Continued from “Circulation and Withdrawal, Part 1: Circulation”
Nothing is less passive than the act of fleeing, of exiting. Defection modifies the conditions within which the struggle takes place, rather than presupposing those conditions to be an unalterable horizon; it modifies the context within which a problem has arisen, rather than facing this problem by opting for one or the other of the provided alternatives. In short, exit consists of unrestrained invention which alters the rules of the game and throws the adversary completely off balance.
There may not be a notion in recent aesthetic and political discourse that has been more romanticized and problematized than the notion of an exit or a withdrawal, or as it is often described, exodus. It is, however, often exaggerated and misunderstood in the usage of it as the possibility to escape hegemonic social structures, or even the effects of capital itself. This originates, famously and notoriously, from Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s use of exodus as equivalent to desertion and nomadism in resistance strategies, or what they call “Being-Against” in Empire: “Whereas in the disciplinary era sabotage was the fundamental notion of resistance, in the era of imperial control it may be desertion,” and, moreover, “this desertion does not have a place; it is the evacuation of the places of power.” Withdrawal here is directly political, and supplants previous models of resistance such as sabotage, and it is implied that rather than fighting power head-on, or if you will, the centers of power, symbolically and physically, one must instead withdraw from power, walk away from the structures and subjectivities of contemporary capital. Furthermore, if in the networked society it is not easy to define the exact locations of power, one can, presumably, always find exit ways and loopholes in the network itself, in the seemingly totalizing system that is Empire. Tactically and politically, Hardt and Negri thus conflate three different forms of mobility under the rubric of withdrawal: nomadism, desertion, and exodus. If these types of withdrawal belong to different subjects in different spatiotemporal configurations, they are here united in order to create a contemporary form of class struggle, even if it is a double movement that both, positively, “pushes from behind,” and, negatively, “pulls forward.”
Hardt and Negri have, quite rightly, been criticized for this somewhat romantic construction, for suggesting that one can combat power by abandoning it (do the relations and rules of power ever really leave you?), and for seeing nomadism and exodus as the same movement, making refugees similar to conscientious objectors. For this reason alone, one would hesitate to invoke withdrawal. But exodus has religious overtones which are highly objectionable, and more neutral terms like “exit” or “withdrawal” are useful, at least in the present discussion. Now, as an historical argument, the case for exit or withdrawal draws on Deleuze’s reading of Foucault, and the suggestion that disciplinary regimes have turned into a society of control, what they call the “imperial.” But, crucially, contrary to Deleuze, control and discipline do not compliment each other; instead, one succeeds the other. This is, presumably, also the reason why they see sabotage and withdrawal as two different strategies, whereas in the guerrilla tactics they have likely taken the terms from, these would always, and inevitably, go hand in hand, as surge and retreat, attack and exit. Indeed exit, as proposed by Paolo Virno rather than exodus, may be the preferable term, since it indicates a shift from a religious imagery to both a military deployment and everyday language, and, as quoted in the epigraph, exit as fleeing does not have to do with passivity, but with tactics, and with maneuvers that change the rules of the game, or at the very least break them.
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