Rage: the Affect of the Political
(In On Rage / Über Wut, ed. by Cordula Hamschmidt, Revolver Verlag, Frankfurt, 2011).
Could Rage be a Collective Affect? Could Rage be a Productive Affect? Is it only a disruptive force or does it also have a transformationnist potential? Hence, could Rage become a critical concept?
More generally, what does political affect mean? What is the general economy of political affectivity? What means to be generally affected?
Considered as extreme level of anger, leading to a state of madness, or fury (furor), Rage appears as the name of the excessive economy of (political) affectivity.
Rage is the bestial extremity or the obscure depth of the articulated grammar of human emotions. Its etymology is obvious (in Latin and Slavic languages, as well as in English): it comes from rabies (from the Latin ”rabies”, ”madness”, related to the Sanskrit rabhas, ”to do violence”) or directly coincides with the name of the terrible contagious disease, reducing man to bestial body, like in French or Slavic languages (”rage”, ”bjas”). The etymology couldn’t be more explicit: rage designates an affect which exceeds the affective grammar and breaks through its representational articulations. Rage is an infra- or a super-affect: it is the affective manifestation of a bestial pathology of human body, often transforming it into a ”sub-human” creature. Yet, while deforming human form, this pathological energy could also transform the infected or the possessed in a para- or super-natural creature. Possessed, indeed. Because, if as rabies rage is a matter of infection, then as fury (furor) it is a matter of possession, which also mean of contact with an extra-ordinary order (furiæ is the Latin translation of the Greek Erinyes). Symptomatically, in Slavic languages ”bjas”, ”bjesyi” means at the same time ”rabies” and ”demon”. Dostoevsky’s Bjesyi means both: rabies and demons. Thus, bjesyi are outrageous monsters; they are what cannot be ”cultivated”, a formless and resistant matter: not a passive one but an angry one. Outrageous matter.
The first thinkers of Greek or modern politics, Aristotle and Hobbes, were obsessed with the non-cultivatable monstrosity and its corruptive affective presence. Hobbes connects directly his obsession to the term of rage 1. Hence, the brutal vitality of rage as political concept cannot be understood without taking into consideration its ”archeological” depth. In the constitutive moment of the formation of modern political categories and philosophical language, rage is still an incurable disease, a threatening and demonic pathology, the outburst of an insane and brutal destructive energy inside the body of political community. That is how it became a central name for the marginal, extra-political energy, putting in danger the harmonic healthy body of the constituted community. Thus, rage appeared as a constitutive obsession for politics: a force, which is threatening political constitution, the energy of the hydra of hundred heads Hobbes is obsessed with. But rage is also an obsession of today’s biopolitics, trying to scientifically examine the ”rage index” of suicide bombers or mass murderers. Hence, it is also an emergency obsession. In other words, even if rage might appear as a political metaphor, it has a material substance, grounded in the biopolitical regime of modernity: it is at the heart of the titanic fight of modernity – the fight around political representation.
Furthermore, as the affect of rabies, Rage has an epidemic potential: it is a Plague, or apocalyptical evil. It has the utmost dangerous quality: it is contaminating, spreading in an uncontrolled way; it is growing in number, strengthening with no visible external resource, while its growth is the corruption and the alteration of all formative energy or formed form. It is the outburst of another order, non-controlled by the logic of logic – the logic of sovereignty and representation. As uncontrolled non-political force, rage is contagious monstrosity; it is the epidemic of the apolitical, which suspends the political-cultural order. As such, as a loss of political and cultural qualities and as an outburst of primary wild substance, rage has to be eliminated, if not exterminated. Thus, rage was naturally included in a rhetoric strategy aiming to denigrate biopower – the ‘wild” (which only means non-subordinated) force of the multitude, the one, which Hobbes had directly connected to rage (“the rage of the whole multitude is visible enough”). In that way, rage appears at the end as the negative but paradigmatic name of this force: the main figurative target of modern biopower meant to absorb and suppress the biopolitics of the multitude (if I use Antonio Negri’s distinction between biopower and biopolitics). Hobbes’ multitude against Spinoza’s multitude: Hobbes’ ”hydra with hundred heads”, the constituvely excluded monster, whose naturalisation signals the reduction of the political energy of the multitude to brutal natural force, against the ”plurality which persists as plurality” – the multitude in Spinoza.
Hence rage, or, more precisely, the contagious force stigmatized rhetorically by modern authoritarian political discourses as ”rage”, is the name of the auto-formative and growing collective energy or power. As growing affective power rage is a collective affect: it is the affect of the Multitude.
Thus, rage, constructed metaphorically as the extra-political or contra-political affect par excellence, appears at the end as the utmost political affect: it is the negative effect of the political operations, tending to produce and to control political affectivity. If rage is usually described as an uncontrolled and even uncontrollable energy, this means that it challenges the procedures of control of political affectivity, and consequently the control over ”emotional communities”. But rage seems to be even more dangerous with its seemingly counter-productive character. If hate or anger are powerful agencies for effective affective mass control and in that sense they are also collective identity production engines, canalizing and mobilizing collective energy, rage is non-producible, contingent and emergency occasioned. Its vector is unpredictable and it puts in question the affective dramaturgy, the mimetic schematisms, which regulate emotional representation. It radically challenges the structures of representation, intertwined with affective grammar, a grammar with infra-political dimensions. Rage de-forms emotional forms and formats and deregulates their readability, the representability of emotions. In that sense rage is supposed as the very limit of the affect: the limit where the affect fails into a result of stimuli or into a direct expression of energetic content. Thus rage appears as pathology of affectivity, as an emergency-affect, which suspends affectivity.
Rage is the general economy of the affect, the excess of the affect, its pure and non-sublated energy.
Rage is the name of a general affection. It is politically unsupportable precisely because of the intuition that it is indeed a general affection, or realization of general affectivity, unbearable for the logic of sovereignty, since the attempt to take control over political affectivity, to immunize it or even to reduce it to im-potency is the basic task of each sovereign political regime. The general economy of political affectivity is what is to be banned from the sovereign regime of the political.
For what reason? The total affectivity liberates the e-motional potential of the body, and in this way it does not leave substance necessary for the biopolitical exploitation. But as I have claimed elsewhere, the production of substance is the necessary condition of biopolitics and consequently the first biopolitical operation. The production of substance is indeed the necessary condition for any exploitation; it is the only way to dominate the potentiality. Capitalist production makes domination possible by producing, before any product, (the fiction of) substance under the form of a homogeneous and total, and consequently graspable potentiality – the fiction of substance as pure productibility, as the condition of possibility of production. However, each potentiality comprises an immanent moment of resistance and because of that the body-subject couldn’t be totally dominated. It always exceeds any totality, and consequently the potential for struggle and freedom are irreducible.
This aisthetic, sensible potential of body is the potential of the Common. Rage, as inappropriable aisthetic energy, together with pain, joy or love, is the aisthetic potential of politics. In other words, it is nothing but another name of what I call ”wild freedom”, the originary condition of the political existence before any political substance sublated in constituted order. Thus, at the end, rage is nothing but a political fiction meant to stigmatize, to immunize unconditional originary freedom: not an illegitimate outrageous act but the expression of the immanent condition of human existence.
Now, we could think rage, the general economy of political affectivity, breaking through the constituted affective orders, as the expression of the impulse of originary freedom. Not the expression of some monstrous substance but the expression of the outrageous anarchic common energy, of the political force of the multitude.
Rage is the affect of freedom.