The Passion For Rules

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No player must be greater than the game itself


The Diary of the Seducer claims that in seduction the subject is never the master of his master plan, and even when the latter is deployed in full consciousness, it still submits to the rules of a game that goes beyond it. A ritual dramaturgy beyond the law, seduction is both game and fate, and as such pushes the protagonists towards their inevitable end without the rule being broken - for it is the rule that binds them. And the rule's basic dictum is that the game continue whatever the cost, be it death itself. There is, then, a sort of passion that binds the players to the rule that ties them together - without which the game would not be possible.

Ordinarily we live within the realm of the Law, even when fantasizing its abolition. Beyond the law we see only its transgression or the lifting of a prohibition. For the discourse of law and interdiction determines the inverse discourse of transgression and liberation. However, it is not the absence of the law that is opposed to the law, but the Rule.

The Rule plays on an immanent sequence of arbitrary signs, while the Law is based on a transcendent sequence of necessary signs. The one concerns cycles, the recurrence of conventional procedures, while the other is an instance based in an irreversible continuity. The one involves obligations, the other constraints and prohibitions. Because the Law establishes a line, it can and must be transgressed. By contrast, it makes no sense to "transgress" a game's rules; within a cycle's recurrence, there is no line one can jump (instead, one simply leaves the game). Because the Law - whether that of the signifier, castration, or a social interdiction - claims to be the discursive sign of a legal instance and hidden truth, it results in repression and prohibitions, and thus the division into a manifest and a latent discourse. Given that the rule is conventional and arbitrary, and has no hidden truth, it knows neither repression nor the distinction between the manifest and the latent. It does not carry any meaning, it does not lead anywhere; by contrast, the Law has a determinate finality. The endless, reversible cycle of the Rule is opposed to the linear, finalized progression of the Law.

Signs do not have the same status in the one as in the other. The Law is part of the world of representation,' and is therefore subject to interpretation or decipherment. It involves decrees or statements, and is not indifferent to the subject. It is a text, and falls under the influence of meaning and referen-tiality. By contrast, the Rule has no subject, and the form of its utterance is of little consequence; one does not decipher the rules, nor derive pleasure from their comprehension - only their observance matters, and the resulting giddiness. This also distinguishes the passion for the g;ame's rituals and intensity from the pleasure that attaches to obedience to the Law, or its transgression.

In order to understand the intensity of ritual forms, one must rid oneself of the idea that all happiness derives from nature, and all pleasure from the satisfaction of a desire. On the contrary, games, the sphere of play, reveal a passion for rules, a giddiness born of rules, and a force that comes from ceremony, and not desire.

Does the delight one experiences in a game come from a dream-like situation, where one moves free of reality, but which one can quit at any time? Not at all. Games, unlike dreams, are subject to rules, and one just doesn't leave a game. Games create obligations like those found in challenges. To leave a game is unsportsmanlike. And the fact that one cannot refuse to play a game from within - a fact that explains its enchantment and differentiates it from "reality" - creates a symbolic pact which compels one to observe the rules without reserve, and to pursue the game to the end, as one pursues a challenge to the end.

The order instituted by the game, being conventional, is incommensurable with the necessary order of the real world: it is neither ethical nor psychological, and its acceptance (the acceptance of the rules) implies neither resignation nor constraint. As such, there is no freedom in our moral and individual sense of that term, in games. They are not to be equated with liberty. Games do not obey the dialectic of free will, that hypothetical dialectic of the sphere of the real and the law. To enter into a game is to enter a system of ritual obligations. Its intensity derives from its initiatory form - not from our liberty, as we would like to believe, following an ideology that sees only a single, "natural" source of happiness and pleasure.

The game's sole principle, though it is never posed as universal, is that by choosing the rule one is delivered from the law.

Without a psychological or metaphysical foundation, the rule has no grounding in belief. One neither believes nor disbelieves a rule - one observes it. The diffuse sphere of belief, the need for credibility that encompasses the real, is dissolved in the game. Hence their immorality: to proceed without believing in it, to sanction a direct fascination with conventional signs and groundless rules.

Debts too are annuled. In games there is nothing to redeem, no accounts to settle with the past. For this reason, games appear unaware of the dialectic of the possible and impossible, there being no accounts to settle with the future. There is nothing "possible," since everything is played, everything decided, without hope and without alternatives, according to a relentless, unmediated logic. That is why there is no laughter around the poker table, for its logic is cool (but not casual); and the game being without hope, is never obscene and never lends itself to laughter. Games are serious, more serious than life, as seen in the paradoxical fact that in a game lives can be at stake.

