Mood Play

The anthropologist Paul Rabinow distinguishes the moods of irony, tragedy, pathos, and comedy. This fourfold schema can account for what happens at the limits of industrial society where mere consumerism gives way to aesthetic experience. Where industrial subjects are represented according to the logic of enjoyment, at some limit that enjoyment decays into the impurities of aesthetic taste. The universal enjoyment of industrial man is an imaginary generic affect presumably pursued by everyone of his society. An unconscious equivalence is made between enjoyment and finance so that capital ultimately represents this imaginary affect. But at the aesthetic limit of his society, that coveted capital-enjoyment complicates into the folds of minoritarian affectation. Where capital-enjoyment provides a transcendental schematic of subjectivity, that disintegrates into a more dynamic and immanent disposition. Mood play lies beyond the break down in the general equivalence of capital and enjoment. These are not simply moods which are felt, but mood differentials that alternate in dynamic distributions. They are mood-sets which are posited reflexively. These distributions are abstract and proceed according to cosmological or geohistorical codes.

There are elementary problems concerning the causation and experience of moods. Logical explanations about why moods are felt have a certain fallibility. There might be obvious reasons for a mood, such as a sadness felt at the news of a death, or deli. Spinoza’s geometrical rationalization of affects raises questions about the modality of experience. If we assume that affectations can be rationally explained, then we should consider the degrees of abstraction and complexity that such reasoning would entail.

Simple observable patterns, where some identifiable emotion is consistently felt in some identifiable situation, are susceptible to a Humean criticism because they might be adduced to arbitrary customs and habits. There are incentives for the rational administration of feelings according to inherited canons of subjective logic. Perhaps our feelings are generated according to socio-cultural scripts, where we respond affectively to a situation according to what would seem natural. Ideologies of feeling are programmed according to traditions of humanism, naturalism, moralism, and rationalism. Thus, we aspire to feel good about what is good in a Spinozist sense of vital power.

Such a Spinozism becomes trivial when applied to individual subjects of industrial society. This “power principle” is much like the Freudian pleasure principle that orients subjectivity in its pursuit of the good. Industrial populations would subject themselves to an idea of the positivity of power, where they pursue power-pleasure as an ideal associated with affluence. Rational behavior would proceed according to value calculations, where subjects are pursuing opportunities for enjoyments on affective markets.

Mood play happens at the limit where these industrial calculations break down. There the logic of transactions is complicated so that it’s longer an individual shopping for enjoyments, but rather mysterious folds This end of enjoyment-shopping is a drastic event because it implies the end of industrial subjectivity.

Robert Pfaller writes about the perversities of “delegated enjoyment”, where subjects indulge in imaginary enjoyments which implicate other “subjects-supposed-to-enjoy”. The term “mood play” is intended to suggest something that goes beyond any sort of enjoyment. Enjoyment refers to the social experience of industrial subjects. Jouissance is a juridical term for enjoyment as the bourgeois possession of property. Delegated enjoyment would be at the limit where bourgeois subjectivity begins to deteriorate, where the coupling of enjoyment and capital is coming unraveled, whereas mood play is at a further extreme of decadence which implies another kind of subjectivity altogether.

The subject of mood-play is distinguished from an industrial subject of enjoyment, though it still implies principles of power-pleasure. The power principle leads this subject through mood plays, which are fluctuations in the dynamic differentials of affective disposition.

The tragic mood is an experience of the passion of wisdom. This is a contemplation of the finitude of life caught within institutional contradictions. This transcendental reverie is foreign to industrial sensibility which reduces tragedy to another flavor of enjoyment that appears as shameful pathos if it fails to adhere to schemas of consumption. Resisting the industrial effacement of tragedy requires reconnecting it with the other moods of irony, comedy and pathos.

Of these four moods, tragedy is the most philosophical. It binds subjectivity into institutional contradictions providing it with durable symbolic coordinates which are the anchors that keep it from spontaneously vaporizing. Tragedy is the most essential mood which provides subjectivity with some necessary viscosity which prevents it from dissipating. The tragic subject is rent by symbolic contradictions, and the suffering of those wounds is the archaic substance that Nietzsche contrasted with the nihilism of Christianity and enlightened modernity. Without its tragic wounds, subjectivity would be too mercurial. The durability of the tragic wound provides a ballast that anchors irony, comedy and pathos.

Subjectivity is affected by symbolic lack, and these moods are different ways of contextualizing that lack. This brings us to an etymological link between mood and mode. Any scene might affect subjects with different moods. The mood is a contingency of the virtual which reflects the subject’s ontological constitution and its symbolic positioning within the scene. This constitution which might entail cosmology, geohistory or worldview.

Subjects can be affected at different modes of accident and essence, necessity and contingency. At one extreme, a subject might is gripped by its mood which possesses it as an irresistible spirit. In this case we would say that the mood was real, in that it befalls the subject with a necessity that leaves no room for subjective agency in the selection of moods. At the other extreme, a subject might experience its mood as a contingent choice that could be varied at a whim. The contingency of this choice implies that the subject has acceded to a repose in the virtual. This implies that subject can navigate between alternate courses of actualizations. Though of course there are limits to this potentiality regarding what moods might be actualized under any conditions.

Virtual subjectivity disposes itself affectively according to aesthetic taste. This power is limited by conditions of subjective integrity, such as structure, economy, consistency or continuity. The subject must reserve enough power in order that this choice can be made. Tasteful moods imply symbolic continuities. This integrity of the relation between affects and symbols is itself tragic, in that it’s the obstinacy of the tragic hero in their fatal symbolic attachments (i.e. Antigone must bury her brother). This reinterprets the definition of the overman: “with history nature gave itself the task of producing a creature capable a promise.” The promise or the oath is a tragic bind, like a dead hand clutching the symbol eternally. This grasp tightens as subjects are hystericized by the uncertainties of mortal existence.

Tragic moods retain subjectivity within finite symbolic coordinates. There’s economy where the anchoring of tragedy affords the ephemeral play of the other moods. Classical comedy emerged in proximity to tragedy, though modernity tends to efface this origin. Restoring the aesthetic complementarity of moods is a “division of suffering”, which contrasts with the division of labor in industrial subjectivity.

Whereas the industrial subject is defined by how it works and consumes, the virtual subject of mood play is defined by how it suffers its moods. Tragic suffering is where the subject is trapped in contradictions that have an agonizing duration. These contradictions disfigure, so that the trapped is like a secret wound. The manifestation of this wound is something obscene or appalling, so it’s an affective anchor that often remains hidden. A scene of presence might imply an underground anchoring in the tragic, though only certain subjects are aware of this anchoring.

These moods are aspects of the symbolic wound which can be distinguished by their contexts. Whereas tragedy implies profound, transcendental duration, the other moods can be instantaneous. These are dimensions of a scene such that full presence would require all of them. They are like the four flavors required for cooking a satisfying dish, or a set filters that combine to give an image its full color-spectrum. The problem is not to distinguish the moods, but to fuse them in tasteful proportions.

Like Christianity, industrial subjectivity has grown estranged from tragedy, but this estrangement is a matter of perspective. The tragic has continued underground, though industrial subjects are not aware of this. They are attuned to comedies and ironies and sensitized to the scandalous shame of pathos. They reduce tragedy to the merely pathetic shame of symbolic inadequacy. It is reduced to an embarrassing lack of narratives, values, identities, signatures, figures, codes, degrees, qualities, virtues, ancestry, memberships, assets, properties, credit, positions and documents. But the suffering of this lack is somehow essential to the industrial subject who is eternally an imposter. To avoid the abjection of pathos it converts this fraudulence into comedy and irony. But a restoration of tragedy could make this conversion less awkward because tragedy is a traditional symbol for the lack of symbols.

The link between tragedy and technology has been highlighted by various authors such as de Mull. The hubris of technological modernity marches relentlessly towards great disasters. These are not intentional disasters, but they are fated by the flaws which afflict industrial subjectivity. While industrial subjectivity lacks an appreciation for tragedy, its behavior follows the pattern of tragic heroism. Just like the heroes of classical tragedy, the industrial subject is blind to his own tragic predicament. So even the lack of appreciation for tragedy can be considered as classical. So it would seem that the taste for tragedy lies beyond industrial subjectivity. This would be the taste for a developmental tragedy of war and environmental crises. Developing this taste requires not prematurely sliding into irony and comedy, and not taking flight from pathos, but sustaining a painstaking metabolization of this panoramic condition in its inescapable fatality.

Also, it requires suspending any moral judgements of the industrial subject’s behavior, which is the tendency of Christian humanism. So, our suggestions here imply an amor fati that will be unpalatable for leftists who are committed to certain modes of political intervention. But perhaps the crises of industrial society might be solved through aesthetic means where political means have proven ineffective.

The tragic is distinguished from the merely pathetic by its symbolic implications. The tragic fate must be freely chosen by the subject from some perspective. But the subject was originally caught in a larger symbolic net, and so it was a forced choice between a limited set of fatal contingencies.

Because industrial man cannot appreciate tragedy, he is only able to represent his symbolic lack comically, ironically, or pathetically. This explains why his deficit of representation is so dicey, like a hot potato, or a bee in his bonnet. Tragedy was a customary art for metabolizing lack. This problem of surplus/lack has been highlighted by Lacanians, and they have associated this with Hegel’s discussion of the “unemployed rabble”. Deleuze theorized the doubling of a “placeless thing” and a “thingless place”, and then with Guatarri he discussed a surplus of code and a surplus of libidinal flux. This perpetual sense of lack drives industrial man into the school, the workforce, the battlefield, and the shopping mall. This is a quest for substitutions that compensate for his symbolic inadequacy. He seeks another property, another machine, another body, another profile. This disquiet poses a dramaturgical problem: how to form an audience to appreciate the tragedy of this performance?

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Adventure Language

The Greek ‘symbolon’ was an object used in economic transactions. It’s two halves were broken apart and reunited when the terms of a contract were completed. Following this model, the term symbolism then refers to the intricate fitting of contours that perfectly match, and following romanticism this is the fitting of the subject into the world.

But there is great problem surrounding this fitting of the subject into the world. The problem is that Kantianism inherited a Christian subject who pursues an ethical ideal through gradual purification. This assumes a narrative continuity and identity of the subject before and after it finds its fit in the world. But this model conflicts with the classical model of the symbol as a perfect fit that could never be achieved by a subject that was gradually hewn into consistency with the world.

Kantianism never overcomes the alienation of negativity. This endless tedium is what Heidegger called “being in the world”, which is like being in exile or in the desert. The preposition “in” implies a disjunction, an accidental relation, where unprepared being is thrown into random circumstances. This is the dreary fate where subjectivity is suffered as an existential angst that occasionally subsides when there are little bursts of pleasure or meaning. In this discomfiture there is a yearning for something else, and that desire sets into motion an adventure of language.

Deleuze conceives symbolic castration as a threshold where this existential tedium would terminate. That would be a point for the emergence of an entirely new form of subjectivity which has no continuity or identity with anything preexisting. Because the world undergoes tremendous changes in its ontological structure, only a newly created subject could be consistent with its contours and form an intricately “symbolic relation” with the world. This relation would be a “being for the world” as opposed to Heidegger’s dissolute “being in the world”.

