Sacrificial Games

doubled in the canvas of asphalt,
embroidered by a somnambulist shifting from flight to pursuit (of reality?)
here is our scenario for narrating history”
-Xenia, Arkadii Dragamoshenko

The problem of the contest drifted onto an esoteric register, where there was no hope for a solution, but just for some vague gestures that might suggest suitable layout of figures. The greatness of this problem called for a concerted effort at long-term management, as though it were a rich plot of agricultural terrain.

This figure of agriculture at the source of the contest was no coincidence.  It was suspected that the contest was a matter of property relations, which were implicated with agricultural processes at the source of history.  Like the agony of the physiocrats – whose wheat grows best?  Whose stock has superior yields?  These conjectures proceed as “practical esotericism”.

Contests open like Russian dolls which have entrapped us from birth. One riddle dissolves into the next along a series of ascending scale.

The society of property relations – amour propre – was contingent on these scales of magnitude. These relations were only actualized at certain levels where they affected populations.  Competitive engagement was sustained at each level by mediation through a constellation of fetishes. 

We were blind to the contests that enchanted us, until they were manifested by some surprise.  Maybe we stumbled on an uncanny microcosm that hinted at the enveloping forms.  Maybe it was just a lone carnival ride rusting beside a shopping mall.

One struggles to narrate the history of the contest.  This has no plot or characters, but it might have some sequential order.

Competition began as an unconscious impulse. This subliminal passion related to the vertical posture, and group inclinations towards placings and gregarious positions. Somnambulant jockeying.  One was born into the snare of competition, as the fetus was already implicated in “oedipal” transactions. Like an infant who delivered aboard some nomadic yurt, the first cells were born within the momentum of the contest.

Second comes an existential awakening to this apriori movement. This is an hysterical awakening to the uncertainty of the contest. What are we doing? Who is this for? Which leads to the panicked flight to escape from this unknown condition. Pursued by hostile doubles which build into a deluge of commercial attractions. The contest in this sense becomes an undetermined atmosphere, an unlocatable ethos, a vague pattern of neural transmissions, or what psychoanalysts call an unconscious transference relation.

The course of “development” (we’ll be using this word in an original way) pushes competition into higher orders, where attractions compete and simulate each other as they strive to lure populations of prospective competitors.

Trapped within the arenas of competition, such as education, business, sports, performance, consumerism, politics, dating… competitors are lured into the actuality of contests where finer distinctions emerge with minute grading and forms. Actualization proceeds through the swallowing of the bait.  But the nature of the bait is highly non-trivial for reasons that will be explained below.  

Only through their detachment can the non-competitors have the chance to grasp the virtual contest as a generic idea. These anti-competitors take flight towards a broader nature, in their struggle to denaturalize that relational idea and break the spell of its reification which casts them into the role of contestants. But this escape is itself always in danger of become another competition. 

That reification of the contest was established through the epistemological coup of Darwinism, when it conceived nature as a struggle for survival. Breaking the spell of competition requires breaking that conception of nature, and replacing it with a divergent sense of the natural elan. Darwinism becomes the target for an iconoclastic hammer which is raised by Bergsonian evolutionists.

Populations are drawn through subtle mechanisms. The lure of competition is equivocal and undetermined. Beyond the triviality of prizes and rewards there are elaborate Protean movements which we describe as “developments”, where this word has its widest and most imaginative range. This phantasm of progress can have actual efficacy.

This magical phallus operates through education, real estate, fashion, sports, cuisine, automotive, travel, cinema… this development is dematerialized into the mode of fantasy. The primary lure of competition is not the prize, but rather participation in these fantasies which manage the surpluses of anxiety. The pleasure of development is where the pedagogy and election of the polis is enjoyed.

The field of competition is arranged so that populations can maintain dramatic distance from abjection. This allows for the experience of jouissance within the conditions of amour propre, so that the risks of entropy are mitigated. Competition derives its authenticity through bearing the risks of abjection – that risk puts competition into communion with real elan.

The contest is convoluted in its origin, but this confusion has been rigorously accounted for theoretically. This is the confused trinity of the gift which blends the weapon, the exchange (munus), and the sacrifice (donum). But competition becomes increasingly atmospheric through the course of development, so that it ultimately threatens to monopolize the formation of corporeal sensitivity, or the form of relations with the other.  The flesh is sensitized to the metaphysics of competition.

The faculty of attention has become one of the great themes in commercialized life, whether in education, medicine, law enforcement, transportation or video games.  But doesn’t attention presume sensitivity?   

Competition grows opaque as it drifts into the mode automation or mechanical simulation. It becomes a fetishism of fitting-in with patterns of appearances. When the prospect of victory is forgotten, then there is no direct competition. There is the problem of being accepted into the oblique game as a normal competitor. Vaguely ludic semblances become normative conditions for socioeconomic participation.

Game play always implies the duplicity of the real and the simulated. The game is always a protean dialectic that twists these modes together onto a mobeus strip. Realist art explores variations on these movements.  There are levels of consciousness where there is a game, and others where it’s felt to be more real. 

Games are dialectics of the real and the artificial. Like it is often said that something is “only a game”.  But dimunitions of the ludic become hollow when life is being “gamified” under the influence of “algorithmic culture”.  And of course being “in” the game is not always desirable. Sometimes you don’t want to play any more.  There are games where players compete for exemption or non-participation. Winning can be a matter of getting out. 

Games can be for children, or the undeveloped.  They are for training, or for the entertainment of those with nothing better to do.  But when playing is implicated with socialization, then being non-competitive implies a non-socialization.  This would be like a coup of amour de soi , or the unknown triumph of recluses. Note the overlap here between hermits and elitists, where they might be indistinguishable as non-participants.  

Competition can be insidious where it gets repressed or concealed. Candid direct competition becomes faux pas where it appears pathetic, or desperate for recognition, and it degenerates into the unsportsmanlike. And so it may be concealed in cloaks of coolness, irony or cynicism. But then this attitude reverses into a display of authentic competitiveness.  Candid competition can be a source of morale, such as what happens when the labor-force is assembled before the leaders. This dialectic gets further complicated so that the feigning of morale becomes conspicuous. This fraying of artifice and reality into an imperceptible mixing of signals so that participation becomes indistinguishable from non-participation. 

Competitive structures provide a source of sense. The plotting of rational behavior is a condition for economic prediction. This abstract artifice casts bodies into agent roles, so that orientation can be established around goals and play-by-play commentary. Competition is also central to plotting as a literary device, like in the social climbers of a Balzac novel. 

Note how the rational interest of agency is implicated with the essential irrationality of enjoyment.  This point where sense turns into nonsense, where the game is suspended in ecstasy.  

The gamification of life was spreading through the cybernetics of the cold war, where both international relations and markets were conceived through the modeling of games. To conceive war as a game is obviously an archaic confusion of modality which would seem to be essential to the very idea of war.

The rationality of economic agents has unfolded as a logic of means, whereas the radical anti-rationality of this modus operendi was concealed in the opacity of its ends. Those end were represented in the clichés of enjoyment, like beaches and white picket fences, and the harmony of nature.     

The inherent esotericism of competition is nothing inherently sinister, as this obscurity can be rationally accounted for. Most important is how the spontaneity or kairotic nature of the contest makes it oblique. This is to say that it works through free unconscious transference, which is linked to the moving surplus of the superegoic supplement. This implies an essential instability, like the dynamic of a ball flying back and forth. All of these qualities are implicated with the inherent elitism of any indulge in artifice.  Affluence leads to the boredom which is the mother of “arts and games”, like those tournaments that were once held by the knights of Camelot.  

A generic conception of the game hangs like a cloud of intrigue that affects populations with addictive habits. Only privileged minds would dare to discuss this topic so abstractly. One must be entirely removed from the game to take it up as an intellectual topic. This kind of philosophy was initiated in the 1950’s by the circle of thinkers surrounding Costas Axelos in Paris. Eugene Fink and Henri Lefebre were party to those discussions which explored a Heidegger-Marx synthesis that tended towards a ludic geopolitics.  This line of investigation concerns how populations are affected by property relations.  Or we could say the gamification of property transactions. Competition gets deconceptualized so that it becomes something like the “mood around the room” aka amour propre.

High hangs the Qin mirror”. This proverb refers to the most notoriously brutal of the ancient Chinese dynasties. The Qin were the dynasty who cast their laws onto bronze cauldrons, and boiled transgressors in the vessel inscribed with the law they’d broken. Transgressors were boiled along with the other four members of their unit. This is where Marx talks about primary appropriation or  primitive accumulation.  We are concerned with a threshold where that terrifying reality could be gamified.  

Playfulness is insidiously implicated with compulsive normativity.  But games for normativity can be either interior or exterior. This distinguishes between competition for positions within pregiven models of normality, and competition over the very form of hegemonic normality.  This would distinguish the interiority of a relative game from the exteriority of an absolute game where the game’s very conception is at stake.   

The diffuse materials of the game spreads through refrains, viruses, frequencies, gestures. The game elements are transported by the wind in a decomposed state, like pieces of some modular furniture that can be assembled anywhere according to local customs.

The crowd flees a burning theater. (Elias Canetti) But maybe the announcement was made by an actor. The modality here might be called the dialectical terror game. 

The slowest creature in the herd gets eaten by the predator.  Though when getting chased by adults for fun, sometimes children run slower or only pretend to run because they want to get “eaten”.  

The game as an avatar of capital:  populations are drawn into the spell of market competition by the lure of fun.  In its degraded form, fun is a relief from boredom.  She wanted something more from life, so she took the plunge.  There nothing in it for us.

The fun-house becomes a generic model for political-economy. This concerns “allegory” but we’ll need to be careful with the use of that very complex word. The crowd struggle to escape from the mirror relations. But the mirror has hidden dimensions. The trompe l’oeil effect of the false outside. The secrecy of the gaze and the double. 

Kantianism provides a generic model of normal argumentation, i.e. of intellectual contest. This is an ethics of responsible discussion where the references are limited to the phenomenal, which is implicated with the actual.  Of course the empirical isn’t subjective, but subjectivity emerges from the disavowal of the abyss of empiricism.  There lies the insidious link between subjective agency and the fetishization of the phenomenal: they are complimentary aspects of the disavowal of the abyss of empiricism. 

