Friday, 13 June 2014

Sometimes, people ask me: how much space should I make for primitivism in my life?

 How exceedingly strange that the altar of Laughter should have survived all the others!

My emotions are not mine, I am theirs. Emotions function to de-individualise humans and return them to a state of ready immediacy. Reactive affect is a species trait, it is universally accessible... by contrast, the given forms of reason are idosyncratic, culturally specific, and are thus, in their branchings out, individualising. There is an interplay between affect and reason, each both releases and inhibits, enables and distorts, the other.

In a distant echo of Tolstoy's maxim on the general and particular components of family life: I am species-enabled to share laughter with, and recognise the grief of, even those humans least like me - and this applies where the rationalities of our cultures are mutually incomprehensible.

In personal encounters with the primitive, the measure to which I am prepared to accept the self-evident absurdity of my civilisation, which, under tribal gaze, I am obliged to personify, is the measure to which the cultural formations built into my reason remain subject to correction by the universal commonality of species traits - I belong to the human community to the extent that I am ready to refuse my culture under the gaze of the primitive.

My encounter with the primitive discloses this world as a sort of soft hell, and I am revealed as one of its demons - even if an unhappy demon, a resolutely ugly soul. Of Hell but not for it, fallen but not depraved, the peculiarity of my torment goads me into rejecting the place to which I belong. I am driven to look upon my world as if through the eyes of those who pass outside of history, and who live before the Fall. I laugh. Laughter emerges in relation to the inevitable. I laugh at my world because I intuit, before the primitive, as I briefly appear in its space, that I am incongruous: an angel of destruction who does not know where to find water, nor which roots may be eaten. 

I laugh with those whose laughter is a judgment on me as my world's representative. In laughing, I allow the legitimacy of the judgment, and I thereby achieve an authenticity in my critique of the Totality, and my place within it. But the laughter is permissible only if it is directed at me, it cannot be reciprocated. I cannot laugh with the primitive at themselves.... I cannot laugh at them for not knowing touch screens or even steam power, as this would be to make light of their inexorable extermination. How can this a-symmetry be explained? If we are all recognisably human at the level of the primitive formations of our affect, how can we also deny a route of connection between us all at the level of the purely individual encounter?

This is easily understood when considering the various forms taken by consciousness in different environments and the context-specific functions which it performs within them. Within the capitalist social relation, which is charcterised by what Clastres calls 'innovation', i.e. a constant revolutionising of conditions, consciousness performs the negative function of positing what is not the case. Constrained by history, consciousness is compelled to present what is not real in order to assert itself... otherwise, it becomes redundant where it states what is, where it merely records what has changed

Consciousness is historicised where it is alienated from the production of the world, it both lags behind and races in front of, the constant production of changes in the production of change. Therefore, consciousness is at its most authentic, i.e. it is performing its historical function, where it constitutes itself in forms that are most oppositional to its environment. Within history, there is no thinking where thought is in agreement with its world. Within history, the world innovates, self-changes, the thought which seeks accord with the process is swallowed by it, and disappears.  

In capitalist society, consciousness is only consciousness where, beginning from its condition of alienation from  production, it pursues an impossible autonomy. It is compelled to discover its most extreme state and set this against the reality which torments it. This extremity is only achieved as an ideal by positioning thought as the refusal of the entirety of its reality (without, at the same time, constituting itself as the basis of an ideological alternative). The mechanism of individuation, in accordance with the lines of development available to consciousness, induces the human to become most individual where it has increased its separation from constituted society by adopting the most extreme form conceivable.

In primitive culture, consciousness is not the result of change, as 'change' (in the historical sense) does not occur. Primitive consciousness is not alienated but functions as an adaptive (if recursive) capacity to reflect that belongs to its environment. The primitive human is individualised by the forms taken by its consciousness, and the modes of rationality integrated within it. These non-historical/non-progressive forms are always manifested  through the individual's profficiency in conscious acts that are undertaken in accord with its environment. Where, in capitalist culture, the alienated human is more individualised the more separated it is from social process, in primitive culture, the human is more individualised the more it exemplifies the values of its culture.

Now, that is very neat (and probably untrue) but it is just a way in. The important point to be considered here, is the role that the species trait of reactive affect plays in all human societies (the forms it takes, the objects it attaches to, and also how it is enabled and inhibited by environmentally constrained forms of rationality.) 

