...like when you hear a beat in the club and you think it's your song queued up but it's just some other song you don't like.
Oh, you silly thing, you’ve really gone and done it now. When I am confronted with the first edge of my own hitherto unsuspected culpability in yet another personal disaster, in those seconds of waking realisation, and even before I have ‘adjusted to’, never-mind metabolised, what is going on, and as I am stumbling beneath the burden of that moment of about to as it is expressed in the American prosaism ‘the shit is about to hit the fan’ (more ambiguously processed by Farrokhzad ‘In my night, so brief, alas / The wind is about to meet the leaves.’), when I am thus confronted, and in the midst of my scrambling through affective scree, playing catch up by which I might align my affect with the ubiquitous modern state of studied nonchalance, and still long before I may recompose myself behind that off-the-peg mien of habituated disdain (‘I'm dead behind these eyes. I'm dead, just like the whole inert, shoddy lot out there. It doesn't matter because I don't feel a thing, and neither do they.’), it is then that this paradigmatic understatement will thread itself into my wakening state - oh you silly thing, you’ve really gone and done it now.
On the principle that subtlety is made possible only via the constraints of Music Hall, the rawing greasepaint of knowing leers, double takes, chagrined scowls, so the art of downplaying fatal consequence, and of interrupting a spiral of panic, is perfectly expressed in this Jones/Cook composition. The lumpen condition par excellance is contained in that instant of finding out that you have been found out, of that about to before your collar is felt, and which leads always and inexorably to a sudden intuition of the fatal constellation between the soon to be ruminated upon one wrong move with its inevitable consequence, the achieved shrug of acquiescence and the ‘it’s a fair cop guv’nor’ necessary to survive it - in films, the actant (burglar or escapee) makes the move that triggers the alarm and, as he looks up, he removes his mask, reveals his facial expression to the camera - and the rest of the story, everything, is written there. We always and already know how our efforts are going to turn out, but what we don’t foresee is the silly thing, the slip, the mistake, the tell (‘the have a good journey’ moment of The Great Escape) that will give us away, trip us up, and fatally snag our headlong flight.
As a youngster, looking for doubled meanings in all intensified speech, what they talk about when they talk about greens, and culturally sensitised by Carry On, and then further sensitised by The Sex Pistols as its Archie Rice incarnation, I imagined the thing referred to Silly Thing, was the Very Thing, the phallus itself, prime mover of all unscripted events. It was this thing, I imagined, saturated with potenza, which had led the rueful singer into temptation and then (after Thackeray) on again, on again, from temptation into trespass - could it even be the mea culpa of a rapist? As an old man, I now realise that this absurd and naive misconception was more true than I could have known then and also, significantly, more true than I can bring myself to recognise now. The rude thing, the concealed blatancy, is situated like a counter-force, a reversal buried within the forward momentum of serious projects, scattering focus, disintegrating meaning, deflecting purpose, emptying redundancy from signs, blowing clouds into clarity, decomposing meaning, dispersing intentions, interrupting process. Ye Olde punky rockers appropriated the swastika emblem as a sign of their counter-ambivalence towards the ambivalence from which they had emerged - such simple manoeuvres in the engagement of the image repertoire are now almost inconceivable. And yet, and yet, Jesus carried the tree to which he would be nailed. The cross is the sign of the enemy power worn by those seeking redemption from it. Who today would dare drape themselves in a Nazi flag so as to signal critical reflexivity upon the afflictions of their soul?
But as has been said, signs light up when electrified. The cargo of the unintended thing-content contained in every utterance, the burden of that other and conflicted meaning which the interlocutor hears but which the speaker insists he did not say, is a burden that is now almost unbearable under ideological circumstances where short bursts of ersatz sincerity are taken for political engagement, and where only the alt-right get to play with wrong thinking. But more than this, the speaker is fated by the contradiction realised by the distinction between langue and parole and the actant is fated by the contradiction of history always to act criminally, but what, apart from no platforming these moldorors and throwing away the key, comes next? What happens, must happen wrongly, how it is then metabolised socially is the question of emancipation from determinism, it is the question of how not to fetishise instances of error as ‘crimes’.
The bad money of leftist principles, where the value of statements depends upon a counter-linguistic literalism, and the recursive tautologies of severely cropped but heavily amplified virtues (how is it even possible that anyone could refuse to be mobilised by the deployment of representations of gender or racial oppression?) turns out to be both authentically counterfeit but also inhibitive of the capacity to critically engage the instrumentalising command systems buried within popular social media. The leftist’s refusal of the possibility that his content is confronted within its articulation by an opposite, and worse, by a thing-like something else, that it carries into the world seals the character of identity thinking wherein the subject may only appear through an appeal, via categories of the authentic witness/victim, to legitimacy.
It is quite another project to allow for the possibility that you are not what you think you are, that you are unable to constrain social content by conscious intention, and then to accept the burden of the other meanings of what you give expression to in the world - this is the true meaning of the phrase, ‘The working men have no country’. It is quite another project to recognise that you are not so antiracist as you might think, that your anti-fascism is not all that anti-fascist and neither as such is anti-fascism all that anti-fascist.
It is quite another thing to discover the problem at the heart of your project, and then also refusing the maoist path of ‘self-criticism’ by which you might reattain the party line, but to allow the bad stuff as the inevitable consequence of what you are, to allow it speak itself, to, as it were, drape itself in the flag of your enemies. Americanised identity leftism, as it spreads through denunciation, has suspended the emancipatory concept that we are vessels of our circumstance, insisting instead on an accusatory form of bourgeois individual culpability. What would it be to discover at last that even as you were certain of your purpose that you had been turned, instrumentalised, and had become an unwitting agent realising the stratagems of all that you despise?