Games, therefore, are no more based on the pleasure principle than the reality principle. They suppose the enchantment of the rule, and the sphere that the rule describes. And the lat ter is not a sphere of illusion or diversion, but involves another logic, an artificial, initiatory logic wherein the natural determinants of life and death have been abolished. This constitutes the specificity of games and their stakes. It makes no sense to reduce them to an economic logic that would speak of conscious investment, or to a logic of desire that would speak of unconscious motives. Conscious or unconscious - this double determination may be valid for the sphere of meaning and law, but not for rules and games.

The Law describes a potentially universal system of meaning and value. It aims at objective recognition. On the basis of its underlying transcendence, the Law constitutes itself into an instance for the totalization of the real, with all the revolutions and transgressions clearing the way to the law's universaliza-tion. By contrast, the Rule is immanent to a limited and restricted system, which it describes without transcending, and within which it is immutable. The rule does not aspire to universality and, strictly speaking, it lacks all exteriority since it does not institute an internal scission. It is the Law's transcendence that establishes the irreversibility of meaning and value. And it is the rule's immanence, its arbitrary, circumscriptive character, that leads, in its own sphere, to the reversibility of meaning and the reversion of the Law.

The inscription of rules in a sphere without a beyond (it's no longer a universe, since it no longer aspires to universality) is as difficult to understand as the idea of a finite universe. A boundary without something beyond it is unimaginable. For us the finite is always set against the infinite; but the sphere of games is neither finite nor infinite - transfinite perhaps. It has its own finite contours, with which it resists the infinity of analytic space. To reinvent a rule is to resist the linear infinitude of analytic space in order to recover a reversible space. For a rule has its own revolution, in the literal sense of the word: the convection towards a central point and the cycle's reversion (this is how rituals function within a cyclical world), independent of every logic of cause and effect, origin and end.

This marks the end of the centrifugal dimension: the sudden, intensive gravitation of space and abolition of time, which implodes in a flash to become so dense that it escapes the traditional laws of physics - its entire course spiraling inwards towards the center where the density is greatest. This is the game's fascination, the crystalline passion that erases memory traces and forfeits meaning. All passion comes close, in its form, to the latter, but the passion for gaming is the purest.

The best analogy would be with primitive cultures, which have been described as closed in on themselves, incapable of conceiving of the rest of the world. But in our society the rest of the world exists only for us. Their closure, far from being restrictive, derives from a different logic which, because we are trapped within the imaginary of the universal, can no longer conceive of except pejoratively, as limited.

The symbolic sphere of these cultures knows no remains. In games too, unlike the real, there is nothing left over. Because they have neither history, memory nor internal accumulation (the stakes are constantly being consumed and reversed, it being an unspoken rule that, while the game is in progress, one cannot withdraw anything in the form of a gain or "surplus value"), they leave no residue within. Nor is there anything that remains outside the game. The "remainder" supposes an unsolved equation, an unrealized destiny, something subtracted or repressed. But a game's equation is always perfectly balanced, and its destiny always fulfilled, without leaving any traces (something that distinguishes it from the unconscious).

The theory of the unconscious supposes that certain affects, scenes or signifiers can no longer be put into play, that they are foreclosed, outside-the-game. The game, on the other hand, is based on the hypothesis that everything can be put into play. Otherwise it would have to be admitted that one has always already lost, that one is playing in order to always lose. In the game, however, no objects are wasted. There is nothing irreducible to the game which precedes the game - and in particular, no previous debts. If within games, something is exorcised, it is not some debt contracted vis-a-vis the law. It is the Law itself that is exorcised as an unforgivable crime, as discriminatory, an irreconcilable transcendence within the real. And its transgression only adds a new crime to that of the law - and new debts and griefs.

The Law establishes equality ai; a principle: in principle everyone is equal before the Law. By contrast, there is no equality before the rule; for the latter has no jurisdiction over principles. Moreover, in order for everyone to be equal they must be separated. The players, however, are not separate or individualized: they are instituted in a dual and agonistic relation. They are not even solidary - solidarity supposing a formal conception of the social, the moral ideal of a group in competition. The players are tied to each other; their parity entails an obligation that does not require solidarity, at least not as something that needs to be conceptualized or interiorized.

The rule has no need of a formal structure or superstructure - whether moral or psychological - to function. Precisely because rules are arbitrary and ungrounded, because they have no referents, they do not require a consensus, nor any collective will or truth. They exist, that's all. And they exist only when shared, while the Law floats above scattered individuals.

Their logic is clearly illustrated by what Goblot claims, in La Barrière et le Niveau, is the cultural rule of castes (and of the bourgeois class as well):

1. Total parity amongst the players within the space created by the Rule: this is the "level."

2. Beyond the Rule, the foreclosing of the rest of the world: this is the "barrier."

Within its own domain, extraterritoriality, in the obligations and privileges, absolute reciprocity: games restore this logic in its pure state. The agonistic relation between thé players can never jeopardize their reciprocal, privileged status. The game might come to naught and its stakes lost - still the reciprocal enchantment, and the arbitrariness of the Rule at its source, must be preserved.

