The Coming Carnival
Guattari and I, and in this we’re not alone,
we simply don’t give a shit.
Who waits? Who doesn’t wait? The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of waiting. But history as we know it has reached its end. We’re done with waiting.
Active encounters in a great motion of encounters, we live at the edge of knowledge, active, ready—conscious, or not—to furcate. Rootless and ever-spreading: the production of fresh connections can not be avoided. With each, a new world being born. We no longer wait because we can’t. Waiting is the dream of a shadow.
Blood without flow betrays the staleness of death. Concepts were too often presented as stable — as posited. A lived world is neither. Through time, we know of less stable concepts. And we posit nothing.
We did not think ourselves into instability. Instability is our modality.
The Coming Carnival belongs to knowledge of the third kind, it does not consist in being convinced by reasons, but, rather — in an immediate union with the very thing. We’ll not celebrate the endless rites of subjectivity, the interior cathedrals of the individual. Our intuition is the joy of the outside.
Our language, then, will become pure intensities. To speak like Bakhtin’s novel, as a multiplicity, as a conflux of styles, ideas, and desires. Picture this happy meet: an outside intensity, without representation, agrees with the intensity we express. Spinoza says: this type of knowledge is more powerful than universal reason, it is an intensity greater than joy, it is beatitude, the beatitude of power. Subject, object, purpose, meaning: every pious lie, devoured by the orgic.
The beauty of the flower rests on its rot. “For,” Bataille says, “flowers do not age honestly like leaves, which lose nothing of their beauty even after they have died; flowers wither like old and overly made-up dowagers, and they die ridiculously on stems that seemed to carry them to the clouds.” Decay and the earth’s reclamation are shimmering truths latent in the flower’s imagined transcendence. You see this, or you don’t.
And so we won’t bother ourselves with convincing anyone. We’re doing pure affects, pure pathos. There are no arguments to be made, no debates to be held; only the intensive certainty of a certain intensity. Intuition, by grasping what a singular thing expresses, grasps it as absolutely infinite, as involving no negation. And so, in the becoming of becoming, that is, in the self-overcoming of singular bodies, we intuit what each thing is in — in self-differentiation.
When we speak of the coming carnival, we speak of something we all intuit: existence without purpose. The Paris Commune, for example, had no other goal than its own existence. Only the world of instrumental reason, of bourgeois reason, assigns a use to everything. A flower is put to use as a symbol for purity. Everything must exist for something. This is the logic of production.
Waves breaking over a shore, a frail young boy, the golden violence of the sun, the trampling of deer, bodies mingled in fucking, bullets lodged in flesh, the movement of continents, a human body’s innocent decay — each finite mode must then exist for another mode. Everything is slave to a higher, alien purpose. Everything is rendered mere means. Everywhere, lack extends. A constituent lack-of-meaning sullies all things. A primal negation disfigures the world: the profanation of purpose. All must be put to work.
Only paltry things have a purpose. Purpose is limited and reckoning; but the world is neither. Each star burns its hydrogen with delirious speed, without pause for measly calculation. Intoxicated and hurling towards its own extinction, the star’s burning gesture, by the logic of instrumental reason, is thoroughly excessive and irrational. This is the orgic.
The squanderous infinity of a galaxy is the abyss of the positive. It knows no lack. It is not a bad infinite, it is a devilish one. Its boundless laughter annihilates the hubris and pretensions of all human reason — of Reason itself. This excess of distance and power that we can barely grasp is the joyful madness of positivity.
At 9am on a Monday, footage of a live birth is projected onto a Smartboard. State-funded fingers slide a condom onto a banana. Stomachs churn. Teenage eyes dart between gendered bathroom signs. Converse sneakers tuck themselves up onto a toilet seat. Vape smoke spills out from below a narrow stall, enforced separation.
Schoolchildren quickly learn to laugh at weakness. They scribble hierarchies of friendship in their notebooks. They kick their crushes in the shins. They lie for the teacher’s favor. They sport signifiers grabbed from superstores. Each child paws at dominion. Each is met with lack.
