Claire Colebrook

The Death of the PostHuman: Essays on Extinction, Volume One

    5. Destroying Cosmopolitanism for the Sake of the Cosmos

    What would the value of cosmopolitanism as a concept be? How might it work and what problems might it resolve or transform? Today the term intersects with globalism, offering itself as a mode of connection or collective resistance that would enable a thought of some political totality or ‘open whole’ irreducible to the forces of the market. The problem appears to be posed, from Kant to the present, as a way of thinking beyond human to human conflict—seeking a higher order beyond interests of individuals and polities.

    Cosmopolitanism appears to be a self-evident good: is not the very concept of the good oriented towards that which would be or could be a good for all? Insofar as we rationally will anything at all we seem not only to be claiming something for ourselves as particular persons, but also to be appealing to some ideal or idea as such that could be agreed to by any subject whatever. Cosmopolitanism is at once in line with a purely formal or procedural liberalism, but also has the benefit of appealing not only to that which ‘we’ here and now agree to be good, but beyond that to some virtual humanity not yet present: ‘Cosmopolitanism … starts with what is human in humanity’ (Appiah 2006,134). If cosmopolitanism is a universalism that is also not the assertion of one’s actual goals as the goals of all, but indicates an ideal of maximal inclusion and self-critique, who would assert the contrary? And what would the contrary thesis be? That we are all, inevitably, bound up with local attachments incapable of truly transcending the particular? No, even that suggestion is already incorporated in a good cosmopolitanism. We are all culturally embedded, and cosmopolitanism cannot be a naïve or violent assertion of a single and uniform humanity. Cosmopolitanism is not the reduction of all difference to a single model of citizenship; it is, rather, an Idea of a polity—a gathering of bodies for discussion, decision and determination—that would not be that of this or that nation but of the cosmos. We might say that the cosmos is an Idea in the Kantian sense: we require the notion of the cosmos in order to think the relations among different localities, and this Idea generates a task for future thinking, but such an Idea can never be fully actualized or presented. Perhaps, today, this cosmopolitan idea is more urgent and more possible than ever. Surely it is the advent of (increasingly evident) threats to this cosmos—resource depletion, rising sea levels, global heating, desertification, species extinction, viral apocalypse, violent fundamentalisms, bio-weapons—that impel us to free the polis from the nation state and imagine a greater cosmos.

    For is it possible to say any more that politics occurs at the level of the state or nation? If decisions are made in the name of national polities, such as recent decisions to put environmental policy on hold in the face of economic imperatives, or of the compromise of claims for rights to life and universal health care because of a need to sustain fiscal responsibility and corporate structures, then what one appears to lose is not only the space of the cosmos but also a certain modality of the future. Decisions based on polities of the nation state are enslaved to a temporality of competing interests, whether that be the political terms of opposed parties or—if one is dealing with nation to nation negotiations—calculations regarding markets, future flows of capital and investment and Realpolitik. A cosmopolitical imperative would not only expand horizons spatially—to think beyond the geographical boundaries that create political, cultural and imaginary borders—it would also necessarily alter temporal limits. Globalism as an economic phenomenon in which territories once external to the nation state are included in ever-expanding and mutating markets would need to be supplemented or transcended by a cosmopolitanism [10] that imagined modes of sympathy, recognition and respect beyond the terms of the market. [11] If cosmopolitanism were truly to distinguish itself from globalism then it must not do so merely in a spatial and extensive manner (being more inclusive) but would need to differ intensively. [12] The cosmos would differ from the globe only if it were not simply the spatial unit of this planet earth with its already identified resources, organizations and geographical borders (all included in the systems and networks of globalism); the cosmos would, in its new mode, include a virtuality.

    Traditionally the cosmos signifies an orderliness, suggesting that the actual globe as material entity is placed within, or expressive of, a broader harmony (a cosmos of the planets and heavens). In contemporary forms of cosmopolitanism such appeals to divine or eternal harmony give way to an imaginative supplement: whatever the world is here and now, with all its global networks, markets and power structures, there can also be the figuration of ethical territories. Above and beyond physical and political borders there might be affective or immaterial communities, such as Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s redemptive positing of a humanity united by ties of immaterial labor (Hardt and Negri 2000).

    The political times and the mode of production have changed. We have to construct the figure of a new David, the multitude as champion of asymmetrical combat, immaterial workers who become a new kind of combatants, cosmopolitan bricoleurs of resistance and cooperation. These are the ones who can throw the surplus of their knowledge’s and skills into the construction of a common struggle against imperial power. This is the real patriotism, the patriotism of those with no nation. (Hardt and Negri 2005, 69)

    These territories would not be extensively spatial (a portion of the globe) but intensive—a space of infinite hospitality without limit, a city of refuge that occupies a virtual space, a community that is not grounded upon a common soil or even a normative notion of the citizen (Derrida 2001, 8).

