about entering the instrument. And this is the area of CCRU I was close to because it was also a story of many polarized views and there was certainly no harmonic consensus: there was another area of discussion that was much closer to a left political critique, another one that was closer to the critique of capital in terms of the capacity to deterritorialize and to tap into desire, envisioning possibilities of human escapism. Ideas of “no future,” the idea of capitalist realism (as for instance in Mark Fisher) were then developed. This kind of haunting time, the question of time and tapping into the capitalist capacity of anticipating desires, of becoming an engine of potential realities was already producing a simulated future for you. The kind of realism that this is the everyday and there is no possibility of utopian discourse or utopian re-appropriation or political resistance to capital. A sort of inevitable pessimism that could become hyper-realized to open other dimensions of existence, dragging you out into a larger black hole. What you could do is expose the realism of capital and its intelligence in order to embrace the human condition as fundamentally alienated from the ontology of being, and from the narratives of political projects that would deny the original alienation of the human under the obliterating destruction of capital. On the other hand, there was obviously the question of technology and gender, technology and sex, the influential work of Sadie Plant, where technology was seen in the spirit of the cyborg, but where there was a fictional experimentation for going further than that – as it started looking at this kind of parallelism or equivalence between the role of techne and the role of gender. And re-appropriating this equivalence between matter and techne so as to expose the instrumentality of gender into a kind of political project, which is still an undergoing project that I am trying to develop.
Another area was the work of Kodwo Eshun and the UK version of afro-futurism, and how this component was worked out by Steve Goodman’s vision on sound as weapon, and of the war machine of frequencies, speeds, polyrhythm, originating through the alienating possibilities of machines – as described in The Last Angel of History, the film of John Akomfrah. In the film, this question of alienation has become a constructive moment for embracing the alienation of the natural so as to say that yes, we are originally instrumentalized, but we are here, constituted in the autopoietic circuitry of Western metaphysics, but as a political subjectivity of another kind, and we won not subtend to the ideological critique of race or gender – yet again confirming the metaphysical circuitry. These discussions were very important for us. At one end, there was the obtuse fixation with the machine’s logic, with some of us spending lots of time breaking down the language of computation and then dealing with top-down models of artificial intelligences. And this techno-philosophical approach was, however, an approach from within culture and the cultural politics of gender and technology, race and technology, and capital and extended proletarization. This was a very multidisciplinary investment that we all had; we did very different research, but we all shared this kind of re-articulation of technology to think politics in a non-ideological way. And obviously fiction – fiction, the fictive ideality of hyperstition – was a method for inventing a political philosophy of another kind, and perhaps its divulgation today is something we have considerable reservation about.
I mean, not everyone was involved, some were; I say we, but hyperstition was an invention of the CCRU in terms of “to make our own future.” Invent the future, name the future to come. It was a kind of super-constructivist intervention in time. Hyperstition as a mode of articulating futurity within the present but not futurity in terms of a future to come but the actuality of futurity. Extrapolating as much potentiality as possible from the present, constraining, conditioning techno-determinism, techno-fascism, techno-racism, all that, extrapolating these potentialities to reverse-engineer them. We talked about reverse engineering of hyperstition. To engineer the time, the future, the present by other means. And to also create models: we did this work together with this group 0rphan Drift, a three-day event called “SYZYGY CCG” where there was a cultural and aesthetic production through coding, diagram, news, rhythms and spoken words. We were trying to work out an aesthetic of techne and politicize it on a micropolitical level. This work was influential, but what happened with CCRU was these super intense three years and then there was dissipation towards the singular construction of the areas that we were involved within. And this dissipation of the group happened because we all finished our doctorates, people left the university, there were all sorts of possibilities at that point, but then the kind of inheritance of cyber-feminism, afro-futurism, speed and politics, tribal culture (as with Kode 9), in relation to the dynamics of warfare, was enmeshed in our works. I remember at the time the book of DeLanda War in the Age of Intelligent Machines was very influential for us, together with Spinoza, apart from Deleuze and Guattari, and other versions of Kant and Leibniz. We were re-reading things through hyperstition as a method. And so I did my work, as did Anna Greenspan who works at NYU in Shanghai and who wrote India and the IT Revolution: Networks of Global Culture and late Shanghai Future: Modernity Remade, and another member, Suzanne Livingston, with whom we wrote “Amphibious Maiden” for the Abstract Culture pamphlets. So everyone did different things. but I guess the moment of the kind of inheritance we channeled in our work are examples of hyperstition and micropolitical interventions, so we thought about race, class, gender, which are reworked then on the level of techne, technology, means, instrumentality, use. My project is still there. I guess the fictive feminisms we explored are also a precursor of accelerationism. Of course accelerationism for us was influential through the argument of Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus because for us there was a way of questioning the human condition and Western metaphysics. The project of accelerating the human condition was for us very much influenced by the writings of Samuel Delany, Octavia Butler, and cyberpunk in general, as the idea that the human being is an anarchical being, one that has to be deterritorialized and gradually de-stratified to become something else, to incorporate evolutionary mutation within cultural turns, and an epistemological understanding of what humanity means and can become. Here accelerating capital was a motor of deterritoriailzation from the State apparatus. To deterritorialize normativity, so that other forms can emerge and become indifferent to normativity as a promise for another kind of subjectivity, of cultural production, of aesthetic invention. But I guess the jump between the deterritorialization of norms and the fierce architecture of neoliberal, and now post-neoliberal, State has to be constantly re-articulated because the ultimate project of total destruction is also part of the Enlightenment project. This is what can be understood in the terms of the Dark Enlightenment, a work that for me is (despite not fully matching with the originator of this thought, Nick Land), a way of fictionalizing the hyper-state of hyper-capital, hyper-austerity, the hyper-sovereign model of power.
