In short it reduced survival to a fundamental nullity; it proposed, in a condensed version, the long-term plan that the Church had drawn unconsciously from the economic model of survival on credit. Faced with this impatience to empty life of its substance, Catholicism sent out its soldiers of deferred death until confidence in its enterprise was restored. Bloodthirsty repression by the northern crusaders lay waste to a civilization that had been on the verge of finding their own approach to happiness. The victory was a matter of real profits over the rarefied abstraction of exchange; and so, paradoxically, a slow death on the installment plan took revenge on immediate, gratuitous death.
Vaneigem, The Movement of the Free Spirit
The spider pug dreams only of gnawing her ownerDecadence is neither the winding down of an empire nor the wearing of fur in the summer while eating a whole bird who drowned in cognac. It's pedigree dog breeding. For decadence isn't a question of consumption, either burn-it-down excessive in a time of plenitude or weakly trying to still play the game of excess in a threadbare time of dwindling resources. Rather, true to its etymology (from decadere, to fall apart/down, i.e. to decay), decadence is a rotting off. Like near all things that interest me, it implies the persistence of what is already undone, or undoing. Not decaying, per se, but what happens otherwise during, or because of, the condition of decaying, the state of decay that itself produces not just the disappearance of this, but a whole host of patterns and trends, strange versions of that.
Hence the dandy, held up as decadence incarnate, isn't just the guy who owns an excessive number of suits or who owns suits made excessively well. No, he wears the signs of decadence: gaudy mockeries of good taste, silk-lined armor against Protestant usefulness. And in that case, it's usually talked about as artifice, playing dress up in costumes, style without depth or illusions of authenticity below the stripe and paisley surface. An artifice morbid, chafing, and strutting.
But something else going on in decadence, that finds its figure and hits its seriously horrifying stride in pedigree dog breeding. Watch as much of this video as you can handle before following below:
Documentary - BBC - Pedigree Dogs Exposed
bordercollie19 | MySpace Video
(it's near impossible to recreate in writing the effect this documentary had on me, the accounts of eugenics and intentional mutation to the point of organ failure. Full disclosure: I get weird, deep, intensely physical bonds to dogs - I am a "dog person." I didn't know about this BBC piece until a friend recommended it recently. An accurate version of my internal response would involve this entire blog swallowing itself and devolving, or evolving, into an inchoate string of words, bilious loathe, Oulipo without rules, just total day-eating black mouths of misanthropy, and a stream of, the end deserves to be extremely fucking nigh...)
"the cavalier's skull is now too small for its brain", and the bugging eyes, the scratch and constant pain, that frozen, sclerotic stupid terror. It goes on, the whole thing a near taxonomy of what's wrong with the entire project of civilization as registered by the demand that its companions, the "pure ones" in a time of hybrid mixing, register what is monstrous and can't be seen. Like a portrait in an attic marked by evil from afar, the evolution of purebred dogs is the inverse hypothesis of the advance of the human species: we live longer, get healthier, and all become capitalists, while the jowls of bulldog twist and sink, the head swells so large that it can only be born by caesarian.
The central fantasies behind a "purebred"?
It's pure: no mongrel hybridity in this time of mixed and blurring world. It's total racism on the part of those who wouldn't admit that in the case of humans. But when it comes to their precious pooches, they need to see the papers, make sure nothing impure got in there. They go online and whine and fret over the prospect that their pet might have "a bit of mixed in him." And when the puppies don't have the correct characteristics (i.e. Rhodesian Ridgebacks with not quite enough ridge, they are "culled"/killed).
Nature can, and will, be infinitely tampered with: walking your pug around town is like walking a thesis from Dialectic of Enlightenment. It's talking a stroll with domination over nature and the capacity to make of it an enfeebled, constantly sick, dependent little monster whose infirmities you will then bemoan as if "impossible to foresee," cruel nature taking her revenge. Shaping a creature to the point that it becomes internally contradictory, as thought materially, corporeally, brutally presses against its shrunken skull.
It is singular and singularly expensive: Veblen (who hated dogs and hence shouldn't be trusted) wrote in The Theory of the Leisure Class:
This remains true, and all the more so for "purse dogs" to be carried by all who dream of being shitty shallow socialites. The dog isn't, in fact, just "one more accessory." It's a weird, bug-eyed, hotly panting version of reification, the portable commodity treated as a "little person" and vice versa. (What's lost in the equation is some dog-ness of the thing, and for any who've stared close at the face a pug as it grunts and farts and licks it own eyeballs, "thing" should be taken in its full Freudian horror.) More interesting is the particularity of breed. It's an insistence of a dog belonging to this breed, not that breed. Yet in such an operation, the real work is a perversion of the gap between breed and species. Singular comes to mean not the singularity of a mutt (the unreplicable combination that also leads to an actually healthy, potentially pleasure-taking dog) but the generic singularity of an instance of a breed that is no longer a member of its species. Drawing out the snout in a certain way takes precedence over both the consistency of the animal as a whole and over the genetic otential of future instantiations of that breed ever escaping total decline into congential disorders and recessive traits. In short, the characteristics for which the dogs are bred are those that distinguish them from the set of all other dogs. And so making into "boxer" now means making into "not-dog."