Meanwhile, the useless infinity of galaxies billows on. There is nothing of the self-interested, utilitarian, or miserably bourgeois to it. It knows no hoarding, stockpiling or accumulation, no petty self-interest. It exists for no reason, and its existence is utterly excessive: it is the boundless self-consumption, self-differentiation, and self-production of the orgic.
The orgic is wasteful, aimless, and inextinguishable. No matter how much the world-deniers attempt to foreclose its presence, it returns, relentlessly. It becomes art, sacrifice, revolution, eroticism, carnival. There’s no way out. Any truly gratuitous gesture of insurrection has already dismantled every founding claim of instrumental reason.
The universe we weave is one of ecstatic chaos. It is pure power to which fear ascribed reason, but laughter must dissolve all fear. Let the child’s anxious cry turn a giddy, gleeful shriek. This most beautiful cosmos, Heraclitus spoke, is an abyss pouring out randomly, σάρμα εἰκῇ κεχυμένον fr. 124. This abyss is a triumphant exuberance, an insanity of waste, raging in the innocence of power, a wanton beauty.
Fluorescent lights flicker over the stale sheets of a hospital bed, each patient separated from the next by a flimsy, impassable curtain. Some bodies writhe; others drown in a static numbness. Each body a number, each number a numbered room, each numbered room a numbered bill. Here death isn’t what’s mourned — it is life, life never lived.
Even here, in an American hospital, the orgic is still throbbing beneath the face of things. Past a narrow window, headlights rush and reflect onto wet pavement. Warm gleams bend and bleed with the flow of an open, pouring sky.
The assumption of a reasonable world always emerges from irrational fear, from an anxious drive to anticipate spontaneous and innocent gestures. This is the predictive anxiety at the heart of all neoliberal networks of control. First, fear; security follows, and prevention — a deepening of the desert. The neoliberal extension of economic planning to all areas of life, something Foucault named biopolitics, is not only a nihilistic optimization of human capital: it is, first of all, fear. This fear of the unpredictable, of the encounter, of the event — it’s a fear of the world, realized as utilitarianism. If the capitalist state maintains and protects the life of its population, it is only to the extent that it remains dull, complacent, and profitable. The state nurses biological life to better put it to work.
As a statistical optimization of care, state benevolence is an investment in quantified motherhood that only seeks the returns of higher productivity — nothing escapes the spreadsheet. Everywhere, instrumental reason extends its cold, methodical, dispassionate gaze. A pale cast of calculation enfolds the world.
And yet the world remains nothing but pathos. As this pure pathos, the orgic only emerges in its naked power through the dissolution of the subject. This, it does on its own — there is an intensity of affect that the subject cannot possibly hold, past which the very structure of subjectivity is annihilated.
The Carnival rends the human back into the world. The membrane that separated the subject from the world is forcefully stretched outwards by an onrush of the orgic, until indeterminacy is achieved between inside and outside. The outside collapses onto the inside, and the inside spills outwards into the world. This body, the carnival body, “is cosmic and universal, merging with various natural phenomena, with mountains, rivers, seas, islands, and continents. It can fill the entire universe.”
Today it’s becoming increasingly evident that under the concepts of carnivalization and carnival body found in his 1946 work Rabelais and his World, what Bakhtin had concealed from Stalinist censorship was a theory first of destituent communism, and second, of politics without subjects. To avoid repression, it’s under the guise of Renaissance scholarship that Bakhtin put forth his views. It was a gamble. To formulate a theory of destituent communism as a study of Rabelais, Bakhtin had to radically de-historicize Rabelais’ works; and this, of course, this didn’t escape the notice of Stalinist authorities. In the USSR, his work was met with universal decry over its lack of historicism. But it made its way. And yet, after a brief period of enthusiasm, the same issues were condemned throughout western academia: what Bakhtin says about Rabelais, everyone claimed, is not historical, it has nothing to do with the material reality of the Renaissance. But whereas American academia denounced Bakhtin’s Rabelais and his World as sloppy scholarship, the Stalinist bureaucrats weren’t as oblivious to what Bakhtin was doing; they had enough sense to identify the revolutionary power it contained, and they lashed out accordingly.
