And of course he's drinking his own blood

On the note of my continuing search for intersections between these lines of thinking tracked out here, all that negativity and fidelity to the eccentric and dialectical reversal, and the kind of brilliant direct pedagogy and affective force of political hip hop, here is the intro track to Dead Prez's Let's Get Free (2000), "Wolves," sampling a speech by Chairman Omali Yeshitela. So haunting, so vicious, the recoil and horrible familiarity. Between my yearning wolves of noise and thought and the wolves that we all are forced to be, salivating toward our own death, knowing better than but unable to stop.

This is a model of analogy, of how to turn the idiosyncratic into the deeply felt of the commons. "That's the thing we have to understand today..."

Construction in the age of wreckage

Avant-garde armor

That which can only be new, which calls itself a fissure in the trendline, a needle skipping from the record to the floor, whatever calls itself thus necessarily calls for a ground clearing, shoving to the gutter the clutter of accreted junk so as to gain visibility and the room to build up momentum.

Or this is how it supposedly goes. And this is been the rallying and outpacing cry of prescriptive radical cultural movements, from the manifestos of Dada and the SI, Constructivist design and Brutalist slabs, dialectical film and anarcho-punk.

This - this mode of emptying the graveyard to make room for new dead - is nothing new, nothing if not the dominant minor logic of the 20th century, the blood-and-noise conviction running alongside its modern twin: the promise of global liberal democracy making capitalism itself a "basic human right." And there is little left in our periodizing mourning which dwells in the basement of the museum of avant-gardes, fingering our collectible remnants of when times were different and when people believed.

So, like the very movements in question, we wind up backs to the wall of that non-choice: either we mark and mock, tell ourselves that it was always just aesthetic play from the start, postmodern equivalences from the start, and that real politics always lay elsewhere, or we maintain a conviction in the thought of the avant-garde, unmoor from our radical past in order to break the baleful spell of melancholic inaction, thereby discounting both the struggle that is our very history and the forces beyond which these days are unknowable.

In other words, we are one of two Jokers:

Cheering up a Hopper, bringing a little life into the mausoleum of culture

"I kinda like this one..."

Jack Nicholson's Joker in 1989, having a band of merry pranksters defacing party in the Museum, saving from alteration only Francis Bacon's "Figure With Meat", entirely missing the point that for them to truly respect the Bacon would not be to reify it as dark art but to basically become what the Joker would become in the American filmic imagination.


"I'll just burn my half..."

That very figure, a remarkable hearkening back to the 19th century vision of anarchist as terrorist, the Joker as some slavering, negative-thought wielding combination of Sergei Nechayev, Lucky Luciano, and Hunter S. Thompson.

Protesters at the kettled G20 London protest in Ledgerite Joker makeup, proving that us radicals are not immune to and can benefit from the slips and shocks of what mass culture still remains capable of producing

Either defacing or destruction, the positive mark of negation left as a mocking sneer trace or the immolatory fantasy of groundclearing.


this town needs an enema (it is polluted, I have a conscious program of action, an invigorating solution, via the rather uncomfortable procedure of art-as-life and death-as-art it so as to make it better)


this town is itself already an enema (the hollowed out core of what could be, the administered false freedoms of the liberal order, and hence we might as well light the fuse and see what happens, let the world show its barbaric colors pulsing beneath the scrubbed-clean surface: "I'm just introducing a little chaos to this dull rule filled world").

(Or course, what is never spoken but implicitly suggested insofar as it is Batman's own solution, not to use his wealth - his only actual superpower - for any sort of collective social programs but simply to fight the Joker, is that this clown needs an enema. Hence the maddening, Bruce-doth-protest-too-much insistence that "I'm not like you, I won't kill you" - I'll just let your grip slip so you falling to your death is the consequence of your inability to pull yourself up by your bootstraps into the proper role for a maverick committed to preserving the status quo.)

Not this, not that

There are distinct corollaries here with the kind of schematic Badiou (and others, albeit in different terminology) have been proposing in recent years, that of the different inflections of a "passion for the Real": read "Real" here not in a strict Lacanian sense, but rather as the insistence on praxis founded on the ground of what the world could be, neither Utopian nor hemmed in by the reigning symbolic order, but a sense of what lies below, of the bedrock of a social relations and thought to be rediscovered by revolutionary theory and action, particularly insofar as it indicates a relation to how one thinks antagonism and historical projects. Without delving into the specificity of that project (I have extended analyses of this elsewhere if interested), what is to be drawn forth here is, first, its direct relation to political-aesthetic projects and, second, here is the symptomatic blindspot of the model.

The century, as it tracks the supposed heroic arc of avant-garde art and vanguard political thought, is indeed marked by the relation between the ghosts and goals of unity and division, synthesis and contradiction, coalition and antagonism. And as such, the basic question is needed: are we to locate our way out of this mess via the unification of the opposed Two into a new One, or do we need to keep ceaselessly negating, dividing, resplitting, to shove a wedge into the false unity of the globe and show who's on what sight, plainly, harshly? The reformist and/or apologist overtones of the "unifier" position are unmistakable, and I give force, with Badiou, to the latter, to the drawing out of the Two. In this latter position, he recognizes the possibility that was the dominant historical tendency: our well-known annihilative, purgative, partisan conviction that just might destroy the world - or at least the possibility of its own position having coherence - in trying to burn it clean. Yet the work of revolutionary consciousness, political or cultural, cannot be the antithesis to the world that this annihilative passion forges itself as (the destructive embodiment of the antagonism itself), but something else, a horizon toward a third that escapes either the unary phantasm of the One or the terroristic deadlock of the Two. Regarding the image from earlier of the burning pile of cash, the Joker's joke is, fundamentally, that you can't just burn one part of a totality. It's all or nothing...

Against this, as a third of sorts, Badiou offers a "subtractive path: the subtractive path: to exhibit as a real point, not the destruction of reality, but minimal difference. To purify reality, not in order to annihilate it in its surface, but to subtract it from its apparent unity so as to detect within it the minuscule difference, the vanishing term which constitutes it. What barely takes place differs from the place wherein it takes place. It is in the ‘barely’ that all the affect rests, in this immanent exception" (from "One Divides Into Two", in Lenin Reloaded, on which I've written a long review possibly forthcoming in HM).

Concretized as cultural strategy, what does this look like?

Carl Andre, the minimal form of building

Minimalism, that particular (historical) form of abstraction. Robert Ryman, Carl Andre, Agnes Heller. Morton Feldman. Mies. Malevich at his starkest best. Late Beckett, minus the scatological humor. Warhol's films, not his paintings. Late conceptual names, all.

(Yet... this is a longer gesture to track, too far for here, but there is another set of objects that perhaps crystallizes and deploys this barely far better than those productions that self-declare as minimal shifts of difference. Namely, the anti-minimal production of serial genre production, the relentless rehashing of a form that cashed in once, the repetition that tries its damnedest to escape difference. Think here of my great horror film loves, giallo and Hammer, Euro exploitation and minor studio 30's production, then beyond horror, to directors who can't get it quite right, the full-blooded, bawdy, surrealist ceaseless iterations, reading the tradition wrong through too much fidelity, too much studio pressure, a tectonic weight on what should be just another low-level production. Not diamonds but symptomatic coal, doubled back on itself and the very processes of production pressing down on it. Beyond film: psychotic pulp, Weird fiction, the insane linguistic frottage of Harlequin romance, all those books that know it has been done yet are commanded to do it all again, reaching out past themselves, raiding the tombs of other traditions. The feeling before the screen, knowing full well the director was told to play it straight, to make this just like that because that ruled the box office. And in front of you, the feathers drop, a boiling shadow, the words that should never go together, and we all think, how did this happen...)

