In Kathy Acker’s 1990 text Critical Languages, a formula turns up between personal narrative and pragmatic positioning: “Identity, fragile, gives way to identity.” Acker explicates a situation that is essentially the more contestable in that it first appears in all its banality. That the movement of identity and fragility is infinite, or rather, as Acker writes, that it only has an end, if at all, in death, seems obvious. But this means, not least, that no sublation can be hoped for, that one can aim at no prestable I, but rather that the process of the continual appropriation of identity neither can nor should stop. In this image, at the end of life as well, it is only one’s own authorship that comes to an end; the movement between identity and fragility does not at all. Acker died of breast cancer in 1997. And to take up her perspective seventeen years later is not only to barely attempt to bridge Acker’s own absence through this approach; it is also, through the embedding of “Critical Languages” in a changed present, to change its identity, to make it fragile and pose it anew through its re-production. Thus the past legibilities and exigencies of Acker’s texts now become fragile through their actualization, in the best case, or in the worst case become identified in their becoming-nostalgic. Only the process that passes from the latter to the former case concretizes Acker’s position – in the past just as much as in the present. Thus: a continual production of identity that, at first in its quite formulaic generality is indeed historically variable, but which appears to be extensible almost without limit: it can be projected back onto the hopes for progress of the first half of the twentieth century just as much as onto the postmodern and post-structuralist escape attempts in the context of which Acker’s own writing developed. And even in our own catastrophically administered present since the financialization crisis of 2008, fragility and identity cannot be separated from each other, and Acker’s statement remains timely. Its timeliness, however, has become different; the meaning of Acker’s words has changed.
Indeed even a cursory look back at modern identity politics makes clear how rapidly Acker’s formula rubs up against its historical limits. It can hardly be read as modern, as in many of the modern emancipatory projects and utopianisms of the first half of the twentieth century it was exactly the sublation of this infinite process between identity and fragility that was hoped for. The emergence of identity out of fragility here appeared not least as a historical transitional phase on the way to a future realization of emancipatory freedom: with Theodor W. Adorno, for instance, in the figure of “reconciliation,” and with Ernst Bloch as an ontology of the “Not-Yet-Being” of a life still to be realized. “Fragility gives way to identity.” But modernity also pushed in the opposite direction, towards the sublation of these fragile processes of individual emancipation: in the National Socialist ideology of the Volkskörper (body of the nation), for example, or in the Stalinist attempts to replace individual with collective voluntarism, identity was meant to become wholly communalized. Both forms of politics aimed at the self-(re)producing unity of an (expanding) collective identity that would have expelled all difference and contained all fragility. Acker’s formulation becomes abbreviated to “Identity gives way to identity.” Nonetheless, Stalinism’s violently simplified idea of socialism had, in its origins, aimed at a historical dialectic of collective and individual emancipation, just as much as the hopes of Adorno and Bloch.
Yet even Adorno’s adherence to possible reconciliation in the face of a disintegrated modernity after the Second World War, his hope for the belated redemption of its missed realization, now seems truncated. In Negative Dialectics, he had linked the realization of philosophy to its ability to reconfigure its own thinking when confronted with National Socialism in Germany, in order to henceforth reassess what it was in the Enlightenment that could have led it to barbarism. But this did not happen. The process of realization that Adorno hoped for is today no longer on hold: it has been cut short. This cutting short, not the approach to a reconstructed reconciliation, is what became stabilized. For this reason what especially comes to the foreground in Adorno’s thinking today is particularly its holding onto the negativity of the social context. For indeed: “That in the concentration camps it was no longer the individual who died, but a specimen – this is a fact bound to affect the dying of those who escaped the administrative measure. Genocide is the absolute integration. It is on its way wherever men are levelled off […] until one exterminates them literally, as deviations from the concept of their total nullity. Auschwitz confirmed the philosopheme of pure identity as death. […] Absolute negativity is in plain sight and has ceased to surprise anyone.”