Bakhtin’s complete refusal to historicize his subject matter wasn’t a lack of scholarship or the result of bad research — it’s what granted him the room he needed to read his political theory into Rabelais’ text. We were mistakenly reading Bakhtin as a study of Renaissance literature — it was nothing of the sort. It was political theory. And so, by speaking of the coming carnival, what this stressed imminence seeks to accomplish is to restore to Bakhtin’s theory its revolutionary, destituent power.
What is a carnival? A clue, Bakhtin has found, lies in its mode of representation of the body. The carnival avoids the representation of the eyes, and instead magnifies such features as the lips, the ears, and the nose, everything “that protrudes from the body, that seeks to go out beyond the body’s confines, all that prolongs the body and links it to other bodies or to the world outside.”
The body of biopower and Spectacle is individual and utilitarian; it counts its calories, avoids excess, and lives in constant fear, a fear of death — always, it tries to drag its years out, to live as long as possible. And yet, the too obvious irony remains: such a body has never lived, being too busy keeping itself fit for the optimal production of surplus-value.
But the carnival body is different — perhaps it’s time we learned what such a body can do.
The carnival body is neither sick nor healthy; it is health born from sickness and sickness from health in their relentless penetration and intermingling. White-haired fetuses sprout from its dying flesh, bursting forth in world-drunk laughter. In it, “death throes are combined with birth” and its surface is a charred land speckled with buds, a field white already for harvest. No Law, no self, no guilt, no identity hangs over it; in its quivering flesh lies the rhythm of all the dawns that have yet to shine. It knows no individuality, it is the body of the cosmos, a self-penetrating difference; it is, “in the pancosmic urge, the allimmanence of this ourherenow plane,” as Finnegans Wake says.
No boundaries can restrain the joy that expresses itself through the carnival body; it is neither dirty or clean, one or many: it is the interpenetration of singular bodies, their unmediated, unclean and undirty commixtion, their clean and dirty mingling — it is the joyful alloying of unalloyed joys.
Carnival representation, as this extension of the human body towards its outside, expresses an orgic that is in the process of abolishing individuation. What the carnival attempts to represent is a threshold of indeterminacy between body and world, subject and object, singularity and community. The carnival, “in its extreme aspect, never presents an individual body; the image consists of orifices and convexities that present another, newly conceived body. It is a point of transition in a life eternally renewed, the inexhaustible vessel of death and conception.”
The accusatory gaze of parents, police, and security cameras — they are all the selfsame, cold, and protective eye of the state. An all-pervasive Other spreads everywhere; and with it, a withering of escape. Fearful, distant, and timid, the watched subject reaches hesitantly for a more authentic life. This it does slowly, weighted by judgment and shame.
The watchful eye frisks its subject for identifiers. Is it man or woman? Citizen or alien? White or Asian? Good samaritan or criminal? Healthy or unhealthy? Each category quantifiable. Medical forms, government forms, corporate forms, academic forms; they all demand the same logic of identification. Each checked box a predictive factor. Each checked box actualizing the same dispositive of prevention.
Subjectivity is always subjection; and the subject is always subjected.
“Who are you really?” The logic of identity places its subject in a perpetual state of guilt. One cannot live up to identity, for one is always more than a useful classification and it’s impossible, Santos and Santiago write, to produce a symmetrical relation to one’s ‘self’ across time. There is no Being, only becomings.
The carnival body expresses a higher interpenetration of death and the living, to the extent that this death is constitutive of an ever-higher life. If who I was at fourteen still expresses something through this body, it is because they are effectively dead. We are not speaking of sublation.
Biologically, death arises as an evolutionary advantage. Its production of spontaneous and infinite variance among individuals prolongs the species-life. At a more fundamental level, difference and death can only further drive the bodily. But death is not a process. There is no death drive; death is a second-order phenomenon arising from a deeper, non-individual life.
This raving life would be diminished if it didn’t die; its flow would be placid, its peaks soft slopes, and its abysses shallow. But only individuals die; and it would be all too easy, here, to equate deindividuation with a death drive. But nothing could be further from the truth — the individual is a beneficial falsehood. There is no individual, only an arrangement of singular drives and tissues reaching a chaotic harmony; their unity is a superficial illusion we only believe in for its evolutionary advantage.
