Idiot Joy Showland

This is why I hate intellectuals

Month: December, 2011

Guest column: the ghost of Theodor Adorno reviews Sepalcure’s self-titled album

As a Marxist, it is essential to resist any attempt to mystify or romanticise the afterlife. It exists, in its faint pallid way, of that one can be certain; but while its existence may indeed be problematic for adherents of vulgar materialism, those who accept the reality only of the material world and not of any spiritual plane, there is, it seems to me, no reason why the validity of dialectical or historical materialism should be brought into question by the unexpected fact of life after death. Therefore it only remains to conduct a material analysis of the role of the ghostly realm in relations of production. Concerning material production it appears to have little relevance – we ghosts work in no factories; nor do we consume any tangible commodities. In terms of cultural production, however, our influence can indeed be felt: sometimes we may seize the hand of a living writer, painter, or composer, and create through him. Ghostly labour is at once alienated – we do not own the product of our exertions – and unalienated, a prefiguration of labour under Communism – our labour is driven not out of economic necessity but is rather the product of a free expression of creative impulses. On occasion a cultural artefact will flow in the other direction, arriving by some agency in the shadow-world of the dead, where we may appreciate or criticise it. Sepalcure’s self-titled album is one such piece.

Before considering Sepalcure, it is essential that the album be placed in its historical context, and in the context of my own posthumous theoretical development. While I maintain my commitment to high modernism against the products of the culture industry, and regard theorists of the ‘postmodern’ such as Jameson overhasty in their dismissal of my theories as ‘irrelevant’ in the postmodern age (despite the adoption of popular culture as a supposedly reputable field for serious academics, surely its material origin and social function are unchanged since my time, as is the general structure of capitalism) events since my death have forced a readjustment of my formulae. As more recent developments have demonstrated, the culture industry is fundamentally parasitic: it does not create so much as it appropriates. Elements of popular culture deriving from the people themselves may, their non-intellectual aspect notwithstanding, also be considered as radical art that disrupts or challenges the prevailing order (although they can never be as liberated or as autonomous as high culture) – however, such an emergence is always followed by a process by which it is subsumed by the culture industry. This process can be observed in the trajectory of the hippie movement, in punk, hip-hop, and in contemporary electronic music – perhaps even in the development of jazz during my lifetime. (Maybe I was too harsh on those jazz players… In the cold grey world I now inhabit there is so much time for regret…)

The musical roots of Sepalcure can be found in the dubstep movement of the early to mid 2000s. While the electronic music that preceded it was almost uniformly sympathetic to the culture industry – being as it was music not appreciated for its intrinsic aesthetic qualities but as a necessary element in the creation of leisure-time, a leisure-time structured by the organised working day of alienated wage-labourers, a leisure-time the sole purpose of which is to act as a release valve for the negative effects of life under capitalism, a leisure-time that in its socially mandated abandon and Bacchanalian excess only reinforces the drudgery of weekday labour – in early dubstep we find a form of electronic dance music of which the primary mood is not one of elation but one of alienation. The radical potential of dubstep can be illuminated most clearly by an examination of the metamorphoses it underwent during its integration into the culture industry and subsequent mass popularisation, of those elements of it that were deemed unacceptable by the bourgeois culture industry and excised.

While, as I have argued frequently, works produced by the culture industry tend to emphasise repetition, as repetitive music lends itself more easily to mass manufacture and easy consumption, culture industry dubstep lost much of the repetitive element, opting for a fast-flowing cacophony of various distorted sounds rather than the propulsively monotonous quantised wobble of dubstep in its early incarnations. This can only be because the repetitiveness of dubstep was not, as in other forms of popular music, a mere manifestation of the prevailing mode of mechanical reproduction, but when coupled with the overall air of alienation, actually constituted a critique of it. While its industrial repetition contributed to an overall aesthetic effect, more importantly it prevented leisure-time from being seen as wholly separate from alienated labour, it shattered the illusion of leisure as an escape from the banalities of life under late capitalism. This pervasive sense of alienation was in the process substituted at the first opportunity for either an insipidly euphoric harmoniousness or – more commonly – a ‘dark’ aggression, a feeble imitation of the more profound paranoia it supplanted. The reason for this is evident: anger and aggression are cathartic, they allow the purging of dissatisfactions built up through the antagonisms of the working week. In the grotesque devolution of dubstep from a musical form marked by alienation and repetition into one marked by aggression and variance within a specified field, the conditions for its integration into the apparatus of the culture industry can be clearly discerned.