Or, another way, under objective conditions of unquestioned consequentialism, where everything is justified in the deferral of its strategic outcome, and where recuperation is written into the entry point of the radical projects and not upon its exit, into its lifeblood and not its death rattle, what would it mean to get to the end of your commitment and find you have made no difference, that you have expended your energy upon a project that turns out to have been both frivolous and irrelevant?
Or another way, the breeze is about to stir the leaves, that is to say, what is called digital intelligence, the veritable Turk, can beat the chess grandmaster, and even get the better of the best human poker players, but is it really about to arrive at the place where it will also not beat them? Given that all victories are spurious and only lead, on again, on again, to other battles, given that evolutionary success is nothing but a ceaseless and tedious spinning of rut-bound wheels, given all this and not forgetting lovely Jesus nailed to a tree, if AI can beat human players, is it also capable of actively desiring, not merely choosing, the humiliation of losing to them? Is AI capable of interrupting its own movement, of desiring the taste of defeat, not for the sake of some greater gain but for reason of choosing sweet despair and, ultimately, self-destruction, for that neg-joy pay-off particular to choking, to the snatching of major defeat from the jaws of a minor victory? If it is not sick, it is not intelligent. Intelligence, by definition, is the flaw, the silly thing, buried into intelligence. Everything else, and particularly AI, is just vulgar marxism.
We have come to a standstill, exhausted, we are the hart at bay, we are about to waken at dawn in a forest clearing that is defined by our capacity to misrecognise the wished for object. The wind is about to stir the leaves. It is here that we will be confronted at the end with an alarm inadvertently triggered by the coup de grace of our entitled certainties arranged around what we thought was about to come next, the deserved reward, riches belonging to a world that will now never come to pass, and where we find, or are about to find, always this abouting-to, this, our own treasure of the Sierra Madre, an origami unicorn, the unelectrified sign: that song which, as it begins, sounds as if it is the expected song, cueing up the full repertoire of Pavlovian affect, but then turning out to be something else entirely, something not wanted and, as it is mediated through our chagrin, also then turning out to be, above everything, abhorrent to our sense of order; the face in the crowd which at first seems of one long dead but from which, as it comes closer, you look away, once again bereft (from the assumed standpoint and the disdainful mien of Archie Rice, Pierrot is always not here); the taking down of a seemingly familiar book from its place on the shelf and opening it uncomprendingly (and you may tell yourself, ‘this is not my beautiful wife’). As the dog whistle is to the unprepared perceptual-cognitive apparatus, so...
That’s your veritable proustian misfire. That’s the bad-praxis of your anticipation-prevention engine in hyper-vigilante mode. It’s the old James Finlayson double take, He thought he saw a Coach-and-Four/That stood beside his bed..., and all that vertiginous (impairment in spatial perception and stability) abouting-to bundled up as accidentality turns out to be the over-programming, via instrumental conditioning, of well-trodden behavioural paths (it is what one has mislaid, it is all that cannot be retrieved by a retracing of steps) but also, in part, driven by a lapse in what Freud termed Narzisstische Ojektwahl, the recursive desire to find what one desires in the world (God willing!), and thus find one’s ego corroborated, as the operational objectivity of one’s desires, the ego-ideal affirmed in its defensive hoard of part-objects by some imagined law of the jungle, or ratified by the subject’s centrist-orientation programming towards what it has become accustomed to imagining as all that Goldilocks just-rightness.
The two-step misstep built into narcissistic desire, the escape of the expected object from the subject’s formulation of what it should be, and the compensatory recomposition of the ideal object within the subject’s life-world, traces the negative movement of consciousness, both generally but more particularly in its revolutionary articulation of the subject’s awakening before the incontrovertible reality of its own interpellation, and its own dawning awareness that it may belong here only by the means of disassociation (The working men have no country). What is consciousness if not the operating system of self-thwarting narcissistic object-choice? I’m not joking! Nor is it a trick question! Neither swallowed nor swallowing, see the Ouroboros with its neck, and with its tail also, clinically dislocated. See the nodding out there, already included.
But, those who copy Kafka, write originally. And, those who write originally, only copy Kafka. Freud sets out the basic schema of Narcissistic Object choice in terms of a regress in displacements: ‘A person may love [...] according to the narcissistic type: a. What he himself is (i.e. himself); b. What he himself was; c. What he himself would like to be; d. Someone who was once part of himself.’ To ensure that the object will affirm the subject in its desire, the subject thereby desires those objects that affirm itself. A set, NOC, as some lunar disc, taking flight into illness, moving across a set, Primary Morbid Gain, as cloud at night, as flocking and calling geese at night: above all, one loves the inevitable circuit according to which one’s symptoms home in on, come home to roost within, the haunted belfry of one’s self-defining preoccupations.
Or, on again, on again: as every wish is barbed, those objects which are most affirmatory of the desirous subject are also those which, taking that other path, away from anaclisis and its adaptations and in the opposite direction to the reality principle to which it should orient itself, also end by affirming it least, and so, as seems inevitable, must destabilise it most - this is Persona, this is Lordship and Bondage. They say, whose streets, we say, your streets. They say homeland, we say homeless. They say, homeland, but we say, Unheimliche. They say, rehab but we say, Daddy, know, know, know.
Whilst the subject’s narcissistic ‘reading’ of the object is authentic (in choosing in spite of the world it does not deliberately seek its own derangement) it nonetheless may metabolise its own destabilisation and derive a certain paradoxical satisfaction (Strafbedürfnis) from the difficulties involved in its adapting to the displeasing object - it’s just as I suspected/it’s as bad as I feared. To adapt within the work of a Masha-like mourning for one’s own life, is thus to add embellishment along the narcissistic path - and, contrariwise, it is also to refuse to adapt along the path of anaclisis.
