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).