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Deleuze and War:

Gilles Deleuze’s work displays an intimate relationship with the problem of war. Beginning for instance with his highly original co-authored Treatise on Nomadology, he borrowed from an array of sources including anthropology, military strategy, the human sciences, literature, aesthetics, and history, not only to illustrate how the ‘State itself’ has always been formed ‘in relation with an outside’, but to expose us to a whole plethora of competing dualisms which when combined constituted the very of order of historical battle: nomos/polis, smooth/striated, deterritorialisation/re-territorialisation, lines of flight/lines of articulation, active/reactive, movement/strata, rhizome/aborescent, minor/major, singularity/totality, heterogeneity/homogeneity, molecular/molar, so on. Importantly, for Deleuze, when this nomadology versus the State narrative was subsequently coupled with his and Felix Guattari’s concept of the “war machine” it then at once became possible to offer an alternative reading of the history of state power which, exposing the war like origin of all modern forms of civic ordering, posed uncomfortable questions for those grounded in the peaceful sermons of conventional political orthodoxy. For the history of State politics becomes the continuation of war by other means. The history of state power is fractured and multiplied if we consider the ways in which military force and warrior logic operates at the level of the unfolding of social relations rather than simply from the perspective of sovereign statehood. Once this perspective is adopted then our entire understanding of social and spatial ordering, the role of science, the deployment of technologies for rule, the formation of power/knowledge relations, the claims to truth and justice, along with the function of aesthetics factors accordingly.

Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the war machine was worked out in the context of the global confrontation of the Cold War, in which hair-trigger ‘nuclear security’ produced ‘a peace still more terrifying than fascist death’, whereby the spectre of war seemed to determine the conditions for international and domestic politics. Rather than be subject to control by the state, the war machine began to take control of the state and directly invest a particular configuration of global (in-) security. However, the Cold War genesis of the war machine concept does not mean that it has nothing to offer a post-Cold War, post-September 11th. Deleuze’s essay ‘Postscript on Societies of Control’ indicates the ways in which he saw the security environment changing to one of modulated control and the management of flows and circulation, rather than the strict policing of identities. The concept of the war machine itself seems to resonate with the post-September 11th world in which the nature of threats unclear and ‘unknown unknowns’ determine military planning. Indeed, it is arguable that Deleuze more than any other is the ideal philosopher for helping us make sense of today’s radically interconnected post-Clausewitzean security terrain. Something which has certainly not been lost on some of the key centres for strategic affairs, such as the RAND Corporation and the Israeli Defence Force, who have operationalised Deleuzian principles to enhance military efficacy.

With this in mind, it was our conviction that an edited volume which specifically dealt with “Deleuze and War” was long since overdue, not in order to definitively pronounce on the relationship between Deleuze and War, but precisely to gesture to the multiple lines of engagement and intersection between Deleuze’s work and contemporary problems of war, peace, security and resistance. It is our hope that this volume serves to catalyse a consideration of Deleuze in the context of war, and to open up debates and lines of enquiry that may enrich our engagement with the often dispiriting problems of militarism and security.

Brad Evans and Michael Hardt discuss the extent to which civil war is no longer understood primarily through the prism of sovereignty. This is to say, with the primary mode of warfare no longer taking place between states, or for that matter within states for the acquisition of state power (as in conventional civil war), then the once familiar location of ‘war’ in relation to ‘peaceful politics’ now becomes intensely problematic. To put it another way, in focusing exclusively on the relationship between sovereignty and war, we are in danger of becoming blind to the iterations of war/governance which generate the conditions of possibility for everyday politics. Indeed, as Evans and Hardt suggest, while Liberal forms of governance are increasingly unhindered by the muddying of the waters between ‘war’ and ‘not war’, Liberalism itself as a framework for a politics concerned with emancipation and resistance might be fatally imperilled by the generalised state of war. Not only does this suggest the need for a rethinking of the politics of the left, or of radical democracy, but also that this new politics should take account of the ways in which modern strategies of rule are dedicated to the differential production and organisation of bodies in ways which determine the possibilities for resistance, and make the emergence of certain forms of life complicit in the martial logic of rule. Examples include the potentially redeemable body of the insurgent, the life-inimical body of the terrorist, and the inviolable and valuable body of the US soldier.