In contradistinction to the realisationism, the arrangement fetish, of accelerationism, desire will only be affirmed in the world where, confronted with an ever-evading inscrutability of the Odette-like object, it finds itself repudiated, disaffirmed and, as it decomposes from relation into an object in itself, is later desired for reason that its skirts are in disarray. If narcissistic desire supposes an inherent misrecognisability within the system of object attachment, then, in the return match, at the second level, the resultant need for misrecognition intuits an exulted and utopian moment as in Beefheart’s worstest of cases - it is in the dislocated world that the subject, recognising how things really are, will feel most at home. I’m not joking! So, if you are saying, it is not I in the, I am the disintegration loop, then who isn’t it?
There is a point in the operation of our psychic mechanism (God willing!) where we come to desire most what we also desire least, if only to find confirmation of our bias, so as to affirm who and what we are, so as to find, to be confronted directly with, the veritable fascist, the white supremacist, the naked misogynist, and thus by diagnosing the symptoms, giving final name to process, we may fix it as it is (the current political fetish for the term ‘coup’ is another example). Yes, we have found that the potency of our finding is only proved by finding what we didn’t want to find. In the spirit of Laing, we do not so much enjoy our affliction as the endless rehearsal of the return of our recognisable self as it is confronted by the recognisable product of our all too familiar afflictions: “They are playing a game. They are playing at not playing a game. If I show them I see they are, I shall break the rules and they will punish me. I must play their game, of not seeing I see the game”
The processing capacity of worldbuilding masochism, in accord both with the wage system and the organising principle of deferral, once operated as the zizekian kernel of advertising: ‘happiness is a cigar called hamlet’; ‘this is the man who put a million on black and it came up red’. And one step further oh you sadeians, if Marcel had further scrambled the stochastic mechanism by which he accessed his archive of lost events, if the triggers of involuntary retrieval were further randomised so that they dredged up other events, events they were not related to, then... then, the good ship Convulsive Beauty is sailing through the narrow straits of le ombilic du rêve - By God you should have seen us! From the next place arrived at from the next step taken, the vantage point that is, ‘maybe we’re always or never about to go round in circles,’ Alvin Stardust’s après-coup-coo-cachoo, the narcissistic object choice is the only lottery by which the other may be confidently approached as other. I’m not joking!
Case Study 1 - Kiarostami
We may find it helpful to understand Kiarostami‘s Taste of Cherry as a counter to Sluizer’s Spoorloos in the same way that his formal contemplation of the rules of sex and relationships, Ten may be viewed as a reflection upon the formulaic material of the now forgotten Dudley Moore/Bo Derek vehicle of the same name. Both Kiarostami’s and Sluizer’s films seemingly end with the protagonist alive in their own grave, where one briefly illuminates the Horror with a cigarette lighter, the other’s face appears lit up by lightening flashes of redemption. In both films, the protagonist is searching for, if not a truth, then a certainty... both are driven by the wish to directly experience finding out. It is not enough for them that others already know... it is not enough that the knowledge exists but is not accessible to them... they pursue it relentlessly and cannot be dissuaded from a path that seemingly leads to their own destruction. The protagonist of Spoorloos becomes comprehensible as the eternal fool, as that was also characterised by the protagonist of the The Wicker Man, the fool who freely consents to his own sacrifice whilst Kiarostami’s character is rather an avatar of that capricious force to which fools, and offerings, are burnt. The genre conventions of horror and thriller limit the impact of Sluzier’s film, which invites mere identification from the audience with the protagonist’s catastrophic end, but Kiarostami creates an atmosphere of contemplation by perpetually interrupting the path about to be taken by the film’s narrative.
The protagonist, for an unexpressed reason, is searching for a stranger to bury him once he has killed himself - we might conjecture that he does not want his family to be confronted with the corpse, or perhaps he desires to delete himself entirely from the process of world-production so that it would be like he had never been, perhaps he is monitored by the authorities and wishes to leave them with an unsolvable mystery. The men he attempts to recruit to his scheme express various degrees of reluctance. As is Kiarostami’s way, the protagonist drives, seemingly eternally, around the same locale like an angel or a devil whose task it is to encounter unsuspecting strangers and to strike with them a singular and incomprehensible bargain, to tempt them perhaps or to draw them out of the everyday and wind them into an existential predicament of very narrow and precise constraints.
The truncated being does not seek becoming, nor the flow of all things within all things as water flows within water, but to engage in further interruptions at an ever finer detail - the truncated being desires truncation, the instinct of interrupted life is to further, and yet further, instigate interruptions. What is it to take control, to truly seize hold of something, even if at the scale of a grain of sand, and possess it, finish it, place it in its eternal place? For the truncated being, ‘no borders’ is a politics of hell, its liberation is conceivable only as a proliferation of borders, and leading to a world that is all border and no territory. The interruption of narrative is the device Kiarostami utilises in order to wring acorns from lilies, every next step in the story is scattered as a reflection may be stirred away from the surface of a lake. The same device is also used in both Like Someone in Love and The Wind Will Carry Us. The former is, you know, one of those films, particularly French films, where the older man, often a judge or a writer or a sculptor or some other resonant profession (see the Three Colours trilogy or Beart’s mid-90’s film’s with Sautet and Rohmer) does not have a romantic relationship with a younger woman - well, this is also not that film.
Like Someone in Love plays on the audience expectation that the old man and the young woman will arrive at some other, equally satisfying, form of intimacy which interrupts a sexual attraction that has become, demonstrably, inappropriate (see Minelli’s 50’s musicals where male dancers from the 30’s pay court, often in Paris, to young women). Well, all the pieces are in place, but in an obviously Bunuelian manner, Kiarostami interrupts the interruption. Not only is the sex drive dislocated, but the sublimating mechanism fails to reconstitute an alternative path. In every scene, the characters are about to settle down into non-conventional conventionality, expected boho unexpectedness, when things fizzle out and some other, external, disruptive force intervenes. As the old man says to the woman’s boyfriend, ‘I am no more her grandfather than I am yours’, on the contrary, he is a pirandelloesque grandfather-type placeholder who is not playing the expected narratological function.
