Towards Buen Vivir
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Towards Buen Vivir
The Power at the End of the Economy

Brian Massumi

Duke University Press
144 Pages; Print, $22.95

I'll hedge a bet: anyone who picks up Brian Massumi's Power at the End of the Economy is already open to the idea that rational choice is neither the subsequent nor the actant of neoliberal capitalism. Surely there are various exemplars of rationally based logics in the processes of the global economy. One only needs to mention the flows of exchange and debt, the complex algorithms, programs, and computer languages invented to place instantaneous trades, the high sophistication of investment vehicles of exchange traded funds, or the endless number of rational operators that take place at all levels and scales between people, industries, and computers in economic life. These processes are logical. They can be studied and understood. As Jodi Dean has pointed out, the rhetoric that derivatives, for instance, are too complicated for anyone but financiers to understand is nothing but a red herring to distract those who would like to know, popularize and potentially regulate an industry network that plunders both earth and people for profit. Take the whole of the economy together, however, and even those who never heard of Brian Massumi would agree with Deleuze's notion that capitalism is itself mad:

Everything is rational in capitalism, except capital or capitalism itself. The stock market is certainly rational; one can understand it, study it, the capitalists know how to use it, and yet it is completely delirious, it's mad. It is in this sense that we say: the rational is always the rationality of the irrational…. so what is rational in a society? It is—the interests being defined in the framework of this society—the way people pursue those interests, their realization, but down below, there are desires, investment of desire that cannot be confused with the investment of interest, and on which interests depend in their determination and distribution: an enormous flux, all kinds of libidinal-unconscious flows that make up the delirium of this society…

For his part, Massumi puts it somewhat differently, trying to unturn the screw and the screwed. This irrationality that is at the "end" of the economy is best understood, if we are going to be able to intervene in political life in any meaningful way, as "the affective arts." Indeed, as both Massumi and Deleuze suggest, the rationalities of economies, institutions, and even organisms, are emergent from a swirling chaos of movement, what in the quote above Deleuze calls society's delirium, that preexist those rationalities. These movements are not extinguished, however, with the emergence of the institution or subject. They exist within the object after it emerges or is birthed. The forces at work in the fertilization of an embryo that give rise to a human form, for instance, do not die once an organ is developed; they continue to traverse the body throughout its historical existence. In an organism, these movements manifest themselves as intensities and become known to us through emotion, but they are not the same as emotion, for they continue to move and exist in subterranean, unconscious ways, traversing our bodies outside awareness. Sensing intensities on an economic or global scale may seem more difficult because of the difference of scale, but in fact that distance of perspective as well as the cultural accumulation of knowledge reveals that whenever we talk about the madness of capitalism we're talking about intensity. There is both neither a shortage of capitalism's madness nor, as the Occupy and other related movements have shown, of its talk. We need more and better talk, and Massumi's effort to draw our attention to this more microscopic level is a positive, even necessary step towards taking into account the unseen and poorly understood positive energies that sustain movements and uprisings.

Intensity may name the force of the subterranean movement. Extensity, the movement as it escapes "bodily integuments." Affect the residue and registration of intensity as it passes or is blocked. Emotion the feelings experienced in...