Obsolete subjects fade away as their contours lose consistency with the world. This might sound cruel, but we don’t have to put so much stake in subjectivity. It was Kantianism that placed so much emphasis on subjects, and they are not taken that seriously in Deleuzian thinking. Subjectivity becomes like costuming or roles that can be switched. It is a way of taking up positions within forms of conceptuality and figuration. Beyond the formalities of worldly subjection there is the jouissance of Thanatos, the restless infancy of drive that infinitely persists.

Symbolic subjectivity is generated through adventures which discover abstract patterns emerging in the world. Subjects emerge through heraldic crossings of the thresholds of symbolic cities. These migrations can be excruciatingly painful, much like the indignities that are experienced by refugees. There are detentions and rejections. There are interrogations that pry into humiliating personal secrets. One is surrounded by desperate and dangerous refugees. The liminal realm of the sans papier provides an abstract model for the preworld of the presubjective. The adventure of language takes place in this dimension where the symbolic crystal is incubating.

This is a dimension of vestibular experience where one learns to anticipate the turning of the world. This is the experience of a dynamism which is presymbolic, though nothing can guarantee that the delivery of subjectivity will succeed. There is an ontopolitical dynamism, which is an oscillation between contrasting ontologies. These are the sort of contrasts discovered by structural anthropology, where neighboring groups distinguish themselves from each other by elemental variations. But the structural relation in question here is the political one between the regime and the opposition. Oppositional ontologies grow like crystals that interfere with the hegemonic order. Where a regime adopts some terms (i.e. universal equality), the opposition asserts some inversion (i.e. particular hierarchy). The adventure of language is a kind of romance where the inversion of the hegemonic ontology is pushed across some threshold where it forms an adequate complementarity, so that the symbolic regime is overturned and a new epoch is inaugurated.

Post-Kantian institutional ideology has a unique reliance on language, such that language gets defined by the way it is conceived politically. Language education is a customary initiation into a national community, and the idea of how language works provides a model for institutional relationships. A political conception of language embodies the idea of sovereignty as a material manifestation of power. Debates over the conception of language have followed political contours, most notably the recurrent debates between the liberalism of Chomskian linguistic universalism versus the romantic nationalism of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

This liberal subjectivity has been reborn many times in a series going back at least to Cromwell if not further. The last wave of rebirth has its source in 1989, and that subjective formation has lost most of its energy. The question is whether another liberal subject in this series will be reborn, or whether we shall commerce another epoch with a different form of subjectivity. Perhaps we are moving towards a threshold where a new subject form would emerge as an inversion of this linguistic subjectivity.

The Lacanian theory of symbolic castration involves the internalization of “the name of the father”. That symbol was supposed to provide some fundamental integrity for the psyche, and it allowed for the possibility of language in general. But Deleuze questions whether Lacan was not perhaps an ideologue of the Kantian epoch, and whether his symbolic castration was not too closely bound up with a linguistic subject.

Alenka Zupancic’s book “What is Sex?” articulates language and sex as two aspects of the same enigmatic thing. Drawing on Laplanche, she discusses the threshold between the “drives of children” and the “instincts of adults”. The drives of children are described as unnatural and idiosyncratic, whereas the instincts of adults are natural and orderly. Perhaps this arrangement of concepts suggests an original subject form. This way of treating symbolic castration as a passage into nature restructures the circuitry of ideology, such that a new pattern of connections emerges between the discourses of Rousseau, Kant, Sade, and Freud. The placing of natural harmony at the end of history suggests a millennial configuration. Natural instinct would always be there in potential, ready to operate in its proper way, but something has to happen in order for it to come into effect, like the opening of the seventh seal. So what we are calling the adventure of language would be a quest to reinitiate the order of nature. This would mean discovering how nature could work again under the contemporary conditions.

Symbolic castration relates to the Freudian idea of unifying the drives. It was this unification of the drives that brought Deleuze to his interest in Stoicism. The Stoic virtue could perform a transition of things language. This virtue withdrew from both activity and passivity into the potentiality of an amor fati that accepts the world as is. Where nature has been lost in the inherent corruption of the world, this virtue would open a new source of nature within the worldly conditions. A question arises here about whether the function of language in this spiritual conversion is essential or accidental. Our sacramental ideology of language might be only a parochial fixation of European oral culture which sanctified the mouth as a site of transubstantiation. Perhaps an inversion of Kantian ideology would relocate this transubstantiation around the anus.

This could make a strange inversion of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Language would be understood to perform a universal function, which is a transmutation of matter into spirit, but that function might also be performed otherwise without the need for what we call language. Or we could say that the sacramental operation that language performs isn’t essentially linguistic. And if the efficacy of language in this sacramental operation were to decline, then this spiritualization might have to be performed through non linguistic means. Perhaps language may be losing its sacramental efficacy as technology exposes imagistic and numerical materiality. The sacramental efficacy of language would be declining because of the expansion of the knowledge into the material beyond the linguistically expressible.

This opens a horizon for adventures into the technosocial that would seek a new sacramental form of the subject. But such an adventure wouldn’t have to materialize as anything radical. This is a spiritualization that breaks with inherited forms of language. This requires that those inherited forms get mixed-up, so there are structural reversals in the customary patterning of language. This reversal can proceed like a wave that moves through ontology, grammar and into the conventions of communication and social exchange.

This might begin from a linguistic analysis of the world “adventure”. This word is usually a noun, which designate something episodic, which is etymologically close to “advent”, which is not far from “event”. It sometimes becomes an adjective when used in an expression such as “adventure travel”. It isn’t commonly used as a verb in English, but there is the verb cognate “venture”. This latter word is associated today with business, as it is used as an adjective in “venture capital”. By moving around this constellation, we are taking adventure itself on a bit of an adventure.

This kind of language play was enjoyed by humanities professors at American universities towards the end of the twentieth century. Such deconstructive play has been performed in a spirit of abandon, which means that it is not assumed to have any function or purpose. Perhaps it is just play for the sake of play, which is performed because it is fun or pleasant. Performance is likes other arts that may be practiced infinitely without any goal other than perhaps the satisfaction of taste. But if this kind of play is associated with the thought of Georges Bataille, then it might have a political function in the advent of a new form of sovereignty.

Improvisation can be assigned a political purpose which is the origination of heraldry. This is a distinct kind of operation which may be performed by a subject, while more importantly it generates a new subject as its result. Slavoj Zizek often mentions the story of Baron von Munchausen, who pulled himself up from the swamp “by his own bootstraps”. These days the expression “bootstrapping” is used as a verb for what entrepreneurs do during the early stages of a start-up, when they are trying to establish a new business but don’t have investment from venture capitalists. They would typically sacrifice the normality of their lifestyle for the sake of the fledgling enterprise, moving somewhere with low costs like Latin America or South-East Asia, and performing diverse tasks themselves until they can afford to hire employees.

The adventure of language would be a political bootstrapping distinguished from this industrial bootstrapping of entrepreneurs, but also from the entrepreneurial activism of populist movement-builders associated with oppositional politics. it would seem that new world has come into existence objectively, and the new conditions have been described, but its form has not yet been transposed into a subjective register. The mere objective existence of the world does not imply any politics, which is to say that there is no politics today which corresponds symbolically with this world. The subject of this contemporary world is still in its presubjective phase of bootstrapping itself, and the success of that actualization could inaugurate a new political epoch.

Where Jacques Lacan discussed the materiality of the signifier, the adventure of language would begin where the signifier becomes animated as a spirit. This kind of event is figured in literature by Pygmalion and Don Giovanni, but also in a another way by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The concept of language itself would start to move. There would be a movement in the way language is implicated with power – in the conception of linguistic borders, in language education, and in linguistic theories. All of these movements would be driven by a transition in the ontology of language. It would seem that Kantianism – as an institutional form of logical categories – used language to subjugate the spiritual in the material. The noumenal was exiled to the workhouse of conceptuality where it served the empty ends of humanism.

Let me conclude with an anecdote about the origins of Kantian institutions. The Meiji restoration of Japan in the late 1800s was an historical turning point, where the developmental subject of the enlightenment was translated into East Asian institutions for the first time. The biographers of the Meiji emperor have highlighted a minor event which may have precipitated this translation. The young emperor was in a boat practicing calligraphy with his tutor, who made some praises of his cursive style. It’s been suggested that at that moment the seeds of a new subjective form were planted.

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Drunken Discourse

The eyes and mouth are too slow for this virtual world, and so we seek a quicker soul. The poetry of suffering has no time for discussion, proofs or debates. There is only time to get on the fake wig and scribble some aphorisms before the next port.

Descartes and Rousseau are getting intoxicated on the Chinese enlightenment. The trauma of the French Revolution transposes into the termination of the Qing Dynasty.

Discourse succumbs to intoxication in the dialectic of prescription and description. This duel of aristocracy and science evacuates the discursive soul until only naked monads and empty categories remain.

Sober anthropologists reduced the group to the real and the possible, but then the drunken Elias Canetti initiated a spirit journey into the actual and virtual.

Blanchot quotes Confucius: “measure and means are the extremes of man”. This extreme middle belongs to a family of paradoxes, where the exceptional coincides with the unexceptional. Probability depends on context, such that the likelihood of an event’s occurrence changes depending on the virtual frame in which it would occur.

The eternal return generates the excess of the virtual over the actual. This is the vague expectation of homeostasis. That excess of the virtual can be metabolized as desire. But if that metabolism fails, then the excess leaks into the possible and destabilizes reality. This is the abjection of pure consciousness. The mandarin ethic would absolutize the virtual as a sublime other separated from subjective reality.

The inside of discourse is meaning, but the outside is repetition. Children are intoxicated each night by the same story.

Sober sociolinguists purify the conceptual, moving from territorial “dialects” to abstract “sociolects”. This abstraction goes from discourse to statistics. But poetry competes with numbers for that vacant seat of discourse.

Progressive theories include images as discourse, but can’t gauge when that acid will kick in.

The repeatability of discourse depends on the morbidity of inert matter.

The distinction of spirit and matter is an ontology based in the trauma of ancient customs. Sobriety disavows this duplicity.

Sober discourse is material, whereas drunk discourse is spiritual.

Sober discourse is founded in the drunk discourse it denies.

Ecology is a tragedy where the mystery of nature is abolished by empty science. Yet Zeus plans the return of Persephone.

Discourse gets intoxicated as sober context gives way to the mystery of the unconscious.

Sobriety is the introjection of habits into being, whereas intoxication is their projection into having. Prose is oral, poetry is anal.

Sobriety is troubled by the emptiness of abstract values like appropriateness and function. The disquiet of the universal is the seed of intoxication.

Sober Kantians reduced actualization to history, fixing movement within realistic horizons of subjective intention. But mandarins are intoxicated by the swell of unactualized contemplations so that pure relational potential becomes the axis around which the juggernaut of actualization revolves.

Nations don’t provide interpretive contexts, but rather unconsciousness that intoxicates populations. And such collective unconsciousness is not Jungian archetypes but rather physical continua where bodies are positioned in dynamic patterns. Having unconsciousness requires having a lifestyle that follows national contours.

Abjection is the loss of unconsciousness which reduces populations to shameful squirming. This sick sobering fixates on sensitive concepts such as gender, race, generation, class, citizenship, employment, marital status and vital state. Unconsciousness is an ambient sexing that energizes consciousness, while these sensitive concepts are like short-circuits that discharge the unconscious libido.

