The university remains puritanical in its conception of work, and this makes certain topics inaccessible within the conventions of professional scholarship. Academia is like the deity who remains reserved in its own ideal dimension and hasn’t yet descended into the world, and so the finest scholarship that can be produced will always demand something more. This is how para-academia defines its enterprise in Christological terms: not to produce scholarship, but to bring scholarship into communication with the flesh of industry. This is not about the translation of specific texts, but rather the reproduction of intellectual itineraries in pedestrian figures.
Serious scholars are usually suspicious or even hostile towards this sort of para-academic activity. They view it as a degradation of their work which would lead to misunderstandings. To overcome these suspicions, it’s necessary to recognize decay as a descent into materiality, which is a necessary phase in the evolution of intellectual labor. Decay can be a maturation which brings intellect into communication with the worldly codes of industry and commerce. This continues an evolution has been underway throughout western history, where scholarship has descended into an ever more intricate rapport with the materiality of the contemporary, as if it were on course to make some fatal rendezvous. This is part of the great flattening of hierarchies which Nietzsche called the ‘herd revolt’.
There are various tropes which figure the threshold of encounter between disciplinary intellect and the turbulence of industrial society, and these include the ‘economic’ terms which mediate between the religious and the secular. Scholars often complain about the intrusion of economic logic into the university, but this only indicates their refusal or inability to descend into the material dynamics of the economy. The descent of mind into matter is messy and even scandalous in ways that scholars find unbearable, because they cannot bear to witness their work getting compromised and reduced to abhorrent junkiness.
Among these economy terms there is the agonal, which figures the evolution of modern society. As an ancient religious concept, it refers to the suffering underwent in the tension between the spirit and the flesh, where the mystery of salvation proceeds. This includes the passion at Golgotha, the stigmatic suffering of the saints, and perhaps even that of all sinners. But like the whole idea of economy, the figure of agony has itself undergone its own agonizing descent into the secular, where it has taken on political-economic connotations. The word is linked etymologically with the agora, the market, and so it has been readily associated with the tension between buyers and sellers. Then it has also taken on political connotations, where it figures the tensions of the electoral process. But only when it’s considered aesthetically can be understood comprehensively as this descent from the sacred into the profane.
Agony is a sensitive flashpoint on which the conception of modern society turns. When industrial societies exalt the virtues of work, this can be understood as an invocation of virtuous agony that still might carry traces of sanctity. The cruel austerity of neoliberals repeats the archaic violence of the crucifixion. In the days of religion this was a “mystery” because theologians were never settled over the logic whereby redemption was accomplished through suffering. As we proceed to analyze this obscure zone, let us consider whether this suffering is more like a payment, or else like some mysterious education. Only by treating this as an aesthetic trope can we appreciate how this religious idea has translated into political-economy so that agony becomes the source of profit and political power. The economic mystery is where the logic of agony becomes opaque and conceptually convoluted.
There are still people today for whom the threat of eternal damnation looms, and so for whom soteriology remains a serious religious problem. And although secular modernity lowers the metaphysical stakes, hell may be replaced with psychological suffering. This is to say that sacred agony has been translated into the pathologies of sadomasochism and castration. We are not so concerned here with damnation and salvation, but rather with how these psychological conditions might be translated to a decently spiritual or aesthetic level.
Para-academia is the agonal descent of the scholarly intellect into industrial society which it reconfigures with the concept of the agonal. Agonistic economics draws ideational resources from various sources. Some of the terms are more scriptural, some are more philosophical. Some are Greek, some are German. Some are more conceptual, while some are more aesthetic. Some are associated with orthodoxies, while some are associated with heterodoxies. This economics can proceed only if it is oriented at limited junctures and suitable scales of magnitude. Generalizations are impossible because this enterprise concerns what is purely dynamic and essentially contemporary, such as the circulation of what anthropologists call mana or gift.
