B  I  B  L  I  O  T  H  E  Q  U  E ~ V  I  R  T  U  E  L  L  E

Robert C. Thomas
Whatever Intellectuals
The Politics of Thought in Post-disciplinary Societies

Note de l'éditeur : l'auteur de cet article, Robert Thomas, nous a autorisé à reproduire son oeuvre ici, à condition de préciser ceci : "Cet essai, protégé par la loi américaine sur le copyright, fut publié dans le quatrième numéro de la revue Symposium (No.4, 1998, pp. 205-235)".
Editor's Note : Robert Thomas allowed us to make this essay available in our Virtual Library, yet he wants us to note that "the essay is, in fact, protected by U.S. Copyright and was originally published in the journal Symposium  No. 4, 1998 205 - 235".

« Something in the world forces us to think. This something is an object not of recognition but of a fundamental encounter »
-Gilles Deleuze.[1]

« The less people take thought seriously, the more they think in conformity with what the State wants »
-Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari.[2]

« The world is starving for thoughts »
-Jack Smith.[3]


December 24, 1997. San Francisco, CA. I am walking up Market Street in the early evening. As I make my way up the street I pass a homeless man and his shopping cart. He has set up shop on the street and is hawking his wares. Various items - books, records, cookware, objects of diverse value and origin - are laid out on the street and offered-up for sale. "Even the homeless participate in the global economy," I think to myself. Then I see something that makes me stop in my tracks. Among the items laid out on the street and offered up for sale is a used copy of Hohmi Bhaba's The Location of Culture.

This ironic image immediately gives rise to several others: Walter Benjamin unpacking his library; a student selling her books for money in order to survive or simply to buy coffee to "hang out" with other intellectuals; a post- doctoral student without a teaching job or, even, the hope of landing one; an undergraduate whose student loans have prematurely defaulted, condemning him to a life of customer service and wage-labor work. These images merge with more abstract observations about the place and value of thought in the historical present: the proliferation of a collective desire for thought and forms of intellectual association which have emerged in the wake of May '68; the increasing reliance on intellectual forms of labor throughout the global economy and the new forms of technological innovation associated with the internet and computer culture;[4] the policing of thought, art and culture exemplified in the techniques of political correctness and the "culture wars" currently raging in the U.S.; the spectacle of the recent Gulf War, proving that even our bombs are now "smart." Such examples of the politicization of thought share a common theme: belonging in relation to thought, the containment of this belonging, and perhaps, the containment of the emerging thought this belonging is in the process of bringing about.

The image of the homeless intellectual is, "a sign, a symptom which finds its meaning in an existing force."[5] What is the force of this encounter? What are the conditions of possibility for this event? A provisional reply can be mapped out in two immediate directions. In the first place, the existence of widespread homelessness as a permanent feature of the U.S. economy can be traced to the dismantling of the welfare state and the institution of "austerity" measures enacted in the early 1980's. In the second place, the mere existence of such an abstract, technical, and theoretical book as Bhaba's at this cultural level - whatever one may think of its intrinsic qualities as a particular document - can be seen as part of a larger, albeit subtle, proliferation of the desire for thought in the historical present. These two provisional interpretations can be expanded along further lines of philosophical abstraction and inquiry. The spectre of the homeless intellectual, I will argue, problematizes the relationship between intellectuals and politics, thought and being, in "post-disciplinary" societies. I would like to briefly sketch out this line of thought in relation to the work of Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, Michel Foucualt, Antonio Negri, and Giorgio Agamben.

Institutions and the Societies of Control

We're moving toward control societies that no longer operate by confining people but through continuous control and instant communication. . . One can envisage education becoming less and less a closed site differentiated from the workspace as another closed site, but both disappearing and giving way to frightful continual training, to continual monitoring of worker-schoolkids or bureaucrat-students

- Gilles Deleuze.[6]

Since the end of World War Two, Deleuze argues, we have experienced a general movement away from disciplinary societies towards what he has called (following William Burroughs) the, "societies of control."[7] The arrangements of power deployed in the spaces of enclosure which previously (and metaphorically) defined disciplinary institutions - the factory, the school, the hospital, the prison - have collapsed, leading, not to the dissolution of these power relations, but rather, to their dispersal and proliferation - much like the commodity relation - throughout the social field. Confinement, the metaphorical mark and implication of disciplinary arrangements, is giving way to, "ultra rapid forms of apparently free-floating control."[8] The social regulation of space and time has become expropriated from the relatively closed systems of discipline, moving into open spaces of control. If the factory and its mode of organization presented the dominant metaphor for disciplinary societies, businesses, which have no corresponding need for mediation, form the model for our emerging post-disciplinary societies. "Businesses," Deleuze remarks, "take over from factories."[9] Comparing the way businesses are run to the logic of the "stupidest TV game show," Deleuze states:

Factories formed individuals into a body of men for the joint convenience of a management that could monitor each component in this mass, and trade unions could mobilize mass resistance; but businesses are constantly introducing an inexorable rivalry presented as healthy competition, a wonderful motivation that sets individuals against one another and sets itself up in each of them, dividing each within himself. Even the education system has been looking at the principle of "getting paid for results:" in fact, just as businesses are replacing factories, school is being replaced by continuing education and exams by continuous assessment.[10]

In the sites of confinement one moved from, "one closed site to another, each with its own laws,"[11] but in the societies of control one is never finished with anything. The laws that regulate these open and constantly changing spaces are also constantly changing and endlessly postponed. "Markets," Deleuze remarks, "are won by taking control rather than by establishing a system of discipline. . . Control is short-term and rapidly shifting, but at the same time continuous and unbounded, whereas discipline was long-term, infinite, and discontinuous."[12] Relations of power in the societies of control have, in effect, come to take life- in ways more penetrating and subtle than the previous forms of "bio power" so brilliantly analyzed by Foucault - as the object and aim of its power.[13]

Insofar as "modern" societies can be said to be disciplinary (as Foucault argued), "postmodern" societies would perhaps be more accurately described as post-disciplinary. The theory of post-disciplinary societies, however briefly (and inadequately) I have presented it here, provides a pragmatic context in which to view such concrete problems as the California Education Technology Initiative (C.E.T.I.) [14] and the opening-up of education - the privileged space in which most intellectual work and academic scholarship is allowed to take place - to markets. These transformations - intimately related to how we do intellectual work - are not without their consequences, which is to say, not without their limits.