Sepalcure marks a reaction to this capture. Rather than simply reverting to the atmosphere of earlier music, as in Krytpic Minds’ Can’t Sleep, Sepalcure maintain the disjointedness of dubstep while casting aside the actual musical vehicle it formerly inhabited. The achievement of this album is to combine a radical, almost Schoenbergian dissonance with accessible listenability. It is swathed in vinyl hisses and muted analogue sounds that waver in and out of key, the various musical textures and chopped-up vocal samples form an oblique fog into which melodies fade and re-emerge, the drums pop and crack at offbeat intervals. Unlike the more commerical strains of house and bass music, it is non-cathartic, leaving a sense of incompletion that defies the attempts of capitalism to subdue discontent through the provision of leisure and simple, gratifying cultural artefacts; there is a sense in which it refuses unqualified enjoyment.

Its harmonious discordance is a direct product of the cultural milieu that surrounds it, and in particular of the parasitic gluttony of the culture industry. For this reason Sepalcure is not a work of autonomous high culture, its significance can never transcend the political and cultural conditions of its creation.  It does not address the untransfigured suffering of man, only the specific neuroses of late capitalism. As a suite of electronic compositions that mimics the organic imperfections of earlier forms it is only a pale shadow of real artistic vitality. Nonetheles, as a reaction against prevailing conditions it does constitute a radical work.

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The people want another revolution!

After the killing of Colonel Gaddafi in October, I wrote:

When a government is overthrown there’s always a power vacuum, an open space which can be expanded into something genuinely new. If they are to have a chance, the Libyan people should stay on the streets and be on guard against any attempt to impose a merely procedural democracy. They must make sure the NTC doesn’t sell them out to to Western interests.

In what can only be a direct result of my awesome bloggery, this is exactly what’s been happening. As Russia Today reports:

Protesters gathered at Shajara Square, which was the birthplace of the anti-Gaddafi rebel movement back in February. Their slogans included “The NTC must quit,” “Jalil must go” and “The people want another revolution,” AFP reports.

Apart from calling for more transparency and a quicker pace of reforms, they also demanded the publication of a full list of NTC members.

That these protests are taking place in Benghazi is significant: this is emphatically not part of the pro-Gaddafi rump movement still skulking around the West of the country. The protesters are waving the revolutionary flag and are angered by the decision to pardon loyalist fighters. Most of all, they’re angry about the NTC, and for good reason.

The NTC is not a friend of the people of Libya. As I mentioned in my earlier post, they spent the early days of the revolution forming central banks and oil ministries. Since the fall of Gaddafi, they’ve made every effort to avoid transparency and accountability: of its 48 members, only 33 have been named; it has taken it upon itself to manage the transition to democracy on its own timeline; it lacks any significant avenues of communication with the people or even the various local militia; and it’s not at all clear whether its loyalties lie with the Libyan populace or its Western paymasters.

People in the West tend to like simple narratives with satisfying conclusions. We especially like simple narratives where the good guys are just like us. In the absurd teleology of flat-earth end-of-history liberalism,what the Arab Spring was about was the desire to progress towards liberal democracy, the last and final stage of political development – in other words, for them to become like us, grumbling about a leadership class that maintains the illusion of democracy while effectively covering for the real centres of political and economic power. After the heroic sacrifices made by the people of the Middle East, I think they deserve better. Clearly, they do too: that’s why there’s been a mass rejection of the sham elections promoted by the military in Egypt, and the first rumblings of discontent with the self-appointed capital-friendly elite that constitutes the NTC in Libya. Like the Scaf, the NTC is probably perfectly willing to set up the basic institutions of electoral democracy (in its own time), because the example of the West has shown that procedural democracy is the best way to pacify a restless population.

That’s why the call for the NTC to publish a full list of its membership is a revolutionary demand. What it represents is an attempt to prevent the formation of managed pseudo-democracy and the re-ossification of power structures, to subjugate the instrument of the state to the will of the people, to insist that the mass of the people, unabstracted through self-appointed representative bodies, can constitute a political subjectivity capable of producing concrete effects. You can’t have half a revolution. Half a revolution isn’t a tolerable compromise, like half a box of chocolates. It’s a grotesque blood-splattered abomination, like half a puppy. An incomplete revolution has been foisted on the peoples of Egypt and Libya from outside, and they’re unlikely to accept it.

Newt Gingrich is an invented person

Newt Gingrich is an invented person. How could he not be? His name sounds like something inbetween Charles Dickens and Dr Seuss, he appears to have been drawn by a failed caricaturist or an elephant holding a paintbrush in its trunk, he has, to my knowledge, never once done anything to suggest that he’s an actual living human being with the kind of moral and psychological complexities that only storybook villains seem able to go without. But for some unfathomable reason people allow this fictional character to hold political office, and to appear on TV so he can engorge his throat sac at the viewing public. And on Friday, Newt was happily croaking away on the Jewish Channel when his gular burps arranged themselves into a series of incredibly stupid words:

INTERVIEWER: Now on Israel, do you consider yourself a Zionist?