But a life needs death — without it, there would be nothing but stagnation. Of course there is, as always, a rare exception: the Turritopsis Dohrinii jellyfish, the only species to have been described as biologically immortal. And yet the appalling immortality of this creature is a regression. Met with stress, Turritopsis Dohrinii reverts to an earlier phase of life; it endures out of weakness, and its eternity is that of stunted growth.
We don’t claim that life and death are one; rather, we show an endless play of difference.
Life, death; sickness, health; inside, outside; incompleness and excess — the carnival body is not their synthesis. It is the power from which these human, all too human categories emerge, an utterance in which “the old dying world gives birth to the new one.”
In the carnival, the infinitely complex desires of the mind are no longer a lack; they are a desire for. A desire which overflows from the material bodily stratum. Production does not respond to a lack, it doesn’t fulfill a need; it is the joyous, unlimited excess of the carnival body that keeps producing.
We say that capitalism produces need as a means to its own subsistence. Lack is not inherent. Lack is not innocent.
The power through which the bodily is made political and the political is made bodily — this power is shown by carnival representation to exceed the very ability of representation itself. Representation does not have the ability to contain it. And so, whenever we attempt to represent it, the carnival body extends outside of naturalistic representation, continually stretching beyond its limits. Infinitely expanding.
It seems we needed Margulis, after Kozo-Polyansky, to explain it to us: the body is always incomplete, and this is its excess. Our mitochondria are symbiotic bacteria that became organelles while retaining their own genome, a genome different from “our” own — in “our” cells contends an interplay of different forms of life. The eukaryotic cell isn’t a totality: it’s an arrangement of different drives. Microorganisms effortlessly pass through us, disregarding the “barriers” we imagine between the world and ourselves, viruses horizontally transfer genes from other animals to our genetic code, and bacteria thrive as essential parts of our cells. As Margulis writes, “numberless forms and variations come not just gradually and at random, but suddenly and forcefully, by the co-opting of strangers, the involvement and infolding of others—viral, bacterial, and eukaryotic—into ever more complex and miscegenous genomes.” Not even the smallest cell in our body possesses anyindividual unity. A body is a chaos of drives and power, spontaneously organized, traversed by flows of all kinds. It flows along, constantly dying, losing fifty billion cells a day, replacing its hydroxyapatite with new calcium, perpetually porous to the outside, its inside ceaselessly penetrated.
Classical representation depicts a single, self-contained, self-sufficient, separate, and atomized individual — but carnivalesque representation rips the human form open, disgorging its previously internal affects into the world, and letting all worldly affects flow back into it. This annihilation of the subject as a closed-off unity is something that Bakhtin, in this text first written in 1946, describes as “the severance of the organs from the body.” It’s not a wounded body, it’s a wound that precedes the body. Of course Deleuze knew this when he wrote, in his last text, these words: “my wound existed before me.” The wounding was anterior to the carnival body, it was a virtuality on the plane of consistency, a plane on which the orgic flows more furiously.
But this plane is not that of a single abolished individuality. It is that of a community — the coming carnival.
Classical representation struggles with death. The carnival body does not. It always becomes “an unfinished and open body, dying, bringing forth and being born,” a body of absolute joy, “not separated from the world by clearly defined boundaries, but rather blended with the world, with animals, with objects, a cosmic body, the swallowing up and generating principle, a grave and bosom, a field which has been sown and in which new shoots are preparing to sprout.”
The white glow of a cosmetic lamp back-lights a stout woman. She is good at makeup and she knows it. Her cheeks are red with rouge blended with concealer. Perhaps in the summer she should get a darker foundation, but she likes to keep it consistent. She squints through long, adhesive eyelashes. This guy does look better than the last. You can tell he’s wearing his best suit, the type of man who remains professional. She hums, wielding her brush, tapping warm foundation over his chin, his forehead, and his nose. She then pats his cheeks with blush, until it’s properly blended. All done. Before leaving, out of curiosity, she takes a look at the man’s obituary: a small business owner and father of two. Later that day, the grandchildren peer into the open casket, confused and overwrought by the charade. They feel they should understand something, but there’s nothing to understand. One of them asks if grandpa is really dead. “He seems so peaceful,” their mother lets out, “it looks like he’s sleeping.”
