For a theory of non-catastrophic politics

Katja Diefenbach

The disjunction of thematical and interventionist critique in cultural and academic production has been for decades the favorite topic of situationism and its inheritors. From Debord’s society of the spectacle through Baudrillard’s total autonomisation of exchange value to the critique of cybernetic management by Tiqqun and the Invisible Committee, time has been presented in the figure of its catastrophic exhaustion from which a single counter mechanism shall make us subtract – inoperativity, gift, the commune of friendship and arms, etc.etc. By turning to Spinoza’s anarchic metaphysics, I will present several hypotheses for a theory of non-catastrophic politics that reject the eschatological extremism that seems to be so much en vogue again in divergent fractions of the Left, in communisation theory, accelerationism or in post-situationist positions. Though Spinoza did not manage to relate consistently the physical idea of the self-formation of matter to the metaphysical idea of the self-generation of Being, in attempting to do so, he designed a couple of exceptional limit-concepts that helped him to sketch an anomalous theory of politics. In a realist tradition, he neither ridiculed nor excluded negative, decreased or depotentialised affects but conceived them as expression of the social conditions, in which, not against which, politics has to be made. Centuries before Nietzsche and Foucault he thought that the forces that pass through the individuals are catalysers both of liberation and oppression alike. A theory of politics had thus to grasp the critical points where processes of liberation turn into oppression. Presupposition was to abandon the idea of politics being a radical act of liberation and replacing it by the idea that politics is a transindividual experiment in interrupting, in the process of liberation, the reemergence of destructive and reactionary forces.