Proposteral Ouragonisations

By Howard Slater, 6 July 2004

What is it that typifies and stymies organisational cultures, be they enterprising or oppositional? The repression of psychical multiplicity and alterity into the strait-jacket of the Self, argues Howard Slater


One of the main problems with discussions on organisation, it would seem, is the temptation to abstract-out a method or ‘model’ of organising from the social relations that form an organisation. Put another way: ever-permeable social relations are made to ‘fit’ a form of organisation. This is perhaps the same as saying that discussion on organisation tend towards a reification of social relations. One could then add that these reified social relations are precisely those that abound in the world of work. The predominance of ‘enterprise culture’, where people are organised not according to their affectabilities but in accordance with their subjectification as a ‘postholder’, and organised according to roles, seems to replicate itself in the very areas that are organising to resist this ‘enterprise culture’. It is not only new organisations that are necessary – manifold counter institutions that could (and are already) bespeckling the social field with a potential legitimation crisis – but new modalities of organisation; approaches to organising that take cognisance of the ‘supplety’ of belonging, the demasking of identity and the desire for a non-utilitarian experiencing. In other words, forms of organisation that develop social relations not as some abstract sociological category, but as an emotional dynamism wherein words often don’t fit.

The problem with organisation, then, is that it can often be goal orientated, it can become a matter of homogeneity, it can construct consensus, it can neglect to be fully aware of the ways in which it reintroduces elements of psychical dependency that are more readily attributed to individual psyches. On this latter point the organisation can, in a sleight of hand that affects many of its members, appear to overcome the dichotomy of the individual and the group just by dint of naming itself as a collective entity. Such naming creates a semblance of unity that today is hardly afforded to the individual; afforded at the cost of the ever-wandering pursuit of an imaginary Self (ego ideal), a unification beyond the sensory dispersal of the subject that relates more to a narcissistic longing for wholeness and unity that is unrealistic (and damaging). In these instances the organisation acts as a stand-in, a metaphoric form of unity, that appeases individual bad conscience and protects it from its dispersal, its internal emigration, its becoming intellect-in-general. In the depths of each there are groupuscules, social relations striate the psyche.

This ‘personification of the anonymous’ carried out by the proud member is tantamount to making sure that all organisations function like enterprises: their external image needs to be marketed and their internal social relations are based on, at best, a thoughtless, self-preserving, form of exploitation of each/other. The result is that the organisation as a whole exculpates the exploitative behaviour of each. Within such enterprising organisations it is difficult to speak of social relations as social per se, they are asocial relations that institutionalise a kind of animalistic instinctiveness. This approach extends into the way that such organisations go through a selection process called recruitment: the job description is a kind of legalisation of the asocial relations and the ‘quality’ of that relation often depends on an hierarchical inequality and an optimal quantity. New members have to respect this, and what’s more, invest it with some desire so as to survive socially within the organisation. Here, then, the enterprise, bandying together its members as the sane same, functions a little like a cabal: protecting itself from the alterity and haphazardness of emotionally inflected social relations (i.e. the other) by means of bespoke languages and unenigmatic procedures. The groupuscule of the psyche is quietened and the social relations are not so much a raw material as another form that ‘fixed capital’ takes.

What seems to run through these enterprising organisations and what restricts our scope is not just the way that organisations become entities, abstract unities, but the way that they are premised on forms of inter-relation that could be said to be based on an a priori relation. The Situationist International came together through a process of selection that selected the ‘right type’; an activity linked people in common that was not enough to sustain the group relation. The reason for this may be that ‘someone of our type’ is often only energising if we are seeking shelter from the other and the alterity of endlessly permeable social relations that make us ‘think feeling’. Such selection and the process by which we alight on a ‘type’ is often the bane of such organisations: it cannot emigrate from an image it has of what is sufficient for itself, it cannot refrain from narcissistic choices that bolster a sense of individuality – the personification of the anonymous by means of the individual member (e.g. Guy Debord as group super-ego of the SI). But this bonding through a priori relation leads to a cabalistic short circuiting of social possibility; the horizon of encounter is foreshortened. The organisation may be radical but it is not radicalising. As Deleuze has said in his introduction to Guattari’s Psychanalyse et Transversalité, such ‘subjugated groups’ are marked by a ‘hateful love determining a limited number of exclusive dominant utterances.’ Customer commitments, manifestos, a corporate phone response, admission rituals...