    Such a virtual or spiritual humanity (that could no longer be reduced to man as an organism) was already imagined by Bergson in his Two Sources of Morality and Religion. Bergson’s work on the distinction between morality and religion was part of a broader project that aimed to intuit, from the actual world’s present state of complex phenomena, the tendencies that had enabled the emergence of the current state of things and that would indicate possible futures. If we have, today, a complex mixture of morality and spiritualism—of closed self-interest and open altruism—this is because there are two tendencies or speeds that produce opposing (yet coupled) forces in the groupings of human bodies. Morality is an extension of the organic and material need for survival; it makes sense at the level of our merely biological or instinctual existence to gather into localized units, establish basic order, defend ourselves from others and imagine others to be rather like ourselves. If instinct is the tendency that enables organisms to act for the sake of their own preservation, then basic morality is instinctual. If intellect is another tendency—this time allowing for generalization and abstraction beyond individual survival—then this, too, would account for more complex social groupings—such as the nation state, or even ‘man’: such groupings would be based on a calculation of the present for the sake of a future that is akin to the present. I might die for my country, my children, or even act somewhat selflessly by consuming fewer resources for the sake of future generations that I imagine to be an extension of the present. Morality, Bergson argued, would proceed from social groupings and recognition: the intellect would not be limited to animal self-interest and immediate gratification of needs but would imagine a life beyond the present, and bear sympathy towards individuals beyond itself and immediate family. Morality sacrifices the demands of present pleasure for the sake of future security and the formation of a public good. But Bergson posited another tendency that was also a different mode of temporality: spirit, unlike intellect, was not generalizing and extensive (creating categories that would reduce minor differences for the sake of inclusiveness and efficiency). Spirit would slow down the speedy and manageable reduction of complexity and instead begin to intuit differences, rhythms and perceptions beyond its own purview—beyond the range of ready-made concepts. Religion is different in kind, not degree, from morality. It would be a mistake to see something like Pauline universalism as the extension of sympathy to include all of mankind, creating a ‘family of man.’ It would similarly be mistaken to see an evolution of monotheism as a movement of increasing abstraction and universality (Wright 2009). It is Bergson’s claim that a truly spiritual religion is not more and more inclusive, but moves beyond inclusiveness and single groupings of ‘man’ and instead imagines that one might act and feel for what is not yet present, represented or imagined. For Bergson the spirit of religion has an annihilating rather than self-preserving or self-furthering quality. One may form moral frameworks for the sake of man, for the sake of those other organisms that I imagine to be like myself and towards whom I feel some (however distant) sympathy. Bergson’s examples of Christ and Socrates, by contrast, do not extend sympathy to yield a greater inclusiveness or broader definition of the human. Their actions and teachings are not directed to some normative or general figure of the human. The intellect that will sacrifice the present of pleasures for the sake of long-term gain, efficiency and stability is surpassed by a spirit that can liberate the temporalizing and creative power from any body. Whereas the intellect uses the imagination of a future to calculate more efficient self-interests, expending more energy in the present for the sake of a greater deferred good, spirit can embark upon deferred action as such. This would not be for the sake of any already imagined, figured or felt good—it would be a saintly, Christ-like, Socratic and dynamic spiritualism that did not rest with any object.

    Bergson is explicit that for the most part the forces of matter tend towards inertia: the intellect may break with immediate organic self-interest but will then be seduced by the moral image of man or humanity as a stable object with properties. It takes an anti-social and anti-moral impulse to break with norms, pleasures and habits of communication: ‘Shaken to its depths by the current which is about to sweep it forward, the soul ceases to revolve around itself and escapes for a moment from the law which demand that the species and the individual should condition one another’ (Bergson 1977, 230). Nature (by way of moral obligation) builds ‘man’ for stable and closed societies—akin to the ant in the ant-hill—but there is another impulse that is distinct from man’s organic being and distinct from moral humanity. This creative dynamism is destructive of the closed figures of man, tearing the intellect from its forms and figures; spirit bears a supra-rational force, especially if we think of moving beyond rationality as the surpassing of any single ratio. There is something essentially malevolent in Bergson’s passage beyond moral humanity. Bergson notes that such an individual reaction against collective moralism not only tends to close back on its own figures and myths; the creative impulse always works in conflict with the tendency towards inertia. There must have been a time, Bergson suggests, when there was not a split between an explosive tendency and matter exploded, when differential force occurred as such, without resistance. But those days are over, and moral man—global man with all his delusions of existing as a being with a closed nature—can never be fully surpassed by the dynamism of spirit. All one can aim for practically is some ever-expanding and ever-creative figure of humanity that would be relatively open.