The petty bourgeois are as terrified of death as they are of life. Hence, for them, the preservation of the image of a lived life is enough. The closest relatives of a deceased will pay a year’s worth of rent to dress up a dead body. Leaving behind the memory of a friendly, familiar face is worth the expense.
What separates the petty bourgeois obsession with taking pictures from the dressing up of the dead is not a difference in kind, but one of degree.
Today’s individuals are harassed by a profound, pervasive distress: the elusiveness of the moment and the prospect of death, two anxieties born from a lack of presence. The more atomized and stunted their existence becomes, the more desperately they hold on to it, as if life itself were some sort of personal property. Their plight is created by the sober fact that capitalism requires the individual as a posited concept. And as individuals, they are alone, they are alienated. This is not an alienation from their true, authentic self—the self itself is alienation—rather, it’s an alienation from the world.
The petty bourgeois do not live; they are looking at life, they are watching themselves live, until one day, after three agonizing months bought with staggeringly expensive chemotherapy, they see at last how the circulation process of capital forced them to live. It is an unbearable sight. It is only then that they first perceive their mortality and the estrangement of those they failed to love. The existential terror of the suburban petty bourgeois on their deathbed is one of the most miserable things this universe has produced.
As parents before the endless questions of children: in the end we must all conclude that we have no why. The blue of noon is blue, because it is blue.
Law, hierarchy, morality, productivity and exploitation, guilt and prohibition, calculation and purpose: the coming carnival gleefully eradicates all these old lies in a burst of infinite laughter. This boundless world-laughter engulfs everything, annuls all identities, liquidates all social orders, and washes all these human, all too human sandcastles back to the sea of becoming.
The infinity of modes is not represented—it cannot be—but rather, expressed as intensities. It is precisely in the collapse of any attempt at representing a universal order that the universe expresses itself as carnival. The Romans called it the Saturnalia because they felt, in it, the time of Saturn, the purest form of the universe.
The carnival was always a feast of becoming, but it was always temporary. And yet. The coming carnival we try to speak of—something that made its first tentative appearance with Mao’s Cultural Revolution—is not temporary.
The coming carnival is something we all know; it is this inescapable presence of meaninglessness that the world of authoritarian merchandise represses into sad passions. The intoxication of true freedom. Meaninglessness can only breed anxiety, depression and terror to the extent that it is experienced within a regime that enforces meaningfulness.
Capitalism says: You are real; you’re a gay man. You are real; you’re an anti-woke leftist. You are real; you create your own meaning. You are real; you’re an activist. You are real; you’re a reactionary. You are real; you’re an alcoholic, a wife, a father, a daughter, a son, an employee, an employer. You are real, if you perform your reality. Perhaps — all of these identities are nothing but commodity fetishism extended to human experience.
The world of Biopower and Spectacle, of alienated labor and electoral politics, of lack and consumption—that is, the world of capital—this world claims to have meaning. But at the same time, it tasks the individual with a pursuit of meaning, a pursuit that presupposes the thinly veiled, fundamental meaninglessness of the individual — a meaninglessness experienced as a lack. The constituent meaninglessness of the individual is tasked with finding meaning. But we hold this truth to be self-evident that there is none to be found.
Inherent to the reproduction cycle of capital is a process of decoding, by which everything hallowed and meaningful is dissolved, until a bottle of cheap vodka and a Bible can be brought to the market together, as equals — as having the same value. This decoding is the ability of capital to express everything as capital: there is nothing that cannot be reduced to capital. And this is its novelty. Greek mythology could not possibly express, within its own codes, the Bible; and neither can the Bible express, within its own codes, either Greek mythology or the poetry of Occitan troubadours. But capital can express everything as capital — because capital is not a code, it is a process of decoding.
What we call ‘meaning’ is something that arises from cultural codes; but all codes are liquidated by the reproduction cycle of capital. Feudalism and its cosmic order were the first to go, followed by all sanctified hierarchies, traditional groups, guilds, and communities — this is what Marx calls “the progressive tendency of capital.” It produces a first emancipation from the totalizing meaning of feudalism, but it is a partial emancipation, one restricted to the bourgeois class.
