The Chinese baroque is a nascent literary community, a kind of presence generated through the fashioning of words and images. This would spiritualize the singularity of our separation in order that we may traverse a spiritual world. But this project encounters difficulties because our separations are so dynamic and even mercurial. We are separated by waves of displacement which issue from the absence of antiquity and keep industrial society in motion. The Chinese baroque would be an infinite translation of these waves back towards the origins of instinctual trauma and the disquiet of the organic.
Psychoanalysis provides some mediation for this movement. That theory treats sexuality as the real impasse of being, but this introduces a negativity which may provoke allergies. There’s a controversy over how we account for the breaching of representation. Psychoanalysis raises sexuality to a sublime idea on the horizon its discourse which is follows like a pole star. Such a sublime non-relation also guides discourses on the social, political and economic. But we might dispense with all these discourses by subtracting this sublime negativity as a consequence of relational ideology. Wherever relation is raised to an absolute ideal, then discourse will get disturbed by non-relation. The circumvention of relational discourse becomes possible through monadology, which is a non-relational discourse, and hence a discourse without this negativity. This requires a positive absolute, which leaves us with the question – what of the monadological sublime?
The answer to this question is geophilosophy. This is not cosmological thinking, but rather attunement to our traumatic exposure amidst the things of the earth, such as oceans, mountains, rivers, forests, and deserts. Through the sublimation of these things we can avoid the negative relation inherent in humanistic discourses. These discourses can be displaced by a transcendental georealism so that their negativity gives way to the positivity of the things which ultimately separate us. Sexuality and work would lose their sublimity and become mere reproduction, which can be spiritualized into a geohistorical process. The humanist discourses would be spiritualized into the mystery of wind and waves… which are not discourses, but rather aesthetic figurations.
The term Chinese baroque designates a field of accidental connections, which could have some order of necessity. These accidents enter into communication and create a fabric of transcendental figures. This is a “nomad art” in the strict sense that a yurt is made of felt, though the identity of the artists will be left undetermined here. Felt is produced simply by bringing materials together and compressing them, so that the pieces are impressed into each other, so the relations are purely synthetic. There is no weaving involved. Perhaps the only argumentative issue that could arise here would concern the efficacy of the translation of discourses and images into transcendental figures.
The Chinese baroque names a conjunctural fabric of tremendous complexity. This folds along a limit of historiography at the edge of the early modern age, where the “realist” problems of early modernity were suspended as Kantian liberalism produced its theater of imaginary ideals. What is currently called the “rise of China” is breaking the spell of this Eurocentric idealism and restoring the problems of an earlier modernity. The developmental historicism of Europe gives way to a geographical realism, because of how the centers of economic activity are redistributed. Though we are not so concerned here with generated a discourse on this historical event, but rather with effectuating the exposure of its transcendental implications.
Where psychoanalysis conceived of sexuality as “the absence which curves and determines the structure of what appears”, this sort of thinking can be superseded by introducing a geographical mediation into this curvature. This does not reduce the transcendental curvature to the geographical but superimposes geography onto the curvature to eliminate the negativity of the sexual. This theory that follows here will zig-zag between psychoanalysis and political-economy as it translates them together into the ground of a transcendental georealism. Though this ground won’t be receiving, and it’s rather implied as the negativity of discourse.
Where psychoanalysis begins from a sexual negativity in nature, the Chinese baroque begins from the imbalance of industrial society. This imbalance can be understood to result from an idea, or rather the absence of a classical idea, which is the void that is filled with the ersatz idea of historical materialism. This treats nihilism as the engine of modern history, which is set into motion by the unsatisfying materialization of classical ideals. The disquiet of this vacant historical idea leads to a great providential tournament where matter is contested as an object of possession, processing, knowledge, consumption, enjoyment. These predications – to know matter, to process matter, to consume matter etc. – these are the correlated actions of subjects who compete in the great contest of historical materialism. Perhaps it might be the case that this competition is performed for the satisfaction of some unidentified others. This theater is where science enters a threesome with eroticized consumers and humanist academia. This unholy trinity is a psychosomatic disturbance which accumulates the momentum of the commercial urban frenzy.
Industrial symbols are insecure due to the capricious valuation of matter in the tensions of agonistic competition. The valuation of matter is a sensitive frontier where institutions are exposed to the abgrund of their historicity, where competition is configured through the interpretation of accidents. This is a threshold where developmental logic deteriorates into reversibility: excess becomes lack, work becomes consumption, and solutions become problems. The Chinese baroque is a threshold where this wound of economics is sublimated into aestheticism. This shifts the ontological foundation of contingency.