    Bergson’s thought therefore anticipates the current predicament of cosmopolitical desire in an age of globalism. On the one hand political relations, geographical distributions, market forces and the residues of imperialism already include and anticipate all human organisms as a unified whole. On the other hand, a new cosmopolitics would allow every event of inclusion to have a destructive force on the very humanity that appropriates all others in its name. Bergson makes a distinction between static and dynamic religions, the former creating stabilizing myths and figures, projecting its own organic image of itself onto life as a whole; the latter draw upon already given figures but do so in order to recreate and open the image of what counts as ethical life. The former tend towards self-satisfaction and the rewards of pleasure, the latter towards a selfless and mystical joy. Both are results of the creative or differential force of life, which works against the closed and fixed forms of matter—destroying the actual for the sake of a not-yet present end. Following Bergson, though, we can mark a difference in kind, and not just degree, between globalism and cosmopolitanism. The former tends towards measuring its own movements according to the actual world: striving to achieve greater profits or even human rights for more individuals, improved conditions for more individuals, inclusion of more individuals (all the while maintaining the standard figure of the moral individual as rational consumer blessed with rights and moral judgment). Cosmopolitanism, by contrast would be oriented to the virtual: hospitable (as Derrida suggests) to an other who is totally other, who does not answer to or accord with already given notions of human dignity and whose possibility (rather than presence) is destructive of any supposed good conscience (Derrida 2001).

    We are left, then, with a politics of the virtual that seems remarkably similar to a politics of the Idea. Kant had also, in one of the key texts on cosmopolitanism, argued that as a being of nature man could only regard himself as bound up with physical causes and passions. But natural being does not exhaust man’s nature. The human species, though seemingly acting in a lawful manner when considered historically, is neither governed by pure animal instinct nor a rational law. Kant assumes that if we could separate man as he is in himself from the manner in which he appears then humanity would follow a prearranged plan in the manner of ‘rational cosmopolitans’ (Kant 1991, 41). Why would the ‘rational cosmopolitan’ be the figure that Kant opposes both to an animal nature that is instinctual and man as he appears historically? A preliminary answer would draw upon what Kant says elsewhere about the pure forms of moral law that we are capable of thinking but not knowing. If I were to act as if I were a rational cosmopolitan then my individual and worldly being (with all its pleasures, calculated interests, possible pay-offs from good actions and other motivations) would be surpassed by the imagination of myself as a member of humanity in general. I would not be a specific historically located and culturally defined self, but a pure will who could act as if my actions and desires were those of all wills for all time. Cosmopolitanism, then, is for Kant an idea that we cannot avoid; it is the duty to think of how one might act for all and for all time. If we can think such a will (despite the impossibility of knowing or actually becoming a ‘rational cosmopolitan’) then we ought to act in accord with such a possibility: ‘Nature only requires that we should approximate to this idea’ (Kant 1991, 46-7). The first manoeuvre of Kant’s essay is, then, to place cosmopolitanism out of this world. It is an Idea, something that we can not see evidenced in history other than afterwards, via reflection, when we can look back on collective past actions that seem to tend towards increasing order. Because we only know human actions, and ourselves, in terms of natural consequences of cause and effect, and within a nature of physical laws, any seeming ‘rational cosmopolitan’ may, for all we know, be acting from local interests. As in personal morality, one never knows whether one has acted from duty. One can know that one has acted according to duty. Similarly at a global level, one can never witness benevolent humanity as such—one is presented with antagonisms, violent usurpations, wars, disputes over honor and recognition—and this because man is a divided being. Unable to remain in a state of animal inertia and security he struggles to conquer those others without whom he would not receive recognition but with whom he cannot live peacefully. Even so, something like cosmopolitanism will emerge: not through material and empirical calculation (which can only be a question of more or less sophisticated brutish self-interest) but through a nature that we assume, on reflection, after the event, opens to a human concord beyond that of our merely animal natures. Kant’s idea of cosmopolitanism is not the result of calculation within this world, but intimates another ordering power liberated from the finite point of view of man whose world is only known as it is given to him, not as it is in itself:

    Wars, tense and unremitting military preparations, and the resultant distress which every state must eventually feel within itself, even in the midst of peace—these are the means by which nature drives nations to make imperfect attempts, but finally, after many devastations, upheavals and even complete inner exhaustion of their powers, to take the step which reason could have suggested to them even without so many sad experiences—that of abandoning a lawless state of savagery and entering a federation of peoples in which every state, even the smallest, could expect to derive its security and rights not from its own power or its own legal judgement, but solely from this great federation (Foedus Amphictyonum), from a united power and the law-governed decisions of a united will. (Kant 1991, 47)