It is already decided by historical forces, that these mismatched characters can’t be allowed sexual intercourse but Kiarostami has decided, perhaps perversely, that they also can’t be allowed any intercourse. As if directing through the filter of a random on/off, allow/disallow process, Kiarostami occupies the pivot point of all refusals, denying his creatures the possibility of intersubjectivity. At the end, proceedings are interrupted midflow by a brick thrown through the window - the story is finally dispersed as if its pondlife were coincidentally scattered by some dissatisfied hand breaking up who knows what forms reflected on the other side of the surface above them. Like Someone In Love shows the type of space wherein is situated the ‘critique of the critique’: an end of the line miasma of peculiar calm or of a deluded, and arbitrary, fog of resultedness, of lacunae, aporia, pouchedness, a world of all that is left behind when the story doesn’t tie up the loose ends. By taking the next step, and the next again, and the one after that we find the place of dead roads, the end of the waste chute down which the automatic subject has cast all the things arrived at by the process of deselection: ‘neither that, nor not that.’ Of this Lyotard says, the unstable state and instant of language wherein something which must be able to be put into phrases cannot yet be.
At the end of the line, arrived at by complex jump cuts, is situated the Escher-like village of The Wind Will Carry Us, it is the place of non-functioning functions. It is the village of relenting souls, where giving up, letting go, but only after holding on for so long is the only path out. A group of anthropologists arrive from Tehran, they hope to study a local mourning custom which one villager describes in terms of a schismogenic, or competitive, self-scarification (perhaps an echo of Tatbir rituals) following the death of someone in the village - the most grief stricken individual is esteemed for the number of scars on their cheek. The anthropologists find themselves in a strangely becalmed place - they await the demise of an old woman in order to attain photographic images of those who mourn her.
Although securing photos of the villagers’ ritualised mourning is their assignment, in practice, as time constraints begin to bite, the anthropologists find themselves actively wishing for the death of the old woman as the basic precondition for achieving their objective. But the village’s other competitions interrupt the natural course of events - the one who can persuade the dying woman to eat a ritual soup that she has prepared will gain good luck. Eventually, and feeling the benefit of the soup, the old woman begins to recover. The anthropologists, called engineers by the villagers, are baffled - what is there to do if the mourning ritual cannot be recorded?
The absence of their curiosity about the village, the failure of their powers of observation, the narrowness of their mission, the mislaying of their camera, the intermittency of their phone, allows the surreality of the village, its centuries old secrets, to continue unrecorded. The anthropologists, do not question why cows are kept like minotaurs in unlit labyrinths; they do not wonder why they cannot, or are not allowed, to see certain individual faces; they do not investigate why it is that a well is dug on top of a hill, nor why ‘communications cables’ are buried into three metre deep trenches; nor do they wonder why it is, although they also fall into the habit, that the villagers wish each other good luck not upon parting as a farewell but as a greeting as if asking the other to beware of their own appearance. The anthropologists are bored by this microcosm... what comes after the moment the appointed functionary finds he is constrained by circumstances from functioning? Kiarostami’s camera records only one of the anthropologists, who decides to give up and leave, he abandons his colleagues in their waiting room, eating strawberries for all eternity. He stops the car and casts a mythic human thigh bone into a stream.
What are these random figures fixed in the landscape of Taste of Cherry, who fall into the narrative like over-developed background characters played by extras? And, what are they to make of this devil who moves across their world as if cruising for sex, a more familiar alibi in the quest for anonymity, the abyss, and the deliberate shedding of selfhood? What would it mean to them to bury an unknown man at his request in an unmarked grave of his choosing and fix him eternally to this location on this hill somewhere very familiar to the gravedigger above smog-filled Tehran? What would it mean to them to bury an angel somewhere in the bad infinity of the cosmos? What would it mean to bury an agent of the Demiurge in the iron prison yard of the life-world?
What would it be like to stand over an open grave with a body at the bottom, to a throw a stone to make sure it was really dead, and then to fill the grave in, then to walk away, and to never mention it to anyone? Sluizer channels the audience into conditioned responses at the conventional, Poe-derived, motifs of horror that he presents but Kiarostami does not foreclose the narrative upon the obvious shock ending, he doesn’t want to expropriate your frisson of terror. The film, in the end, is kind, and it is difficult not to find an inherent and human scale kindness in Iranian cinema which habitually steps back from the cruel intensification leading to the climactic catharsis that typifies western cinema. At the end, the audience is shown it is all just a story, presented for philosophical contemplation, it is not real and nobody should take it to heart. Everything remains a mystery but we can go on with our lives without having to dwell upon such terrible things.
Philosophers become distinct from scholars in their wrong readings of other philosophers - the philosopher is fated to perform the ritual in which some serpent or other must fail to swallow its tail. New concepts are created through that peculiar energy inherent to insistent error where, at some level, mistaken thinking intuits its own wrong turn, and yet is driven on, as if the inkling were also an aperture, both the thorn and the flesh, as if thinking itself was also transported by pleasures specific to, driven by, the splittings and proliferations, the patchings and leapings of, its own narcissistic muddleheadedness. The philosopher ascribes what he is compelled to repudiate in the philosophy he misreads.
Perhaps, less controversially, the same thesis may be presented within another frame: philosophy appears where the internal rigour of the concept, its energetics, its autopoietic unity contained within the distinction of its egg-like outline, exceeds the synaptic intensity of environmentalising process. The invented concept, breaking free from scholarly procedure, must make the world again, its own version of a world that is prepared to contain it. Philosophy is nothing but a willingness to sacrifice the external veracity of the world as it is so as to attain internal coherence of its concept as a component of the world as it is not. I’m not joking! Indirectly, it is a sacrifice made so as to gain the world that contains its concept, a reaching out to God channelled through the preparedness to relinquish Isaac.