For decadence is not slowdown and gluttony. It is the acceleration of caricature. Insofar as it is a rotting, it is a rotting away of the common. Not what is unnecessary. The first to go aren't the parasites of form, not the added flourish or the recent addition (that is, monstrous subtraction of utility) to the breed. Just a barely held together assemblage of parts at the expense of wholes, from the holes in the hearts to the throat that can't stop barking. Decadence is the roar of speeding toward a world in which all things are not equivalent, interchangeable, homogeneous, but desperate imitations of specificity. Of something not being like all things else, not transmissible. And in this pathetic flight toward the security of being special, what's left behind and actively denied is the prospect of something that might persist, the mongrel's vitality of some tooth and love and force.
What barer fact of the foggy and shrill stupidity of our species than to willfully breed another into obsolescence. That is our caricatural misanthropy, cast out onto the seemingly more minor and furry, held up and photographed, the blazing lights of the show and the judge checks the jaw line. Glossed fur wrapped over those failing joints and self-consumptive guts. Forced to be what we already are, a set of distinguishing characteristics without any referent, a forced secession from the species. We make the world in our own image. And in pre-selected couplings, stretch that image, pull it out. Ruin its teeth, close its breathing channels. Erase it, rearrange it, and cram it back together to make of its pathetic, whimpering collapse the present's loathing of itself and all it touches.
Steep cliffs, falling rocks, swift and dangerous waters, and the hollow roar of the vicious and dumb
This basically sums up my time at Cornell last week: rusted overgrown ornament gates that open to hell, nature that may try to eat you (and the fake barbed wire bridges needed to hold one back from leaping into the void/shallow stream), and the best new adjective: CONTEMPTY. Meaning: a sneering vacuity.
Over at Variant, Marina Vishmidt interviews me about the year of occupations and strikes so far, lessons de-learned, and what kind of solidarity means what kind of attack. (And me weirdly reiterating the phrase "that's to say" again and again. Barring a subtle - and false - excuse about my answers delineating themselves from the "that's to act" asserted collectively in actions that happened this year, it mostly comes down to the fact that my head has been clearer than when I responded to the questions. Oops.)
A coda to my earlier post about the general decline of collective "pleasure" (read: relatively autonomous orgasms in relative physical proximity.). Here rephrased in two screen captures from an interview with Ferreri right before his death:
If you haven't seen yet, the joke that's been voiced by us all many times - Icelandic volcano as ultimate faceless demandless anarcho-saboteur! - gets a consummate version here.
"Instead, paraphrases the volcano, we seek to channel the anger of the dispossessed tourists and airline workers into a declaration of war.
Now, sorry for the harsh interpretation – it was the radical students in California who spoke of war, and went surprisingly unnoticed by the global media. EJ is far more sophisticated in its approach, not saying a word, so not a word can be misinterpreted."
An anti-symbolic manifesto composed in silicate ash, cloud-writing to haunt and ground the skies. We've got a long way to go, apparently...
Briefly: been on oxymoronic theory vacation, my apologies to those who've written me and to whom I haven't replied. Third day at the Theory Reading Group in Cornell, something like an alternate-universe frat boy party where people talk about the "piety of thought." Really interesting conversations through, particularly an ongoing, somewhat accidental focus on counter-factual reasoning. Got me thinking about what happens when "testing" your faithfulness to a project doesn't just end in the self-destruction of that project, but when faithfulness itself is only a ruse to "have to try and test it out." More on this soon, and I'll put up a version of the talk I gave - on ornament, decay, and the horror of wallpaper made of hair - when I turn it into something more than just scattered notes. For now, back to the cave and to the pleasure of face-to-face.
However, we do present an ultimatum: for every utterance of the word "Evental" or the phrase "the global Left," a hostage will be killed. The blood's on your hands, Mr. President.
In order to save functional architecture from moral ruin, a disintegrating preparation should be poured on the clean glass walls and smooth concrete surfaces, so that mould can settle on them.