    Where Bergson’s dynamic religious or mystical impulse differs from Kant is in its suggestion of the positive power of the virtual, and this may well mark its distinction from anything cosmopolitical. That is to say: Kant, like contemporary cosmopolitical approaches, distinguishes between a calculative, conflict-based, self-interested and antagonistic global warfare (even if that global war is one of market competition and political expediency) and the idea, beyond that, of a humanity that can imagine itself beyond any of the natural figures that have grounded its specific communities. The problem—despite the distinction in kind between a managerial globalism and an open ethical cosmopolitanism—is whether one can ever do more than think this potentiality as a negation of the actual.

    This, indeed, seems to be the issue that exercises writing on cosmopolitanism: is not the aim for a plural world inclusiveness just one more way in which one reduces the world’s differences to one’s own ideas of humanness? Acting in accordance with duty is not the same as acting dutifully. I may appear to have effaced self-interest, nationalism, global capitalist assimilation and predation and yet who knows whether this benevolent outcome is not the consequence of a will oriented to particular calculations? For Kant, one cannot know such a thing, but that is beside the point. We can, at least, aim to act as if we were rational cosmopolitans; we can imagine what such willed maxims would be. Whether any of the actual decisions we make would actually be executed solely with the view of ‘humanity in general’ (liberated from any determination of locality or history) would not alter our attitude towards how we think about what a good principle would be. Cosmopolitanism of this nature—as an Idea or infinitely receding horizon—characterizes the post-Kantian tradition that ranges, however diversely, from Habermas’s ideals of ongoing critique to Derrida’s infinite hospitality (even though Derrida distinguishes his city of refuge from Kantian Ideas precisely in its lack of a human normative dimension and its orientation to the wholly other). Positive approaches tend to locate the cosmopolitan intention not in a necessarily impossible ‘beyond’ but in the real, in the bringing into actuality of an already given potentiality. In the case of Hardt and Negri’s Empire, it is humanity itself, in its laboring activity that yields a multitude that is no longer delimited by a normative image of humanity but creates from itself, for itself, nothing other than its own collective being. But it is just the language used by Hardt and Negri—‘homohomo humanity squared,’ the Christian love of St Francis or agape (therefore not confined to bourgeois normality)—that ought to give us pause (Hardt and Negri 2000, 204). Such an appeal to immanent potentiality avoids the crippling effects of what Deleuze (1994) referred to as the ‘thermodynamic’ nature of bourgeois ideology, whereby one recognizes the force of a moral ideal and yet also resigns oneself to knowing it only in its diminished and finite mode. One recognizes a call for justice, democracy, hospitality and cosmopolitanism but always in the deferred form of a ‘not yet.’ On the one hand I know that cosmopolitanism requires the surpassing of any given or particular norm, and yet I know that such an ideal will always be marked by a particularity from which it emerges. Life is deemed to be nothing more than the compromised actuality that we are already given.

    Can cosmopolitanism find a way beyond standard balancing acts between feelings of liberal guilt and liberal self-satisfaction? Hardt and Negri discern a potentiality not just for more justice, or even the intrusion of an Idea of justice, but of a revolutionary rupture from the present and within the present. The conditions of the present, such as immaterial labor and the networks of globalism, are precisely those that can inaugurate a new commonwealth that transcends localities, nations and state forms. Hardt and Negri’s debt to Deleuze is by no means direct, nor straightforward. One of the clearest distinctions between Hardt and Negri’s approach and some of the philosophical sources upon whom they draw is their sustained commitment to figures of humanity. Their call for an immanent politics remains wedded to the anthropomorphic tendencies of global, commonwealth or cosmopolitical figures and the residual archaisms of man that such figures bring in train. First, for Hardt and Negri the bringing into actuality of the new commonwealth is liberated from static and transcendent ideas of the state that would impose order and justice from without; but the image of a man who makes himself from himself and who exists, not as an isolated being, but as a creative component of a multitude that has no being other than its ongoing dynamic creativity transposes theological axiology into a supposed secular immanence. It is now not God who expresses his being through a creation capable of returning and recognizing itself in its divine and immanent origin; it is the human creative spirit. This much, also, was suggested in Bergson’s dynamic religion that, like Hardt and Negri’s multitude, tended to figure the future in Christian terms. Bergson defines mysticism as the creative spirit liberated from practical affairs and inertia, and it is because of its mystical component that Christianity had the potential to remain active, not simply resting with a negation of the world but proceeding to bring forth a new world of life’s own creativity, a creativity feeling itself in its own creative joy. For Bergson such a power of creative life partaking in its own creativity—no longer stalled by meeting the needs and pleasures of the organism or society—found its end in man, and especially in the Christian man of dynamic religion:

    the ultimate end of mysticism is the establishment of a contact, consequently of partial coincidence, with the creative effort which life itself manifests. The great mystic is to be conceived as an individual being, capable of transcending the limitations imposed on the species by its material nature, thus continuing and extending the divine action. (Bergson 1977, 220-221)