Consciousness is always consciousness of what the world is not, and in its operation, in the practice of its thinking, the precise form of alienation is indirectly articulated, and at the same time, by the perverse forms taken as wish fulfilment, is set out the primary negation of the way things are - the wish in the barb, the flesh in the thorn.
The performance of the world as it cannot be operates as a compensatory mechanism, within conscious thinking, for the infliction upon consciousness of the world as it is. But philosophy, in its invention of new concepts and of those worlds that will contain them, does not insist upon wrong readings as a necessary precondition for striking original forms but rather, it is as if, in the untethered desire to be presented with the faustian object of its own desire, it must first relinquish all interest in right thinking. In effect, the philosophical concept inverts the conventional value relation between the bird in the hand and the two in the bush.
In philosophy, the over-valued ideal object is drawn out of the world but also against the world as a form of credit or fictive capital by which philosophy may then proceed to expand its operations. More accurately, philosophical practice re-mortgages the principle of ‘where the concept is, the world isn’t’ and of course, this is that rare case where the inverse also holds true. The parallel operating systems of subjectivity (the double helix of ‘behaviour’, of the coach and two, of anaclisis and of narcissism) ensure that world and concept cannot appear in the same umwelt, and each of these two self-separating domains produces an outline or shell that defends its interior against the other. This fundamental incompatibility is the clinching proof against the possibility of subjective praxis - there is no action but fateful action.
The actualising process is capitalisation, wherein the anaclitic domain expropriates real imaginary products and, capitalising them, thereby adds value by converting them into representations (de-realising their imaginary operative power, but circulating them as false images in the real world of ideology). I’m not joking! Contrariwise, narcissism draws ideological products from the symbolic order and by investing its own representation of capital into them (its imagined lottery winning version of cost-less energy) it transforms them by sequestration, causing them to become both invisible and exposed, into authentically naked fetishes. God willing!
That fragmentary part-object type materials of one operating system are dragged into the territory of the other is not so much the result of an exchange-type relation (where 1 anaclitic coat exchanges against an equivalent 20 yards of narcissistic linen) but of more or less violent events as is recorded in battles between slave-taking ants. Narcissistic objects are dragged screaming into the anaclitic world as in Cries and Whispers where the corpse of Agnes seizes her sister Maria about the neck - but then, the objects of narcissism turn out to be 99% imaginary so their compulsive substance cannot be preserved in a world of endless adaptations, their fate is always to end as representation - in the year of the real and imagined pop biopic, Rocket Man, A Star is Born, Wild Rose and Bohemian Rhapsody the pop star’s true story seems endlessly narcissistic but it only began that way, at the Archimedean point, where the back catalogue begins to move again, exteriorised pain becomes symbolic.
Every object appearing within the narcissistic field is ultimately drawn or rather invoked, from the anaclitic domain but often in an unrecognisable and metamorphosed form - it is as if, in the waste disposal schematic, the sewer were situated before the toilet. The fragile lifeworld of narcissism depends for its object choices on the rudimentary mechanism of sacrifice, wherein the relinquishing of a treasure at such and such a level attains an unrelated object conjured into the centre of its world from an unrelated, unknowable, exterior. The compulsion to give up one singularity for another, in an endless sequence of attachments and disattachments (that divine Hermès handbag does not stand for something else, nor can it be exchanged for an equivalent, it is completely that obscurity for which there cannot be found an equivalent) is nothing but the Unconscious metabolising the subject’s relation to scarcity.
The manner of sacrifice takes one of two paths: either an Agave-like maximalist literalism; or an Abrahamic veering into representation. Narcissistic differentiation is realised either in accord with the Agave-mother’s path to abasement and tragic particularisation from which there is no coming back but the coming back as the same, or in contradistinction, the escape into representation (via the suspended blow) taken by the Abrahamic-father, which opens the way for a ‘good’ or useful narcissism, and lays down the not-castrative path into reality’s continuum (the toilet sans sewer, the oeuvre of R Mutt).
The Agave path interrupts the possibility of normalised relations between the imaginary and symbolic orders (normalised relations here indicates the channelling effects of accumulated wealth through time on the interactions of existents). To the extent that ‘order’ tragically survives having been ritually torn limb from limb, it returns at the same point of savage immanence, all pieces in play, memory erased, to begin again the downward spiral of convulsive expenditure.
Case History 2 Marie Antoinette
At the heart of psychoanalysis is the problematic of history, or more precisely, the problematic of the commencement of history, which is decapitation and the appearance of the band of brothers. Historical time enters the individual as the individual enters historical time - and for both history and the individual everything begins with Agave tearing its head off. Life may continue even after decapitation but it will only continue in historical mode, as that which has been thrown out of step, broken and reassembled, God willing! The historical form emerges traumatised from the ruins instigated by primary repression, it is always what follows the frenzied axe blow - that scattered, Frankenstein-like material (every part-object, a ‘brother’) gathered back together, recomposed, stitched along the seams, and setting off (Hobbes’ frontispiece) finding another way, a second path to the secondary circuits of reproduction. The coppiced hazel. The pollarded willow.
The brilliance of Coppola’s Marie Antoinette emerges from its tolstoyan approach to the psychoanalytic problematic, to the event which triggered, and what that event might signify, of a continent-wide entry into history... just as tolstoy considered the possibility that the events of 1812 might be attributable to Napoleon’s digestion of his breakfast so Coppola asks us to imagine that modern European History only begins having first passed through the portal or birth canal of Versailles, which by energy transfers converts into the Ancien Régime‘s vajazzled opening to the world. I’m not joking!