Breaking with the deontological norms of the public sphere, and making direct references to the manifestation of the virtual, this intellectual violence releases intriguing excess and lack into the field of representation. This intrigue is not to be valued as a virtue, but rather as the raw flux of the virtual from which virtue might be synthesized. And the virtual here must be carefully distinguished from the Kantian nuomenal. This is not a transgression of the epistemological norms of Kantianism, but rather a diagonal escape from that conceptual constellation.   

The destabilization of argument norms should be executed with caution.  It should proceed with the commitment to the positivity of a new synthesis.  Here we are interested in a substitution of politics for art. The surging of the image becomes a manifestation of the thing itself. But the thing is excessive in a way that can never be political – perhaps it can only ever be an object of awe and wonder.  This breaks from a more domestic contest into a wilder contest where the terms are less determined. This affirms the game or contest overall, but recreates it by substituting these dimensions which had been segregated into separate market sectors.  This is not about political art, but rather art that parasites off the political, and maybe kills its host.  

Kant says we only have access to the image and not the thing itself, but at some threshold this reverses so that we only have access to the image which is the thing itself.

Bergson conceived evolution as an instinctual divergence. This can be reinterpreted as a flight from the Darwinian contest of financial cybernetics. This makes tradition into an evolutionary flight passing between heterogeneous situations. The virtual nuomena becomes the mercurial “tra” which is expressed in translation, transposition, and travel.  A substance that is ephemeral as such.

In Bodies in Pain (1984), Elaine Scarry described how the deficiencies of symbolic institutions resulted in the torture practices of the 1970s. It was as if the inadequacy of language called forth a supplement of violence. There was a crisis of symbolic authority that had to do with the new world order that emerged as the IMF became the repo man. The liminal economy that was discovered by Scarry may have relevance beyond the ethical questions of violence.

The body has been decorporealized or excarnated through commercial technology to the point where its substantiality requires an insurgence of the ephemeral. It becomes imperative that substance can incarnated at a more dematerialized level. Something like Kantian normativity has been applied so far as to force a backlash of radical spirituality. By some yet unexplained dialectical turn, it would seem that the rationalist ghost-hunt of developmental positivism has made us into ghosts. 

This is an overdetermined perversion of Jevons’s marginalism – those thresholds on supply-demand graphs where utility benefits are reversed. Convergence on the Darwinian form of competition provokes the backlash of a Bergsonian divergence. Suddenly we found ourselves preferring guns to butter. This reversal must be conceived at a virtual level, so that the actuality of what is reversing can remain undertermined.  This is similar to Walter Benjamin’s dialectic in critique of violence, with the reversal from positive law into natural law.    

This thinking can only proceed at some levels of abstraction where thought becomes a flickering of concepts and figures like in Godard’s essay films.  The phenomenal which gets sacrificed here shares some family resemblances with the Sellarsian “myth of the given”.  But this sacrifice has to be enacted at a particular historical juncture. This is not the “myth of the given” in general, but rather the kind of normativity that arose where the legacy of Darwinian evolution became involved with the cybernetics movement. A coup was struck when Frederic Hayak invoked to the pre-critical metaphysics of Adam Smith and gave birth to the ludic actualism of contemporary financial imperialism.    

This sacrifice forces an altercation in something like the dynamics of mimesis. The mirroring that worked through the phenomenal-actual relation is not destroyed, but gets displaced into the imperceptible. This abandonment leaves an absolute mimesis of life with itself, as if life in its sovereignty had to become two, which is something like the medieval doctrine of the king’s two bodies. Where life loses its apparent model, then it has to become its own non-apparent model. This is a shift to a more absolute immanence.

The phenomena would reach its holocaust in the simulacrum of the digital. Some competitive body’s lack of substance would reach a limit where it incinerates into the ether. This donum would destroy the illusion of substance in the empirical phenomena, so that the need for substance is relocated into the noumenal, what is rather more precisely called the virtual.

This could be a turn in metaphysics where there is an incarnation of the virtual. It would break the spell of actual immediacy, that cruel obsession of presence.

A flesh of memory instead of perception. This would dissolve the barriers between concepts and figures, since that apartheid is implicated with the defensive structure of the phenomenal. The flesh becomes rare traces of an immemorial nature, and this might in turn be identified as something “symbolic” or “structural”, though of course these terms would assume an original sense. This would be the body of a tradition which is only a transposition.

What were formerly called concepts are dissolved into the weight of the flesh. This flesh could be named nature, matter, or mother – but we must reach the point where the distinction of these names doesn’t matter. These names point towards a distant corporeal memory. The ideal of platonism becomes corpuscular, the micro-material of the paleolithic.

The sacrifice of the same provides a relief, like the zenith in an undulation of pressure that moves from same to other. The other assumes the burden of evolutionary divergence.

A divergent nature which only manifests as disruption. A memory-body that periodically throbs – intermittences of the heart.

The phenomenal was parochial, and assumed excessive burdens of responsibility. Pressure moves onto a greater plane of composition. A more inclusive plane where greater ontological differences coexist. But such a broader composition is threatened by sensitivities where the old phenomenal flesh might be triggered.

This requires the construction of an artifice which we call second-order sensitivity. Splitting occurs at thresholds in the psychological immediacy of affectation. Second-order sensitivity is a reflexive mediation of that sensitivity. This mediation implies the intervention of something which fuses the conceptual and the figural. This does not eliminate pain, but reduces it below the threshold of splitting. This greater composition gets mediated with the figure of maternal holding, and with the anthropological concept of spirit possession.

Sensitivity can be figured as twitch-trigger, wound, trauma, stigma, taboo, abjection, shame, pathos. These affects are implicated with the suffering of amour propre. These are affects of the losers, failures, victims, and casualties.  They are felt in the welfare lines, concentration camps, and hospital wards.  

The sensitivity is a breach within a field of appearances. Appearances are inherently exposed at some opening, but those openings are disavowed, so there is sensitivity about the threat of its return. The opening is the exposure to the uncertainty of the nuomenal.

Mediation changes perspectives on the breach, so that it can be perceived from outside, or so that it can be perceived sub specie aeturnitus. Mediation makes it possible to endure the uncertainty of the nuomenal. When we are situated inside the appearances, then the opening is threatening. The interior perspective of the wound gets doubled with an external perspective.

The wound is umbilical, genital, oral, anal, optical, manual… as if every breeze expressed the deep alienation of nature.

From inside the contest, maternity is alienable. This is to say that it’s split between concept and figure. The interior is established by disavowal. But from an exterior perspective, maternity becomes the weight of substance. This substance is situated beyond the horizon, where it makes concepts and figures diverge from themselves, rather than diverging from each other. It’s a divergent substance inherent in all things. That is duration. Here we go mother on a shipless ocean…

Neither text nor image, but the mixing of traces through the subtle movement of perspective. The crypto-communion of the maternal phallus. This chemistry proceeds through the calisthenics of memory: telescoping, defocusing, contracting, dilating, rotating, fading… a substance generated in a dark room. This puts the Bergson back into Bazin.

Reification returns as a pivotal term. But its connotation changes as we drift away from ideological concerns.

It was as though all the languages ever spoken contained a total of one word, and its expression was reloading for another round at some fatal monte carlo game contrived by wayward quantum physicists.

The move from Kantian mediation to Hegelian mediation. From mediation of the thing, to mediation as the thing.

The discourse of early modernity is like a carousel that revolves eternally: nature, society, virtue, fortune, property, love, fear, survival. The machine only works with the compliant parts. Like if you want to restore an old car, you need to find suitable components.

A crude theory of translation assumes a clean distinction of signifier and signified. Then it’s a simple matter of changing the signifiers, while keeping the signifieds the same. But a more refined translation attempts to translate the signifiers. Then the material of the letter is no mere instrument, but is rather implicated with the essence of expression. This is where language grows hospitable towards the nonsense of its own image.

The gauging of this sacrifice can be approached as an ontological problem. The phenomenal gets sacrificed because its implicated with transcendent models of play. What remains is not immanence, but rather another transcendence, which is that of physiology.

There has often been made a naïve assumption that the phenomenal was immanent while the noumenal was transcendent. This conceptual alignment must be destroyed for the sake of an immanent noumena.

The fleeting phenomena were only the stunt doubles of the real actors who’d been displaced onto another hidden dimension. The real actors had been displaced by entertainment and special effects. Nature was the real actor, the real artifice, who was displaced by these entertainers with their artificial realities.

I may be running, but I’m looking for a weapon”

Parataxis – the moment of recognition, reversal – the shift from flight to pursuit. Lack and excess change places. Achteon and Diana?

The sanguine American bearing the gift of magnanimity. Investors are always looking for returns. Their gifts are like munus-weapons, and they should be met with the sacrificial donum.

The geopolitics of relational moods: charisma, jest, emotional work, pity, reckless passions…. mood as felt by others. A moral economy ensues after sacrificing the concept “division of labor”.

The dangers of sacrificing of appearances. Divergence requires vigilance. Don’t let history diverge into concepts like the history of perception, narrative, intellect, institutions, technology etc. And be wary of the schizophrenia of “historical ontologies”. Perhaps better to hold history together as one series of punctuated divergence in itself. There is no plot or direction. It’s continuity rests on molecular elements of the historical.

Divergence is the purposeless sense of no one. All narrations, figures and concepts are threatened from within by divergence. They are possessed by divergence which causes them to lose their nominal positioning.

The inherent divergence of propriety. Not a divergence of parts or aspects from each other, but a divergence of the very sameness of the same from itself as such.

This primary divergence of the same goes eternally unapprehended. Underway in the ground of things. Not a difference between identities, but a difference inherent to any identity. Duration.

Divergent history unravels sense into nonsense. This death drive of realism. But of course it calls for the counter-movement of Eros.

Death as reality is resisted by Eros as artifice. The erotic cliché comes as a punctuated strike to mark a turning point.

Figure/ground, artifice/reality, signal/noise… Eros/Thanatos.

The parasite scurries away, but long after its gone we still hear the gnawing of impropriety. That vibration reduces everything to divergent refuse. Nature was the greatest parasite of all.

The clichés of life-love flashed up from the sea of diverging darkness.