What this means is that one can no longer assume that war is fought according to the structures of friend/enemy, them/us. Instead, it is that the production of these categories (and the multiple sub-categories that populate them) which itself is internal to ‘war.’ In turn, this necessitates a change in the way in which we think about war, which becomes less associated with transcendent categories of power (good/evil, friend/enemy) such as are associated with a moment of sovereign decision, and more concerned with the immanent production of identities and lives: with what we might call a political economy whereby the production of life is itself the production of war. Economy thus becomes as great a concern in the analysis of contemporary war as the transcendent principles of law and sovereignty. Hence, whilst the ‘exceptional’ instances of transcendent sovereign domination are easy to find in the recent past—as with, for example, Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib—these, Evans and Hardt suggest, may not be the essence of the current paradigm of war. Indeed, there is a potential danger for a politics of resistance or criticism in focusing exclusively on these dramatic examples of sovereign rule. This has the potential to conceal the ‘normalised’ ways in which power operates, through the juridical policing of humanity, through the production and organisation of life, through the regulation of flow and exchange in accordance with the predicates of the economising facets of global Liberal rule. It is to these that we must turn if we are to conceive a politics of resistance adequate to the task of confronting the multifaceted dimensions of war and the martial economy.

Laura Guillaume begins the interview with James Der Derian by broaching the militarization of Deleuzian concepts. Whilst for many this tendency is problematic, as Der Derian reminds us, the militaristic appropriation of critical thought reveals a clear genealogy of (ab)use. While Der Derian invokes the experiences of Derrida, Foucault and Virilio, one could have also added here Nietzsche whose malicious appropriation by the forces of fascism still leaves him somewhat tarnished. Indeed, he argues, given the evident conceptual richness of the authors in question, is there any wonder that the military would be equally seduced? Hence, that there remains a possibility for concepts which have the aim of “liberation and resistance” to be turned into concepts for “occupation and destruction” serves to be a healthy reminder us all that our works may further rationalise the war machine. Against this backdrop, Der Derian attends specifically to the collapse of the meaningful distinctions which once marked out Clausewitzean war. An active agent in this has been what he terms the MIME-NET (military-industrial-media-entertainment network) which actively producing the conditions for war, conditions the theatre along complex, adaptive and networked lines. Importantly, for Der Derian, since the onset of a global state of war inscribes the war machine with a “virtuous” quality (understood in terms of technological and ethical supremacy), then to understand more fully the political implications it is necessary to have a more sophisticated analytic of the composition of global war machine. “It is all too easy, he argues, “to dump this all on Bush’s doorstep.” Liberals too have a vested interest in all this.

Der Derian’s analytic of the MIME-NET points to the oxymoronic nature of virtuous war. A war that seeks to secure its peace through technological enforcement cannot achieve anything other than the creation of new political problems. The stage is thus set ‘for endless cycles of conflict in which worst case scenarios produce the future they claim only to anticipate.’ Fulfilling the prophecies of ones own making, the war machine is therefore not only virtually endowed, but in the process of going to war it actively produces the reality of the situation. With this preemptive rationality in mind, Guillaume poses the use of Bobbit’s strategic conflations between the human and the natural in order to make sense of this new virtual terrain. Supporting the notion that pre-emptive action “colonises the future,” Der Derian explains the absurd quality to all this in the sense that our interventions even take the “evils yet to be born” to be their object. This certainly offers some lessons to us— especially concerning what not to do. Pre-empting evil is not only ludicrous; it has proven to be disastrous. Provoking threats simply ups the ante. Nevertheless, there is some optimism to be gleaned, for if this century can be called Deleuzian then it will be realised in the active counter-production of heterogeneous media whose cultural outputs have the potential to change attitudes far greater than any political program which claims to hold the key to universal truth.

Julian Reid’s paper addresses the function of the concept of war in Deleuze’s thought, starting with a consideration of its role in transforming representative practice, as outlined in Cinema II. Reid is troubled by Deleuze’s assumption of distinctive pre-and post-war cinema (and representative practice more broadly), and his suggestion that the Second World War brought about a schism in the way that representation functions. Whereas pre-war cinema is concerned with the representation of ‘a people’, post-war cinema arises out of the recognition of the impossibility of this task. Indeed, not only is the representation of the people now impossible, it is undesirable, as it reinforces a fascist fetishization of people as being of a given identity or type. Post-war cinema focuses on gesturing to this very impossibility, whereby the people are always missing or ‘to come.’ The problem here, according to Deleuze’s own discussion of war in A Thousand Plateaus, is the supposition that war is something extra-cultural, extra-representative, which can influence culture and representation from without. On the contrary, Deleuze is elsewhere at pains to insist that war is immanently cultural and aesthetic, and indeed, that we can see certain modes of culture and aesthetics as themselves constituting ‘war’ on established forms of cultural practice. In other words, cinema itself might be a war on convention: in Deleuze and Guattari’s terms, a ‘war machine.’