Intellectual Labor Power

Labor, which has become intelligent through abstraction, has already torn reason away from capital

-Antonio Negri.[15]

I do not believe that this new labor power is merely functional to a new historical phase of capitalism and its processes of accumulation and reproduction. This labor power is the product of a "silent revolution" taking place within the anthropological realities of work

-Maurizio Lazzarato. [16]

The event of May '68 marked the practical dissolution of the dialectic. The assertion by women, gays, lesbians, and students of their own needs, wants, and desires directly-without the prior mediation of representative discourses, figures, or forms of political association - created a crisis for the liberal- democratic or welfare State, directly questioning its rule and functionality.[17] It is as a response to the pressures exerted by this event - the emergence of singular subjectivities - that we can best analyze both the proliferation of the commodity relation and the emergence of the neo- conservative State-form.[18] Power, defined as the positive and productive mechanisms (dispositifs) of force relations, is deployed precisely in order to contain that which escapes it.[19] This means that in order to draw a map of the limits of a particular problem, attention must be paid, in the first instance, to what Deleuze and Guattari call its, "cutting edges of creation and deterittorialization," or "lines of flight."[20] In order to map out how particular mechanisms of power are being or have been deployed, it is first necessary to articulate the forces which these mechanisms are attempting to contain.[21]

The dissolution of the welfare State and its restructuration along neo- conservative lines has been analyzed by Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt as an effort, not only to preserve the State, but to contain (or retterritorialize) the emergence of non or arepresentative forms of subjectivation: to limit, in effect, the potential for social subjects to create new and alternative ways of being.[22] The proliferation of the commodity relation and the emergence of the neo-conservative State-form both find their logic in the curtailment of the radical potential - announced by May '68 - for a democracy of singularities. The simulacral nature of postmodern capitalism, in which the circulation and exchange of commodities has become more important than their production, portends profound transformations in the organization of work and the production process itself.[23] Capital is now directed towards what Deleuze calls, "metaproduction:"

It no longer buys raw materials and no longer sells finished products; it buys finished products or assembles them from parts. What it seeks to sell is services, and what it seeks to buy, activities. It's a capitalism no longer directed towards production but towards products, that is, towards sales or markets. Thus it's essentially dispersive, with factories giving way to businesses.[24]

These transformations have been accomplished, in part, through the increasing abstraction of labor. The capitalist, whose activity is now oriented towards market control and commodity circulation, no longer directly intervenes in the production process. Production is now organized through the cooperative efforts of labor. Labor or subjectivity has become abstract, immaterial, intellectual, and cooperative.[25] The example of AIDS activism presented by Hardt and Negri in their Labor of Dionysus is particularly striking on this point: The extremely high level of the technico-scientific labor that characterizes the movement opens the terrain of a new subjective figure, a subjectivity that has not only developed the affective capacities to live with the disease and nurture others, but also incorporated the advanced scientific capacities within its figure. When labor is recognized as immaterial, highly scientific, affective, and cooperative (when, in other words, its relationship to existence and to forms of life is revealed and when it is defined as a social function of the community), we can see that from laboring processes follow the elaboration of networks of social valorization and the production of alternative subjectivities.[26]

The primary function of what Foucault called "governmentality"[27] in the new form of rule specific to the neo-conservative State-form is, precisely, the separation of subjectivities from their autonomous or creative potential: that is, the active prevention of the capacity of social subjects to create new ways of living and thinking, new modes of being. In this sense, the problem of belonging in relation to thought can be approached in a new way. What is the potential announced by the coming into being of an emerging intellectual subject? What, in effect, is the relationship between the relative autonomy of subjectivity and thought in the historical present?

Whatever Intellectuals

The coming being is whatever being

-Giorgio Agamben.[28]

Perhaps the on-going efforts to police thought and forms of intellectual association in the present indicate, obversely, a transformation in the limits or pragmatics of thought itself. Perhaps the mechanisms of power currently being deployed in the areas of art, thought, and culture should be read, not simply as acts of censorship, but as so many efforts to contain the nascent potential of an emerging intellectual subject. Perhaps the limits of thought, itself, are currently being displaced through this complexification of force relations.

Perhaps the emergence of intellectual subjectivities on a global scale is bringing about a radical singularization of thought; a becoming-intellectual of the world (and, perhaps, the becoming-intellectual of the world can, itself, be conceived as the becoming-other of the Western world). Perhaps, in this context, all forms of intellectual work are now absolutely useless to the State.

When politics has become immanent to existence; when the question "what is to be done?" has, itself, become questionable; when resistance has become both intellectual and directly ontological; what is the political function of the intellectual today? It was in response to this last question that Michel Foucault formulated a theoretical sketch of the limits of the political intellectual in the post-World War Two era. "Since the time," he remarks, "when each individual's specific activity began to serve as the basis for politicization"[29] In his, by now, famous interview (published as "Truth and Politics" in Power/Knowledge) he sketches the movement from the "universal intellectual" - embodied in figures such as Sartre and Voltaire - to what he termed the "specific intellectual" - first seen, perhaps, in the figure of Oppenheimer.

The universal intellectual was derived from the figure of the jurist/notable, whereas, Foucault suggests, the specific intellectual derives from the figure of the savant/expert.[30] The prescience of Foucault's comments, originally formulated in 1976,[31] are astounding when viewed from our perspective today. These formulations clearly grasp the epochal shifts taking place in the politicization of thought: the transformation of the relationship between intellectual and manual labor, the singularization of the intellectual (formulated as a relationship of "specificity"), the changes in the relations between theory and practice, the role of the "author," and the value of labor. According to Foucault, these developments meant that, "the question of the professionalization of intellectuals and the division between intellectual and manual labor can be envisaged in a new way."[32] The concept of the specific intellectual was Foucualt's attempt to give expression to this new potential.