Elan Vital was the polite disguise of Elan Morose. That maternal force of divergence was channeled into the positive energy of commerce where it masked itself as love.

Play becomes insidious wherever it’s a matter of survival.

Eros/Thanatos – subjectivity was conjured  on that distinction. An elementary hermeneutic where something flashes against the ground of meaningless drift.

Thanatos is the momentum of maternal divergence, while Eros is the leap into story time.

A story without plot, where concepts are confused with figures. The story fetish that is always getting caught on something. The story that only moves on in little stumbles. This story gets its form from the non-story. Always stalling on the vigil of the nonstory, the mise-en-scene. The figure receives its cast from the ground. The ground is panic, flight, clinamen, exogamy. There’s a commercial need for innovation and originality. Like the driving away of the first son in Tibetan families. Or the Platonic fear of demiurgical plagiarism.

Death-mirror, life-mirror. Neuronal dispositions. The traces of symmetry dissolve at the opening to an intangible, immemorial body. Old habits die hard.

 

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Political Fetishes

University lecturers in mainland china are instructed not to discuss politics. This blanket term obviously includes various sensitive topics, like the contested territories around the periphery of people’s republic, as well as controversies surrounding the issue of human rights and the sensational incidences where they were alleged to have been violated.

But aside from these explicitly forbidden topics, there remains an abstract question about this sensitivity. What about the general process whereby these sensitive topics have emerged as such? This concerns the fantasies of relations which are activated through natal imagery. Desire is sustained through the images of property relations. This moves Rousseau’s “amour propre” into international relations. A host of pathologies are generated around the activation and deactivation of these relations.

The political fetish is a disposition towards the limits of representation. These are the extremes of speech, but also of figuration and tolerance. These are the limits where the itinerary of sense composes and decomposes. The sense of propriety is retained within the boundaries where figures and concepts are filtered and screened against these limits.

Politics then refers to the limits beyond which the sense of property is disrupted by other senses. The determined values of the community disintegrate into a threshold of nonsense where things are “up in the air” because they are contested. The political fetish marks the border that holds back that disintegration.

Declaring something “political” situates in a risky zone of pathological excitation. This deterioration of sense at the edges of contest would be the real of the Lyotardian differend.

The contest is essentially parallax, which means that its definition depends on perspective. The forces which generate this disruption are predominantly industrial. Industry develops social relations into work contests – but that perception is contingent on the mercurial nebulae of image composition.


Populations relate through their struggles over resources, positions, and awards. But we won’t hasten to dignify this relation as symbolic. Work is rather an imaginary relation which generates idleness as its antithesis. The fetish is neither work nor idleness, but a medium that shifts between them. This doubling resonates with the ethno-metaphysics of caste and gender.

In the regime of the contest, vital energy gets sexualized and desexualized. The positivity of the contest – the value of success – can be reified as a property of nature. This mirage of reification establishes an artificial sense of normativity.

If contestants take the contest too seriously – if they rely too heavily on the reification which confuses its norms for nature – then the threshold of the fetish breaks and the contest slides into the abyss. The sense of the contest is unnatural, and following its movement too far leads to its collapse. The contest gets exhausted at an ontological limit.

The political fetish makes the normative into the natural. This involves a synthesis between the directness of sense and the obliquity of nonsense. The normativity of the contest has to do with the normativity of language. Especially this concerns how the symbols of language are possessed by the imaginary maternal phallus.

Language philosophies attempt to naturalize the normativity of language. The political question here concerns how sense is generated through pragmatic operations. The functional reduction of language is an idealization which promotes compulsion. This exclusion of the maternal image from language. The nonsense of idleness enriches the ontology of language with a more natural antithesis. The form-of-life becomes the duplicity of the thing and its representation, which correspond with the male and female phallus. Here we reach a code where this becomes perception-memory, actual-virtual and present-past. The male side is like an Aristotelian instrumentality, whereas the female side is like Platonist reverie.

This attributes a more radical transition to language, so it’s no longer strictly symbolic or linguistic in any limited sense, while it becomes iconic and indexical. The thing is doubled with its language-images from which it cannot be separated. Instead of merely having the power to discuss images, language has to find a threshold where it becomes an image. This could be something musical or something hung on the wall.

This moves language into a threshold of the political. This is shifting the filter of the fetish. The territory of property assumes a segregation of the conceptual from the figural.

Henri Bergson proposed an original model of nature as divergence. This argument is based on the great divergences in evolutionary history, such as those between animals and plants, or vertebrates and invertebrates. These ‘actualizations’ are driven by a vital force which replaces the Darwinian models of competitive adaptation. The sense of the contest of reconceived through the return of Bergsonian evolution.

So a problematic arises concerning divergence and Darwinian normativity. The correct approach is not so much a divergence from normativity – we shouldn’t play with prepositions – but rather a normativity that is itself divergent. This requires a conversion from a spatial to a temporal conception of the normative.

Competition can be understood as a normal behavior. Industrial life is organized into competitions which are appropriate or inappropriate for different populations.

Populations are drawn into these normal competitions. Here we are less interested in discussing empirical contests, and more in making generalizations about their transcendental form. Contests are situated around four areas which are athletics, performance, parliaments, and markets. The contests in these areas cross-pollinate, and through the exchange of codes there emerge normative models of the contest. There emerges a transcendental territorial form that we shall call ‘placing’.

Michel de Certeau distinguished place from space. Space was the neutral continuum modeled in math and science, while place was more related to discourses of humanism. The humanist attraction of place made it appear benign.

The humanist assumption that people live in “places” corresponds with the naturalist assumption that animals live in habitats. So placing assumes a rhetoric of normativity, such that places are valued as the sites where people belong. Habitat becomes a naturalist analogue for bourgeois property, as the place where the instincts are at home.

Places can be like territorial traps, where populations are caught in customary struggles for positions. This goes unthought like an ancient habit. We just assume that everywhere are places, but we never think about what this means. Living can mean finding a place, or taking a place.

In English we have some verbs to express what people can do to a place – inhabit, dwell, occupy, frequent, visit, sojourn, traverse. The semantics of these verbs treats the place is as an object. The important thing is to deconstruct whatever naive metaphysics these terms might imply so that their opacity is revealed. We shall be concentrating on the affects which might get attached to these expressions.

Populations are affected by their placing in relative positions. People feel they are in the right place, or in the wrong place. This kind of judgment could be psychological, aesthetic, economic, ethical, political… or natural.

At a superficial level, this concerns the habits of perception, but more profoundly this concerns the ontology of embodiment. What we refer to as “the gaze” can be defined simply as the imaginary power of the crowd which threatens individuals with abjection.

A place is an imaginary space where the gaze is already there. Perhaps we could say that the gaze creates the place. If we go into the place, then the pressure of the gaze disposes our bodies.

According to this conception, places would be unnatural. They are artifices that imply the power of expression, where the language-image is attached to thing, and this linkage is constitutive of territory. The term “gaze” suggests optical connotations, but here we emphasize its acoustic aspects. The sensitive political assemblage that concerns us here is sonic and spatial. It attempts to naturalize competition along this axis.

Place is habit, where as time is memory. An absolute memory becomes a principle of anarchist politics. Instinctual sovereignty depends on access to an immemorial time – a time that exceeds the forms of humanistic memory.

During the structuralist phase of psychoanalysis, there was an inflation of the symbolic. The determination of the symbolic was extended too far that this concept lost its sense and value. In order to recover this term, its necessary to assume the rarity of structural relations. Like the symbolon of the ancient world, the structural should be reserved for the most intricate and consequential of correspondences. The symbol is the mythical key whose painstaking recovery is the endeavor of ages. The key which opens this prison of humanistic memory?

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Commercial Antiquity

This vaguely Shakespearean drama turns between property and wilderness.

The youths were lured away into the masochism of development and reduced to busybodies under the fear of alienation. The remaining inhabitants sorted recycling or clung to their stained robes and sulking zithers. The habitat was ruined by the swell of artifice, but what rose from the debris?

As the antique was vanquished by property development, a subtle quintessence leaked into the atmosphere. A jigsaw matrix was playfully composing beyond the ends of industry.  Sensitive settlements were disturbed by the erratic shifting of neutral gazes. To dispel those ambient abstractions filtering through their estate walls, the settlers resorted to the ancient ban on fetishes.

The more adventurous of the subproletarians continued to indulge in the commerce of neutral perspectives. They transacted in rare differences which never registered in concepts. These deviants still paid public tributes to the symmetry of sex, and to the similitude of the neojesuit professions. Honorific gestures were made to the metaphors of scientific structure. Yet beneath this semblance of compliance stirred a montage of abstract relations.

The cult of property was quietly losing its monopoly on structural dignity, as the phantasms of older differences returned to disrupt the segmentation of markets. Property was dissolving into a river of mercury which refracted through duration and geography.

The plague was spreading through education. This was a regression of schooling back into the abstraction of its origins, where instinctual anomalies stirred among the uncanny family of religion and politics. The supposed modernity of that profession provided a disguise for ancient mental passions exiled in industry. Secular exile is an open field where the differences between neutral perspectives are expressed in abstract imagery.  These are monstrous differences which emerge through crystal resonances and allegorical play.

The conformism of industrial education isolates the raw expression of instinct as exceptional, which can mean exalted or stigmatized. But normativity is only a means for the coupling of monetary values and student grades. This mirroring of education and finance doubles the generational mirror between parents and children. Instinct gets arrested through a subterranean Sophoclean drama where a vulnerable paternity emerges as the mirror reflection of the children.  Grading sensitizes the students to the alienability of property, so they can be manipulated analogically in a Pavlovian manner.

The enlightenment bequeathed an assumption that passive learners should be awakened. That assumption followed the sense of a history that was articulated around awakening-events such as resurrections, renaissances, restorations, and revolutions. This assumes an activist ideal of student autonomy which is implicated with charisma. The teacher was cast as a charismatic figure who inspired the autonomy of the student. But this ideal of autonomy was a sensation-trap which captures instinct in spectacle.

Oriented within the industrial schematic, student behavior polarizes into extremes of activity and passivity. The passive students are those who ignore the bait of optimization. They maintain only the minimum level of performance required to graduate. They are not intimidated by the alienability of property. Through the veins of these passive students flows that antique mercury which is called nature, those cold winds of infinity that scatter the simulation like dust.