Convergent forces, the accumulated wealth of ages, course through archaic, and convoluted, circuits of governance that are soon unable to contain them - historical rupture, and the emergence of the bourgeoisie’s gory locks, is catalysed in the failure of absolutism in the moment of its decadence to comprehend the base process of sexual reproduction even as it becomes preoccupied with the elaborate protocols of succession. Royalty has become too posh to push, which Coppola dramatises as the Dauphin’s primal scene, his oedipal inhibition before Louis XV’s cavortings.
Louis XVI’s psychic castration throws him into a secondary and reactive life-world wherein he becomes pre-occupied with the mechanics of locks and keys. His early failure to consummate his marriage tips Marie Antoinette into crisis as she internalises the problem of succession and passes into a state of conspicuous and compensatory frivolity, on a grand scale. Her profligacy, the result of sexual inhibition and dissatisfaction, and itself a sort of fatal build-up of tensions and undirected instincts, becomes an exemplar of aristocratic disconnection from social forces.
It is against the popular representation of the figure of Marie Antoinette that the idea of ‘production for use’ and ‘rational government’ by experts begins to take shape. It is the bourgeoisie’s representation of Marie Antoinette that acts as ideological catalyst and historical trigger for utilitarian revolution. Just as the endoscopic image reveals the absolute anonymity of bodily process belied by the personality sited within the face so the guillotine dramatises the red raw metabolism, the interior organs, of social power. The line of succession is secured too late, Louis’s interest in the sexual act is aroused only after he is instructed to contemplate its similarity to the mechanism of lock and key.
Coppola utilises anachronistic punk signifiers perhaps to indicate a decadent culture but also as a comparison between punk excess and aristocratic surface. Anarchism, of which punk is an expression, does not belong to the ‘production for use’ continuum which characterises the Enlightenment left. Punk is all surface - it is closer to monarchism, as a teeming, immediate monarchy of all, than to the endoscopic ideology of use and function as espoused by the republican bourgeoisie. The enclosed world of the Versailles courtiers as they dance to Siouxsie and the Banshees and Bow Wow Wow is necessarily, frivolously, tragic, cut off from historical process. If the aristocracy were to be abolished, decapitated, then the life-world totality that existed before the advent of the labour process would also disappear. To paraphrase another yet another punk, ‘A deedely dee, a deedely dum, looks like they brought back the head-chop for everyone.’
Moving in the opposite direction from Agave literalist ritualism (we mean it ma’am), the Abrahamic path implies a pastoralist stabilisation, and conservation, of social relations where the group elects a symbolic leader, already dead, promotes him to spiritual authority, where he can’t do harm, who in narrative or dream, establishes his right to authority, enacts his own expulsion from the group, shows knightly faith in taking the incomprehensible incoming for the team, sacrificing what is most dear to him, demonstrates his abstract impartiality, shows his qualification for leadership (silly-thinglessness), arbitrates intra-kin boundary disputes, allocates the shares of inherited property - or rather, forget all that, the eldest brother demonstrates his own living authority by taking possession of the right to interpret the desire of the venerated ancestor as governmental heuristic.
American leftism, not to mention the subsets of Marxist-Leninism and Maoism, is an example of the survival of this primitive narcissistic system operating from a model by which a representation of the originary figure or event is invoked to legitimise actions, the invocation either taking the form of speaking in the name of, or in aligning the tactical deployment of a representation of the self’s affliction, as a foundational property of the self’s project, with a representation of historic suffering. I’m not joking!
The patriarchal operating system is exclusionary and intolerant, it only recognises territories and systems that function according to an equivalent and thus receptive model (just as Rome transposed its own deities onto equivalent Celtic gods). The functioning of such political groupings degenerates into who does, and more importantly, who does not, have the right to speak with assumed and legitimate authority.
For this reason, so as to win its allocated share, every ‘identity’ system generates its own patriarchal apparatus, like a national myth, via the expropriation of representations of foundational traumas, venerated forebears and martyrs, and part-victories over adversity - even homosexuality has its own battle of Borodino. In practice, identity patriotism is nothing less than working men waking within a dream to find that actually, they do have a country. And yet, whilst Pride inverts Shame, it does not escape the image repertoire where X form must be validated against, and at the expense of, Y form. Always the same model of authority derived through expropriated representations of suffering and regressive mythologising of legitimation through suffering, but also always a terrible basis for emancipatory politics precisely because this is the perfected form of the ideological displacement of actual power relations by which colonising movements operate abstractly and categorically against actual, concrete and individual differences.
The Abrahamic path of expropriation establishes as leader the one who is prepared to take on the highest costs and thus, in becoming a sort of counter-hero, shows himself the equal of the hero who has killed most enemies. The displacements involved in patriarchal authority establishes a system of traffic and trade between orders, where coin or other representations of wealth may be exchanged across territories. The mythic father figure becomes a portal, or border checkpoint, an authority and stamp of authority, the passing and the path, the concrete and the abstract, the law and the interpreter of the law - in short, the overdetermined patriarchal figure is the fixed point from which emerges the authority of memory and the conservation of that social continuity which is drawn out of commemoration (the system of voluntary memory, inseparable from sentimentality, trampling proustian grapes under the bared feet of ancestor worship). The instituted leader prevents the operation of the silly thing in the field of social relations, by occupying the position of, and in effect becoming, the silly thing itself.
The consequent flow of symbols and interpretations of symbols, of laws and interpretations of laws, of properties and the exchange of properties is dependent upon the anticipation and prevention of whatever is immanent, as this might erupt across the border from the regions of the Imaginary and the Real. The suspended sacrificial blow heads off tragedy, inhibiting expenditure, and re-energises exchange relations through a representation of expenditure - capital destruction becomes a representation of capital destruction, and crisis a representation of crisis. The fall in the rate of profit becomes the engine of profit. The state of emergency, breakdown, exhaustion are all, in the ends a return of the ‘names of the father’.