- Hundertwasser, "Mould Manifesto against rationalism in architecture"
"Ladies' fashion! What a horrible chapter of our cultural history, laying bare mankind's secret lusts. Reading its pages, one shudders to one's very soul at dreadful perversions and unbelievable vices; one can hear the whimpering of abused children, the shrieks of maltreated women, the ear-splitting screams of tortured people, the wailing of victims burning at the stake. Whips crack, and the air is filled with the smell of roasting human flesh. La bête humaine...
No, that is going too far. Human beings are not beasts. Love in a beast is as plain and simple as nature intended. But we humans abuse our nature, and nature abuses the sexual urge within us. We are beasts locked in a stall, beasts refused their natural food, beasts who have to love to order. We are domesticated animals.
If we humans had remained beasts, then love would enter our hearts once a year. But our only barely repressed sensuality renders us capable of love at any time. We have been cheated out of springtime. And our sensuality is not simple, but complicated, not natural, but unnatural."
- Adolf Loos, "Ladies's Fashion" (1898/1902), a loopy essay that veers from the conservative, prudish, nostalgic for the natural, and misogynistic to something more uncommon and Kollontai-like, as in his calls for articulated women's trousers allowing them to bicycle quickly as the concrete step toward equality of the sexes. Add to this an attempt, as with Loos, to ascribe a grand historical narrative to particular questions of what material pants are made from , an insistence that the progress arrow always points toward stripping down to form's utility, and a number of turns of phrase that make your collar feel a bit tight (see here: "the green apple has exerted greater attraction than the ripened fruit").
Psychoanalysis is only worth a damn insofar as it lets itself be analysis without prescription, with noticing things and not insisting that it knows what to do with or about them them. As such, the basic mantra, especially when people take its concepts elsewhere, should be: Wow, you're fucked up. And I have no idea what you should do about it.
Design a poster. Make eight hundred thousand copies. The content is irrelevant. Wheatpaste two of them together. Add a third. Add a... ad infinitum until you have built a wall. Build more walls. Quietly push them into the street and arrange them so they look like a new housing development, a tax office. The state will take down your posters, peeling off one at a time, finding only one more beneath each time, trying to produce the bare wall beneath that doesn't exist. While they are busy doing this, get busy organizing new forms of life.
On that note of a cryptic polka dot pistol buried in a white pillow: S a/o B will return shortly to actual thought, rather than its current arbitrary dissemination of images. Time is thee enemy, and lately, it's been mine as well. Been working on not-so-bloggable projects, politickin', and facing a storm of deadlines I brought upon myself. New work coming out shortly, though: first up, a piece in Film Quarterly on Marco Ferreri's Dillinger Is Dead and what it means to make anti-bourgeois film for a bourgeois audience.
For a good read, go check out Ben's great work on Farocki, which is goading me to get serious about trying to track down any and all copies of the films I can find. So those of you out there with nefarious underworld connections, bring a copy of Bilder der Welt und Inschrift der Krieges and name your barter-price. Thinking something like the mysterious box from Kiss Me Deadly...
I.E.: radioactive payoff
One of the reasons that Chrysler has run into such financial trouble is that there have been some problems with the relay devices between the computers and the robot welders. When a problem develops further up the line, it takes a long time for the computers to tell the robot welders to stop. So the robot welders continue to make these welding motions, dropping molten steel directly onto the conveyor belt, even though there are no cars on the line, building up a series of equidistant blobs. It takes several hours for the computers to tell the robot welders to stop. At the rate of eighty cars per hour, a typical plant is capable of manufacturing approximately 100 of these blobs before the plant can be totally shut down.
A general depletion of simultaneous or spatially contiguous orgasm in capitalist nations.
a) the near-total drop-off of visits to porn theaters, where strangers came together to come together, even if sometimes looking very straight ahead and not acknowledging their fellow watchers, or even to shops with viewing booths separated by walls but right next to one another, in favor of the atomized viewing of internet porn as a solitary activity and the cold light of the computer in a sleeping house, and
b) the non-take off of an orgiastic future - with all its relaxed codes of partnership, "fluid" sexuality, general upsurge in non-domestic sex as political and casual act - promised by parts of the sexual revolution, or even a general dilation of family values and all that comes with it,
it follows that now, 40 years after the start of the '70s, fewer people orgasm in reach, sight, or hearing range of one another. As for what, how, and who comes next, that's up for grabs.
Sex, which many enthusiasts thought they had invented in the sixties, here makes its appearance in the science-fiction film. The relationship between sex and science fiction, or, more to the point, its virtual absence from the genre, has always been a puzzle - explained, I would guess, by the fact that science-fiction writers constitute an authentic community of naifs, generally nervous of change, politically ultraconservative, eager not to think about what adults do after dark.
- Ballard, on Barbarella