    So, here, we arrive at a problem that is not at all extrinsic to cosmopolitanism. How do we conceive the virtual or futural domain that is irreducible to the ties of global capital and interest? Must it take the form of humanity imagining itself, of a city of refuge, of the divine? Bergson, via a thought of the divine, at least raises the idea of a life that cannot be identified with the organic or global, even if he then falls back upon an already given notion of the divine. As long as we think the surpassing of competing self-interests and organic expediency as being transcended by the cosmopolitical we still remain at the level of difference in degree. First, the cosmos, even if it is not a spiritually ordered or harmonious whole is nevertheless distinguished (by Kant) from the wars of competing social bodies or (by Hardt and Negri) from the globalism of merely material forces that do not yet bring to full potential the immaterial lines of affection, labor and communication. Kant will argue that the cosmopolitical order is the result of a reflective equilibrium: we do not positively engineer political harmony but can discern the tendency towards cosmopolitical peace after the event. This discloses a certain reason in nature, suggesting that human discord, war and aggression ultimately tend towards a higher stability above and beyond human-to-human conflict. This is truly, then, a cosmopolitics: human historical life takes on a cosmological dimension irreducible to the forces of the polity. This cosmpolitical reason does not emerge from political relations directly, but opens out onto another plane.

    Even so, while distinct in order, Kant—like those after him—nevertheless sees the potential for a passage from polity to cosmopolitanism. The former achieves order among bodies (as a polity) but is then placed in warring relations with other bodies. The cosmopolitical is therefore a version of the polity—equilibrium achieved among bodies—that layers over the political: no longer sympathy, affinity and legitimation at the political level, but the same concord from discord manoeuvre taken one level higher. Order from disorder, equilibrium from disequilibrium, increasing generality: all this occurs at the point where the cosmopolitical other is not a distinct other (with traits different from mine) but is wholly other—human in general. Second, the increasing generality of abstraction of the cosmopolitical order becomes a way of extending the forces of globalism: either one argues that global economic, marketing and communicative lines can yield to a new commonwealth by being freed from strictly economic codes (Hardt and Negri) or one posits a critical cosmopolitanism where the economic violence of globalism is reflected upon by a cosmopolitical perspective that never frees itself from, but is also irreducible to, the economic.

    Despite Bergson’s reliance upon (Christian) humanity as the means through which the creative force of life might create a new potentiality of dynamic spirit, he nevertheless suggests a different way of approaching the cosmopolitical problem. Consider, first, how the problem is posed, invariably passing from relative order to greater order: man as an animal creates polities—relations among similar bodies striving for ongoing stability of their kind or species—but these polities become warring bodies in turn. The problem is posed as one of passing from the political man to man in general, from the generalized and grouped to the higher groupings of a higher generality, from radical difference to increasing indifference. And this passage to the indifferent is disclosed in the ultimate formulae of a new cosmopolitanism in which I need not recognize any traits in the other apart from pure and formal otherness. This is at once an extension and fulfillment of liberalism, from Kant’s imperative to act as a member of the kingdom of ends and Rawls’s ‘veil of ignorance’ to Derrida’s hospitality towards the wholly other and perhaps even notions of a ‘community without community’ that would signal the pure form of relation without being governed by any normative term. As long as the problem is posed as one of cosmopolitanism it seems that the passage towards greater abstraction, formalism or generalized humanity—Hardt and Negri’s ‘homohomo humanity squared’—would be the only option.

    But is cosmopolitanism a genuine concept of the future that might help us to think twenty-first century horizons? I would suggest that it is not, and this for several reasons. First, for all the laments today regarding the loss of ‘the political’ (supposedly vanquished by managerialism or biopolitical bureaucratic calculations of mere life), is the polity the best way to think about relations of force? Beyond the political—the gathering of bodies on common for the sake of decision and determination—now is the time to think non-anthropic relations, potentials and forces. The cosmopolitical, after all, is an extrapolation of the polity: a mode of harmony, order, humanity or citizenship that transcends, extends or emerges as the pure (or purer) form of the polity. The problems we encounter today, ranging from a global financial system without centre, accountability, rationality or future to a planetary destructiveness that has resulted directly from the inflation of human sustainability at the expense of other rhythms cannot be achieved by granting a greater ideality and range to the political, and certainly not by positing a cosmic (or higher order) harmony that would supplement or override human conflict.

