Unconcealing the Socio-Symbolic Edifices of Corporate Capitalism

In “True and False Contradictions of the Crisis,” Alain Badiou develops Marx’s insight into the way the bourgeois capitalist mode of production eradicates all traditional social hierarchies in order to identify what he considers to be the true contradiction and task for today’s intellectuals and activist. Following Marx, Badiou writes:

The most important binaries, like old and young, men and women, inside and outside of my family, poor and powerful, my trade and others, foreigners and compatriots, heretics and the faithful, commoners and nobles, town and countryside, those who work by hand and by brain—were all addressed (in language, in mythologies, in ideologies, and in the established religious models) by recourse to ordered structures setting everyone’s place in a set of overlapping hierarchical systems. So a noble woman was inferior to her husband but superior to a common man; a rich bourgeois had to bow down to a duke, but his servants had to bow down to him; just as a squaw from this or that Indian tribe was almost nothing in the eyes of a warrior from his own tribe, but almost all-powerful in the eyes of a prisoner from another tribe, whom he might be deciding how to torture. And a poor follower of the Catholic Church mattered very little compared to his bishop, but could consider himself one of the elect as compared to a Protestant heretic, just as even the son of a freedman, wholly dependent on his father, could have a black man at the head of a vast family as his own personal slave.

According to this reading, modernity is a fundamentally negative development – the negation of all traditional social hierarchies, and the “opening up of a gigantic crisis of humanity’s symbolic organization.” Badiou continues:

The whole traditional symbolisation thus rested on an ordered structure that determined individuals’ places in society and thus the relations between these places. The break with tradition, such as capitalism as a general system of production realises, does not in fact propose any active new symbolisation, but only the brutal and independent play of the economy: the neutral, a-symbolic reign of what Marx called “the icy water of egotistical calculation”.

The development of capitalism as a general system of production thus entails the liquidation of all traditional social ties under the “brutal and independent play of the economy.” Human activity is no longer governed by symbolic social ritual, but by the capricious fluctuations of the market, “brutal and independent.” If many would have us believe that our only alternatives are the “liberal ‘democratic’ model of freedoms weighed down by the neutrality of market calculations; or else the reactive desire to return to the traditional—that is, hierarchical—symbolisation,” Badiou identifies the true contradiction, “one that opposes two different visions of the unavoidable break with the hierarchising symbolic tradition. That is, the opposition between Western capitalism’s a-symbolic vision, which creates monstrous inequalities and pathogenic upheavals, and the vision that is generally called “communism”, which ever since Marx and his contemporaries has proposed to invent an egalitarian symbolisation.” Living in a world devoid of meaningful symbolic hierarchy, the “true contradiction” we are faced with is thus that between the a-symbolic vision of Western capitalism and its liberal-democratic freedoms, and the vision of an egalitarian symbolisation which would redeem the failures of 20th century Marxism.

But is the transition from the world of traditional social hierarchies to our own, governed by the “brutal and independent play of the economy,” really so simple? Do we really lack any mode of symbolic orientation in the world? What if, on the contrary, we are more fixated than ever on social hierarchies, if only for the fact that we are unaware of them? If, for Badiou, te spontaneous subjectivity of the commodity consumerist individual is that of the utilitarian-hedonist, the “human animal,” how does the human animal relate to social hierarchy? What social hierarchies remain for it to relate to? If Badiou opposes today’s “neutral, a-symbolic” market to traditional social hierarchies, what immediately emerges is the hierarchical structure of the market itself. Contrary to Badiou’s characterization of the global market as “independent” and “neutral” in its opposition to social hierarchies, the corporate structure of the global market is itself constituted through rigid hierarchies. Transnational corporations consists of hierarchical structures with the upper-most echelon, the CEO level, itself accountable to the demands of stock holders. Non-transparent free trade agreements such as the TPP demonstrate the extent to which transnational corporations are situated within global hierarchies of their own, taking their positions in chains of command which make demands even of national governments.