Yet this negativity is today still thinkable in fragments; it remained outside the camps of lived life, while the figure of reconciliation, its counterpart in Adorno, no longer corresponds even to a utopia that could only be experienced conceptually. For only where the dialectic comes to rest, where it is no longer a process of continual negativity, would sublation and reconciliation be conceivable. While dialectic, “the subject-object dichotomy that has been driven into consciousness is inescapable for the subject, furrowing whatever the subject thinks, even objectively – it would come to an end in reconciliation. This […] would open the road to the multiplicity of different things and strip dialectics of its power over them. Reconciliation would be the thought of the many as no longer inimical, a thought that is anathema to subjective reason.” Yet the dialectic did not come to rest, it disintegrated, and thereby allowed reconciliation to become unthinkable. Already for Adorno, it was only an active figure in art, secured beyond the liveable, beyond that which can be destroyed. For, according to Adorno, “aesthetic reconciliation is fatal for the extra-aesthetic. That is the melancholy of art. It achieves an unreal reconciliation at the price of real reconciliation. All that art can do is grieve for the sacrifice it makes, which, in its powerlessness, art itself is.” In art, thoughts are driven towards ends that they cannot reach in life; this is why, for Adorno, the difference between the two remains so essential. Art as an exception indicates that it cannot be an exception. Nonetheless, bereft of the perspective of its distant reconciliation that for Adorno remained preserved as a necessary, teleological figure of thought for possible emancipation, artistic fictionalizations in the decades after him became increasingly secularized as a simultaneously artistic and political intervention. Reconciliation thereby changed, for example in Acker, from a distant presentiment into a present destabilization, a lived contradiction. “Identity, fragile, gives way to identity.” Modern art no longer ceased to refer to an impossible realization, but rather became – and this is what Acker advocates in her formula – an unsuspendable realization. Over the decades, Adorno’s modern thought moved towards Acker. Adorno was actualized. In a tragic turn, his basic refusal to recognize the present as the positive measure of things today obtains an unforeseen practical radicality precisely through the loss of the bourgeois hope for emancipation that he had preserved in art. For in this practical perspective of a Negative Dialectics abandoned by reconciliation, Adorno’s theory over time became not only more fragmentary, as it already was in the moment of its writing, but also more concrete. What for Adorno was banished to art as the place of irreconcilable negative praxis broke through – so I will argue in what follows, using Acker’s formula – into everyday life, in its full negativity.
That Adorno was unable to think such a breakthrough is largely due to the fact that he identified the identity of bourgeois subjects with their social downfall to the same measure as their liberation was to depend upon its emancipation. For the bourgeois subject-form – which here confronts art and which is, according to Adorno, excluded from art’s appearance of reconciliation – institutionalized itself in conformity with the structure of capitalist property. As an identified part of socially omnipresent exchange, it lost the possibility of that fragile identity that for Adorno has its unhappy place in art alone. It is this juridical property of the bourgeois subject in itself that already for Karl Marx became identified with the figure of the “doubly free” wage labourer – free from the means of production and free to sell its labour power – on the basis of the contradiction between abstract freedom and concrete unfreedom, and that here makes identity a formal limit, a compulsion. And on the basis of this figure, the actualization of Adorno’s theory, which I have only hinted at above, allows itself to be concretized for a moment: for indeed, since the financialization crisis of 2008, this attacked and worn-out subject, the identity of which is based not least on the forbearance of the property-form, has been able to coexist with its economic negation. Property in oneself, the basis of bourgeois identity, had always experienced brutal devaluations in capitalist crises. Yet in the financialization crisis, the bond between this abstractly secured identity and the concrete economic possibility of its reproduction came undone once again: the abstraction of property in oneself as freedom became the concretion of the indebtedness of this property as unfreedom of the self. In what Costas Lapavitsas, for example, has traced as the core of the financialization of capital since the 1990s – the financialization of individual capitals, of pensions, of savings, mortgages, insurance, and other systems meant to secure the individual’s quality of life – (bourgeois) identity becomes one exhaustible capital among many; it becomes what Maurizio Lazzarato has characterized as the making of the “indebted man.” The negative dialectic that for Adorno is the motor of social processes here obtains practical radicality as a figure of argumentation. With it, one can insist on the homology between individual and total social identity. To insist that bourgeois identity, as a crisis-wracked property-norm, does not designate an individual failure, but rather a social process of expropriation; a process in which property and identity must be separated in order to think of fragility as other than merely economic. For the abstract origin of the identity of the bourgeois subject out of property in oneself, such as Adorno describes, becomes, for the “indebted man,” a mortgage. It now designates an economic fixation and identification of bourgeois subjects in a state of permanent fragility: a depersonalized fragility that nonetheless still lies at the core of identity. We may thus hope that, against this, “Fragility, identified, gives way to fragility” will become thinkable; that the process of fragility beyond the question of property, which Adorno evacuated to art, can cross over into a social practice. Hence Acker. Hence her formula. Her identity politics of the 1980s and 1990s might now, in the 2010s, furnish the historical anchor for a current understanding of fragile identity.