This is why duel relations can exclude all effort, merit or personal qualities (above all, in the pure form of games of chance). Personal traits are admitted only as a kind of favour or enticement, and have no psychological equivalents. This is how games go - as demanded by the divine transparency of the Rule.

In a finite space, one is delivered from the universal - with an immediate, duel parity, one is delivered from equality - with obligations one is delivered from freedom - in the arbitrariness of the Rule and its ceremonial, one is delivered from the law. Thus the enchantment of games.

In a sense, we are more equal within ceremonials than before the Law (perhaps this accounts for the insistence on politeness, on ceremonial conformity, particularly amongst the less cultivated classes; it being easier to share conventional signs than signs laden with meaning or signs of "intelligence"). We also have more freedom in games than anywhere else, for we do not have to internalize the rules; we owe the rules only a token fidelity, and do not feel we have to transgress them, as is the case with the law. With the rule we are free of the Law - and of all the constraints of choice, freedom, responsibility and meaning! The terrorism of meaning can only be dissipated by arbitrary signs.

However, make no mistake about it: conventional or ritual signs are binding. One is not free to signify in isolation while still maintaining a coherent relation with reality or truth. The freedom demanded by modern signs, like modern individuals, to articulate themselves according to their affects or desire (for meaning) does not exist for conventional signs. The latter cannot set off aimlessly, with their own referent or scrap of meaning as ballast. Each sign is tied to others, not within the abstract structure of language, but within the senseless unfolding of a ceremonial; they echo each other and reduplicate themselves in other, equally arbitrary signs.

The ritual sign is not a representative sign. It is not, therefore, something worth understanding. Instead, it delivers us from meaning. This is why we are so committed to such signs. The gaming debt is a debt of honour; everything concerning the game is sacred because conventional.

In A Lover's Discourse Roland Barthes justifies his choice of an alphabetical order in the following terms: "to discourage the temptation of meaning, it was necessary to choose an absolutely insignificant order," that is to say, neither an intended order, nor one of pure chance, but a perfectly conventional order. For "we must not," he writes, citing a mathematician, "underestimate the power of chance to engender monsters," that is, logical sequences - meaning.

In other words, total liberty, or total indeterminacy are not opposed to meaning. One can produce meaning simply by playing with chance or disorder. New diagonals of meaning, new sequences can be engendered from the untamed flood tides of desire - as in certain modern philosophies, the molecular or intensive philosophies, which claim to undermine meaning by diffraction, hook-ups and the Eirownian movements of desire. As with chance, we must not underestimate the power of desire to engender (logical) monsters.

One does not escape meaning by dissociation, disconnection or deterritorialization. One escapes meaning by replacing it with a more radical simulacrum, a still more conventional order - like the alphabetical order for Barthes, or the rules of a game, or the innumerable rituals of everyday life which frustrate both the (political, historical or social) order of meaning and the disorder (chance) which one would impose on them.

Indeterminacy, dissociation or proliferation in the form of a star or rhizome only generalize meaning's sphere of influence , to the entire sphere of non-sense. That is, they merely generalize meaning's pure form, an abstract finality with neither a determinate end nor contents. Only rituals abolish meaning.

This is why there are no "rituals of transgression." The very expression makes no sense, especially when applied to the festival. The latter has proved very problematic for our revolutionaries: is the festival a transgression or regeneration of the Law? An absurd question, for rituals, including the ritual liturgy of the festival, belong to neither the domain of the Law, nor its transgression, but to that of the Rule.

The same applies to magic. We are constantly interpreting what falls under the rule in the terms of the law. Thus, magic is seen as an attempt to outwit the laws of production and hard work. Primitives have the same "utilitarian" ends as us, but in order to realize them, they would rather avoid rational exertion. Magic, however, is something very different: it is a ritual for the maintenance of the world as a play of analogical relations, a cyclical progression where everything is linked together by their signs. An immense game, rule governs magic, and the basic problem is to ensure, by means of ritual, that everything continues to play thus, by analogical contiguity and creeping seduction. It has nothing to do with linear relations of cause and effect. The latter - our way of understanding the world - is objective but unsettled. For it has broken the rule.

Magic does not seek to fool the law. It doesn't cheat - and to judge it as such is absurd. One might just as well dispute the arbitrariness of a game's rules in terms of the "objective" givens of nature.