The intellectual, he argued, had a "three-fold specificity" in contemporary societies: that of his class position (whether as petty-bourgeois in the service of capitalism or the 'organic' intellectual of the proletariat); that of his conditions of life and work, linked to his condition as an intellectual (his field of research, his place in a laboratory, the political and economic demands in which he submits or against which he rebels, in the university, the hospital, etc.); lastly, the specificity of the politics of truth in our societies.[33]

It is in this last instance, according to Foucault, that the intellectuals work can take on a "general significance" in challenging the "regime of truth" operative in a given social formation.

These formulations, despite their prescience, present certain problems in the context of the historical present. Is this way of conceptualizing the relationship between intellectuals and politics, thought and being, the role of the "author," and the division between intellectual and manual labor adequate to our present social arrangements? Is the concept of specificity (as Foucault formulates it here) capable of articulating the complexification of these relationships in our emerging post-disciplinary societies? The concept of the specific intellectual was clearly articulated by Foucault to account for the increasing politicization of life in the post-war era and the singularization of thought, but haven't these relationships - as I've tried to suggest here - intensified further since the time of his writing? Haven't the relationships between thought and subjectivity become more singular today? The connection to "professionalization" embodied in the concept of the specific intellectual seems inadequate to account for the new forms of technical-scientific labor, as well as the transformations taking place in those professions most closely identified with intellectual work: with those academic professions which are, everywhere, in crisis today.

In response to these questions, it seems particularly important to point to the events of 1989, which signal the emergence of new, unexpected, forms of being. The type of "belonging without presupposition,"[34] which Giorgio Agamben has seen in the Tiananman protests and the fall of the Berlin Wal - that is, forms of belonging without relation and being without identity - provides us with a new basis for thinking about the relations between existence, politics, and sociality. "In the final instance," Agamben argues, "the State can recognize any claim for identity."[35] What is intolerable to the State is the affirmative expropriation of identity; the potential for human beings to belong, "without any representable condition of belonging (even in the form of a simple presupposition)"[36] These new forms of belonging signal the emergence of what Agamben has called whatever singularities: a being whose community is mediated not by any condition of belonging (being red, being Italian, being Communist) nor by the simple absence of conditions. . . but by belonging itself.[37]

If thought is, as Brian Massumi has so eloquently paraphrased Deleuze, the "being of a non-relation"[38] (i.e. an event), then the emergence of forms of belonging without relation (as modes of resistance in the present) can be seen as indicative of a radically new and emergent potential: for thinking and living - in a word, belonging- in relation to thought without the State. Perhaps the political function of the intellectual is no longer universal nor specific but whatever in Giorgio Agamben's sense.[39] Whatever, not in the sense of an indifference with respect to thought, but its affirmation as such.[40] The affirmation of the fact that we think (prior to any identification with systems, schools of thought, or professional associations). Without identity. Without presupposition. The exposure to being as (exposure to) thought.

Becoming-intellectual [41]

The whatever intellectual, then, would not be characterized by any specific position or relation to thought but only by its capacity for thought as such. Its love for thought such as it is. A love of, and desire for, thought as a mode of existence, a way of living. Perhaps this is a relation to thought which all intellectuals can share and enter into composition with. Perhaps the political function of the intellectual today is not simply to struggle alongside and with particular groups, but the radical refusal, insofar as this is possible, of all forms of mediation and representation in relation to thought; that is, the expropriation of mediation in relation to the belonging of thought (including how we live, work, and function as intellectuals in the world). Perhaps what we are seeing in the new forms of intellectual being is the emergence of a Spinozist "common notion" of an amour intellectualis.[42] If the being of language is, as Giorgio Agamben suggests, an exterior relation of belonging based, not on language itself, but on human beings entering into language then, perhaps, the being of thought has an analogous relation to the outside: the encounter with what Agamben has called the, "pure exteriority of language."[43] The being of thought, in other words, may harbor a relation to the outside which is, inherently, a relation to belonging itself: that human beings have to enter into composition with the outside, with other bodies and the world, in order to think. The being of thought-the brutal fact that we think - may be such a relation. It may even be the case that the being of thought can be conceptualized in Spinozist terms as the becoming-intellectual of the multitude.[44] It is, perhaps, our love for thought itself - the brutal fact that we have to come together in order to think - that forms an immanent (and alternative) basis for thinking and living in relation to thought. The coming intellectual, to borrow a formulation from Giorgio Agamben, is whatever intellectual.

Conclusion: What is non-philosophy?

There are times in life when knowing if one can think differently than one thinks, and perceive differently than one sees, is absolutely necessary if one is to go on looking and reflecting at all

-Michel Foucault [45]

The only important problem is what happens on the ground

-Michel Foucault [46]

[L]ife making thought active, thought making life affirmative

-Gilles Deleuze [47]

We do not lack communication. On the contrary, we have too much of it. We lack creation. We lack resistance to the present. The creation of concepts in itself calls for a new form, for a new earth and people that do not yet exist

-Deleuze and Guattari [48]

Perhaps the connection between thought and life has never been greater than it is today. Perhaps this accounts, as well, for the never-ending effort to sever this connection, to render its power (potential) immobile, inoperative, and non- existent. The whatever intellectual does not exist. Literally. Actually. Really. There is no representative or mediative figure that could stand for such a creature. It does, however, subsist-and, perhaps, persists in being itself-as potential. As such, the whatever intellectual has the quality and status of an event. What is the potential announced by the emergence of the coming intellectual? How can we give expression to its nascent potential? What are the limits in which this creative activity (form of expression) can take place? Foucault's theory of dispositifs[49] presents, I think, a useful strategy for sketching out this line of thought.[50] What are the predominant lines of force, of knowledge, of power, and of subjectivity, in the historical present? What are the limits imposed on us (both in general and with regard to this problem) and how can we go beyond them? I would like, by way of conclusion, to briefly articulate three areas where further research along these lines seems particularly relevant: those in the domains of knowledge, power (subjection), and subjectivity (subjectivation).[51]