It’s a common mistake to assume that drunkenness is exceptional, or that it requires outward display of eccentricity. False drunkenness is performed for commercial promotion, while authentic virtual excesses withdraw into perspectival nuances.

Sober discourse gets caught in obsessional borderline disorders where it judicates conceptually. It vainly seeks drunkenness out of frustration, and ends up acting boorishly. Alcoholism is the failure of intoxication.

Gentrification implies the refinement of discourse which increases semiotic density and consistency. The higher efficiency of logic reduces chances for intoxication which then requires more planning. Hence the disdain for scholars.

Drunken mandarins are anchored in the idea of the virtual, whereas commoners cling to contexts and scales where they find life-meaning. Envious commoners impose parochial sobriety on mandarins by reducing the virtual to transcendental subjectivism.

The nihilistic ideology of communication over-values sober discourse. Obsessive rationalism results in a teetering between ascetic industrialism and hedonistic consumerism. Yet mandarins cannot dismiss this pathological imbalance, because intoxication doesn’t separate from sicknesses and addictions.

Absolute mediation reposes in auto-recoiling of the mysteries, which is the shifting fulcrum of the mandarin’s heart.

Nighttime figures the turbulence where the rotational center is lost, and propriety gives way to disquiet. The traumatic exile of contemplation strains spirituality into development. A superior center gradually materializes in the cracks of the crumbling interpolation.

The night is the intoxicating blood of the day.

The night comes like a knock on the door. Whose there? It’s Margaret Thatcher with Jacques Lacan. They confirm that there’s no relation, and so you are indeed living in Ballard’s High Rise.

The secret of discourse is the nocturnal confusion of health and sickness. The daylight conceals their confusion, which means that it suspends their deconstruction. Sober Kantians elected the world-spirit as the great context that could provide a stopping-point that would prevent deconstruction reaching the confusion of the poles of value. But a drunken discourse returns as a dirge to announce the Weltgeist’s wake.

The capitalist obsession with accumulation generates oscillations of lack and excess. Left Hegelians remain sensitive to the antiquity of these oscillations. They continue a traditional vigil around the sinking mast of context.

Context prevents the unravelling of discourse by denying the mysterious “unknown knowns” that might sex us.

The unconscious or sexuality is charged by erasing the empirical determination of sensitive terms like race, class, gender, and age.

Superior intoxications are indistinguishable from sobriety. This is fortunate, because etiquette often demands sobriety.

Confucius said the friendship of mandarins is clear like water, but the friendship of commoners is sweet like honey. The border between them is a difference in the ontology of borders. Mandarins generate a proliferation of virtual borders which are mercurial and may vanish in an instant, whereas commoners imagine themselves subjected to real borders which are imposed on them.

Kant made subjectivity into an absolute and empty formalism which became the throne for the Geist and the Genius. But the night is falling on the Kantian epoch as subjectivity turns to quicksilver.

Spirituality isn’t simply opposed to matter, but it’s rather the bifurcation of matter into contemplation.

Sober discourse converts meaninglessness repetition into the communitarian currency of meaning, whereas drunken discourse is the repetition of mysterious desire.

George Bataille strolled along the beach like a sketchy Thai monk. He could hear the shrieks of a nameless Boxer getting tortured by a Manchu, but like Odysseus he refused to listen. Bataille was thrice unaffected by pedagogical temptations. First, he was unaffected in his heart by the student debt of a thousand cuts. Second, he was unaffected by opium-dealing missionaries. Third, he was even unaffected when the Versailles treaty triggered the Cultural Revolution. Sea-waves crashed deep in his heart though his mind was undisturbed.

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Vulgar Modernity

Vulgarization provides an anecdote to certain insecurities which trouble intellectual movements. It responds to feelings of insularity, claustrophobia, incest, and impotence; fears that intellectual projects are “merely intellectual”, and don’t participate in any wider world beyond the limited intimacy of private passions. Vulgar inclinations are exogamous lines of escape from the sterility of sober discourse, so that philosophy might traffic on the high seas and commerce with the everyday goods of a non-intellectual world. This inclination approaches the most tenuous limits of intellectual endeavor, where reason risks abandoning itself to the unreasonable.

The term ‘vulgar modernity’ refers to a threshold where reason loses any distinction. There the conceptual merges into the non-conceptual like where the waters from two great rivers lose their distinction. This is a threshold of intoxications and perpetual controversies. Here rationality comes under the sway of the pathological, sexual, spiritual, political, aesthetic, commercial, and technological. The departure of discourse from the intellectual is surrounded with intrigues and suspicions. There are struggles between unidentified volitions and perverse complicities.

The displacement of the intellect might be colored ideologically as compromise, contamination, accommodation, hospitality, complicity, possession, appropriation, utilization, or servility. The “cunning of reason” operates in this threshold of encounter, though its uncertain whether reason itself has the upper hand. There is degradation of discourse, and uncertainty ensues in the threshold between genres. This scenario has immunological implications. The values of another genre – like commercial values or political advantages – will interfere with intellectual values such as veracity. There are crises of competence where there is no expertise available to appraise some emerging expressions. This causes divisions between those who are inclined to release discourse into other uncertain genres, and those Platonists who are committed to the dominion of reason. The politics of value-domains in vulgar modernity has analogies with the politics of migrant populations.

This threshold of vulgar modernity provides an alternative to the Habermasian public sphere. Where Kantian deontology concerns the management of rational disagreement, this would instead be an anarchistic realm where there is disjunction between alternate deontologies. The dimension would be defined by the tension between alternate definitions of the dimension. These disjunctions aren’t reducible to competitive relations because competition assumes rapport, and alternate definitions of vulgar modernity aren’t exclusive. Hostilities and suspicions are likely to foment in this environment, and they are riddled with misunderstandings which can never be resolved.

Classic controversies arise where Platonism is drawn towards religious mysteries, whether the Rites of Eleusis or sagely ceremonies of the orient. There is the seduction of something powerful – something orgiastic, aesthetic, spiritual – that promises to relieve a sense of inadequacy that troubles the intellect. The participation in rites is secretive and esoteric, but that secrecy may imply powers which can have public or civic effects. The rites are like a fountain of tribal instinct where a community is materialized in some satisfying way that mere intellectual discourse can never attain.

In classic Platonist rhetoric, Alain Badiou depicts philosophy as a resistance against those mysteries. The problem with such rationalism is that it tends towards an asceticism. There is something Hebraic about this rationalist modernity, where Plato becomes a sort of mathematician-Moses who unleashes a Jeremiad against the commercial whores of Babylon. Perhaps the Semitic origins of scientific modernity have been overlooked. Vulgar modernity is distinguished from this rationalism as a more promiscuous path where the intellectual pursues a riskier commerce with the non-intellectual.

The principles of reason are frequently abandoned in the financial currents of industrial society. This brings regressions in the quality of scholarship, where academia becomes another transaction alongside avocados and massages. Those academics who cling to principles are routinely horrified by the indifference of their colleagues, and become even more disturbed when forced to compromise on the rigor of their own professional discipline. Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that we are witnessing a Platonic reaction among left Hegelians like Badiou who are attempting to reestablish the classical ideals of mathematical rigor on the basis of deonotolgical and epistemological discourses. These initiatives are of tremendous value, at least for how they renew the transmission of classical education.

Vulgar modernity takes bearings in the philosophy of Deleuze, Lyotard, Nancy, and Agamben. These are not scholarly references, but rather a council of anarchist princes who plotted the seizure of academia for non-academic purposes. In his translator’s introduction to the ‘The Fold’ (1987), Tom Conley shrewdly identifies Deleuze as a partisan of “Cartesian philosophy”. This outrageous remark provides an insurrectionary point with tactical advantages. Academic convention has always emphasized Deleuze’s “Spinozism” which has remained an elusive and unsatisfying abstraction. The problem is that his “Spinozism” would have had undiscussed content that was contingent on geohistorical circumstances, but that spiritual content dissipates as we get further from his situation. Emptied of the exilic conditions under which it was written, and without the background of Cartesianism as something dangerously revolutionary, Spinoza’s Euclidian formalism loses any relevance it had for Deleuze. And even worse, the name Spinoza gets drawn into progressive discourses, where he is cast as a champion of “secularism” or “democracy” or some other empty ideal of tired liberalism descended from Kant.

Instead of struggling over which concepts are associated with which names, vulgar modernity would be an aesthetic idea of intellectual revolt. The name Descartes is suited to invoke the spirituality of that age when a strange dualism possessed the fringes of an emerging bourgeoisie. And we can understand that Parisian philosophers followed Spinoza and Leibniz as monistic interpreters of Descartes, and distinguished them from the occasionalist interpretation of Malebranche on one hand, and the subjective interpretation of Kant on the other.

Vulgar modernity opposes the “Kantianism” promoted today through the corporations and their universities, while vulgar modernity also flagrantly pillages that man from Konigsberg and his descendants. The error of mainstream Kantianism lies in its over-weighting of transcendental subjectivity, where all syntheses are made through that categorical field. That site of transcendental synthesis is never adequately established because it’s only hypothetical or regulative, and this has nihilistic and sadistic implications. The subject is logically over-weighted within conceptual discourse, and yet it eternally remains a persona non grata, in that its never given for us to encounter. That imaginary point of subjectivity became a new ascetic ideal, and it’s a faulty foundation for representation which mimics classical idealism. This subject is a sensitive point of symbolic castration around which nationalisms and other imaginary groupings can form. Against this transcendental subjectivism, vulgar modernity proposes an “earlier” style of dualism, where this temporal precedence is less about any real chronology than an aesthetics of archaism.

This historiography provides a dramatic staging, like how priests arrange performances of scripture so the laymen can understand. The Kantian scholar appears on stage as an embattled corporate executive, nervously trying to placate a suspicious audience. He claims to have possession of a magical social-filter which everything must pass through categorically in order that it can be counted in discussion or perception. This industrial product promises to shore up the stability of symbolic identity through transcendental schemas that reflect the ego as a good member of society. This flatters some communitarian narcissists who take refuge in the “privilege” of false freedom, and feel lucky that they can interpolate the world through the empty imperatives of liberalism. In opposition to this subjective spectacle, vulgar modernity is the atavistic return of a previous age when the wild winds of a colder reality blew. A pageant of anarchist barons to lead this atavistic return of an early modern spirituality, who include the likes of Salmon Maimon, Hermann Cohen, and Alfred Whitehead.

This drama has outward and inward sides which are distinguished by quantitative degrees. Again, this is like the Jesuit theater where allegories are only accessible to the initiate. Vulgary modernity would be participation in mystery, which is the participation of the represented with the unrepresented. The distinction between these two dimensions is primarily a matter of temperature or kinetic energy, in that representation is possible only for solids which are colder and slower, whereas it is not possible for the viscosity and dynamism of fluids. But secondarily this distinction concerns scale, where extensa is the frame of magnitude that corresponds with stable public appearance, and cogitans is whatever eccentricity doesn’t fit that frame because it is too large, too small, too fast, or too complex.

Vulgar modernity privileges the secret spiritual dimension of cogitans over the outward public appearances of extensa. This privileging of intimate eccentricity paradoxically allows for conventional value judgements and customary transactions. Vulgar modernity aligns with traditional moralities which assume the superiority of the spiritual (cogitans, virtual/actual) over the material (extensa, real/possible), and with the romanticisms and subjectivisms associated with Kant. It blends-in with progressive lines of Christian humanism and liberal individualism. It blends in because it appears to share the empty universality of the Kantian subject, but this is totally a deception. The outward display of extensa is a trojan horse that conceals the monstrous singularity of the cogitans. Where the Kantian subject is purely non-pathological, the Deleuzian monad entertains every pathology known to psychiatry and never pursues therapy.