Case History 3 Léon Morin, Priest
It is a convention in film narrative, and for the truncated forms taken by historicised life, that jeopardy must always be doubled... each separate danger ratchets up and compounds the problems posed by the other. The capacity of the protagonist is compromised because he cannot give his full attention to any single difficulty - thus, in Day of the Triffids, the low level danger of ambulatory plant life armed with deadly stings is transformed by a meteor shower that blinds the human species, setting it at the same gladiatorial level as the triffids. And so it is, as it is portrayed in Léon Morin, Priest that the jeopardy of religious conversion is sharpened under conditions of war.
The doubled nature of threats to historically truncated entities is wholly distinct from that faced by biological life-forms for whom a single catastrophe is always sufficient to cut off their energy supply and set in motion their die back from a particular place which has recently become hostile to them. The historical form, generated through the traumatic impact, interruption and reorganising power of primary repression, is precisely that form which has transformed itself in response to the single-register catastrophe and which may only be undone by a doubled jeopardy (both ‘Till Birnam wood remove to Dunsinane’ and 'Fear not, Macbeth; no man that's born of woman’). The exaptations of the historical form (which is the use of a preexisting adaptive solution in responses to other, later problems) are only really comprehensible when they are considered as precisely the form taken by the singular catastrophe that faces all natural forms. By first command, Abraham must sacrifice his son, then, by second command, he must enter history carrying the burden of the first command.
In Léon Morin, the women of a German occupied town are seduced into theology by a hitherto unacknowledged priest. The catastrophe of losing the men from the town is compounded by the persistence of the institution of the Church which, up to the moment of occupation, had become an irrelevance in everyday life. The townswomen’s theological turn is driven by the repressive measures of the occupying force which redirects their unfulfilled sexual desires into fervent discussions of spiritual concerns.
The figure of Léon Morin remains inscrutable, his transcendent power over the town’s converts is both divine and base, both god-given and ‘projected’. He is never corrupt but presents conversion as a temptation rather than as the negation of temptation. He is like both Pentheus and Dionysus, he transforms the townswomen into the Bacchae but then does not lead them into orgiastic omophagia and sparagmos (a counter-repressive or desublimating movement - wherein the ritualistic repression of repression returns the self to a pre-historical state) but contains their energy within a spiritual, or perhaps merely theological, plateau.
Father Morin’s spell is broken by the end of the war (as the one threat is suspended, so the other threat loses its power) and the dreamers awaken to return to peacetime life, and mundane sex - truth was an enchantment of the small group as it secedes from the world, a spell cast upon that brief moment, and narrow space, of the group’s early flourishing.
As in social institutions so in consciousness. In pursuit of realising the precise form of what it does not find in the world, the thinking system finally turns its back on its environment - and in the resultant state of full idealism, it (in the position of the silly thing) becomes identical with what it cannot recognise. At this point, although it has become unhinged from scholarly practice, philosophical thinking as the compulsive creation of concepts, may either adopt a sparagmos-type attack upon the body of philosophy itself or, in suspending the sacrificial blow, stage a late return to the academy and the anaclitic apparatus of deferral. These are the basic contradictory mechanisms of every alienated social organisation, on the one side, deferral and adaptation, and on the other, the ragged flight into imaginary worlds.
We might go on to say something like, ‘as philosophy is to scholasticism so class consciousness is to marxism’. The movement is similar, correlated perhaps, organised on the same principle somewhere in the constraints of what produces what - this concerns how one product, say the possibility of consciousness, might escape the constraints set by an other product, say ideology, without at the same time escaping the totality, as a set of shared conditions of possibility which will inevitably bring them together again, never allowing them to extricate themselves, never permitting the possibility of a non-relation. We might observe here, illustratively, the impossibility of such a non-relation between anti-fascism and fascism... anti-fascism is never not-fascism, but then perhaps nor is not-fascism.
Where philosophy should be understood as an escape of thinking from thought, or of concepts from things, class consciousness (the proletarian class qua class) as a sort of Möbius type movement is thought’s counter-escape from revolutionary thinking, or of bat-like things fleeing the belfry of Marxism’s narcissistic process, a process that compulsively discovers in its analysis the world’s corroboration of its analysis. Class consciousness, in a neither anaclisis nor narcissism movement, is the paradoxical revolt of inertia against historical process, the unresponsive response, a revenge of the false object against its true representations. The proletariat is always and already the kleinian bad-proletariat... it refuses to do what Marx predicted, or rather it has infinitely deferred the moment of self-abolition which Theorie Communiste has so carefully traced. In a telescopic set of reductions, class consciousness has, since 1917, sought itself out as an object, realising itself through an aesthetic of disappearance as the historic party through separating itself from every instance of the formal party and all that that would imply at the level of a realising subjective agency: firstly, communism sans communists; then, communism contra communists; then, communism both sans and contra communism.
Class as class, the object’s thinking through of its own subjectivity, does not desire to move (as an object) according to the desire that formulates it as object. It does not desire to become the instrument of marxist narcissism, it does not acquiesce to belonging to marxism’s image repertoire for the reason that, if it did so it would, as a real object, have to also accept that it moves in accord with marxist theory, which thereby expressed the totality of the world as spirit, and it (class as class) was nothing but the totality’s imaginary object. Marxism, in its relation to world process generally, and to the proletariat particularly, is a mystification where the class as class must behave as if it were a fetish imbued with agency. But if communism were ever to realise itself as a set of relations, if it were to escape into the world and exceed its current status as the ‘real movement’ within the narcissistic imaginary, it would also have to negate, by exceeding, its own representation within communist theory.