The merging of knowledge with new forms of mediation (seen, perhaps, most clearly in the contemporary uses of information and entertainment as mechanisms of hyper-discipline) poses new challenges for thought. Knowledge-power relations have become both more subtle and more complex (e.g. modern advertising practices such as "branding," the new "reality-based" television shows, the emergence of "cyberspace," and the development of "bio-technology," all of which have opened up new "markets" for knowledge). Such developments suggest a fundamentally new relationship between the visual, the discursive, and the biological. If the pragmatics of thought have been profoundly altered by the events of the past 25 years, so too have the practices, techniques and strategies of representation. What is representation today? What are its practices? How does it work? What forces make up its composition in the present? What constitutes a relation of interiority and what a relation of exteriority in this new composition of force relations?

Power (subjection)

Relations of power-as we have already seen-increasingly work through strategies of separation; expropriating the affective potential of singular subjectivities for limitative aims. Bodies in post-disciplinary societies have become, in the language of John Waters, "permanently punished." [52] The widespread implementation of strategies of prevention and risk management-in both the work place and in politics-presents discipline as a permanent, never-ending, feature of life. Individuation has become the object of increasing efforts of control. The State, in effect, has already grasped the singular nature of subjectivity. It no longer seeks to simply produce a "possessive individual," but to grasp or work on whatever singularities. In this context, it seems inadequate to simply state (in new and different ways) that the "author is dead." The State already knows this (an insight which many poststructuralist theorists have been slow to acknowledge). As Deleuze remarks, "We're no longer dealing with a duality of mass and individual. Individuals become ‘dividuals,' and masses become samples, data, markets or ‘banks.'"[53] Subjection has now taken on a more "collective" form. It seeks to grasp singularities, rather than "individuals."[54] The death of the author, we should remind ourselves, is not something that has actually happened (at least in the political sphere, leading to the creation of a democracy of singularities). The exposure of the collective and inessential nature of subjectivity - announced by May '68 - has, instead (and in the absence of the realization–so far–of its project for a democracy of singularities), made the persistence and proliferation of the power of the author (subjection) all the more necessary; a power which has become, perhaps, infinitely dispersed. What we are experiencing today in the post '68 era is the emergence of new mechanisms of hyper-possessive individualism through which the power of identification and subjection have radically proliferated. "Instead of disciplining the citizen as a fixed social identity," Michael Hardt observes, "the new social regime seeks to control the citizen as a whatever identity, or rather as an infinitely flexible placeholder for identity."[55] What we are left with is a form of hyper-possessive individualism appropriate to the neo- conservative State-form; one that works on entire populations of collectively identified bodies, extracting their affective potential (and, therefore, their potential for thought and forms of belonging) for reactive ends. All forms of singularization are also forms of belonging (collectivities without identity). Nothing could be more destructive than the effort to grasp singularities (and to read Deleuze's "transcendental empiricism") according to the new forms of possessive individualism which are just now beginning to emerge. It is in this context that what Foucualt called the "author-function,"[56] can and must be reconceptualized further, in line with our present circumstances.

Subjectivity (subjectivation)

The struggle to live and the struggle to think have, in the present composition of social forces, become intertwined to such an extent that the connection between them (between thought and life) has, itself, become a mode of resistance. Nothing, perhaps, is more intimate to a given body than its capacity to think (to invent and create something "new" in relation to life). The capacity for thought is, itself, an affective potential.[57] Its intimate relation to forms of individuation cannot be ignored, nor underestimated. It is in this context that the theoretical implications of the contemporary antagonisms between life (forms of subjectivation or singularization) and power (forces of knowledge-power-subjection) can, I think, most fruitfully be analyzed. This activity, however, cannot be separated from the type of life that engages in such a critique. A critique that, perhaps, can only be carried out in the domain of life itself; in which the connection between individuation and thought is not separated by mechanisms of power nor mediated, perhaps, by institutions. As Deleuze characterizes the "critical" problem of the relationship between thought and knowledge: Does not critique, understood as critique of knowledge itself, express new forces capable of giving thought another sense? A thought that would go to the limit of what life can do, a thought that would lead life to the limit of what it can do. A thought that would affirm life instead of a knowledge that is opposed to life. Life would be the active force of thought, but thought would be the affirmative power of life.[58]

The antagonisms running through our present social order can be mapped out along the axes of thought-life-subjectivation, on the one hand, and knowledge- power-subjection, on the other. Contemporary efforts to separate thought from its conditions of possibility-to separate a thought from what it can do-cannot, I think, be disassociated from the effort to separate bodies (subjectivities) from their potential. "Life," Deleuze reminds us, "struggles with another kind of life." [59]

Another kind of life is a different life. And the most different, in the language of Agamben's whatever singularity, is the most common.[60] In this context, particular attention should be paid to those bodies (in the widest sense of that term) which stubbornly resist "belonging" in relation to the legislation of thought in all its forms. It is, perhaps, those bodies which do not, and cannot be made to, belong to the establishment of hyper-disciplinary knowledges-bodies, the very existence of which have to be denied precisely because of the threat they pose to the legislation of thought-that deserve our most careful attention in the historical present. What is most different in relation to philosophy, what doesn't "belong" to the history of philosophy (and what doesn't "exist" from within its perspective), is perhaps what Deleuze and Guattari have called "non-philosophy." ." "Non-philosophy," they write, "is found where the plane [of philosophy] confronts chaos. Philosophy needs a nonphilosophy that comprehends it; it needs a nonphilosophical comprehension just as art needs nonart and science needs nonscience" (What is Philsophy?, 218) . This is, if I am not mistaken, a conceptual map of the encounter between philosophy (art, science) and life (in the langauge of Deleuze and Guattari, between "the plane of immanence" and the "plane of philosophy"). To think, to become-intellectual, "The philosopher must become non-philosopher so that non- philosophy becomes the earth and people of philosophy.[61]

