The Surplus of Existence

What follows are some off-the-cuff spontaneous reflections, after reading Jan Patočka (1907-1977), the Czech philosopher of history.

The history of capitalism is a migration from being to existence.  Being is where things are in situ in the consistency of their habitat, and supported by gestalts formed between neighbors over eons. Capital removes things from this habitual situation of stable necessity, and brings them into the contingency of mutual exposure. This parallax between appearance and reality is due to this historical migration.

Darwinian thought is radical because it takes humanity as an existent. But it never appreciates the existential nausea of the evolutionary future – the vertiginous fact of the unknown and undetermined forms of descendants. As humanity leaks from being into existence, it sprouts strange negative organs that reflect the pressure of a speculative future. Capitalism, it turns out, is only one vogue in the management of existential excess. It offers populations protections from the emptiness of the future (i.e. stupifications of the Dunkverbot), but the underlying existential surplus which it manages is not capitalist, or it is capitalist only insofar as it remains codified by capitalism. Capital has to continually re-appropriate its surplus from nature, and so the political struggle with capital is over the codification of that natural flux.

Capitalism will remain an important heuristic factor for the foreseeable future, but alternate codes are becoming available. Breaking with the dynamic of capital means breaking with capital’s way of codifying surplus – this structural problem becomes a living praxis. We have to engage directly with the contingencies of how capital controls the access to surplus in different situations.  I think philosophy is up to this task, if it can move quickly to adopt a functionalism aimed at the codification of this excess, and at its appropriation as a means instead of an end.  This makes a complete reversal of the kingdom of ends that was declared by Kantian humanists in the last centuries.  Structural functionalism can wrest the surplus flux of existence away from the surplus codes of capital, and establish its own codification of surplus flux and codes. This was the idea of Thorstein Veblan who raised the practical arm of engineering against the “one-eyed captains of finance”.

In its struggle with capital, philosophy’s most critical aptitude is ascetic repression, which is a grounding condition of symbolic exchange. This is absence that gives time, and silence that gives speech. Repression is a symbolic distinction which supports further distinctions, and allows for the representation of relations.  Disavowal/forecosure is the perverse/psychotic non-relation that is non-repression, and my intention is not so much a moral valorization of neurosis, but simply heightened awareness of this distinction.  Without repression, alterity is lost in concrete psychosis or perversity, and satisfying events become impossible, and life suffers the death of Tantalus. Surplus fluxes arise due to the existentialization of humanity, and repression is the dialectical recoiling of being upon existence which codifies them.

Humans have been extracted from their natural habitat, and pulled into the existential contingency with this unknown future. It may be necessary to recognize how future surplus takes its value through existence, and we need to consider what it means when this surplus is not codified by capitalism, and I want to suggest that this negativity has to do with repression. Capitalism is psychotic in its realism which generates hallucinations through strange technological artifices, and which get conflated with perceptual beliefs. This gives the appearance that the existential surplus is somehow embodied in banks and their transaction of commodities. And for capitalism’s purposes, this appearance is all that matters. But the surplus has its own inherent negativity which capitalism struggles to contain in its appearances, and which resist codification, and it seems humans should be able to codify that surplus otherwise and thereby step outside the dominion of capital.

This problem is one of manifestation or incarnation. Capital takes control of existential surplus by inducing metaphysical perceptual beliefs, which are fetishes, manias, delusions, hallucinations, frenzies, ticks etc.  This psychotic incarnation of severed organs is due to an unruly course of existentialization, which produces a structure of over-exposure, over-relationality, and hyper-extroversion. Repression functions as an anecdote to this psychosis. Separating the self from itself, repression can break capital’s possession and incarnation of surplus as present flux. This concerns the metabolism of castration anxiety and the energetics of hormones, disinhibitor rings, Stimmung, and the psychotic interplay between affects of arousal, aggression, fear, guilt, boredom, euphoria… These psychotic manifestations are signals of surplus and deficit, and spectacle would be one channel of signaling. Capital has carved out its own sensory channels which it has been able to master, and there arises the question of where those channels should be abolished or appropriated.  This is a grounding problem for a functional praxis aimed at superseding capitalism.

The existential surplus is life’s uncertain fate. This can operate as a greater life that life dies for, and populations may, or may not, link the process of their dying with the discomfort they feel about their existence.  In capitalism, life is smitten, seduced, and possessed by the avatars of surplus, and its molecules are charged through the signaling of surpluses. Capital submits life to a test program that experiments with optimizing the manifestation of the surplus, and optimizing the illusion that this manifestation is the surplus itself. Populations are caught in the attractive fields of certain models of access to surplus which structure their horizons of expectation. The human will submits and becomes a service to the surplus, and perception is structured around the horizons of sensitivity to signals of surplus and deficit. One of capitalism’s tricks is to always express the surplus as a quantity, as this obscures the possibility of structural changes. So, perhaps the easiest method for appropriating the surplus flux from the codes of capital is by affirming its structural qualities as functional differences.

Capitalism can only metabolize the negativity of the existential surplus in unsatisfying ways, and this failed metabolism is its everyday psychosis. Capitalism itself lacks the power of representation, and so it must appropriate its writing machines. Its own crude codes cannot codify the surplus, which ends up returning as dynamic fluxes and perceptual fetishes.  Functional repression, in this case, would be the repression of that frenzied vertigo of severed embodiment that returns as the collateral mess of capitalism. To metabolize the negativity of existential surplus requires a negative relation with that surplus, because the surplus has its own indigenous negativity, which is the distance of uncertainty, imperceptibility, inconceivability, indeterminacy… life has to be smuggled back out through the desert mirage which capitalism has generated at its heart. The problem is to lure life into a new structural relation with religion, because it is religion that has the original resources for representing the surplus, and so capitalism has to be submitted to a religious function. The black hole of surplus set us teetering through history when the gods died, and we so need to consider the scenario of their return. The structural representation of surplus involves codifying capitalism as idolatry. Where capitalism insists on touching surplus directly on a phenomenal horizon, its natural negation is to treat the surplus as essentially nuomenal which means abstract and imperceptible.  Where capitalism attempts to present the surplus incarnate, there are alternate forms of satisfaction where the surplus is limited to representation. Thymos is the energy of existential surplus that must be dephenomenalized and submitted to representation via repression, or to the unconscious semiotics of exchange. This procedure of repression is mediated by the engineer’s structural functionalism. The surplus must be represented as a minimal structural difference, and not a quantitative difference. The surplus then would be nuoumenalized as the fate that lies beyond the limit of capitalism. This reverses the migration so that existence flows back into being.

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