NEWT: Well, I believe that the Jewish people have the right to have a state, and I believe that the commitments that were made at a time- remember there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. And I think that we’ve had an invented Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs, and were historically part of the Arab community. And they had a chance to go many places. And for a variety of political reasons we have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940s, and I think it’s tragic.

I want to briefly address this idea, because besides being jaw-droppingly moronic, it’s also fairly commonly espoused by Zionists (who are, to be fair, always big fans of long-discredited ideas – I remember being constantly fed the old canard about Arab radio broadcasts rather than Jewish ethnic cleansing causing the mass depopulation of Palestinian villages during the 1948 war, and this at a relatively liberal peacenik-y synagogue; and Joan Peters’ From Time Immemorial is still cited as a source by Zionist commentators such as Alan Dershowitz despite its patent nonsense about a ‘country without a people’ being extensively debunked).

I don’t know what kind of definition of ‘people’ our bloated newty friend is using, but it’s a pretty weird one. Of course the notion of a Palestinian people is an invented one. So is that of an Israeli people, an American people, an English people, whatever. I thought it was common knowledge to everyone who hasn’t just stepped out of a time machine from the 19th Century that all ethnic identities are social constructs (although if Newt had just arrived in our time from the days of scientific racism that would certainly explain his economic policies). Unless you’re the kind of swivel-eyed lunatic that goes around measuring people’s cranial sizes it should be pretty obvious that ethnicity doesn’t have any real objective basis. It’s a matter of self-identification, and if a group considers itself to be a distinct people, then that’s exactly what it is. End of.

More to the point, though, even if there wasn’t a distinct Palestinian identity before 1948, so what? Is it then alright to ethnically cleanse them, occupy their ancestral lands, deny them self-determination, bomb them at sporadic intervals, tear down their houses and villages, shoot their peaceful demonstrators in the face with tear gas canisters, import and protect a population of settlers that burns their fields and abuses them on the street, subject them to an extensive system of apartheid, enact blockades that turn their meagre scraps of territory into the world’s biggest prison camp – all because their national identity doesn’t have the same long pedigree as yours does?

If the Incredible Newt is allowed to declare by fiat that the Palestinians are not a people, then I can do the same to him. Newt Gingrich is not a person. He’s a delusion, a collective hallucination. And, of course, invented beings can hardly claim human rights. They certainly shouldn’t be allowed to run for President.

