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The ability to code” things

Need, scarcity, famine, a society can code these, what it cannot code, is when this thing appears, when it says to itself: what is up with these guys? So, in a first phase, the repressive apparatus puts itself into motion, if we can’t code it, we will try to annihilate it. In a second phase, we try to find new axioms which allow it to be recoded for better or worse. 1

I read this and thought that it would be fun to dig into it sentence by sentence.

Before we begin

One of the tings I think we should know before jumping into the hermeneutics of the text above is that in this seminar Deleuze is talking about the ways capitalism has been able to effectively code” (make sense of) things and integrate them into the workings of the overall capitalist system.

I think that Deluze is saying that capitalism is the dominate social-order, the thing (das Ding) that is the primary organizing (ordering) principle of modern societies.

Sometimes things try to oppose capitalism’s workings, but capitalism is highly effective at coding (dealing with) what opposes it by either…

  1. Absorbing opposition into itself
  2. Effectively repressing opposition until at later date when it can be absorbed

Sentence #1 of 3: Coding within the social-order

When I read the I break it up into two parts. Part one is concerned with what social-order can make sense of, and part two is concerned with what society can’t make sense of.

Sentence #1 Part 1:

Deleuze says

Need, scarcity, famine, a society can code these,

This is an argument about why people choose to create and maintain social-order: A healthy social-order builds a functional safety net that people can rely on when there is a crisis of some sort. In times of scarcity, famine, or some other catastrophe social-order prevents warlordism.

Generally speaking, a well established social-order will have a playbook of what it needs to do when a crisis emerges. Or, to say it in a different way: When a stranger comes to town in the form of a crisis the social-order says, I’ve seen your likes before, and I know how to deal with you.” The social order knows how to code” the stranger and respond to it.

Sentence #1 part 2:

The sentence continues…

what social-order cannot code, is when this thing appears, when it says to itself: what is up with these guys?

Sometimes a stranger comes into the social-order’s town which the social order has not ever dealt with before. When this happens the social-order does not know what to do, does not know how to respond, it can’t code” the stranger.

Sentence #2 of 3: In the first place, annihilate

This sentence describes how a social-order responds to what it can’t code.

So, in a first phase, the repressive apparatus puts itself into motion, if we can’t code it, we will try to annihilate it.

If the social-order can’t code” the stranger as friend or foe the social-order does not take any chances, it just tries to destroy the stranger before it gets up to anything.

Sentene #3 of 3: In the second place, re-ordering

Finally, Deluze says…

In a second phase, we try to find new axioms which allow it to be recoded for better or worse.

The social-order knows that attempting to kill off the stranger can backfire: If the social-order tries to kill off the stranger the people who live within the social-order’s territory might become even more interested in this stranger the social-order is attempting to destroy. Ergo, rather than opting to destroy the stranger that has no code” attached to it the social-order might make the stranger an offer it can’t refuse, Hey, why don’t you join us?”

Deluze does not say this, but sometimes the stranger resists the social-order’s attempts to code it. However, the social-order can take it’s time, work slowly, and over time learn enough about the stranger to effectively code” it.

An Example: Punk-rock

An example of this might be punk-rock. When punk first showed up it was an anti-capitalist ethos, it was people with hair-styles that people thought were outrageous and ugly, it was clothing that people would not wear because it so was out-of-fashion, it was music that did not follow norms. In effect Punk was an attempt to make something that was outside of capitalism’s propensity to commodify anything and everything, it was an attempt to make something capitalism could not code” (i.e. turn into a commodity that could be sold.)

At first capitalism did not know how to deal with punk-rock. Perhaps some of the agents of capitalism did attempt to kill it off, but other agents said, Wait a second… I bet we could totally find a way to sell this idea that things can’t be sold.”

And a few years later Hot Topic was a store in malls across America selling punk-rock music and fashion. Punk-rock had been coded”.

I think this is part of Deleuze’s point… Capitalism is damn good at finding ways to code” and integrate things that oppose it.

One of the few things that capitalism has not been able to code” is what Deleuze and Guattari will call the schizo” or the schizophrenic”.


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  1. Gilles Deleuze, Anti-Oedipus I, a lecture given by Deleuze on 11/16/1971 as part of a seminar. Accessed online at The Deleuze Seminars on 4/17/30.

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