The question that poses itself (with a certain sense of urgency in relation to the problems I have raised here) after Deleuze, Guattari, and Foucault is perhaps not, "what is philosophy?" but, "what is non-philosophy?" [62] How is it that non-philosophy (as an-or the most-intimate relation between thought and life) constitutes the conditions of possibility for thought itself? How is it that the event of thought (its affect) takes place or becomes effective in the encounter between philosophy and non-philosophy? How is it that such (rare) encounters give, "voice to an unknown people?" (as Deleuze says), effectively producing a new way of thinking and living in relation to thought? It may be the case that the subtle and insidious mechanisms of power-knowledge relations in post-disciplinary societies have, as their ultimate goal, the active prevention of such encounters. It may even be the case that what is in danger of being "policed" out of existence is not philosophy itself, per se, but its relation to non-philosophy: in the language of Deleuze and Guattari, the "plane of immanence" of thought. While attention has been paid in recent work to the problem of the relation between immanence and philosophy-of how immanence presents itself as a problem for philosophy-the question of how, and in what ways, immanence poses itself as a problem for non-philosophy remains relatively unexplored (Antonio Negri's work stands out as an extraordinary exception in this regard). How is it that the immanence of social forces in post- disciplinary societies presents itself as a problem for life (for the earth itself)?[63] And how does the immanence of social forces present itself as a problem in relation to the "plane of immanence" of non-philosophy? The problem of non-philosophy (as a problem of the event) can perhaps be approached in relation to Foucault's "way of seeing." In a remarkable interview about his late friend's work, Gilles Deleuze states: For him, to think meant to react to the intolerable, to something intolerable he had seen. And the intolerable never was the visible; it was something more. One had to be a bit of a seer to grasp it. This, too, was part of Michel's genius: thinking was an experiment, but it was also a vision, a grasping of something intolerable.[64] Foucault's way of being a political intellectual was to write the event; to show us through his descriptive writing what isn't there. As Deleuze remarks: Something was intolerable precisely because no one saw it, because it was imperceptible (even though everybody knew about it). . . it was not a secret; it was something not seen. The seer is indeed someone who sees something not seen.[65] The connection between philosophy and non-philosophy is presented in these comments as one of seeing (the event of) the intolerable and exposing it, as such; not to "make it visible," but to make it "problematic," to construct an immanent field of problems in which to work. Non-philosophy, in a sense, is the problem of philosophy. It is its event. As Deleuze so eloquently spoke of this relationship, "In the act of writing there's an attempt to make life more than personal, to free life from what imprisons it" (Deleuze, Negotiations, 143).

There are lives with prodigious difficulties; these are the lives of the thinkers

-Gilles Deleuze. [66]

[N]othing is bitterer than a long dwelling in potential

-Giorgio Agamben.[67]

We think, according to Deleuze and Foucault, only rarely; when we are forced to, when something happens to us, when a problem bears down on us with such force that we can't get out from under it without creating a line of thought, a line of flight, a way out. Thought is a line of flight which has a life, a unique experience and encounter with the forces and relations of life itself - a desire for life - as its conditions of possibility. "[T]hought," Deleuze reminds us, "cannot think by itself.[68] This essay was written out of the experience of a long crisis. A crisis in relation to thought, a crisis of thought, and a crisis of belonging in relation to thought. The homeless intellectual is not just something that I have seen on the streets of San Francisco, nor simply an idea that I have formulated based on my knowledge of contemporary social thought. It is something I have lived.[69] Although I am no longer a homeless intellectual, the affective experience of this encounter‹a direct encounter with the reality of post-disciplinary societies‹formed the basis for the present work, and has left me in a state of crisis regarding the nature or pragmatics of thought itself. I no longer know what it means to think (even, I might add, in relation to Deleuze's famous formulation of this problem).[70] The life I lived as a "homeless intellectual" was predicated on a constant state of separation: of my body from its thought, of my life as I lived it-and the intelligence of that life-, from my potential to give expression to it (a constant state of separation from my "self" or body as a unique intellectual existence).[71] (And, it is important to point out, such separations and the problems they expose are fundamentally different from those produced within academic institutions). Such an intellectual existence does not "belong" - either to established forms of intellectual association or to the world of "work" it is forced to endure. From the perspective of the "established" social order, such a "being"-intelligent, yet without any position or representative "work" - does not, and perhaps, cannot be allowed to, "exist." If, as Deleuze writes, "the world does not exist outside of its expressions, "[72] then neither does the (multiply singular) "self." What does this mean in a world in which thought and existence have become coextensive? What does it mean when individuation, thought, and belonging have become radically politicized? This essay is not simply about the fact that "I" exist, but that intellectual ways of being radically different from those taking place within established forms of association do exist and that such forms of intellectual existence (and the type of belonging they imply) are extraordinarily important for thought, for politics, for individuation, for life; in short, for becoming-intellectual. The whatever intellectual does exist, even if its direct expression remains wholly suppressed. As Jack Smith - who lived his life as a work of art to such an extent that he eshewed all forms institutionalization and mediation in relation to it-wrote, "What doesn't exist is important."[73]

In conclusion, I would like to remind the reader that these remarks on the "political function of the intellectual" are merely provisional. They are presented here as indications and directions for future research, and should in no way be interpreted as final or definitive statements. One thing, however, is certain. If we do not ask these questions, if we do not take our relations to these problems seriously, they will be answered for us. As Deleuze remarked with respect to the emergence of the societies of control, "There is no need to fear or hope but only to search for new weapons."[74]


This paper was originally delivered in lecture form at the Fifth Annual Humanities Symposium, San Francosco State University, on April 15th, 1998. I would like to acknowledge the following individuals whose support and intellectual friendship contributed to the writing of this work: Thomas Carl Wall, Mark Lester, Robert Burns Neveldine, Timothy S. Murphy, and Steve Shaviro.