This cogitans is obviously nothing like the religious soul of Descartes and Leibniz. This monstrous dimension never appears directly in the light of history, and never gets expressed or named directly on the page. Cogitans becomes the proper name for the mystery of the actual/virtual which is concealed in the performance of the real/possible. It might manifest as subtle disruptions which give discourse and perception curvatures or eccentricities, though such disruptions can also be feigned. It’s too singular (too hot, too dynamic, too viscous) to be explained in language or presented in images – it’s the secret kingdom of the monads. It isn’t situated beyond any horizon as a sublime source of attraction, repulsion and disturbance. In that case it would be the Kantian transcendental subject. Rather its the inherent noumenal double of all phenomenal perception and expression. It’s this double whereby the phenomenal participates in the mysteries of immanence.

The radical edge of res cogitans was named haecceity by Duns Scotus. That canonical reference is important because of the scholastic rigor which culminates in the concept of univocity. This is a concept of something that cannot be divided according to the grammar of metaphysics. This means there cannot be a separation of creator from creation, or subject from predicate. Haecceity provides a theological name for something nameless that lurks in that dimension which the Greeks called aperion – a negative term for something they feared and derided, much like they feared and derided the realm of Hades. But this dimension has been furnished with positive content, because romantic artists have long provided equipment for rendering the nuomenal expressible and perceptible.

Vulgar modernity appropriates German Idealism for dramaturgical purposes, to recode the dominant institutional ideologies of the contemporary age. The first point here is to register the strange hypocrisy of Kant’s practical philosophy – the emptiness of his ideal which never gets manifested. The first serious question is whether this emptiness is pregnant (meontic) with a spiritual echo of the apparent materiality of the world. Then the next question concerns the political topology that relates these two dimensions. Kantianism situates the sublime other as a point beyond the horizon, so it becomes the vanishing point around which a sort of renaissance perspectivism is recreated. This “regulative ideal” anchors the telos of historical progress, or as the Marquis de Sade put it, “One more effort, Frenchmen!” Economic developmentalism and its biopolitical discourse then can be considered as part of the legacy of Renaissance perspectivism. This is the topological relation that generates the subjective agency of liberal communities united in their kingdom of ends.

The Hegelian strain of German Idealism is politically disruptive because of how it asserts the individuality of the res cogitans, which other Kantians leave vacant as the categorical form. This subjective singularity was named the national Geist of Prussia, and then Marxists renamed it the Proletarian. Contemporary left Hegelianism is experimenting with mathematical formality, but there is reason to suspect that this might implicate the developmentalism of a transcendental subject. Vulgar modernity would be premised on the abolition of transcendental subjectivity, along with any insidious developmentalism.

Parisian philosophers opposed transcendental subjectivity with resources from Christian esotericism. This esotericism is a legacy where the unrepresentable was manifested in rare events which were called miracles. Deleuze conceptualizes these events as a process which he calls different/ciation, where an exchange takes place between two parallel processes of differentiation. Differentiation (with a t) proceeds on the level of res extensa, which is the public level of perception, expression and actions. This exoteric level is composed as the simulacra of subjective intension such that there is differentiation between possibility and reality. We call this level “material” which means precisely the same as “conceptual”. This is the level of discourse. But everything that happens in this public differentiation is doubled by a secret differenciation (with a c), which is a movement of pure spiritual energy within the dimension of res cogitans. This vulgar modernity communes with spiritualists like Rudolf Steiner.

The most serious concern for vulgar modernity is the hierarchical relationship between these two dimensions. The hierarchy can be explained through a pychoanalytic Christology where libido circulates between incarnation and resurrection. The “c” of differenciation is the celestial paradise of the monads, while the “t” of differentiation refers to those two pieces of wood where the flesh of the christ was nailed. The movement of materialization descends towards incarnation on the cross, while the resurrection returns to the heavenly kingdom of the monads. This endless circulation is interpreted as a traumatic cultural pathology of Europe which dispenses with any residues of religious transcendence. Then this cultural trauma can be interpreted clinically as the circulatio of sexual energy in the Kleinian movements of projection and introjection, and in the Lacano-Bionian movements of the transference field. The clinic then becomes a site where sexual investments are shifted between these ontological modalities. But vulgar modernity is unconcerned with anything therapeutic or even educational, and instead its concerns are rather dramaturgical.

The descent into materiality is an embodiment before the imaginary other, which is a public incarnation within the transference field of the res extensia. This is the alienation where pathologies are acted-out in the field of the transference so the pathology gets differentiated symbolically. This differentiation is a kind of public crucifixion which is followed by an ascent into the paradise of the monads, which is a level of spiritual repose. The Lacanian term “symbolic” takes on a Deleuzian sense where it concerns the integrity between differentiation and differenciation, so that its possible for libido to smoothly convert between them. A good performance is where the two processes blend into each other univocally.

This vulgarization would translate into a mystical Romantic Catholicism like the poetry of Charles Peguy. Draumaturgy can resolve the traumatic character of this religious cycle, which allows the unrepresentable to be incarnated in the representable. This means that every occurrence must happen on both registers so they coincide. What is of ultimate consequence is their tension, and the subtle shiftings where libido bounces between ontological modes. There are undulations where the polarity of charge and discharge reverses at the limits, and the pendulum swings back the other way. And there is more rapid modal flickering where sovereignty recoils upon itself. These games of fort-da are punctuated at events where inflections change and new cycles begin. The mystery is ceaseless movement in the relation between the represented and the unrepresented, and dramaturgies only become possible once the dynamic has some consistency.

Freud interpreted his young nephew’s game of fort-da as a ‘civilizational accomplishment’, but perhaps the ideological implications of that interpretation have not been sufficiently appreciated. Defining the game as an accomplishment privileges the measurability of res extensa. This is to say that Freud accounted for his nephew’s play as a debit on the bourgeois adult’s tables of work. This positions it in the developmental time of chronos which is the harsh reality of a growth and death. But of course play is more at home within the aionic time of res cogitans. Thus the distinction of different/ciation can be mapped onto the developmental relation of playful child and working adult so there is an interpretive parallax between perspectives. Childhood can be alienated in res extensa where it undergoes the cruel tribulations of the castration complex. There play becomes shameful in the gaze of the adult other. But if we move the game into the register of res cogitans, then the whole ordeal of development could become a spiritual drama. The castration complex can be understood as this perspectival switch between these modalities.

A decadent formulation would make reality the principle of differentiation and pleasure the principle of differenciation, then they would be distinguished according to which principle has the upper hand. Though it would more likely be a wrestling match where it’s unclear which side is dominant. The res cogitans is where the pleasure principle appropriates the reality principle as a dramatic technique, whereas in res extensia the reality principle is absolute and pleasure is sought in the experience of mortality. Symbolic castration might be considered as a shift of investment between the two levels, between life-or-death struggle and decadent spiritual drama. Decadence is certainly better than realism – there is a value hierarchy here – but there is also a dependency between them. The res cogitans requires the fall into the alienation of the res extensa where it is charged with spiritual energy. The dramas of decadence are boring without reality.

This dialectic of decadence and realism follows a sinological pattern which could have begun through Leibniz. Such Chinese thinking can survey dynamic dualities which aren’t caught up with the moral-metaphysics of good and evil that pervades European thought. Here it’s possible to have hierarchy without excluding the terms from each other. This kind of dialectic is key for many vulgarizations. This way Deleuze can be assimilated into the Chinese canon. Perhaps this eastward migration of Descartes was sealed as a destiny in the exchanges between Joachim Bove and Emperor Kangxi. This can be related to cryptic comments in Deleuze’s Leibniz book like, “it may be that the baroque will have to confront the orient profoundly”. This possibility of such a confrontation hasn’t escaped the purvey of academic scholarship which has recognized the translatability of Spinoza’s univocity into the Dao.

The Confucian scholar Yu Ying-Shih (2016) highlights the social reorganization during the Song dynasty as one of the great turning points in Chinese history. For whatever reasons, the civil service exam became more important during that period. The rise of a new scholasticism broke with hereditary and military power because it made official posts more accessible for commoners, as they could enter the state through study. This style of scholasticism is known as “principle study” (理学) which in English is usually translated as Neoconfucianism. A new alliance was forged between the emperors of the Song dynasty and this particular intellectual movement. This movement had begun among ascetic masters of Chan Buddhists during the Tang period and culminated when Zhuxi established the White Deer academy during the Southern Song.

This alliance between scholars and emperors didn’t last long, because first there was a Mongol invasion, and then the founders of the Ming dynasty which followed had less appreciation for scholars. Every dynasty in Chinese history relied on legitimation from Confucianists, but unenlightened regimes would torture or exile scholars who made unsolicited petitions. The alienation of scholars continued through the first few Ming emperors, until the relatively enlightened emperor Xiaozong, who brought a return of Song-style intellectual liberty. It was during the Xiaozong period that the young Wang Yangming passed his exams and began service for the court. In his early years, Wang elaborated ideas about community contract (乡约), and followed a neo-Confucian code where the scholar’s role was to lead the emperor along the Way (得君行道). This period of relative enlightenment ended with the next emperor, though Wang wasn’t cognizant of the change in the political environment. When he advised the Zhengde emperor to alter some ceremonial arrangements, the eunuch who had made the original arrangements had him banished to Guizhou.

During his Guizhou exile, Wang had an epiphany concerning the Mencian idea of moral intuition (良知). This happened in a place called Longchang (龙场) in 1508. This epiphany had a transformative effect on his political attitude and led to a new conception of the role of the Chinese scholar. From then on, Wang would spread this “moral intuition” wherever he went, but he would no longer concern himself with interfering in the workings of the state apparatus. He taught the locals in Longchang his new ideas and was surprised that they could understand his scholarly discourse even though they were uneducated. This confirmed the universality of moral intuition. This scene is like the section of Plato’s Meno, where Socrates teaches geometry to a slave, confirming the universality of the logos.

Some years later, after Wang was restored to office, one of his disciples named 王银 requested his stamp on a petition addressed to the emperor on some matter. Not wanting to get involved with the affairs of state, Wang refused to give his stamp, and eventually burned the petition in frustration. As a gesture to demonstrate the meaning of the lesson, he changed the student’s name to 王艮. This character is used the represent the 52nd hexagram in the I-Ching, where the commentary reads “the superior man does not permit his thoughts to go beyond his place”. That student went on to establish the Taizhou school who successfully popularized Wang’s teachings.

This problem of “remaining in place” provides a translation point for vulgar modernity. It can be connected with the ancient Greek mysteries, which concerned with the problem of distributions and proportions. An axiology of transcendental proportions runs through Greek terms like moira, tyche, daemon, and neimen. Georgio Agamben and Monica Ferrando discuss this in Kora (2014). Vulgar modernity opposes formalistic universalism from fatalistic positions. This does not restore classical idealism, as these singular positinos aren’t subsumed under any ideal. The distribution of proportions proceeds simultaneously on the physical-symbolic level of res extensa and on the spiritual-imaginary level of res cogitans. This concerns the political-economy of distribution in society, and the division of shares between mortals and immortals. Changes in these distributions may have political risks.