Back II Beckett: naming the unnamable

There’s a novel. Oh not a novel exactly, not exactly, you couldn’t quite call it that, it doesn’t have any of the usual features, no plot, for instance, and precious little in the way of setting, but I’ll call it a novel, for the sake of, for the sake of what exactly? No matter, no matter, it is what it is. I’ll start with what I can see, it’s a good enough place to start as any, or at least I think so. There’s a voice, or several voices, it doesn’t matter, they’re all the same, or they’re all different, or they’re all the same precisely because they’re different, it’s not important, things like difference and similarity and identity don’t have any meaning any more. It doesn’t make any sense to talk about who the voice is, what the I of the novel is, the novel obliterates all is-ness, all ontology falls away in the vague mist, it doesn’t make sense to talk about what the novel is about, there is no room for about-ness either, no space for intentionality, or rather, there’s all the room in the world, an infinite space, but it’s empty, all void. I said I’d talk about what I can see. A voice, then. Or several voices. In a grey mist. It talks about itself. Or sometimes it talks about other people, or it talks about itself on the command of others, except the others are also itself. All it knows is that it must go on, it has to talk about something, except there’s nothing to say, but if it can say the right thing, if it can arrive at some truth it can be silent, but there can be no truth, so it must go on. Every attempt to talk about anything in particular is thwarted, it’s impossible, there can be no signification, there can be no significance. There are flashes of figure and background, a torso in a jar, a family in a cage, a Worm, but they melt away, they were only imagined, or rather, they were only real, the phenomenal world is only a matter of conjecture after all, especially in a novel, where nothing is real in the first place. It asks questions but gives no answers. What is the self, what is fiction, why do artists create, why do we speak, what is meaning, what is existence, meaningless, all meaningless. How am I to even start talking about this book? I could talk about other works, I could talk about Dante, I could talk about Joyce, I won’t do that, it wouldn’t help. I could be Lacan and say that the novel is about the horror of the Real, about subjects without subjectivity, about the unconscious structured like a language and the reality that lies outside language, I could be Deleuze and say that the novel is about difference and repetition, about eternal recurrence, about the multiplicity of the individual, about a subjectivity trying to refer to itself as an Oedipal whole and continually failing, always bursting out into multiple personalities, deterritorialising itself into Mahood and Worm and the others, the them, reterritorialising back into the arborescent structure of the self, insisting that it must say something about itself before it can be at peace, failing because there is no self, or I could be Schopenhauer, and say that the novel is about the Will, always reaching out for something, something it can never quite reach, speaking as willing, futilely willing the end of the Will, or I’m sure if I put my mind to it, if I used all my cunning, I could be Marx, I could talk about the subject alienated from himself, but it wouldn’t help, none of it would get me anywhere, I’d get lost in the words, they’d devour me. The novel is the death of criticism. Criticism is the attempt to draw meaning from a text, the novel has no meaning, its meaning isn’t even that there is no meaning, it points to nothing, the critics stumble over themselves trying to work out what any particular thing means, they’ve made a category error, the novel isn’t for them. It’s written in an emotionless tone but its effect is an emotional one, it is written in abstractions but it’s incredibly visceral, it’s for the reader not the critic, in writing this I’m making the same mistake, I shouldn’t have written anything, except maybe ‘read The Unnamable‘ in big letters, no matter, I’m like the Unnamable myself, I must go on, I must keep on speaking. The emotional effect. It’s like being shaken by the shoulders and slapped around the head, it’s like being a child again, being lost, but the most terrifying thing of all is the ending, I didn’t expect it, the formlessness of the novel is frightening at first, but I get used to it, I settle into its flow, I lose all hope of conclusion, I don’t expect any teleology, everything will go on exactly as it has been before, a wandering that can never end. But it does end, something catastrophic happens, something eschatonic, and the catastrophe at the end is more shocking than everything that has gone on before, at first I am plunged into a novel about nothing, without a distinct narrative voice, one in which the unity of the subject is not assured, but then there’s a door, not a door looking out onto some vague sea, a resolutely symbolic door, it’s not that there’s nothing, that would be too concrete, too definite, there is something, it’s always out of reach, there is hope, there is redemption, it’s not for us, or not yet at least. Meaninglessness is easy enough to accept, after a while, it’s everywhere, we all secretly know it, to be confronted with some vast and distant and transcendent truth is what really scares us, I face it, I cringe from its glare, it is out of reach, the novel is over, I go on.

Morgendämmerung des Technokraten

Mario Monti should be constitutionally obligated to wear BDSM fetish gear for every public appearance.

Seriously, who the fuck is this guy? Mario Monti is a personality void, a lurching zombie, a big ol’ sack o’ jowls and rheumy eyes. Nobody with such a bouncily alliterative name should be allowed to be so boring. Gordon Brown, you can tell, likes the odd pint of bitter. Jimmy Carter had his weird thing with peanuts. Whatever, it’s a hobby. What does Mario Monti do for fun? Did Mario Monti ever have a childhood, or did he just cough himself into existence when the dust left accumulating in a forgotten corner of some business school gained sentience? Does Mario Monti have anything under the white Y-fronts he presumably wears, or is he just leathery and smooth like an Action Man? Is Mario Monti a human being, or just a clockwork automaton built in some secret lab out in a mountain bunker? If you prick him, does he actually bleed? There’s a process of thesis and antithesis here, but the dread gravity of Monti is almost enough to make me yearn for Berlusconi’s exuberant silliness. Almost.

Usually I’m all in favour of politicians being humourless weirdos. They’re not like us, they shouldn’t be like us. That’s why I had a lot of sympathy for Gordon Brown, against all my political instincts. Politicians should be real people, ugly people, not yippy grinning idiot replicants like Blair or the Milibands or Clegg or Cameron or Clinton or Obama or Palin or Cain or… the list goes on. But Monti is a very different type of animal (or mineral, as the case may well be) altogether. His dourness isn’t that of a serious and committed politician, it’s that of an obsessive ideological pervert. The technocrats have not been installed to save their countries. They’ve been brought in unelected because, for whatever reason, democratic politicians (even joke ones like Berlusconi) were unable or unwilling to push through the kind of debilitating austerity measures demanded by the markets. Their supposed ideological neutrality is nothing of the sort. It’s only neutral in the topsy-turvy world that has contorted itself into immanence after the end of history, where the primacy of capital, and finance capital in particular, is axiomatic. They are pursuing a specific ideological agenda, and it’s not a very pretty one.