What Acker sought in the formula “Identity, fragile, gives way to identity” was ultimately this: a strengthening of fragility as a concretization of the abstraction ‘identity.’ Nonetheless, it is precisely the generality of the formula that makes the infiltration of the historically specific into Acker’s perspective, just as much as into Adorno’s, at all possible. In a text she published in Artforum in 1984, in the midst of another capitalist recession, Acker cited the British physicist David Bohm: “We must turn physics around. Instead of starting with parts and showing how they work together… we [must] start with the whole. Description is totally incompatible with what we want to say.” Acker, too, begins with the whole. Again and again. Yet in contrast to Adorno she does not grasp it by means of his stumbling historical ideal-types, but rather by means of present representations of their culturally legitimated ideal-identities. Acker takes hold of the canon of exemplary artist-subjects, out of which bourgeois culture composes itself, and breaks it. She interrupts the continuity that Adorno still hoped for in art as a counter-movement to the negative dialectic of society. Her novels oppose a history of literature into whose male (anti-)hero narratives she (born Karen Lehmann in New York, 1947) could only enter as an exception. Acker zeros in on the exception. Not in order to position herself within it, to take up the place offered to her and to write from it, but rather to pull everything into this exception so as to sink the history of literature into it. Acker begins from the whole, which is not only, as in Adorno’s figure of irreconcilable negativity, more than the sum of its parts, but also clearly less. “Identity, fragile, gives way to identity” becomes, for Acker, a continuous process of dehierarchization, in which fragility is not an interlude, but rather migrates into identity itself and reconstructs it. The bourgeois subject’s abstract property in itself is here denaturalized. It is made corporeal as concrete subjection and domination of its own self and others, in that Acker, for example in her appropriations of passages from the writings of the Marquis de Sade, Marcel Proust, or Charles Dickens, made her cut-up technique – the cuts through the bodies of their texts – the foundation of her own writing. Acker’s fragile identities feed on the expropriation of bourgeois property. And in this, her expropriations brutally actualize the expropriated: the narration that stitches together the works of bourgeois high culture into a reconciliatory perspective is cut to pieces by concrete desire, by desire that draws its power from the challenge to bourgeois property itself.
If one attempts to actualize Adorno’s thought through Acker’s expropriations of bourgeois culture, the perspective of his negativity is also displaced. It becomes just as fragmentary as the identity that today develops in it and out of it. Acker’s identity is not one of emancipation but rather of permanent expropriation. Inasmuch as she begins, with Bohm, by understanding the whole not as an abstraction from individuals but rather as a practical appearance of an identity that is, finally, likewise particular, their relation becomes dehierarchized. Acker’s brutality makes all identities fragile. Contrary to Adorno, negative dialectical cohesion no longer promises any meaning but rather emerges finally as a no less particular perspective of the whole. The total context is no longer impenetrable, it no longer forces identity into fragility, but rather fragility is the core of its identity: not a very reassuring, but a very lively perspective. Adorno does not become obsolete. But he loses his safe haven in bourgeois (property-)culture.