[1] Difference and Repetition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994) 139.

[2] A Thousand Plateaus (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997) 376.

[3] Wait for Me at the Bottom of the Pool (London: Serpent's Tail Press, 1997) 111.

[4] On the concept of "intellectual labor" see Antonio Negri, "Interpretation of the Class Situation Today: Methodological Aspects," in Werner Bonefeld, Richard Gunn, and Kosmas Psychopedis (ed.) Open Marxism: Volume 2: Theory and Practice (London: Pluto Press, 1992) 69-105; Paulo Virno, "Notes on the General Intellect" in Saree Makdisi, Cesare Casarino, and Rebecca Karl (ed.) Marxism Beyond Marxism (New York: Routledge, 1996) 265-272; and Maurizio Lazzarato, "Immaterial Labor," in Paulo Virno and Michael Hardt, Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996) 133- 147. This concept is discussed in more detail in the text below.

[5] Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983) 3.

[6] "Control and Becoming," interview with Toni Negri in Negotiations (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995) 175-176.

[7] "Postscript on Control Societies," in Negotiations (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995) 178 Deleuze is following a line of thought in the later work of Michel Foucault. See also, Hardt and Negri, Labor of Dionysus: A Critique of the State-form (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994) esp. 257-261; and Michael Hardt, "The Withering of Civil Society," Social Text 45 (Winter, 1995) 27-44.

[8] Deleuze, "Postscript," 178.

[9] ibid., 179.

[10] ibid., 177.

[11] ibid.

[12] ibid., 181.

[13] The most obvious example of these transformations can be seen in the work place. Temporary and contract work has, in many instances, replaced permanent employment. The old concept of having a career for life is, for all practical purposes, gone. Workers are now expected to change careers several times over the course of their lifetime. The newly emerging fields in high-tech employment require a working day that is substantially longer than 8 hours (approaching 12 and 14 hour days on a regular and continuous basis) and a commitment to continual training and re-training to keep up with changes in the newly emerging "skills market." Much of this training is expected to take place outside of work, in the worker's so-called "life time" (and, in fact, the complete fusion of "work time" and "life time" is a feature that indelibly marks these new careers). Between March and August of 1997, I worked for 6 months as a multimedia contract employee for Microsoft. The "campus" where I worked featured a state of the art cafeteria (two floors, high beamed ceilings, glass encasing, artificial stream just outside its doors, and walls filled with images of corporate propaganda). One day, I was eating my lunch when I noticed a large concrete slab covered with graffiti, apparently presented as an art installation. On closer inspection, the "art installation" proved to be a piece of the Berlin Wall. This is, perhaps, the ultimate metaphor for work in post- disciplinary societies. The Berlin Wall, and the power it came to symbolize, is no longer effective in one place, but its power, literally, has been proliferated throughout society.

[14] The California Education Technology Initiative was a proposed partnership between the California State University system and major high-tech corporations such as Microsoft. Under the failed agreement, corporations would have provided technological equipment and training to the CSU system in exchange for access to its "market:" the CSU student body.

[15] "Interpretation," 93.

[16] "Immaterial," 140.

[17] In addition to the sources cited above in note 4, see the interview between Deleuze and Foucault, "Intellectuals and Power" in Foucault, Language, Counter-Memory, Practice (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977) 205-217.

[18] Here, I am following Hardt and Negri's analysis in their Labor. What is meant by the state-form here follows Foucault's typology in relation to the "last instance" of power relations: as the strategies in which they [force relations of power] take effect, whose general design or institutional crystallization is embodied in the state apparatus, in the formulation of the law, in the various social hegemonies (History of Sexuality Volume 1, 92- 93–parantheses mine).

[19] See Foucault, History of Sexuality Volume 1 (New York: Pantheon, 1979) 92- 102.

[20] A Thousand Plateaus, 531 n 39. This is one of the major differences between Foucault's position and Deleuze's and Guattari's. Social formations are defined, according to Deleuze and Guattari, primarily by how they try to contain their movements of escape or becoming: a society is always defined by its lines of flight, which are molecular. There is always something that flows or flees, that escapes the binary organizations, the resonance apparatus, and the overcoding machine: things that are attributed to a ‘change in values,' the youth, women, the mad, etc (217). Deleuze and Guattari call this type of formation an "apparatus of capture." Foucault's position, referenced in note 19 above, is slightly (and famously) more ambiguous. See, also, Deleuze's comments in his, "The Intellectual and Politics: Foucault and the Prison" History of the Present 2 (Spring, 1986), esp. 21.

[21] And, in fact, this is precisely why the designation "post-disciplinary should be used with caution. "The formulation postcivil," Michael Hardt observes, like postmodern, is finally limited by its backward gaze; it is too reactive to do justice to the new paradign of social relations" ("The Withering," 40).

[22] See Hardt and Negri, Labor 1994.

[23] On this point see Negri, "Interpretation," 1992. and Lazzarato, "Immaterial Labor" 1996.

[24] "Postscript," 181.

[25] My use of the term "subjectivity" is not meant, in any way, to refer to a cartesian subject. For the sake of communication (and, I think, in order to escape the "ideological" constraints of "school based" languages). I have opted to use the term subjectivity in several instances to refer to what Deleuze calls "singularities" or processes of "singularization." My use of the term is meant to draw out the relations between singularities (or forms of subjectivation) and politics, between "subjectivity" as designating the limits of subjectivation in contemporary societies (however one chooses to name such relations), and resistance. I reserve the term subjection to refer, later on in the text, to those practices which seek to produce a cartesian subject .

[26] 13.

[27] For Foucault on "governmentality," see his essay of the same name in Burchell, Gordon, and Miller (ed.) The Foucault Effect (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991) 87-104.

[28] The Coming Community (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993) 1.

[29] Power/Knowledge (Pantheon: New York, 1980) 127.