The same simplistic and objectivistic misunderstanding occurs with gambling. Here the objective would be economic: to become rich without exerting oneself. The same attempt to skip steps as in magic. The same transgression of the principle of equivalence and hard work which rules the "real" world. The claim, then, is that gambling's truth is to be found in the tricks it plays on value.

But one is forgetting here the game's power of seduction. Not just the power one experiences when momentarily carried away, but the power to transmute values that comes with the rule. In gambling money is seduced, deflected from its truth. Having been cut off from the law of equivalences (it "burns") and the law of representation, money is no longer a sign or representation once transformed into a stake. And a stake is not something one invests. As an investment money takes the form of capital, but as a stake it appears in the form of a challenge. Placing a bet has as little to do with placing an investment, as libidinal investment with the stakes of seduction.

Investments and counter-investments - they belong to the psychic economy of drives and sex. Games, stakes and challenges are the figures of passion and seduction. More generally, all the stuff of money, language, sex and affect undergo a complete change of meaning depending on whether they are mobilized as an investment or transposed into a stake. The two moments are irreducible.

If games had a finality, the only true player would be the cheater. Now, if a certain amount of prestige can be acquired by transgressing the law, there is no prestige in cheating or transgressing a rule. In truth, the cheater cannot transgress the rules since the game, not being a system of interdictions, does not have lines one can cross. One does not "trangress" a rule, one fails to observe it. And non-observance does not lead to a state of transgression; it brings one back under the jurisdiction of the law.

This is the case with the cheater, who denies or, even better, profanes the game's ceremonial conventions for économie reasons (or psychological reasons, if he cheats simply for the pleasure of winning), and thereby restores the laws of the real world. By introducing factors of an individual nature, he destroys the game's "duel" enchantment. If cheating was once punished by death and is still condemned strongly, it is because, as a crime, it resembles incest: cultural rules being broken to the sole profit of the "laws of nature."

For the cheater, there is no longer anything at stake. He confuses the stakes with surplus-value. But the stakes are what enables one to play, and to turn them into the game's purpose is to abuse one's position of trust. In a similar manner, the rules establish the very possibility of playing, the space within which the sides confront each other. To treat the rules as ends (or as laws or truths) is to destroy both the game and its stakes. The rules have no autonomy, that quality which, according to Marx, characterizes commodities, both individually and in general, and is the sacrosanct value of the economic domain. The cheater too is autonomous-, he establishes a law, his own law, against the arbitrary rituals of the rule - this is what disqualifies him. And he is free - this explains his downfall. Moreover, he is rather dreary, because he no longer exposes himself to the seduction of games, because he refuses the vertigo of seduction. By way of hypothesis, one might postulate that personal advantage is only an alibi: in reality he cheats in order to escape seduction-, he cheats because he is afraid of being seduced.

The challenge of a game is very different, and games are always a challenge - and not just when played around a table. Consider the American who had the following classified advertisement printed in the paper: "Send me a dollar!" And then received tens of thousands of dollars. He did not promise anything - he was not, therefore, swindling anyone. Nor did he say: "I need a dollar" - nobody would have ever given him a dollar under such circumstances. Somewhere he had let float the off-chance of a miraculous exchange. Something more than an equivalence. A bluff. He was offering the public a challenge...

What sort of sublime transaction were they negotiating when, instead of buying a dollar's worth of ice cream, they sent in their money? They never really believed they would receive ten thousand dollars in return. In truth, they took up the challenge in their own way, and it was as valid as any other, for they were being offered a wishbone where one wins on both counts:

One never knows, it might work (ten thousand dollars in the mail), in which case, one has received a sign of the Gods' favour (which Gods? those who had printed the ad).

If it doesn't work, it is because the obscure instance that gave me the sign did not take up my challenge. So much the better. Psychologically I have beaten the Gods.

A double challenge: the con man challenges the sucker and the latter challenges fate. If he is overwhelmed by fate, he is in the clear. One can always count on culpability to look for ways of being exorcised, but it really isn't a question of guilt. To send a dollar in response to the absurd challenge of the advertisement, is the sacrificial response par excellence. It can be summed up as: "There must be something behind this. I will summon the Gods to respond or else to disappear" - and reducing the Gods to nothing is always a source of pleasure.

Stakes and challenges, summoning and bluffing - there is no question of belief in all this. Moreover, one never "believes" in anything. It is never a question of believing or not believing, no more than for Santa Claus. Belief is an absurd concept, of the same type as motivation, need, instinct, i.e.;, drive, desire, and. God knows what else - facile tautologies that hide from us the fact that our actions are never grounded psychologically in belief, but in stakes and challenges. It is never a matter of carefully reasoned speculation on existence (on the existence of God, or of someone with a dollar), but of continual provocation, of a game. One does not believe in God, just as one does not "believe" in chance - except in the humdrum discourses of religion or psychology. One challenges them, they challenge you, one plays with them, and they play with you: for this one does not have to believe in them.