Acker’s texts register this form-of-life as a transition from the 1970s to the 1990s, a time during which the social status of her own practice as an art critic fundamentally changed: what she herself names acts of joy and friendship turned into professional positioning and processes of valuation. In Critical Languages, Acker discusses, not least of all, the changed meaning of art criticism, amidst the commercialization of the New York art scene (to which she, like Cindy Sherman or Richard Prince, had belonged since the 1970s), and with a view to the elitism of art that, in Great Britain, had demonstrated to her how its social meaning had become entirely aesthetic. But Acker extracts no swan song from this panorama of the commercialization of formerly fragile forms of appropriation on the margins of art; she does not plead for happiness in the exception, but rather attempts a new opening of the context, an opening destined to engulf the context itself. Her text ends with the words: “May we write, not in order to judge, but for and in (I quote Georges Bataille), ‘the community of those who do not have a community.’” She still attempts to decouple her own text from a culturally secured field, from a context of reciprocal value-stabilization, and seeks fragility in the purposeful de-naturalization of even her own language, its continual concretization and expropriation.
At the beginning of the 1980s, Acker described the role of art, too, as that of a form-of-life. “If art’s to be more than a craft, more than a decoration for the people in power, it’s this want, this existence. I take for granted that this ‘is-ness’ whose corollary has to be ‘uselessness’ is the nature of Modern art.” Acker no longer sees herself in modern art. She rather wishes to allow her writing to become ever more “useless” again through the actualization of desire, of will. Fragility is necessary to dispossess identity of usefulness, to allow it to become fragile. Acker sees the fundamental uselessness of modern art behind her, in that she registers how her labour produces social value: the social status that the art market grants to her and to those she writes about, and that it also retrospectively bestows on modern art. If the modern genres of art, about which Adorno wrote as a contemporary not even twenty years earlier, still obtained their uselessness categorically by means of their use-value-free media, by means of their exclusion from the social context of valorisation, which for Adorno also allowed them to become a locus of deferred reconciliation, they did not thus at the same time become living opposites to the industrial machines of capitalist production, but rather existed only as their reverse side. The (medium-)specificity of the modern genres was due not least to the continuous formulation of their social uselessness. Moreover, it is recognized, like the individual’s property in itself, within the legal framework defined by modern bourgeois society. The abstract freedom of the subject and the abstract uselessness of art condition each other: for Adorno, (modern) art appeared qua its socially ordained uselessness as the last still-thinkable expression of concrete freedom, as fragile identity. Hence it is this uselessness that for Adorno, no less than for Acker, stands at the centre of modern art. Yet Acker’s desire is oriented to specific fragility and indeed specific uselessness, not to the “promise of happiness” that for Adorno is concealed behind it. Acker concretizes fragility and uselessness, in that she transforms them, in the figure of expropriation, from a social abstraction to a social concretion. This is not the least of what makes her text so actualisable for the present. It is precisely this fixation of fragility, described above, as at present above all a matter of economic abstraction, that today makes the question of identity so vexed.
Adorno’s unfinished Aesthetic Theory, which was published in 1970, a year after his death, still defends this artistic uselessness as a systemic outlook on the possibility of a lived, non-coercive fragility, which can however, as already indicated, only exist in the realm of art. Acker breaks through this constraint in that she designates both art and art criticism equally as forms-of-life, as interlocked productions of concrete uselessness, concrete fragilities, concrete identities. The figure of a “syllogism without concept or judgment” as well, for Adorno the emblem of modern art as the locus of a thought beyond the drive to property in one’s own identity, for Acker is beholden to its concrete limits: “For fiction and fact are wedded. [...] Critical language, language which denies ambiguity and exists primarily for other than itself, reifies the Descartian mind-body split by denying the existence of the body.” Acker pulls art criticism, and language as such, into the process of a “syllogism without concept or judgment.” She expands the figure of uselessness, too, with the inscription of the body into the ambiguities of art.