Tribal culture takes shape as an awareness of self-limitation at the mercy of the external world. Affect, under such conditions, is directed against the limits of the community and functions to affirm the timelessness of its established cultural form. Emotion feeds back into, and strengthens the bonds amongst the tribe's members and between all those present and those who have lived before. The primitive human laughs because it has stolen an extra share from the world, and grieves where it encounters losses to unrelenting external forces.

By contrast, affect in capitalist society (that is to say, access to the species trait of what it is to be human) is activated before the other. As our society is predicated upon its limitlessness and the outside languishes at our mercy, we may only truly feel where feelings attach to objects which resist the social processes of which we are a product. We feel for the outside, which has become an underdog, and against our society. 

By contrast, as for example in the left-fascist discourse of accelerationism, where we feel for our society and against the outside, we do not feel. In such circumstances, we have passed into a state of mere patriotism (a condition of subjective superstimulation by an abstract object) which does not exist in primitive cultures and should not be confused with tribal loyalty or immediate community cohesion.
It seems then, that my own 'primitivism' extends to my admiration for, and feelings of recognition of, the adaptations of tribal cultures (which have come to my attention because of the jeopardy in which they are placed by historical process). The extent to which I am able to admire and recognise the primitive is proportionate to my capacity to reject the forms of capitalism. I am obliged, in my project of individualisation, which is structured negatively, oppositionally, to emotionally attach to those forms which are most unrecognisably capitalist. I am compelled to reach out to the human community by other means than those laid down by historical innovation. 

Primitive culture is not constituted around an erroneous set of beliefs, nor is it a mode of production. The primitive is another way to be human in the world as this might appear to those devils ambivalently seeking counter-examples to Hell. The conscious forms (wrongly called cultural beliefs) of all primitive tribes should be considered as adaptations, like plumage or patterns of behavioural memory, and are not objects to be scientifically queried or altered because they are evaluated as 'wrong' any more than the behaviour patterns of birds or insects are wrong. 

Where culture is not structured in relation to history, i.e. where it is not dependent upon innovation, the content is contextually specific and not subject to historical correction (primitive culture cannot be reformed as a religious or educational institution might be reformed - it can only be annihilated); such cultures are not at an 'early' stage on the path of development but lie outside of it, and are the outcome of other forces. Universality, at the level of the human community, is not located in history but in the capacity for affect. I am historically obliged to both think and feel against the world of which I am a product. I am obliged to 'deepen the mode of capitalist being', that is to say, it is beholden upon me to increase the proportion of non-capitalist elements in my life through affective encounters with distant others. I therefore require the qualitative proliferation of others outside of capitalist constraints.

Primitive cultures become one pole of attraction for my capacity for affect (and thereby establish a path for gaining access to the universal human community).  The measure to which I am unable to access the species trait of affect is the measure to which I am unable to individually refuse capitalist reality - where there are no external others, I am entirely constrained inside. Where I am unable to feel for that which is absolutely outside of history, I remain a component of the false universality of historical process. My consciousness, if it is to be conscious, must find its way to a definite outside. 

Even so, empathy does not extend to other, non-capitalist, historical formations; I do not feel against capital and in accord with established religion, national liberation movements, small business men, or earlier civilisations even though capitalism also threatens to eradicate these. Let it. 

The measure to which the ostensible opposition to capitalism does not feel in accord with primitive tribal cultures and against the 'developments' and 'progress' of capital, is the measure to which such alleged opposition is unable to constitute itself against its conditions. Where arguments have not been pressed against the totality of present conditions, neither consciousness nor affect has succeeded in realising itself. The human community is suppressed where universality is located in historical process, and where capitalism is considered a necessary historical stage... this remains an argument congruent with processive instrumentalisation.

However, after making the above arguments, I am also obliged to recognise that the path of affect by which I might immediately make contact with the laughter and griefs of primitive others establishes routes for further colonisation. My torment lies in the knowledge that had I not been aware, if I had not empathised, the potential damage I bring in with me would have been less. Any direct contact with the primitive only precipitates its spiralling plunge into the vortex of history - this has been the institutional function of the ethnographer.

Then, must I refuse myself access to the human community and close off all paths to the species trait of affect? Must I desire my own abolition as a capitalised being in order to protect an unknown but potential outside? Does opposition to capital oblige me to oppose that opposition - must I not feel, not think? The tragedy of our world is not that we must endure, as members of a domesticated herd, a long life of cultivated dependency and ceaseless exploitation but that this process occurs at the expense of other ways of life which might otherwise have passed through the space which history has so befouled. Of course, every predicament is resolved not by us, but in another space, at another time.