We have three jokers now, three grains of sand, three ways of working within, through, and against a world order that does not satisfy you.

1. Annihilative passion for the Real, the one who stands before the burning millions of dollars and says, you just don't get it...

2. Subtractive passion for the Real: a Malevitchian Joker? Can we fathom it beyond its invisibility, the Joker somewhere convincing himself that his nearly unseen actions have brought forth, in the impossible difference of the barely different, a contact with the Real? (The non-maniacal Joker who may be a threat to the city, but the city will never know.) Or perhaps: this enema needs a town, a site from which it can barely withdraw.

3. Two unite into One: the Joker who will give the city a cunning enema, cajoling its consciousness via small calculated shocks, cultural sabotage, and lots of gaudy purple clothing.

But the blindspot, and not the sudden productive blindspot of anamorphic vision?

Dead labor caught in the storm

This approach to thinking radical political culture/ culturally radical politics is utterly accurate, particularly for a certain dominant moment in capitalist aesthetics. Yet something rests behind, a lack unacceptable for this conjuncture, at this economic flashpoint, this crisis that may not become a crisis unless we make it so. A lingering dissatisfaction, that there need be something else. The sense that these may be, for our moment, merely modes of petty nihilism, self-subtracting unwillingness to play the game that be the wrong game, and light defacement, just ways of apologetic participation.

More, though, we might say, that each of these have been more than that. But they are no longer.

More, though, is the other possibility not followed through, that the passion for the Real should not only be allowed to count when the dialectical model is that of One divides into Two. For
simply making as Two is not dialectics, at least not the dialectics of my project, from the rust knowledge of salvagepunk to the uncanny existence of our world with its copresent apocalyptic collapse. Capitalism is the bringing into existence of a world of the non-dialectical Two (there is that which is capital and that which might be, and underpinning it all is the unresolvable antagonism of workers and capitalists). All this under the shifting veil that tells us the world is global now, a tremendous heterogeneous One. Our thought must be dialectical exactly because capitalism itself is not.

Anselm Kiefer and the lead-frozen weight of past thought

And as such, we need not just the division that creates the Two but the insistence to not rest in it, either as annihilation or subtraction. Rather, construction, the other possibility so anathema to contemporary dialectical thought so resolute in its following of the vitally important line of thinking that was negative dialectics that it considers anything other than annihilation or subtraction to be the silly promise of unification, of synthesis, of the magical joining together.

What it can't think is the work of salvage and montage, of the work of construction in the age of wreckage.

In other words, to divide up the One not for the sake of purgative annihilation - or for the substractive insertion of a void - but to see what's worth saving in the One that was never there other than in our militant assertion of the world that will be made. That we begin indeed with the racheting up and cracking apart of the pseudo-totality of late capitalism. And then starts the harder task of knowing when to call something a wreck and to dig through that wreckage.

Life among the non-ruins

Like the avant-garde move that we can't afford to leave behind, but here doubled. To clear the wreckage - the wreckage at once material, the crap and scraps of our production processes, and formal, past gestures, manifesto fragments and strategies for repurposing - to make a space for what can be made from it. Then the making, the remaking, not the smoothing synthesis, but welding, stitching, rewiring. All with the chances that were there from the start, too polished to see, too immense to grasp, too broken to have ever been whole.

For a history of salvagepunk

Three moments.


The scattered corpsescape of WWI. The night of the world is Europe looking at the death's face looking back at it, the progeny of nationalist pride and a gleaming weaponry forged from the guts of the Industrial Revolution. Only the Bolsheviks say no and carve a trench into history. And Kurt Schwitters draws forth Merz from Commerz.


The 60's go kaputt. Then the long 70's, in all their gritty urgency and Satanic deformations of hippie non-thought, Moro's body in the trunk of the Renault, Bretton Woods undoes the filaments of currency as certainty and shape. In England, 1969, The Bed-Sitting Room and Monty Python think the end of it all as little more than the relentless repurposing of the same. Ten years later, Mad Max heads toward the Outback.


Neoliberalism's febrile tremors and hysterical overcompensations. Small cracks and shimmers, old reptilian brain stirring of something that smells like a revolutionary past. Cyberpunk already came and went: how could it not, given that it coldly sang along with what it felt like on the ground? Steampunk, the wet dream of Obama-time, acts old fashioned as it sails smug over the oceans of dead labor that got us here, tidying up. Salvagepunk, not yet here except as the unbidden tightening of hands learning new tricks. Of the trash heap, only its romance of frozen decay should be discarded. The new building was other architectures in the pre-built wasteland of this life.

“I know that not a single Honduran citizen supports this military coup.”

If you aren't already doing so, read my friend and comrade Don's coverage and translations on the Honduran coup. More will be forthcoming from him in the coming days. Necessary.

If you're a janitor, get a street sweeper

And now, following for anyone who read the post below, to restore a bit of pep and vigor to our musical possibilities that are insistently here...

This is the sonic equivalent of a miracle tonic for revolutionaries. Should be taken at least once a week, if not more.

For a chaser, meet one of the most alarmingly catchy hooks, to be matched only by T.I. switching to tender half-sung pre-prison anthems. (That and the unshakable glee of Hurricane Chris as he performs "Halle Berry (She's Fine)" in front of the Louisiana State Legislature.) The fact that "My Favorite Mutiny" has not graced every mixtape does not compute.

Did the music and the crumbling mind ever meet

Go read: k-punk's blisteringly sad, oddly gorgeous piece on Michael Jackson and the lost chance, the preceding posts on Grey Vampires, and all that falls and rises between the two.

(Once I finish this section on salvagepunk, I will enter, and respond to, the monstrous bestiary of late capitalist banality he raises, when I come back to cut the phantom already-gone acephalic head from mass zombie reification.)

Nothing matters, effect precedes cause, fish spawn in mid-air, and you can do whatever you want (Cinema, adult diapers, shocks)

This truly may be a new pinnacle of film criticism: what seems like a giant joke turns out to be the realization that the walking joke who is Michael Bay may be, against all odds and with a horrible sense of inevitability, the culmination of a lineage of sense-driven cinema from Buñuel through Brakage, Vigo to Svankmajer. The joke is not on us but through us, onto the emergence of sincere, drooling, anarchic - not anarchist - aesthetics at the very greased heart of shit film production.

Perhaps we have here the opening-out of Eisenstein's vision of a cinema of calculated physical shocks, the direct manipulation of the body's affective order by means of ways of seeing, cutting, framing, undoing. The difference here is that cinema's apex comes not in the hands of one who knows what he is doing or who grasps the political sense of this. Instead we get a noise bomb of sight, a pure explosion of effects dismantling reason. It is not full of stars. It is the sound of stars turning back on themselves, the immense gravitational consequence of great heaps money and sloppy jagged tears of meaninglessness...

The glittering digital wreckage, the shattered wake tracing the course of what cinema could have been and insisted it would be.

"If I get elected... they will be terrified. I myself will be terrified."

(thanks to the Institute for sending me down this rabbit hole.)

Koichi Toyama. Somewhere between Bakunin and Badiou, the ceaseless work of negativity speaking the obvious, our constant complicity and non-anxiety in the face and façade of participatory democracy, the "festival of the majority."

A later speech, running for U.S. presidency. If Japan, under the carrot-stick of U.S. hegemony, is little more than a economically elevated 51st state of the union, why can't Koichi run? I now deeply regret my leaving the "President" part of my ballot blank. I thought it was a null decision between the non-choice of majoritarian politics in a state where the decision toward Obamamania was a given. I have here found, retroactively, my write-in candidate.

