My early review of The Theological Turn is that the title (and concept) makes me laugh. Not having met you, I'm never sure how invested with humour or not your writing is. Not laughing at you, that is. I just think it's funny, in a critical way, to keep pointing out how all roads lead to theology when most theorists are attempting to escape that thought. Yes, sure, the injection of pessimism, whatever. You know, if I didn't know any better (and I don't), I would speculate, without any grounding whatsoever, and for fun, without any paranoia, that you are a member of the British Secret services. Your writing functions very adequately, in theory and practice, as the complete opposite of anything resembling 'cognitive behavioural therapy' for example. Perhaps that's half the reason I'm laughing at it at this point. As a defence mechanism to avoid depression. (It also seems to appear to me in a zone that is indistinguishable from parody and trolling, so I let my imagination enjoy it as such). I enjoy my false readings, and you should too, if you truly enjoy the so-called perversity of working toward hermetic impenetrability. I mean, if you were a member of the British Intelligence Services... well, your writing does very well to discourage pro-revs, as we all know. The rest will laugh you off. But I would say that the primary, well honed function of your writing is discouragement. Your writing always seems to focus on the moment of turning away, expressed via different metaphors and scenarios, but always that moment of turning away, as if a sisyphean abreactive take on your own personal experiences of walking away from a protest, transmuted into different words and formulas, over and over. Why is creating this hell so perversely enjoyable?
Laughing is good and much better than anger. What I do is literature. I am not a socialist literalist. I do not think acts may follow thought. As you would expect me to say, on the contrary, where thought is, acts aren’t.
I think thought should sketch out those territories where acts cannot be performed. That's the fun part. It's an art thing. But it is also true. I wouldn't do this if I wasn't committed to the critique of existing conditions, to the truth. In fact, I am so committed, and that makes so little difference, the disproportion is quite funny. The absurdity of being cursed with commitment is the source of either fanaticism or humour. I draw on fragments of both, or more likely, I am driven into moments of both. I do not think I choose to do any of this...
My reply to you below is a bit flippant. You don’t have to read it, you’ve heard it all before... as you suggest, I only have one performance. But there are some theoretical bits hidden in it which may interest you. Or perhaps they are only 'humorous' representations of theory, parodies and pastiches. Or maybe they are fetishes that I can't escape from...
On my motivation. Above all, personality/writer-wise, and being pretentious, I am uncomfortable with the unaware pretension of others. And so by all means necessary, I look to draw the blood of uncosted presumptions wherever I find them.
We begin and end with the doubleback. Or the reason for making arguments against 'our' own ‘side’. And that involves a quick diversion into the problem of creatures and their environments.
All living beings are only true to the game of themselves, to the hand they are dealt by the world as a specific given form, if they strive to succeed in the environment they find themselves in. They are obliged by life to live, that is to fit into the world, to adapt, to do their best. Or they must migrate to where they would fit better. Success is always successful adaptation to larger forces.
However, only an evolutionary con-man, a deceiver, a mountebank, a swindler would seek to change the rules of his life so that he might succeed in the game skewed in his favour. Only a cheating gambler, a failure in life, would seek to change his environment to improve his chance of success.
Pro-revolutionaries are failures in this first obligation of life. They are people who cannot get on in life as it has been given to them. They cannot adapt. They are individuals who cannot get on so they seek to alter everything around them in order to improve their chances of personal success. I am aware of a dialectical regress, or vortex here, not adapting in one register is correlated to over-adaptations (and over-compensations) in others (for an account of this over-adaptation see the broad brush text: Militancy -- Highest Stage of Alienation).
Pro-revolutionaries don't play the game, they seek to change its rules so that it ends with them as its winners. Psychologically, and ethically, that is a big problem which should not be avoided... it suggests an active and unaddressed dishonesty right from the very beginning, right at the heart of their approach: The world is not fair to me, so we must change the world. It is an audacious projection but also dangerous... the Other might not succeed in the fantasy world written from a single subject position... and it is the Other that acts as corrective to world changing fantasies. The problem implies that whatever is proposed after this initial sleight of hand, the dubious psychological material is going to be carried forward as an integral fragment of the project.