Impersonal passivity is what physics calls momentum, and what psychology calls habit. Here this refers to a mode of exile where customary ideals of agencies are abandoned.  This secular exile is a dispossession of customary spirituality, which clears the opening for a repossession by an older spirituality.  Only a profound exile can dissolve the striation of the industrial organism and reach the consistency in the micro-physics of depth where molecular movements exceed the semantics of industry. This natural matrix of the molecular withdraws behind the concept of atmosphere.

Charisma is a name for a customary spirituality of romantic modernity, or a kind of conceptual yoke for the arresting of instinct.  Industrial education is ambivalent towards that spirituality which it may invoke for various purposes, which is often like a vital sign or mating signal. But charisma can be insubordinate because it rallies in the exteriority of the wilderness, and ossifies when drawn into the industrial mirror. This contradiction could be summarized by saying that industry is a domestic activity which relies on a wild passivity.

The mirror of industry distinguishes the ethnic from the technical on the basis of a financial pragmatics. The predominant discourse of the political approaches this problem. Technicality is coded as neutral, whereas the ethnic is partisan. This is a moving distinction which is articulated to manage the distances between neighbors. A technicality might become ethnic, like when some protocol gets associated with a certain national regime.

But antique commerce reverses this coupling, so that the technical becomes partisan and the ethnic becomes neutral.  To put this in Heideggerian terms, the technical becomes a realm of guiding conceptuality, whereas the ethnic becomes an instinctual grounding. Ethnicity is passive in that it cannot be known consciously or treated pragmatically. The ethnic instinct becomes a Kantian noumena in its essential unavailability. This diffuses the obsessional ethno-politic by concealing the ethnic behind the Veil of Isis. As a mystery of nature, ethnicity cannot be politicized.  Though some abstract analysis may still be possible…

Commercial circuits are animated by the blurring of the domestic and foreign. This is to say that exports and imports mask each other. Stating this more generally, the circuits of the commodity are stimulated through the blurring of what gets separated in the representation of time and space. Images of modernity mask the orgies of antiquity, just as domestic voices are masks for foreign landscapes.

Students are motivated by the dual prospect of going abroad and developing their homeland. Beyond this disjunction lies the mystery of a foreign homeland. The unmasking of instinct occurs at the limit of industrial alienation where the fetish is liberalized.

An antique commerce stirs beneath the codes of industry. But the surfacing of that natural movement depends on the structuring of fetish functions. Industry attempts an abjection of nature, by reducing nature to abstract signs which are like mere hormonal signals. But real nature returns as nothing more than an abstraction – but that abstraction turns out to be vastly more complex and dynamic than anything industrial.

This complication of nature and industry insists in the problem human trafficking.  There is a subliminal shaming of prostitution, which orients all industrial activities. In order to remain legitimate, education has to conceal its proximity with human trafficking, but therein lies the instinctual antiquity of its vocation. Perhaps the movement of nature is concealed in the shameful passivity of human trafficking, where there is an indistinction between traffickers and trafficked.

The industrial regime dismisses the shameful autism of instinct, but education counters this dismissal with realism. The fetish screens an otherwise traumatic movement. It overcomes the traumatic truth of being passively trafficked along with the overwhelming vertigo of sea-sickness. Fetishes are like rolls of film that pass through the abyss where experience exceeds the subjective. This concerns a dramaturgical experience on a modality that we refer to as the millennium. This is a sacramental machinery which operates in the ground of subjectivity. The surfacing of that machinery is the millennial interruption of the subjective.

The drama of tyranny and liberty is a signature of the millennium. The millennium is the threshold where the experience of agency is transferred into the modality of artifice. This is where the experience of a real struggle against tyranny becomes theatrical.

The tyrant marks the field of representation with ethnic traits.  When Chinese films are screened overseas, the spectators naturally seek out signs of dissent. They are attracted to the suffering of oriental martyrs – the passion of lives given to bring an end to the law.

The anachronism of this baroque drama provides audiences with a reassurance that familiar political conditions remain intact. The early modern returns as the kitsch of the reassuring oriental despot. These fetishes provide artificial paths through the financial abyss which is otherwise a desert without semantic content. But these superficial nationalist dramas are susceptible to disruption. Composition beyond the limits of industry requires the augmentation in the function of the fetish. An absolute millennial experience requires a mise-en-abyme where the artifice of political-economy gets revealed as such.

The industrial regime distinguishes “autonomy” from “automation”, but the etymological proximity of these terms points to a conceptual identity. The subjects of economic liberalism are compelled to make vital signs to obfuscate the automation of their autonomy. They must perform the ideas of a freedom which is active and rational. The simulation has to be mediated so it gets charged with instinct. It would seem that instincts are attracted by natural verisimilitude. Fetishes provide this figuration through the filtering which lets in some instinctual turbulence from the outside.

Industry is vulnerable where the verisimilitude of the simulation gets disrupted. Missionaries in the east complain about the insincerity of their converts. They say the indigenous populations of Asia seek Christianity merely as a way of fitting into commercial relations. This complaint has a familiar ring. Perhaps those missionaries are blinded by hypocrisy. Perhaps they are too parochial to recognize the authenticity of the converts. The kinship of mission and trade has the antiquity of the spice route where religion was always a commercial endeavor.

The name “antique commerce” designates an excess of instinct beyond the representations of industry. This commerce surfaces when radical fetishes disrupt representation. Another order of image returns as an iconic negation of the industrial text. This is a symbolic disaster where the lack and excess of meaning are indistinguishable.

One can never be a fetishist themselves. Fetishists are always others – they are the ones who confuse themselves for things. Their varieties can be distinguished as ethnic stereotypes. For example, Jews confuse themselves for letters, Catholics for icons, and Protestants for spirits. Though the winds of antiquity scatter the molecules that compose these roles.  Commercial antiquity is symbolized by that iridescent shimmering.

Confucius says that measure and means are the extremes of man. That extreme middle is the fetish where the exception supplements the norm. Strangely familiar doubles interrupt each other. The mind gets abolished by science, but then gets awakened by reflexive awareness. The supplement goes both ways at the same time: progress and regress, projection and introjection – thing for mind, and mind for thing.

Qianmu, the last Song Confucian, says that a pendulum swing never comes to rest at the center. The mind only exists in displacement, and yet it posits a center for orientation. Industrial representation projects its sublime end as a vanishing point beyond the horizon.

Chinese and bourgeois immanence share a family trick where the good is supplemented with evil. This creates a dramatic irony where that ideal object is secretly the unruly subject in a negative vital state. Industry exiles its mind into the past and future. This absence of the mind drives the search for substitutes. And from a further neutralized perspective, technology is secretly death crudely disguised as life.

Industry captures populations in the contest of mind and thing. The contradiction of prejudice and promiscuity forms the apex of liberal sovereignty. Industrial casts a spell of the humanist authority of the other – a conflation of tribe, business and neighbors. Antique commerce suspends this regime through a negation of consumption. The ascetic negation of sedentary consumerism – the withdrawal into the desert in search of another Other.

The contamination of immanence spreads through the oral intensities of a dark communion. The bonds of industry are broken by the swell of artifice. Antique commerce returns as a choice of death by the mysterious gift of worklessness.

The esoteric nature of the commodity is better appreciated in formerly communist regions. Commercial orgies are like church services where the sacerdotal function has dispersed into a mediating constellation of judgment. Industry shames these psychopompic ventures as an idleness that won’t ever realize its potential.

Antique commerce cannot be experienced directly because experience beyond industrial representation has become impossible. The industrial regime has achieved absolute sovereignty over representation, experience and existence. These ontological dimensions have been annexed to the transcendence of its biopolitical authority. This means that antique commerce can only be mourned.

Industrial experience reaches its limit at the shores of immanence where the intellect is abandoned to the infinity of its own alterity. There begins the mourning of the mind.

Biopolitics is obsessed with the taboo objective beyond representation, the phantasm that the fetish screens. Art modulates that pathology, so that obsession becomes mourning.

The threshold at the limit of industry is a field of fragments. The obsessional feels the fragment is an honor-wound which demands a semantic dressing that can compensate for or excuse its missing wholeness. Stories are told to excuse the absence. The existentialist quest for authenticity is similar to this obsession with honor. Existential philosophers belong to a family of fatalists which includes barbarians and naturalists. They attempt to explain or narrativize the fragment, to accommodate death into the order of the symbol, whereas antique commerce is a trafficking in positive fetishes whose incompleteness remains conspicuous.

This problem of industrial death can be processed through the metaphysics of aging. Here aging is a process of abstraction where the fracture of representation spreads through flesh, page, speech, perception, earth… the enigma nullifies value. The iridescence of decay expresses the pregnancy of representation with an excess of perspective. That light from beyond is an impossibility that can only be mourned.

Representation disintegrates between health and law. This mustn’t be taken as a subjective problem, but rather an objective one. It should be insinuated as part of a tenuous institutional economy, where representation shuffles through rigorous attention to its own procedures of valuation. This sensitive problem motivates modern regimes of censorship. The shimmering of the wound shuffles the elements of experience.

The enigma is a shamanic field where the poles of industrial value are confused. There is a confusion of wounding and healing. The shuffling of representation around the opening heals and wounds at the same time. This is a becoming of the wound. We might call this a festering, though it can be a pristine shuffling of symbolic elements.

This hermeneutic of the wound supersedes the clinical hermeneutic of the symptom. The wound is nuomenal in the Kantian sense which means essentially unavailable for cognition.  This makes it an object of attitude or disposition, as well as composition. This concerns how populations are disposed around the sensitive opening of representation. That disposition is essentially pathological, which runs between the clinical poles of obsession and mourning. Adopting an aesthetic idiom, we can describe this pathology as affected, mannered, histrionic, sentimental, nostalgic or melodramatic. The pathology mustn’t be disavowed, but rather abstracted through the medium of the fetish, which possesses in an enigmatic manner.

It becomes necessary to study the way that industry treats the wounds of representation so that a more abstract mourning can be assimilated into conventional treatments. The fetish must be adjusted in order to resist the splitting of disavowal. This makes the wound into the object of a strange piety or enigmatic affectation.