And, as is the fate with all things that sparkle and stick sand-like a bit in our Internet memory, the mash-up is inevitable.

Although this tempts a dour response that this is analogous to the hamstringing of compelling, idiosyncratic, iconoclastic figures and moments of thought (the kind of campy defanging I've mentioned previously regarding zombies, trash, all things dirty, undead, and "low"), this works quite well, in relief to the Daily Show mode of Darth Vader-ing Dick Cheney, etc. The perhaps unbidden joke here? The imperial theme given stridency to this contemporary Mishima of anti-imperialism. There is no aesthetic experience that is fundementally imperialist. There is stirring, and there is banal. We just need to get our heads clear, wear our minority on our chests as more than joke t-shirts of virtuoso consumption, and dust off our symphonic solidarities. Minority festivals as more than a catchphrase for institutionally sanctioned diversity days... Hypocrite voter, mon semblable, mon frère! Apparently, shaving your head and admitting terror at the prospect of what you yourself advocate is a first halting, unsettling march step.

Year Zero

I turn 27 today. I am spending the day in a split between reading Kurt Schwitters and riding my bike into the hills: between Merz and condor-circling. Come a few months from now, this blog will turn 1. I have a sneaking hope it will be far sneakier, more foul-thought-polemic-mouthed, and hungrier than I was then. But over the next few months, I will be giving it, so as to give myself, some sort of compulsory education, via a telescope in reverse and a shorter tether. Reason being that my book, Combined and Uneven Apocalypse, coming out from zer0 Books next year...

(provisional cover my sister designed for me)

... needs to be written this summer. As such, expect a series of overinsistent working-throughs and reformulations on the apocalyptic question, starting from the initial Apocalyptic notes series written a while back.

First up on the fleshing out program/Lautréamontian dissecting table: salvagepunk, my coinage that seems to be taking on a life of its own (and going on to do more interesting things than my initial capture of a cultural tectonic).

To become of it here: a search for debris and montage beginnings, a sense of why Monty Python (in its Gilliam-inflection) returned to Dada/Surrealist collage aesthetics (and why those "originary" aesthetics were so concerned with a repurposing of the Victorian), the fake vintage t-shirt as the pseudo-apocalyptic freeze frame of the 90's, and how to dwell in thought in the junkyard without raising its filth to a futility of melancholic contemplation and era-naming.

To try to make out of the trashheap something utterly without value but that is, at the end of days, worth a damn.

To envelopment and protection (as long as what we are protecting is the noird birdling of a crumbleworld)

China Miéville on literary/artistic movements to come. Of note here, aside from my pleasure in being designated as the "bard" of salvagepunk, is the manifesto quality of his post: not manifesto in the sense of stridency of certainty, but of the kind of saying that makes the said the case. Naming movements in advance, laying a glass-and-steam pocket for their incubation, out in the open.

This sense of open protection, of the envelope that doesn't hide itself away to wait until it grows important and fierce - for rarely does that work out as intended, is crucially marked in China's post on the inflection of the dystopian/end of days/apocalyptic/cold morning after feel, an inflection that winds through each of the future movements described: each is a navigation through and negotiation of the dominant modes of culturally figuring the end of it all.

The dominant modes to be rejected, that is, from the kitschy reduction of the zombie to the level of a Keyboard Cat meme to the "well, now it's over" misprision of how literary production - or, for that matter, the oil-clanked motors of production and slippery circulation - might come to a grinding halt. All in all, against the grave-diggers of our world, the ones who consign unfinished trajectories to the knacker's or who endlessly repeat, in a pitiable sadness of not quite jouissance, the cultural figure or gesture that really had something there, ceaselessly recombine it to leave it hollow-eyed and twee.

In place of that, let's make sure to keep making tears and pockets for our hard boiled Cthulhus and our hot-wiring wreckage angels.

Noise will be noise

Making my day: my friend Joseph lent me the first 4 volumes of Sub Rosa's "An Anthology of Noise & Electronic Music." This collection is remarkable and a serious listening project. Anyone out there who wishes to track these down and listen/process like so many buried wire circuits with me across a digital divide, let me know...

And now for something completely necro...

(play in HQ to get some sense of how this actually sounds)

Why is it that soaring chanted lyrics rising out of the electric mud frenzy of British grinding black/death hybrid metal make me feel so good?

Or for that matter, first wave Norwegian black metal. This is Armageddon...

Or the contemporary Finnish hypnotic cloud of bees underlying groove known as the "werewolf cult" of Horna...

This is anti-dysphoria. Required prep listening for my response to Dominic, an initial gesture toward thinking that sometimes what we gain from the dark and nasty is not necessarily the withdrawal of gothic dejection but rather a historically mediated, shared euphoric, that sort of collective nod, the slight unfolding of solidarity, with others. All feeling like Satanic hawks carrying toxic bone spears forged from a lost past when we knew how to be together and fight for something we loved enough to mourn its loss with yells and noise and rasps, not the soft mewing whimper of the retreat to the darkened room.

And all while having a damn good time doing it.

Ruins without decay

"Perhaps proof that J.G. Ballard didn't really die, he simply took an engineering job at MIT, scientists at that venerable Massachusetts institution have designed a new concrete that will last 16,000 years.
Called ultra-high-density concrete, or UHD, the material has so far proven rather strikingly resistant to deformation on the nano-scale – to what is commonly referred to as "creep."
This has the (under other circumstances, quite alarming) effect that "a containment vessel for nuclear waste built to last 100 years with today's concrete could last up to 16,000 years if made with an ultra-high-density (UHD) concrete." (Emphasis added).
So how long until we start building multistory car parks with this stuff? 16,000 years from now, architecture bloggers camped out for the summer in rented apartments in Houston – the new Rome – get to visit the still-standing remains of abandoned airfields, dead colosseums, and triumphal arches that once held highway flyovers?
16,000 years' worth of parking lots. 16,000 year's worth of building foundations.
Perhaps this simply means that we're one step closer to mastering urban fossilization."


Horrors: The Cremator

Last week's film (Witches' Hammer) was so resolutely bleak that one of my housemates had to retreat to a comic novel and not talk to other human beings after it. Therefore, this week things take a turn for the lighter, with Juraj Herz's The Cremator (1968). With the story of an obsessed cremator who gets involved with the Nazis. OK, lighter is the wrong word. This is a nasty, dark, brutally surreal, nightmare of a film. But in its ugly stew of psychotic expressionist Caligari reloaded horror, there is an undeniable comic streak, comedy blacker than the night. This is required viewing, the unsettling mixture of bad taste with an evil world against which bad taste may be our only antidote.

Thursday, 8:30, the big projector screen at my house.

"We affirm this truth: men think dream and act according to what they eat and drink"

from Simon Schama's The Embarassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age, talking here of the hutsepot, the meat and vegetable stew national dish:

"More than a mere comestible, it was a food that was meant, simultaneously, to reflect the qualities of those who ate it and to reinforce those qualities with its sustenance. If the beefed-up John Bull was supposed to be as virile, ungarnished and bloody (minded) as his chosen good, the Dutch might well have thought of themselves as a hotchpotch commonwealth: rich in variety, harmoniously assorted, hearty, wholesome, sturdy, unpretentious and enduring. Roast beef was the man of action's heroic dish, commingling muscle and blood, energy and power. The great stews of the Netherlands were more to the taste of ruminative humanism: patiently assembled, eclectic in content, moderately spiced, slowly cooked and even more deliberately eaten."