Pro-revolutionaries are unreconstructed pascalian gamblers, they are like those people who dream of winning the lottery... they want to bypass the actual win, that mindbogglingly difficult initial condition of all that follows, and instead choose to revel in day dreams of how they will spend all the money. They conjure up intricate visions of how things could be, they get into arguments over speculative domains in which their party or their union is going to organise things. They get so carried away that they misdirect their own attention from the most important factor: they have not won the money. The world they are arguing over is hypothetical, fictional, or more accurately, theological.
The pascalian gambler, basically, bets on one of two psychologically hard-programmed preferences... the preferences for the good news first, or for the bad news first. Generally speaking, the pro-revolutionary prefers the good news first... i.e. that salvation is possible through the means of self-organisation. It is their strong belief that their acts will save them, despite the evidence in their lives that their acts are not saving them.
I think the good news first model sets in motion a form of consciousness that spends money that is not there, but which is deceived, by its needs for good news and its tendency to rationalise previous substantial sacrifices for its commitments, into believing that it is. The good news first persona cannot afford to contemplate the unreality of its worldview.
It takes the very little evidence in favour of self-organisation and makes that the basis of all its inferences, and takes the very large body of evidence in favour of pure determination and disregards it as of being no importance. The psychological tendency of the good news first model is towards ‘us and them’ personalisations... by implication, if there is self-organisation then there are those who are in favour of it, who carry it forward, who are putting it into practice (i.e. the subjective ‘us’). And contrariwise, if there is self-organisation then there are also those who work against it (i.e. ‘them’, the dupes, the lackeys, the running dogs).
I am not in favour of the efficient shorthand that is the externalisation of enemies. I do not think it is helpful to think in terms of 'us and them'. And anyway, I think it is now conventional to accept that we all, no matter what we undertake, even where there is no commodity aspect, are reproductive of, are carriers for, the capitalist social relation. The proletarian/bourgeois divergence has lost its bourgeois pole... there is no embodied class to be against.
The reality of real domination is now a convention but its implications have yet to be felt politically... there is still a sense, even for those who accept it as the decisive conditioning factor of present existence, that there is a ‘side’ to choose to belong to... that somehow, real domination really dominates some more than others.
I do not accept this. I am uncomfortable with the assumptions it carries with it... I don’t enjoy the corrosive power of what is called ‘solidarity’, which I think is little more than an unconsidered, pseudo-elective tribalism. I have a preference for the bad news first, I don’t want to ignore the barriers to communism I want to keep them in front of me, perhaps as a typically north European preference for framing perception with the conventions of Vanitas.
I think the only means to really encounter the thought of communism is in relation to its impossibility. I do not accept that communism is resultant from good works. I do accept material determination. I do think that pre-human structural relations determine existent behaviours.
We do not self-organise, we are, to use the jargon, interpellated.
We all equally express the determining force of the social relation as it moves from the past into the present. There is no fragment of the population that is determined by future forces, least of all those who have not successfully adapted to the world as it is.
For this reason, the suggestion of my secret agency is irrelevant. Secret services are not performed directly for capitalism but for specific secondary formations such as states. It is only by projection and externalisation that a revolutionary may claim that such bodies and institutions are more qualitatively capitalised than those of which he is a supporter. The actions undertaken by a secret agent are not more expressive of capitalist ‘values’ than those of anybody else, and in particular they are not more capitalised than the behaviours of ‘revolutionaries’.
So, it seems, if we accept the reality of real domination, the question of what I am an agent of is irrelevant – the question itself is a category type error. I don’t ask anyone to trust my judgement, I don’t ask anyone to commit to my worldview. There is no possibility of betrayal. My arguments make no difference to the fundamental forces in society. If anybody makes it their project then they must find flaws in my arguments scientifically. And anyway, I am in fact an emissary of the Devil.
In my own mind, I am pursuing ambivalence, the watersheds between the drainage basins of real domination on one side, and theological communism on the other. But that is just my character’s motivation, there are other more important questions. It seems, by some quirk of nature, we also carry a content in our thoughts and acts that is contrary to that force which determines us. This content is specifically fictive, it is precisely that which is not the pure expression of causation.
By means of a thrown switch, by some random division, by act of self-alienation, consciousness is capable of representing to itself a content which is not before it. It is capable of thinking something else, of being distracted from the real world. If it sees a tree, it can add baked beans to a shopping list. If there is real domination, consciousness may also think autonomy (that does not mean it is autonomous, the thought of the thing is not identical with the thing thought of).