This changes the stakes of the analysis. Rather than seeing a linear progression from one form of representation to another, what is called for is the understanding that culture and representation are themselves always being taken up by a war machine, oscillating between capture by the state and escape in a line of flight. While the former may faithfully reproduce images of the people and the territory, the latter produces only the inescapable flight into incalculability where the people are always missing and the territory shattered. War is an amalgam of cultural and political affects which may swing between two poles: obedience to the state and the deterritorialisation of all the state stands for. Reid suggests that Deleuze makes use of the figure of ‘the seer’ in modern cinema, who is engaged in an encounter with the ‘the intolerable’ and thus is always pointing to that which is outside the frame and beyond representation. However, Reid argues that the seer becomes enmeshed in cliché and is therefore bound to a particular time-frame (1945–1968) in terms of the distortion of cinematic claims to truth. More broadly, sight itself becomes thoroughly contaminated with military logic, as outlined by Paul Virilio, whereby perception, capture and domination become part of the same affective moment. Reid suggests that rather than identify the ciphers of deterritorialisation in postmodern cinema, we would do better to focus on the processes of state capture and escape, through which we can access the ongoing flux present in every relation to the state. At these crossroads, where the macro-and micropolitical encounter each other, the people are at stake.

Brian Massumi addresses the tendencies of contemporary war, which were intensified though not caused by September 11th 2001. On the one hand, the post-September 11th security response was undertaken in the name of the spectre of the absent towers: one remembers what one does not see. On the other, military action becomes increasingly conceived under the banner of ‘pre-emption’, where one acts to prevent something which has not occurred, which has not been experienced. In this sense, a schism grows between (military) action and perception— we can no longer trust our senses. For Massumi, this has revealing consequences for how we are to think contemporary war in relation to the politics of everyday life. Rather than thinking in terms of what we experience or perceive, Massumi suggests that we ought to explore what takes place in this space before perception, in which we are primed for attention, ready to perceive, on ‘red alert.’ This space before action, before decision, is increasingly the subject of a military ‘occupation.’ Rather than being a discreet activity which takes place in a defined location against a pre-determined set of people, war becomes generalised, ubiquitised, prior to politics.

Massumi cites Arquilla and Ronfeldt, who define ‘soft power’ as ‘epistemological warfare’, because it is concerned with what people know, or what they think they know. Massumi suggests that soft power is now ubiquitous. No longer merely the companion to exceptional ‘hard power’ operations, ‘epistemological warfare’ has become the condition of ‘normal’ political life. However, this is not quite right. For the current ‘everyday war’ is concerned not so much with what we know (or think we know) as what we are (or are becoming). This is not so much epistemological as ontological war, concerned with the ongoing emergence of subjects of certain kinds primed to react and respond in certain ways to emergent dangers which are themselves in a permanent condition of emergence. This future-facing war is always in the process of conditioning corporeal emergence and determining future reactions. Like capitalism itself, this process is non-linear and seemingly compatible with the Liberal predicates of freedom and individualism: predicates which are incapable of interrogating the pre-individual domain of affect, and which are thereby entirely compatible with this generalised state of war (as a mode of governance) and unable to provide the platform for an effective critique (as a politics of resistance). Consequently, Massumi says that ‘[i]t is not enough to stop one war or even many. It is not enough to vote out one government bent on war, nor many.’ Rather the task is to reclaim the space of emergence—of the virtual—which is in danger of being given over to a military logic of pre-emption.

John Protevi is concerned with the production of certain ‘bodies politic’ which constitute aspects of war. The term ‘body politic’ is intended to draw attention to the extent that military bodies cannot be understood exclusively through the prism of either the somatic or the social. Rather, they must be understood as dynamic assemblages; as Protevi says, ‘geo-bio-techno-affective assemblages’, which exceed capture by any one interpretative framework. This suggests a change in the way in which we deploy the concept of the body in making sense of affective responses to war. It is no longer sufficient to rely on biological accounts of why bodies perform in certain ways. Rather, Protevi suggests, we should mobilise Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of affect, which refers to the ability of bodies to form assemblages with other bodies. Indeed, this is a problematic formulation in the sense that the body cannot be understood apart from this ability. It is the formation of assemblages, and the ongoing interaction that bodies have with other bodies that enables us to define ‘what a body is.’ And this challenges the analytic approach to bodies at war which would seek to distinguish among history, biology, culture, society and so on, when in fact the connections that bodies make exceed and undermine these distinctions.