For Adorno, such a transition was still unthinkable. Modernity, at the centre of which Adorno, like Acker, locates the uselessness of art, was still characterized by the fact that the artistic genres were systematically separated from the media of general reproduction. Yet this systematic and juridical identification of genuinely artistic media became blurred after the Second World War, with the artistic utilization of mass-cultural techniques and the mass-culturalisation of art. Already in his 1963 essay, “Art and the Arts,” Adorno stated that the modern genres had crossed over into each other. In the blending of artistic genres with the media of utility, for example with photography – the mobilization of which in Richard Prince’s work Acker described in 1992 as an a-social practice that does not aesthetically contain the misogynist core of society, but rather uncovers it photographically – these utility-functions increasingly migrated into the development of art. For Acker, this process is so far advanced, twenty years after the publication of Aesthetic Theory, that uselessness is no longer to be delivered by the artistic medium, but rather must now always be produced in the process between the medium and its social embedment. Artistic medium-specificity is here to be found not least in the production of uselessness out of use, in allowing bodies to come into being that, fragile, seek their own identity.
Between Adorno’s philosophical claim to a negative system in which art emerges as a genuine identity, as an exceptional appearance, and Acker’s writerly production of other, fragile bodies, lie not merely some twenty years, but also an ocean and a political, philosophical, and psychoanalytic discussion of the 1970s, which Acker so productively banalised: the debate over post-structuralism. A short excursus on this debate follows, as Acker’s change of register – the reason why she moved art to the centre of political struggles for fragile identities – touches not least on the attacks that Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari had begun to launch at the end of the 1960s against critical theories of the bourgeois subject, whose central philosopher was Theodor W. Adorno. After meeting in 1968, Deleuze and Guattari together wrote against philosophy and psychoanalysis, but also, importantly, within philosophy and psychoanalysis. Their Anti-Oedipus of 1972 is a concentrated attack on the politics of the negative philosophical system, and is argued as a critique of this system’s authors and of the bourgeois subject whose (negative) identity it had, in Adorno, held together.
Of his collaborative work with Guattari, Deleuze said in 1977: “We are trying to extract from madness the life which it contains,” a historically quite variable task. Not only because, with the advent of Clozapin at the beginning of the 1970s, the first atypical antipsychotic drug came onto the market that was specially applied to schizophrenics – precisely the pathology that Theodor W. Adorno in Negative Dialectics had already placed at the centre of bourgeois society after the Second World War. For, according to Adorno: “Dwelling in the core of the subject are the objective conditions it must deny for the sake of its unconditional rule. They are the conditions of that rule, and they are what the subject would have to get rid of. The premise of its identity is the end of compulsory identity. […] Yet nothing that fails to invade the zone of depersonalization and its dialectics can be intellectually relevant any longer. Schizophrenia is the truth about the subject, from the viewpoint of the philosophy of history.” Adorno places depersonalization as the subject’s historically necessary repression of itself at the centre of schizophrenia. And it is precisely in the final sentence of this quotation that Adorno’s 1966 philosophy of missed realization intersects with Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus of 1972 as the theoretical introduction to a permanent realization. For both, it is the temporal core of madness, the materialism of its social structure, that makes it an inescapable object of all more than merely administrative political thought. Yet the location where this materialism of its social structure is surmised shifts positions between Adorno and Deleuze and Guattari: if with the former it lies in the relation between the identity of subjects and the fragility that the object-world forces upon them, in the latter it pushes beyond the point of their distinction. The subject, the bourgeois form of identity, is for Deleuze and Guattari no limit of materialism; it is not its liberating agent, nor the agent to be liberated, but rather must itself be subverted, as an element of capitalist production and as a form of domination. Here,
Oedipus is a dependency on the paranoiac territoriality, whereas the schizophrenic investment commands an entirely different determination, a family gasping for breath and stretched out over the dimensions of a social field that does not reclose or withdraw: a family-as-matrix for depersonalized partial objects, which plunge again and again into the torrential or depleted flux of a historic cosmos, a historic chaos. The matrical fissure of schizophrenia, as opposed to paranoiac castration; and the line of escape as opposed to the “blue line,” the blues.