Thus faith in the religious sphere is similar to seduction in the game of love. Belief is turned to the existence of God - and existence has only an impoverished, residual status, being what is left when all else has been removed - while faith is a challenge to God's existence, a challenge to God to exist, and in return, to die. One seduces God with faith, and He cannot but respond, for seduction, like the challenge, is a reversible form. And He responds a hundredfold by His grace to the challenge of faith. As with all ritual exchanges, the whole forms a system of obligations, with God being obliged and even compelled to respond - even as He is never compelled to exist. Belief is satsified with asking Him to exist and underwrite the world's existence - it is the disenchanted, contractual form. But faith turns God into a stake: God challenges man to exist (and he can respond to this challenge with his death), and man challenges God to respond to his sacrifice, that is, to disappear in return.

One always aspires to something more than mere existence, and something more than an equivalent value - and this some thing more, the challenge's immoderation compared to the contract, its intemperance compared to the equivalence of cause and effect, is clearly the result of seduction - that of games and magic. If we have experienced this in amorous seduction, why not in our relations with the world? Symbolic efficacy is not an empty concept. It reflects the existence of another form of the circulation of goods and signs, a form far more effective and powerful than economic circulation. What is fascinating about a miraculous win at the gaming tables is not the money: it is the resumption of ties with these other, symbolic circuits of unmediated and immoderate bidding, which concern the seduction of the order of things.

In the last analysis, there is nothing to prevent things from being seduced like beings - one simply has to find the game's rules.

The entire problem of chance appears here. Magic, as a wager, is similar to our games of chance. What is at stake is the particle of value thrown in the face of chance considered as a transcendent instance, not in order to win its favours, but to dismiss its transcendence, its abstraction, and turn it into a partner, an adversary. The stake is a summons, the game a duel: chance is summoned to respond, obliged by the player's wager to declare itself either favourable or hostile. Chance is never neutral, the game tranforms it into a player and agonistic figure.

Which is another way of saying that the basic assumption behind the game is that chance does not exist.

Chance in its modern, rational sense, chance as an aleatory mechanism, pure probability subjected to the laws of probability (and not to the rules of a game) - a sort of Great Neutral Aleatorium (G.N. A.), the epitome of a fluctuating universe dominated by statistical abstractions, a secularized, disenchanted and unbound divinity. This kind of chance does not exist in games; they exist to ward it off. Games of chance deny that the world is arranged contingently; on the contrary they seek to override any such neutral order and recreate a ritual order of obligations which undermines the free world of equivalences. In this manner games are radically opposed to the economy and Law. They question the reality of chance as an objective law and replace it with an inter-connected, propitious, duel, agonistic and non-

contingent universe - a charmed universe (charmed, in the strong sense of the term), a universe of seduction.

Thus the superstitious manipulations surrounding games, which many (Caillois) view only in terms of debasement. The resort to magical practices, from playing one's birth date to looking for recurrent series (the eleven came up eleven times running in Monte Carlo), from the most subtle winhing formulas to the rabbit's foot in one's coat pocket, they all feed on the idea that chance does not exist, that the world is built of networks of symbolic relations - not contingent connections, but webs of obligation, webs of seduction. One has only to play one's hand right...

The bettor defends himself at all costs from the' idea of a neutral universe, of which objective chance is a part. The bettor claims that anything can be seduced - numbers, letters, or the laws that govern their distribution. He would seduce the Law itself. The least sign, the least gesture has a meaning, which is not to say that it is part of some rational progression, but that every sign is vulnerable to, and can be seduced by other signs. The world is held together by unbreakable chains, but they are not those of the Law.

Here lies the "immorality" of games, often attributed to the fact that they encourage one to want to win too much too quickly. But this is to give them too much credit. Games are more immoral than that. They are immoral because they substitute an order of seduction for an order of production.

If a game is a venture for the seduction of chance that attaches itself to combinations of signs (but not those of cause and effect, nor those of contingent series) and if games tend to eliminate the objective neutrality of chance and its statistical "liberty" by harnessing them to the form of the duel, the challenge, and orderly bidding - then it is absurd to imagine, as does Gilles Deleuze in Logique du Sens, an "ideal game" that would consist of a fury of contingencies and, thus, of a radically increased indeterminacy which, in turn, would give rise to the simultaneous play of every series and, therefore, to the radical expression of becoming and desire.

