Code Surplus Value and the Augmented Intellect

March 10th, 2014

Following a live streaming at an ungodly hour, some late night notes for the Incredible Machines conference organized by Mohammed Salemy in Vancouver. Hoping to expand this in a proper text on the ‘locus classicus’ of accelerationism and Nietzsche’s evil quote.


Having only few minutes, as a nodal point to condense many open questions, I’m going to use only one idea, that is the concept of surplus value of code introduced by Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus, curiously in the same chapter of the locus classicus of accelerationism (‘The Civilized Capitalist Machine’), where misquoting Nietzsche they propose notoriously ‘to accelerate the process’. We keep on quoting only the last lines, yet the whole chapter is an ambitious synthesis of many problems of political economy.1 The term surplus value of code happened to condense a vast set of open questions, especially in relation to information machines and ‘what is to be augmented’.

The notion of ‘surplus value of code’ was both an attack to orthodox Marxism and its labour theory of value and an attempt to initiate a political economy of the Turing machine for the cybernetic age. Under our contemporary eye, the term ‘code’ here appears too generic, covering something that today would be distinguished as religion, ideology, culture, knowledge, language, science, information, data, algorithm, computation and so on. In his talk Negarestani was precisely articulating and clarifying the ‘geology’ of computation beyond algorithmic studies and digital humanities. The nebulous and ambivalent expression ‘surplus value of code’ follows basically three vectors (that I hope to expand in the future).

First, code. The definition of code was paradoxically one of the limits of Deleuze and Guattari’s ontology. Still elaborating their trauma with structuralism and Lacan, they stressed the productive side of machines in a very physical way. Their endlessly ‘desiring flows’ appeared to draw just a very hydraulic ontology. This chapter of Anti-Oedipus is precious as they finally engage with cybernetic machines. The space given to cognition and computation in their philosophy was rare. Today I understand Negarestani’s project as the attempt to bring finally cognition back into the political project of the machinic, in what he calls the “Next Machine”,2 in what can be defined as a political alliance with augmented intelligence. Or said with McKenzie Wark, “the human and nonhuman as partners in thought”.3 And further clarified by Daniel Sacilloto in his overview across organic and inorganic intelligence.4 In debunking pancomputationalism Deleuze and Guattari are no longer useful, indeed they are responsible for most of contemporary panpsychism. Their use of the term ‘code’ is too generic  for the present, or maybe it provides a more general and synthetic framework. Nevertheless their political economy and political project of the machinic is still timely.

Second, value. As already said, surplus value of code is targeting the crisis of Marx’s labour theory of value, specifically in relation to the society of cybernetic machines as perceived in the France of the ’70s. Curiously Deleuze and Guattari did mention in a footnote5 the chapter on automation aka the ‘fragment on machines’ from Grundrisse, where Marx refers to the ‘general intellect’ incarnated into machinery (Italian Operaism will take over this passage by Marx only at the end of the ’80s, despite it was translated in Quaderni Rossi already in ’60s). Such a crisis of the labour theory of value has been an open problem for so long to become kitsch wallpaper. This  problem is however crucial also within the notorious issue of Marx’s tendency of the rate of profit to fall, yet in this chapter finally in relation to knowledge, science, code. What’s the relation between value production and value extraction regarding collective knowledge condensed in machines? What is to be considered incredible here is capital expressed as machinic intelligence, that is intelligence as fixed capital. The problem of machinery itself as accumulation of capital — the augmented machine as a doppelgänger of augmented capital — has been (fatalistically) underlined in this conference by Nick Land.6

Third, surplusThe ‘surplus’ in Marx’s surplus value is intrinsically related to the positivity of living labour that is stolen to make capital. In Deleuze and Guattari the surplus value of code points also to the deterritorialized flows of modern science and knowledge before being incarnated into machinery and even to the new figure of the ‘scientific and technical worker’ (Gorz, 1967!).7 Capital itself emerges as a mathematical object, as a computational projection. Here it is code what describes and makes possible surplus value: “The differential relation expresses the fundamental capitalist phenomenon of the transformation of the surplus value of code into a surplus value of flux”.8 Capital is computation.9 As mentioned, the whole discussion on surplus is gravitating around Marx’s mythological formula of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall that will motivate Deleuze and Guattari for the political option of ‘acceleration’. In general this differential of value points to the problem of scale, to the nature of augmentation, and in other respects to the issue of Singularity. Whereas Californian Ideology shaped the dream of a technological singularity (till the extremities of pancomputationalism), the European Left has been always following the  idea the singularity can only be engineered by (revolutionary) politics. Land trashed both according to the pessimistic horizon of the techno-political singularity of NeoChina. Accelerationism reemerges then to domesticize once again technology by a political tendency, as we saw in the papers by Nick Srnicek on planning and Benedict Singleton on platforms.

To conclude. The locus classicus of accelerationism rotates around a quote by Nietzsche that Deleuze and Guattari left orphan of a proper footnote for some (good) reasons. Nietzsche’s original statement is found in the Posthumous Fragments:

The homogenization of European man is the great process that cannot be obstructed: one should even accelerate it. The necessity to create a gulf, a distance, an order of rank, is given by itself: not the necessity to retard this process.10

Indeed Nietzsche sounds quite sinister here, but this process of inhuman homogenization is well known to us, it is the canonical “one-dimensional man” of the Frankfurt School and 20th century’s totalitarian regimes. After WWII it was the North-American consumerist society and today the new labour conditions of global logistics championed by NeoChina. Homogenization is indeed a consequence of global computation by capital. Yet discovering Nietzsche original meaning is a bit reassuring. It seems that we accelerated well enough beyond the point of homogenization of humankind and a new process can be imagined by freeing computation from capital. How to do that?

  1. This chapter of Anti-Oedipus is so rich that can be quoted according to anybody’s shopping list: here, for instance, Deleuze and Guattari make a call for a monetarist and anti-productivist turn of Marxism (today reminded by Lazzarato and other philosophers of debt); they deal also with the deterritorialization/abstraction couple and with Marx’s introduction to Grundrisse; they also mention a dialectics between center and periphery and a globalised future very similar to Hardt and Negri’s Empire; and eventually they close with Nietzsche’s accelerationist quote. It is the locus classicus for too many. 

  2. Reza Negarestani, “Navigate With Extreme Prejudice”, PDF here

  3. McKenzie Wark on Bogdanov and Haraway, abstract here 

  4. Daniel Sacilloto’s abstract here 

  5. Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, p. 232, note 76 

  6. Nick Land’s notes here 

  7. Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, p. 238 

  8. Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, p. 228. 

  9. Of course computation is not always capitalistic, we don’t need to repeat this. 

  10. Translation mine. Original quote: “Die Ausgleichung des europäischen Menschen ist der große Prozeß, der nicht zu hemmen ist: man sollte ihn noch beschleunigen. Die Nothwendigkeit für eine Kluftaufreißung, Distanz, Rangordnung ist damit gegeben: nicht, die Nothwendigkeit, jenen Prozeß zu verlangsamen”. Friedrich Nietzsche, Posthumous Fragments , 1877. 

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