That Adorno is stuck in the “blue line,” in the social blues, seems doubtless. In one of his last books, he looks towards an emancipation that has become historically disjointed, a present that has been terminated by the past. In their first co-authored book, Deleuze and Guattari on the contrary grasp the present as the horizon in which the past and future intersect. Through the displacement of the subject from the status of an agent to that of a venue for political struggles, they open a space for action that is full of possible affirmations. Adorno’s macrological negativity becomes a micrology of the positive. Deleuze and Guattari analyse the pathologies of a society whose modern forms had entered into crisis after the Second World War; a crisis that both had taken an active part in extending, in France in the 1960s. In this crisis, depersonalization became the entry point for an individuation: a flight from Adorno’s subject, to whom depersonalization could only appear as the threat of its own depletion. Deleuze and Guattari expropriate the bourgeois subject, steal its life for the schizo, for another life. This was a crisis triggered by anticolonial struggles, by civil rights movements, by workers’ strikes, student struggles, by antipsychiatric and feminist advances; a crisis of social orders, a political demonstration of the permanent crisis of the bourgeois telos. And yet, in Anti-Oedipus no new revolutionary subject arises out of the structures of the 1960s. Rather, Deleuze and Guattari comprehend the individuations of their participants as the split centre of the crises that enveloped them: common to all those in struggle (and not only those on the street) is that they attempted to withdraw their desires, the ‘will’ that in Acker emerges at the centre of art, from their productive functions within capitalist functionality. To become useless is here a program. A uselessness, however, that does not expand out of art, but is rather located at the core of the subject: an identity that makes itself useless. Anti-Oedipus therefore does not demonstrate which liberated subject ought to arise from social struggles, but rather that that this liberation would instead be one from the subject – a social process of variable desires. The madwoman, too, is no truth-teller, but is rather traced back to her social limits in order to account for the production of a desire, the aim of which (still) forgoes the social perspective that it would require. Here, everything is production. “[P]roduction is immediately consumption and a recording process (enregistrement), without any sort of mediation, and the recording process and consumption directly determine production, though they do so within the production process itself. Hence everything is production: production of productions, of actions and of passions; productions of recording processes, of distributions and of co-ordinates that serve as points of reference, productions of consumptions, of sensual pleasures, of anxieties, and of pain. […] This is the first meaning of process as we use the term: incorporating recording and consumption within production itself, thus making them the productions of one and the same process.” Desires are productive. But in what relation they mediate the reproduction of different individuations as well as the continuous reproduction of oedipal subjectivity in capitalism lies in the question of social movements, and also fails with them. Political micrologies are bound to practical solidarities. If Adorno’s disjointed subject could only hope for self-relinquishment in the final sublation of bourgeois-capitalist history, it nonetheless retained its own form as a temporary refuge for this hope. Deleuze and Guattari’s individuations directly refer to the Other and to others; the subject-form offers them no protection, but instead only constraint. And yet here there occurs a constant appropriation, an incessant production. The perspective of sublation falls, but out of it arises the practice of appropriation.
Acker’s strategic displacement of this de-subjectivation to the terrain of art, her substitution of expropriation for appropriation, trades the loss of a socially functional subject-form for an artistic politics of its becoming-fragile. For Acker, the bourgeois culture that surrounds her, and its capitalization after World War II, remain the anchor for expropriation. As with Adorno, the negativity of the context remains central for the struggle against it. With Deleuze and Guattari, this anchor comes loose. Their schizo acts in the midst of the bourgeois world in a refusal to recognize itself, even negatively, within it.
As Jacques Donzelot wrote in 1975: It is
… as if Deleuze and Guattari had said to themselves: Marxism is fine, its way of putting matter there where one had seen the spirit or some strange substance. But why in hell did Marx stop when he was on such a good path? Desire merited the same treatment as other phenomena. With this omission having been made, it is not at all surprising if the Marxist method only permits understanding things half way […] Let’s be more Marxist than Marx. Let’s go all the way. We will also do a materialist analysis of desire, hence lodging it well within the foundations of the social system. And if Marxism falls apart as a result of this, it deserved it.
