Crossing the Wires in the Pleasure Machine: Lenin and the Emergence of Historical Discontinuity

If it is true, as I have argued in an earlier essay, that discontinuity is not an unintended side-effect of our ambition to attain goals that are in line with our identity, but the result of our giving in to a sublime "why not?," then how can we conceive of history as a process? In this essay I will explore the thesis that my notion that the discontinuities of history spring from a dehors texte squares well with an evolutionary view of history. I will do so by giving an account of how Lenin and Trotsky brought off one of the primordial discontinuities of the twentieth century, the Russian Revolution. Starting with Trotsky's remark that Lenin owed his success to his "imagination," I show that the October 1917 coup d'etat was not guided by strategy or driven by ideology, but by a series of "inspired" improvisations in which the protagonists fled forward into the unknown. Trotsky describes Lenin's "intuition of action" as the fruit of his ability to take leave of the system of complexity reduction that is stored in conventions, received wisdom, and other things we take for granted. Trotsky in effect says that Lenin's improvisations were most successful when he was so completely "possessed" by his deeds that he didn't fully know what he was doing-when, that is, he was in (as psychiatrists would say) a state of dissociation. In Lenin's inspired deeds the "latent powers of the organism" that humans have "inherited from animal ancestors" rose up, Trotsky said, and "smashed through the doors of psychic routine and-together with the highest historico-philosophical generalizations-stood up in the service of the revolution." Acting out the dehors texte, Lenin brought about one of the metamorphoses in which humanity mutates to new-though not necessarily higher or happier-levels. The essay includes some remarks on what all this might mean for the relation between history and theory in the upcoming years.