Slavoj Žižek's book Organs Without Bodies: Deleuze and Consequences
attempts to rethink the philosophy of Giles Deleuze with an eye towards doing what he refers to as taking a philosopher from behind, and trying to produce a "monstrous offspring" that is at the same time still recognizable as the product of the philosopher's thought. Žižek seeks to similarly subvert Deleuze. In the final chapter of the book, entitled "Politics: A Plea for Cultural Revolution," Žižek engages with the Deleuze on political grounds, with an eye towards showing how Deleuzian political thought, rather than being a subversion of contemporary capitalism, is in fact the epitome of it.
He begins his analysis with the image, borrowed from Lecercle, of a yuppie sitting and reading Deleuze and Guattari's What is Philosophy
. Lecercle envisions this scene with a certain glee, amused at the yuppie who foolishly believes that the book will have something to teach him about philosophy. But Žižek sees it another way, suggesting that the yuppie may see himself perfectly mirrored in the book. Žižek points out that advertising, popular toys, and virtual reality/video games very much mirror Deleuze's concepts. As he puts it "There are, effectively, features that justify calling Deleuze the ideologist of late capitalism." (Žižek 184)
Žižek takes this in two directions. First of all, he takes the explicit political approach, looking at how the Deleuzian/post-modern mode of authority is itself oppressive, and requires overthrowing, asking "How, then, are we to revolutionize an order whose very principle is constant self-revolutionizing?" (Žižek 213). His point here is that the Deleuzian position of continual reterritorializing is itself a somewhat fascist one, in that it actively prohibits revolution. After all, as he asks, how can one revolt against continual revolutionism? Especially without returning to simple fascism?
But he also deals with, in the subsection called "Netocracy," the notion of an internet culture. This is the argument that is relevant to media theory, and so it's what I'll focus on.
Žižek is obviously engaging the application of Deleuze and Guattari's essay "Rhizome" from A Thousand Plateaus to internet culture, though he doesn't make that explicit. (That article is annotated here
) The typical application of the rhizome is to describe the anarchic and free-wheeling nature of the internet, but Žižek undercuts that by pointing out the ways in which the "netocracy" is fundamentally related to capitalism – specifically the way in which information, through patents, copyrights, and other mechanisms of intellectual property. Information, in the netocracy, is just another commodity. Certainly, there are those who oppose the commodification of information, but they are limited to "violent negative actions lacking any positive, future-oriented program." (Žižek 194)
Žižek's writing is clear and witty, as one expects from him, but in this instance suffers from a certain failure of accuracy. For instance, he ends his analysis of netocracy by pitting the coming Microsoft security system called Palladium against open source development like GNU/Linux. But this opposition doesn't make complete sense – Palladium is the ability to encrypt and hide your personal files and information. But GNU/Linux is not against encryption – all open source development attempts to control is software, and the means and methods of producing software. They use copyright law in order to ensure the continual openness of the software. (All of this is described in detail in Stallman's GNU Manifesto – something that should really be annotated by someone at some point) One of their central arguments is that only through open development can software be truly secure. So Žižek's opposition that he ends this argument with just doesn't quite work. There are other similar points in this chapter where his examples just don't quite reflect reality. That doesn't necessarily invalidate what he's saying – one can come up with other examples to support his point. But it's certainly something anyone seeking to apply Žižek's theories should be aware of.