In addition to the corporate hierarchical structure of today’s capitalism, there is the naturalistic hierarchy which, through its interplay with the former, perpetuates the status quo. For simple demonstration of this ideological structure, we need look no further than popular science, unanimous in its affirmation of the exceptional nature of the human species. We are the dominant species on the planet which we are now in danger of destroying. We must take responsibility for our remarkable intelligence and save the planet, and so on. As always, the situation is more complex. Just as we are continually assaulted with signs of our exceptional nature, we are also pressured to accept the fundamental impossibility of change. While popular science may provide perspectives on our evolutionary shortcomings (cognitive biases, appetite for greasy, salty foods, and so on) so that we might change them, the basic sense most of these perspectives leave us with is that change is futile. We are simply wired this way.

The point, for now, is that our current crisis is not simply one of the liquidation of symbolic hierarchy, but of the very appearance of its liquidation. In other words, it is not simply that symbolic hierarchies have been liquidated, leaving intellectuals and activists the task of re-creating some coherent symbolic order with which to orientate ourselves in the world, or, as Badiou put it: “devote our subjectivity to an entirely new task: the invention, on a two-front struggle—as against the ruin of the symbolic in the icy waters of capitalist calculation, and against the reactive fascism that intends on restoring the old order—of an egalitarian symbolisation that restructures differences by making common rules into the prevalent ones, based on a total sharing of resources.” While this may well be a worthwhile task, the more problematic crisis is the very fact that we believe all social hierarchies have been liquidated, that Western capitalism is “a-symbolic.” Socio-symbolic hierarchies abound, whether military, religious (the Vatican, for instance), or naturalist (the human species as crowning glory of evolutionary history), and especially political-economic. Symbolic hierarchies haven’t disappeared. They are simply being concealed to a greater and greater degree. More and more they are being appropriated by the transnational corporate conglomerates in pursuit of their own ends.

It seems clear to me that one of our tasks is the continual articulation (as Foucault put it, we are always at the point of beginning again) of our symbolic vision for alternative modes of social, political, and economic organization. If, however, we neglect the negative task of unconcealing and attacking those structures whose habits and assumptions govern us today, we run the risk of carrying them with us into the future. As I’ve suggested, two points of interest here would be the socio-symbolic hierarchies of corporation-government relationships, with all of their rationalities, techniques, and procedures, and the naturalist hierarchies perpetuated by popular scientific thinking which simultaneously commend our abilities and neutralize our potentials (or vice versa?).

So when Badiou calls for “the mass abandonment of this “Western” identity,” we should raise the question of the self-evidence of that in which this identity consists. What are the concealed socio-symbolic hierarchies of our time? Which of those truths that we take to be self-evident must go?

Alain Badiou, “True and False Contradictions of the Crisis.” http://www.versobooks.com/blogs/2014-alain-badiou-true-and-false-contradictions-of-the-crisis

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The Neutralization of the Future and the Fetish of Finitude

“The unconscious remains bound to archaic fixations only as long as there is no investment [engagement] directing it towards the future.” – Felix Guattari, The Three Ecologies (38)

One of the dominant effects of utilitarian-hedonist desire-production and the Malthusian neoliberal production of subjectivities is the neutralization of the future.  We are to be here now, to reside in a perpetual present forever evading the responsibilities which the future demands of us.  If, from Guattari’s position, “capitalist subjectivity [through the media] attempts to conceal from us a sense of finitude,” (88) then we would have to claim just the opposite.  It would seem that human finitude, rather than being concealed through the media, is upheld as absolute justification for the superego injunction to enjoy, to live now, life life to the fullest, and so on.  If Kant’s unconditional imperative was “Du kannst, denn du sollst,” “You can, because you must!” and Zizek claims that in today’s permissive society the imperative becomes, “You must, because you can!” (You can enjoy sex, so you must. You can enjoy a healthy lifestyle, so you must), we must (because we can) go one step further and supplement Zizek’s formulation with a temporal qualifier:

“You must, because you can (for now)!”   or,

“For now, you must, because there will come a time when you can’t!”

