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(Re)Mapping the centres Membership and State

Trevor Harris

Mestizas and Cyborgs R Us: Ontological Nomadism and the Transnational Public Sphere in Kathy Acker's Empire of the Senseless

Salah El Moncef

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1Quoted on the back cover of Empire of the Senseless (1988), Kathy Acker refers to her novel as an "elegy" to the late capitalist "world of our fathers" – an understatement if ever there was one. More than an elegy, Acker's futuristic vision of a world dominated by ubiquitous multinationals is the autopsy of a social body literally in the process of dissolving into a fluid topos where turbulent "oceans... are the world"; where social "reality [is both] ordered and chaotic" and the only law that governs it is the sailor's triad of change, chance, and statelessness:

  • 1 Acker, 1988, 83, 133, 102-103, 114, 139, 156. Subsequent references are given as ES followed by th (...)

Criminal, continuously fleeing, homeless, despising property; unstable like the weather, the sailor will wreck any earthbound life.... Though the sailor longs for a home, her or his real love is change. Stability in change.... The earth, home, nations, are the sailor's enemy, end to his journey.... [R]eality [for her] is Chance.1

  • 2 See Appadurai, 1993a, Bhabha, 1997, 431-454, Guéhenno, 1995, 15-104, and Serres, 1992, 13-84. For (...)
  • 3 My conception of the atopian has been inspired by Michel de Certeau's theorization of "a-topia" an (...)

2As it is played out in the heterogeneous space of the narrative, the anomie of Abhor and Thivai, Empire's nomadic narrators, mirrors the radical heterogeneity of a global economic context marked by the vanishing of national boundaries and the emergence of a transnational public sphere.2 Among the most powerful peculiarities of Acker's apocalyptic account is the polymorphous model of representation through which she visualizes this public sphere as a "fuzzy topology [of economic] flows" (Serres, 1982, 150), frantically driven by corporate "computers" that have mutated into deterritorialized "organisms[,] chang[ing]... reality" through instantaneous communication and "attain[ing] immortality via biochips" (ES, 83). In a similar shift from the territorialized organic body to the deterritorialized body without organs, Abhor, a mestiza and a cyborg "construct," imagines her emancipation from the rule of the father and the nation-state in terms of a schizoid fading of her consciousness into an imaginary empire (ES, 34). Modeled after the fluid network of transnational capital, yet radically opposed to its devastating effects, this empire recalls Gloria Anzaldúa's definition of "the Borderlands," the atopian3 "third country" founded in "racial, ideological, cultural and biological cross-pollinization":

  • 4 Subsequent references to this text are given as B, followed by the page number.

A borderland is a vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary. It is in a constant state of transition. The prohibited and forbidden are its inhabitants. Los atravesados live here: the squint-eyed, the perverse, the queer, the troublesome, the mongrel, the mulato, the half-breed, the half dead; in short, those who cross over, pass over, or go through the confines of the "normal". (Anzaldúa, 1987, 77, 3)4

3Phrased in the figurai terms of the novel, Abhor's espousal of a "consciousness of the Borderlands" (Β, 77) signals the dissolution of her subjectivity into the chaotic turbulence of the sea, the undetermined expanses of the desert, and the borderless "economic flow" of the "trading arena" – the transnational flux of digitized capital:

The trading arena, the market, is my blood. My body is open to all people: this is democratic capitalism. Today pleasure lies in the flow of blood.... The long-postponed realization of my dream conceived in the confines of the cursed, obliterated city, sinking my bare feet into the delicate ripples of the sands of what once must have been a city, Paris; lifted, thick sand dunes, walking on and on, losing myself in the desert (ES, 55, 83)

  • 5 See Jameson, 1987.
  • 6 See Latham, 1993.

4The haunting significance of Empire's futurism resides in the tropology of such passages, particularly the figurai linkages they weave between Abhor's nomadic impulse, the fluid landscape of her "open" self, and the chaotic flows of a planetary public sphere. It is in this public sphere that she envisions the drama of her selfrealization, projecting her dream on a world scene beyond ethnic moorings and geopolitical borders, an atopian setting that suggests the shifting mosaic of the "video-text"5 and the cut-up collage.6 Drifting through the "post-apocalyptic mess" of the transnational metropolis, the cyborg mestiza literally loses herself in a schizoid public topos, canceling all cognitive boundaries that define her relation to self and place: "I had learned something (already) in the dead city: You are wherever you are.... You've got inside and outside mixed up. You're all mixed up" (ES, 109, 58-59). Such fusion between inside and outside, open self and atopian scene, results in a schizoid (narrative) consciousness spilling inside out, as it were, and "open to everything.... What characterizes [this consciousness] is less the loss of the real... but, very much to the contrary, the absolute proximity, the total instantaneity of things.... [It] is... only a pure screen, a switching center for all the networks" (Baudrillard, 1983, 133).