And for gastronomic relief: Marinetti's "Anti-pasta" manifesto:

"Pastasciutta, 40 % less nutritious than meat, fish or pulses, ties today's Italians with its tangled threads to Penelope's slow looms and to somnolent old sailingships in search of wind. Why let its massive heaviness interfere with the immense network of short long waves which Italian genius has thrown across oceans and continents? Why let it block the path of those landscapes of colour form sound which circumnavigate the world thanks to radio and television? The defenders of pasta are shackled by its ball and chain like convicted lifers or carry its ruins in their stomachs like archaeologists."

Horrors: Witches' Hammer

[As I screen a number of films, in particular an ongoing series of horror films, thought I'd start listing them here so that 1) anybody in the remote area who feels like joining can, 2) it might offer some watching suggestions for those in other lands, and 3) might lead to me making something more out of my ramshackle scattered patterns of viewing.]

Okatar Vávra's 1969 Witches' Hammer is another entry in my ongoing fascination with the dark and loopy films of the Czech long 70's. This is a black and white, vicious condemnation of the inquisition and the contemporary institutions that replicate that structure of domination. It is also, however, a "black mass of nudity." But this is no exploitation film, more like Carl Dreyer choking back bile at the human capacity to act badly under the name of God. It's damn pretty to look at, too.

This Thursday (tonight), 8:30, my house (161 Belmont St).

Three hours (misanthropy)

[From day two of my qualifying exams. As with the dialectics response posted before, this is the result of three hours of a writing a response to question I hadn't seen. As such, rather sloppy. Images added after the fact, except for the Greimas square, about which I have a bit of pride/surprise that I made on the fly.

The question centered around Kant's "Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View," in which he includes the great misanthropic line, "for from such crooked wood as man is made of, nothing perfectly straight can be built."
Hence the question about how my thinking on misanthropy differs from Kant. Then a turn to what interests me more, i.e. not human nature per se but misanthropy as a crucial tendency in the burning wreck of the European enlightenment project under the 20th century consequences of capitalism.]

Valences of the misanthropic

In the Kantian schematic that provides not a dominant framework for this project but a point of entry, Nature (as historic will and the tendential becoming of rationality) and nature (the ahistorical stubborn continuity of what the human animal will always be before it becomes something straighter) meet through the flashpoint of human perversity. Yet this raises immediately a difficult question: what might it mean to say that the human nature is perverse? Isn’t perversion a measure of the unnatural (even if natural is considered as the ideology of the natural particular to a historical conjuncture)? Against what background does human nature appear so perverse?

A provisional answer: it is only perverse in the context of what it “ought” to be. Not against its own standards but, dialectically, against its structured negation, its move from nature to Nature. But to be more precise, we should insist that it is not nature itself that is perverse, for the very reason that no action is perverse without prohibition – in this case, the prohibition that occurs through competition, through the weeding-out of those who don’t want to grow straight. Rather, it is the gap itself between Nature and nature that is perverse: Kantian human nature (if we think this as the subject’s trajectory between the ahistorical given and the historical ought-to-be) is human perversity.

A Lacanian inflection is useful here, both in unpacking the Kantian model and in gesturing toward where I depart from it. For Lacan, perversion is not about someone being “against nature” (or “Nature” for that matter). Rather, it is the structure of thought and action that results from a fundamental elevation and fetishization of the Law itself. It is not the Other – the Other who is the manifestation and symbolic site of the Law – who obsesses you, but the “letter of the Law,” the basic fact and shape of prohibition itself. The pervert gets off on the symbolic structuring of being told what should not get him off.

My interest here, however, lies not in the psychosexual valences of perversion but rather in its relation to the fundamental historicity of the Law. This is also the point of my greatest divergence from the Kantian model. In a direct link to my other topic, the Law that interests me is the Law as a real abstraction: not the basic and recurrent fact of human competition and tendency toward isolation, but the emergent constellations of ideology and thought-forms that mobilize that recurrent fact. Or, in its chiasmatic form, the abstraction of the real: the giving form, direction, and universal will to the data and bodies of history, the shapes of matter and money and all the combinations made possible by their intersections.

To situate my thinking on misanthropy and the form in which I detect radical potential (the misanthropic gesture), Kant’s text provides a frame, insofar as two second points of contention point the way: the notions of appearance and unlikeness. For Kant in this text, human actions are the appearances of the freedom of the will. This assumes that the freedom of the will can be understood as something not entirely bound by the dialectic of freedom and necessity (as it appears as a set of tactical, ethical, and historical problems). Even if we accept a model that raises the question of freedom to an “absolute” (such as Badiou’s conception of the truth-event, of the fundamental yes or no), it can only be accepted, I argue, insofar as it begins with the particularity of the actions at hand – both producing the situation and projected as the navigation of the situation – forming the basis, and not the mere appearance, of the freedom of the will. Or, in another turn, I might oppose the Kantian formulation and say that human actions are the becoming-necessary of the will to freedom: there is no freedom of the will, but there is a will to free will.

The question of unlikeness brings forth a related problem gestured to already, that of the historical. If the move toward Nature is a transcendence of the “merely natural,” my position would be to assert against this that “merely natural” for the human is unnatural. There is no “merely natural” outside of the historical deformations of the human: we might think here of the difficult work Rousseau faces in discerning the “original form” of the weather-beaten statue. But we might remind him that there is at the core nothing but further accretion, further distortions. The human is no simulacrum, but it is a bad copy without an original.

Unlikeness has a different function for Kant: for him, the unlikeness is between the drive to isolation/mistrust and what the human ought to be, what it can become across history. However, this does not result in the recognition that this ought (the Law) changes across history, a goal that keeps shifting and doubling back on itself. In this way, there remains an eternality for him: the “misanthropic” animal (isolation and nastiness) is the bedrock for the conditions of possibility of straightening this out across history. Or, in other words, the misanthropic anthropic principle is there so as to erase itself: for this he thanks Nature, for making us selfish, nasty creatures so that we can stop being those creatures eventually, with the right forms of state governance and rational philosophy developed in the march toward Nature.

Moving from here, I would argue that Kant’s text implies both a figure of the misanthrope (the crooked tree that does not reform its ways) and a concept of misanthropy (the recognition of the general condition of the misanthropic tendency within the human animal). I want to add to this two other classifications: affective misanthropy and the misanthropic gesture. This should be thought of as pairings: figure – gesture, affect-concept, and might be mapped in a Greimasian square (drawn hastily).

To break this down: the concept and the affect of misanthropy are dialectically bound registrations of the general misanthropic condition: this is how we are in the world. (And this stands for both the Kantian framework and my own, with the shift in mine toward understand world as a historically conditioned series of inherited situations with evental breaks.) As I claim about the misanthropic turn in the cultural objects I consider, affective misanthropy is distinct from pessimism (or even despair) in the universality of it. It is not just that a particular situation or set of events make us “lose faith in humanity”: it is the detection of a universal – even if this pertains solely to the limits of the world thinkable by the protagonists, etc – state of affairs, a world broken. On the other diagonal axis is the singular form of this, that which stands as the exemplification (or counterpoint) to the universality of the concept and affect of misanthropy: the figure and the gesture.

However, the key distinction here, as indicated above, is that of the passive and active. The figure of the misanthrope is the one who does not struggle against her condition of misanthropy, who perhaps bemoans it but does not think it, while the gesture is the radical overcoming of it, the realizing that what is designated as human and inhuman is an ideological construction that naturalizes and renders eternal (“that’s just human nature”) a particular historical arrangement of the world. The concept of misanthropy is also this form of active work, of moving from a sense of the givenness of misanthropy (the affective, the intuition that we really want little to do with one another beyond take advantage) to a theorizing of it, of treating it not as the problem but as a ground zero for political and ethical thought. (I leave the other permutations for discussion later, as unraveling them here would take far too long.)