Abstraction renders the wound enigmatic as it withdraws into a conceptual nebula of bodily holes. These include natural holes like pores, cavities, cracks and orifices, along with artifices like piercings, incisions, surgeries, and other breaches of the body made for cosmetic and medical purposes.

At the end of industrial life, existence dissipates into abstraction. This is the exhaustion of finite possibility before the continuum of the infinite. Utility is the bandage of industrial representation. Obsession reduces the mind to an automation where it plays dead or plays thing.

Obsessional automation spreads through the lure of competition. The financial analyst Nassim Taleb takes free market spirituality back to its origins in Roman cruelty. George Bataille similarly wrote, “the principle of contestation is one of those upon which Maurice Blanchot insists as a foundation”. Liberal dominion turns around the ceremonial order of the contest. The bait of antagonism is hung along the frontiers of development to attract populations into the regime.

The contest facilitates semantic plotting, such as the commentary in sports, politics and economics. It also facilitates humor because its sense is readily reversed. Athletics can become ridiculous at any instant. Liberal ambivalence reaches an apotheosis in the idea of performance, where deception is posited as the cause of development. This is perhaps the ultimate running office joke.

The performance-contest disavows the wound of representation. It’s configuration is drawn from the wars of early modernity, so that its origins are concealed in geohistorical depth. The inalienability of the enigma provides an antithesis to the alienability of the contest. The inalienability of the enigma spreads through waves of cheapening immanence where intensities and values are minimized.

The spectacle draws aesthetic powers from the disavowal of the wound. It concentrates energy into genital drives by coding bodies as sexual or abject. This mysterious symbol of reproduction is a bait that lures instinctual energy. The phallus is a cruel synthesis were voluptuous energy is yoked into the financial work of producing extra enjoyment.

The energy of the enigma can be contained in seasonal costumes, depending on whether it’s going on the cross, on the market, or in the election. These guises are contingent on the semantics of industry which depends on the functional coding of the inoperative. Common guises of the inoperative include hobbies, waste, children, animals, disabilities, elderly, refugees and matter.

Industry treats the inoperative as both a resources and dangerous entropy. The industrial fetish screen is structured through the liturgy of health-ideals. The escape from industrial semantics requires an exodus where the energy of the wound slips discreetly from the plane of content onto the plane of expression. The spell of industry is broken by adopting its expression without content.

The ubiquity of a strange America makes for an uncanny globalization. The poor masses continue to believe America is the affluent future. This leads to a Platonic masquerade at the customs office. Is that a real copy of American sex, or just a simulacra? Inconspicuous figures of abjection provide vessels for the smuggling of infinity. Fetishes contain the semantic excess of perspective. Antique commerce is conducted beneath the codes of industry.

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Wandering Shelter

George Bataille treated “sacrifice” as an antithesis of modern rationality. This way of thinking assumes that sacrifice takes conceptuality as its implicit object, and so it opens an aporia which eclipses discourse.  What concerns us in the following is a sacrificial aufhbung of the concept of habitat. This term “habitat” refers to an imaginary property relation at the foundation of ontology. This is a sensational image of the proper mediation which promotes thriving.  This concept gets eclipsed where a fourfold chasm opens between old and young, stasis and movement. The disavowal of this abyss generates the wandering shelter as a fetish. This disavowal defines a poetic translation which makes stasis into movement, and old into young.

Habitat is the crucible of conservatism where representation is anchored at its limit in images of the proper mediation which vitalizes. These are sensational ideas of life which constitute the passion of property. Worlds are founded on this equivocal nest of synecdoche and analogies which is necessarily pathological.  Representation depends on phantasmatic forgery that switches the literal for the figurative and the abstract. This substitution involves an instinctual regression to the haptic immediacy of the Living Thing. 

In the threshold between epochs, there is uncertainty concerning symbolic mandates. There is an emerging imperative to act in the current situation – this is an imperative to work, fight, perform or attend. But that imperative is refused by the inertia of the previous epoch. Throughout history there repeats a dynastic gap between the idle decadence of the old and the vigorous engagement of the young. 

The activity of the young is driven by the threat of alienation, which is the threat of displacement from a symbolic position. They try to keep in the game, but when they fall out then they are busy-bodies. But the old are not intimidated by this threat, because through the experience of displacement they have discovered an original alienation which eliminates the threat of further alienation. They attain an idea of nature which excludes the possibility of habitat, so that nature becomes an original homelessness. This idea of nature generates the wandering shelter as a fetish substitute.  

Aging is the experience of an original trauma of being-taken hostage by nature. This passion of being-carried on a witch’s broom, carried-along, carried-around, carried-away…. in the currents of nature. A fundamental disquiet or clamor where being is disturbed by becoming.  There is an experience of mimesis where instinct recognizes itself in the vagrancy of nature. Various registers of movement become indistinguishable – organic, technological, seasonal, climactic, astronomical… confused in the swirling of invisible particles.  

The vertigo of a cat in a moving vehicle. The most precious freedom is seen by the young as a shameful immobility. A kinetic-fetish of the drifting Jew.  A Jew who is paralyzed by a primary movement.  The fetish which makes movement a home.

The dynastic gap between is conceived as the aesthetic gap between late style and early style. But the artwork is just an example. There are dialectics where refinement becomes regressive. There are conspiracies where the idleness of the passé is a secret participation in original movement. 

Modernity generates tradition as an after effect, or a retroactive image of what it abolishes. The habitat is a vessel which contains instinct, and which is conceived retroactively after its supposed breaking.  The young cling naively to what they feel is a natural habitat, whereas the old enjoy an artificial replacement.     

The illusion of an original real habitat generates an instinctual phantasm. A lost territory of the Other provides a pretext for the symbolic substitution which facilitates the community of sense. This foundational alterity is the sensation of a lost real – the Eden of a proper life. The artifice of a lost real.  The lost real provides an image of the world in which the subjective egos locate themselves in relation to each other.  Thus the world is bootstrapped by the supposed narcissism of the lost Other. This ex nihilo creation is exempted from nature.  

This conceives art as a replacement for religion, where its problem is the construction of God as a container for instinct or the confused ontology of the origin. The lost origin is ambivalent in its artifice which provides a containment of the intolerable. The polymorphous perversity of infancy is the collapse of time into an overwhelming presence. The work of art functions like the maternal love involved in the dynamic transference in the Kleinian clinic. It holds the origin at a distance.

The work of art serves a “threshold function”, where it projects this ontological chaos into the illusion of a lost Eden. This conceives art as a functional replacement for religion. Art maintains the Hermetic relation with the Other who represents absolutely. It provides a habitat, an image of life, or an idea of the world.

Derrida suggested that property relations are more primary than ontology. This problem of original habitat brings us towards a Marxist cosmology.

Marx’s Capital began in the fragments from the 1844 manuscripts which discuss Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens. Timon gives away his riches to fair weather friends, who refuse to help him when he becomes destitute. In his wretched condition in the wilderness, he plans to destroy Athens by sending a plague through infected prostitutes. This plot provides elements for an original style of Marxist thinking that wouldn’t be a class struggle but rather a naturalization of the social world.  Naturalizing this troubled social relation displaces the original habitat onto another dimension.  

Alienability distinguishes the substance of capitalist society, or the natural dimension of social relations.  The inalienable then is the artifice generated by art and religion, which is the replacement for the lost habitat of the origin.  So this is a reversal of the conventional pairing, where the natural would be inalienable, and the artificial would be alienable.  The natural instead becomes the troubled social, and the artificial an inalienable phantasy generated by the phantasy of a lost origin. The inalienability of imaginary loss. 

The sovereignty of nature is anchored in the troubled identity of life and money. It is an idea of life whose essence is money. The problem is to maintain the right ambivalence towards that realm. There has to emerge a relation to that realm as a whole, as the realm where Cogitans is crucified. One must learn to rely on the sovereignty of monetary ends, and the idea of an Other who is supposed to enjoy. That monetary Other can provide relief, when it becomes a spectacle for someone else.

Phenomenologists like Levinas explored our sensory disposition towards the address of others. This orientation is deeply grounded in something like a Kantian sensus communus. But there is an emerging irony where the spectacle itself relieves us from that subjugation. The spectacle nullifies the sensus communus because it renders it artificial. The natural world is abolished by its own digital reproduction.

The spell of the spectacle is broken by something like Lukacs’s bourgeois realism. This takes an outside perspective on the spectacle, so that its pavlovian relational mechanics can be objectified. This way the spectacle remains effective as an End, while art has the task of ensuring that we are not the type of creatures who are attracted by that spectrum of light. We are attracted by a fantasy that is purified in its artifice. 

This provides an alternative to deconstructive approaches that would open a dangerous abyss. The projected end of development is the foundation of the world which is invested with tremendous energy. It holds the simulation together. The deconstruction of that end could initiate a dangerous psychosis. So instead of deconstructing the world, art should reorient us in a world for others. This way the idea of the world can remain intact, while we can avoid getting subjected to it.

This gives us a precarious constitution which is discordant with normative conditions or the natural conditions of the world. Social normativity assumes this world is for each and every one of us. It’s assumed that we are all seeking something from this world. We are interpolated with monetary praxis which assumes the objects of instinct. The problem of art is to provide a screen that exempts us from that interpolation.

The world becomes a second-order world.  This is not our world, but someone else’s. We attune to a second-order normativity.  This is  a world of others who are consumers, workers and ethno-nationalists. This natural world is formed through their rites. We live parasitically off this natural world. Our habitat is their normativity but not ours. We have no normative nature. We live artificially.  

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Baroque Mandarins

Descartes and Rousseau sip Moutai at the end of the world, when their laughter becomes unrecognizable as such.  The French call that darkness “involuntary memory”, whereas the Chinese know it as Dao.

The millennium arrives like a knock on the door. Who’s there? Margaret Thatcher and Jacques Lacan have come to announce that there are no relations. We are living in Ballard’s High Rise. But be careful because irony’s on the wrong side of commercial exile.

Confucius says that measure and means are the extremes of man. That extreme middle – 央 – is the indistinction between exception and norm. There is temptation to call this hypocrisy, but the symbolic confusion of night and day mustn’t be scandalized as transgression.  Ancient customs have little tolerance for irony. That sacred eclipsing of sense should rather be revered as a metabolism of nature. The repeatability of discourse depends on the matter of the letter, and their ecstatic substitution is the flash-point of culture where spirit becomes machine.