5However, beyond dramatizing the schizoid (con) fusion of self and scene, Empire's staging of a narrator "open to everything" is also a powerful tool of critical parody. As far as this last is concerned, Jean-Joseph Goux's reflections on psychosis and "simulation" can be particularly illuminating. Formulated in Goux's terms, Abhor's position in the atopian interstice between self and other, inside and outside, organism and machine, indexes a hybrid subjectivity dwelling at the "psychotic limit" of a world thoroughly mediated by corporate communications systems, a world that the cyborg mestiza tries to subvert "by simulating [it] to the point of senselessness" (1978, 127). (As Acker puts it, the "only reaction against an unbearable society is equally unbearable nonsense" [1989, 35] organized into a "war" of "representations.... In such a war... ridicule [is the] best tool" [ES, 94-95; my emphasis].) One of the most powerful expressions of subversion by parodic simulation is a subject posing as a "nerve ending" in a global system of communication, a system which presents itself as a cyborg web of "bio-logical" and "informational influx," an "electrocerebral metabolism where the living ego-centered subject is but an effect [of technological mediation] in the decentralized planetary network". Confronted with the contingencies of the global information network, the subject of the transnational public sphere finds itself facing the ambivalent fact that its schizoid merging into the realm of,

[t]otal intercommunication both torments (it is despotic) and offers the promise of extraordinary, hallucinatory, orgasmic freedom. WORLD-VISION. 'I'is a nerve ending... a broadcaster in the world audiovisual.... We are all erogenous robots – dazzling, abstract, disfiguring psychotic limit which supersedes obsessional consecration and hysterical possession.... The subject is not dead: it has lost its restricted psychology... it has become drive, operation, productivity; machine, sender-receiver, network, synaptic web thrust in the blinking social and biological interconnections.... The subject detached from the elementary social cell [the cellular family], cut off from its immediate human relationships, has become... pure cosmic desire. (Goux, 1978, 123, 127)

  • 7 See Harvey, 1989, 308-14.
  • 8 See Fanon, 1995. Fanon's essay is a central intertextual source in Empire.
  • 9 On the significance of the carnivalesque in Empire, see Stallybrass and White, 1986, 171-90.

6Similarly, as Abhor's open consciousness fades into the fluid realm of total communicative exchange – cyborg computers and the global economic flow – it becomes likewise a synaptic web of mosaic connections where the play of displacement and condensation deconstructs and combines places beyond recognition, recasting them into imaginary landscapes in a disjunctive topology of the mind. Paris, seat of the CIA, the "Rockefellers' industrial buildings," and the New Revolutionary Republic of Algeria, thus emerges transformed into a "city of dreams" (ES, 146, 147) not unlike the polymorphous Los Angeles of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner7 or the "heteroglossic" New York of Acker's Blood and Guts in High School (Brennan, 1994, 261). It is ultimately the schizoid fading of the subject into such landscapes which represents Empire's most radical critique of the world of our fathers and its most tenacious vestiges: the nation-state, the organic social body, and the phallo-logocentric order. Hiding behind the hybrid mask of the French-Algerian,8 embracing the parodic drive of "total carnival,"9 Acker's ontological nomad is born of a fusion with the fluid topology of transnational capitalism (ES, 71). A faceless entity, a body without organs, and a locus without location, Acker's cyborg mestiza is initially an atopian kernel of communication drifting between the deterritorialized networks of the multinationals.

  • 10 My understanding of disjunction is derived from Gilles Deleuze's notion of disjunctive synthesis. (...)
  • 11 On the radical decentering of the "kaleidoscopic subjectivity," see Kristeva, 1974, 317-18.