A point to draw out from this, however, is that the figure of the misanthrope – as an individual figure – must be rejected, and even the movement toward the individual misanthropic gesture should be viewed warily. (Bakunin’s slip toward Nechayevism was on a icy slope of apocalyptic “passion for the Real” fantasies.) Of more interest, and against Kant, is neither the individual becoming-misanthrope or becoming-rational (via the competition provoked by the general condition of misanthropy) but of the class becoming of the misanthrope. Again, Schmitt’s formulation from Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, and one echoed later with varying degrees of explicitness in Negri, Tronti, Badiou, and Debord, is that the proletariat must become the enemy of all humanity, precisely because the proletariat have been reduced to the mass figure of only human, the transference of bare life into caloric energy and general intellect.

Given the bent of my work and the above comment, it is worth reframing this in terms of capitalism. The question reemerges: why do a bunch of rational actors, each capitalist rationally looking to maximize profits, each laborer “rationally” selling his labor, not produce a systemic rationality? Why are there systemic crises, massive bailouts, decimations of entire industries? Why do a nearly infinite series of rational decisions produce a system of universal unreason?

One could say: yes, but the decisions are hardly rational, they are based on incorrect information, and laborers have to take the terms offered to them in order to survive, unless there is a strong enough labor movement to set new terms of the valuation of work. However, inverting the Kantian move, in which irrational competition produces rationality, we should argue that capitalism is perhaps the massive overthrowing of the thinkability of that Kantian framework, for now we see that rational competition produces irrationality, produces not a direction of will across history (Nature) but the elevation of the general misanthropic condition to the system as a whole, in which the trees that grow tallest and grab the sunshine are not those who, by competition, learned to play nice but those who grasped the misanthropy of the human and ran with it, choking out those below in order to remake the world in the double image of themselves and capital itself.

Clearly, the misanthropic gesture – the decisions of a capitalist are the epitome of the misanthropic gesture – is not to be valorized in and of itself. Furthermore, a significant portion, if not majority, of the cultural objects I consider are right-wing, fascist, bellicose, and anti-Utopian. But it is precisely because the capitalist world is the global elevation of the misanthropic that we need it as a counter-tactic. Drawing from the question I asked in the previous essay (how do you strike a totality?), we see here some inkling not of the practical work but of the basic conditions of thought: antagonism is raised to the condition of the universal, not because we need all out war, but because antagonism is already the universal sign of the late capitalist world. Our rhizomatic diffuse acts of petty terrorism and sea-turtle costumes come to naught unless our antagonism becomes anthropic, toward what being human is allowed to mean now.

Our “nature” is, contra Kant, not an ahistorical givenness but a historical givenness. As the Law is not transhistorical but the abstract will of the historical totality of a moment, so too “nature” (as perversion) is historical. As Kant urged then, so too now do we need to get past this condition by using it against itself. But we need to recognize that buried within this perverse short-circuit that we are supposed to reject is also what we need to maintain, to draw out, reshape, and direct collectively toward that which tells us that competition is the eternal condition and our salvation from the degraded forest.

In what follows, then, a consideration of three cultural moments that begin to give a sense not of misanthropic culture as radical or productive but as the exposure of what can be made from the ruins of history, particularly when the world historical stage is European and the interrupted play is the production of Enlightenment rationality and the coming to Nature. In this interruption, though, we perhaps start to glimpse a rejection of the Kantian inheritance, of a cosmopolitanism that will come to mean imperial capitalism.

Malaparte’s Kaputt (and La Pelle as well) occupies a strange position that marks many of the works I consider: somewhere between the melancholic reveries of affective misanthropy and the hollow obscenity of fascist kitsch. (This description comes into full dark bloom when black metal emerges: never before has there been such an alarming oscillation between the remarkable yearning fury of the sound and its goofy Satanism and face paint, between the sound of a world coming to an end and the vapid idiocy of the proclamations of the blood and soil Herrenvolk world to which we should return.) In Malaparte, as in von Trier’s remarkable Europa trilogy, the end of the world is the end of the European project. What remains are theaters of war and the decaying aristocracy, like so many guests in Poe’s "Masque of the Red Death." Yet what Malaparte also shows – and this is crucial – in both the architecture of the book (and its prose-structure) and the diagetic geography of its episodes is not simply a waning of the European project and the ascendance of the misanthropic condition brought to bloody fruition by the war. It is also the end of the European as a structuring force, as a constellation of great gravity around which both national identity and the tasks of art are drawn and repelled. It’s enormously telling that in La Pelle, the follow-up to Kaputt, in which we have returned to Napoli, there is no return to the grounding force of the “European” as a historical given and marker of identity: the title of the book refers to the fact that no one will fight anymore for a flag other than one of his own skin (pelle).

And therein is a radical hint, that we should fight for no flags other than our skin, a hint not brought to bear in a work in which the narrative and prose style (a less extreme version of the elliptical and nearly epileptic prose of Céline’s war trilogy) crushes under its own weight, lacking either a political project or a narrative arc because the centrifugal force of the war has dissolved the very sense of project and narrative. What are we left with? To borrow the Ballardian formulation, an atrocity exhibition: “do you want to hear about this atrocity I saw?” “No.” “Well, let me tell you.” The gesture here lacks a radical transformative quality, yet it still commences and forces onto us the work of looking, not to make sense but to make do better.

Black metal comes distinctly in the wake of this, in the sense of a Europe which was destroyed but which has somehow propped itself back up, a Europe that has imposed its narratives and projects onto those who never wanted them in the first place. (And this includes both the “off-European” – the rejection of being the testing ground of European ideological battles and of beginning to revel in claiming oneself as a barbarian at the gate – sense of black metal from eastern Europe and Scandinavia and the nostalgic digging for a past in French black metal.) In represents a further step in the direction of Kaputt and beyond it, to a new nationalism, a desperate nostalgic practice of excavating a narrative and, simultaneously, producing a musical form that undermines this right-wing and telluric nationalist narrative by means of its unspoken, but present, sonic politics.

A glance at Peste Noire, one of the most remarkably experimental and brilliant contemporary French black metal bands, gives a sense of this. La Sale Famine de Valfunde (the singer and leader of the band) has said, “I belong to two countries: France d’Oïl and Hell.” Aside from the obvious humor of this, what underlies this is a work of excavation that he has stressed in the emphasis on the “underground”: the old France buried beneath the waste of modern life and the far underground, the out-of-time Satanic impulse. For him, then, black metal as an “apology of the dark European past” (as he put it) and a “psychosis” that helps them flee the modern world. This is shared by many of the first-wave Norwegian black metallers, in their attack of the import of thoughts that are not tellurically bound to their nation, leading to the often humorous obsession with Norse mythology. Yet in the other aspect of their spectacle-manifestation, their Satanism, we get a sense of the auto-undermining of their own project and a more progressive gesture. If the attack is a rejection on the bourgeois Christian tradition, why take a boogeyman from that tradition as your “master”? Does this not, like most Satanism, simply reify the very structure to be attacked?