Saying that vulgar modernity is neither therapeutic nor educational makes a critical genre distinction. An aesthetic dimension can be defined through the exclusion of these genres, and this dimension would have uncertain political consequences. Wherever there is the fixing of goals – whether they are educational, therapeutic, or political – there the reality principle of the res extensa takes the upper hand. Vulgar modernity is aesthetic, in the sense that its a domain of the decadent pleasure principle. But as we have suggested, this hierarchy periodically reverses, and this easily occurs when vulgar modernity itself becomes a politics in order to survive. This undulating hierarchy that periodically reverses, is known in Chinese as Qianmu’s pendulum. Here we’ll site a long passage which shows how this dialectic is part of an idealistic way of thinking:

“Whether there is a circle or a pendulum range, there will be what can be called a center. This center is not on the two sides, nor anywhere outside, but rather lies within the range of the swing. 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. It is as if the center were controlling the motion. The ceaseless and infinite motion seems eternally to be under the command of the center, and thus we can say that it is perfectly moving while perfectly still, perfectly changing while perfectly constant… Confucians want to point out a fixed center…. this we call the center which is not manifest… the still master, the constant… good is just the center of this constant motion, whereas evil is what exceeds or doesn’t reach it…. peace and struggle are phenomena that arise alternately in human life; they form a cycle, moving back and forth, moving from peace to struggle and then back to peace… there is a center of constancy in this struggle… struggle must search for peace, and peace must resist struggle, which means that it mustn’t be afraid of struggle… so peace and struggle are close together…. but peace that is far removed from struggle or struggle that is far removed from peace these are both removed from the center, and so they are evil in that they cannot attain constancy. Evil is whatever cannot be constant. The same is true of health and sickness. Usually it is assumed that a healthy person is free of sickness, but in reality if there were no sickness then there could not be the work of metabolism, assimilating and excretion. The function of excretion is a kind of sickness that is not far removed from health, and thus it is good. The same is true of work and rest: to rest so much that you cannot work is evil, just as it is evil to work so much that you cannot rest. People usually think of life as positive and death as negative, and then they start thinking that the positive side is good and the negative side is evil… but according to the theory we are developing here, as long as evil stays close to good, it is no longer evil, and if good is too far removed from evil then it is no longer good”

Vulgar modernity maps the cogitans/extensa relation onto this Confucian pendulum of good and evil. Then cogitans (pleasure) can be considered as good, but it only remains good if it remains close to the evil of extensa (reality). This sinicization enters into mediation with contemporary Chinese politics. Qianmu’s cohort have been labeled “modern neoconfucians”, a generation who came of age in the years following the termination of the civil exam in 1905, and who maintained fidelity with classical Chinese education unlike the western-style thinkers who are better known from that period. And amongst this group of 20th century Confucianists, Qianmu is remarkable for his fidelity to the Song Dynasty thinking, where his peers were inclined towards the Ming. Their teachers had passed the civil exams, but when those teachers passed away, that left Qianmu and his ilk as the last living masters of these lines of initiation going back nearly a thousand years.

This anecdote provides an introduction to a dimension of Chinese politics, which concerns the problem that Eric Santner has called “Royal Remains”. Of interest here is a crowd of intellectuals, some of whom have become relatively obscure while others remain widely recognized, who we might call the elders of the republic. The works of literature produced by this group compose a link between modern China and the Qing Dynasty. Their symbolic status is a sensitive flashpoint in the inheritance of Chinese traditions of scholarship and authority. Today much of this tradition is languishing in a neitherworld that lawyers might call “intestate”, which is to say that the rights to this inheritance are largely undecided and even unclaimed.

By using this designation “elders of the republic”, the intention is to include both Confucianists and Modernizers. It seems that the entire idea of modern china could hinge on the symbolic status of this group, as the shared legacies of both the Republic (Taiwan) and the People’s Republic (Mainland) flow back into this body of literature. While there is incentive for contemporary leaders to claim such legacies, much of this literature is unpalatable for the current leadership in the Chinese world. The editions which are presently available in the mainland have undergone considerable revision, such that the raw singularity of the voice of these elders has been edited out.

In the early years of the 20th century, scholarly fads in China were influenced by Peter Kropotkin, John Dewey and Bertrand Russel. These facts are of interest to us here, not for the scholarly analysis of discourse, but for purposes of spiritual intoxication. Restaging the ideological pageantry of early Chinese modernity, and punctuating suitable ideological thresholds, can release rarified spores of antiquity.

Vulgar modernity is a decadent taste for subtle hues of intoxication. Where industrial modernity imposes its division of labor, vulgar modernity is a spiritual echo of this industrial division. To gain an appreciation for this taste, it’s necessary to that we can situate ourselves within this dynamic relation. Here we’ll proceed with a rejoinder to Zizek’s critique of the capitalist superego. Zizek describes the injunction to enjoy as a reversal of the religious ban on enjoyment. Where this left-Hegelian thinking places this reversal under a natural sign, a (decadent) Confucianist reading might consider this a natural swing of Qianmu’s pendulum. This Freudo-Kantianism still wants to distinguish the pathological from the non-pathological on some subjective basis. But what matters for the Confucian pleasure principle is whether this is all part of larger undulations, whether it is turning around some imaginary center.

Ideation of this (imaginary?) center brings about a modal suspension of reality, or it moves reality onto the abstract idea of greater cycles. This idea of the great cycle would amount to a Confucianization of the Greek mysteries. This principality of pleasure is aesthetic, or more specifically, dramaturgical. The center of the cycle is an absolute point where the pleasure principle appropriates the reality principle as an instrument. This appropriation was in Derrida’s philosophy where he discusses the oscillations of the fetish.

Vulgar modernity doesn’t judge a performance as good in itself, but within a larger economy of pleasure. At this point skeptics might claim that pleasure is a subjective principle, but vulgar thinking only concerns itself with such logical problems when they manifest as practical problems. The problem of “whose pleasure?” can be suspended in dramatic uncertainty. There is a dramatic distinction between this blessed perspective of the res cogitans, where performances take place within larger cycles of pleasure and realty, and the damned perspective of the res extensa who have fallen under the spell of some terrible realism. This is a soteriological interpolation where salvation turns on pleasure as the ultimate synthesis of reality, and damnation turns on reality itself instituted as an absolute abyss or some demiurgical intrigue。

The monad’s exile in the principality of reality is essential because it recharges the dramatic stage. This exile is where dramaturgy becomes indistinguishable from immunology in the night of the trial by matter. The pleasure principle is recharged through its disturbance by the trauma of the real. Without that traumatic disturbance, pleasure becomes an empty formality which reverses into anguish. Transcendental subjectivity is susceptible to this disappointment because its an ideology which positivizes subjective positions without negativity. Thus (crude) Kantianism prefigures the hedonism of industrial society, which reverses into asceticism as it succumbs to a reality principle. This is an impasse of contemporary society, where a nihilistic subjectivism ends up kneeling before reality which is its last source of pleasure. This exile under the terror of the reality principle continues until we reach the threshold of vulgar modernity.

Vulgar modernity would (perhaps) be original kind of socio-cultural criticism, which is distinguished from left Hegelianism. Capitalism then is only bad because the undulations between pleasure and realty are swinging too far. The vulgar modernist solution is to give pleasure the upper hand, and keep it closely exposed to disturbances from reality. Returning to the starting point of this discussion, there is a borderline disorder where non-discourse is excluded from discourse. Either the logical threads of discourse are followed obsessively, or else discourse is recklessly thrown away. Discourse is either idealized or rejected. Vulgar modernity abolishes this exclusivity through the intoxication of the discursive intellect. These intoxicating mysteries could be anything or nothing. Some residues from the rites of Eleusis, the Catholic mass, or the night of romantic poetry, might remain as abstract contours, but identifiable figurations are only maintained on a functional basis.

Identities – figures, concepts, names, locations, times – are only situated on the level of res extensa. Intoxication is the swooning into res cogitans where identities are abolished. The endless spirit journey becomes a sovereign means without end. The journey is mediated by the identities on the level of extensa, but those identities are modalized on the level of cogitans, which means they take on a speciousness or caprice, such that they might be otherwise. They become masks for the spirit which are functional for the mediation of the journey.

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Chinese Baroque

chinese baroque

The Chinese baroque is a nascent literary community, a kind of presence generated through the fashioning of words and images. This would spiritualize the singularity of our separation in order that we may traverse a spiritual world. But this project encounters difficulties because our separations are so dynamic and even mercurial. We are separated by waves of displacement which issue from the absence of antiquity and keep industrial society in motion. The Chinese baroque would be an infinite translation of these waves back towards the origins of instinctual trauma and the disquiet of the organic.

Psychoanalysis provides some mediation for this movement.  That theory treats sexuality as the real impasse of being, but this introduces a negativity which may provoke allergies.  There’s a controversy over how we account for the breaching of representation.  Psychoanalysis raises sexuality to a sublime idea on the horizon its discourse which is follows like a pole star.  Such a sublime non-relation also guides discourses on the social, political and economic. But we might dispense with all these discourses by subtracting this sublime negativity as a consequence of relational ideology. Wherever relation is raised to an absolute ideal, then discourse will get disturbed by non-relation. The circumvention of relational discourse becomes possible through monadology, which is a non-relational discourse, and hence a discourse without this negativity. This requires a positive absolute, which leaves us with the question – what of the monadological sublime?

The answer to this question is geophilosophy.  This is not cosmological thinking, but rather attunement to our traumatic exposure amidst the things of the earth, such as oceans, mountains, rivers, forests, and deserts.  Through the sublimation of these things we can avoid the negative relation inherent in humanistic discourses. These discourses can be displaced by a transcendental georealism so that their negativity gives way to the positivity of the things which ultimately separate us.  Sexuality and work would lose their sublimity and become mere reproduction, which can be spiritualized into a geohistorical process.  The humanist discourses would be spiritualized into the mystery of wind and waves… which are not discourses, but rather aesthetic figurations.

The term Chinese baroque designates a field of accidental connections, which could have some order of necessity. These accidents enter into communication and create a fabric of transcendental figures. This is a “nomad art” in the strict sense that a yurt is made of felt, though the identity of the artists will be left undetermined here. Felt is produced simply by bringing materials together and compressing them, so that the pieces are impressed into each other, so the relations are purely synthetic. There is no weaving involved. Perhaps the only argumentative issue that could arise here would concern the efficacy of the translation of discourses and images into transcendental figures.

The Chinese baroque names a conjunctural fabric of tremendous complexity. This folds along a limit of historiography at the edge of the early modern age, where the “realist” problems of early modernity were suspended as Kantian liberalism produced its theater of imaginary ideals. What is currently called the “rise of China” is breaking the spell of this Eurocentric idealism and restoring the problems of an earlier modernity. The developmental historicism of Europe gives way to a geographical realism, because of how the centers of economic activity are redistributed.  Though we are not so concerned here with generated a discourse on this historical event, but rather with effectuating the exposure of its transcendental implications.

