‘when I hear the word culture, that’s when I reach for my revolver’ -Hanns Johst
Let‘s begin by recalling an idea from psychoanalysis, that infant sex is at stake in culture. This term ‘infant sex’ refers to the rawest germs of life, the ‘polymorphous perversity’ which is not submitted to social norms. Enculturation would be the process where this elementary life force is quarantined, repressed and yoked into the service of society. This is how Freud understood the Oedipus complex, a process of maturation whereby a person assumes a social position. To put this very simply, the identification with the adult male makes the early relation with the mother illicit. This incest ban provides a pretext for the rejection of all infant sex. Adult sex then operates according to a code of exogamy, but there is always some residue of infant sex left over after the process of enculturation.
The key to the criticism of culture seems to lie in considering what happens to infant sex in this process. Where does infant sex end up in the age of adulthood? I want to propose the hypothesis that infant sex gets deposited in symbols of transcendence. When infant sex is rejected, it gets deposited in the beyond of a transcendent other. Society rejects this vital germ which is chaotic and undisciplined, and whose disinhibition implies that it is inherently powerful. Culture is the sublimation where adult sexuality is separated from this germ, so that it can take on stable identities. In order for social representation to take place, the germ has to be trapped in symbolic transcendence. Adulthood is only possible once it is relieved from the dynamic force of this germ， which is then identified with higher powers to which the adult submits. These higher powers can be symbolized as good (divinity, benign sovereignty), evil (oppressive leaders), or neutral (laws of nature). Adult neurotics distance themselves from infant sex through the creation of symbolic superegos.
This is how culture anchors subjectivity in a transcendent other. Elaborate processes of enculturation are devised for this purpose, and the Oedipus complex is just one example. But the revolutionary process of modernity tends to disrupt these cultural arrangements. This occurs through the spread of liberal politics and the associated technologies, which break up the traditional configurations of authority. This releases the infant sex which was deposited in those symbols. Adults lose their neurotic identities, their relations with these transcendent others, and the raw forces of infant sex get released which can throw representation into turmoil.
Following from this, one might consider modernization an anti-cultural process, but it remains caught up with the cultural tendencies that it opposes. Modernization remains cultural in that it still requires a transcendent other in which to deposit infant sex. It may change the symbols into more universal and seemingly rational ideals, but they are still symbols of a transcendent other. This is how we can interpret the phenomena of troubled youth, as a situation where infant sex has escaped from its repression under traditional authority, and yet it is displaced and excluded from the new ideals of liberal adulthood. Modernization is ambivalent or hypocritical in that it opposes culture and yet it remains cultural. It still remains a program whereby neurotic adults preserve their identities through the ban on infant sex, although the rising forces of chaos make those identities ever more precarious.
This is where we raise the question of what develops beyond modernity, such as what used to be called postmodernity. The unavoidable problem here concerns how infant sex can be retained at the level of immanence. Whereas in the age of culture the problem is about how this vital germ can be sublimated into symbols of transcendence, the next problem concerns how this same vital germ can be metabolized onto a plane of immanence.
Metabolizing infant sex within immanence requires that it doesn’t jump back into transcendence. The vital germ can be uncanny and monstrous, a material force that does not submit to linguistic representation. Retaining these forces within immanence requires strategies which go beyond language. One of the keys to this metabolism is the experience of mystery, which concerns a disruption of the phenomenal by the non-phenomenal.
Because it provokes such anxiety, there is temptation to deposit infant sex back in transcendent symbols. This reaction involves a cutting sensation, and this is a sense of the term ‘sacred’, where something is separated off onto another realm, where the germ escapes back into a superegoic beyond. This way the burden is relieved at the cost of a new cultural subjugation. However, through the course of modernity this transcendence becomes precarious and less plausible. Traditional sublimation becomes tenuous as the arrangements and mechanisms that support this process deteriorate. This would mean that we are drifting in a threshold where some kind of ‘postmodernity’ is increasingly being forced upon us as a necessity.
The burden of the immanence of infant sex is what French psychoanalysts called jouissance. and at an aesthetic level this registers as intensities of color, heat, speed, distance, pain, pleasure… it is like a prism from which all possible affects are distilled. The issue that will concern us going forward is how this substance can be separated and combined on different ontological registers.
Perhaps the greatest problem we face concerns the excessive power of this germ of infant sex. How can such power be reserved at the level of immanence? The only adequate approaches to this would seem to involve dividing it from itself, or separating it into various component aspects. The danger arises where it contracts together into an aggregate of affect that jumps to higher valences of intensity, and where we react to this overwhelming intensity by disavowing or repressing it back into the realm of the transcendent other.