7After this preliminary commentary, we can now begin to discern the central elements around which Acker develops her conception of postmodern ontology and publicness: first, the nomadic mind and its merging into the chaotic flows of the global marketplace, with its totalizing networks as well as its "disjunctures between ethnoscapes, technoscapes, finanscapes, mediascapes and ideoscapes" (Appadurai, 1993, 280); second, the implosion of the private sphere and its logo-phallocentric foundation, the patriarchal family; and, last, the positing of the atopian self as a trans-categorial subject superseding such monolithic categories as gender, race, national belonging, and sexual practice. Empire's association of its characters' nomadism with the contingencies and disjunctures of the borderless economy acquires great theoretical value to the extent that it dramatizes the ambiguous genesis of a subjectivity split between catastrophic déclassement on the one hand (ES, 34), and on the other, liberation from the reductive dialectic of nationalism vs. internationalism, self vs. other, organism vs. machine, and private sphere vs. public sphere: "My identity... has to be constantly fluctuating possibilities," as Acker puts it (1989, 39). Nowhere is this conception of an atopian self fluctuating at the limits of all reductive categories more eloquently embodied than in Abhor's tattooed body, with its "Eight derms, each a different colour size and form" (ES, 33). A "compound... of hybrid techno-organic embodiment and textuality," the identity of the cyborg mestiza is like the transnational public sphere itself: a disjunctive assemblage10 of "text, machine, body, and metaphor – all theorized and engaged in practice in terms of communications" (Haraway, 1991, 212). Like the "abstract maps" inscribed on her skin (ES, 140), Abhor is a "contested and heterogeneous construct" (Haraway, 1991, 212). Her body open to all people, her genealogy rooted in indefinite ethnic belonging, in "blood and change," in the "dislocat[ion]" of the "self [and] the proper" (ES, 6, 12), Abhor is existentially defined by the disjunctive nature of her selfhood; for it is this particular form of selfhood (at once fragmentary and synthetic) which allows her to evolve into a literally "kaleidoscopic"11 construction beyond categorial fixing – the mestiza, or "'wom[a]n of color'... as cyborg identity, a potent subjectivity synthesized from fusions of outsider identities" (Haraway, 1991, 174):

A transparent cast ran from her knee to a few millimeters below her crotch, the skin mottled by blue purple and green patches which looked like bruises but weren't. Black spots on the nails, finger and toe, shaded into gold. Eight derms, each a different color size and form, ran in a neat line down her right wrist and down the vein of the right upper thigh. A transdermal unit, separated from her body, connected to the input trodes under the cast by means of thin red leads. A construct. (ES, 33-34)

8Let us note, moreover, that the genesis of the cyborg mestiza as a disjunctive aggregate of multiethnic body, (incarnated) text, and communicative machine is premised on an indefinite discursive stance: a subject position conceptualized "in terms of complex, structurally embedded semiosis with many 'generators of diversity' within a counter-rationalist... discourse" (Haraway, 1991, 213). Hence, the founding act behind Abhor's maturation (her apprehension of the links between the totalizing logic of global capitalism, the monolith of the nationstate, and the phallo-logocentrism of the bourgeois family) starts as a negative discursive act which culminates in her conversion to the Algerians' politics of homelessness, camivalesque subversion, and "noise":

I know there's no home anywhere. Nowhere: Exile was a permanent condition. A permanent community in terms of relationships and language. In terms of identity.... 'This nothing society, this nothingness, being every possibility, heralds total carnival'.... The Algerians, in their carnivals, embraced nonsense, such as Voodoo, and noise. (ES, 63, 72, 73)

9At the origin of Abhor's self-imposed exile from the symbolic order is her encounter with the brutal fact of sexual exploitation and her ensuing awareness of the relation between phallocentric hegemony and the fact of class exploitation. The rapist-father as ruthless boss. This traumatic event signals her divorce from the familial world and the beginning of a personal Götterdämmerung, through which she seeks to convert her negation of bourgeois institutions into an affirmative desire to construct an identity at the "limits of [her] vision," an identity founded in the "free[dom] to experiment" with different modes of subjectivity and discursive expression (ES, 13). From this perspective, the self-founded subjectivity that she projects in opposition to the Oedipal scene and its restrictive projections – "the mirrors which control" – amounts to a disjunctive self grounded in non-identity and becoming, "dislocated" from its familial setting, engaged in undoing the "cloturing dialectic of [self]-recognition" and its proprietary logic:

