Modernist Anxiety  

I will be partaking in an online course at the Global Center for Advanced Studies (GCAS) on Lacan’s Seminar X: Anxiety, which is being hosted by Duane Rousselle and Levy Bryant. You can sign up for it here if you are interested.  Duane has posted some reflections on the seminar, and what follows is a tangential response to what he has said.  My idea here is to construct an historeographic index for a trans-valuation of modernist anxiety.


Reading Lacan’s seminar inspires me to broadly criticize the affective dispositions of modernism. I am concerned with how modernists evaluated structure. Structure has a distinct value as an ideality that is miraculously indigenous to matter. It is an idea that lies hidden in matter waiting to be discovered like an Easter egg.  Perhaps it is the closest thing to a secular deity. The neutrality of structure is related to the neutrality of found objects in conceptual art, and the neutrality of the experimental scientific disposition, and these are associated with an array of affective disposition prominent in the 19th and 20th centuries, such as liberal positivism, conservative cynicism, the cruel manias of the avante gaardes and fascists, the depressive dispositions of novelists like Virginia Woolf, Djuna Barnes and Helene Doolittle, and the depressive dispositions of painters like Rene Marguerite and Francis Bacon.

There is a telling anecdote about how a young Levi-Srauss was hypnotized by dandelions going to seed, when he was a soldier defending the front weeks before WWI began.  This demonstrates a paradigm of structuralist epiphany, which has analogies with realist and objectivist epiphany.  This event is an awakening, as well as hypnosis, and it establishes the structural conditions for the affective disorders of liberal modernity.  In recent years there has been much discussion about realism without subjective correlates, and I want to also try to fit this into a longer affective, political, and aesthetic history of uncorrelated objects.

Consider how objects figure in the theories of Deleuze and Foucault.  For them, objects are an element assembled into statements, which are correlations of symbolic elements articulated linguistically. The expression of statements is the essential exercise of state power, and the hermeneutics of statements is the study of the contingencies in the forms of sovereignty. The statement is the ordering power of the voice from beyond which stands over the incommensurable realm of visibility. The expression of statements is an attempt to control visibility, and for Deleuze and Foucault objects are elements of expression closely implicated in the operation of power. I want to connect this with recent realist theories of objects developed by Levi Bryant and Graham Harman.

If objects are disoriented in statements, then they still may exist independently from that disorientation. The assemblage of statements involves the capturing and coding of real independent objects, but statements also generate their own ideal objects, and neither are necessarily correlated with other symbolic elements like subjects.  The statement is where real objects are doubled by representations which may be scientific or poetic.  Statements mediate symbolic elements as multiplicities of abstract positions where objects and subjects may or may not be correlated. Statements are structural conditioning factors which are “neither apparent nor hidden”, but obscured by the debris of propositional language.

The object’s independent reality gets aufhbungen in the statement.  The assembly of the statement negates real objects by rendering them generic, anonymous or otherwise incognito. This adds intrigue to the theory of language, because this means that real objects are involved in the analysis of statements, even though they are not often identified in the statements. Real objects are negated and functionally reduced in this symbolic assembly which is part of capitalist reproduction. Statements are conditioned by the contingencies of collateral coexistences, and the role of capital facilitation in their assembly is variable.  Capitalist states should be considered as one kind of power among many involved in the assembly. Capitalism is a power that controls the emergence of surplus.  It tries to identify itself with crowd surpluses, such as wheat fields, by representing these in its statements of control, such as its financial reports.

Objects should be distinguished conceptually from fluxes of energy, and both fluxes and objects may be coded or not into the programs of capitalist reproduction. Capital claims future surplus as an entitlement, and its accounting statement is like an ancient covenant with a deity. Surplus flux is of the luminous dimension of visibility which never gets comfortably coded into the statement.  Capital deploys the affects of liberal idealism as its vocal army sent to capture the material surplus of appearance as it emerges on the horizon of the future.  Capital generates its own ideal surpluses of code that simulate the real surpluses it is luring to capture.  The affective dispositions of liberal modernism are ways that subjects have been implicated in this capture.


Real flux and real objects join together in a wrestling match with the codes of capital. There are political stakes in this model, because the objects and fluxes may unite to resist against capital which lures them to control their reproduction of surplus.  Capital was never so concerned with subjects, and only brings them into the statement as lures, such as celebrity cults or feigned humanitarian emotions. Subjectivity gets reduced to the embarrassment of uncoded flux, or the nauesea of wasted life.  Capital prefers statements which are objects, and the unwanted unobjective life has to be concentrated into camps in order to preserve the objectivity of the statement. The statements of capitalism have a complex objectivity includes trompe l’oiel, reality testing, and much generalization.  The true subject is banned from the simulation, because it is negated as the uncoded surplus flux, or uncoded objects which are not participating in any programmatic flux-flow.

Capital has an ambivalent attitude towards this anxious subject.  Anxiety can become alluring game for capital, since it holds the promise of energy resources. The question then is how anxiety can be translated into codes of fluxes and objects.  This is the struggle which Foucault analyzed as the interrogation room, hospital, immigration office, welfare office, job interview, loan interview, school application etc. Francis Bacon’s paintings portray this axious scene. The subject is evaluated by a representative of capital through tests which measure surplus code potential, and that surplus is recorded in statements of objective reality, or else the subject is negated with objective labels of biopolitical non-compliance.

Thought reaches an impasse due to our confinement within the limits of liberal idealism, and its romantic affective dispositions. It is possible to move beyond this impasse by finding new perspectives on modernist anxieties and affective disorders. This way, it is possible to shift the structural relation between the expression of the statement and the reception of luminous visibilities, which is the essential power relation according to Deleuze and Foucault.


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