Agonal economics involves play, and the aporiac ambivalence of the ludic returns throughout the economic mystery. Is play a means to something else, like an exercise that leads to health, or the development of a skill? Or is play an absolute that is satisfying in itself, such that there is no further end beyond it? Superior and inferior qualities of play can be differentiated, though their discernment may prove non-trivial. At the lower end might be simple games played with animals or young children, whereas superior play might involve a more mysterious circuitry of substitutions. Play can be improved through learning, and superior play allows for a more satisfying circulation of affective tensions.
Play emerges as an antidote for the obsessional tendencies which are common in industrial society. These are calculative pathologies which afflict accountants and legalists, and we might also refer to these sicknesses as call symbolic obsessions. This an idealization of calculation which expects an exact equivalence between terms exchanged, and which leads to delusional imbalances. David Graeber points to the emergence of currency in the axial age as an origin of these tendencies, where there was the balancing of exchangeable metals so that relational terms could be perfectly symbolized. These obsessional calculations lead to a simulacra where symbolic economy is disjunct from affectations, and the ludic emerges as what has been excluded from the rational economic.
Industrial society reduces exchange to the countable such that money is idealized as the real thing, and other non-monetized exchanges become subordinate. But then the ludic returns as the singular pressure of the inexchangable physiological tensions which have been excluded from the economic domain. This dimension of excluded tensions is the mystery of the ineconomic. But play itself can evolve to become calculative, such as the gamification of markets. The ineconomic is always contaminated with calculation and never monopolizes the ludic.
Unable to monetize, unexchangable drives are expelled into the cracks between economic determinations. The sites for economic exchange are institutionalized into a partitioning which leaves these forces without any chance for social expression. Some traped energy seeks release into a broader circuit of substitution. The ineconomic mystery is the return of what has been excluded from the economic, where the excluded byproducts of economic determination are positively expressed.
This mystery of the ineconomic allows for a metalyptic reconfiguration of heterodox Christianity. The mystery goes unexpressed in its raw depth, where it only exists as an invisible and unstable excluded potential from which expression might arrive. The course of its expression must pass through a series of contingent relays where it is conceptualized and figured. Expression in this sense is something like what heterodox Christians called emanation.
The mystery brews in the gaps of monetization which is divide into nationality, eroticism, food, travel, education, clothing, media, and art. It’s surging strains this representational net, though it only reaches the threshold of symbolic expression through sufficient marshalling. The scene of the event requires a long process of composition and the evolution of codes so that it can reach the threshold of expression.
The ineconomic mystery can be approached as a reinterpretation of Marxism. This concerns the theory of how contradictions in capitalist society get pushed onto exploited populations, until there reaches some limit where the contradiction boomerangs back and transforms the society. His model can be criticized for being too orthodox in its Christianity, which is to say that it remains too soteriological, or too closely connected with formalized monetary exchanges. This line of criticism has been overlooked because people are either confident that Marx was an atheist or else they are eager to brandish his orthodox religious credentials. The problem is how the Marxist emphasis on exploitation inscribes culpability, along with the heroic suffering of the exploited proletarian, which creates a transcendental religiosity. Though without this religiosity his thinking would have surely never spread, so we might say that his doctrine was spiked with opium. The essential mistake was how a naively idealistic economics is tragically caught up in the zero-sum logic of bourgeois accounting which stirs the cruel spirituality of ancient legalism.
Marx showed little appreciation for the unique characteristics of Germanic Christianity, and how the medieval mysteries evolved through the Reformation. In that tradition we can find resources for an economics of the incalculable. Marx criticized bourgeois economics for the unfairness of its calculations, but the more serious flaw was its overemphasis on calculation, and so his criticism ultimately exasperated this shortcoming. He called for superior calculation rather than the subtraction of calculation, and there he shared the archaism of the bourgeoisie. But in the writings of Paracelsus and Bohme we discover an aesthetic economy that refused both catholic and reformed orthodoxies, in that it refused to consider salvation as transactional and rejected the idea that suffering could be a payment. The rejection of clerical accounting allowed for the preservation of the mystery of the mysteries. This was the point where Nietzsche focused his opposition to orthodox Christianity, against the barbarism of soteriological calculation associated with the figure he called the Redeemer. The German alchemists made the mystery of incarnation into a zone of aesthetic incalculability, and this site provides unique resources for opposing liberal economics. But even George Bataille failed to recognize this opportunity. He mistakenly criticized Hegelian dialectics with Eckhardian negative theology and didn’t appreciate that Hegel’s aesthetic was Boehmian alchemy.