[T]hat night [after the rape] I dreamt that the blood lying over the ocean in front of my eyes was [the] light by which I could see.... The German Romantics had to destroy the same bastions as we do. Logocentricism and idealism, theology, all supports of the repressive society. Property's pillars.... The subjects, us, are now stable and socializable. Reason is always in the service of the political and economic masters. It is here that literature strikes, at this base, where the concepts and acting of order impose themselves.... [The German Romantics] tore the subject away from her subjugation to her self, the proper; dislocated you the puppet... spit at all mirrors which control. (ES, 12)

10After Abhor's rupture with the monolithic world of the father/capitalist/rapist, her freedom to experiment at the limits of a "socializable" being is first expressed through the imagined figures of the drifting paternal body and the vanished boss, two homologous tropes coinciding with two interrelated moments in the narrative: first, at the public level, the evolution of the social body into a disjunctive field of ethnoscapes, technoscapes, finanscapes, and mediascapes; second, on the private level, the inscriptions of disjunction on the trans-categorial body of the cyborg mestiza. As with the collapse of the nation-state and its totalizing logic, the floating bodies of the father and the boss signal the transformation of social space into a decentered topology of human, technological, economic, and information flows. By the same token, this negative moment of social liquefaction inaugurates the daughter's unrestrained vanishing into the "economic flow" of the transnational metropolis: "There's nothing else to be done with bosses.... A boat was floating under the bridge.... In the boat my father I had never known was dead.... [S]inking my bare feet into the delicate ripples of the sands of what once must have been a city.... [I am] losing myself in the desert" (ES, 55, 59, 83). Rising from the ashes of patriarchy, wandering in the deterritorialized fluxes of the capitalist body without organs, Abhor lets herself dissolve into the chaotic landscapes of the city the better to visualize a world patterned after her atopian self: a disjunctive (non)-locus of imaginary visions and fleeting impressions which finds its most marking figuration in her tattooed body and in the fluid (non-) spaces of nothing and everything – ocean, desert, or river – where she projects her self-realization: "Since everything will happen in the future: the present, me, was null.... The river made me feel good. Didn't know why. Maybe it was all those dead and living branches not doing anything and the waves not doing anything... they all came to the same thing, nothing or everything" (ES, 113, 182-183). With the breakdown of the familial scene, the schizoid heroine thus finds herself like "Ulysses [when he] set off on his own to find out the truth": a drifting non-identity projected in an indefinite public topos where "corporate power" is itself adrift in the faceless, "interpersonal" networks of a chaotic world economy (ES, 18, 83).

  • 12 For an explanation of René Thorn's conception of "differential topology," see Atlan, 1979, 221-22. (...)
  • 13 See Castoriadis, 1987, 115-64
  • 14 See Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe's alternative to the "positivity of the social," a conceptio (...)

11Having dealt with the inception of Abhor's odyssey through the transnational public sphere, it is now possible to apprehend the creative potential resulting from her division between the dilemmas of private and public sphere, totalization and fragmentation, paternal hegemony and lawless nomadism. First, it is important to observe that Abhor's alternative to the monolithic world of the father and the chaotic world of global capitalism is an unmarked "realm" at the limits of both, an atopian topos inscribed on her body in the form of "abstract maps" and "conceptual places" (ES, 140). For all its emancipatory vistas, however, Abhor's realm is not altogether free of logical and existential contradictions. While it announces her deliverance from the symbolic order and the institutional base of bourgeois patriarchy, it also reveals the splitting of her motives between two conflicting tendencies: on the one hand, she "dreams" of certain forms of "tribal," or communal, organization erected as an alternative to the institutions of the bourgeois nation-state ("Among the early Christians," she reflects, "tattoos, stigmata indicating exile... served to enforce their group solidarity.... [T]oday a tattoo is a symbol of a tribe or of a dream" [ES, 130]); on the other hand, however, Abhor is very often tempted to reduce her field of action to the monadic space of self-foundation. Clearly, the tribal alternative fails most painfully (Abhor/Jim is betrayed by the racist Thivai/Huck, and she recoils in disgust from the violence of the community of terrorists, the totalitarianism of the Algerian revolutionaries, and the repulsive sexism of Mark and his gang). Yet this failure is not so much a sign of her resignation to the second option as a mark of her desire to reach a stage in her existential struggles that would transform the antithetical terms of both possibilities into a synthesis, a third moment which would allow her to inscribe her selfrealization within a monadic-nomadic field of action. To Abhor, this field doubtless remains a societal topos (an ideal "society which [isn't] just disgust"); but it is also an inherently paradoxical topos, since it is clear from the kaleidoscopic landscape of her tattooed maps that the society of her dream is a disjunctive space: a space structured like a differential topology where various modes of autonomous tribal formation coexist in a dynamic context of negotiated alliances, dialogic exchange, and agonistic interaction (ES, 227).12 Herein lies Abhor's evolution from her initial dilemmas to the productive antinomy she apprehends within the paradoxical society of creative "antagonism,"13 the empire of senselessness that she imagines forming in dissipative waves, as it were, after an irrevocable implosion of the nation-state and its totalizing apparatuses.14 As a system driven by antagonism, Abhor's visionary society implies its own supersession to the extent that it is instituted in the freedom to experiment with alternative modes of communal governance unfolding at the limits of the dominant socioeconomic and geopolitical structures. It is only in light of this radically libertarian, experimental, and differential system that we can come to terms with the creativity implicit in Abhor's destructive desire – ultimately a visionary thrust governed by her active will to replace the totalizing logic of the "perfect" bourgeois city with the chaos whence new orders emerge: "It was my desire which, endless, was limited neither by a solely material nor by a solely mental reality. In that city dominated by commodities, more and more unsatiated I cried. I would kill the city of perfection" (ES, 65).