The old paradigm of organisation that has it that you join, belong and remain on pain of a leaving act of betrayal, is surely, by now, revealed as the domain of paranoiacs and, in other words, people whose individualism has become a pathology. The level of emotional freezing in such organisations (‘hateful love’) is akin to the dysfunctional patriarchal family (another enterprising organisation) of feminist lore. Indeed, the way forward for organisations, or, more humbly, the questions to pose, gravitate around the fact that as individuals we are collective; there is no singular outside the general intellect. We are all groupuscules because we are traversed by a listened-to emotion, inflected and disarticulated by differing situations, attentive to the desire of the other and, emigrating from former selves that remain co-present to us in memory.

To doubt whether such mutating entities, such becomings, can be organised at all is to premise the claim of unity and wholeness beyond that of myriad solidarities, a pointillism of pop-up vacuoles. Deleuze:

‘a group subjectivity which does not allow itself to be enclosed in a whole bent on reconstituting a Self (or …super-ego), but which spreads itself out over several groups at once. These groups are divisible, manifold, permeable and always optional. A good group does not take itself to be unique, immortal and significant…but instead plugs in to an outside…up to other groups.’

The organisation should be more than able to permit continual becomings if it refuses to be representative of or to compete in the game of apparentness. In this way the imperceptible organisation does not develop a sense of its ‘entity’ as opposed to other ‘entities’, it refuses to aggrandise to itself the prestige usually sought by the ego of an individual psyche; it is only in relation-to. Likewise, if the organisation is not structured or dominated by a guilt-inducing sense of belonging and betrayal, if it is not insecure in its relation to the other, if it is not seeking to specify and hone down a defining utterance, it should be able to give reign to nomadic co-belongings that shatter a restrictive ‘typology’ and embrace the atypical. This would be a means of avoiding the organisation being solely a unification of the same in that it could be used to provide a temporary unity to the migrations of affectability that come from atypical encounters, from crossings into places that are unexpected (the unexpected can always be encountered because too often we remain self-same and compassed not least in vocabularies). In this way there are many politicising lessons to be learned from musicians who do not always stay with the same group, who play amongst differing configurations, who solo on some tracks and scrape the beat in others, who compose and improvise, who pluck then strum, who sing then wail, who make sounds adequate to express compacted emotions when words all too often fail.

It may be, then, that forms of unity pre-exist us to which organisation can often add a formal layer too many. This unity may well be language, and it is the mode of address within an organisation, the means of expression, that can help to make the boundaries of an organisation more permeable or stiffen them up into a paranoiac shell. The enterprising organisation has its topics and its language so well demarcated that you are dominated by the a priori utterance of a special-interest group. Failure to fully invest in these utterances jeopardises you to the same extent that the most vociferous shrink into smaller and smaller circles of language that become condensed into dogmatic and dominating pools. Such instrumentalised language becomes inflected with a ‘typical’ authority that ends not only in taming the enigma of the other but, in becoming blind to its own language use, limits its possible affectability. At worst, such a language-use becomes a code that functions like a ‘stimuli shield’. Just as the enterprising organisation can reify social relations into an entity, permitting no boundary bleed and divisively isolating itself from the social field, so too such an organisation reifies language, removing the ‘social atmosphere of the word’ (Bakhtin), its dispersed origins, and thus reducing the possible emigrations to be won from approaching proximity. Language-use no longer refers solely to things, but can be a threshold of non-a priori encounters, an ambience implying feeling, a means of approaching general intimacies.

Perhaps our way out of the enterprising organisation is too packed with paradox: it attempts to speak-among with words that haven’t been invented on topics that have remained imperceptible – this is the hollow of abreaction, the challenge of ‘locative enigmas’; it attempts to temporalise ‘unity’ by suggesting that the dispersed Self coagulates in intensive moments that can lie fallow before being reactivated by practice – ‘unity’ somehow suggests identity frozen in time and not a becoming between times; it attempts to proffer cohesion around ‘the other thing’ –

a coming together based on what is absent from the among, an inner relation with an outer; lastly, for now, it attempts to make some form of institution from a non-a priori relation rather than repeat the mistakes of meritocratic selection and assimilative recruitment. It says, ‘if we are not known to each other, our coming together adds propulsion to our becoming.’ This ‘way out’, then, packed with paradox, can be a socially immersed withdrawal that aims, beyond entity organisations, towards what Deleuze and Guattari have called ‘zones of proximity’.

An aortawork of streets and towns Motorised inhibitionsTransfer routes of near/farExchanges between conceptual personae

Howard Slater is on the boad of dire rectors of Difficult Fun records [] and is an occasional uploader onto Ourganisation []