    Second, if we accept that the cosmopolitical imperatives of hospitality, community, humanity or refuge occur as a passage from necessary conflict—what Kant refers to as ‘childish malice and destructiveness’ or what Bergson describes as the enclosure within the organism—towards a higher order equilibrium, then the cosmopolitical would always have as its basic terms the already formed and bounded units of the aggressive individual. Politics and order, even when stretched to its highest ideals, would be a question of negotiating the degree to which the forces of these individuals could be combined to form some higher order individual. In Kant war is defined as a consequence of the human species' strange threshold condition: neither governed by animal instinct nor capable of intuiting the rational cosmopolitanism that would be their pure ideal, humans live with each other for the sake of recognition, yet cannot abide each other because of their competing desires. For Bergson, however, the situation is slightly different: there is a conflict or warring power in the impulse of life as such. Creativity is at once explosive—pulverizing inert and closed forms—and yet always coming up against its past created forms. It is intellect, after all, that frees the human organism from the self-interests of animal instinct (by calculating on a more efficient expenditure of deferred energy), and yet this same intellect maps the future according to already determined units. Perhaps this is one way of understanding contemporary globalism, at once extending itself to all territories in an all inclusive manner but—in reaching the limits of its coherence—failing to adjust its measurements of profit, efficiency, expansion and enterprise. One might say the same about any form of cosmopolitanism that wanted to redeem globalism by reaching a greater or more open humanity; it would only be an extension by degree, not a difference in kind. But if life itself in its creative dynamism is, on Bergson’s suggestion, already at war with itself, creating the very obstacles to its own forward movement, obstacles that in turn require a greater creative ‘thrust,’ is there another way to think the passage beyond global war?

    This leads to the third, and final, objection to cosmopolitanism already hinted at earlier. The very nature of the politics of cosmopolitanism is bourgeois and thermodynamic: calculating the relation among forces in terms of management of degrees, or more or less, and of compromise. Yes, we want an all inclusive humanity, but not one of the market. Yes we want equality, but not the reduction of all human cultures to one standard. Yes, we want multiculturalism but not the narcissism of small differences. Yes, we want the rights and freedoms of the enlightenment but should be wary of universalizing specifically modern Western values. In criticizing bourgeois ideology as thermodynamic Deleuze was drawing attention to the crippling and self-important nature of notions of political compromise: on the one hand I maintain certain norms and values—this gives me the individual identity that allows me to be a moral individual. Yet, on the other hand I am aware that those values are provisional, culturally and historically specific and never fully universalizable.

    Deleuze signals an alternative mode for thinking ‘political’ concepts (although it needs to be borne in mind that all his and Guattari’s political terms—including micropolitical and schizoanalysis—decompose psyches and individuals into forces and relations). If one began, not from models of mediation, more and less, or greater and expanded models of hospitality, but from differential calculus then forces would not be forces of bodies and the cosmos would need to be considered beyond the polity.

    In the plateau of A Thousand Plateaus that deals, however fleetingly, with the cosmos, Deleuze and Guattari achieve two conceptual manoeuvres. Before one can think of the cosmos as a deterritorialization of the earth or territory, one also needs to see earth and territory as themselves assembled from forces of chaos (with their attendant autonomous qualities): ‘The forces to be captured are no longer those of the earth, which still constitute a great expressive Form, but the forces of an immaterial, nonformal, and energetic Cosmos’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 342-343). That is, any world, earth, territory or globe (including the globe of globalism) is assembled from powers that are not those of the organism. On the contrary, it is from the assembling of expressive qualities that something like an individuated body can emerge. Deleuze and Guattari here (and in What is Philosophy?) cite the stagemaker bird, whose turning over of leaves to display their lighter side creates a territory of found qualities; it is this formation of assembled qualities that creates individuation. There is a selection from chaos of materials that are not indifferent but that possess various potentials for relations and distinctions. Thus any earth or territory has already resulted from the assembling of qualities. Today’s figure of the globe, for example, is not arbitrary and relies on the selection of qualities—such as the spherical planet, the generic image of the human being as a communicative, universalizing, enterprising and communal animal—from which something like the concept of globalism is formed. When these qualities are ‘deterritorialized’ or extended beyond their already actual form to consider virtual variations we get the cosmopolitical citizen: a man blessed with speech (but no language in particular), a sexually differentiated and culturally specified individual (but with no culture or gender in particular). We might look both at the ways in which a supposedly generic humanity draws upon a range of expressive qualities—from the figure of face and voice to the motifs of family, sexual difference and skin color—and at how the composed ‘family of man’ then allows for extension (or deterritorialization) to a cosmos that is always cosmopolitical. That is, the cosmos is always an extension of the composed polity, an abstraction or idealization of man englobed in his world of human others.