12Accordingly, "limited neither by a solely material nor by a solely mental reality," Abhor's conception of an alternative public sphere is grounded in the kaleidoscopic space inscribed on her tattooed body: an indefinite, plural topology premised on "other [imaginary] world[s]" and "conceptual" places, announcing the possibility of an "outlaw realm" and its disjunctive mosaic of ethnoscapes, technoscapes, mediascapes, and ideoscapes: "The tattoo is primal parent to the visual arts. Beginning as abstract maps of spiritual visions... tattoos were originally icons of power and mystery designating realms beyond normal land-dwellers' experience.... The realm of the outlaw has become redefined: today, the wild places which excite the most profound thinkers are conceptual" (ES, 65, 140). Conceived in an atopian dimension – "wild places" articulated at the limits of the social body – this marginal realm is a radically dynamic public space, one which is best theorized as a differential field of (ethnic, political, cultural) forces, a chaotic empire where tribal communities compete and interact "beyond" the territorialized institutions that regiment "normal land-dwellers" (ES, 140).

13Considering Abhor's espousal of chaos and the freedom of experimentation, it would be instructive, at this point, to trace the epistemological relationship between her conceptual view of the transnational public sphere and Prigogine and Stengers' reference to the Deleuzean concept, particularly its pertinence to chaotic systems and their "production of the new" (1986, 424). In appropriating Deleuze's innovative interpretation of the empirical concept, Prigogine and Stengers, like Abhor, start with the basic assumption of a conceptual a-topos – a shifting Erewhon evolving between mental and material reality – before expanding their premise into a general reflection on emergent difference and "multiplicity" in chaotic systems ranging from physical phenomena to the "totality" of social relations (388, 425-26). Deleuze's elaboration on the empirical concept as Erewhon is worth quoting at length:

Empiricism is not at all a reaction against concepts, nor is it a simple appeal to lived experience. On the contrary, it undertakes the maddest creation of concepts.... Empiricism is the mysticism of the concept as the object of an encounter, as a here-now, or rather as an Erewhon... from which, inexhaustible, the always new 'heres' and 'nows' emerge differently configured.... I do, redo, and undo my concepts starting from a shifting horizon, from an always decentered center, from an always displaced periphery which displaces and differentiates them. (Deleuze, 1968, quoted in Prigogine and Stengers, 1986, 388)

14Viewed in terms of a Deleuzean theory of the concept, Abhor's projection of her global empire as a disjunctive aggregate of ethnic, cultural, and political forces engaged in differential interaction and cross-fertilization becomes likewise "conceptual". What defines it as such is essentially a sustained effort to imagine a transition from the homogeneous space of the organic social body to a differential topology constantly "displaced" by the chaotic movement whereby collective and subjective forms of existence collide and cross-pollinate beyond the borders of the nation-state. It is worth noting, moreover, that from a strictly Deleuzean and Ackerian perspective, the conceptual character of the outlaw empire – the atopian Erewhon as a field of different modes of individuation and communal formation – is inseparable from the concrete experience of pragmatic action and its expression in the nomadic errand. In both authors, it is indeed the pragmatics of the errand in the desert that defines the subject's drama of self-realization as an ongoing process of experimentation and an opening of the thinking mind to the morphogenetic multiplicity of the real:

Packs, multiplicities are incessantly transforming each other, moving into each other.... [P]ragmatism has no other meaning: grow your rhizome, but you don't know with what you can grow your rhizome, what subterranean stem will effectively grow into a rhizome, a becoming, or a population in your desert. Experiment. (Deleuze and Guattari, 1980, 305, 307)

15In other words, for Deleuze as well as for Acker, not only is there a direct correlation between the philosophical "creation of concepts" (Deleuze, 1990, 186) and the imaginary "places" of the "profound thinker" (ES, 140), but this correlation is also inseparable from the thinker's commitment to a pragmatics of open-ended experimentation, her belief that to "think is to experiment [and] experimentation is always that which is in the process of being made – the new, the noticeable, the interesting" (Deleuze and Guattari, 1991, 106).

  • 15 On the twin notions of "illimitative" and "inclusive" planes, see Deleuze, 1990, 169-80.

16Keeping in mind the constellation that I have just outlined (conceptual experimentation, nomadic drift, differential topology), I shall now turn to two closely related expressions of Abhor's kaleidoscopic subjectivity: her collage-like narrative and the revolutionary function of her text as a mosaic map of transnational tribes and minorities projected within the "conceptual places" and the "illimitative planes"15 of her imagination (ES, 140). Expressed not only in her appropriation of "the blacks'" voodoo practices and the Algerians' "noise," the subversive potential of Abhor's narrative is also manifested in an ontology of statelessness experienced "in terms of relationships and language," in terms of a "permanent community" of "exiles" waiting "to be bom again" in the mosaic topos that her "eight derms" so aptly symbolize (ES, 73, 63, 163, 33). Thus, reflecting the disjunctions of her kaleidoscopic subjectivity, the tattooed skin of the stateless mestiza literally incarnates the social and political implications of her exile, the nomadic errand which has changed the topology of her narrative from the theater of a private trauma into a disjunctive scene of shifting alliances between stateless individuals, groups, and communities. True to the fluidity of her ontological status, Abhor envisions her discursive and actantial agency in continuity with Mackandal's project: becoming a (representational) vehicle for the voices of "disenfranchised" minorities – "urban semi-inhabitants," "gypsies," "street-cleaners," "blacks," "Algerian women who had been sterilized" – and striving to "poison" the monolithic bourgeois order with nonsense and noise, the chaos whence new orders erupt (ES, 76-77). At the same time, Abhor finds a model of political action in the nomadic community of "Spanish sailors, longtime anarchists" who have "joined the Algerians, their brothers," in a massive campaign of subversion (ES, 77-78). Once again, Abhor's desire to incorporate the voices of the disenfranchised and the anarchists into her text leads us to the relationship between her vision of a borderless empire and the unfolding of her narrative in the form of "abstract maps" for a different public space (ES, 140), one which is founded in the politics of minority groups and their alternative forms of communal organization. Once again, we find ourselves confronted with the correlation between her ontological condition as a "subjectivity synthesized from fusions of outsider identities" and her yearning for another transnational public sphere – the fluid realm of the antisocial sailor, the nomadic tribe, and the marginalized community (Haraway, 1991, 174). Visualized as the site of differential cross-pollination between autonomous minorities, this other public sphere represents the contingent scene where the cyborg mestiza imagines a genuine pragmatics of conceptual experimentation, mapping out her revolutionary dream beyond the limits of such monolithic categories as self, nation, class, gender, or ethnicity. The mestiza's conception of her public sphere is, to put it in Anzaldúa's terms, a broader expression of the existential "restlessness" that makes her kaleidoscopic subjectivity oscillate between "numerous possibilities" of being and belonging:

