CentreCATH Home Page CongressCATH 2005 The Ethics and Politics of Virtuality and Indexicality
SpacerSpacerIntroductionVenueProgrammeSpeakersPanelsPapersRegistrationUK TravelAir TravelHotelsBook FairSponsorsChangesCongressCATH 2006Spacer

The Future Birth of the Affective Fact

Author: Brian Massumi, Department of Communication, University of Montréal.

Panel: Plenary I, Thursday 30 June, 17.40 - 20.00.


This paper attempts to extend Michel Foucault’s analysis of neoliberalism in the most recently published seminar, La naissance de la biopolitique (2004), toward an account of post-9/11US neoconservatism. Foucault describes a new regime of postdisciplinary power associated with the mid- to late twentieth-century “economization” of government. This mode of power takes personal interest as its object, and as its form of rationality a “calculus of risk.” It will be argued that a further mutation has more recently taken place in which the object of power has shifted from personal interest to prepersonal affect. This regime of power can forego a systematic deployment of rationality, operating directly as a sensibility whose logic is image-based and directly perceptual. The mode of operation is no longer predominantly a calculus of risk, but a semiotics of threat. Neoliberal rationality as described by Foucault already hinged on a certain pragmatism privileging the indexical sign (the economic indicator as the rule of government action). Under the current regime, calculated risk is displaced by the preemptive response to ever-present danger, triggered by signs of alarm. This orients the index toward a future event whose advent is struck by uncertainty; or, to quote George W. Bush, toward “an eventuality that may or may not take place” (a virtual event that inhabits the present in the mode of futurity). The smoke precedes the fire: indexicality now functions on a future-present axis. This creates a decisional time-slip which makes a paradox of any attempt that might be made to legitimate government action juridically (the crime must be punished before it occurs) and which tends to disarm ideological argument (over which the virtual necessity imposed by threat takes precedence). What from the point of view of governmental rationality is a paradox makes perfectly circular sense affectively. The affective circularity drives a preemptive logic which begins to govern more and more domains. The paper will appeal to the work of Peirce for assistance in exploring some of the semiotic and political consequences of the index as sign of a virtual event.



Brian Massumi teaches in the Communication Department of the Université de Montréal. He is the author of Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Duke University Press, 2002), A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari (MIT Press, 1992) and First and Last Emperors: The Absolute State and the Body of the Despot (with Kenneth Dean; Autonomedia, 1993) and editor of A Shock to Thought: Expression After Deleuze and Guattari (Routledge, 2002) and The Politics of Everyday Fear (University of Minnesota Press, 1993).

Arts and Humanities Research Board School of Fine Art, History of Art & Cultural Studies University of Leeds