The Politics of Boredom

The project of the left has been defeated, and what remains is only the slavish operation of capital’s marketing division, which is the business of simulating subjectivity. I believe the time has come to reject the foundations of Marxism and similar movements, including the entire French Revolution model of politics as an eruption of the indignant masses.  This is not to dispense entirely with these models, but just with their centrality as the origin of political agency.  Instead, supposingnone initiates a political struggle waged primarily against ontological boredom, and only indirectly against capitalist oppression. This is the struggle of subjectivity against its own original absence, a level of engagement which can more effectively defeat economic oppression.

The left fails when it invokes the phantom of capitalists preventing us from becoming properly human. This exhausted polemical orientation, which assumes the culprits of history can be isolated and identified, is an inexcusable flaw inherited from Christianity. This glitch has links with anti-Semitism and the legacy of Catholic sacrament.  Generally speaking, this attachment to the essential guilt of others is recognizably both resentful and paranoid. This model of politics is flawed because the subject projects negativity onto the other, where they should bear more of the problem on themselves in their own self-relation.

Capitalism can be viewed as a plastic arrangement in constant transformation, which embodies the changing relationships that constitute human society.  This system can be situated against a background of “boredom”, a term I will use abstractly as an avatar of ontological negativity. This is the basis for an economic model where populations enter the market because they flee loneliness, depression, fatigue, anxiety, nausea, vertigo and oblivion. They flee a mute life exposed to the material of the void, and they enter the market in quest of exchanges which can insert them into a human community. Politics then concerns the possibilty for exchanges that may satisfy their need for human relations through market behavior.  Subjugation before the commodity spectacle results from an individual’s inability to traverse their own essential loneliness. Commodity fetishism is a way of disavowing individuality.

Capitalism is morally odious in how it promotes relations (such as nationalism) where fetishistic communities imply the loneliness of others. The isolation of individuals becomes a mark of outcast damnation that excludes them from the community of consumers, a community of the mutually entertaining. This community is based on a refusal of the process of sublimating boredom, and their unsublimated boredom becomes the negativity which they project at individuals.  Unsublimated boredom is a name for generic dissatisfactions which lead to the exploitation of the others. Commodity fetishism is a world-negation.

So, instead of working against economic exploitation, one should work against boredom, because once boredom is defeated then economic exploitation would disappear. The problem is to work directly against one’s own-most boredom. It is essential to experience that boredom more intimately and directly, and then to attain some distance from it, so it becomes sublimated.  This is a work of containing one’s personal entropy, or the negative byproduct of one’s own constitution, as a durable symbol.  Exploitation is the flight of inauthenticity before this angst, and the disavowal of unconscious differences.  It’s the premature termination of boredom (loneliness, melancholy) that charges the imaginary drives of exploitive communities. The pathology of the exploitive community is a negation of it’s own void.

Authentic community is the exchange which relieves boredom.  It is not an enclosure, but rather an exposure. As Michel Serres understands, the essential communal relation is “dance” understood abstractly as the rhythmic variation of images and corporeality.  Boredom arises as an abscess due to the failure of exchange, and this tumor can be drained through “dance”, which is sexuality and commercial aisthesis. The choreographic paradigm which Serres proposed has the advantage of bringing form and difference into mixture, where serpentine lines run through bodies in space-time.

This politicizes the decision about whether boredom is disavowed or authentically experienced, where disavowal is the origin of exploitation. This leads to a politics of exposure to the void.  The void is the neutral space that accommodates the maximum orders of difference, since it contains the coexistence of what is absolutely alien. Dance is exposed to the opening of that space by a community who share an experience of oblivion.  Instead of an enclosure, community is a relational adequacy which is a condition for the exchanges which drain the abscess of ennui.  In order for these exchanges to be satisfying, they must traverse the void as a medium for the encounter of the absolutely others.