Do you believe it is fictionalized?
No, that is me. I do not take the full actualization of the Dark Enlightenment at face value. It is totally seized by its active fictionality. It is more a provocation of what destructive destruction has become in terms of the war of capital against the hyper-state. I remember there was a period when we were reading Deleuze and Guattari’s chapter “Apparatus of Capture” from A Thousand Plateaus and there was this idea, this evocation of a super-strata, of super-flux, of a maximum mode of rigidification of the State apparatus – working as a kind of computational strata whose binary codes turn all contingencies of capital into a machine of smooth operations, as a problem solved by artificial intelligences governing corporations as city state corporations, implying how the machine of the state is reborn within capital in terms of state corporations sitting on top and against liberal markets in everyday reality.
Yes, exactly. Or the unnamable, the Cathedral. On the other hand, instead, you have the left accelerationism developed as a reaction, an elaboration of the deterritorializing capital, as a promise and emancipation of a Promethean progression within and throughout techno-sociality of and for inventing the human. It is closer to the cyborg model: let us align technology and completely rewrite what is the state of nature and the condition of the everyday vis-à-vis the domination of technology for politics and so on. So, in a way these are two polarized issues: on the one hand, the point of view of the Cathedral; on the other, technology as a promise for and of the Common. I think what is interesting for me is to look instead at, as I said before, the re-articulation of reason from within techne: one cannot overlook the fact that there is a computational elaboration of logic and a cybernetic development of dynamic statistics that is not subsumed to the deductive logic of reason, as we have inherited it from modernity. There are attempts such as the work of Peter Wolfendale who develops this idea of Artificial General Intelligence, with which I sympathize, because it is a way of saying it is not just reason as a faculty, but how reason is a social practice and extends beyond a presumed faculty to expose the germs of a future thinking in machines. Because there is this question: rather than no future, accelerationism is instead a pro-invention of the future and its enaction, looking at the possibility of creating a general language where local politics are entrenched in specific technologies and yet can be stretched toward a political project together.
When asked if she sees a parallel between her project of cosmopolitics and accelerationism, Isabelle Stengers made this comment in Architecture in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Design, Deep Time, Science and Philosophy in 2014: “I decline contrasting Cosmopolitics, whatever its shortcomings, with that trash – they are male chauvinist pigs, that’s all. I am only sorry for the memory of Félix Guattari, which they deface.” This is just one example on “being a reactionary.”
That is the perception of everyone: there is a bunch of white boys, and this is the case, this is what they are, apart from the xenofeminists, about whom you can still say that they are white girls… It does not seem too useful to me.
There is also afro-futurism…
Yes, and it needs to be brought back. It is super important to rethink cybernetics and race. I agree with that, as a kind of general comment, that one needs to be watchful of trends and “opinion philosophy,” but I also have reservations about the project of cosmopolitics because every kind of model is also a manifesto for thinking of politics in terms material and non-material, and dealing with science and technology. Obviously, cosmopolitics and accelerationism are very close. With the accelerationists, I guess, the perception of them, for those who do not know the work and how it has evolved, it just looks like a fashion trend. But I want to give it the benefit of the doubt and say: it is a much larger endeavor and we do not know how it is going to end, and to reduce it to fashion or trend, I do not know if it does anything for anyone because it is another kind of engagement with technology. Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek have their project, #Accelerate, the xenofeminists have theirs; they are all working on thinking about technology, culture and politics in their social capacities. Cosmopolitics may lay too quickly on the extensive network of non-cognition and the infinite degrees of networks between the smallest and the biggest, avoiding hierarchies and power. Accelerationism, on the other hand, is not denying the structures of power and the localities and situatedness of knowledge. However, it is also an effort to think of a generality without having replaceable links between nodes, while embracing the potentialities of hierarchies, structures, constitutions. So, despite the limits, why accuse them? Why cut off this kind of launch towards? One might not want to subscribe to it, fair enough, but it is not “better or worse.” I do not think we are in a position to say my theory is better than yours or that my political investment is better than yours. Instead, the recognition that these efforts are addressing what my political theorization is not, is a starting point for a dialogue.