This process reduces the proletarian to a homeless individual that is thrown into a cold, alien world — and this individual will be placed under the logic of lack. Because what was decoded didn’t go away, it always remained operative — as capital. Family, nation, sexuality, identity, gender, social hierarchy; these past units of meaning endure, hollowed out and converted into commodities. Before this Spectacle, the individual experiences their meaninglessness as a lack; and they get to work.
It is precisely the constituent meaninglessness produced by capital that drives the individual to consume, as existential merchandise, what has been decoded by capital — this is how one creates their own meaning.
The individual’s pursuit of meaning will last them a lifetime, until they die under the hospital’s fluorescent lighting, until they die like a dog, as Kafka says. But capital preemptively voided all possibilities of meaning, something Marx described as the reduction of the proletarian to a nihilistic position. The proletarian is brought to an irreparably meaningless position, while the Spectacle and the ideology of existential liberalism require the pursuit of something that cannot possibly be attained: everything that could have been meaningful is already dissolved into flows of capital.
For a carnival, existence isn’t meaningless, it is free from meaning. A freedom that is experienced as profound joy. Carnival can almost be summarized with these three words: existence is innocent. Existence is clear from the purpose, responsibility and guilt of meaning-production. The purest expression of this feeling is found in Heraclitus: “Eternity is a child playing dice: the universe belongs to a child.” To truly understand these words is an unspeakable, sacred joy — the beatitude of power. With this eternal innocence begins the coming carnival.
But capitalism knows of no carnival: it has festivals. A festival is the opposite of a carnival; it reproduces hierarchy and systems of exploitation through their ritualized performance as representation. Here, celebration punctuates a calendar of labor. A vague memory of a carnival perverted: good citizens stress and scramble to perform a spectacle of release. It is the internalized protestant work ethic, a thin ideological enforcement of the promised eudemonia of capital. Anxious fingers tie ontologically expensive bows around stockpiles of gifts, each commodity created to be disposed of and re-purchased. And yet, capitalist excess is never excessive; it is calculating, always sterile, a poor parody of the carnival. It simulates the social gesture of expenditure, while drowning its participants in dutiful upkeep. The holiday is excess ritualized; made obligatory.
For the state, it doesn’t matter whether a social order is performed positively, as in a Christian ritual, or negatively, in its ritual inversion as Satanism or Atheism. Whether the crown falls upon the king or the fool makes no difference: as long as the crown remains. This is the festival-machine, which reproduces the values, codes and units of meaning of the social order through their performance as representation. From Netflix to electoral politics and large-scale musical events, the festival-machine appropriates energies that are specific to the carnival, and inserts them within the circulation process of capital.
Aristotelian Tragedy meets its modern match in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Archetypal heroes carry redundant story arcs towards the completion of a single morally significant act. Commercial gods move heaven and earth to rescue temporarily disrupted bourgeois values from destitution. Film after film and election after election, order is restored, property is protected, and the state affirmed. The reach of this culture machine, marketed to children and adults alike, with the silent implication that there is no difference between the two, this reach is akin to that of a church. But artistry (or style) is reduced to a 6th element. There is no beauty to be shared, no creativity to be inspired: the producers of this ‘culture’ passively respond to market tendencies, while its consumers passively receive it as one more moment of the market. It is the autonomous movement of the non-living, the self-representation of capital for the sake of its reproduction. And yet, it is bathed in numen. Plush toys (relics), theme parks (churches), subscriptions (ritualized donations), and confession (therapy), are relentlessly sold to yearning masses.
What the festival-machine operates is the tireless conversion of capital into meaning. And yet, the very ground of this operation reveals the meaninglessness at play. This is the most fundamental weakness of capitalism. The error has always been the attempt to constitute a competing regime of meaning against that of capitalism.
Nothing can compete with the festival-machine’s ability to produce meaning: mass music, family structures, lived experience, superhero movies, gender, corporate media, ecological choices, political groups, sexuality, electoral spectacle, autobiography, protests and activism, ritualized consumption, ancestry, essentialized identities — the constitution of a competing meaning is an impossible task. Through the untold billions it mobilizes, the festival-machine can provide any individual with both the most shameless capitalist ideology and the most radical forms of mass-produced anti-capitalism.