In other words, we are finite, therefore we must enjoy.  We have no future, so we must enjoy and so on.  The sense of human finitude is thus deployed towards the enforcement of a pseudo-activity which merely perpetuates the present, rather than an engagement directed towards the future.  It is precisely in this sense, then, that the future is neutralized.  Finitude is fetishized, commoditized, and we YOLO (Drake, the Strokes), dance until the world ends (Britney Spears), dance until we die (Omnia, Katy Perry), and dance until we drop (Fergie).  To further elaborate:

Right here, right now’s all we got
A little party never killed nobody
So we gon’ dance until we drop, drop. (Fergie)

Now, as always, the situation is more complex.  One could argue that there is an emancipatory element in some of this rhetoric.  That remains to be elaborated.  For the most part, though, it would seem that such spectacles basically involve the blind leading the blind into a pit of alcoholic nihilism.  If there is any sense in what I’ve just written, then what Guattari referred to as Integrated World Capitalism does not simply perpetuate itself through spatial movements (delocalization, deterritorialization, “in extension, by extending its influence over the whole social, economic and cultural life of the planet and by ‘intension,’ by infilitrating the most unconscious subjective strata.”)(50).  It also requires the manufacture and production of temporally contracted subjectivities.  As our histories become increasingly fragmented, our futures are whisked away, and so we become timeless beings, although not, perhaps, in the sense that we might have once hoped.

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Man is dead, long live the rodents! Against Procrustean Manhood in a Fight for the Future.

 

Wittgenstein, Tractatus
6.4311
Death is not an event of life. Death is not lived through.
If by eternity is understood not endless temporal duration but timelessness, then he lives eternally who lives in the present.
Our life is endless in the way that our visual field is without limit.

Death is not lived through, says Wittgenstein. So what about life? Is life lived through? Who are we, we livers of life? By what means do we experience ourselves as coherent self-identical individuals? And is this coherent self-identity really so coherent and self-identical? Didn’t Nietzsche, Batailles, and Artaud, dancing on the outskirts of our gated communities, already demonstrate to us the falsity of this phantasm? Hasn’t the berserk drive of science already incinerated even the possibility of there being an inhering coherent self-identity? The phantasmatic core of coherent self-identity functions as it has, rolling along, constituting the most banal narrative of our daily life in all of its mundane importance, but what Nietzsche, Deleuze and Guattari, Thomas Metzinger, and countless others have demonstrated to us, and what we might demonstrate to ourselves, is that this core of coherent self-identity is a lie. Coherence is a lie. A useful lie, but a lie nonetheless.

When we sufficiently adjust the resolution of our ontological viewing lens, we observe the slithering, rubbing, tearing, burping, growing, excreting, spewing, singing, eating, mouthing, teething, eyeing and bleeding vat of experimentation that, in classical terms, we call ‘a body.’ As for the ‘coherent self-identity?’ An impulse. A buoy bobbing along the surface of this crystalline lava flow of experimental (de)materialization. And there are many.

Zizek and others have claimed that digital capitalism functions through the ethical-moral ideology of continual self-experimentation. If Foucault once encouraged the continual experimental re-fashioning of our contingent cultural identities, Zizek’s claim is that the capitalists have been reading their French theory. But we should make a distinction here between cosmetic and visceral experimentation. If capitalism embodies experimentation, it can only embody the former, forever relegating experimentation to the confines of public image and the coordinates of the market, in a word, to marketability. Experimentation must be marketable, or it is nothing. And, of course, marketable experimentation is hardly experimentation at all, but change. Change we can believe in! Minor cosmetic modifications of the public image – an Obama instead of a Bush, a comb over instead of a pony tail, Classical instead of Electronic.