This politics is suited for education, where pedagogical experience can be reconceived as a struggle with boredom. The educator’s job then is to facilitate the experience of solitude where students confront their own loneliness, where they learn to resist boredom in responsible ways, which means without resorting to commodity fetishism. Equipping students to succeed in this civic struggle involves bringing them into contact with an open world. The world must be big and open enough to accommodate all the differences which befall everyday life, and yet it must also be related somehow to support the production of sense.  This world must have objective solidity and sufficient independence to put it beyond perversion, and yet it must also have the suppleness and plasticity which allows the subject to participate in the dances of social exchange. The students ultimately must find comfort in their struggles against isolation. This is the politics of education as the Weltgeist dialectic of human community.

This political education would involve a dialectic of normativity, the blank homeland of the symbolic which drains the abscess of boredom.  It is essential to recognize that each student has their own investments in social capital, and they are energized when their distinguishing values are asserted as normative. They are energized by how their values are put at risk. The dance which drains the abscess of boredom is the variability of normativity which moves through domains like food, architecture, fashion, sports, cinema etc.

This brings us into contact with class conflicts at the material core of social dialectics. This is where alternate norms come under pressure to formally mimic one another and exchange places. The entire range of possible human social norms comes into contact here, from the norms of peasants and accountants to students and hookers.  The norms of barnacles and asteroid belts are not available, because the politics of boredom is a humanist chauvinism that strives for dry functionality. Humanity poses itself choreographically as a general problem of social synthesis.

This politics confronts two distinct orders of conceptual difficulty. First, there inevitable inevitably problems relating to the essential multiplicity of subjectivity. These are the conflicted ways that subjects relate through imaginary constellations of alterity, or what Lacan called the imaginary subject supposed to know (to believe, act, love, work…).  Political turmoil, which is the potential for war, universally arises from attempts to locate other populations symbolically.  But a second order of difficulty arises when the choreography of exchange has been instrumentalized into the service of nepotistic bosses, so that social exchange becomes a deification of their position.  These two problems – multiplicity and nepotism – must be separated.  The mistake of leftism is to naively assert multiplicity against nepotism without recognizing multiplicity as a problem that poses its own formidable conceptual difficulties independently from those of capitalism.

Populations are easy prey for nepotism because of how it provides a short-term solution for the crises of multiplicity. Boss worship is a principle of harmony which gets readily established as a hegemonic normative framework. This is particularly the case in Asia.  If everyone worships the boss, then the structural conflicts of inter-subjectivity are resolved in the manner of a cult.  Boss worship is a violent fetish-system and a spell of coercive anxiety. Realms of professional practice which should operate according to their own values, such as teaching, get unwittingly submitted to the framework of boss-worship.

Human community necessitates that subjectivity is symbolized and represented according to adequately common codes.  Inter-subjective strife arises from the representation of race, gender, language, generation, economic class and vital status.  Education is initiation into variations on the codes of normativity. Oppression is non-education, or the confinement to certain codes, which today is typically the hegemony of boss codes. The object of education is to make the master signifier vary, so students learn to overcome boredom by altering symbolic normativity. The fixation on one particular normative frame is a fetish that brings entropy, and community requires comfortable switches between normative orders.  Education concerns the timing of these switches, which is also the choreography of social exchange. Everything depends on the speed and direction of the variation in master signifiers. To demolish the absoluteness of master signifiers, and then resurrect them in relativity, such is the function of parody.

The symbolic space of the classroom alternates between the norms of different cultures, professions, family and religions.  These diverse orders of normality turn in vicious circles as they decenter each other.  Socialization is the endless migration of what is normal, which is a process of sublimation. This political model is congruent with psychoanalytic theories of attachment and object relations.  Populations get attached to certain normative models and this way they enter the closure of pathological exploitive communion.  Hegemonic norm regimes are held in place through fetishistic fixation, where master signifiers are substitutes for proprioceptive breast attachments. The aim of pedagogy is to train the subject in serial attachments and detachments, where contrasting pacifiers (“activities”) are substituted to initiate them into the choreography of social exchange.  The unschooled subject panics when they lose contact with their mummy-boss-god, and so detachment may have to proceed slowly. The object of education then is to relativize instinct satisfaction through the alternation of incongruent norms.

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