Class consciousness has no function but to always exceed the channels by which marxism attempts to represent it. The seeming malaise of the proletariat before, its non-commensurability with, marxist representations of communism expresses a passive resistance to the useful society. Where marxism seeks to hold onto, to sublate, to overcome, and expropriate everything that constitutes what is, class consciousness is driven by the instinct to expel and abandon both the world and also itself as a component of that world. The object desires nothing but to lose its outline, to deliquesce, to expend itself. Marxism is a system predicated upon the necessity of expropriation, and as such operates according to the principles of expropriation, reproducing the same bourgeois model of overcoming and flexibilisation of all that operates as the means of production - it looks always to recompose the world, taking the Abrahamic path back to anaclitic process. But the weariness of the proletariat, its refusal to conform to the image repertoire, is a receptacle of decomposition, a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess, dropping away and out of production according to the systemic tendency for the rate of agency to fall.
Resignation syndrome is real to this extent: its symptoms are only manifested in contexts at the point where hope has died... for example, the malaise of the revolutionary proletariat when faced with the labour republic’s ideal of production for use is qualitatively distinct from the malaise engendered by bourgeois production for profit. The proletariat has become resigned at the point where the expulsion of living labour from the productive process supplants the possibility of the abolition of labour and thereby realises its incorporation into the apparatus of bioprocess. To fall into the waiting jaws of exploitation in the act of escaping the jaws of repression is the fate of every liberationist movement. I’m not joking!
All thinking is wrong thinking, all consciousness is false consciousness. Let’s get this thing straightened out right now: the operation of consciousness has just two mutually conditioning functions: firstly, or secondly, it demands that the world be just-so, and secondly, or firstly, it discovers that it isn’t. And that is all. If chagrin, then thought; if desire, then frustration. But the falsity inherent to class consciousness, the two-step misstep, precisely that error which repudiates marxism as belonging to this world, becomes at certain junctures necessary to the world. Falsity has a particular place and a particular moment, it is the where and the when of decomposition. It is the thought of the body that finds it has already torn itself apart.
If Marxism seeks always to recompose the world in accord with its fantasy of bourgeois process, becoming in effect its own Isaac, returning to the world not sacrificed nor relinquished, not abolished nor repudiated, but exchanged as it recomposes as ideology for access to the apparatuses of established power, in accordance with the reality principle, then the class as class, as marxism’s narcissistic object choice, must remain unmetabolised, stuck in the throat of process - the recalcitrant object prefers not to be that desired object imbued with subjective agency and wants nothing instead, and to be not there, and for there to be nowhere where it might be put to good (re)purpose.
It is often imagined, I know not by whom, that historical change involves a succession of more or less rational extractions of the useful essences of what went before, a process that implies a stripping away of the extraneous and husk-like material of earlier forms. In reality, the mechanism of succession involves a combination of disavowal, denunciation and incomprehension. Nothing that was of use is still of use; all things survive but only as recipients for the disdain of Johnny-come-latelys.
From our consideration of that obscure desire to hear a particular form of the song that is not the song, the veritable approved wrong object, we have gone on to intuit the possibility of peculiar fictional objects which, first summoned into the world by the ordinary operation of the psychic apparatus as a narcissistic compensation for the world, have then somehow escaped processing, have resisted their being absorbed back into the traffic between the imaginary and symbolic orders, and have become virtually autonomous but still not in the world, and still not of the world, but still certainly against it. We have fantasised such objects as post-fantasised objects, the sum of two sadnesses, taking on a life of their own.
This text is a work of narcissism, it is an instantiation of my enjoyment of my symptom. It demonstrates what it describes. It sets out an imagined explanation for my assertion that communism could survive without reference to Marx, but not Freud. But where others might understand and perhaps agree with the first part of this statement, they are mystified by the wrong step of the second. If one relinquishes one authority, why cleave to another, such a move is necessarily theoretically inconsistent.
But then also, not really, Freud is not an authority in the discourse of communism. Where Marx is utilised by marxists to control what is and is not permissible, Freud has no equivalent function. Freud’s concepts are both malleable and adaptable to external purpose, and as they have a high fictional content, they are eminently user-friendly. Where Marx’s ideas are the ideas of bourgeois production, wherein communism becomes possible only through the ever-accelerating quantitative extension of the realm of necessity (and wherein Real Movement becomes the exemplar of bad infinity), Freud’s ideas tell us nothing in themselves, they are part-systems, components of machines that never could be, that only attain meaning and significance in transference, where they are taken up and applied mythopoeically to one’s own circumstance, for one’s own purpose.
The purpose of this text is to explore what it would be to generate ideas that are manifested in a form that is both without authority, and against the possibility of authority. The text is an exploration of the garden of authoritylessness (who dares to say it is not beautiful?) and describes what this might involve but it is also an attempted example of it. What form would the ideas that have no legitimacy take? What would a peer-less individual, a de-networked individual, say? To that end, the ideas made up here by the text are also made up, they are fictions which do not directly describe the world that they seem to describe, and do not belong in the world that they seem to belong to. The text is frivolous and irresponsible, meaningless, and without either intrinsic merit or social significance. It is neither artistic enough nor sufficiently theoretical. It is nothing but a collapsist gambit, directed against the possibility of its own life-world.
Then, what is this state of authoritylessness, at variance with the veneration of the father-figure, if not the lie-dream of the eternal son-function, if not of Isaac looking up into his father’s eyes, Isaac looking up from beneath the suspended blade, if not of the dream of becoming the eternal not-son, if not of taking the Russian Path out and of destroying all possibility of falling back onto the pattern of the same old same old? Whichever way you carve it, it seems the problematic of communism is always that of bazarov-like inheritances, of the successive generations of the so-called revolutionaries and their so-called critiques of the so-called whoever is not themselves. That is to say, communism is daddy issues and nothing else. I’m not joking!