Where psychoanalysis conceived of sexuality as “the absence which curves and determines the structure of what appears”, this sort of thinking can be superseded by introducing a geographical mediation into this curvature.  This does not reduce the transcendental curvature to the geographical but superimposes geography onto the curvature to eliminate the negativity of the sexual. This theory that follows here will zig-zag between psychoanalysis and political-economy as it translates them together into the ground of a transcendental georealism.  Though this ground won’t be receiving, and it’s rather implied as the negativity of discourse.

Where psychoanalysis begins from a sexual negativity in nature, the Chinese baroque begins from the imbalance of industrial society. This imbalance can be understood to result from an idea, or rather the absence of a classical idea, which is the void that is filled with the ersatz idea of historical materialism. This treats nihilism as the engine of modern history, which is set into motion by the unsatisfying materialization of classical ideals. The disquiet of this vacant historical idea leads to a great providential tournament where matter is contested as an object of possession, processing, knowledge, consumption, enjoyment. These predications – to know matter, to process matter, to consume matter etc. – these are the correlated actions of subjects who compete in the great contest of historical materialism. Perhaps it might be the case that this competition is performed for the satisfaction of some unidentified others. This theater is where science enters a threesome with eroticized consumers and humanist academia. This unholy trinity is a psychosomatic disturbance which accumulates the momentum of the commercial urban frenzy.

Industrial symbols are insecure due to the capricious valuation of matter in the tensions of agonistic competition. The valuation of matter is a sensitive frontier where institutions are exposed to the abgrund of their historicity, where competition is configured through the interpretation of accidents. This is a threshold where developmental logic deteriorates into reversibility: excess becomes lack, work becomes consumption, and solutions become problems. The Chinese baroque is a threshold where this wound of economics is sublimated into aestheticism. This shifts the ontological foundation of contingency.

The Chinese baroque suspends materialist competition in theatrical modality, so the counterfeiting of industry dispels the ambivalent foundation of positive accounting. This aestheticization resolves the vulnerability of symbolic valuation and thereby supersedes the logical impasses of development.  This replaces work with instinctual signals which are georealistic mediations. This releases spirituality from the abyss of historical materialism where it was subliminally grounded in ancient mystery. This cuts the chains of arcane economic subjugation. This is a secularization which is easily distinguished from any liberal progressivism. Where the postmodern was bound subjectively by its democratic ethics, the advent of Chinese capitalism releases waves of baroque spirituality because its political absolutism neutralizes subjectivity.  This absolutism is a feature of the regime’s political territoriality.

This romantic sublimation of work into the instincts passes through amorous phases, such as the adolescent idolization of celebrities. Deleuze understands love as a pre-aesthetic phase introduced by the troubadours. The derealization of industry proceeds through a gradual heightening of sensitivity to the precision of times and places which abolishes the abstract generalities of materialist conceptuality. The excess of individuality overcomes developmental representation. There is a spreading of singular modes of contingency, which are the intelligible vessels of sublime terrestrial orientations.

The baroque aestheticization resolves the castration of industrialism which is the gaping wound in the materialist foundation of economic values. The spirituality is drawn from the depths of that trauma into which we must descend…

The aesthetic draws its power from a gallery of abjections which it sublimates through the trauma of geohistory. The constant disintegration of industrial rationale into the abyss of historical nihilism provokes premature flight into compulsive aesthetic. This precocious flight gets stalled where the bird’s wings are caught in material concepts. A failure of customary representation becomes an original trauma which enframes occupational subjectivity in obsessional patterns of development. Subjectivity persists through a blockage where the course of spiritualization is wrecked on the reef of material concepts.

Industrial volition is rent asunder by economic hysteria which arises in conditions of radical existential uncertainty. Through what work might we flourish? What is getting evaluated? Who is evaluating who, and on what basis? Work is paid in currency, but in what substance is it ultimately compensated? This questioning of economic hysteria hollows out industrial metaphysics like swiss cheese as panic spreads through the vacuity of work and consumption alike.

Symbolic failure looms as the trauma of infantile dependence. Infancy is associated with imaginary economy which is denigrated as a delusional pretense of unrefined instinct, like those worthless hobbies of the unemployed or the make-believe domesticity of the young. Children are encouraged to entertain idealistic fancies which emblematize the consummation of the family. These fantasies also serve pedagogical functions, getting the young hooked on certain imaginary ideals which determine the direction of development. But these fancies become shameful beyond adolescence where they transform into abjections. If instinct isn’t eventually channeled into something that suffices as industry, then the status of adulthood may be denied. The baroque can be understood as an elaborate perversion of this whole arrangement, where some perverse adulthood smuggles infantile instinct as a stowaway concealed within the folds of industrial modernity. There is a swirling motion where infancy and adulthood infinitesimally switch positions.

The advent of georealism suspends historicality into an artificial modality. Time is a pure separation without concept, and historical accounting attempts to forge the missing conceptuality of time for the representation of development. This forgery of symbolic time is a vulnerability which manifests symptomatically as an obsession with accumulated experience in the representation of value. Representation diminishes experience into scarcity. The baroque circumvents this pathological hiccup by reducing history to a façade. Such a reduction is consistent with Deleuze’s thinking about the past as a dimension of the present which never happened yet makes time pass. This renders antiquity available as the ultimate experience without ambivalence and abolishes a vast ideology of historical time in one violent stroke.

The psychopolitics of the family is one theater where this transition proceeds.  Positivist ideologies of maturation quarantine infancy like a dangerous contagion. This situates infancy at a safe distance from adulthood, where it becomes a disposal site for the problematic imbalances of industry. Adulthood can maintain the guise of seriousness by projecting inconsistencies onto infancy. Children are manipulated into accepting the poisonous gifts of the real. Childhood becomes a doomed sovereignty left to entertain its conceits until reality strikes. This is the terrible jouissance of consumerist children (aka spoiled brats) whose subjectivity is afflicted with the poisonous excesses of production.

There is a doubling of infancy – the past infancy of the parent, the present infancy of the child – where one is concealed by the substitution of the other. The presence of the child’s infancy somehow relegates the parent’s infancy safely to the past. But the adult’s need to negate their own infancy turns out to be infantile, because that is also what the child does. The adult “plays along” with the child’s infantile delusions of adulthood, but this playing along is the ruse by which the adult negates their own infancy. Notice the circle where it’s infantile to negate one’s own infancy which is the negation of infancy… which means that infancy implies its own negation, and that the adoption of such negative infancy may be inevitable. And this negative infancy would seem to be an aestheticization or dramatic mode of performance. The Chinese baroque refers to this modal conversion at the limits of developmental ideology.

The circular familial imagination may attempt to stabilize itself by resorting to realistic developmental discourses. But this fails when the portrayal of the intellectual adult who knows the course of development appears pathetically antiquated. The intellectualization of development appears as an obsolete epistemophilia or a futile talisman that fails to dispel infancy. Such failure of developmental intellectual pretension has consequences for authority in educational institutions which are rendered dysfunctional when unstable pretensions to seniority are ridiculed by students. This pedagogical struggle over wits is a decisive political theater.

Infancy is negated on both sides of a mirror where parents and children alike imagine they are adults. A circulation occurs where one infancy replaces the other, and this puts developmental time out of joint. The infant imagines they are an adult when they play with toy trucks and guns. This play-work of imaginary maturity is vulnerable and susceptible to collapse. But the parent may be engaged in a similar play-work, and so there is a perverse conspiracy where the generations are beholden to respect each other’s delusions of adulthood.

In Chinese society there is constant protection of the other’s vulnerable delusion of maturity. This is like a conspiracy to conceal the sexual non-relation, which is like the fraudulence of imaginary adulthood. Early in their education, students learn the dangers of threatening the pretensions of their teachers. There is this assumed danger that the other could be infantilized (lose face, shamed), yet avoiding that threat ends up exposing it, and thereby affirming the avoider in the role of the adult (i.e. the one who infantilizes the other). The adult can be the one who lets the child pretend they are an adult. There are strange conflicts over who is more respectful of whose narcissism, like a potlach of flattery that would cover the hole in the other’s representation. Adulthood politely infantilizes itself to compensate for the other’s assumed infantilism. Such relations are tenuous until they cross the threshold where the developmental reality principle is abolished.

The Chinese baroque is a phase where the affectation of infancy changes hue, which involves a normalization of developmental delusions. Play-work becomes an essential mode for the expression of instinct, where infantilism is entertained as a dramatic simulacrum. Calling this a simulacrum is to eliminate any requirement for its realism, so that it may express the spontaneity of the monadic instinct. A spirituality is liberated as the expression of instinct loses its ground in the calculus of work. But as time loses the sense of industrial optimization, this opens a dimension of the enigmatic. This can create an overwhelming sense of sovereign power which provokes the terror of the sacred. To avoid sliding into madness, rationality must assume a mode that accommodates play-work.

Baroque aesthetics follows the waves of imbalance that spill from one symbolic determination to the next.  The organic disquiet of materialism assumes position as the motivating contamination which Deleuze calls spirit and idea. The pathological imbalance of industry is identified as this poisonous eucharist.  The contaminating idea is incarnated in disturbed matter, where something intangible (spirit) is trapped within something tangible (matter). This capture of energy in matter is figured by the tense abjection in the paintings of Francis Bacon. It seems matter in this sense would coincide exactly with representation, since matter becomes the concept of what is essentially representable. Matter is whatever empiricism can nail down, and whatever can be shown of artwork, and this tangibility corresponds with the old theological concept of damnation. Leibniz considered the relation with evil essential for blessedness, thus determining the purpose of the condemned in creation. Such cruelty would likely to offend the ethics of progressivism, but perhaps progressivism  underestimates the difficulties of metabolizing classical ideas and lacks a taste for drama.

An elementary phenomenological question arises concerning the perception of something within matter which is not matter. Spirituality means that this “something else” cannot be reduced to a concept, object or discourse. In the early modern age, the imperceptible substance might have been conceived as a community of blessed souls who beheld the true kingdom, it might have been a scientific community that beheld the true order of nature. There was evidently some breach between the religious and scientific spiritualities. During the contemporary period this “something more” might be the surplus enjoyment which the commodity promises to contain, and which tantalizes consumers. The Chinese baroque would sublimate these consumerist pathologies back into the confused scientific-spiritualism of an earlier modernity.

Deleuze distinguished the divergence of his nomadology from the convergence of Leibniz’s monadology. This distinction corresponds today with the distinction between spirituality and materiality. Matter is the object around which economic ideologies converge, whereas spirituality is a clinaminic divergence from that concept of matter. This non-identity of matter corresponds with the swirling enigma of infancy. Infantile manners may appear polite in that they are non-threatening and unpretentious, but this modesty may conceal their power. Infancy connects with the eccentricity which expresses a more singular instinct. Eccentricity can be interpreted as a sign of monadic divergence from the industrial conception of matter. This leads into the drag aesthetic of those enigmatic signifiers that were introduced in the 1970’s by Jean Laplanche. Drag is a manifestation of the temporal disjuncture which is disavowed into the abyss of development. When the industrial representation of adult sexuality is disclosed as an empty façade, that disclosure releases a more spiritual sexuality from the ban on infancy.

The advent of baroque spirituality implies a disinvestiture of industrial representation. This is a change in the ontological modality of the materialist discourses and embodied apperceptions which are correlated in the developmental calculi of health and happiness. The interpolation of these image-concepts undergoes a modal distortion, where they are suspended in technological artifice. This is a change in what we might call the incidence of interpolation, a topological change in the composition of subjectivity. This change is simultaneously affective, symbolic, perceptual, imaginary and real. The body is still identified symbolically as a developmental subject, but this identity loses possession of the monadic mind which discovers new margins of liberty in how it inhabits the body. This de-corporealization proceeds gradually through waves of fluctuation in the modality of interpolation. In Deleuze’s terms, this would be a new articulation of the virtuality-actuality of the mind with the possibility-reality of the body.