The Chinese baroque suspends materialist competition in theatrical modality, so the counterfeiting of industry dispels the ambivalent foundation of positive accounting. This aestheticization resolves the vulnerability of symbolic valuation and thereby supersedes the logical impasses of development. This replaces work with instinctual signals which are georealistic mediations. This releases spirituality from the abyss of historical materialism where it was subliminally grounded in ancient mystery. This cuts the chains of arcane economic subjugation. This is a secularization which is easily distinguished from any liberal progressivism. Where the postmodern was bound subjectively by its democratic ethics, the advent of Chinese capitalism releases waves of baroque spirituality because its political absolutism neutralizes subjectivity. This absolutism is a feature of the regime’s political territoriality.
This romantic sublimation of work into the instincts passes through amorous phases, such as the adolescent idolization of celebrities. Deleuze understands love as a pre-aesthetic phase introduced by the troubadours. The derealization of industry proceeds through a gradual heightening of sensitivity to the precision of times and places which abolishes the abstract generalities of materialist conceptuality. The excess of individuality overcomes developmental representation. There is a spreading of singular modes of contingency, which are the intelligible vessels of sublime terrestrial orientations.
The baroque aestheticization resolves the castration of industrialism which is the gaping wound in the materialist foundation of economic values. The spirituality is drawn from the depths of that trauma into which we must descend…
The aesthetic draws its power from a gallery of abjections which it sublimates through the trauma of geohistory. The constant disintegration of industrial rationale into the abyss of historical nihilism provokes premature flight into compulsive aesthetic. This precocious flight gets stalled where the bird’s wings are caught in material concepts. A failure of customary representation becomes an original trauma which enframes occupational subjectivity in obsessional patterns of development. Subjectivity persists through a blockage where the course of spiritualization is wrecked on the reef of material concepts.
Industrial volition is rent asunder by economic hysteria which arises in conditions of radical existential uncertainty. Through what work might we flourish? What is getting evaluated? Who is evaluating who, and on what basis? Work is paid in currency, but in what substance is it ultimately compensated? This questioning of economic hysteria hollows out industrial metaphysics like swiss cheese as panic spreads through the vacuity of work and consumption alike.
Symbolic failure looms as the trauma of infantile dependence. Infancy is associated with imaginary economy which is denigrated as a delusional pretense of unrefined instinct, like those worthless hobbies of the unemployed or the make-believe domesticity of the young. Children are encouraged to entertain idealistic fancies which emblematize the consummation of the family. These fantasies also serve pedagogical functions, getting the young hooked on certain imaginary ideals which determine the direction of development. But these fancies become shameful beyond adolescence where they transform into abjections. If instinct isn’t eventually channeled into something that suffices as industry, then the status of adulthood may be denied. The baroque can be understood as an elaborate perversion of this whole arrangement, where some perverse adulthood smuggles infantile instinct as a stowaway concealed within the folds of industrial modernity. There is a swirling motion where infancy and adulthood infinitesimally switch positions.
The advent of georealism suspends historicality into an artificial modality. Time is a pure separation without concept, and historical accounting attempts to forge the missing conceptuality of time for the representation of development. This forgery of symbolic time is a vulnerability which manifests symptomatically as an obsession with accumulated experience in the representation of value. Representation diminishes experience into scarcity. The baroque circumvents this pathological hiccup by reducing history to a façade. Such a reduction is consistent with Deleuze’s thinking about the past as a dimension of the present which never happened yet makes time pass. This renders antiquity available as the ultimate experience without ambivalence and abolishes a vast ideology of historical time in one violent stroke.
The psychopolitics of the family is one theater where this transition proceeds. Positivist ideologies of maturation quarantine infancy like a dangerous contagion. This situates infancy at a safe distance from adulthood, where it becomes a disposal site for the problematic imbalances of industry. Adulthood can maintain the guise of seriousness by projecting inconsistencies onto infancy. Children are manipulated into accepting the poisonous gifts of the real. Childhood becomes a doomed sovereignty left to entertain its conceits until reality strikes. This is the terrible jouissance of consumerist children (aka spoiled brats) whose subjectivity is afflicted with the poisonous excesses of production.
There is a doubling of infancy – the past infancy of the parent, the present infancy of the child – where one is concealed by the substitution of the other. The presence of the child’s infancy somehow relegates the parent’s infancy safely to the past. But the adult’s need to negate their own infancy turns out to be infantile, because that is also what the child does. The adult “plays along” with the child’s infantile delusions of adulthood, but this playing along is the ruse by which the adult negates their own infancy. Notice the circle where it’s infantile to negate one’s own infancy which is the negation of infancy… which means that infancy implies its own negation, and that the adoption of such negative infancy may be inevitable. And this negative infancy would seem to be an aestheticization or dramatic mode of performance. The Chinese baroque refers to this modal conversion at the limits of developmental ideology.