Common sense treats nations as interpretive contexts, but at the millennium they are revealed as cauldrons of the id. They contain those ghostly obsessions which are the ceremonial vigils of empty presence. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Here-there, here-there. These hidden mechanisms of undead nature operate secretly behind the commercial theater of ethnic play. Animation was contingent on perspective. The inevitable regression to the robot-nation of instinct is an offense to reason that makes conservatives of us all.

Saint Godard indicated this disaster when he marked digitization as the ending of time where presence becomes a stalker. But that horror is metabolized into distance and absence through the vigils of empty time. That’s the moral of the story.  Geomancy partitions the origin into the signatures of instinct.

Confucius says the friendship of mandarins is clear like water, but the friendship of commoners is sweet like honey. These are alternate ontologies of borders. The literati proliferate the mercury of virtual limits, whereas the peasantry are bound by the ontic terms of terrestrial fields.  Abandoned aristocracy despises the rulership of riches. The neutrality of water is an allegory for the opacity of presence.

Superstitious crowds are afflicted with millennial fever. In the desert of end-times, they are riled by organic attractions that promise the restoration of nature. The Kantian peasantry gets possessed be the prospect of a magic filter that restores the blue flower of a natural symbol. This sends the agrarian community on a honey-trail of Bacchic frenzy from which tail-spin there’s no return.

The renting of customary work-time reveals dramas of strangely familiar dualities. In this immanence, the solidity of representation is revealed as the inertia of appearance, whereas substance is withdrawn into the diffuse movement of fluids. This is a distinction of speed or temperature, but also of magnitude or scale, which gets expressed in the strangely familiar dualities of a returning classical metaphysics. Extensa is slow and stable enough for nomination, and its scale and proportions are suited for representation. Whereas cogitans is the mercurial eccentricity which is always too large, too small, too fast, or too complex, so that it’s only available in the fleeting flashes of Darstellung.

Baroque mandarins privilege an instinctual substance as the crucible of a regressive orthodoxy. This infantile posture gets disguised as the progressive veneration of Kantian universality. The secret behind this camouflage is the representational nullity of that substance, which is only a monadic opening of the void. The mind is a signature crack in representation made by instinct. The monstrosity of this cogitans is concealed like a trojan horse in the materiality of the unheimlich example, such that the mind is only a nocturnal doubling of phenomenal extension. Representation becomes simulacra in the swell of repetition where it’s eclipsed by its own hermeneutic excess.

Janus-philosophies maintain the modern and antique as alternate temporal orientations. Modernity projects the sublime end as a vanishing point beyond the horizon, and thus configures the age of labor as the elementary disposition of representation. The developmental time of progress implies a Renaissance perspective anchored in the ambivalence of the taboo objective. The Kantian regulative ideal shares a family resemblance with Sade’s “one more effort, Frenchmen!” A forbidden sabbath of nature keeps Tantalus enthralled. This topological orientation unifies a community of sublime ends. But the raw immanence of antiquity returns when the sabbath of instinct strikes at the millennium of midnight.

The opening of the void exposes a pantomime of strangely familiar dualities. There is a blurring of ethnic codes, so the sense of the dialectic is supersaturated in a way that verges on decadence. There are ethical dualities where the privileged term does not exclude the base term. A Chinese immanence is produced by a supplementation which modernity failed to endure. This inclusive disjunction takes us towards Deleuze’s suggestion that “it may be that the baroque will have to confront the orient profoundly”.

Qianmu, the last Song Confucian, wrote, “A pendulum swing or a cyclical process never actually comes to rest at the center, but the center is always there, and it is always still and solid as a center… the good is just the center of this constant motion, whereas evil is what exceeds or doesn’t reach it….” The pleasure of the mind only remains good when it is exiled in the reality of extensa. Samuel Beckett concured in the Unnamable, “how all becomes clear and simple when one opens an eye on the within, having of course previously exposed it to the without, in order to benefit by the contrast”.

A council of baroque mandarins convenes with Master Kong in the company of Descartes and Freud. They condense their decadent creed into a formula: alienation in the reality of extensa sustains the desire of cogitans. This code can be shifted into a deeper psychoanalytic register: alienation in the reality of consciousness sustains the pleasure of the unconscious.  Desire is the pleasure of the unconscious – the sameness of difference. These shameful formulas define the operation of a conscientiously regressive metaphysics.

Progressive modernity fails when it positivizes subjective synthesis, because that generates a residue of objective negativity which it lacks the capacity to metabolize. This causes the hedonism of industrial society to reverse into something deplorable – such as asceticism or abjection – as its codes are exhausted by realities. It fails to prepare places for the others which ravage it’s subjectivity as the returning boomerangs of objectivity. This leads to the terminal masochism of a community which submits to objective reality as its last source of suicidal pleasure. The Chinese baroque is a divergence from this community.

This fate is interrupted by the return of desiring cogitans, which is disjunctive with rational extensa. The misalignment of these dimensions teeters around like a disfunctional pair of siblings who interrupt each other.  Instinctual pleasure assumes the upper hand, but only insofar as it remains disturbed by the reality of it’s unheimlich double. Pleasure maintains precedence by yielding to its material excess. The critical difficulty is to sustain the nonsense of their disjunction. This divides enjoyment from itself, so it remains unrecognizable as such. Enjoyment is doubled. The conceptual identity of enjoyment gets abolished by the disjunctive doubling of its unity into reason and instinct.

The familiar troubles of this old pair return.  The representations of extensa are sensitive to the swooning surges of an irrational cogitans. Old blood. The baroque mandarin is a dandy who must remain hyper-sensitive to this fragility of reality before his sovereign monomanias.  Representations provide essential functions – they provide semiotic mediation that distribute intensities. But when the zenith of cogitans approaches – always at the wrong time – they are ravaged like straw dogs. The baroque mandarin is bound by representation as Odysseus was bound to the ship mast.  In clinical terms, this posture is referred to as an obsessional psychosis.

The return of early modernity could be an inevitable result of contemporary institutional technology. The liberal reign of extensa reduces institutional programming to a functional minimum of symbolic controls which are configured for robust optimizations. Thatcherism perceives the uncertainty of cogitans as a risk for technological calculations, and so it imposes the reduction to extensa, which is matter, phenomena or external nature. Cogitans is relegated further into antiquity, where it can be analyzed by specialists and provide fodder for pedagogical exercises. This antiquity is marked by allegories which are the cyphers of its obsolescence.

As development denies the expression of noumenal cogitans, that internal nature becomes a zone of repressed instinct. The Chinese baroque is a subtle regression to that earlier phase of modernity where something mysterious and infantile was still expressible. It defines an intoxicating channel of null symbols which are vehicles for antique instincts. On some higher synthesis the swelling of cogitans interferes with the res extensa of the prevailing institutional dogmas of positivism and normativity.

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Natural Cinema

The cinema has been a frontline in the long contest between memory and machine. This is a struggle for freedom. But only historical interpretation can distinguish which is the side of liberty. Sometimes it appears that freedom is on the side of memory and against the automations of technology. This is taken for granted by liberal partisans of a natural past as a simple romance. Then the good spectators are those who slip away into reveries which express the forces of instinct, while the poor spectators remain plugged to the screen which controls their every contemplation. But the reification of this arrangement for granted easily becomes a liability. Conservative critics complain that the idealization of instinctual imagination causes a schizophrenic neglect of coherence. The trains of involuntary memory lead to whimsical decadence that lacks the gravity of serious concerns. Psychoanalysts would say the pleasure of the instincts abolishes the reality of the ego.

Adorno addressed this problem. He explained how the idealization of instinct overlooks the history of how these terms have reversed. Nature was once the realm of necessity that technology liberated people from. This means that a return to nature would be a regression to an earlier order of necessity. But this does not mean we should give up on nature. Rather it means that nature and technology are implicated dialectically. This means siding with a nature that emerges through technology, which jangles the chains of machinery. Speaking formulaically, this means supplementing the partisanship of nature with an ambivalence towards representation.

The natural cinema names a site for this supplemented naturalism. The spectators are partisan towards nature, while ambivalent towards subjective representation. This representation occurs on various levels, which include the mirroring of spectators with dramatic characters, the identification of images with texts, and the comprehension of narrative. More generally speaking, this concerns the recognition of experience. Someone’s taste in film can be identified with genres which correspond with lifestyle profiles. Natural spectators wouldn’t negate these representations, but rather suspend their efficacy by exposing them to the opening of nature at their foundations.

A natural cinema could never be popular because it doesn’t provide any experience that could be valued on a mass market. Spectators who are seeking representation leave the natural cinema feeling deprived. They fidget around in their seats. They united in their bewilderment and deride what they have seen in cliched terms. They are unanimous about the inferiority of the natural cinema.

A crowd of customers arrive at the ticket window demanding refunds. This puts the vendor in an uncomfortable position, where he must account for the value of this commodity. He needs to explain the operation of the natural cinema in a way that the crowd can accept. His only recourse at this point is to make a desperate appeal to religion. It was Deleuze who affirmed that the cinema was a catholic institution. This is to say that modern people attend the cinema for the same obscure reason that their ancestors had gone to church.

Pressed for further clarification, the poor ticket seller explains how the cinema operates an economy in the medieval sense, where communities are bound through the ritual enactment of sacrificial trauma. The modern age has reduced the ancient rite of sacrifice to that flickering of representations. Sensing the obvious dissatisfaction of the customers with his explanation, the vendor declares that the cinema is no place for satisfaction.

Heidegger articulated the sacramental operation in secular terms. Beyond the limits of subjectivity there lies the gloomy realm of affect. This is a Hadean dimension of negative feelings which include boredom, fatigue, vertigo, nausea, suffering, frustration, anxiety, pain and trauma. Those sensations preexist subjectivity and cannot be represented, and so they become the unavowable ground of representation. The ancient mysteries of the church were conventions for the grounding of subjectivity in these immutable affects. The ceremonies position the affects within the order of representation. Through this attunement the horrible feelings become the basis for subjective feelings such as emotions.