[30] ibid., 128.

[31] These comments were written by Foucault in response to the final question of the interview and were first published in English translation as, "The Political Function of the Intellectual" Radical Philosophy 17 (1977) 12-14.

[32] Power/Knowledge. 132.

[33] ibid.

[34] Coming. 85. I am indebted to Thomas Carl Wall for numerous conversations on the work of Giorgio Agamben. For the best secondary source on Agamben in English, see his "Agamben: the Political Neuter," in Radical Passivity: Blanchot, Levinas, and Agamben (Albany: SUNY Press) forthcoming.

[35] Coming. 86.

[36] ibid.

[37] ibid., 85

[38] See Massumi, User's Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992) 16 and 147n.14; and Gilles Deleuze, Foucault (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986) 62-69.

[39] Thomas Carl Wall presents a particularly clear image of Agamben's whatever singularity: whatever being is a pure and empty relation to language, to predication, such that only in language is whatever being as it is, yet without being defined once and for all. Not being its predicates, but being-called (this or that, "American," "masculine," e.g.). Whatever being is not its qualities. It is its exposure to all its qualities that each particular quality re-says or re-calls. The existence of whatever being is purely linguistic, purely being-called. Thus it is in language that whatever-being finds itself, suffers itself, touches itself in the pure passion of being-called. It is itself an empty totality that envelops its real existence as this or that (184–page number refers to the author's manuscript).

[40] As Aagamben explains: exposure is pure relationship with language itself, with its taking place. . . A thing is (called) red by virtue of this, insofar as it is called such and refers to itself as such (not simply as red), it is exposed. Existence as exposure is the being-as of a such. (The category of suchness is, in this sense, the fundamental category that remains unthought in every quality). Coming, 97-98.

[41] The present work seeks to stake out a terrain between Negri's "immaterial labor," Agamben's "whatever being," Foucault's theory of dispositifs, Deleuze and Guattari's critique of the "image of thought" of representation and the unique experiences of my own life in order to arrive at a concept of the "whatever intellectual" as a mulitply singular mode of "becoming-intellectual." It is my hope that this work, whatever its failures, may be useful, not simply to "homeless intellectuals," but to anyone who seeks to live an intellectual life (whether they happen to be "in" or "out" of an institution).

[42] See Spinoza, Book 5 of the Ethics proposition 34, corollary (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1982) 229.

[43] "Preface: Experimentum Linguae" in Infancy and History (London: Verso, 1993) 6.

[44] For Spinoza on the multitude, see "A Political Treatise" in Chief Works of Benedict De Spinoza (Dover: New York, 1951), esp. chapter 2, paragraph 17. See also, Antonio Negri, The Savage Anomaly (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), and his, "Reliqua Desiderantur: A Conjecture for a Definition of the Concept of Democracy in the Final Spinoza," esp. 238-243 in Montag and Stolze (ed.) The New Spinoza (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997).

[45] The Use of Pleasure: History of Sexuality Volume 2 (New York: Pantheon, 1984) 8. In what was reportedly the last interview Foucault gave before his death he suggested that he was trying to "disengage" himself from the "forms of philosophy" he had previously worked in: I do this in order to make it [philosophy] serve as a field of experience to be studied, laid out and organized; so that this period, which some will see as one of radical non- philosophy, is at the same time a way of thinking more radically the philosophical experience ("The Return of Morality," 318 – parentheses mine). It is important to point out that this period of Foucault's life was also punctuated by his immersion in the practices of late 1970's gay male subculture (not to mention Zen Buddhism and LSD).

[46] "Questions of Method" in The Foucault Effect 83.

[47] Nietzsche, 101.

[48] What is Philosophy? 108.

[49] There is no English equivalent to the French term dispositif. Michael Hardt has succinctly defined it as, "a mechanism or apparatus which has both material and immaterial elements working in concert," Art of Organization (Seattle: University of Washington, 1991) 217. See, also, Daniel Smiths comments in his translation of Deleuze's "Desire and Pleasure," in Davidson (ed.) Foucault and his Interlocutors (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997) 183n. 2.

[50] I have been greatly influenced here by Deleuze's gloss on Foucault's theory of dispositifs. See his, "What is a Dispositif?" in Armstrong (ed.) Michel Foucault: Philosopher (New York: Routledge, 1992) 159-168.

[51] The variablity of these lines of force (lines of variation) can be seen in the fluidity of the relations between them (the problems discussed in the following could be placed under either of the three headings insofar as each line of thought refers to, crosses, and implicates the others).

[52] Dialogue from the film Hairspray, 1988, New Line Features.

[53] "Postscript," 180.

[54] In the 1980's, for example, gay men–who had already developed a collective sensibility in relation to the event of Stonewall–were reterritorialized enmasse through discursive techniques which sought to create a new, limitative, permanent, and continuous identity around "safe sex." For an example of this argument in relation to gay male subjectivity, AIDS, and the discourse of safe sex, see my unpublished manuscript, "Dying to Know" (Seattle, 1995).

[55] "Withering," 40.

[56] See, "What is an Author," in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977) 113-138.

[57] My use of the term affect follows Deleuze's as a "pre-personal intensity."

[58] Deleuze, Nietzsche, 101. For the antagonism between thought and knowledge, see Deleuze and Guattari, op. cit., esp. 374-380; Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), esp. 40-60; Deleuze, Nietzsche, esp. 103-110; Deleuze, Difference, esp. 129-143. For a useful secondary source which draws out some of these ideas in relation to Deleuze and Foucault, see John Marks, "A New Image of Thought" New Formations No. 25. (Summer, 1995). 66-76.

[59] Deleuze, Nietzsche, 8.

[60] "Agamben," 182.

[61] What? Op. Cit., 109.