The circular familial imagination may attempt to stabilize itself by resorting to realistic developmental discourses. But this fails when the portrayal of the intellectual adult who knows the course of development appears pathetically antiquated. The intellectualization of development appears as an obsolete epistemophilia or a futile talisman that fails to dispel infancy. Such failure of developmental intellectual pretension has consequences for authority in educational institutions which are rendered dysfunctional when unstable pretensions to seniority are ridiculed by students. This pedagogical struggle over wits is a decisive political theater.
Infancy is negated on both sides of a mirror where parents and children alike imagine they are adults. A circulation occurs where one infancy replaces the other, and this puts developmental time out of joint. The infant imagines they are an adult when they play with toy trucks and guns. This play-work of imaginary maturity is vulnerable and susceptible to collapse. But the parent may be engaged in a similar play-work, and so there is a perverse conspiracy where the generations are beholden to respect each other’s delusions of adulthood.
In Chinese society there is constant protection of the other’s vulnerable delusion of maturity. This is like a conspiracy to conceal the sexual non-relation, which is like the fraudulence of imaginary adulthood. Early in their education, students learn the dangers of threatening the pretensions of their teachers. There is this assumed danger that the other could be infantilized (lose face, shamed), yet avoiding that threat ends up exposing it, and thereby affirming the avoider in the role of the adult (i.e. the one who infantilizes the other). The adult can be the one who lets the child pretend they are an adult. There are strange conflicts over who is more respectful of whose narcissism, like a potlach of flattery that would cover the hole in the other’s representation. Adulthood politely infantilizes itself to compensate for the other’s assumed infantilism. Such relations are tenuous until they cross the threshold where the developmental reality principle is abolished.
The Chinese baroque is a phase where the affectation of infancy changes hue, which involves a normalization of developmental delusions. Play-work becomes an essential mode for the expression of instinct, where infantilism is entertained as a dramatic simulacrum. Calling this a simulacrum is to eliminate any requirement for its realism, so that it may express the spontaneity of the monadic instinct. A spirituality is liberated as the expression of instinct loses its ground in the calculus of work. But as time loses the sense of industrial optimization, this opens a dimension of the enigmatic. This can create an overwhelming sense of sovereign power which provokes the terror of the sacred. To avoid sliding into madness, rationality must assume a mode that accommodates play-work.
Baroque aesthetics follows the waves of imbalance that spill from one symbolic determination to the next. The organic disquiet of materialism assumes position as the motivating contamination which Deleuze calls spirit and idea. The pathological imbalance of industry is identified as this poisonous eucharist. The contaminating idea is incarnated in disturbed matter, where something intangible (spirit) is trapped within something tangible (matter). This capture of energy in matter is figured by the tense abjection in the paintings of Francis Bacon. It seems matter in this sense would coincide exactly with representation, since matter becomes the concept of what is essentially representable. Matter is whatever empiricism can nail down, and whatever can be shown of artwork, and this tangibility corresponds with the old theological concept of damnation. Leibniz considered the relation with evil essential for blessedness, thus determining the purpose of the condemned in creation. Such cruelty would likely to offend the ethics of progressivism, but perhaps progressivism underestimates the difficulties of metabolizing classical ideas and lacks a taste for drama.
An elementary phenomenological question arises concerning the perception of something within matter which is not matter. Spirituality means that this “something else” cannot be reduced to a concept, object or discourse. In the early modern age, the imperceptible substance might have been conceived as a community of blessed souls who beheld the true kingdom, it might have been a scientific community that beheld the true order of nature. There was evidently some breach between the religious and scientific spiritualities. During the contemporary period this “something more” might be the surplus enjoyment which the commodity promises to contain, and which tantalizes consumers. The Chinese baroque would sublimate these consumerist pathologies back into the confused scientific-spiritualism of an earlier modernity.
Deleuze distinguished the divergence of his nomadology from the convergence of Leibniz’s monadology. This distinction corresponds today with the distinction between spirituality and materiality. Matter is the object around which economic ideologies converge, whereas spirituality is a clinaminic divergence from that concept of matter. This non-identity of matter corresponds with the swirling enigma of infancy. Infantile manners may appear polite in that they are non-threatening and unpretentious, but this modesty may conceal their power. Infancy connects with the eccentricity which expresses a more singular instinct. Eccentricity can be interpreted as a sign of monadic divergence from the industrial conception of matter. This leads into the drag aesthetic of those enigmatic signifiers that were introduced in the 1970’s by Jean Laplanche. Drag is a manifestation of the temporal disjuncture which is disavowed into the abyss of development. When the industrial representation of adult sexuality is disclosed as an empty façade, that disclosure releases a more spiritual sexuality from the ban on infancy.