As the festival-machine ceaselessly converts capital into meaning, it breeds a meaninglessness repressed into a lack of meaning, a lack that is gleefully provided for by commodity fetishism. The cycle goes on. But the festival-machine can only operate so long as meaning is assumed as a possibility.
And here lies the power of carnival: it does not present the festival-machine with a competing regime of meaning. Rather, it appropriates meaninglessness. And by doing so, it reveals the constitutive meaninglessness of the festival-machine.
Capitalism defeated feudal societies because it was less meaningful than they were. Each new abolition of meaning always comes upon humanity as an ecstatic opening of the possible. The bourgeois class, from 1500 to 1800, was a progressive and revolutionary class; and if they achieved victory over the feudal nobility, it was by reducing the amount of meaning in the world. The bourgeois, as Engels noted, never took over feudal spaces; they created their own. Nor did they create an alternative, equally meaningful society apart from the feudal world; they dismantled the meaning of feudalism without building upon it. We say that the same process will defeat capitalism.
The coming carnival is a more total nihilism. Its absence of meaning is not a lack, it is an innocence, a purity, a boundless joy. It instantiates a creative principle.
This revolutionary gesture destitutes the founding claim of private property: purpose. The idea that something exists for something — this only arises from the demand for productivity introduced by the enclosure of means of production. Purpose, need, desire as lack, labor, alienation: these are all different effects of a single process, primitive expropriation. Purpose and meaning are the watchwords of private property.
The regime of meaning demands: “what is it for?” But carnival rejects this question. Only the priest asks why. The “what’s it for?” is logically followed by the “what’s in it for me?” of private property.
Meaning is reproduced in the ritual of confession. The obligatory telling of one’s body to the priest, to the doctor, to the therapist, to the cop, to the state, as if it expressed some essential self — some ownership of properties.
The coming carnival can do without a why, because it has a how. It lurches forwards.
Without any central control, external organization, imposed planning or management, carnival creates itself without motive. It has only an incidentally self-productive how. And so, the coming carnival is the extension of this modality to all domains of existence, an insurrection against everything that claims meaning, purpose, totality, and eternity for itself. It is neither a sudden, cataclysmic inversion of a social order, nor a specific, determinate event that founds a new order or establishes a new regime of meaning. Rather, it is the continuous destitution of social order and meaning. It is not a constituent power. It does not create a new Law, nor does it operate within a lawless state of exception; it maintains itself by a Law rendered meaningless, by a destitute Law.
The coming carnival is incidentally productive: it has no goal. Spontaneous offshoots do however produce, and they produce more than enough to sustain their generation indefinitely. In fact, nothing but the repression of the state has ever put an end to a carnival. Its existence was always a matter of fact for state powers, who could not prevent its emergence, as it is, simply, the universal form of human activity; and so, it was allowed to exist, temporarily.
The coming carnival is the joyful abolition of all human meaning. From this abolition emerges a free space for the singular expression of one’s presence, an expression as gesture and affect, unmediated by identity and fixed codes.
As Wang Meng wrote, “the Cultural Revolution was a people’s carnival, Mao Zedong’s poetic rhapsody; it was a carnival of heroism, the thinking of the avant-garde. It was a carnival of will to power, of concept and language, of history created in search of a little new meaning. Mao Zedong let the youth liberate themselves to the extreme, he got rid of all rules. It excited all of humanity, the entire world. It was a little cruel. But isn’t all obedience and rigidity even more cruel to life?”
The coming carnival doesn’t repeat Mao’s error: it does not seek to create a little new meaning.
As the carnival assumes its absence of meaning, its very existence is an insurrection against capital. Its sole presence exposes the constituent meaninglessness at the heart of all human determinations. For the capitalist mode of production, one’s worth is a matter of an abstract, quantified pseudo-difference: the productive ability to consume a lifestyle. All human meaning consists in the consumption of commodified ways of life and ready-made personhood, a fetishism of authenticity and lived experience only made possible by the extension of capital to all domains of human subjectivity. Here, meaning and authenticity are the privilege of those who have the funds for it.