Classical economics is obsessed with balance in a manner similar to ancient legalism (“an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay”, “an eye for an eye”). This implicates the ideology of market competition with the insidious psychological dynamics of sadomasochism. Though it is important that we don’t push this criticism too far. There is something quite universal about karmatic models of exchange, something which probably cannot be abolished, so the point here is only that the aesthetics of mystery opens models of economy that can break away from religious and legalistic thinking. There is no suggestion here to abolish anything, but just to separate.
When economists invoke the ‘invisible hand’, that can be interpreted as an invocation of the mysteries. The decisive point concerns how the value of labor becomes exchangeable with suffering. Making the purpose of suffering mysterious is what exempts it from strict economic calculability, and this sense of mystery is related with the idea of the free market. This sets up a heuristic for interpreting political-economy in psychodynamic terms. This is a line of criticism that would suspect all calculation of pathology, not just liberal austerity, but also the socialism of “from each according to his ability to each according to his needs”.
In the Paracelsan pharmakon, the good only emerges through the course of sickness and convalescence. Goodness here exists only in its agonal tension with poison. Marx’s neglect of this rich alchemical tradition is critical, because it suggests a weak appreciation of Hegelian dialectics. This alchemical Christology figures a process of refinement where nobility is purified through flame, and this contrasts with orthodox soteriologies. This an aesthetic process where flesh gradually gives way to spirit, and which is like an initiatory education, as opposed to an exchange of flesh for spirit which figures salvation as a punctual instant.
So, Marx interpreted history according to a Christology that was too orthodox, in that it was too close to the zero-sum game of the English shopkeepers he criticized. He didn’t descend far enough into the mysteries which he tended to mock from a rationalistic position, for example in his harsh dismissals of Max Stirner. He failed to open a space that could accommodate the incalculable, and so his liberal adversaries were able to assert the invisible hand, which allowed them to appropriate the mysteries as a zone for laisse faire machinations. Whereas Marx wanted to bring the excluded into the zone of calculation, it seems preferable to go the other way and recode the agony of the excluded in a kind of heterotopia beyond calculation. This refers not so much to excluded populations, but rather to excluded forces. To distinguish the mysteries from the logic of culpablization and heroic exception, it seems that economic history should dispense with individual organisms and move into the fluidity of the inorganic. This separates the mystery from the symbolic determinations associated with economic subjectivity. There is a temptation to give the mysteries symbolic determination, so that they can be resubordinated into calculated transactions, and that is the temptation to absolve agony. But instead the mysteries should be sustained as the source of drives which are surging towards another economy.
By considering industrial society as a cruel refinement machine, it may be possible to appropriate the entire conception for an alchemical model. This is a demiurgical system geared towards the doomed construction of an artificial utopia along the course of an endlessly failing providence. To bring this utopia to life, there is required some natural essence, which is like sentience or some vital spirit. Romantic quests are dispatched to recruit this missing ingredient that will brings the simulation to life. Traps are set to rear and lure this virtuous sexuality into transactions, but this cultural spirit never fulfills its vocation and the performance is never adequate. There may be high functionality at a technological level, but there is some missing sentience. There is a contradiction where the missing ingredient is excluded from the simulation, because it is too anarchic, too archaic, too non-complaint, and it cannot be calculated. Sentience can never be sufficiently tamed to be transacted in an industrial economy. This is all certainly quite romantic, but it’s the trashy romance of industrial society, a signature that has been repeating for several centuries at least.
This provides a simple model for figuring the alchemy of industry. There’s a contradictory mechanism which purifies sentience only to exclude it, and this leads to an accumulation of sentience at the periphery of the market. This sentience can’t express itself within the existing coordinates of exchange, and so it swells in the gaps and at the periphery. This is where we restore the idea of Christ, though in a completely non-religious way, such that it now refers to the pharmakon which can metabolize the poisonous excrement of industrial society. Christ is the enzymes which can metabolize the toxicity of the sadomasochistic diseases associated with economic calculation.