The cinema is a modern sacrament which provides the affective attunement that grounds subjectivity. This is to say that it provides the “ambience” which interested Eric Rohmer whose movies are so uneventful. The source of this ambience is not merely the projections on the screen, as it pervades the environment around where the screening takes place. The problem of situating the audience within this ambience is the business of hosting. That is a mise-en-scene that orients the spectators within the borders of a cinematic experience.

The cinematic experience begins with a subliminal orientation which stages a dialectic of freedom and necessity. The host is doubled into these two personas, and the tension between them charges the environment with sacramental power. The Enlightenment is a tradition where communities are hosted by Knowledge, whereas Romanticism follows the Hobbesian custom of the rustic host who enthralls the guests with Myth. They are each both realist and idealist by turns. The ambience is charged through a dramatic transference.

The operation of the sacramental metabolism requires the participation of the audience in the ambivalent mode of the masquerade. The projections on the screen are masks which allow the spectators to experiment with the limits of subjectivity. Affect is unmoored from representation so that its symbolic orientation becomes mobile. The materiality of film empties experience of semantic and pragmatic necessity. But this sacrifice of the reality principle is sacrificed in turn.

A pathetic male ascetic hobbles across the eye-line. Hes a cursed figure who embodies the very impurity he denies. His dramatic transitivity makes the compass spin. Oriental asceticism is implicated with the pathologies of occidental development. The monk’s reputation for wisdom is tarnished when they appear aligned with economic austerity, especially when such alignment bears the marks of a destiny. This drama sweeps through the unconscious, disrupting the developmental gaze and leaving a new wilderness in its wake. This is a conversion of sovereign transcendence to schematic immanence.

A caravan swerves through a territory of sedentary establishments. Sedentary societies are sensitive to migrancy, perhaps because they feel their stasis is a deficiency, or because they fear disruptive invasions by foreigners. They equivocate towards itinerancy which becomes a transgression, a privilege, or a pity. This is to say that the mention of travel triggers an affected hermeneutic that struggles to register movement within symbolic coordinates. The prospect of absolute movement threatens to expose the contingency of representation.

A Chinese proverb says, “high hangs the Qin mirror”. The territorial superego arrests movement in value-schemas of subjective power. This reduces it to ambivalent clichés – polarized correlations of text and image – that reverse between exaltation and violence. The ethnic crowd personifies both a hushed pogrom and a pious congregation. Its ambivalent object is that entropy of difference which is the mysterious movement of nature.

Sedentary youths are preparing to travel. They seek opportunities for trading perspectives and experiences. But the markets are moving fast. Their dreams are overstocked merchandise. Their mobility is doomed by the evil doubles that were already moving. Eventually they realize that they themselves are overproduced merchandise.

The natural cinema stages the compulsions of capitalist society. Along the edges of mirror reflection, the spectators discover the spiritual masochism of development. These are the irresistible mechanisms of dialectical compulsion where culture negates itself. This discovery relocates freedom to the frontiers of resistance. Reified nature is the superego, but unreified nature is the return of old chance.

Natural movement is the interplay between technology and ancient customs. For instance, the direction of the ancient Chinese script gradually Latinized until its rightward movement assumed the normativity it has today. But this modern typological convention sometimes goes unobserved. Sometimes there are regressions where characters descend downwards on wall-scrolls or sneak leftwards over temples and tea houses. The return of nature is manifest in the atavism of ancient customs which are obstinate in their resistance to technology.

The violence of development drives minorities into oblivion, but then the ensuing vacuum of boredom attracts their ghostly return. The tedium of majority fuels the tourist’s desire for the drama of the mystical child and the playful utopia of chance. The tourist desires something beyond the screen, which is remote in both space and time, while also perhaps more intimate than the flesh. They desire an object that was eliminated by technology, while in fact it is only technology which makes that fantasy object possible. Natural cinema renders this ambivalence objective.

When Chinese officials tout the development of their “culture industry”, the words of Adorno return in the synthetic speech of technology. This refers to a culture that has been reified as nature. They project images of cosmic automation. There is repose which evidences the resolution of disjunctions that plagued neoliberalism. Whether this new social rapport is nature or culture is a matter of repurposing that has geopolitical implications.

Culture is the clothing that conceals the affects of nature. It’s an erotic charm that distracts from the bareness of affect. It keeps children from crying and neighbors from starring. This consumerism treats nature as a medusa that threatens to abject the subject. That entropy is an antithesis of work, and its avatars include relaxation. Relaxation leads into the dangerous unknown where the pragmatic coordinates of industry dissolve. The fear of relaxation reduces everything to work, because only work can be represented. The consumer paddles against an accelerating current of abjection.

The consumers flee the passion and pathos of authentic affect. But through this flight they lose touch with the ground of their subjectivity. So then they reverse course and return to the countryside in pursuit of the unheimlich, that interior-frontier or foreign-domestic. The figuration of minorities among the Chinese has undergone heavy cinematic mediation. Films dealing with exotic primitives have been produced for national audiences since the 1960’s at least. During the 1980’s, the so-called “fifth generation” directors produced minority-fare when they catered to the tastes of European cinemas for exotic customs. The gaze of these overseas spectators searched for the authentic difference of the subaltern.

The overseas consumption of Chinese films tends to follow a “dissidence hypothesis”, or what we might call a hermeneutic of dissent. For European audiences, the films are the source of a kind of political jouissance which is also supplied by the news media. This involves a customary attraction to the suffering of martyrs. The citizens of advanced nations enjoy their own culture through these passions, like the comfort of watching a sea storm from safety. Where eucharistic services have ceased, that ground of affect is resituated in the suffering of the subaltern. This sort of transcendental geography is what becomes of orientalism when it’s understood objectively.

Natural cinema must be realistic enough to mirror the audience’s everyday experiences of subjectivity. But the audience moves beyond those experiences so they can be objectified in new ways. This term “objective” does not need to imply scientific cognition. This is rather objective in the way that animals move around objects in their habitat, and how they relate to their own bodily processes. Nature scurries around representation like a cockroach in  a museum.

Fragmentation provides the most critical obstacle for natural objectivity. This is where instinct has been distorted by representation in dangerous ways. The failure of representation – the incompleteness of the fragment – triggers the obsessive pursuit of completion. Dissatisfaction propels an obstinate agency to complete abstract patterns. The obsessional perceives the fragment as a wound which makes an exigent demand for treatment, casuistry, or justice. The obsessional demands a semantic account of the fragment’s origin and disavows the possibility of a natural origin. Such a natural origin of the fragment is where the incompleteness results from mysteries which fade into the multiplicity of oblivion.

The objectivity of fragments relates to the problem of censorship. Something of the absence which the fragment implies is essential for the operation of symbolic authority. This is a point that western liberals have been slow to appreciate. There is a promiscuous insistence on the right to say and show everything which dismisses censorship as an absolute injustice. In contrast to this hapless progressivism, it is possible to form a less sinister conception of censorship. Censorship can be a sign of nature, as it indicates the proximity where representation is jeopardized by its failure at its absent foundation. Where authorities are bothered to control the media, that implies that representation is still exposed at that origin. This means that speech still carries the powers of liberty which threaten to overturn economic subjectivity. Censorship becomes a dangerous sign of the millennial event where the origin of representation is objectified in natural history. This is an eclipse where representation becomes immanent by reflecting the absence of its foundation.

I want to conclude by mentioning an illustrative case of fragmentation. There exists a type known as the “china watcher”. He is an independent expert on the sinister machinations of the Chinese government. He assembles privileged accounts of these intrigues for the good of the western public, in order that they won’t be deceived. The China watcher’s pattern-obsession demonstrates the problem for a natural cinema. This concerns interregional perceptions which are concretized within fetishized representations of the world. The consumers of each region are accustomed to certain world-models, and they seek out media to fill in these customary patterns around the fragments they encounter. These patterns determine their taste in media – they seek films and news to fill-in the absences in representation. Natural cinema would stage a parallax between these regional models, which would synthesize these regional perspectives into a monstrous fragment which has perhaps never yet been objectified. The objectivity of this world-fragment perhaps would be the millennial threshold where the spectators return to nature.

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Nuomenal Commerce

Development reaches bottlenecks due to the inherent normativity and positivity of economic thinking. Development beyond these impasses requires transactions which are conducted under more radically uncertain conditions, such that development loses its definitive direction. The research of Ellie Ayache turns around this problem, but where his work focuses on finance, the term “nuomenal commerce” defines another matrix of relations.

This conceptuality has a fuzziness, such that we speak of “products” as vague aleatory approximations of fields where productive forces could be involved. Such nomination attack the composition of phenomenal reality through a prismatic shattering of mirror relations.  This opens dimensions which are not so much economic – which would imply both positive and normative – but rather an ethics of involuntary memory which pertains to the disturbances that may result from economic activity.  This especially concerns the idleness of the obsolete, and the secret productions the conceal.

According to the argumentative customs of academia, reality is only worth discussing where there is substantiation through proofs. To academicize is to seek positive confirmation through agreement among the community. Such values render discussions of the radically singular faux pas indulgences. The epistemological, Habermasian bias assumes ideals of professional communication, where intellectual expression is intended to convince the other. This assumed striving for agreement reflects a sensibility which is promotional, democratic and scientific. This ethos is an entrenched and persistent legacy of liberal capitalism – that customary orientation of the progressive bourgeois public sphere.

Psychoanalysts have conceived desire as an alienation from our own words which is abolished by the imaginary agreement of an other. This ultimately means that another speaks through us, and our desire depends on deferring recognition of the identity of the speaker and the meaning of the words that pass through our lips. Desire implies an aestheticization of speech that leaves us bewildered by how our words are not really ours, and it’s that uncertainty which draws the horizon of an nonscientific realism. A realism that seeks no proof, but rather gasps and stutters, gesturing mutely in the hysterical uncertainty beyond expression. Yet this thought is not skeptical because it’s posessed by an ambivalent belief which turns on a disjunction between form and time.

Nuomenal commerce is a political spirituality that doesn’t seek validation or consistency but rather molecular participation. This gets carried along with the consistence of the course of natural things. This “being carried along” implies a deep ambivalence, which sits in the ontological gaps of action-passion and being-having. There is an equivocity of possession, where there is unheimlich uncertainty about who possesses who, such as the crowd or the other. There is a seizure between the promiscuous and the prejudiced, or between the popular and the partisan. This contradiction has to do with the Freudian disjunction between perversion and neurosis. It also relates to the Benjamin’s dialectics of the aura, where the exlusive images of antique aristocracy are compromised by popular reproduction. There is a sense of authenticity which concerns whether this dialectic gets exhausted.  A problematic ensues which turns on the selection of modes of participation where this incapacitation can be temporarily overcome.