However, to turn this another way, there might be something here along the lines of what I perceived in the need for the proletariat to become the universal antagonist of the universal concept of the human. More potently, the lesson to be drawn from black metal is the way in which its concrete sonic expression dismantles its spoken ideology. For the music intends to be not just an apology for that dark European past, but an impossible return, a necromancing of what European rationalism has conquered. As such, the music often makes gestures toward folk songs, instrumentation, and chord changes, particularly at the beginning of the songs. Peste Noire’s recent album Ballade cuntre lo anemi francor does a similar work in a distinct vein, bringing back medieval chanting, populist Action Française songs, and a sort of garage rock from a lost Satanic 60’s. But what follows is the same as those Norwegian songs that like to start with delicate acoustic folk melodies: the crushing storm of electric sound, the bare noise and pulse of a modern world, a roar that utterly swallows and rends apart the possibility of ever going back. In this sonic juggernaut, in all its anarchic yet ordered fury, we hear the angel of history dragging her feet, retreading over the history that the black metal horde tried to recall.

What we need, then, is a radical equivalent of this, which we have not seen yet, a similar work of recalling and rewriting our non-existent histories as we also dismantle them, finding new sources of old libidinal energy and antagonism. The work of someone like Peter Linebaugh and others concerned with untold “commons” histories is a step in this direction, but the full deployment of avant-garde cultural techniques remains to find its properly improper version of this.

One step toward this might be found in the truly apocalyptic fantasies that have populated the films, television, and novels of late capitalism. Despite the seeming heterogeneity of such a swath, there are remarkable points of similarity and shared currents, tropes and figures repeated in endless recombinations: the zombie, the plague, the last man on earth, the car crash, the sterile highrise, the invaders from another planet, the nuclear fall-out. And it is here that we locate the nerve-points of capitalist ideology, what makes it nervous, not because it fears the world will end this way but because it exposes its dream work, giving us the chance to start to glimpse how it thinks itself, why its worries of dissolution take these apocalyptic forms. As such, what is interesting is not necessarily why the zombie film is so dominant now or the drawing out of what the zombie “means”. Rather, it is to ask the next question: if it does “mean”, or express, a certain return of the material repressed in the collapsing of spectral capital, what is the dream work here, what is at stake in the fact that this is not a veiled image, that it is barely allegorical?

Linking this back to the question of the misanthropic as the perverse site of dialectical tension between nature and Nature (or, in another register, the given and the Novum), an early example from this canon, Ubaldo Ragona and Sidney Salkow’s Last Man on Earth (1964), gives a sense of the stakes. Adapted from Matheson’s I am Legend, Last Man on Earth is ultimate fantasy of the figure of the misanthrope: isolation, prime seats to witness and keep witnessing the remnants of the end of the world, and the sense of meaningful work (the paradoxical preservation of what remains of the human race by stabbing its scattered bodies, by what will rise again not as a perversion of the human but what you knew it was all along, bare hunger and want masked by liberal sensitivities).

But the outcome of the film offers something else altogether, the sudden sinking sensation that you were the one getting it wrong, that you may be the last man on Earth but that there is something past man now, a real collective carving out life in the wake of human history. The famous turn from monster-killer to monster-to-be-killed here also displays a genuine Utopian aspiration, that out of total destruction may come the new, as long as we are not blind to the fact that human nature is historical, that yesterday’s zombies may be today’s multitude, that the misanthropes who learn to not be misanthropic long enough to become collective very well may inherit the earth. Or at least, whatever is left of it.

Three hours (dialectics)

[As some of you know, last month was swallowed up by my qualifying exams for my Ph.D., to allow me to go on and write a sprawling tentacled mess of a dissertation. The exams involved me being locked in a room for three hours, writing off-the-cuff essays with no references on prompt questions I hadn't seen previously. Thought I'd share these sloppy unedited unpackings here, albeit with some images added because I cannot help myself: first this one on dialectics, then one on misanthropy. The focus in this question was on the notion of the concrete as it relates to my work on dialectical expression and negation as construction. Starts off heavily philosophical, moves towards some more concrete remarks on Debord and Eisenstein.]

Les théories ne sont faites que pour mourir dans la guerre du temps.
- Guy Debord, In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni

Concrete negation

The term that marks my thinking on dialectics – and my dialectical thinking – is the concrete, insofar as it is taken in the sense of concrete negation. In what follows, I argue for the productive specificity of the term as reinflection of, and counterpoint to, previous Marxist theory.
The first step, then, is to determine what exactly is the “other” term of concrete: what is the dialectical negation of “concrete” (or of what is it the dialectical negation)? The ultimate candidate, and horizon-point of this line of thinking, is abstract, but this is only thinkable in accordance with passage through the non-options that mediate this very opposition of concrete – abstract.* As suggested in the question, the designation of concrete – [abstract] as dominant sign of this dialectics calls to mind other pairings: particular-general, singular-universal, conceptual-sensuous. As such, two questions need to follow from this. What might be excluded via my emphasis on the concrete (through the implicit devaluing of these other pairings) and what might be gained from the elevation of this specific term?

An initial approach: the problem in thinking concrete alongside these oppositions is that in each of the pairings above, concrete seems to map onto: particular, singular, sensuous. And given my consideration of dialectal art, to speak of concrete expression indeed seems to be to speak of the world of particular, sensuous objects that strain to declare, particularly in the context of the commensurability of the value form, their singularity (or exemplarity, to raise a term relevant to my thinking through Eisenstein alongside Lukács). However, the conspicuously absent opposition – positive-negative, or to think it actively as positing-negation – is the vital one at hand. In part, this might be seen as the consequence of my desire to think concrete expression as an expression of the negative.

However, a turn toward Adorno (the late Adorno of Negative Dialectics and Aesthetic Theory) gives a foothold here. Most explicitly in Negative Dialectics, Adorno conceives of the work of negative dialectics – the more total form of critical theory – as a necessary weapon against the dominance of identitarian thought and its fundamental exclusion of the non-identical, of what concepts cannot conceive. The work of negation becomes vital, as such, not as the production of “better” syntheses but of the “thinkability of what cannot be thought,” not of the noumenal that is beyond thought but that which positive thinking (which reaches its position as the very thought form of the capitalist epoch in late capitalism) undermines, via a declaration as non-identical. Adorno here can only be understood as thinking through the basic contradiction between use-value and exchange-value: the non-identical is that which is not identical to all other commodities, which cannot be evaluated according to ultimate commensurability of all objects under the capitalist totality.

In this way, we begin to grasp a different set of associations, not of the positive “things as they are”, which would seemingly involve a reification or at least elevation of the particular, singular, sensuous, but of the gesture of expressive negation, in which what is fundamentally excluded from positive thought is the concrete, particular, singular, and sensuous. Concrete expression, as I think it here, is the active negation that exposes the incommensurability of that “material” underside of the pairings.

To the proper negation, the abstract. How does abstract function, both in terms of the dialectical “tradition” out of which my work comes and in my work proper? We might think of abstraction as the work of totalization (to be grasped in the Sartrean sense as distinct from the fact of totality, which, we might argue, is the sum total of concrete effects on the world, insofar as the “abstract” forces of capitalism can only be detected as part of the totality of effects). However, this would need to be fleshed out, particularly in the terms of a Sartrean model: if “the boxing match is the totality of boxing,” abstraction clearly has a different function.

More productive is a return to the basic Marxian schematic of labor, value, and the development of capital. At the seeming bedrock:

Labor (under capitalism) = at once concrete labor and abstract labor
Concrete labor as the production of use value
Abstract labor as the production of exchange value

Following this, the model I propose would seem to function as the dialectical assertion, through art and historical-political conjunctures, of the “return of the repressed,” the “ontological realness” of use value coming back to haunt spectral capital. We just need to get back to real life, real things…

This is almost diametrically – if not dialectically – opposed to what drives my work on this. For such a position is, in its borderline primitivism and nostalgia for “simpler times,” the non-productive antithesis of dialectical thought. While dialectics at a standstill may find its fantasmatic visions in the archaic, as Benjamin argues, any coherent intersection of politics and aesthetics, as a capture of a historically situated moment, cannot fall into such a trap.