Toxic drives have lost their telos and become dissolute and agitated. It’s important to emphasize here that we are not talking about economically excluded populations, but rather economically excluded drives. This condition of toxicity involves the collapse of idealistic presumptions. There is an assumption that people should already know what they want and so they seek leaders and businesses who will provide it. Populations have been conditioned to consider knowing what one wants is a matter of dignity, and this conditioning refers to the individual subject. Toxicity arises from the uncertainty of teleological ignorance, the pain of lacking an idea of the commodity. To avoid admission of this dissoluteness there are provided a host of ready-made illusory ideals that everyone is expected to pursue: health, happiness, environment, wealth, efficiency, convenience, sex, justice… drives succumb to ineconomic toxicity when they abandon these imaginary ideals for the hysteria of teleological ignorance. The toxic drives seek out something unknown, some singular satisfaction… the mystery where they can be converted.
The mystery becomes expressible through the process of narrativization. This is incubated through an agonizing composition that is both figural and conceptual. Various ontological aspects are attached at the level of narrative. Narration weaves together registers which could be geohistorical, architectural, pictorial, manual, domestic, cinematic, literary, or industrial. It’s not that these are integrated into actual narratives, but rather there is an ideation where they are connected at the level of their potential for narration. This is a set of topological transformations, so that the ontological levels are imprinted into each other through narrative indexing. This establishes a segmentation through which narrative itineraries can pass, like in Neoplatonism and Dante, but also in Hegel and Schelling.
The mystery codifies the infernal machinery of industry over the surface of the earth. This distribution weaves technology with demography coded for genetics, linguistics, education and affluence. Regions are zoned into infrastructural and legal regimes which correspond with conceptions of citizenship and levels of financial investment. Hinterlands are coded for logistics, mineral distributions, and geopolitical demarcations. This concerns not so much actual material – this has nothing to do with administration – but rather the abstract distribution of representation and non-representation, and especially the way that ineconomic toxicity striates this border. This concerns the distribution of toxicity between different modes of representation: as it is represented for others, as it is personalized, and toxicity where it is unrepresented and in-itself.
This mystery locates toxicity as a spiritual obsolescence within a comprehensive planetary model. This is where Aristotle’s zoon politikon, the good life, has been exiled in the bad life of the bios. This drive naturally seeks the telos of civilization but has abandoned its object and turned away to wander in the wilderness. Here we can define some stages in a narrative sequence. First, the drive is distracted with commodities. Then it abandons this external object and becomes dissolute. Then, it turns to seek the kingdom within, the Christ who can metabolize the toxicity and convert it into something else. Then there is agony for the sake of this inner kingdom. Then the kingdom begins composition through this agony. Then as the drive reaches some threshold of conversion, it gets expressed outwardly as a newly recreated zoon politikon. As that alchemist Zhuangzi says, ‘inner sage, outer king’.
In the earlier phases of this sequence the drives are deluded with commodities, and the mystery begins when these objects have proven unsatisfying, and the drives withdraw into the exile of the void. Without any objects to distract them, the drives encounter themselves and the problem of their partitioning of space-time. The old objects provided an easy relation with alterity, so the drives could orient themselves toward the future. The commodity produces this simulated sense of externality – other people, places, times. But when those objectives are lost, that is when the agony begins, which is the hysterical experience of the non-existence of the other. The mystery begins where the drives pass across the river Styx to rescue Persephone from Hades.
Hell is reconfigured here as a suffering of partiality. The imaginary phallus provides a fantasy of wholeness which vanishes through the descent into the mysteries. Through the course of this journey there is object-loss, and the figure for this experience can be termed organs-without-objects. Where previously the object was felt to be part of the organ, when there were imaginary objects which could never be lost, here the organ has been cut-off from the imaginary part of itself which has disappeared. This might be something like the experience of a phantom limb, where there are ghost objects. This incompleteness of the organ is a kenosis which is the beginning of the desire that sets the economy of the mystery into motion. Though the mystery succumbs to sadomasochism where it idealizes hysterical agony.