That is why our techno-capital digital culture has no room for psychedelics. Psychedelics wreak havoc on coherent self-identity, amplifying our ontological viewing lens, revealing unsightly grimaces and divine tracings where we previously only had a face. Psychedelics tune us in to the peristaltic undulations of our viscera, gradually revealing the cosmetic public image to be a performative hoax, a convincing facade, a hollow caricature. Let us not commit the genetic fallacy here and denounce the public image because of its lowly and insubstantial origins. We are not so petty and groveling as to demand nothing but the truth. We delight in our lies, or, in non-moral terms, our compositions, our masterpieces, our magnum opi, but I digress.

If there is no substantial durability to coherent self-identity, what is there that could possibly die? This body? What does it mean for a body to live? That it temporarily endures as a partially self-sustaining self-overcoming systemic network? A shoddy provisional definition…let’s go with it. The plant on my table is able to sustain itself on the sunlight and water which is provided to it. It has (over)come a long way since its days as a puny seed, and has probably reached the limit of its overcoming sitting in a glass pot next to my computer. For now, it is living. But living is always living-in-process. We wouldn’t say that ‘life’ inheres in the plant as a primary quality. That would be to attribute possession to an entity which possesses nothing. Plants simply lack the reflexivity to possess anything. Trivial enough.

What about me? Do I possess my body? Here, we affirm the fiction of coherent self-identity. Yes, I do. It is not that I am a body, but I possess a body. If I am anything, then I am a body bodying, and it is through the body bodying that coherent self-identity emerges, because bodies don’t body alone, but body-along-with-others. You sitting over there reading this post and I sitting over here writing this post are bodying-along with each other. And in this mutual bodying, we affect each other and mutually sustain coherence. If we are philosophers, psychonauts, tantric yogis, or artists, then we also enjoy and affirm moments of decoherence – isolation, thought.

But, eventually, the body stops bodying. It becomes a body. It dies. But, do I? Nietzsche’s body stopped bodying on August 25th, 1900, but did Nietzsche die? Isn’t he, as opposed to his body, alive and well to the extent that he informs and animates the bodying of my body and the bodying of the other bodies who are always reading him? Nietzsche lives!

Nietzsche lives, and as long as there are communicatively bodying bodies reading, discussing, writing about, being discouraged and invigorated by Nietzsche, he cannot die. The same goes for you and I.

So what does all of this mean? If I never die, that can only imply that I had never been alive in the first place. Only what is living can die. My body is bodying aka living and will die, but I was never born and will never die and because I will never die, my future is radically open-ended. The associations that my composition (my body communicatively bodying-along-with-others, whether corporeally or digitally, and how I guide that bodying-along) affect will endure for the entire duration of the primate experiment. And longer, if we can manage to get out of these clumsy bodies…and I can in no way predict how my composition will affect those associations.

What can this mean more immediately? We, today, we Prometheans, are engaged in a global conflict against the Procrusteans, in the same conflict Michel Foucault alluded to in his Society Must Be Defended lectures:

…peace itself is a coded war. We are therefore at war with one another; a battlefront runs through the whole of society, continuously and permanently, and it is this battlefront that puts us all on one side or the other. There is no such thing as a neutral subject. We are all inevitably someone’s adversary. (51)

The militant techno-scientific medicalization, disciplinarization, and control of Earth’s domesticated primate populations is accelerating with new initiatives by government-military complexes and their associated academic and industrial branches setting off to purify Man from rodent, protecting, securing, and pampering the former through aggressive body harvesting of the latter, and their starting point can only be a certain conception of Man – Man as the interval between birth and death, Man as scientific, economic, anthropological object. There is an effort to immobilize Man, to reify Man, to petrify Man, so that Man becomes the living dead, frozen stiff. Feeling down? No problem, pop these pills. Feeling restless? Go to your local bar, new cocktails on the menu! Feeling discouraged? Here, take these cardboard cutouts and stand in front of that building. Now chant! Great, great, you did well, now go home and have a good rest, you have work tomorrow! Man must be secure! Bomb those nomads! Put up more walls!