Austerity, pain, savage cuts: this is the language of a leather-clad dominatrix. The people must suffer, they must be punished for their profligacy, they must be made to wince, they must bleed. It’s not their fault, not really, they just got caught up in a spending bubble promoted by the banks, but if they’re not sacrificed to the markets, the Furies of capitalism will tear them into grisly chunks. Or even worse, the financial institutions themselves might have to bear the brunt of their own fuckup. They need a lashing, and government has been marshalled into holding the whip. The fact that austerity economics doesn’t work is almost irrelevant here – what’s important is that it’s deeply immoral. The dawn of the technocrats marks a very strange turn in the supposed function of government – or, more accurately, a falling away of the abstractions that once surrounded it. The State is no longer a king on a throne, ruling and protecting its people. It’s an instrument; its purpose is to suck out as much from the nation as is possible, and deliver it on a platter to the international ruling class. It’s no longer people and their welfare that’s paramount, but the Economy, an ephemeral other dimension floating somewhere up in the sky, a capricious godly realm from which regular demands for new blood sacrifices emanate. And in such a situation, doesn’t it make sense for the State, relegated to a priesthood of the economy, to be controlled by professional vampires like Monti, rather than clunky old ideologues who may well misplace their priorities?

Who is Mario Monti? Well, for a start, he’s prominent in the Bilderberg Group and the Trilateral Commission. These names crop up a lot in the writings of conspiracy theorists, but this doesn’t mean that they’re not dangerous. They may not secretly run the world, they might not be hiding the truth about UFOs or poisoning us all with water flouridation, but they are institutions dedicated to the preservation of capitalism. The Bilderberg Group, where Monti sits on the ‘steering committee,’ runs a series of annual clandestine conferences where politicians and business interests can make arrangements to their mutual benefit. Its agendas are, needless to say, not made avaliable to the public. The Trilateral Commission, where Monti is European Commissioner, is a group aiming to increase co-operation between the elites of America, Europe, and Japan. What both groups have in common is an admirable sense of bipartisanship; both are composed of self-confessed liberals and conservatives, finding common ground in the preservation of the current mode of production. Ultimately, what they are achieving is the creation of a political consensus that supersedes any ideological distinctions, and right now, that consensus is called Austerity.

I haven’t even got to the good shit yet. Up until he was called to assume political power, Monti was an international advisor for Goldman Sachs. Y’know, Goldman Sachs, the bank that all but caused the current economic recession and that is now taking over Europe like a fungal infection. Details of what exactly his role at the bank consisted of are hard to find, but it’s pretty safe to assume he wasn’t urging them to accept government regulation or channel their obscene profits into combating inequality. Monti isn’t a heroically disinterested expert brought in to solve a tricky economic problem, he’s part of an apparatus of capitalist power. It’s his job to act in the interests of the financial elite, and it’s a job he’s carrying out with humourlessly sadistic gusto. Democratically elected politicians are (supposedly, at least) answerable to the people. Technocrats aren’t.

Let’s not beat around the bush here: let’s call this new technocracy exactly what it is: fascism. And let’s call the installation of these new unity governments in Greece and Italy exactly what it is: a coup. Fascism should not be allowed to hide under the cloak of dour pragmatism. Sadism should not be allowed to masquerade as realism. The old fascists of Italy were for the most part political imbeciles, but at least you could tell what they were from a single glance. That’s why the new Prime Minister of Italy should have to wear a gimp suit. Or at least crack a whip every time he says the word ‘austerità.’ Or, at the very least, pose menacingly with a glass of red wine and lowered eyebrows while an ugly cat purrs in his lap.

In Disagreement, the philosopher Jacques Rancière draws an important distinction between la politique (politics) and le politique (the political). Le politique, or la police, is, as Douzinas puts it, ‘the process of argumentation and negotiation among the various parts of the social whole’ that ‘aims at (re)distributing benefits, rewards and positions without challenging the overall balance.’ Against the political stands politics proper, the politics of the masses: while Rancière is suspicious of the idea of a ‘pure’ politics, nonetheless politics is a disruptive force, a political subjectivity with the potential to overturn the social order. The dawn of the technocrats is the political stripped of any vestiges of politics. With the ascendancy of unelected technocrats like Monti and Papandreou, liberal democracy itself is consigned to the graveyard of ideologies. The parameters have already been set by diktat: austerity is the only solution and the order of the political has no need for politicians. In this, the new technocracy is curiously similar to Lenin’s vision of the post-revolutionary state as being involved in little more than accountancy and book-keeping, as outlined in State and Revolution. The difference is that Lenin retains politics through the armed mass of the people, which is to be the real medium of social change. Technocracy maintains no such balance. If the mechanism of government has been depoliticised, then it’s time for politics proper to make itself known.

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