What is the key for Protevi is the way in which we can think of war in adaptive terms, or as a selection pressure, without essentialising either what we mean by ‘war’, or what we take to be the responses and reactions of bodies. This involves rescuing from the idea of simple evolution a notion of the ‘body politic’ as a dynamic active and evolving assemblage. Discussing the phenomenon of ‘rage’ across historical cultures, Protevi wants to rescue some notion of ‘human nature’ from the notion that all emotions and affective manifestations are socially constructed or context specific. However, this does not mean that they are amenable to facile capture or representation through any single prism of analysis. Rather, considering bodily responses and reactions from the perspective of affect demands attention to the cyclical, dynamic and reactive character of all actions/reactions. It is the differential bio-cultural production of certain war-bodies with which Protevi is concerned, which means that it is not enough for us to say that war is an eternal human experience because of the highly variable ways in which ‘war’ is experienced and conceived in different cultures. He gives the example of music, which may create certain possibilities for group activity, and prime certain affective responses resulting in variable iterations of ‘war.’ In this sense, music is immediately physiological, social, cultural and military, in an emergent assemblage of bodies and populations.

Brad Evans analyses the post-9/11 security landscape through the prism of Foucauldian biopolitics in order to outline the ways in which the referent object of security is changing, and to catalyse an exploration of the consequences of this for political possibility and resistance. We can see security becoming decreasingly concerned with identity and increasingly focused on circulation and emergence. In this sense, it is no longer what things are that is the focus of the martial sciences, but what they are becoming. This produces a re-evaluation of the very meaning of ‘security’, and of its meaning for politics and the place of war in contemporary society. Moreover, it is productive of a change in the object of security, which is no longer a defined group or state, but life itself; life understood as always being in the process of change and emergence. Indeed, it this ongoing process of becoming which defines ‘life’ as such. Life is becoming. It therefore cannot be secured through being fixed, rather, its becomings must be monitored and, if necessary, terminated before danger can be said to have emerged.

As Evans indicates, this creates serious challenges for political thought. Firstly, ‘freedom’ becomes internalised within the system of security and governance, so that we can no longer think of freedom from security, but of security as the production of freedom. Secondly, the consequences of ‘freedom’ become radically unpredictable. The new sciences of complexity tell us that we cannot contain this radical freedom within a certain political territory or ideology: rather, the consequences of freedom are inherently unpredictable and unstable. This is nowhere better illustrated than by the events of 9/11, when the potential of a ‘catastrophic individual’ to bring destruction and to transform perceptions of the security situation was brought into painfully sharp relief. What this means is that the event, in Deleuzian terms, becomes the object of security, thereby creating a paradox in which the moment of political possibility is also the moment for the concentration of an arsenal of military-strategic forces which are actually productive of the terrifying sorts of event which they would seek to foreclose. Evans suggests that resources from Deleuze’s thought may allow us to think through binaries such as present/future, finite/infinite, known/unknown, which litter the terrain of discourses of security/freedom, through the concept of difference which may mobilise an openness to political formation which enables us to think a future beyond security, danger and pre-emption.

Guillaume Sibertin-Blanc offers an analysis of Deleuze and Guattari’s theory of the war machine which is concerned with the way it can produce a theory of war in which the repressive powers of the state are not localised in the army, the police forces and so on, but comes to be constituted in certain ways through the dynamic interaction of forces which either affirm the state or flee from it. In this respect, a genealogy of war involves tracing the processes by which the war machine comes to be captured by the state, as well as being attentive to the lines of flight along which the war machine escapes capture and comes to constitute a force of resistance to state appropriation. Reading Deleuze and Guattari’s war machine together with Clausewitzian precepts concerning the status of war, what becomes apparent are the profound social and economic ramifications of this reading of war. For Clausewitz, war is the servant of state politics, and can be so precisely because it is not itself political. Similarly, for Deleuze and Guattari, the war machine is always potentially setting up a line of flight from state politics, and is not itself exhausted or determined by it. But Sibertin-Blanc argues that Clausewitz places too much emphasis on war as an institutionally governed historical reality, whereas Deleuze and Guattari are concerned with the identification of the concept of the war machine deterritorialised from its geo-political manifestations.