The advent of baroque spirituality implies a disinvestiture of industrial representation. This is a change in the ontological modality of the materialist discourses and embodied apperceptions which are correlated in the developmental calculi of health and happiness. The interpolation of these image-concepts undergoes a modal distortion, where they are suspended in technological artifice. This is a change in what we might call the incidence of interpolation, a topological change in the composition of subjectivity. This change is simultaneously affective, symbolic, perceptual, imaginary and real. The body is still identified symbolically as a developmental subject, but this identity loses possession of the monadic mind which discovers new margins of liberty in how it inhabits the body. This de-corporealization proceeds gradually through waves of fluctuation in the modality of interpolation. In Deleuze’s terms, this would be a new articulation of the virtuality-actuality of the mind with the possibility-reality of the body.
This sublimation must preserve the continuity of industrial ideology, which means maintaining the correlation of image with concept. The ligament that relates image and concept is the fault-line where sublimation can fail by collapsing into the abyss. Their seam is held together by the affected competition over the family and state. The subject is interpolated symbolically in dramatic roles in the theater of family and state. This is to say that the two sides of the industrial artifice – discourse and image – are held together by the passion of competition which has a seductive power that conjures the subject into embodiment. Industrial subjectivity is possessed by the need for recognition of entitlements, values, rights, honors, authorities, figures and virtues. This competition-fantasy must be suspended without being destroyed. It must be dematerialized and remodalized into an aesthetic residue. This modal suspension proceeds by gradually increasing the contrast between these image-concepts and an order of “real things”. These things have to assume an autonomous sovereignty which releases spirituality from its entrapment in the matter of the commodity. This liberation is theatrically staged.
Things themselves cannot be perceptible or conceivable, as that would compromise their sublimity, and so they can only be registered indirectly or negatively. These things negate the entire order of perception and discourse by abandoning it to the impassioned competition over the materialist image-concepts. The real things are conceived negatively as a distortion that warps the field of subject-object competition. Or we might say that these things are themselves this topological curvature around which image-discourses traffic. Awakening to the importance of these things is like when historians suddenly realize the importance of geography and how the lay of the land conditions the recording of accidents. The intrusion of this alien topology breaks the spell of subjectivity and suspends the affected complex of images and concepts in the modality of artifice. But this decathexion would fail if the power of the spectacle merely moved into a more alienated register. This is to say that the sovereignty of the things must positively assert itself and subordinate the order of concepts and images.
The monad adopts a parasitic attitude towards its own body, which is perceived as an instrument of industrial development. This sacrifice has political advantages because it shifts the balance of power from the image-discourses of development towards the things of the earth. This is a dangerous undertaking, because if the spectacle retains its absoluteness – if the image-discourse doesn’t get relativized or subordinated to the things – then consciousness is captured back into the codes of spectacle and boredom ensues. Boredom is a broad term which includes variants like shame and abjection, and this is what results when the monad is subordinated to an alien spectacle of corporeality. There are many possible strategies for avoiding boredom. The Chinese baroque makes a holocaust-offering of the corporeal image-discourse before the spectacle of development, so the body is reduced to an artifice through this gesture of donation.
It becomes critical that the things of the earth are not reduced to concepts or images, and neither can they be reduced to objects that would be correlated with a subject. This means that these things mustn’t be conceived, perceived or manipulated, but perhaps they can be negatively indicated and manifested by the “lay of the land”. This indirectness gives the things a sublime materiality, which is not the materiality of development but a more chaotic matter which we refer to as spirit. This imperceptible matter must subordinate and condition developmental matter by capturing it into its dynamic topology. This order of sublimity was expressed when Leonardo Da Vinci wrote, “the spirit has no voice, because where there is voice there is body”.
The transcendental topology of things of the earth is neither terrestrial nor cosmic. Deleuze and Guatarri distinguished the Tertullian tendencies of romanticism from the cosmic abstraction of modernism, but the baroque doesn’t adhere to that distinction. The topology in question corresponds with the singularities of instinct, or how instincts are oriented dynamically in the environment with other instincts. This instinctual environment might be conceived geohistorically or astronomically, but that conceptuality is secondary. The instinct is oriented around singularities which are pure abstractions. These singularities are where an autistic self-relation of the monad meets environmental alterity. The throbbing of instinct gets coordinated with the lay of the land experienced dynamically as tides, seasons, erosions, migrations, and breezes.
The Chinese baroque is an alchemy which promotes the divergence of alien spirits from industrial matter. But those spirits may not be destined to reach full expression. Their virtualities may never be actualized, and their possibilities may never be realized. To assume an imperative for realization and actualization would revert to the volitional ideologies of industry. There is no need to disturb the sleep of the monads, and the aesthetic problem is rather to facilitate their sleep. The problem is not to achieve some political goal, but rather to maintain an ethical disposition. The sleeping spirits function as instinctual mediators, and the disturbance of their sleep could render them dysfunctional. Voluntary subjectivity is the industrial disturbance of the natural sleep of the unconscious. The art of baroque translation relieves subjective consciousness by reorienting instinct on an involuntary topology, so that consciousness may withdraw into the transcendental fabric of geohistory.