I have already argued that it is a mistake to mistake the content of consciousness for a real possibility but it does have an intrinsic value of its own... consciousness is capable of critically locating objective ambivalence and watersheds in the topography of the social relation, and I think these structural divides between valley systems might prove important.
We must accept we are interpellated. We cannot refute that our agency belongs to capital. And it is true that we cannot escape our certain fate. These are the obstacles, the momento mori, the ozymandias feed-backs, that must be foremost always in our thoughts. If we are aware of obstacles we become able to play against them. This is what it means when I say I prefer to hear the bad news first.
As you say, it is anti-cbt. It is anti-cbt with knobs on. It begins with, and makes a big deal about, what we can’t achieve – it looks at maladaptations and emphasises them. That's the joke. My writing seems to describe a perverse hell with no exits, but it also reserves a little autonomous territory where these constraints are somehow played against themselves. My writing is unreadable, it is a sort of labyrinth without an entrance. Its resident minotaurs are the jokes and parodies that inhabit the numerous dead-ends. It is a game of chess that repeats itself move for move, over and over. And my every new labyrinth expresses the same old bafflement. Or as you say I just repeat myself again and again but with different characters and scenarios.
Now that we have got all that out of the way, we can examine what else is active in this hell as the bad news first model is based on the idea that everything which cannot be done is the main condition of what is still achievable. The language of defeat and pessimism preserves and camouflages something important which otherwise would be destroyed by gross optimism.
In the discourse of mimicry, camouflage, of bluff and double bluff, intelligence, or consciousness, appears as a folding over or doubling up of a message. The greater the number of layers of bluff a creature deploys, the more conscious it becomes... that is to say, it is less determined by past events the more it is able to generate, improvise on, and distinguish between, layers of bluffing.
I am not what I seem; I am not what you take me for; I am still not what you think I am even when you take into consideration that I am not what I seem. Within each successive bluff a further doubling, a further folding-in, a further heightening of register, occurs and the hold of pure determination of behaviour by the past becomes more strained, less obviously traceable back, more subtly labyrinthine.
It seems then that we are interpellated as ‘communists’, we are camouflaged by real domination to appear as communists. It is our role to play out the assigned role. But one bluff supposes the possibility of another and that also supposes the possibility of yet others. If we are ‘communists’ then this opens the possibility that we are also communists.
We don’t have to only play ourselves as ‘communists’ who turn out to be unconscious agents of capital. There is sufficient semiotic space in the message of ‘revolutionaries’ as signs for the referent ‘agents of capital’ to fold in a further bluff... i.e. that conscious recognition that ‘communists’ are also agents of capital. Conscious recognition of previous unconscious determinations opens up the potential for ironic and playful juxtapositions.
There is a point reached in this layering of bluff over bluff that keen 'for-itself' attention exceeds the interest of real domination in expending further energy on supervising its proliferating semiotic circuits. At this point, consciousness locates objective structural ambivalence, the flaws and floors of the Real. It is possible, and only possible, that consciousness can hook into the floors of semiotic systems other than those of real domination, which, after all, is not entirely grounded in itself.
Practically, this involves turning every given communist message on its head but (and this is the perverse fun of the camouflage inflation game) only on condition that the messages are supported by the given conventions of the communist environment (i.e. by the rules of the game). It would serve no purpose to make direct arguments against communism... that would be too straightforward, an obvious and easily recuperable bluff. The game is to make arguments which are coded in as outlandish a form as possible and yet which turn out to be logical, true and entirely compatible with communist priorities.
For example, to this end, we might examine why it is that communists cannot attract others to their cause... as a means we deliberately adopt a form of messages which make such attraction impossible... and a new territory, coded as a labyrinth, is thus revealed for further exploration.
I suppose I have associated communism with theology because all communism is theology but doesn't recognise it, and even thinks it is burying metaphysics. By doubling the message of implied theological content, by folding it into itself, I have caused communism to reveal its theological aspect, so that it may be considered more effectively.
Yes, it is a small thing. A very small opening. But this game of camouflaging to the point of absurdity, doubling itself to the point of blatancy, is also the essence of consciousness as it waxes and wanes under pressure of real domination. That is a joke. All of this message to you is a Saturday afternoon joke, interrupted and elongated by tea and biscuits. But the really funny part is that it is also true. We must deny the role of consciousness as that is described by pro-revolutionaries, because we are the warrior monks who preserve its true role as the antagonist to ‘praxis’, we are its last defenders. And that is an even funnier joke.