However, we encounter a different trajectory of thought if we map this concrete-abstract opposition back onto the labor process itself and the development of capitalism, as written by Marx. This could be thought in terms of the move from formal to real subsumption, or, more pointedly here, as the move toward the total “abstraction” of labor, from the machinic assemblages of developing industrial capitalism to the Fordist interchangeability of objects, in its Taylorist privileging of the repetition of motion over the difference of tasks, to the full abstraction of labor (pseudo-cyclical time and the rendering of labor’s products as-if cultural) in late capitalism. However, and this is the key point, the abstraction of labor – as historical tendency – is distinct from the fact that under capitalism, all labor is, in a sense, both abstract and concrete labor. It is the former which gives shape to my thinking here, as I am more interested in the real abstraction, in this case, concept of abstraction writ system-wide, the utter commensurability not only of products but of labor itself.

We approach a clear sense of the veiled terms here:

concrete [negation] as the negation of [real] abstraction

However, not all negations are equivalent in their relation to the “object” – if we can call a real abstraction an object – on which they perform the hard work of bringing out its unthinkable constitutive excess/exclusion. What is the relation in this case. A real abstraction is a universality that produces structural effects which, in turn, produce real material consequences and give expressive shape to the totality of which that real abstraction is itself an expression. We might think of Debord’s striking formulation : ideology is the “abstract will of the universal.” Conversely, the concrete is the singular negation which reveals the structuring capacities of the universal. In this case, to borrow and repurpose my favorite Leninist metaphor, the concrete is the exposure of real abstractions.

What, though, is the status of this concrete negative? Quoting the prompt, is concrete “a rhetorical and / or aesthetic characteristic or an ontological one”? Yet there is a missing combinatory logic here that is crucial: might the concrete not be a rhetorico-ontologica l or aesthetico-ontological category? To double back on the claim before and answer this thorny question of this blurry status: it is a rhetorical (insofar as always functions as if deployed, as if tactical) and aesthetic (insofar as it is always the exposure, the coming to be seen) of the ontological status of abstraction. However, could one not ask the following:

What, then, of the ontological “realness” of abstraction of capital as a dynamically structured totality? For if that can already be detected somehow, in the commodity, for example, why do we need the concrete? Or is the concrete just another way of saying that one can find ways to think totality via the single object, the “particular singular conceptual” instance?

However, this imagined opposition includes its own dissolution, for what is at stake is not the ontological realness of real abstractions, but the ontological realness of abstraction that capitalism has as a totality. The proper response, then, is two-fold. First, concrete negation – as expressive instance – is a tactical gesture against the real abstractions of capitalism. Second, following this, it is tactical precisely because it is the excavating and cutting apart of the pseudo-unity of real abstractions, their production and status as product of capitalist totality, the unfathomable complex of interconnections that shows itself to us as if Leviathan, that causes its celebratory apologists to tell us that the world is flat again. Against this, concrete negation raises, and begins the dirty, slow, fitful work of answering, the necessary question: how do you strike a totality?

Negative expression

If the preceding thoughts are on the conceptual blueprint of my dialectics, the following are the resultant architectures, the uneven consequences retroactively drawn out from the “dialectical” works this topic considers. In other words, if the preceding thoughts were the very un-Adornian work of formulating the concept of concrete negation, we pass here to considerations of how this really looks and works, and the transpositions of dialectical thought to dialectical expression,, through the two texts perhaps most emblematic of my project, Debord’s La société du spectacle and Eisenstein’s The General Line.


Any account of this text, which stands for me as the great work of political philosophy of the century, and the endless misreadings of it require far more space than here. I focus, then, on the concept that dominates both the conceptual framework of Debord’s analysis and that marks, again and again, his prose, namely, the notion of the pseudo. In addition, an issue not to be addressed here but held in abeyance, is the alarming points of contact in Debord’s writings of this period and those of Adorno in the same period, most powerfully on this conception of the pseudo, the un, and the false.

To enframe the dialectical concepts here is to enframe the work of the pseudo, but it is simultaneously to recognize it as that which is historically marked and cannot be thought otherwise. Like Adorno’s argument in his lectures on negative dialectics that given the history of the 20th century so far, philosophy cannot afford to support any dialectics that sees the negation of the negation as a positive/affirmation, the conditions of possibility of Debord’s thinking in this period are also the conditions that threaten to close off that thinking. For they are fundamentally marked by the fact that dialectical thought runs into the nearly irresolvable question: what is the work of negation in a world that has negated itself?

It is here that the category of the pseudo emerges as symptom of and weapon against this condition, the condition of a “pseudo-world”, of “pseudo-use”, and “pseudo-totality.” What is the pseudo? I would claim that it is non-dialectical dialectical negation. Why this excessively doubled formulation? The pseudo is not simply non-dialectical negation: he is not claiming that the general condition of the society of the spectacle is that of a non-world, or that objects are marked by having no use value. Therein lies a basic misreading of Debord as just another Baudrillard or thinker of the simulacrum or of mediatization: the key point of Society of the Spectacle is not that the world is made of images or that the world is now an image, it is that the world is like image, the world remade as if image. Literal image culture and the profusion of visual media is, at best, one backdrop for the book, but it is definitively not its subject.

Rather, the pseudo is that condition of falseness or untruth that is particular in that it does not evacuate or destroy that which has been negated. As such, it has the appearance of a dialectical mediation, of thought having passed through its opposite and guarding it, as the and/or (this and that, yet which is also the impossible of the two at once, either this or that) which is the basic mechanism of the dialectic. However, it is guarded in place as mere appearance, as the false inversion of what it was. And so we face late capitalism, the period constituted around the simultaneously overcoming of itself and the burying of the possibility of that overcome: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

How does this register in Debord’s writing? (His films are another question, and I might argue that they paradoxically undo some of the work of his writing, but that is another issue.) It is in his prose style that this registration of a new world order – the pseudo-new order of late capitalism – comes most to the fore and becomes somehow graspable. Two qualities in particular come to mind: the use of the prefix – including pseudo- itself – and the form of the chiasmatic.* The former has been gestured to, in that it marks precisely this uncanny hanging around of that which should have been superseded yet which persists: not a revenant but a never-gone, the pseudo- prefix implies at once the condition imposed on late capitalism by itself (in which its toolbox of appropriated avant-garde movements, innovations in strategy borrowed from the Left, resistant forms of urbanism to be repackaged) in order to self-perpetuate and, conversely, the work of concrete expression – and of détournement, properly – which does not create ex nihilo but which, by marking graffito-like the unspoken and unwanted supplement to the terms of capitalism’s discourse, shows a fidelity to the residual power left to be mobilized in its words, deeds, objects, and thoughts.

The chiasmatic tendency of Debord’s writing performs related work. Take the following example, paraphrased: As long as necessity is socially dreamed, dreaming will remain a social necessity.* If the pseudo is a form of marking that which is already marked (Debord notes that many objects need no détournement, as they already stand as such), the chiasmatic is a fully traversing of this pseudo, in that it brings forth as a condition of style and expression a logic which, paradoxically, runs no deeper than the expression itself.