    If the first feature of Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the cosmos is that it is not cosmopolitical—for the cosmos can occur as the deterritorialization of non-human forces—the second is that (at least in this plateau) it bears a direct relation to music. But this is the case only if music is defined as the relations of qualities and differences, the power to form inflections and rhythms from which something like the human practice and culture of music emerged:

    The T factor, the territorializing factor, must be sought elsewhere: precisely in the becoming-expressive of rhythm or melody, in other words, in the emergence of proper qualities (color, odor, sound, silhouette[…]).

    Can this becoming, this emergence, be called Art? That would make the territory the result of art. The artist: the first person to set out a boundary stone, or to make a mark. Property, collective or individual, is derived from that even when it is in the service of war and oppression. […] The expressive is primary in relation to the possessive; expressive qualities, or matters of expression, are necessarily appropriative and constitute a having more profound than being. (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 316)

    There is a pre-human and pre-organic music that is generated from the differential relations among expressive qualities: the beating out of a rhythm establishes a pulse or band of time from which something like a meter might be organized. There is an articulation of sounds into tonal inflections that provides the condition for something like a scale or melody (or phonemes). Before there is something like a language—a repeatable and formalized set of relations—there must be the formation of qualities and the creation of differences. (One can think here of Freud’s example of his grandson establishing a pulsation of Fort-Da, opposing two sounds across space and time, securing a territory that then enables the forming of a body and its world.) And it is here that we can tie Deleuze and Guattari’s plateau on the refrain (where cosmos is conceptualized) with Deleuze’s idea of a differential mode of thinking. Deleuze and Guattari insist that there is an autonomy or differential power in expressive qualities. Relatively stable terms or beings are formed from pure predicates or qualities. One might say that ‘man’ as a rational animal who is defined through the speaking-seeing-eating figure of the face and voice has a political composition (for it determines relations among human bodies) but this occurs after the entering-into-relation of certain qualities. Man is an animal assembled through the speaking-seeing face (itself composed racially of skin colors), the commanding voice (again enabled through the composition of a phonematic spectrum) and the organized body (effected by bringing the hand-eye-brain complex into relation.) There is, in this respect, nothing political about the cosmos as long as we take politics to be the relations of the polity. On the contrary, the most important events are micro-political: how did this figure of political man (with the eye of judgment, voice of reason and body of labor) come to be composed from the forces of chaos? Such a determination would have been enabled by certain expressive qualities—the potentialities of sound in the voice, of light in the seeing eye, of conceptual configurations in the reasoning brain. Such qualities are synthesized and coordinated to produce the man of politics. To define the proper destiny of man to be that of a cosmo-political animal is to contain thinking within the already formed bounds of the organism. A differential politics, by contrast, approaches the cosmos as a radical deterritorialization, freeing expressive qualities from a human-all-too-human composition:

    For there is no imagination outside of technique. The modern figure is not the child or the lunatic, still less the artist, but the cosmic artisan: a homemade atomic bomb—it’s very simple really, it’s been proven, it’s been done. To be an artisan and no longer an artist, creator, or founder, is the only way to become cosmic, to leave the milieus and the earth behind. The invocation to the Cosmos does not at all operate as a metaphor; on the contrary, the operation is an effective one, from the moment the artist connects a material with forces of consistency or consolidation. (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 345)