But we have had enough of your “Man,” constipated with prescriptions and programmes, bloated with schedule and time-keeping. We have had enough of the safety and security of Man. The safety and security of the Israeli Men genociding the Palestinian rodents. But look, we are all rodents, we Prometheans.

There is no Man. Man is something that lives and something that dies. We neither live nor die. We have exploded Man, blown Him to smithereens. It is time we have gone beyond Him. Man has been constructed out of the past, forged in a rotting Bronze age furnace, tabulated in a Harvard laboratory. But man is gone, and the past with him. All that is left is the future. We can hear it call, those who have ears to hear, anyway. So come, let us tear down the statues of Man wherever they remain. We have worshiped Man for far too long and are barely able to bare his stench. This is no matter of mere collective mobilization. This is an infestation, an infiltration. Continue along your path and sniff out the rotting stench of Man and maul him where He stands. Rodents of the world, infest! You have nothing to lose but your Manhood and a Future to gain!

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Towards Cynical Action

On the philosophical militancy of the Cynics, Michel Foucault writes:

This would be the idea of a militancy in the open, as it were, that is to say, a militancy addressed to absolutely everyone, which precisely does not require an education, but which resorts to harsh and drastic means, not so much in order to train people and teach them, as to shake them up and convert them, abruptly.  It is a militancy in the open in the sense that it claims to attack not just this or that vice or fault or opinion that this or that individual may have, but also the conventions, laws, and institutions which rest on the vices, faults, weaknesses, and opinions shared by humankind in general.  It is therefore a militancy which aspires to change the world, much more than a militancy which would seek merely to provide its followers with the means for achieving a happy life.  

-The Courage of Truth, p. 284-285

 

Much has been made of our post-modern ‘cynical’ malaise.  The term ‘cynical’ has always had a negative connotation.  “Don’t be so cynical,” we chime at our outspoken friends.  In our contemporary fetishization of positive thought, affirmations, and visualizations, we have no time or space for cynical talk.  And, yet, this is just it.  We are merely outspoken.  We merely talk.  The clear lesson of Diogenes of Sinope and the cynics was that talk is cheap.  While philosophers proselytized in the agora about detaching oneself from fleshly desires – I am nothing.  No, no, no, I am nothing.  No, no, no, you’re both wrong!  I am less nothing than ALL of you!  – Diogenes lay in the alley, curled up in a barrel with his dogs, scrounging for scraps with his lone possession, a beggar’s bowl.  And, yet, this self-imposed lifestyle was not simply a matter of self-effacement, self-denunciation, and self-denial.  It is said that, having drawn a crowd of hecklers jeering at him for ‘eating like a dog,’ Diogenes barked back at them, “Look at you all, I am no more of a dog than all of you.  After all, only dogs circle around another dog and his food.”  Thus, the cynical mode of life, as opposed to mode of speech, was such that it threw back the absurdities of ignorance, pettiness, and cowardice in the faces of those who would claim to judge the Cynic.  For the Cynic, there is no such thing as neutrality.  All citizens are implicated in the collective constipation of consensus culture and, most importantly, consensus politics.

What I gather from all of this is that we are not yet cynical.  Or, if we are cynical in our words, we are not cynical enough.  We complain amongst ourselves, mock and criticize authority figures, individual or ideal, to our heart’s content, but we continue to dutifully obey and behave in a thoroughly routine, customary manner.  This is most evident in our political participation, or lack thereof, where the mere mention of voting is considered a joke.  Hardly anyone takes voting seriously, and for good reason, but we have yet to construct new modes of collective behavior which might accomplish what voting was supposed to.