We might remember the prediction Marx made in The Poverty of Philosophy regarding Higher Stage Capitalism: “The very things that until then had been communicated, but never traded; given, but never sold; acquired, but never bought—virtue, love, opinion, science, consciousness— everything then will pass into commerce.” These are our days. Our gesture cannot be the reappropriation of what was alienated; we cannot go back. We have to go further.
We take capital and the state on their own terms and appropriate the nihilistic position we were reduced to. In fact, we should celebrate this position as part of the progressive tendencies of capital; here, in this complete, irreparable nihilism, for the first time we find ourselves rid of all the alienations that previously haunted us. Religion, morality, gender, nations, the family, metaphysics — capital has already liquidated the whole of it for us, while marketing their commodified reproduction as meaning. All we had to do was to divest ourselves from the pursuit of meaning of liberalism. Then, beyond or beneath any possibility of representation, identity, validity and legitimacy — then, we were irrecuperable. It was the coming carnival.
And so the very appearance of carnival expresses an outside. If, historically, the carnival acted as “a temporary liberation from the prevailing truth and from the established order, the suspension of all hierarchical rank, privileges, norms, and prohibitions,” the fact always remained that existence was possible within a carnival, that it works — and this is a revelation whose corrosive power is truly boundless.
As a medieval or antique carnival goes on, with its destitution of social hierarchy, its abolition of gender, family structures, and relations of production, what is immediately apparent is that this could be possible. For large Medieval cities, as Bakhtin notes, carnival lasted for more than three months. By the end of the Roman Republic, the calendar counted 230 regular days, and 125 days of carnival; and the number only increased under the Empire. This meant a complete disaffection from the prevailing social order. The more carnival extends, the more readily apparent it must become, that this could go on forever.
Our goal? — we have none. But our very existence, our desubjectified and guiltless existence, free of identity, free of purpose or meaning, our carnival existence — it is a dissolvent against which capitalism is powerless. To gleefully discard as fantasmal trinkets both meaning and justification; to recklessly ignore the search for purpose that capital would have us undertake; to let go of all motive and interest to become truly gratuitous — capital cannot recuperate this. It is its absolute outside. It is a rupture.
Abandoning the world of purpose isn’t even a targeted act; it is a gesture, the expression of an involvement with the world that depends on no grounding, no sovereign decision; it is not more than the demands of capital and its institutions, it is neither a higher duty or a more imperious Law, nor a moral imperative or an order — it is a life stripped down to its unmediated involvement in pathos.
Spaces where the relation between affect and gesture immediately flows, without the mediation of subjectivity or self-consciousness; spaces where all purpose has been abolished; spaces where communism overflows from the play of bodies; spaces where war expands, and circulates; spaces where eroticism neither reproduces bourgeois codes nor tries to transgress them; spaces of creation, of experimentation with new modalities of existence; spaces of armed struggle and self-organizing; spaces of communization; spaces of power and joy — this is the coming carnival.
Flows of intensities, a resonance of intensities, a communization of intensities; a meeting of bodies. Communism isn’t the aim of the coming carnival, communism overflows from a plenitude of presence, a dissolution of the private, because purposeless existence is utterly excessive.
The coming carnival is the actual expression of an irreversible departure from all values. A rending open of possibility. All that ever granted human existence its meaning and purpose isn’t destroyed, critiqued, or exposed as a tool of power — it is cast aside as purely worthless. Valuing becomes an intensive process indistinguishable from existence, a matter of resonance; no new values are created, because valuing becomes the interplay of a-signifying affects, a consistency of intensities. Existence itself becomes a strictly ethical modality.
For the first time, a regime has posited nihilism: capital assumes this passive nihilism as its ground, and asks of us to produce and consume a commodified meaning made necessary by its very nihilism. The error we won’t repeat is to try to produce an opposing meaning turned against the nihilism of capital. The coming carnival produces no subjectivity. It does not create a more authentic personhood, a real experience or a deeper self. It goes further than capital goes, further than capital can go.
We accelerate the process of desubjectivation.
The coming carnival invites no one and promises nothing, as it was always here, always ready to let out its all-dissolving world-laughter.
this is longer and so much better than I expected. Love it
the way it seeped itself into my skin. it is pure body. so wonderful.