Paranoia and School

| December 28, 2013

The comforting thing about school is that you won’t be left out. Even in dropping out, you have a role to play. That is explicit enough. No, the secretive paranoia in school works the other way, ensuring that nobody leaves the building. If paranoia is always the lonely scene of isolation, we should not be fooled into thinking that institutions don’t get lonely. Corporations are people too, after all. The dropout, forced into singularity, is the molecular, stripped bare reminder of a collective scheming mass threatening the corporate individual. How’s that for paranoia?!
But all of this to suggest, it is time to think the paranoiac element of schooling. And Cultural Formations has just released a special issue on just this topic. You should read it. It talks about you. [kidding]

Paranoia, of course, always points to an old plan, running under the surface. It is always structural, despite its shaky nerves in the moment. So we might not be surprised to see it emerging with the formations of educational imagery itself, say, for example, in Plato’s allegory of the cave.

Deleuze and Guattari, in Anti-Oedipus, write of a new historic mechanism that will disrupt the territorial barbarian assemblages of history: a paranoiac machine that will thrust through the current social order that Socrates’ early interlocutors might still be seen as standing for.

It is this force of projection that defines paranoia, this strength to start again from zero, to objectify a complete transformation: the subject leaps outside the intersections of alliance-filiation, installs himself at the limit, at the horizon, in the desert, the subject of a deterritorialized knowledge that links him directly to God and connects him to the people.

This starting again from zero, we might suggest, is not so much from scratch, as from a recalibration, a repurposing of the existing tension. It suffices to turn something around along an axis. Irigaray writes:

The orientation functions by turning everything over, by reversing, and by pivoting around axes of symmetry. From high to low, from low to high, from back to front, from anterior to opposite, but in all cases from a point in view in front of or behind something in this cave, situated in the back.

We can see a relationship being sketched out in the cave allegory that places the philosopher as the intermediary between the Sun and the massed prisoners. When we realize that the larger narrative follows a similar structure, the instating (and deposing) of a philosopher-king, we can recognize the paranoiac machine that Deleuze and Guattari are describing:

A leap into a new alliance, a break with the ancient filiation—this is expressed in a strange machine, or rather a machine of the strange whose locus is the desert, imposing the harshest and the most barren of ordeals, and attesting to the resistance of an old order as well as the validation of the new order.

There is perhaps little difficulty in seeing the cave as a desert, as the most barren of conditions. What is perhaps more telling is the conversion of a “strange machine” into a “machine of the strange.” If Glaucon finds the image strange, what makes this a paranoiac scenario is that it mobilizes strangeness and resemblance to create the tension between the new and old order that will call for the unique position of the philosopher. It is not enough to merely substitute orders—how else to explain the peculiar exercise of creating the ideal state only to demolish it before our eyes, or the following up of successful liberation in the cave with resistance to any further attempt? The new order must be posited as desirable, and attainable by someone, by the paranoiac perhaps who knows the secret that might pivot everything—the first one through. But the uniqueness of this position must also be maintained by the recalcitrance of the old order, which maintains the sufficient rigidity to be played on—the rigor mortis, we might say.

The strange stiffness that paranoia insists upon.