A final question I have concerns the particularist perception of and work with theory: through class, gender, white male subjectivity, etc. Earlier you said: “To deterritorialize normativity, so that other forms can emerge and become indifferent to normativity as a promise for another kind of subjectivity, of cultural production, of aesthetic invention.” Yet lately, there is a tendency within queer theory to talk about the role of indifference, and a certain discovery of “queer normativity.” Indifference has already been a central idea in non-philosophy. There are evolving and competing notions of “indifference” and one way in which this has been put out there is Badiou’s work as well as by Laruelle and Kolozova, where the thesis is that the Real is closed-off, that it has access to us, but we have partial, mediated, decisional access to the Real. In the Badiousian version it is the other way around: we have access to the Real only through the evental, etc. In queer theory, Madhavi Menon’s Indifference to Difference: On Queer Universalism employs a Badiousian argument, where indifference takes over what is by now considered the standard understanding of the Deleuzian difference in queer theory. Rebekah Sheldon’s recent work also contributed to this line of thought. These are competing projects. Do you have a consideration of indifference as a concept? Does it matter or could it matter in terms of helping for the development of theoretical debates that seek to reinstate rationalism and universalism? Do you think indifference can be a tool for that? Given that in our embodied predicament we cannot escape the particularist/situated knowledge perspective; given that we cannot escape entirely the limitations of embodiment and how embodiment is implied in our theories.
Indifference, becoming indifferent is obviously a response to the mode of capitalization of variation. And the extreme inclusion of every kind of proliferation of difference in and for neoliberal capital. There are two levels: one is about different sources of capital, even the cybernetic hypothesis is about becoming indifferent, withdrawing from participation, interaction, becoming obscure, so that data can be extrapolated for capital, and so it is a political tactic to not be subjugated to capitalist search and famine for expanding the market. I do not know whether that works because what you are left with is the impossibility of naming anything, of reconstructing a political subjectivity. As soon as you construct that subjectivity, it is already captured, it becomes decisional, it becomes nominable, it becomes visible. So there is this type of suspension of decision that has become a kind of political tactic today to enable the Real to escape any level of capture. But, on the other hand, there is this idea of access to the Real, because the fact that we only ever have partial access to the Real does not mean that human culture is not forced to deal with the Real. The Real comes even if it is mediated; exactly, it is mediated, but it is necessarily mediated because there is no way you can have direct perception of the Real. For instance, the Laruellian model of non-decision, because of the possibility of a super-immanentism, as it were, does not allow for the articulation of politics and any place for reason, because reason is absolute decision, it just forbids any kind of articulation. It is a kind of articulation as a political space where there is a refusal and investment into a people to come or a kind of emergence of political agency or activity, which without articulation – I do not know where it is coming from – seems to fall into a kind of mystical wish. What the likes of xenofeminists and accelerationists are doing is proposing to reappropriate, reuse or rethink reason, to re-inject trust in articulations of all kinds in order to be able to invent a political project in a time that is super-saturated with indecision and indetermination and arbitrary choice, infinite networks and relativism. At the same time, it is not completely possible to think, as in Badiou, that indifference is how the Real enters in the world through events that cannot be constructed, argued, or articulated. To some extent one can agree with this point, because the Real comes and forces you to subscribe to a certain truth rather than another, because the situation is such that its own truth is posed beyond all previous decisions. And that is the truth of the Real that is posed; we cannot pretend it is not there and everything is always inaccessible. So there are interventions of the Real that ask indifference to be accounted for as such. You can take one or another position, but I think we are all clear about the fact that increased differentiation and variation is in fact already on the side of capital rather than the Real. It may be interesting to develop further how indifference – as both the mode of non-decision and as the mode of ingression of the Real beyond any concept – could indeed offer possibilities of articulation rather than, yet again, declare that the non-nominal and non-conceptual is the only chance for political subjectivity to persist.
This conversation took place on 17 August 2016 in Belgrade, Serbia, in the context of the Summer School for Sexualities, Cultures and Politics 2016, at the Faculty of Media and Communications, Singidunum University.
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