The process by which the war machine is captured by the state is not itself military, because the military is the outcome of this process. Rather, it is territorial and relates to the circulation of men and things within the state. In the current system, the state has lost control of the war machine, and thus the war machine no longer has war as its object, as this would have to be given by the state. Rather, it is through the political economy, and the interstices of society themselves, that the war machine operates, manifesting itself as a global security order rather than an exceptional moment of war. Although states of exception still present a challenge, the war machine becomes associated with the very fabric of normality as such which, no longer driven by the state, becomes disaggregated from politics: a technocracy of order which presents itself as being the very underlying conditions of life itself. Sibertin-Blanc suggests that one could replace the political end given to the war machine with the economic end that it now has, in the sense that the war machine is concerned with the immanent unfolding of the capitalist economy itself. Further, he argues that the idea of a war machine dedicated to a ‘global peace’ should not deceive us into expecting a degree of pacification or a decline in violence. Quite the contrary. The point is rather that the global violence and instability is itself internal to the world wide war machine and does not constitute an interruption in its rule. Sibertin-Blanc leaves us with the challenge of thinking a politics of resistance which can contend with the normalisation of war as a background condition for everyday life; a politics which, one cannot be think, may itself derive some sustenance from the resources of the war machine with which to construct its line of flight.

Gregg Lambert traces the exteriority of the war machine to the state, and the relationship this conjures between the state and ‘the people.’ He suggests that the state is always in the process of seeking to capture the people, in ideology, in political philosophy or in a martial relation to those who defy the state’s insistence on interiority and regularity. While the left might seek to build its legitimacy on the morality of the people, this is an appropriation which actually serves to cauterise the revolutionary potential of the people in Deleuze and Guattari’s thinking. The problem is that ‘the people’ may all too readily collapse into a fascist assemblage, the nomad may appear most prominently in the guise of an ambulant suicide bomber, and, as Deleuze and Guattari are themselves appropriated by the IDF for the contribution that they can make into the pacification of hostile striated space, it seems that there is no conceptual territory which is safe from the grasping hands of the militarists, or from the threat of a fatal territorialisation on the black hole of negation. However, the point is that the schizophrenic, bipolar nature of concepts in Deleuze and Guattari hauls us back from the brink of despair, because ‘the people’ may also appear as a war machine with respect to the state, producing the emergence of new political possibilities.

Lambert explores the figures used by Deleuze and Guattari to dramatise the elusive and contradictory nature of ‘the people.’ For example, Ahab and Bartleby both, in their different ways, defy the state and thereby somehow embody it. They betray it, and at the same time express what is most essential about it. In this sense, they produce the American dream through their refusal to conform to it. Through their failure in the eyes of the state, they produce a creative line of flight from it. Only by failing can they produce. These refusenik or defiant figures who populate Deleuze and Guattari’s texts are actually the poles of the revolutionary becomings of the people. No one truly embodies the American dream, there is no perfect citizen, and there are no people. It is only through the rejection of, or escape from these injunctions that a ‘people to come’ can be summoned; a people who never arrives but stands for the permanent possibility of difference within a political system. Lambert suggests that there are problems with the ineluctable bipolarity of Deleuze and Guattari’s war machine, however, not least that we are left with the task of distinguishing between ‘destructive violence and creative violence.’ This is not a new problem, for is not the task of revolutionary violence the dedication of force to the redemption of the world? The question is whether Deleuze and Guattari offer us a novel way out of this conundrum. Lambert suggests that we concentrate our research on the idea of death, which may be the genocidal nadir to which the modern military arsenal dedicates itself, or which may be a space of pure becoming, ‘A Life’, which represents the pure form of political possibility and therefore the counter to the black hole to which the war machine collapse.

Brad Evans  

Brad Evans is lecturer in the School of Politics and International Studies at the University of Leeds. He has published numerous articles using the ideas of Deleuze and Guattari to critically evaluate the Liberal problematic of security, the modern propensity for violence, along with the suffocation of political difference. He is currently working on two co-edited volumes: Fascism in Deleuze & Guattari: Securitisation, War & Aesthetics which due to be completed in 2011; and Post-Intervention Societies for the Journal of Intervention and State-Building which will be published in 2010. He is also working on a monograph titled Terror & the Divine Economy which is due to be completed in 2011. Brad may be reached at b.evans@leeds.ac.uk

Laura Guillaume  

Laura Guillaume’s research is focused on understanding war using resources from Deleuze and Guattari. She has focused particularly on the relationship between war and the body, and is interested in the ethics of war from a wide variety of analytical perspectives. Laura has a PhD in International Politics from Aberystwyth University. She is the co-author (with Ian Buchannan) of ‘The Spectacle of War: Security, Legitimacy and Profit Post 9/11’ in Rosi Braidotti, Claire Colebrook and Patrick Hanafin (eds) Deleuze and Law—Forensic Futures (Palgrave Macmillan 2009) and co-editor (with Joe Hughes) of Deleuze and the Body (forthcoming 2010 with Edinburgh University Press). Laura may be reached at lauraguillaume@googlemail.com