This sublimation must preserve the continuity of industrial ideology, which means maintaining the correlation of image with concept. The ligament that relates image and concept is the fault-line where sublimation can fail by collapsing into the abyss. Their seam is held together by the affected competition over the family and state. The subject is interpolated symbolically in dramatic roles in the theater of family and state. This is to say that the two sides of the industrial artifice – discourse and image – are held together by the passion of competition which has a seductive power that conjures the subject into embodiment. Industrial subjectivity is possessed by the need for recognition of entitlements, values, rights, honors, authorities, figures and virtues. This competition-fantasy must be suspended without being destroyed. It must be dematerialized and remodalized into an aesthetic residue. This modal suspension proceeds by gradually increasing the contrast between these image-concepts and an order of “real things”. These things have to assume an autonomous sovereignty which releases spirituality from its entrapment in the matter of the commodity. This liberation is theatrically staged.

Things themselves cannot be perceptible or conceivable, as that would compromise their sublimity, and so they can only be registered indirectly or negatively. These things negate the entire order of perception and discourse by abandoning it to the impassioned competition over the materialist image-concepts. The real things are conceived negatively as a distortion that warps the field of subject-object competition. Or we might say that these things are themselves this topological curvature around which image-discourses traffic. Awakening to the importance of these things is like when historians suddenly realize the importance of geography and how the lay of the land conditions the recording of accidents. The intrusion of this alien topology breaks the spell of subjectivity and suspends the affected complex of images and concepts in the modality of artifice. But this decathexion would fail if the power of the spectacle merely moved into a more alienated register. This is to say that the sovereignty of the things must positively assert itself and subordinate the order of concepts and images.

The monad adopts a parasitic attitude towards its own body, which is perceived as an instrument of industrial development. This sacrifice has political advantages because it shifts the balance of power from the image-discourses of development towards the things of the earth. This is a dangerous undertaking, because if the spectacle retains its absoluteness – if the image-discourse doesn’t get relativized or subordinated to the things – then consciousness is captured back into the codes of spectacle and boredom ensues. Boredom is a broad term which includes variants like shame and abjection, and this is what results when the monad is subordinated to an alien spectacle of corporeality. There are many possible strategies for avoiding boredom. The Chinese baroque makes a holocaust-offering of the corporeal image-discourse before the spectacle of development, so the body is reduced to an artifice through this gesture of donation.

It becomes critical that the things of the earth are not reduced to concepts or images, and neither can they be reduced to objects that would be correlated with a subject. This means that these things mustn’t be conceived, perceived or manipulated, but perhaps they can be negatively indicated and manifested by the “lay of the land”. This indirectness gives the things a sublime materiality, which is not the materiality of development but a more chaotic matter which we refer to as spirit. This imperceptible matter must subordinate and condition developmental matter by capturing it into its dynamic topology. This order of sublimity was expressed when Leonardo Da Vinci wrote, “the spirit has no voice, because where there is voice there is body”.

The transcendental topology of things of the earth is neither terrestrial nor cosmic. Deleuze and Guatarri distinguished the Tertullian tendencies of romanticism from the cosmic abstraction of modernism, but the baroque doesn’t adhere to that distinction. The topology in question corresponds with the singularities of instinct, or how instincts are oriented dynamically in the environment with other instincts. This instinctual environment might be conceived geohistorically or astronomically, but that conceptuality is secondary. The instinct is oriented around singularities which are pure abstractions. These singularities are where an autistic self-relation of the monad meets environmental alterity. The throbbing of instinct gets coordinated with the lay of the land experienced dynamically as tides, seasons, erosions, migrations, and breezes.

The Chinese baroque is an alchemy which promotes the divergence of alien spirits from industrial matter. But those spirits may not be destined to reach full expression. Their virtualities may never be actualized, and their possibilities may never be realized. To assume an imperative for realization and actualization would revert to the volitional ideologies of industry. There is no need to disturb the sleep of the monads, and the aesthetic problem is rather to facilitate their sleep.  The problem is not to achieve some political goal, but rather to maintain an ethical disposition. The sleeping spirits function as instinctual mediators, and the disturbance of their sleep could render them dysfunctional. Voluntary subjectivity is the industrial disturbance of the natural sleep of the unconscious. The art of baroque translation relieves subjective consciousness by reorienting instinct on an involuntary topology, so that consciousness may withdraw into the transcendental fabric of geohistory.

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The Wave of the Event

“the living arts of modernity attempt to establish the non-indifferent within the indifferent”

-Peter Sloterdijk

Money-obsession has been analyzed as a kind of madness. But it’s also possible to go the other way and consider this affliction as an overly rigid insistence on sanity. If the money-obsessed are too reasonable, then perhaps madness is what they lack. They accumulate money to compensate for this lack of madness. They are tormented by how reality doesn’t add up. The madness stirs outside of them, because they don’t have room for madness in their minds. The accumulators are missing something.

This would follow G.K. Chesterton’s argument against the Greek rationalism that he found epitomized in ontology and the theological discourses of the scholastics. He proposed that we require more robust fantasies. This could mean granting more autonomy to instinct. And translating this into psychoanalysis, this madness becomes the reality of part-bodies, or what we might call part-lives. Becoming hospital to this madness would require a suspension of the rationalistic pretense of wholeness. Though wholeness cannot be entirely abolished, and so it becomes like a toll which is paid to commercial society. Wholeness as a coin.

The madness of fantasy is another scene for the disquiet of the inherently partial instinct. This has survived in the modern world like a parasite that expresses itself on partial objects, yet it keeps its cover by pretending that its objects are whole. It’s ruse is a synecdoche where the partial instinct wears wholeness as a costume so that the autonomy of corpuscular dust is secretly reserved. The clandestine partiality of the origin is thus smuggled into industrial society. The mirror of rational wholeness remains, but in the register of an ontological inauthenticity.

This smuggling conspiracy is called art. The composition of art tarries with mutual betrayal between currency and desire. The body without organs is where instinct becomes a force of composition, the emptiness that transmutes parts into whole. But that instinctual whole cannot be exchanged as a coin. It has the unexchangeable individuality which the scholastics called haecceity. So, the concept of wholeness is split into a mirror double: the body without organs and the coin that is supposed to purchase it. The coin represents the body as exchangeable, even though the body is unexchangeable. Art becomes the work of sustaining this disjunction or counterfeiting between finance and instinct.

Language is on the side of currency, and there is a kind of esoteric speech which is on the side of instinct. Poetry is the operation of translation which renders the coin of language inauthentic. For example, Bernardo Soares claimed to regret “never having been a Roman emperor”. This repurposing of language shouldn’t be considered ironic. It suspends the work of linguistic expression. It bores out the rationality of language so that instinct can move through it. We might have called this a deontology, though that term has been seized by rationalists.

Our oppression is the perceptual necessity of wholeness. We get captured by the compulsion to work obsessively on the maintenance of wholeness. The gaze of the other looks for our wholeness as a transactable symbol. That gaze causes the perception that instinct cannot move through the mouth. The market tries to appropriate the mouth as a serious organ which must work. That image of wholeness reifies financial power, taking hold of the affective nerves and capturing attention. Where the tribunal of finance seizes populations by the wholeness of work, political resistance must target the ontology of that image and symbol. The radical gesture is to render wholeness inauthentic. The wholeness of work must be secretly manifested as a counterfeit coin.

The reifying gaze of the work-image is washed away from the senses by the infinity of oblivion. The composition of art is a tenuous process that can only occur at a point of stillness in the no man’s land between instinct and commerce. The image of currency is carried along in the momentum of work, like a top that must keep spinning or else it will fall. The instinctual corpuscules are stowaways in this compulsive movement. Artistic composition can only occur at this disjunction between work and worklessness. This disjunction is a trauma of imposture.

An artistic composition is crystalline like mother of pearl. It can only proceed from what is already composed, building layer upon layer. Instinct smuggles into the movement of work by disguising itself. Art facilitates this mineralogical echoing between the corpuscular and the financial.

The mirroring gets closer and closer until the point of indistinction which is called essence. The workless instinct disappears into the contours of work like a chameleon. Work is caught between symbol and image, and that capture is the pressure which contorts the instinct into the drive. This leaves a pattern of torsion, a flight, a “hop to it! yes sir, yes sir!” That nervous twitch is the curve that the workless must imitate. This kind of art is called mannerism, the work of the workless. An eccentric twitch, purposeless behavior. A simulation of purpose that fools no one except the gaze.

This event is a disruption in mirror relations, but it’s a subtle disruption. The same secretly gets infected with the other. The two are concealed in the one – the actor concealed within the role. This is a revelation of the open secret that expression doesn’t resemble content. The image harbors something of a completely different nature. A difference is smuggled into the moving image of work so that the haptics of the hole is released into captivity. Talmudic speech must entwine with the letters of the Torah. Thus perhaps that Solomon was an Egyptian. Liberty is only possible in captivity.

These two dimensions are entwined as inverse sides of a plane. They are only distinguished abstractly because the side of instinct imperceptible and even inconceivable. The discourse which distinguishes them is an infinitesimal zig-zag where one is always disappearing into the other. Their difference is expressed as ephemeral nuance such as the twitch. Static terminology has a short expiry date because the image of work is always in motion. The event is like a piece of refuse bobbing in the waves. Any term can shift sides where it changes its sense crossing the surface.

Currency is material in some sense, while instinct is material in another sense. A series of terms split into two concepts. This creates two concepts of matter, spirit, reason, nature, love, work, authenticity, community, death… we don’t oppose one term to another, but let the sense of each term alternate in the waves. An aesthetic of flickering emerges in the poetry of Dragomoshchenko. Where Deleuze split the terms (molar and molecular, sedentary and nomadic etc.) that symbolic abstraction seems to encourage laziness. There is this delusion that the words themselves can do the work. A kind of textual fetishism, or what we might dare to call a “Hebraism”. So instead one should insist that the sense of each term fluctuates back and forth.

The term “value” is exceptional because it solely pertains to currency, and there is no sense of instinctual value. This term designates the ultimate point of exchange, the thing that everything else is exchanged for. Notice how value translates between disciplines like economics, ethnography and ethics. Value is phallic in that it’s a non-existent symbol that would resolve the crises of discourse. It’s an empty term which can attach to anything, though we never grasp the concept of value itself. Things are always valued according to something else which must be valued in turn. Values are essentially missing, they refer to something sublime that is always beyond. In this sense, value can be read as the reference to the corpuscular within currency. Currency only has value if it maintains its relation with the corpuscular instinct as its inverse side.

The horizon of the event then is the field where the corpulscular interrupts the commercial. Work is this movement that pursues something which is called value. That thing that everyone was working for moves, and it turns out to be a worklessness. The event is the twitching of the disjunction between the movement of growth and the goal that it seeks, which might be figured as a flowering, fruiting or consumption. The goal is a regulative ideal, though it’s never where it’s supposed to be. So, the event is where the instinctual thing periodically surprises from elsewhere. This interference is like the minerology of crystals in that it can only be known in dynamic terms as contour or pattern. A wave that alternates from one side to the other: work pursuing worklessness and worklessness disguised as work.

