In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Gestures of Control1
  • Aaron Jaffe (bio)

[I]n the societies of control one is never finished with anything—the corporation, the educational system, the armed services being metastable states coexisting in one and the same modulation, like a universal system of deformation.

—Gilles Deleuze (1992, 5)

Control is not discipline. You do not confine people with a highway. But by making highways, you multiply the means of control. I am not saying this is the only aim of highways, but people can travel infinitely and 'freely' without being confined while being perfectly controlled. That is our future.

—Gilles Deleuze (2006, 323)

Who's in charge? I mean this as a Control question but also as a question raised in a real theory reading group with faculty and grad students during the Covid-19 pandemic. Or, better, What's in charge? to formulate a question in a way that doesn't humanize the problem. Mechanization Takes Command, Sigfried Giedion's 1948 masterpiece explores the ways mechanical technology is in charge of our lives, and Lev Manovich's 2013 Software Takes Command is really just an addendum to Giedion's project about the rise of programs, as Vilém Flusser would say. The notion that authority is functionally distributed in a system isn't really a new observation.

Control serves the interests of…Capital. I suppose that's one kind of blunt answer. Global Finance. Neoliberalism. If a sleazy real estate mogul is the unloved figurehead of this system, so be it, but he's not really in charge, everyone knows it, despite his petulant assertions to the contrary and the very real effects of his actions. What I'm calling Control-Address might be seen as a gesture, the sort of mutated handshake protocol in the kind of society Deleuze describes. The handshake, which Flusser connects to the relationships between writers, editors, publishers, readers, and literary humanism, is, he says, "the most gripping of gestures, for it is at once one [End Page 17] of the most public and one of the most intimate" (2011, 41). The gesture of control is the handshake, withheld. As many have noted the word Postscript in Deleuze's title—"the Postscript on the Societies of Control"—is a hint that control is post-writing and post-literacy, but not post-data. It follows what Ian Hacking calls the avalanche of big numbers, an omnipresent relation to invisible, hidden meta-data controlling life. The postscript comes after the valediction. The frenzy of passing time under lock-down should give us nothing but time to think (and write and critique). The phrase come from Michel Foucault's discussion of "the birth of the prison" in his cornerstone analysis, Discipline and Punish (1995, 197). It stands out on the required reading lists circulating on our media feeds during these times of mixed messages about official and unofficial quarantines. The formulation captures a certain gesture of heightened tedium, exhaustion with the conflicting demands of capitalism and technology as they have penetrated our social life.

In a contribution to a Los Angeles Review of Books feature called "The Quarantine Files: Thinkers in Self-Isolation," for example, Todd May passes time by proscribing a Bartleby-like stance ("This is Not the Time for Theory"):

We don't need an original view of what is happening to us; not now….

Here's a very partial list of things we might need at some point but don't need right now: There will likely come a time when some of these projects become relevant (although I have my doubts particularly about #2 and #3). Then we will need to look back at what has happened and ask within a larger frame why it has happened and what lessons there are for the future. But now is not that time.

  1. 1. An innovative analysis of how capitalism or Donald Trump or globalization has led us to this crisis.

  2. 2. A clever and ironic contrarian take on #1.

  3. 3. An argument as to why none of this is really happening because we're all in hyperreality or a post-truth period.

  4. 4. Any form of "I told you so" based on previous analyses.

  5. 5...


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pp. 17-28
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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