The probability that two sequences will never - or hardly ever - cross eliminates the game's very possibility (if sequences never cross one cannot even speak of chance). But so does the likelihood that an indefinite number of sequences will cross each other at any given moment. For games are only conceived from the junction of a few sequences within a time-space frame limited by rules. Indeed, the latter is a condition for the production of chance; the rules do not restrict the freedom of a "total" chance, but constitute the very mode of the game's appearance.

It is not the case that the "more" chance there is, the more intense the game. This is to conceptualize both games and chance in terms of a sort of "freedom" of combination, an immanent drifting, a constant dissociation of orders and sequences, an unbridled improvisation of desire - a kind of daimdn who blows in all directions, breathing a little uncertainty, an additional incidence into the world's orderly economy.

Now all this is absurd. Becoming is not a matter of more or less. There is no dose or overdose. Either the world is engaged in a cycle of becoming, and is so engaged at all times, or it is not. At any rate, it makes no sense to "take the side" of becoming, assuming it exists - no more than that of chance, or desire. For one has no choice: "To take the side of the primary process is still a consequence of secondary processes" (Lyotard).

The very idea that games can be intensified by the acceleration of chance (as though one were speaking of the acidic content of a chemical solution), the idea that becoming can thereby be extended exponentially, turns chance into an energizing function, and stems directly from a confusion with the notion of desire. But this is not chance. Perhaps one should even admit, as the bettor secretly postulates, that chance does not exist. Quite a number of cultures have neither the word nor the concept, for they do not view anything in terms of contingency, nor even in terms of probability. Only our culture has invented the possibility of a statistical response, an inorganic, objective and fluctuating response, the dead response of the phenomena's objective indeterminacy and instability. When one thinks about it, the assumption of a contingent universe, stripped of all obligations and purged of every symbolic or formal rule, the idea that the world of things is subjected to a molecular and objective disorder - the same disorder that is idealized and glorified in the molecular vision of desire - this assumption is insane. Scarcely less demented than the assumption of an objective order, of an unbroken chain of cause and effect, which belongs to the glory days of classical reason, and from which, furthermore, the assumption of disorder follows in accord with the logic of residues.

The idea of chance first emerged as the residue of a logical order of determination. But even hypostasized as a revolutionary variable, it still remains the mirror image of the principle of causality. Its generalization, its unconditional "liberation," as in Deleuze's "ideal game," is part of the political and mystical economy of residues at work everywhere today, with its structural inversion of weak into strong terms. Chance, once perceived as obscene and insignificant, is to be revived in its insignificance and so become the motto of a nomadic economy of desire.

Games are not to be confused with "becoming," they are not nomadic, and do not belong to the realm of desire. They are characterized, even when games of chance, by their capacity to reproduce a given arbitrary constellation in the same terms an indefinite number of times. Their true form is cyclical or recurrent. And as such they, and they alone, put a definite stop to causality and its principle - not by the massive introduction of random series (which results only in the dispersal of causality, its reduction to scattered fragments, and not its overcoming) - but by the potential return (the eternal return if one will) to an orderly, conventional situation.

Neither the temporality of desire and its "freedom," nor that of some natural development (as with the play of children, or the play of the world described by Heraclitus), but that of the eternal return of a ritual form - and willed as such. Thus each of the game's sequences delivers us from the linearity of life and death.

There are two kinds of eternal return. The statistical kind -neutral, objective and insipid - where, given that the combinations, however numerous, in a finite system cannot be infinite, probability demands that the same arrangement eventually recur, according to an immense cycle. A thin metaphysics: it is a natural eternal return, in accord with a natural, statistical causality. The other vision is tragic and ritual: it is the willed recurrence, as in games, of an arbitrary and non-causal configuration of signs, where each sign seeks out the next relentlessly, as in the course of a ceremonial. It is the eternal return demanded by rules - as in a mandatory succession of throws and wagers. And it makes no difference whether they be the rules of the game of the universe itself: there is no metaphysics looming on the horizon of the game's indefinitely reversible cycle - and certainly not the metaphysics of desire, which is still dependent on the world's natural order, or natural disorder.

Desire may well be the Law of the universe, but the eternal return is its rule . Luckily for us - otherwise, where would be the pleasure in playing?

The consummate vertigo induced by a game: when the throw of the dice ends up "eliminating chance," when, for example, the same number appears against all odds several times in a row. A game's ultimate fantasy, the ecstasy of checking chance -when, in the grip of a challenge, the same throw is repeated, the prisoner of a recurring series, and as a result the law and chance are abolished. One plays in anticipation of this symbolic transcursion, that is to say, in anticipation of an event that will put an end to a random process without, however, falling prey to an objective law . By itself each throw produces only a moderate giddiness, but when fate raises the bid - a sign that it is truly caught up in the game - when fate itself seems to throw a challenge to the natural order of things and enters into a frenzy or ritual vertigo, then the passions are unleashed and the spirits seized by a truly deadly fascination.