We have yet to enact our cynicism.  What we need is cynical action.  Cynical activism which might be analogous, if not identical, to Absurdist activism.  A kind of DaDa in action which reflects the absurdity, trickery, and deception of consensus politics back into its own center, forcing a response.  Imagine marching on Congress waving a handful of these:

What could be studied is a history of absurdist/cynical political activism.  Perhaps, through an ongoing reflection in experiment and experiment in reflection, we might be able to construct a new social formation, one characterized by playful seriousness and serious playfulness, one we can be proud of, because, as it stands, in the US today:

We have way too much time on our hands and way too little going on in between the ears. 

 And, very briefly, in these conditions we can say that not only has Cynicism pushed the theme of the true life to the extreme point of its reversal into the theme of the life which is scandalously other, but it has laid down this otherness of an other life, not simply as the choice of a different, happy, and sovereign life, but as the practice of a combativeness on the horizon of which is an other world. (287)

 

 

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Return to Philosophy as Ethos and the Military-Science Complex

64. “Knowledge for its own sake”–that is the last snare laid by morality: we are thereby completely entangled in morals once more.

80. A thing that is explained ceases to concern us–What did the God mean who gave the advice, “Know thyself!” Did it perhaps imply “Cease to be concerned about thyself! become objective!”– And Socrates?–And the “scientific man”?

– beyond good and evil

through a series of careful readings of ancient Greek texts, Michel Foucault reconstructs a history of the care of the self, tracing its permutations through Plato’s dialogues, Cynic philosophy and, eventually, through Christian anthropology and “techniques of the self” to our present day. The perspective we develop through his analyses is that knowledge of the self and care of the self, as two modes of philosophical thought in action, become separated through the development of Christianity, with the former, impelled by the will to truth which undermines even its own doctrinal elements, finding its place in the scientific knowledge which pursues itself for its own sake, and the latter appearing to find little substantial enactment in our present day, with the exception, perhaps, of the lives of artists, who, engaging in a kind of ascesis, refuse to cooperate with ‘normal’ responsibilities of productivity, attending, instead to the how of living, the care of living, and the ethos of living.

Foucault calls our attention to a time when, among some philosophical circles, care of the self was in fact considered the most important. Quoting Seneca’s Book VII of On Benefits, he writes,

“Demetrius the Cynic, a great man in my view, even when compared with the greatest, was right when he used to say that it is better to know a small number of precepts which one has ready to hand for one’s use than to learn many which one does not have at hand. In the same way a clever wrestler is not one who has learned all the postures and complicated movements which one rarely has to use in fights, but one who, after having carefully practiced one or two of these movies for a long time, watches out attentively for the opportunity to apply them. For it is not important for him to know a great deal provided that he know enough to win; similarly in this study there are many things which give pleasure, but very few assure victory.”

The teaching is therefore essentially a teaching of struggle, which must teach what is needed for the struggle and indispensable for gaining victory. On that basis, Demetrius, quoted by Seneca, shows that what is difficult to know in Nature is really only hidden because knowledge of it is no use for life. For example, there is no point in knowing the origin of storms or why there are twins. We do not know these things and it would be very difficult to know them. They are hidden, since they serve no purpose. On the other hand, all that is necessary to existence, to the struggle which the Cynic life must be, is available to everyone. – Government of Self and Others – The Courage of Truth, p. 205, 206

What Foucault elaborates here, reflecting on Cynic philosophy, is a kind of minimalist epistemology in which knowledge is not pursued for its own sake, nor as an end in itself, but only serves as a means for ensuring the proper mode of existence. Thus, we have a minimalist epistemology with an aesthetics of existence, an ethos of existence. In addition, this philosophical orientation is universalizable. “On the other hand, all that is necessary to existence, to the struggle which the Cynic life must be, is available to everyone.

It is hardly controversial to suggest that we, in our present time, are dominated by a scientific, thus, epistemological thought-framework. We understand our behavior primarily in terms of evolutionary biology and psychology. We are basically primates who have evolved over millions of years and, as ‘gene machines,’ are simply designed to propagate the species. You’re born, you reproduce, you die. Even the ways we think (or pretend to) are limited by our evolutionary psychology. What gets lost in all of the smug assertions about our ‘monkey brains’ is a sense of responsibility, a sensibility of the importance of the question of the how of living.

