Certainly, an amount of surprise at the Israeli Defense Forces social media onslaught in the latest assault on Gaza is to be expected. The internet and its various platforms are for many of us a safe space, if not the means by which we do our little bit to fight injustice, or at least express dismay about its presence in the world. We may not believe that Twitter will power the revolution, but at least it is a conduit for connecting with those who do, for sharing our stories and photos, our outrage, and our united cultural expressions that fuel revolutions. To see a military of any size, let alone an oppressive state, use these services to brag about their bombings is a bit surreal, if not outrageous in its own way.
But we should not be surprised. The IDF is an armed force that exploits any discourse to support its power regime, in the manner most stereotypical of the capital-S State. Even the post-structural philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari, who delivered some of the fiercest and expansive criticism of the State and its appropriation of the war-machine are not beyond the reach of co-option. Interviewed in this essay, a retired Israeli general describes how Deleuze and Guattari help the IDF understand their demolition of Palestinian houses as part of their strategy, as they literally blow their way through lines of buildings, making their own street:
One might understand this as a post-modern backlash: if truth is dead, why couldn’t post-structural philosophy help the State wage war as surely as it criticizes the State? But this argument is a tautology–it assumes that “fact” is non-existent, and therefore the mere mention of these names is proof that the State is actually substantially aided by this philosophy. But while grand narratives are suspect, facts still exist. Deleuze and Guattari do not, in fact, help the IDF make its case. The IDF would be smashing buildings regardless of an obscure philosophy text published in the early 70s. But because this is a state regime that pulls everything it touches into alignment with its power structure, there is no author, text, strategem, or tool that the IDF could touch which would not be folded into the war-machine it seeks to build. The State is not seeking to win or lose a debate. It is seeking to continue its war. Fact may exist, but is irrelevant to the State.
I asked Naveh why Deleuze and Guattari were so popular with the Israeli military. He replied that ‘several of the concepts in A Thousand Plateaux became instrumental for us […] allowing us to explain contemporary situations in a way that we could not have otherwise. It problematized our own paradigms. Most important was the distinction they have pointed out between the concepts of “smooth” and “striated” space [which accordingly reflect] the organizational concepts of the “war machine” and the “state apparatus”. In the IDF we now often use the term “to smooth out space” when we want to refer to operation in a space as if it had no borders. […] Palestinian areas could indeed be thought of as “striated” in the sense that they are enclosed by fences, walls, ditches, roads blocks and so on.’ When I asked him if moving through walls was part of it, he explained that, ‘In Nablus the IDF understood urban fighting as a spatial problem. […] Travelling through walls is a simple mechanical solution that connects theory and practice.’
The IDF would not only use social media to brag about a kill, it would use social media to kill, if it figured a way to do so. The surprise we feel is the momentary realization that every thing that exists on earth can be a means for the State to exert its control, and to further its goals: whether it is technology, media, art, or even our emotional reaction of shock and surprise.
This is the political side of the New Aesthetic, which the discourse of the New Aesthetic has been dancing around since it became a topic of discussion. The New Aesthetic isn’t so much a thing of itself, as the combined sense of oddness that we feel when we discover technology warping or mutating the shape of the world. The New Aesthetic is an aesthetic tag, which James Bridle began attaching to clipped photos and text blocks that demonstrated this warp. The difficulty of confronting the political side of the New Aesthetic is that there is no ideology of it, no state flag or political line to toe. The political side of the New Aesthetic is that politics is everywhere, and anything can be equally political if deployed correctly, depending on who deploys it, and what their next-stage goals are. There is no rubric to assess this politics, no official spokesperson. There is only the vast multitude of instances of links between nodes, whether they are flying missiles, retweeted propaganda, philosophy texts, or the faces of self-Instagrammed soldiers.
And of course, James Bridle is on top of this, only just this past week launching Dronestagram, a Tumblr/Twitter/New Aesthetic/New Politic something, which posts aerial photos of the locations of US drone strikes from throughout the post-national terrain of that war-machine. So very similar to the IDF’s Youtube videos, the effect is entirely different, as it seeks not to brag or threaten, but to document and exhibit.
But could Dronestagram be co-opted by the State? What would be the effect of the IDF’s Twitter account retweeting Dronestagram? What if the president retweeted it? What if Al-Qaeda did? Who does the uncanniness of the New Aesthetic/New Politic work for? Who owns these aspects of the war-machine?
The New Politic remains obscure, and yet its components varied and diverse. And the deaths continue. This is our future-present, and the source and destination of our surprise.