Being tricultural, monolingual, bilingual, or multilingual... in a state of perpetual transition, the mestiza faces the dilemma of the mixed breed: which collectivity does the daughter of a darkskinned [sic] mother listen to?... La mestiza constantly has to shift from... convergent thinking, analytical reasoning... to divergent thinking, characterized by movement away from set patterns and goals and toward a more whole perspective, one that includes rather than excludes.... [The mestiza] has a plural personality, she operates in a pluralistic mode.... That focal point or fulcrum, that juncture where the mestiza stands, is where phenomena tend to collide. It is where the possibility of uniting all that is separate occurs. This assembly is not one where severed or separated pieces come together. Nor is it a balancing of opposing powers. In attempting to work out a synthesis, the self has added a third element which is greater than the sum of its severed parts. That third element is a new consciousness – a mestiza consciousness. (B, 1987, 78-80; my emphasis)

17Anzaldúa goes on to argue that in its conceptual effort to "link [minorities] with each other" – the "perverse, the queer, the troublesome, the mongrel, the mulato, the half-breed, the half dead" as well as the "Black, Asian, Native American, [and] Latino" – the synthetic consciousness of the mestiza becomes the locus of a chaotic "'morphogenesis,' an inevitable unfolding" which is an opening of the self to the cultural multiplicity of the world (B, 3, 81). The multiethnic subject as "supreme crosser... of cultures" (B, 84). As far as Abhor is concerned, her synthetic consciousness manifests itself in the chaotic morphogenesis of a cut-up text where the positions of "the non-existent" minorities are mapped out according to her nomadic line of flight, resulting in a twofold effect: the narrative as mosaic map and as medium of (political) representation for non-existent minorities (ES, 6).

18It is in this context that Abhor's bilingual narrative comes to embody the "dream" of an alternative public sphere founded in cross-fertilization between autonomous minorities (ES, 130). Accordingly, the dictum "A cross; a crossroads; the problem of human identity," seemingly a mere ontological statement on her indefinite subject position (ES, 65), turns out to imply a much more complex pronouncement: the fact that the existential problems of the "officiating priestess of the crossroads" are inseparable from a topology of the "Borderlands," the atopian realm bom of her synthetic consciousness and marking the emergence of a pluralistic public sphere (Β, 80, 77). The existential implications of Abhor's "Becoming Algerian" are in this sense emblematic of a kaleidoscopic subjectivity "open to all people" and "losing [itself] in the desert" of indefinite becoming (ES, 55, 83). By becoming Jewish, black, sailor, nomad, transvestite, biker, she transforms her narrative into an illimitative plane of "multiplicities... incessantly transforming each other, moving into each other" (Deleuze and Guattari, 1980, 305). As it is configured in the novel's shifting collage of overlapping national boundaries, displaced communities, and restless tribes, the function of the mestiza's narrative as a revolutionary medium of (political) representation resides in its capacity to conceptualize a geopolitical topos in which marginalized minorities, defined as "offsystem[s]", erupt at the outer limits of the monolithic system of the bourgeois nationstate and the fluid system of transnational capital (Deleuze and Guattari, 1980, 133). To the paranoid territorialization of the former – ultimately a mirror-reflection of the father's phallo-logocentric paranoia – and to the schizoid planetary flights of the latter, Abhor opposes a borderless empire at the limits of both, an atopian realm founded not so much in a totalizing movement of incorporation as in the differential interplay of autonomous tribes and minority formations. Beyond dramatizing the individual predicament of a subject at the cross-roads, the paradoxes of Abhor's minority position – "Being bilingual... in one and the same language," being a "mestiz[a and a] foreigner in [her] own language" – point to the more general question of the space attributed to difference, otherness, and multiplicity in the public domain (Deleuze and Guattari, 1980, 124-25). More than a personal account of her disjunctive subjectivity, the unfolding of Abhor's narrative as a mosaic map of minorities is an attempt at outlining the strategic potential inherent in various forms of difference, otherness, and multiplicity – the "off-system[s]" that proliferate chaotically at the limits of the organic social body and its dominant "standards":

Everyone must find the minor language, dialect or rather idiolect, starting from which he turns his major language into a minor one.... Majority implies a constant, of expression or content, like a standard meter.... Let us suppose that the constant or standard is white-adult-male living in the city and speaking one standard-European-heterosexual language.... It is obvious that "man" is the majority, even if he is less numerous than mosquitoes, children, women, Blacks, peasants, homosexuals.... A determination other than the constant will therefore be considered as minority... that is, as a sub-system or an off-system.... That is why we must distinguish between the major as a homogeneous and constant system, minorities as sub-systems, and the minor as potential and... creative becoming. (Deleuze and Guattari, 1980, 133-34)