There is nothing imaginary about this, but an imperious necessity to put a stop to the natural play of differences as well as the historical development of the law. There is no greater moment. The only way to respond to the natural advances of desire is in terms of the ritual one-upmanship of seduction and games; and the only way to respond to the contractual proposals of the law is in terms of the one-upmanship and formal vertigo of rules. A crystalline passion without equal.

Games do not belong to the realm of fantasy, and their recurrence is not the repetition of a phantasy. The latter proceeds from an-"other" scene, and is a figure of death. The game's recurrence proceeds from a rule, and is a figure of seduction and pleasure. Every repetitive figure of meaning, whether affect or representation, is a figure of death. Pleasure is released only by a meaningless recurrence, one that proceeds from neither a conscious order nor an unconscious disorder, but results from the reversion and reiteration of a pure form that challenges and outdoes the law of contents and their accumulation.

The game's recurrence proceeds directly from fate, and exists as fate. Not as a death drive or tendential lowering of the rate of difference, resulting in the entropic twilights of systems of meaning, but as a form of ritual incantation - a form of ceremonial where the signs, because they are so violently attracted to each other, no longer leave any room for meaning, and can only duplicate themselves. Here too one finds the vertigo of seduction, the vertigo that comes of being absorbed in a recurrent fate. All societies other than our own are familiar with this theater of ritual, which is also a theater of cruelty. Games rediscover something of this cruelty. Compared with games, everything real is sentimental. The truth, and the Law itself are sentimental relative to the pure forms of repetition.

Just as it is not liberty that is opposed to the law, but the rule, similarly it is not indeterminacy that is opposed to causality, but obligation. The latter is neither a linear chain, nor an unchaining (which is merely the romanticism of a deranged causality); it forms a reversible chain that, moving from sign to sign, inexorably completes its cycle, turning its origin into an ellipse and economizing on its end, like the shells and bracelets in Polynesian exchange relationships. The cycle of obligations is not a code. We have confused obligation in the strong sense, in its timeless, ritual sense, with laws and codes, and their commonplace constraints, which rule over us under the opposite sign, that of liberty.

In Deleuze's pure, nomadic chance, in his "ideal game," there is only disjunction and dispersed causality. But only a conceptual error allows one to dissociate the game from its rules in order to radicalize its Utopian form. And the same intemperance, or the same facility, allows one to dissociate chance from what defines it - an objective calculus of series and probabilities - in order to turn it into the theme song for an ideal indeterminacy, an ideal desire composed of the endless occurrence of countless series. But why more series? Why not a pure Brownian movement? But then the latter, though it seems to have become the physical model for radical desire, has its laws, and is not a game.

To generalize chance, in the form of an "ideal game," without simultaneously generalizing the game's rules, is akin to the fantasy of radicalizing desire by ridding it of every law and every lack. The objective idealism of the "ideal game," and the subjective idealism of desire.

A game forms a system with neither contradiction nor internal negativity. That is why one cannot laugh at it. And if it cannot be parodied, it is because its entire organization is parodie. The rule functions as the parodie simulacrum of the law. Neither an inversion nor subverion of the law, but its reversion in simulation. The pleasure of the game is twofold: the invalidation of time and space within the enchanted sphere of an indestructible form of reciprocity - pure seduction - and the parodying of reality, the formal outbidding of the law's constraints.

Can one produce a finer parody of the ethics of value than by submitting oneself, with all the intransigence of virtue, to the outcomes of chance or the absurdity of a rule? Can there be a finer parody of the values of work, economy, production and calculation than the challenge and the wager, or the fantastic non-equivalence between what is at stake and what might be won (or lost - both being equally immoral)? Or. a finer parody of every idea of contract and exchange than this magical complicity, this "duel" obligation relative to the rules, this agonistic attempt to seduce one's opponent, and to seduce chance itself? What better denial of the values of will, responsibility, equality and justice than this exaltation of (good and bad) luck, this exultation in playing with fate as an equal? Can there be a more beautiful parody of our ideologies of liberty than this passion for rules?

Is there a better parody of "sociality" itself than that found in Borges' fable, "The Lottery in Babylon," with its inescapable and fateful logic and its simulation of the social by the game?

