Academic journal article New Formations

Control Societies: Notes for an Introduction

Academic journal article New Formations

Control Societies: Notes for an Introduction

Article excerpt

First published in Michel Butel's popular review L'Autre journal, of which he was an editorial board member, Gilles Deleuze's essay on control societies, re-published in Pourparlers in 1990 and later translated as the 'Postscript on Control Societies' (hereafter just the 'Postscript') has proved to be one of his most widely cited pieces of work. (1) Presented in historical terms as the successor to the disciplinary configuration of power elaborated by his friend Michel Foucault, the logic of control sketched out by Deleuze has proved highly suggestive within the arts and social sciences (in Anglophone countries in particular), as a means of articulating understandings of a range of historically grounded shifts in the organisation of power.

Yet, brief as it is, Deleuze's essay can scarcely be thought to offer anything like a complete account of control, whether that is to be understood either uniquely on Deleuze's terms or, in particular, as a comprehensively established contrast to the disciplinary logic presented by Foucault. Its cursory and suggestive form makes the historical basis of the argument obscure, and, whilst it makes numerous references to concepts established by Deleuze elsewhere in his writings (modulation, dividual, order-word/pass-word and so on), the broader basis of its connections with his more carefully established accounts of, for example, capitalism, are not entirely obvious. Perhaps this is one of the reasons for the Postscript's success: presenting no comprehensive, detailed account of the logic it nonetheless seeks to outline, it lends itself to multiple uses, a quality that is as practically valuable as it is theoretically frustrating. Such incompleteness, and the cursory nature of the contrast with disciplinarity, might, of course, lend credence to suspicions about the analytic value of the idea of control, suspicions that quite readily reinforce a view of Deleuze as a philosopher with, on the one hand, a sketchy understanding of history and, on the other, a marked tendency to read other philosophers (including Foucault) very much according to his own interests and proclivities.

Given that Deleuze was a writer whose attention to and analysis of the construction of the 'oeuvre', and the functions played by different kinds of writing, was always carefully nuanced, it is difficult for us to read the cursory, suggestive, quality of the Postscript prima facie as a defect. In this respect it might be worth reviewing, briefly, some aspects of the pragmatic situation of the Postscript before trying to arrive at any conclusions about what Deleuze might have been doing, or trying to do, with it.

The first, and most obvious, point to note is that the 'Postscript on Control Societies' was published first in a relatively popular, if slightly unconventional, journal (Butel, who had connections with the La Borde clinic, has a track record of setting up journals that challenge mainstream formats). The text was then republished in Negotiations, a collection of interviews spanning the years 1972 to 1990, shortly before Deleuze's last joint writing with Guattari, What is Philosophy?. The texts included in Negotiations are only a selection of Deleuze's circumstantial texts from this period, so it would be (at least philologically) improper not to acknowledge an editorial decision on Deleuze's part regarding that selection.

We know from other writings of Deleuze's that he was somewhat hostile to the mediatic format of an interview (or other kind of text) in which one 'explains oneself'. The incursion of marketing into publishing, and thence philosophy, had also been an issue with which he had been concerned for some time (not least since his pamphlet critiquing the 'nouveaux philosophes'). Negotiations has none of the experimental conversation in which it is not entirely clear who is speaking when--that Deleuze had previously constructed with Claire Parnet in Dialogues, a text which reprises themes that had featured in Deleuze's broadside against the new breed of media 'intellectuals'. …

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