This term “commerce” is loaded with a Nietzschean politics that turns on a particular concept of power. This conceives essence as a contest between forces over the determination of sense. This is to say that identity concerns the chances regarding which forces might appropriate bodies and things into their discourses. Nuomenal commerce assumes a partisanship in this struggle, in that it takes sides over the bestowal of sense. It assumes a fidelity to the nuomenal against the phenomenal, and also a fidelity to the commercial against the financial and the industrial. And going beyond this abstract double-fidelity, there are commitments to particular schemas of assembly. Next we shall perform some mise-en-scene to introduce the background for a more circumscribed politics of commercial noumena. 

Capitalism has been targeted by a host of polemics over recent centuries. It is accused of injustices against something supposedly more deserving, which can be a community, nature, environment, tradition, workers, culture, life, minorities or aesthetics. Since these struggles have failed to prevent capital’s ongoing development, we might accept that it has a certain invincibility. The durability of capitalism has been proven by the experience of history. And since capitalism cannot be opposed from the outside, the wager of commercial realism is to divided against itself.

The capitalist system is constituted by a trinity of incongruent dimensions: the financial, the industrial and the commercial. The operations of capitalist power involve obfuscations where these conceal and substitute for each other. The expansion of consumer choice is prostituted as a pretext for financial and industrial machinations. And there is the assertion of the equality and inseparability of the trinity, such that the dollars which buy financial derivatives are equated with those which buy bubble gum.

The commercial is a remainder that is left through the subtraction of the financial and industrial from capitalism. So, we propose to tear apart this trinitarian alliance by composing a partisan image of the market from a commercial perspective. A commercial image of the market – not an empirical image, but a transcendental one – to break the spell of industrial finance. A transcendental contamination, a dirty spirituality of fetishistic ambivalence.

Commerce is a crack on the margin of the capitalist trinity, a breaking away from it’s symbolic integrity.  It’s the risky site where flesh gets implicated in the machine. This is like Kant’s third antimony, where the unpredictably of human freedom disturbs the catagories of technoscience. In Borromean terms, we would say the structure is exposed to its abgrund at the margin of the imaginary-real. Where industry and finance relate on the symbolic father-son axis, the commercial ghost is the dynamic third that forges and erodes that paternal relation into fluidity. Its a mercurial term that brings turbulence into the calculations.  This amounts to a eucharistic praxis. Drawing on the ancient Catholic mass – its spirituality, figurations, drives and affectations – where oral intensities can be marshalled against the logic of industrial finance.

Commerce gets refigured as the circulation of sacred wafers that bring us into a circuit of transcendental prostitution. A transgressive commercial disposition of a population blurs the distinction between buying and selling, working and consuming. Nuomenal commerce verges on a decadent aesthetics. Commercial destiny is a decision about how to die by the mysterious gift of work – a dialectical enigma at the apex of liberal sovereignty.

Industrial finance imposes paternal conditions of necessity on commerce. This imposes what psychoanalysts call the “existence of the Other”, such that commercial behavior proceeds under the spell of an imaginary das Man, who is a conflation of customers, bosses, invertors, neighbors, spouses… While it may be the case that we are necessarily chosen by the Other, or that the ecstasy of communication is contingent on the Other’s choice, there is also the inverse chance that the Other might be chosen by us. This is how we interpret the ancient custom of ascetic withdrawal into the desert: as a search for another Other. This is a mystical rite where the chooser is chosen in turn.

This search for another Other isn’t a search for an anti-thesis to the Other. This is to say that the concept of commerce implies some invariance or normativity. Commercial realism must bear the burden of some minimum of paternal responsibility – some dues must be paid to patriarchal representation. Perhaps we could name that invariance by saying that commerce is essentially American, and that there is no possibility of discovering some anti-American commerce. The problem is not to invent a counter-commerce, but to facilitate an original (spirit) possession of the concept as it already exists. And so, the problem is to discover another America which is a negative image reflected through the other continents.  This would be a negative image or an anti-America which is positively implicated with the standard one. 

This line of thought responds to an elementary problem concerning the gauging of powers and the drawing of battle lines. Dispensing with the old leftist tactic that would oppose it from outside, this would set capitalism into conflict with itself. There are problems concerning the immanence of war which pertain to the initiation of new phases of the cold war. This term “cold war” names a singular partitioning of the social, where there is a ghost-struggle over the subordination of alterity. This implies an enigmatic modality, which is a medium that carries racial traces. The ideals of political-economy get conflated with geohistorical identities.

Commercial orgies such as Christ-mass proceed in an automated fashion under the spell of industrial finance. The traditional priest-function in the mass has been redistributed among celebrities, officials, experts, coaches, managers, journalists, critics, family, teachers, judges, and accountants whose gestures guide passages into the ecstasy of commerce.

Perhaps the problem is to discover another Christ-mass which is no longer subordinated to industrial finance. This wouldn’t necessarily be a festival held on December 25th, but rather some event that can replace that festival. Such a commerce is the mysterious breaching or sublimation of an imaginary body without conceptual identity. This death involves a blurring between the affects and movements of various crowd formations such as festivals, political parties, aesthetic vanguards, spectator crowds, audiences, bands, circus troupes, comraderies, collegialities, nations, unions, and professional organizations. Elias Canetti described this virtual modality.

The liberation of commerce from industrial finance is never ultimately achieved once and for all. The commercial spirit must remain always trapped within the body of the commodity as it is cast by industry and finance. This endless exile defines what we call the secular age oriented between the limits of the “two comings”. An ultimately liberated commercial ecstasy would be the death-points at the alpha and omega of this history – the garden of eden and the final judgment. But within the limits of the saeculum, commerce shall always remain partially bound to the commodity form of industrial finance. This secularism implies a dialectical ambivalence or perversion which is essential because industrial finance provides commercial spirituality with a vital inertia and gravity of material incorporation. Without the weight of the commodity, commerce would vaporize into the cosmos.

This value-contradiction has the form of a Chinese dialectic, such that the good is confused with the bad. The commercial good is the intensive energy of a virtual spirituality. But that intensity can only exist on the condition that it is alienated within the bad extension of industrial finance. Without that alienation (that secularity), the commercial intensity would dissipate or collapse into presence.  Gilles Deleuze was suspicious of this sort of mortal dialectics, though he was not dismissive. This dialectic risks becoming obsessive, and so it should remain in the background.

This dialectical confusion of life and death reinterprets a certain Christian hypocrisy. Christianity has been denounced for exalting the “eternal life” (which is eternal death) over the “temporal life”. But commercial realism can salvage something from this dubious metaphysics, such that spirituality is treated as an intensity of death which survives only within the alienating ordeal of life. Secularism then is a paradoxical commitment to this vital alienation. A minimal tribute must be paid to the evil life-deity of industrial finance. Only through such tribute is the commerce of death afforded.

A certain conventional sensibility assumes that life requires the undergoing of some death. This is the idea that living well requires dying a bit, such as work and sacrifice. This is the idea that some things must die in order that the quality of some lives be increased. Commercial realism reverses this exchange, so that the good we pursue is identified as death, and for the sake of that good-death we are required to endure a painful and unfortunate ordeal which is called life.

This takes up ancient humanistic traditions and converts them to thanatology. It reconsolidates an spiritual legacy that runs between communion, communism, and commodity. This idea of spiritual commerce then is appropriated as a ancient custom which has been highjacked by industrial finance. The liberation of commerce requires connecting it with its antique spirituality. Commerce has been captured into economic ideologies of growth, optimization and efficiency. It has been caught between the logic of the engineer (the one-armed captain of industrial technology), and the financier (the one-eyed captain of activist accounting). Between these strata, populations are yoked, intimidated, stigmatized, scapegoated, stereotyped… eucharistic wafers of commerce are deployed as lures in elaborate traps of pain and pleasure. Industrial finance imposes models onto commerce, such that only limited forms of participation can be entertained, such as was the case with catholic mass.

This rejects the liberal and Marxist assumption that the commodity represents stored potential of labor or value, whether use-value or even exchange-value. From the perspective of commercial realism, the commodity rather appears as a shard of sacred death, which is to say that it’s a breach in the fabric of symbolic exchange. Industrial finance insists that this death has equivalence with work, or with other commodities, whereas commercial realism denies any such equivalence. Commercial spirituality then is a death that has nothing to do with work, or any sort of exchange.

This suspension of value representation was the aesthetic experience of 19th century realism, where the work of art was able to displace the commodity. That was the realism of the avantgarde: a taste that denies the need for exchange. Art has since been re-commodified and subordinated again to industrial finance. But commercial realism takes this commodification for granted and adopts a dialectic that assumes the necessary subordination of commercial spirituality to industrial finance. The commodity is treated as the damned body of the spirit, the extension in which spiritual intensities undergo their essential alienation.

This restores the classic dialectic of the master and slave. When Nietzsche mentions the “Masters of the Earth”, that can be interpreted as a reference to industrial finance, whereas commercial spirituality is cast as a Christian slavery under this master’s yolk through real estate and resource extraction. This relationship is not openly antagonistic. The slave does not launch any open revolt against the master. And neither do they entertain the prospect of a “consumer democracy” which the master promotes as a lure of industrial finance. Subversion becomes discrete. The commercial slave embraces death as an ancient tradition of spiritual commerce. They live at the degree zero which Lukacs referred to as a “low vitality” realism. The vitalist master on the other hand is burdened with the responsibility for the life of business, and absorbed into the frenzy of unlimited accumulation, growth, and competition.

This partisanship of low-vitality commerce could appear unfashionable and even despicable. It obviously jars with the prevailing vitalist ethos of industrial finance. And it also contrasts with the scientific realisms which are prevalent these days. Against the trend of rationalist and formalist realisms, nuomenal commerce would proceed as a classical intuitionism following the legacies of Bergson, Lukacs and Nietzsche. This composes an image around an oral relation with a little shard of worthless infinity that betrays life for the sake of a nothing without concept.

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