19Abhor's imaginary vision of her empire is a radical instance of minority literature inasmuch as it conceptualizes its abstract maps in terms of a differential topology, a fluid space of chance confrontation, cross-fertilization, and "creative becoming" where transnational communities are collaged as off-systems emerging from the ruins of the nation-state and its reductive standards: its gender, racial, sexual, economic, linguistic, political, and logical paradigms. This is the type of multiplicity that Deleuze and Guattari seem to have in mind when they define minor literature as a revolutionary medium which appears at the margin of a dominant/major system, signaling its limits and, at the same time, the disjunctive lines of flight that drive it toward difference and change: "'Minor' no longer qualifies certain literatures, but the revolutionary conditions of every literature.... To this end... one needs to find one's own point of underdevelopment, one's own patois, one's third world, one's desert.... [H]ow to wrest from one's language a minor literature capable of... making [language] flee according to a sober revolutionary line? How to become the nomad and the immigrant and the gypsy of one's language?" (1975, 33, 35). As far as Abhor's narrative is concerned, the answer to these questions lies in her adoption of minor literature as a conceptual and visionary narrative mode that envisions an alternative to the founding concepts of the nationstate and the phallo-logocentric order. It is first at this level "that literature strikes" : the world of representations where "the concepts and acting of order impose themselves" (ES, 12). Shaped by this "war" of "representations" and conceptualizations, the mestiza's narrative finds its raison d'être in her ongoing effort to integrate the marginal and oppressed voices of the monolithic nation-state into an illimitative space of political and cultural representation – an abstract map for a pluralistic and egalitarian public sphere (ES, 94-95). Viewed in the general context of Empire's politics of multiplicity and minority representation, a "society which [wouldn't be] just disgust" would have to acknowledge the necessary vitality of such a public sphere (ES, 227), projecting itself toward its atopian "extremes [and] limits," redefining the public domain as an illimitative topos founded in the logic of difference, autonomy, and creative antagonism (Deleuze and Guattari, 1975, 41).


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1 Acker, 1988, 83, 133, 102-103, 114, 139, 156. Subsequent references are given as ES followed by the page number.

2 See Appadurai, 1993a, Bhabha, 1997, 431-454, Guéhenno, 1995, 15-104, and Serres, 1992, 13-84. For an outline of the factitiousness, the limits, and the paradoxes of the national public sphere, see Robbins, 1993. On the connections between corporate globalization and the cultural determinants of the transnational public sphere, see Appadurai, 1993, and Cazdyn, 1995.

3 My conception of the atopian has been inspired by Michel de Certeau's theorization of "a-topia" and "alterity" (1973, 171-80). See also his theorization of atopia in terms of "spaces [that are] indefinitely other [and] unknown to the 'geometric' or 'geographic' space of visual constructions, panoptical or theoretical" (1977, 5).

4 Subsequent references to this text are given as B, followed by the page number.

5 See Jameson, 1987.

6 See Latham, 1993.

7 See Harvey, 1989, 308-14.

8 See Fanon, 1995. Fanon's essay is a central intertextual source in Empire.

9 On the significance of the carnivalesque in Empire, see Stallybrass and White, 1986, 171-90.

10 My understanding of disjunction is derived from Gilles Deleuze's notion of disjunctive synthesis. See Deleuze, 1990, 176-80.

11 On the radical decentering of the "kaleidoscopic subjectivity," see Kristeva, 1974, 317-18.

12 For an explanation of René Thorn's conception of "differential topology," see Atlan, 1979, 221-22. On the question of autonomy and radical democracy, see Castoriadis, 1991, 143-74, 243-75, and Castoriadis and Cohn-Bendit, 1981.

13 See Castoriadis, 1987, 115-64

14 See Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe's alternative to the "positivity of the social," a conception of the social as "an ensemble of totalizing effects in an open relational complex" (1990, 103). Because of the "incomplete character of every totality," Laclau and Mouffe argue, positing the social as an open system "leads us to abandon... the premise of 'society' as a sutured and self-defined totality" (110).

15 On the twin notions of "illimitative" and "inclusive" planes, see Deleuze, 1990, 169-80.


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