the holy fools

The Antinomies of the Avant-Garde

Ironically, the current popularity of Deleuze and Guattari comes from their stubbon refusal to recognise the failure of the anti-modernist revolution. Even when Fréquence Libre went bankrupt, Deleuze and Guattari never questioned their ‘schizo-politics’. Instead, they transformed the historically specific politics of the New Left into theoretical poetry which existed outside history. The libidinal intensity of revolutionary failure was much preferable to the limited achievements of parliamentary reformism. [23] For ‘cutting edge’ TJs, it is now almost compulsory to sample from the theoretical poetry of Deleuze and Guattari. Yet, this New Left revival is taking place in very different circumstances from the revolutionary Sixties. However, the political irrelevance of Deleuze Guattari does not discredit their theoretical poetry among radical intellectuals. On the contrary, the defeat of the New Left has enabled their disciples to complete the transformation of anarcho-communism from the hope of social revolution into the symbol of personal authenticity: an ethical-aesthetic rejection of bourgeois society. Although defeated in reality, the ideals of May ‘68 can be used to imagine a revolutionary dreamtime for the Net.

The aestheticisation of revolutionary politics is a revered tradition of the European avant-garde. Back in the Twenties, the Surrealists perfected the fusion of artistic creativity with social rebellion. Inspired by Lenin, this avant-garde movement claimed that the consciousness of the majority of the population was controlled by cultural mediocrity and puritan morality. Therefore radical intellectuals had the heroic task of freeing the people from ideological domination. Their innovative art would undermine the repressive cultural norms of bourgeois society. Their bohemian way of living would challenge the dull conformity of everyday life under capitalism. In this interpretation of Leninism, cultural experimentation became the privileged expression of revolutionary politics. Whether from the tribal past or the science-fiction future, any vision of a more authentic life should be used to subvert the cultural philistinism of the bourgeois present. Innovative paintings, sculptures, photography, films and literature would be made “...in the service of the revolution.” [24]

The cult of Deleuze and Guattari is the latest manifestation of this European avant-garde tradition. The change in language disguises a continuity in practice. Just like its Surrealist predecessors, the contemporary avant-garde equates experimental art and bohemian lifestyles with social rebellion. Despite their involvement with radio and Minitel, Deleuze and Guattari hoped that the ‘line of flight’ from modernity would lead back to the tribal past. In contrast, their contemporary followers have no ambiquity about their relationship with modern technologies. Far from desiring the destruction of the city, radical intellectuals hope that the Deleuzoguattarian utopia will emerge from the hi-tech Net. Using intellectual alchemy, they transmute their gurus’ anti-modernist scriptures into a philosophy of hyper-modernism.

This aestheticisation of May ‘68 is made much easier by the poetical style of Deleuze and Guattari. As in modernist painting, the ‘realism’ of the text has been superseded by a fascination with the formal techniques of theoretical production. For Deleuze and Guattari, theory was a piece of literature expressing authentic emotion rather than a tool for understanding social reality. Having failed in practice, New Left politics could live on as theory-art. Following this example, techno-nomad TJs sample Deleuzoguattarian discourse to produce leftfield philosophy. Yet, as with Britpop bands, something is lost in these respectful homages to the past. In the sacred texts, the rational analysis of society had already been replaced by the literary celebration of irrational desires. The European avant-garde is now discarding the few remaining connections with practical politics. Using Deleuzoguattarian discourse, avant-garde intellectuals recreate the May ‘68 revolution as a theory-art project for the Net.

Yet, like the Leninist vanguard, the European avant-garde is haunted by the fatal contradiction between popular participation and intellectual elitism. In their theory-art, the techno-nomads use Deleuzoguattarian discourse to celebrate DIY culture. However, according to the sacred creed, most people - including members of the DIY culture - are brainwashed by semiotic ‘machinic assemblages.’ But, when illuminated by the teachings of Deleuze and Guattari, radical intellectuals can amazingly cast off the mental shackles of bourgeois rationality and experience the redemption of ecstatic immanence. Although many are called, only few can become true disciples of the esoteric doctrine.

This elitism is a hallowed tradition of the European avant-garde. For decades, radical intellectuals have adopted dissident politics, aesthetics and morals to separate themselves from the majority of ‘herd animals’ whose minds were controlled by bourgeois ideologies. [25] Despite their revolutionary rhetoric, avant-garde intellectuals fantasised about themselves as an artistic aristocracy ruling the philistine masses. Following this elitist custom, the Deleuzoguattarian champion nomadic minorities from the ‘non-guaranteed’ social movements against the stupified majority from the ‘guaranteed’ sector. Once again, the revolution is the ethical-aesthetic illumination of a minority rather than the social liberation of all people.

Earlier in this century, this dream of an artistic aristocracy sometimes evolved into fascism. More often, the avant-garde supported totalitarian tendancies within the Left. Nowadays, cultural elitism can easily turn into implicit sympathy with neo-liberalism. The European avant-garde - and its imitators - could never openly support the free market fundamentalism of the Californian ideology. Yet, as TJs cut ‘n’ mix, the distinctions between right and left libertarianism are blurring. On the one hand, the Californian ideologues claim that a heroic minority of cyber-entrepreneurs is emerging from the fierce competition of the electronic marketplace. On the other hand, the Deleuzoguattarians believe that this new elite consists of cool TJs and hip artists who release subversive ‘assemblages of enunciation’ into the Net. In both the Californian ideology and Deleuzoguattarian discourse, primitivism and futurism are combined to produce the apotheosis of individualism: the cyborg Nietzschean Superman.

‘...the possibility...to rear a master race, the future “masters of the earth”; - a new tremendous aristocracy...in which... philosophical men of power and artist-tyrants will...work as artists on “man” himself.’ [26]

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