It seems that it is only by keeping infant sex adequately partitioned that it can be retained at the level of immanence. But partitioning can lead to another mistake, which is to evacuate the germ from immanence by representation. If it is partitioned inappropriately, then the beast will also withdraw into transcendence. Here we encounter some inevitable ambivalence. It would seem that plane of immanence itself cannot be partitioned, and that the vital germ can only exist immanently where it is free of representation. The germ does not submit to representation, and cannot itself be partitioned, and yet we must still devise partitions so that consciousness can relate to it without getting drawn into the totality of all affect. This means that consciousness can only relate to the free univocity of the germ negatively, through a detached abstraction of conceptual knowledge. Partitioning is an artifice that allows consciousness to protect itself from an affected relation with the univocity of infant sex. This way consciousness is affected by the germ only through the screening of the partitions. Consciousness can resist the seduction of the totality of the infinite through partitioning.
This partitioning is spatial and temporal. The germ gets divided into phases which correspond with zones on the body and with geographical sites or regions. Each phase has a distinct mediation where the power of the germ disturbs words and images with shudders of solecism. Physiological circuits are formed through a series of partitions, so that consciousness shifts around in its relation with the germ in order to metabolize it through a series of phases. This serious of dispositions corresponds with what chemists would call a reaction mechanism. In each phase there is a particular conflicted manner. And this reaction has a circular form, so that it ends up roughly where it begins, although the course has to be at least slightly different each time around. This circle could be more or less vicious. It is important that this circle does not become a developmental spiral, as in the maturation processes of culture and modernity, which would imply the restoration of infant sex to the level of transcendence.
This is an art of resistance that moves in three directions: 1. resistance to the urge to invest infant sex in the symbols of a transcendent other 2. resistance to the seduction of the totality of infant sex 3. resistance to evacuating infant sex through representation
The sense of mystery is decisive in this art of resistance. This mystery proceeds as a series of limited experiences of infant sex. The finitude of each phase is the partiality or incompleteness of our experience of the germ. At different phases the germ gets manifest, conceptualized and indicated.
This immanent mystery is opposed to the cultural mystery of the transcendent other. Most of the art and literature from the past is caught up in cultural dialectics of transcendence. The problem is to absolve these cultural mysteries onto planes of immanence. As we shall see, the distinction between culture and the simulacra of culture becomes critical.
What can be said about the mysteries of immanence? These mysteries concern the limits of perception, cognition, utterability, awareness, attention… this effect is what artists refer to as trompe l’oeil, where what is available refers to what is unavailable. Mystery is produced at the singular limits of availability. These limits are actively assumed and self-imposed: they are limits to what we are inclined to explore presently. They may reflect the limits of our time and energy. More precisely, they reflect the conditions of composition within a certain phase-partition. Each phase has its own limitations on availability, where infant sex is experienced only in some particular ontological aspect. These are the conditions upon which consciousness is able to pursue its serial metabolization of infant sex.
The composition of a phase depends on knowing what not to know, perceive, say, and remember. These limits of availability, or conditions of secrecy, are tested through hospitality relations with friends and strangers. A cultured person relates to infinity as a transcendent other, and the prospect of the immanence of infinity disturbs them. They seek a mirror symmetry, so their interlocutors also appear cultured: they want their guest to deposit infinity in symbols of transcendence. If they feel their interlocutor is contaminated with an immanent infinity, then they may identify them as damned or holy. This identification is dangerous, because it posits infant sex as a totality, and shifts it back into transcendence. This is how those who resist culture risk falling into the trap of culture, where they are hurled into the overwhelming power of a totalized transcendence.
By assuming the transcendence of infant sex, culture configures the noetic faculty, with its processes of sense-making, directing, and evaluation. Maintaining the transcendence of infant sex allows for stable identities, rankings and comparisons. The game of culture involves a dramatic psychology of progress and regress. This sort of drama becomes more important in competitive and meritocratic societies, where the sense of competition is maintained through transcendent ideals. Those who don’t pay homage to these ideals threaten to confuse the market. Markets are cultural institutions structured by the transcendence of infant sex, and immanence is like a crime of treason against this order of the market.
This leads to the necessity of cultural simulacra, where one feigns veneration for infant sex as a transcendent symbol. In this way immanence becomes a secret crime committed against modernity, culture and markets, which are complicit in their insistence on transcendence. These systems are immunized against the immanence of infant sex. In order to resist them, it is necessary to trick their immunity by feigning simulacra of cultural transcendence. This would explain the more daring varieties of Hegelianism from Pierre Klossowski to Slavoj Zizek, the thinkers who have understood that truly subverting transcendence requires dancing with the devil.