Wagner and Ursprung

I’ve just finished watching Das Rheingold (this version). Who knew that it was about, among other things, primitive accumulation.

1) When the god Wotan first tries to pry the gold from Alberich, he consults with Alberich’s workers, who lament the fact that until recently they had been unaffiliated craftsmen who enjoyed the freedom to work independently. Alberich had destroyed that arrangement and now they are forced to labor exclusively for him.

2) At the beginning of the scene in which the giants ask the gods for their payment for building Valhalla, the gods’ initial impulse is to simply disregard the giants’ request, to rely on godly fiat to get out of surrendering their property (which happens to be the person of one of the gods, Freia). The giants plead their case, reminding the gods of their agreement, their contract. This reminds the gods that the world is not bound by their divine caprice but that even they are subject to the logic and rules of exchange.

The gods, then, are no longer in a despotic world; they are no longer the “full body as socius,” the “sole quasi cause, the source and fountainhead and estuary of all objective movement.” Instead, the contract — and the seeming absence of violent threat to back it up — signifies that they are now merely a part of the new “deterritorialized full body” of capital.

3) When Wotan first hears of the gold, his eyes begin to sparkle; the gold acts on him as it does on other ancients, as the mystical provoker of greed. By the end of the story, however, the gold has been transformed from an individual object of desire into money — literally the general equivalent, since Freia’s freedom is bought by exactly her size in gold. And for the gods, money, as opposed to riches, is as possessing as much as it is possessed, commanding as well as commanded. The gods, Wagner shows, are no longer above power relations; they too are affected by force. To put it in other terms, capital “institutes an unrivaled slavery, an unprecedented subjugation”: the subsumption of everyone and everything to its service.

4) Finally, this calls to mind an excellent post by Spurious, who starts by quoting Deleuze:

Foucault’s great theses on power […] develop under three headings: power is not essentially repressive (since it ‘incites, it induces, it seduces’); it is practised before it is possessed (since it is possessed only in a determinable form, that of class, and a determined form, that of State); it passes through the hands of the mastered no less than through the hands of the masters (since it passes through every related force). A profound Nietzscheanism.

What is power?, Deleuze asks, and gives us an answer that recalls his own study of Nietzsche: it is a relation between forces, ‘or rather every relation between forces is a “power relation”‘. Forces are always found in the plural, Deleuze says; each force exists in relation to other forces.

Here, we must distinguish force from violence, which acts on specific bodies whose form it destroys or changes. Force, by contrast, takes as its ‘object’ only other forces, and does not exist apart from the relation. As Foucault puts it, force is ‘an action upon an action, on existing actions, or on those which may arise in the present or future’; it is ‘a set of actions upon other actions’. The relation between forces can be expressed, Deleuze suggests, by infinitives such as to incite, to induce, to seduce, to make easy or difficult, to enlarge or limit, to make more or less probable, and so on. In each case, it is a power relation that is at issue, as it names the effect of actions upon actions.

Power has to be understood, Deleuze says, in terms of affectivity. Force is to be understood in terms of its power to affect other forces to which it is related, and to be affected by other forces in turn.


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