What emerges here is the task of wielding philosophy-as-ethos as a weapon against the dominating epistemo-cognitive normativity of scientific knowledge. The task of philosophy is not to marry itself with science, reducing itself to an obedient assistant and clarifier of scientific questions, a mere epistemo-cognitive sidekick. The task is to maintain its exteriority to science, to challenge science and present the problem of ethos to science, to interrogate science.

This task becomes ever more apparent when we consider the material conditions of possibility of science and philosophy. Philosophy is a fundamentally material process taking form through the marks and noises exchanged between thinking-primates. Philosophy requires a voice, an eye, and a hand. Science, on the other hand, requires an immensity of material resources: complex instrumentation, huge facilities, government contracts.

There is another question which needs to be asked: To what extent does science require the military? To what extent is the military the politico-economic nucleus of scientific investigation? It is not secret that the internet, microwaves, radar, and so on, all emerged out of military research, the same research which has produced Agent Orange and the Atom bomb. We still need a genealogy of the military-science complex.

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Writing, Purpose, Aesthetics, Responsibility

writing is excreting.  pissing, sneezing, vomiting, coughing, shitting, bleeding, writing.  in writing, the menagerie of bodily fluids excreted-as-excess and excreted-as-foreign is given shape.  molded, extruded, and excreted onto the page.  writing is a liquid function of liquid minds.

writing-surfing the film of sensation which stitches together our presence in this cosmic texture, we excrete ourselves into oblivion.  sensating and pulsating as vital organs vibrate and manic movements saturate this absent-frame called an I, writing excretes my I through my eyes through my fingers as the always-prior ricochets back and forth between itself.

but what is the purpose of this?

purpose?

does writing have a purchase?  does writing produce a purpose produce a purchase?

we are ever-pressured to produce pressured to purchase pressured to produce a purchase.

writing retracts purpose.  the latter uncoiled wisely along the winding path of history.

writing condenses purpose.  we write without purpose and search for a purpose after we write but the writing we write precedes purpose and forgets purpose.  writing is to purpose as dynamite is to skull.


 

and yet, pushing towards purpose-for-others.  christian-all-too-christian, writing must have a purpose – a purpose-for-others!

and this soporific imperative.  what do we make of this?

purposes clog the drain of life-flowing-into-death of deathing life.

we are always filled with purposes.  justifications. explanations and rationalizations.

where might we yet come across the purposeless ones?

there they are. frolicking and laughing in the dirt! 

acting without purpose. 

 

and yet, we are not children.  would we be so bold as to claim our development has yielded no greater fruits than the purposeless play and total curiosity of a child? is not the child, too, the virtual partner to our overgrown purposeful living-as-surviving living-as-self-preserving?

Isn’t this the lesson of the film Children of Men?  On post-apocalyptic Earth there are no children.  what is the real tragedy here?  is it the extinction of the species which childrenlessness guarantees?  or, rather, the violent encounter with living-as-surviving living-as-self-preserving, with bare life disavowing solitude disavowing death.  forever severed from vicarious living-through-children (they can be happy for us!  they can laugh for us!) and our vicarious caring-through-children (we care for children as we could never care for ourselves!), we are abandoned to our own purposes, our own solemnity, our own solitude.  what is tragic, then, is not our future death, but our present death.  our transfiguration into living-dead. 


 

the growing tension here, then, is one within the how of living.  the tension between purposelessly playful living-as-dance, aesthetic-living, self-transformation and  and purposeful solemn living-as-surviving, moral-living, living responsibly.

i anticipate more determinations need to be made here.  micro-tensions drawn out and exacerbated. the tension can provisionally be articulated as the tension between experimental aesthetic play and conservative responsible moral-living.  how to think the two and how to fuse the two.  if we have slogged through two thousand years of Christianity, it seems hardly possible to imagine that its growths will be eliminated, and we are not even sure if that would be desirable. 