    How might we think this meditation on the limits of cosmopolitanism in concrete terms? What would Deleuze and Guattari’s suggested cosmic release of matters mean, or—more accurately, since it is no longer a question of meaning or symbols—how might such deterritorialization work? Consider one of the problems of the twenty-first century: water. At once crucial to life, water is also one of the elements whose relations to human organisms and polities exposes crucial fragilities, including water borne infections, floods, drought, rising sea levels and melting ice caps. Water has, of course, been politicized. In the 2008 documentary Trouble the Water Hurricane Katrina was an event that could not simply be referred to as a natural disaster but exposed political distributions: the absence of decisions, intentions, attention and sympathy that affected a certain geographical region of America that was also, of course, a racial and sexual region. More broadly, and also in 2008, Flow: For Love of Water charted the various ways in which corporations sold, channeled, marketed, restricted and managed water sales and supplies—rendering this most basic of human elements into a key political weapon and structuring cause. Such cinematic events gesture towards a traditional cosmopolitanism, both in presenting the local plight of Katrina to a world audience as an indictment of America and in exposing certain globalizing markets (of water) to a population of general human concern. The response to such demonstrations of political mapping would be some form of cosmopolitical activism: such concerns would—as in twenty-first climate change rhetoric more generally—be those of viability, sustainability and the maintenance of humanity. How will we live on, into the future, if this most basic of elements becomes politicized, becomes a weapon or resource that is subject to plays of power among humans? Another politics of water is also possible, one that would be musical in Deleuze and Guattari’s sense (if music refers to the relations established among expressive qualities and their capacity to create forms, territories, identities and to open to the cosmos). We can begin by thinking about water’s elemental or musical qualities (its semi-autonomous power to enter into relations beyond human polities) through Roman Polanski’s Chinatown of 1974. Ostensibly a detective drama about the theft and re-channeling of water that is political in the most traditional of senses—to do with local contests and human interests—the film also allows water to become a visual quality. This is not when water is seen or made visible but when its absence or inhuman power takes over the screen: set in a heat-wave, the drama is shot through a heat haze in which the flows of human perspiration are matched with a barely discernible visual fluidity that takes the form of a slightly out of focus point of view. It is as though beyond the political plays of power something of the cosmic force of water—its resistance to human manipulation, its brutal and inhuman potentiality—threatens the person-to-person drama of the plot. Chinatown is at once about a cosmopolitics of water—about the ways in which corporate powers can take over local management and resources—at the same time as it is counter-political in its presentation of water as expressive or sensuous matter; water is not just represented as a human commodity but also takes over the formal elements of the screen, becoming an element from which the visual field is composed. A more specifically musical mode of cosmic deterritorialization occurs in the American composer Sebastian Currier’s Next Atlantis string quartet (Currier 2008). [13] Here, sounds of water (which have been electronically synthesized, becoming almost melodic) are interspersed with sounds from the string quartet, which take on the quality of ‘becoming-water.’ At once the most formed and mannered of genres, the string quartet enters into relation not with the forces of the earth as territory (where water, say, is a humanized, nationalized quality) but with the cosmic force of water—its capacity to enter into variation and bear a sonic power beyond that of the polity. One might refer to such uses of the sounds of the cosmos as deterritorializing in a higher sense: the form of the work—its relations of varying sounds in dialogue—is also its matter, the work is the synthesis and forming—de-forming of the elemental sound of water.

    Why would such an opening to the cosmos be worth anything today? Is not the urgency of twenty-first century climate change a condition of such intensity that one must manage, now, as efficiently and bureaucratically as possible the sustainability of human life? Perhaps climate change calls for the most cosmopolitical of responses: the taking hold of the world’s resources away from nation states and local polities for the sake of the viability of ongoing life. Such an imperative would, though, be in the name of the sustaining of human life, and of human life as it is already formed, already politicized and already organized. If we were to think otherwise, and if the crises of the twenty-first century were to prompt us to think at all it may be in a cosmic and inhuman mode, asking—at least beginning to ask—what the elements of this earth are, what force they bear, how we are composed in relation to those forces. If climate change politics has taught us anything to date—if it has, and if there is an ‘us’ or ‘we’ who might learn from, or be destroyed by, such events—it is that information and data directed to the maintenance of the polity has not yielded any affective response. Climate change skepticism is increasing, and this possibly because the cosmic force of destruction is now pushing beyond the political imagination, beyond our capacity to imagine ourselves and others like us in a future that will not be an extension of the present. Perhaps something other than a discursive politics among communicating individuals needs to open up to forces that are not our own, to consider the elemental and inhuman, so that it might be possible to think what life may be worthy of living on. Such an approach would require a thought of the cosmos—of life and its durations—that would be destructive of the polity, that would not return all elements and forces into what they mean for ‘us.’


    1. Brennan (2001) argues that globalism is the economic ground upon which cosmopolitanism as a cultural and (putatively) critical phenomenon is based. He criticizes writers such as Mignolo (2000) who argue for a disjunction between a managerial cosmopolitanism that retraces market forces and an emancipatory cosmopolitanism that would be liberated from economic imperatives. return to text
    2. Hardt and Negri (2000) argue that the economic conditions of immaterial labour in globalism allow for the creation of a commonwealth irreducible to any modes of connectivity and affect other than those of humanity’s own self-constituting striving. return to text
    3. On the nature of intensive versus extensive differences see De Landa 2002. return to text
    4. return to text