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Aging in China

The ethno-metaphysics of aging is an underappreciated area of speculation. Imbalances may arise as the old approach death. Aging involves changes in the quantities of possessions like experience, knowledge and property. These can be decreases or increases, depending on the sort of aging which occurs. Quantitative changes depend on the quality of aging. These changes can result in imbalances which are intergenerational, or which cross other lines.

It’s the interpretation of some age-related inequalities that shall concern us in what follows. The consequences here are especially political and aesthetic. When certain factors are taken up in a conservative manner, then we can understand what Marx meant when he said that capital was dead labor. It’s as though the proximity to death gives the elderly the right to control the work of the deceased.

In Chinese societies, money flows to the elders who are living representatives of the ancestors. They are the custodians of vanishing traditions, which include the very practices of ancestor worship. In this way they are also the embodiment of vulnerability of antiquity. So there ensues a family drama about taking care of the old, and the interests of the old, and governments are active in promoting this. Taking care of the old especially means moving them out of the rural village, and into a modern apartment which is paid for using credit. This is how the elderly are saved from getting left behind in their decaying miserable old world. This is a romance where the interests of the old driving the population into the clutches of capital.

A tactical critique of this social arrangement would require a completely different figuration of the elderly. In this conservative bourgeois scenario, the elderly need protection. It is honorable for the young to take care of the old. This is consistent with the sense of a wounded culture that is common among the Chinese. If we simply reversed the roles, and had the old taking care of the young, then that would be shameful.

Other possible figurations of the relation between young and old would include indifference, intimidation, envy, hostility, fascination, admiration, or subservience. All these relations are plausible, and cultural dynamic could draw from across this spectrum. But the direction that is perhaps most interesting here is when the old are the custodians of mysterious knowledge and experience of the ancients. This relates to the psychoanalytic theory of the ‘enigmatic signifier’ developed from Ferenczi to Laplanche. Attitudes towards esoteric knowledge of the ancients would go from indifference, to intimidation, to fascination, and ultimately to an initiation.

There is a Daoist model of the sovereign as someone who secretly governs the world while remaining unrecognized in his role. Daoist traditions are among the most notoriously esoteric, or perhaps we could say enigmatic, of the various strains of Chinese civilization. This incognito sovereign contrasts with the heavily televised production of statesmanship in the current age. Though it is somewhat closer to the ancient Chinese powers hidden away in the Forbidden City.

Generational codes are entwined with the codification of Chinese-Western relations. This complication especially arises because of how “youthful modernity” has been associated with western liberalism.
When Jesuits entered China in the last 1500’s, they drew suspicion for various reasons. The icons of the virgin caused people to believe they worshipped a female deity. But what got them into legal trouble the first time was their technological prowess. When the mission in Zhaoqing was closed down by officials in 1589, the accusation was that they were practicing “the arts of the forge and the fire”. This was a remarkable event in terms of cross-cultural interaction. And in a sense this accusation was true since they were indeed refining silver with mercury.
The patterns of transgression between China and the West can have interesting implications. Among various other charges brought against the Jesuits in the following years, one of the interesting ones was sodomy.
The mission in China spread to nearly a dozen cities and continued for over a century. In the early 1700s the French missionary Joachim Bove was stationed inside the Forbidden City where he had rapport with the emperor Kangxi. When Leibniz was writing his essay “On the Natural Religion of the Chinese” he was enthusiastically corresponding with the missionary. The content of that essay has to do with lines of generational filiation. It was an intervention into an intellectual controversy known as the ‘figurative debates’. As the missionaries were discovering the richness of Chinese civilization, the question arose as to where the Chinese had acquired such sophisticated knowledge. The dominant opinion was that they were descendants of Noah, and so their learning derived from Hebrew scripture, but for some reason those origins had been repressed. The Chinese knowledge was based on the Torah, but this source was not apparent because the scriptural messages had been encoded ‘figuratively’. This provided a key for cultural translation, where they would seek analogues for Chinese terms in Hebrew scripture. This is how 上帝 was initially identified as a name for Yaweh, a translation convention that has persisted through until today. Leibniz rejected this figurative explanation and claimed that the Chinese had independently discovered a ‘natural religion’.
The form of argument that Leibniz produced has resonances with the early modern debates on idolatry and antisemitism. Jews were considered idolatrous because they fetishized the letter of the law. They were a cult that ran according to scripture alone, which left no room for grace, or incarnation, or the spirit. They followed merely the “dead letter” of the law. In this sense, Christianity defined itself relationally as a liberal religion which contrasted with the legalism of the Hebrews. By extending this logic, we could consider that Leibniz was debunking the “Hebraism” (we won’t say the Jewishness) of the figurative history which assumed that any knowledge had to correspond with the scripture. But as Leibniz was bolding pushing the frontiers of liberal modernity, a papal backlash against such cosmopolitanism was already brewing.
Around 1712 the pope turned against the Jesuit missionary practices which were deemed too liberal. The pope issued a decree which specified that idols were not permitted inside the churches of China. Apparently, the parishioners had been bringing Daoist ritual objects into church with them, perhaps using them in ceremonies. When Kangxi caught new of this he banned foreign missionaries, and that ban remained in effect for over a century up until the Opium Wars.
There is strange resonance and mirroring between these lines of narrative. The relation between silver, alchemy, scripture, idolatry, figuration, legality… the permutations shift as each historical anecdote puts another spin on the translations. What we are dealing with here is the aesthetic and conceptual complication which is known as the Baroque, where materiality and spirituality are repeatedly folded together in permutating patterns. The minerology of the crystal provides a figure for this kind of repetition. Then we are comparing patterns in crystal growth, where contours are replicated from one layer to the next.
Perhaps the pope suspected that this maddening crystalline repetition was infecting the Vatican. When Jesuits first entered China they dressed themselves as Buddhist monks. That raises a question about how such a change in the attire might affect their evangelism – how the materiality of their wardrobe is synthesized with the spirituality of their doctrines. The liberties taken by this order reflect the opening of political theology in the early modern era with the discourses Machiavelli, Spinoza and Hobbes.

When Daoists are depicted in iconography they invariably appear old. The most famous Daoist who ever lived was Laozi, whose name translates literally as “the old one”. These old masters are powerful figures and they are even invincible because they have discovered the potions of eternal life. They would never rely on a young person. They might have a young novice who assists them, but the dependence would go the other way. The old Daoist master contrasts with the dependence of the elderly in today’s Chinese society. That dependency is an index of industrial progress, where the old person is out of touch and doesn’t function independently in today’s world. The knowledge of the industrial elderly is out dated, whereas the cosmic knowledge of the Daoist master could never be outdated.

This weakening of the elderly indicates the alienation of Chinese society in the global market system. This provides an ideological function for consumer subjectivity where the weakening of tradition is essential for the changing fashions. The apparent weakness of the elderly stages a drama which distracts from the destruction of the inherited symbolic codes. Taking care of the elderly could bea kind of work that compensates for the destruction of the old world, which is similar to the sticky rice that is thrown into rivers to dignify the corpse of Quyuan. If the traditions are being destroyed, then there must be some work-gesture to mourn that destruction. This romance is the transposition of Chinese populations into the global credit system.

The progress of consumerism must be led by the young who strive forward into a new world where they compete in a kind of work-tournament. They must be malleable and adjust to the demands of the market. The important question that follows from this is whether this youth-drive will reach some limit where the teeter-totter might reverse, and power would be restored to elderly. This threshold provides an abstract marker for a historical limit of capitalist development in a somewhat Marxist sense. This provides a conservative alternative to theories of financial crises and proletarian subjectivity.

There is an interplay between four codes: individual/society, youth/elderly, china/west, materialism/spirituality.

The spread of consumerism always involves the denigration of the knowledge of the old. During the post-ww2 era, the industrial boom in western countries was accompanied by youth rebellion. This development was devastating for the family and led to adolescent individualism. The enrichment of the west and the spread of social security also encouraged economic individuality. The Chinese on the other hand are developing in a way that holds the family more closely together. This creates a contrasting image where the west appears individualistic and China appears family oriented.
The family is figured as a reproductive machine, and the integrity of the family is linked with the power of youth. So, the familialism of China is also it’s fertility and youth. The Chinese identify with this kind of vitalist and socialist materialism. The west is forced into a contrast with this idea, and this places the west into a role that is aging and individualistic, and I want to suggest that this role lends itself to spiritualism. Where the western family has been destroyed, we are forced to spiritualize our concept of reproduction. This would be the force of necessity, as its introduced in Deleuzian philosophy.

Now back to the link in China between family and consumption. The family is this cult of youth, and in china that involves a confluence between 情 and 家. Keith McMahon has recently published a study on how a mystical love cult emerged with the decline of the Qing empire. As the ancient regime deteriorated there was a flux of libidinal energy was released, such as how energy is released from the breaking of chemical bonds. McMahon surveys the sublimation where that flux of surplus libido was captured into a romantic literature. It seems industrial development is driven by a sort of adolescent romantic love-cult. And the Chinese are triumphing today because they have succeeded in familiarizing this romance.

The West then can define its border as the spirituality of reproduction. Western spiritual reproduction is based in aesthetic value. This performance is absolute in that it does not translate into other values. Where the Chinese have these materialist values of virtue, erudition, competency, honor, utility, beauty, goodness… the west has abolished these in favor of a purely spiritual aesthetics.

Next I want to consider some of the pathology that accompanies advanced western liberalism. Elizabeth Roudinesco claims that society itself becomes perverse when the codes banning obscenity are abolished. The unconscious was maintained by the ban on obscenity. The unconscious was an impersonal scene that enabled great liberty in the metabolism of representation.

Some ban on “obscenity” is required for the metabolization of representation. This ban creates another scene (the unconscious) where the obscene acts are committed in a symbolic way. So new figures of obscenity are spontaneously generated. These new figures are more dangerous (terrorist, pedophile), and they are not functional because they are too actual. Obscenity has been too rationalized. What is required are more benign and enigmatic figures of obscenity. The obscenity must be mysterious enough to function as the key to opening another scene. The enigmatic then is the quality of symbolic complexity.

The loss of the unconscious makes sexuality toxic because representation lacks another scene through which to metabolize. There is the compulsive search for someone who can embody the ban. Only the projection of that negative trait can allow for the metabolization of representation.

One hypothesis is that what was called “sexuality” is being abolished by a new fracture or partitioning of scenes. This new partitioning can only be understood in terms of societal and generational codes.

The new crystal begins with a splitting of the simulacra from the molecular. This is a quantitative discontinuity between the visible-ephemeral and the imperceptible-real. This split can get figured around the old discourses on culture. The imperceptible-real is represented by the lonely aristocrat who maintains his vigil around the site of his vanished civilization, whereas the visible-ephemeral is the commodity-image that distracts the crowd.

Sexuality continues where the instinctual energy is captured in the visible-ephemeral. But the sexual crowd requires a ban, which creates another scene for their unconscious fantasies. So, the lonely aristocrat becomes a figure of imaginary illicitness. He is imagined to access something ancient and wicked, and this excludes him from the enjoyment of the commodity (family, nation, sexuality). His exile in celibacy becomes the key which opens the other scene and enables the metabolization of representation.

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