Adorno, Acker, Deleuze and Guattari are unanimous with respect to the necessity to put an end to capitalism as a system of human domination of the self and others, as a continuous compulsion to identity. The bourgeois subject’s property relation toward itself is for Adorno the ineluctable condition of emancipation, just as much as its limit. For Deleuze and Guattari it is indeed this property relation that in every moment practically makes impossible a desire that would go beyond it. And with Acker, finally, it is expropriated, and only out of its expropriation does the possibility for fragile identity arise. The question of liberation remains central, in all cases; it is only that the location of fragility has drastically shifted.
Adorno’s understanding of capital was always oriented to the image of exchange, which made it impossible for him to position the constitution of the bourgeois subject as the violence of desire just as much as violence against desire. His subject-form is a property-form, and its bourgeois form of circulation is exchange, which individuals, according to Adorno, cannot renounce except in art. Yet, that it is indeed this property-status of the subject-form, the continuation of capital in the material of identity, that makes it necessary to declare fragility as an exception – either as art or madness – becomes for Deleuze and Guattari the point of departure for the dislocation of this centre itself. The bourgeois subject’s schizophrenia, which was already its truth for Adorno, becomes for them the force field of its productive desire. And with this we return to the open syllogism and to Acker: “Identity, fragile, gives way to identity.”
Acker’s formula anchors her politics of (artistic) expropriation to a historical location between Adorno and Deleuze and Guattari. Anti-Oedipus was in fact written nearly twenty years before Critical Languages, yet after its first emergence as a politics of the dissolution of bourgeois subjectivity’s property-status, which Deleuze and Guattari disseminated in the 1970s, it also emerged for a second time – it was realized in the present in a negative form. In Deleuze and Guattari’s schizo we can today recognize elements of the financialized identity of the “indebted man” (Lazzarato): a form-of-life that is driven to constant production, but whose materialization is continuously in question. For the indebted human of the financialization crisis, property in oneself has become a mortgage that compels constant production. If the hope for a “schizo-culture” in the 1970s was linked to the political perspective of a radical political practice, to the simultaneous production of a social framework beyond bourgeois pathologisation, in the present, depersonalization – which Adorno just as much as Deleuze and Guattari located at the core of schizophrenia – has changed from a philosophical, to a social, and finally to an economic fact. In financialization, depersonalization returns as the measure of subjective legitimation, as the core of property in oneself. Against this economic abstraction of the subject-form, struggles for its liberation are central to the present moment – Adorno, Deleuze, and Guattari just as much as Acker must become beholden to the Now. And for this reason Acker’s formula stands at the center of my text. Inasmuch as she sets out from the chimeras of bourgeois culture that still haunt the present and fights for their concrete expropriation for the present being of another body, another identity, her formula offers the greatest generality paired with the greatest concretion. Between Adorno’s impotent gloominess and Deleuze and Guattari’s ceaseless production, Acker’s formula turns, in the present, in another direction. “Identity, fragile, gives way to identity” becomes “Fragility, identified, gives way to fragility” – for indeed, if the latter has become an essential economic determination of the human, today the question arises of how it is possible to connect, again, with an identity that re-personalizes fragility, equips it with a body, and that finally expropriates economic expropriation.
What is the current state of the subject and what about the status of its self-image? In contemporary discourses we encounter more and more “fragile identities,” in artistic works as well as in scientific theories, and those are today much less referring to a critique of the concept of identity, but much rather to the relationship those concepts of identity entertain with the overall precarious state of the subject in current social conditions that are characterized by political upheaval and change.
The book Fragile Identities investigates among other things the chances and also the possible endangerments of such a fragile self and asks for the resurging urgency of a contemporary concept of subjectivity. The publication combines international artistic and scholarly contributions, discussions and project documentations in relation to the second annual theme of the cx centre for interdisciplinary studies at the Academy of Fine Arts Munich.