And a final question:

If Nietzsche wrote, “Man is something to be surpassed,” and Foucault associated the Death of God with the Death of Man, wouldn’t we say the same about children?  Children are something to be surpassed.  The death of God is not complete until the death of Man is not complete until the death of Children.  In other words, are we doomed to reciprocate between Manly Children and Child-like Men?  Or might we find a way to blast through both, forging new bodies and minds for ourselves?

 

 

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Consumptive Enjoyment

In his essay, Zizek’s New Universe of Discourse, Levi Bryant writes:

Everywhere we look, commodity consumer society seems to command enjoyment, such that if we are not enjoying we are somehow falling short or failing…The paradox of the superego is that the more you obey the superego, the more anxiety and guilt you experience… In the case of a direct command to enjoy, guilt arises insofar as the subject betrays his desire in condescending to enjoyment (desire becomes entangled in specific objects).  Additionally, the more the subject obeys the superegoic command to enjoy, the more ferocious and demanding the superego becomes, commanding more!, more!, more!  Here, then, lies the compulsive character behind consumerism…Moreover, if the consumer capitalist superego commands enjoyment, and if obeying this command necessarily generates guilt, this might account for the comparative rise in depressive and anxiety disorders in recent history.

On a recent flight to Shanghai, I was gently reminded of this imperative to enjoy in the form of an advertisement for Coke Zero.  The ad read something like:  “Enjoy zero calories at 30,000 feet.  Enjoy Everything.”  Enjoy everything.  The implication of the imperative would be that, if you do not enjoy everything, there is something wrong with you.  It is bad if you do not enjoy everything.  You are bad for not enjoying everything.  So for the subject bombarded with the imperative to enjoy everything, the only logical conclusion of the obvious impossibility of enjoying everything can be guilt.  Bryant mentions guilt being generated “insofar as the subject betrays his desire in condescending to enjoyment.”  So we (I will abstain from the usage of ‘the subject,’ assuming that I and readers are also influenced here) feel guilt when we, noticing the ad inciting us to “enjoy” their product, purchase and consume the product even though we don’t actually enjoy it.  We enjoy it because we’re supposed to.

This would suggest that in commodity consumer society, we are inundated with a constellation of commodities which we are supposed to enjoy.  Between Hollywood films and Men’s Health magazines, we are provided with an inventory of all of the things we are supposed to enjoy if we want to feel good about ourselves.  We should enjoy an active sexual life with many partners (if we are men), the latest fashions, the newest gadgets, vigorous outdoor activities like rock climbing and snowboarding, and a regime of supplements and techniques for ensuring a ‘full’ life.

Given this constellation, we may feel obligated to consume a variety of products in order to conform to the fantasy image of a fully enjoyed life.  To the extent that we consume products that we’re supposed to enjoy, guilt results.  On the other hand, we may enjoy various products or activities that are not included within the popular constellation of things-to-enjoy, and so endure guilt at our lack of conformity to the fantasy image.  We may also neglect the products or activities that we actually enjoy because we’re afraid they don’t fit the mold of a fully enjoyed life.

The Super Bowl just finished, and normally, I wouldn’t care about it at all.  In fact, I didn’t even know it was taking place until an acquaintance of mine mentioned it to me.  “You ready for the Super Bowl?” he said, and I didn’t know how to respond.  I was hesitant to tell him how I really felt, which was that I had no idea the Super Bowl was even taking place, and I find spectator sports to be an incredible waste of time.  Instead, I said, “Oh, yeah!  I’m just about to check it out,” and went to the living room to turn on the television.  Here, I clearly engaged in an activity out of pure adherence to an expectation to do so.  After all, it’s the Super Bowl, how can you not be excited about it!

All of this brings to mind Nietzsche’s question and answer: “What is the seal of attained freedom? No longer being ashamed in front of oneself.”  The original sin was not eating from the Tree of Knowledge, but shame.

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