Without rhyme or reason, I thought of dedicating this introductory part (from a book chapter anthology on Deleuze and the Pandemic that I hope to complete by the end of the week) to a newly installed University President (yes, right in the middle of the pandemic), a one-‘time’ friend, but a deeply respected ‘one’. Out of that dimension of nowhere becoming, the pandemic forces me to recall a conceit-in-progress, call it whatever-becoming you like, but this one is unexpectedly less worse than memory can serve.
Flight of the Stationary
“Flight is challenged when it is a useless movement in space, a movement of false liberty” (Deleuze and Guattari,1986:13). Deleuze and Guattari wrote these lines in a section called ‘An Exaggerated Oedipus’, challenging the notion of Oedipal conflict as the productive principle behind neurosis. In their book on Kafka, Oedipus becomes instead a product of desire, which is “already submissive and searching to communicate its own submission” (10). There is a specific type of coding involved in this communication, in Deleuzian terms, creating “a singular phenomenon” called “surplus value of code,” a “side-communication” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: 53), particularly in light of Covid-19.
With SARS Cov-2, the side-communicative value of the surplus code of human and non-human interactions in a rapidly shifting immunological landscape, humanity (this man that has become a poorly encodable ape) was forced to submit to a new but autochthonous desire already tied to the ambivalence of submission. It desires others’ submission, just as it is in submission to the signature triangulation of the conflicts of Oedipus. Not just inside the households, but in schools, factories, assembly lines dominated by “bureaucracy as desire … as an exercise of assemblage itself” (56). In the early months of the pandemic (which, incidentally, the CIA has long predicted; yes, the CIA [Snowden, 2019]), the home (there is no other place), however, has exceedingly replaced these spectrums of psychonoesis, this bureaucracy as the desire for ambivalence, reminiscent of a true poison: “poison is only poison by virtue of the fact that the organism directs its activity against it, strives to assimilate it” (Schelling, 2004: 56).
When the best approach to fight the pandemic was to wait for the contamination curve to flatten, no less than the site of the ambivalence of assimilation, the home occupied the center stage of the organism’s event of becoming-virus, becoming-plaque. Their flight to becoming can, nonetheless, only be ‘stationary’, not a “reproduction or imitation” of escape, which, at this juncture of multispecies life, is merely an expression of “false liberty” (13). Inside the home, the virus, however, is supposed to confront also the impossibility of totally becoming-man itself, even as it is “from subsequent impossibilities that [becoming] mutates and changes form,” such as, in the case of Gregor Samsa, from a luckless salesman to a giant insect. As it were, Samsa illustrates a shoddy form of becoming, a “botched” deterritorialization no less of “becoming-animals of stories“ (Stahl, 2016: 222). Today, this animal story could not be mistaken for something else. What is the pandemic other than this messed-up becoming-failure of assimilation?
It is a failure so far to the extent that there is no” maximum of difference or degree of intensity” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1986: 22) yet achieved in becoming. On the one hand, since the onset of the pandemic, man’s becoming-animal-story shows itself capable of self-deterritorialization as a household unit of the family structure; a transindividuation of sort hooked to visual images and algorithmic feedback and feed-forward loops while the virus rages on, requiring quarantine and lockdown protocols (which is another animal story), morphing the home into one folded bureaucracy, an assemblage in one, absorbing the workplace and the public space. Never has a space called home been a functional home, marked by a particular degree of intensity caused by hybridizing work and new forms of individuations. A kind of Deleuzian ethology (Fox and Alldred, 2021) emerges at these fluid intersections, creating the home-fold as an immanent ontology.
On the other hand, the becoming-man of the animal inside the enclosure is undergoing flights of the stationary, a curious test of becoming, but unprepared to embrace the antinomian resolution. To stay in the cage is to remain as a constant unit of the assemblage. This way, one continuously connects with desire that can sustain the maximum of difference, as yet achieved, thus, delays its becoming-incompletion’s fading out into oblivion (in case of the total victory of the virus) and unencodable chaos into which species life plunges without thinking (expressed no less in the final explosive jubilation of entropy). Here the Deleuze-Guattarian Kafka questions the ground of the iterability of liberty as the freedom to assimilate a social code: “(“… freedom was not what I wanted. Only a way out; right, or left, or in any direction; I made no other demand”)” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1986:13).
Finally, amid the alternating refractions of immunology traversing the human and non-human divide, how to achieve that ‘maximum of difference’ concerning these two becomings approaches the question of the refrain. This concerns the question of which becoming can yield a sort of power capable of creating a new assemblage, “a new plane of surplus values” (Hammond in Tuinen and McDonnel, 2010: 233), which redirects desire away from the logic of submission, from that desire to communicate its triangulation- oh yes, into an endless recursive ontology.