In the case of Eisenstein, the conceptual enframing of his dialectics can be found best in what he thought his films did, in his theoretical writings on film itself. And it is also here, in the tension that occurs when these models and descriptions run up against how the films actually function and express, that we can grasp the logic of translation, of the move back and forth between concept and image-thinking. (There is perhaps no filmmaker so heightens this tension, both in its political and aesthetic form, and entirely annihilates the seeming opposition between theory and praxis as Eisenstein: the theories are odd, expressive bits of constellational thought and the films include, via sprays of cream and gunfire, dead horses and jutting beards, complicated models of the perceptibility of tectonic historical shifts.)

In Eisenstein’s theory, the core concept to be addressed here is that of the pathos of objects, the larger system being what I designated as pathetic materialism: the bringing to bear the ecstatic core of objects not in-themselves but as registrations of and stores of historical energy to be released. In addition, this has to be thought alongside the methods intended to bring them forth, namely, the move toward full overtonal composition, in which it is no longer a single formal device or repeating diagetic motif that gives shape to sequences but to the mass of stimuli (audio, visual, and the tensions between each and within themselves) taken as a whole, organized as a set of calculated physiological effects. The core of this is the dialectical jump of his editing, for Eiseinstein’s notion of montage goes explicitly against the Kuleshovian notion of montage as addition, of bricks adding up: this plus that equals this plus that. For Eisenstein, montage is a series of collisions that result from the aforementioned dialectical jump, a sort of quantity to quality leap. As he puts it (paraphrasing), “the short is a montage cell. The dialectical jump in the single series: shot – montage.” In other words, the collision is the overleaping of the rational, although brought about by heavily controlled, manipulated, and “rationalized” modes of composition, and brings about the pathos of objects and conjunctures.

However, in order to comment on how this functions “on the ground” in his films, a rather odd comment from Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin is worth considering. For thinking Eisenstein alongside the other filmmakers who dominate my project (Vertov, Debord, and Godard), what is striking is that Eisenstein alone, along with the pre-Dvizga Vertov Group-era Godard, does not work with material that is “found” and collaged. What is at stake is that his work is composed: filmed, then arranged, the kino-fist that creates itself, not the kino-eye that looks around and composes its viewing onto the already-there. However, Eisenstein is dominantly thought of as the great director of editing, of montage, of knowing where to cut and where to splice. However, Godard and Gorin claim otherwise, that it was Vertov who, in his selection of material available in the world as a out-of-camera mode of editing was the great Soviet editing director. What, then, is Eisenstein’s distinction? He is the “creator of angles,” not literally high and low angle shots, but, as Godard and Gorin describe, of new cuts into the stream of life, radical new perspectives that, like a revolution, cut against a grain, force new lines of sight and thought.

What might it mean to take this seeming misreading of Eisenstein seriously? I would argue that they are on to something vital, namely, that the dialectical expression particular to Eisenstein’s films, especially The General Line, is not how he puts together his sequences according to dialectical montage but rather how his montage brings out the angles/cuts that were already there, available cracks and misfires, excesses of libidinal energy and hidden alliances, that constitute the unseen totality of a historical moment.

Consider, for example, the fantastic bull wedding sequence, in which the careful cross-cutting leads the viewer to complete in her or his mind the obscene conclusion of the bull’s copulation. Like a Griffith train robbery that ends with somebody getting pregnant, the unseen money shot is the pathos of the object, the bull, becoming more than just commodity or promise of generation, becoming instead a concrete use-value, an ecstatic expression that spills over into – and seemingly absorbs – the libidinal excess of Marfa and those staking the collective farm on this mating. However, the dialectical particularity of this sequence is the bull-vision, the fact that we inhabit, in one of the cuts, the sight-line of the bull charging toward his bride.

In other words, it is the rigid and meticulous rhythmic cuts that reveal the newness of this angle, the dialectical jump therefore not solely in the frames flickering between shot and montage, but between that mode of seeing that has been there all along and is brought out by the work of negation, of knowing when to start and when to stop.

* This will be touched on later in my discussion of Debord, but we should stress the historical specificity of this opposition – it is utterly particular to capitalism, especially late capitalism, and one might consider whether the very opposition of concrete-abstract might be formulated as that of concrete-pseudo.

* Also to be noted here is the tendency toward negative definition: the opening section of the book is heavily marked by the tendency to write, “the spectacle is not x, it is y.”

* The “dream” is an important concept in Debord and again should be differentiated from some broadly simulacral thought. In another place or discussion, it would be worth thinking through the dialectical dream, running from Benjamin’s dream image through the “baleful spell”/bane of Adorno through Debord, and perhaps Sartre as well, for what is the logic of dreams if not the full becoming of the practico-inert?

An elephant is not rope, but some films should never be rewarded

One of the constant signs of how difficult it remains to pull yourself, tooth and nail and mind, out of the doxa of ideology is the near unthinkability of haggling prices now. There are real exceptions: informal economy and black market (from drug trade to stolen goods), used car dealerships, the rise of Craig's List and eBay type used goods trade, which reveal, in the former, the practicality of geographcally proximate non-middle man trade and, in the latter, the fantasy of it being otherwise, of the cognitariat getting the excitement of being a virtuoso expert bidder like so many low-level Sotheby's visitors.

But in the store proper, material or digital, you run into the ice storm of thinking-otherwise coming to a frozen halt.

I used to have the habit of trying to break this habit. Going into big box stores and trying to bargain with the employees about what I'd be willing to pay for a cheaply made shirt. Responses were one of four:

1. Yeah, we don't work that way here. It costs what it says.

2. Why? Is the shirt damaged? Is this a return or exchange? Let me get a manager for you.

3. Wish I could, but I'm not allowed to change prices. They're already set in the computer

The third, which is the most painful in its recognition of the truth of the situation, might be paired with a fourth.

4. Give me a break, man, I'm just trying to put in my shift and get out of here. I don't need this shit.

These are two sides of the same coin, and two sides that I've been on from working in retail, awareness of the absurdity of your situation coupled with the simultaneous wish that everyone else would just act as if it wasn't obscenely arbitrary, as if the need to get a manager or the incapacity to revalue shitty goods, as if they would turn the same blind eye we all turn in waiting for someone else to do the hard work of unraveling the loose threads of the economic order.

This is in turn part of the larger, if not largest, question I've stressed before: how do you strike a totality? Does trying to "undermine" the reification of mass produced objects produce anything other than a head-ache for someone earning minimum wage, if that? But what does the opposite look like if not swatting at the spectral legs of the giant, or, like the fable of the blind men feeling different parts of an elephant and hence describing the nature of elephant differently, trying to blindly describe what turns out not even to be an elephant at the end of the day, but an infinite series of ropes, pots, pillars, pipes, fans, and walls.

One way to start thinking beyond this is to shift this work of devaluation/haggling at once to the cultural and to the macro. I think a far more productive conversation, beyond telling someone how little sweatshop workers are paid to make those sneakers, might find itself in the realm of the gap between the total economization of culture and if we think those objects are any good. This does happen systemically in the "bargaining" of outmoded cultural trends, etc, but this too often also takes the form of the denigration of certain popular genres (mystery, fantasy, sci-fi, romance, etc) to automatically determined lower prices than the kind of novel Oprah would throw her weight behind. Instead, we need proper arguments, about whether a Rolling Stones CD from the 90's should even be allowed to cost as much as a CD of Beggar's Banquet.

But as we peons should always be proper pirates, maybe the real work is for the industry to start doing this, to finally say: wow, you spent how much making Good Luck Chuck? Sorry to hear that. We'll give you forty bucks. Really, I just can't go higher than that. I mean, did you watch it? Tell you what, we'll throw in a hot meal. But it was your choice to put Dane Cook in a film. My pity only goes so far...