The fall is where the organ loses its imaginary object and realizes the impossibility of ever recovering that object. This is the scene of the depressive castaway who chokes on the poison of toxicity. This emptiness within the organs becomes the site for the meontic phase of the mystery, which is the embryonic marshalling of the community of the obsolete. A glacial formation of obsolescence moves though conception, orientation, disposition, figuration, depiction… where this emerging object takes its contours from the edges of the commodity spectacle. The new object of desire emerges just beside or beyond the commodity, where it is slightly too wild for monetization. This new object fails as a commodity, because it breathes only the wild air of the real and refuses those imaginary substitutes that would domesticate it.
The obsolete has the appetite of partial organs: an eye that doesn’t see, an ear that doesn’t hear, a mouth that neither eats nor speaks, hands that do nothing, feet that walk nowhere… these monstrous absences are too terrible for markets.
Mysterious objects come into composition through the agonizing play of approach and retreat. This play slowly matures, until eventually it reaches the point where it interferes with the commodity spectacle. This doesn’t play under the spell of the spectacle but disrupts it from the outside by setting into motion a series of object displacements. The new object comes to act as a simulacrum of the commodity.
This disruption arises from within gaps between market sectors. It’s the emergence of an anomaly that doesn’t have a place in the matrix of exchange, and yet it evolves to the point where it takes a place. This new object appears like some commodity, like tourism, or clothing, or education, but it is a monster of desire that throws these markets into turmoil. A logic of substitution and accumulation is replaced by the initiatory aesthetic of the ineconomic.
The kenotic severing of the organs is like an inverted capitalization, since they are cut-off like the heads of monarchs. Julia Kristeva has suggested that the operation of capitalism implies a transcendental decapitation. During the French Revolution, capitalists gained power through the beheading of the French monarchs, and this relates with the way currency is minted with the head of a monarch. Decapitation moves the monarchical phallus into the financial sector, and this a transition which follows the myth of medusa. The monarch is considered here as an ancient monster whose strange castrating power was seized by the rational bourgeoisie. Where historical attention has tended to focus on the event of decapitation, emphasis can shift onto how they put it onto their money and threw away the body. The new regime was not interested in the headless body, but that headless body was eventually appropriated by French radicals when they created the anti-capitalist society Acephale in the 1930’s. This appropriation was a materialist inversion of the idealism of the liberals. But this headless-body / bodiless-head trope was perhaps only the beginning, and this mystery proceeds through eyeless-image / imageless-eye, voiceless-ear / earless-voice, journeyless-foot / footless-journey, handless-tool / tooless-hand…
The severing of the head corresponds with the romantic spitting of logos and mythos (head and heart, sciences and arts, pure and practical reason etc.). And this follows the old metaphysical fault line between spirit and body, father and son. If this capitalist agony of decapitation has figured the so called modern age, then a reconfiguration of this severance might amount to an epochal event. So, an everyman’s severance of organs from objects might replace the agony of monarchical decapitation. In psychoanalytic terms, this is a struggle over the figuration of symbolic castration, the removal of the imaginary phallus in order that a new symbol can be elected. Decapitation is an apophatic trope, which corresponds with Bataille’s idealistic commitment to the negative theology of Meister Eckard. But by repeating this severance through various organs, we dispense with idealism and move towards an alchemical aesthetic.
As the mystery surfaces towards the point of expression, the organic field singularizes around a circuit of stimulation. The severance follows the organic circuitry of the commodity. Technology arranges the organs into functional constellations, such as those which emerge for driving or cooking, and these constellations may remain intact through the kenosis of the object, so that we might get cooking without food, or driving with a car. What gets spiritualized here is not so much the flesh, but rather the object. The commodity is an imaginary phallus which is subordinated to monetary exchange, where the ineconomic is the spiritualization that releases that object from monetary subordination.