"I come from a dizzy land where thelottery is the basis of reality." Thus begins a story about a society where the lottery has swallowed up all the other institutions. In the beginning it was only a game of plebeian character, and the most one could do was win. But "the lotteries" were boring, since "they were not directed at all of man's faculties, but only at hope." One then "tried a reform: the interpolation of a few unfavourable tickets in the list of favourable numbers" - with the risk of paying a considerable fine. This was a radical modification: it eliminated the illusion that the game had an economic purpose. Henceforth one entered a pure game, and the dizziness that seized hold of Babylonian society knew no limits. Anything could happen by drawing lots, the lottery became "secret, free and general," "every free man automatically participated in the sacred drawings which took place every sixty nights and which determined his destiny until the next drawing." A lucky draw could make him a rich man or a magi, or give him the women he desired; an unlucky draw could bring him mutilation or death.

In short, the interpolation of chance in all the interstices of the social order and "in the order of the world." All the lottery's errors were good, since they only intensified its logic.

Impostures, ruses, and manipulation could be perfectly integrated into the aleatory system: who could say if they were "real," that is, whether they were the result of some natural or rational causality, or resulted from chance as determined by the lottery? In principle no one. Predestination encompassed everything, the lottery's effects were universal. The Lottery and the Company could cease to exist, their silent functioning would be exercised over a field of total simulation. All "reality" had entered the secret decisions of the Company, and there was, in all likelihood, no longer any difference between the real reality and the contingent reality.

Indeed it is possible that the Company never existed, and the world's order would remain the same. But the assumption of its existence changes everything. The assumption alone is enough to change reality, as it is, as it cannot be otherwise, into one immense simulacrum. Reality is nothing other than its own simulation.

In our "realist" societies, the Company has ceased to exist. Our societies are oblivious to and built on the ruins of this possible total simulation. We are no longer conscious of the spiral of simulation that preceded reality. In truth, our unconscious is found here: in our incomprehension before the vertiginous indétermination and simulation that rules the sacred disorder of our lives. Not in the repression of a few affects or representations - our insipid conception of the unconscious - but in our blindness before the Big Game, before the fact that our "real" fate with all its "real" events has already passed through, not some anterior life (though by itself this hypothesis is superior to our metaphysics of objective causes), but a cycle of indétermination, a game cycle that is simultaneously arbitrary and fixed. Borges' Lottery is the symbolic incarnation of this game, which has given our fate that hallucinatory quality we take for its truth. The logic escapes us, though our consciousness of the real is based on our unconsciousness of simulation.

Remember the Babylonian Lottery. Whether or not it exists, the veil of indétermination it throws over our life is absolute. Its arbitrary decrees rule the least details of our existence. We dare not speak of a hidden infrastructure, for the latter will eventually be called upon to appear as truth - while here it is a mat-

ter of fate, that is, of a game that has always already been worked out, yet remains forever indecipherable.

Borges' originality is to have extended this game to the entire social structure. Where we see games as superstructure, as relatively weightless compared to the good, solid infrastructure of social relations, he has turned the entire edifice upside down and made indétermination into the determinant instance. It is no longer economic reason, that of labour and history, nor the "scientific" determinism of exchanges which determines the social structure and fate of individuals, but a total indeterminism, that of the Game and of Chance. Predestination coincides here with a total mobility, and an arbitrary system with the most radical democracy (the instantaneous exchange of all positions -something to satisfy the present-day's thirst for polyvalence).

This reversal is extremely ironic relative to every contract, every rational foundation of the social. Pacts concerning rules, and concerning their arbitrariness (the Lottery) eliminate the social as we understand it, just as rituals put an end to the law. It has never been otherwise with secret societies; in their efflorescence one should see a resistance to the social.

The nostalgia for a pactual, ritual, and contingent sociality, the yearning to be free of the contract and social relation, the longing for a crueler if more fascinating destiny for exchange, is deeper than the rational imperatives of the social with which we have been lulled. Borges' tale is perhaps not a fiction, but a description that comes close to our former dxeams, that is to say, to our future as well.

In Byzantium, social life, the political order, its hierarchies and expenditures were regulated by horse races. Today one still bets on the horses, but the mirror of democracy produces only a faint reflection. The enormous amount of money exchanged in betting is nothing compared to the extravagance of the Byzantines, where all public life was tied to equestrian competitions. Still it is symptomatic of the game's importance in many social activities and in the rapid circulation of goods and social positions. In Brazil there is the Jogo de Bicho: betting, lotteries and other games have seized hold of entire sectors of the population who risk their life's savings and status. A distraction from underdevelopment one might claim, but even in its wretched modern version, it provides an echo of cultures where ludic and sumptuary practices generated the essential forms and structures of exchange - a schema that goes very much against the grain of our own culture, most notably in its Marxist version. Underdeveloped? Only the privileged, those elevated by the social contract, or by their social status - itself only a simulacrum, and one without even the value of a destiny - can judge such aleatory practices as worthless when they are quite superior to their own. For it is as much a challenge to the social as to chance, and indicative of a yearning for a more adventurous world, where one plays with value more recklessly.

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