[62] Here, we should note the place and appearnace of these remarks in the final page of what is Deleuze's last major work (this volume was originally to be authored by Deleuze, but his health forced the intervention of Felix Guattari. Although Essays Critical and Clinical appeared after the publication of this volume, it consists mostly of previously published and collected essays exploring the theme of Deleuze's other unwritten work on literature). Perhaps it is here, in the final page of What is Philosophy? that we should look for Deleuze's future (for his becoming-intellectual). Perhaps Deleuze's entire ouvere could be re-read in relation to these comments, at the same time that they would constitute the source for an unwritten, incomplete, work to come.

[63] For a useful discussion of the problem of critique in relation to the immanence of social forces, see Timothy S. Murphy, Wising Up the Marks, 29-34. Of particular interest are Murphy's comments on the "non-existence" of collective forms of singularization from the perspective of what he calls "reflective postmodernism" (32), and his extraordinary discussion of sociality in the thought of Deleuze and Guattari in relation to the problem of "totalization" (34-45).

[64] "The Intelectual and Politics," op. Cit., 1. I would like to thank William Ray Arney for drawing my attention to this interview as long ago as 1993.

[65] Ibid., 20. At this point in the interview, Deleuze laughs: perhaps we can imagine a bit of Foucault's famous laughter coming through in these remarks from his old friend.

[66] Nietzsche, op. cit., 101.

[67] Idea of Prose. Trans. Michael Sullivan and Sam Whitsitt (New York: SUNY Press, 1995), 65.

[68] Nietzsche, 104.

[69] The outline of these circumstances bear repeating because they expose the pragmatic context in which the present work was written. I am a gay man of lower-class origins. Financial difficulties forced me to drop out of college in 1983, at the age of 21. The subsequent default of my student loans meant that I was ineligible for federal student financial aid and condemned me, for thirteen years, to a life of customer service and wage-labor work. In early 1990, seven years after first leaving school, I was able to obtain a cashier's job at the University of Washington (Seattle), allowing me to attend school part-time (as a full-time employee) from 1991 until 1992. Upon my early "retirement" in 1992, I was able to return to full-time undergraduate study at the Evergreen State College for two quarters in the Winter and Spring of 1993. Then, 14 credits (one quarter) shy of completing my BA, I was forced to drop out of school, once again, due to a lack of funds. The three years that followed were even more impoverished (intellectually and materially), marked by the almost desperate attempt to complete my degree and be "allowed" to lead some kind of intellectual life. In 1994, while working full-time in a video store, I became homeless (and remained so from July of that year until January of 1996). I lived in my car for several months, stayed in the bed and breakfast where I worked part-time as a desk clerk and housekeeper, and ended-up declaring bankruptcy. The bankruptcy allowed me to return to school and complete my degree, graduating in the Winter of 1997. For nearly 13 years of my life–during the period that I considered to be my philosophical apprenticeship and while all of my friends were completing their Ph.D.'s–the bulk of my time was spent working at monotonous, repetitive, dead-end jobs. My life was consumed by the effort to survive. There was little time left to actually live, let alone "time to think." I read and wrote infrequently in the "spare time" that I was able to steal from work: on the bus, during rare vacations, during periods of unemployment, and during lunch breaks.. Even gaining access to a computer in order to write was difficult (I had to illegally buy student I.D. cards from friends who were "real" students in order to use a campus computing center). Today, I continue to feel the "effects" of what my body has "learned" from this experience. I am, I think, permanently afflicted with a strange form of writer's block. My experiences, encounters, and relations in the world have provided me with more than enough raw data from which to think. I have no problem formulating and becoming excited about ideas. What is a problem for me, however, is finding the means to give expression to them. My body has learned the lesson, the habit, of not being able to express itself, no matter how hard it tries: no matter how much its passion demands that a "work" be written, no matter how scintillating or clear its thoughts and verbal formulations may be. This is a form of "censorship" which (originally exercised through economic means) has been learned by the body and, thereby, made constant, insidious, and all the more effective. It is this experience, and its social bases, that I am writing about in the present work.

[70] See, for example, Difference (1994), 129-143. As Deleuze remarks, "it is a question of someone–if only one–with the necessary modesty not managing to know what everybody knows, and modestly denying what everybody is supposed to recognize. Someone who neither allows himself to be represented nor wishes to represent anything" (130). The question remains, what is the image of thought–of representation–today? It is not, I think, the same as it was at the time that Deleuze made these observations, but has become something far more complex (something capable of reterritorializing, even, Deleuze's critique of this image of thought).

[71] One of the unique features of my life is that it (my individuation) remains completely bound-up with my capacity to think. It was my love for thought that allowed me to overcome the limitations of my lower-class, rural, Mormon, background. It was my capacity for thought that allowed me to live despite the multiple efforts - economic, social, and religious - to control, circumscribe, and limit that life. The loss of my connection to intellectual work at the age of 21 was devastating to me. For thirteen years, my life was characterized by the constant (almost daily) struggle to find "time to think," to "be" an intellectual. I continued to study but, unable to write, turned my attention to artistic production. I slowly (imperceptibly) began to integrate my life - my immersion in both gay and artistic subcultures- with my intellectual work; studying and living with the work of Gilles Deleuze in the confines of these spaces. Thinking and having ideas was never a problem for me. Having the time and space (the means) in which to give expression to them (outside of speech)was problematic, if not altogether impossible. Even trying to write presented enormous difficulties. To write meant to confront the separation that had marked my entire existence all over again. What is the point of even trying when you won't be "allowed" to finish (the thought, the sentence, the paragraph, the essay, the book)? To even attempt to write meant to muster the energy to face the loss of my own relationship with thought all over again; to risk having the work be interrupted (and thus lost) by the problems and demands faced simply in trying to survive and make a living. Each time I tried to write, I had to go through this process all over again. Even when, through the most extraordinary efforts, I was finally able to write, it was virtually impossible to remain connected to the "work" precisely because of the outside separations that would inevitably intervene.

[72] Cited in Massumi, "Involutionary Afterward,"

[73] Wait for Me. 154.

[74] "Postscript on the Societies of Control," in October No. 59. (1992)

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Published with allowance of Robert Thomas