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Tag: baudrillard

The Harambe variations

harambe

INTRODUCTION, or GORILLA ZERO, the META-APE OF UNDERSTANDING: Harambe in the chaos of the world

Harambe is the dead ape that will not die. It’s been months now since the Cincinnati Zoo ruthlessly dispatched its prize 440 lb Western lowland gorilla with a single deadly gunshot after a three-year-old boy fell into his enclosure, but his name lives. During the recent parliamentary elections in Australia, many voters wrote ‘Harambe’ over their ballot papers, with one telling an Independent journalist, who appeared to take it in full sincerity, that this was because ‘we Aussies feel our government should have done more to save Harambe and now we’re voting for his corpse.’ In Ohio, a street was renamed ‘Harambe Drive’ on Google Maps after multiple reports to the company from three local teenagers. ‘Bush did Harambe’ signs appeared at the Republican National Convention. ‘Dicks out for Harambe’ has become a global cri de cœur. Clearly something has happened, and is continuing to happen. Isn’t it natural to want to explain?

At the start of this month, an undergraduate student at the New School for Social Research called Alexander Fine wrote a short blog post about the enduring legacy of Harambe, noting that the people most fascinated by the gorilla tended to be on the political left, and attempting to draw some kind of relation between Harambe and its wider social and political context. ‘Harambe memes,’ he wrote, ‘reflected, and continue to reflect, the left’s disillusionment with our political reality and the media at large. The left keeps Harambe alive because we see ourselves in the dead ape. Harambe’s death was inevitable, and so too was the defeat of an ageing presidential candidate who identified as a socialist.’ It’s hard to remember what else he wrote, because the post was quickly deleted – it became the subject of a mass outburst of derision; there was something in this form of interpretation that was recognised as being fundamentally inappropriate. Fine’s essay was judged to carry an unacceptable excess of thinkpieceiness, to be uncomfortably commingling the weighty and the ludic, to deal with something inherently silly in far too serious a manner, even despite its evident playfulness. It was agreed to be a bad take. But why?

It’s not as if other attempts haven’t been made to ask the same question, of why people remain so attached to Harambe, or why he’s still funny, without generating the same backlash. See, for instance, a recent essay by Brian Feldman in New York Magazine, which does much the same thing as Fine did, without attracting any of the same scorn. Feldman attempts to classify the Harambe memes (they ‘aren’t the topical equivalent of dead-baby jokes; they’re fairly standard internet non-sequitur nonsense humour’); he relates them to current events and to asymmetries in the discourse (noting, for instance, their echo of Cecil the Lion memes); he even situates his discussion within a broadly Marxist framework. If there is a central difference between the two interpretations it’s this: Fine situates the death of Harambe within the political order and sensuous reality; he relates the loss of an ape to the other senses of loss that dominate the experience of the twenty-first century; he approaches Harambe as an overdetermination, a sign that points to a phenomenal referent. Feldman, on the other hand, situates the death of Harambe within a network of other memes. In other words, to draw meaning from a sign is tacitly forbidden, to present the world as being explicable through signs is classed as a risible proposition. Signifiers relate only and always to other signifiers, and Harambe has become a metasignifier, taking on a Barthesian dimension of myth. To say that Harambe must be a symbol for something, that the fascination with Harambe points to something else, is a sacrilege.

This is not an essay about Harambe, the ape who died, but one about interpretation, the ways in which people take the raw material chaos of the world and fashion it into something meaningful. I’m not interested in denying the dominant position that Harambe can only be meaningfully related to other signs, only in testing it or situating it; all I want to say is that a silverback gorilla is a very large animal, and it can carry many things.

The NAÏVE, MAGICAL, or PRESIGNIFYING Harambe; the APE OF SIMILITUDE.
(Humour: Blood. Element: Air. Planet: Jupiter. Gemstone: Sand.)

The magical ape begins in curiosity and terror. The curiosity of the child, looking into the enclosure and unable to differentiate between the friendly monkeys of cards and cartoons and the brute sweating thing before him. The terror of the child, taking its first lesson in depth analysis as a creature beyond language drags him through the water by the legs. The curiosity of the ape, padding down to sniff at this tiny, fragile thing of a type he’d seen before, but only ever seen, as if through a television screen, now tumbling from image to object. The terror of the ape, rattled by the screams from outside his cage, puffing himself up, ready to deliver death or be dealt it. The terror of the parents, the terror of the zoo authorities, the terror of the marksman. And then the questions: was Harambe threatening the child, or protecting him? Is a gorilla’s life worth more than an infant’s? The body of a gorilla is strong, and any number of interpretative schemata can tense or flex under his skin.

The first ape is the visual ape. Under its regime symbols do not simply emerge through mimesis or signifiers through onomatopoeia; the ape beheld by the eye codes a world in which words and things endlessly refer back to one another. Prior to the initial phallic signification the snake is shaped after its own name, while the penis leaks poison in imitation of its zoological archetype; there’s no genitality in the Garden of Eden. Oedipalisation occurs only when the child crawls into that enclosure in the Cincinnati Zoo: now we’re faced by a dyad, the child and the gorilla, the child and the father. On the terrain of magic or similtude an ape is a visual intensification of the father, physically terrifying, hirsute, a potent castrator. Here the principles of Darwinian evolution are only a minor feature of Oedipus: the ape is the father of humanity. Remember the originary father in Freud, half-man, half-ape, pure threat and pride, who must be killed by his weaker, more glabrous sons. Only then is the father mourned, and his arbitrary law incorporated into the psyche.

But animals are also gods or totems, and God the Father is also the paternal superego. Pure identity, without representation, without one prior to the other. Christ on his cross cries out: eli, eli, lama sabachthani? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Was he not told the entire plan? The death of Harambe is a blasphemous inversion of the passion of the Christ; here it’s the father, and not the son, who dies for our sins. The name for this heresy is patripassianism, or Sabellian modalism, an immanent possibility in Christianity denounced since Tertullian, and endlessly produced in its denunciation. The Trinity, Sabellius declared, is only a mask, describing aspects of one person. He could not bring himself to say it, but the implication is unavoidable. The Godhead in its entirety suffered and perished on Golgotha. It’s easy to see why this doctrine prospered, and why it was so ruthlessly stamped out: this is the Oedipal fantasy, the cannibalistic feast of the first father. They killed the ape in Cincinnati, and as they did so they unleashed the vastness of a heretical third-century theology; we are fascinated by a dead gorilla, because something that started two thousand years ago on a hill outside Jerusalem is now finally complete.

The CRITICAL, PRODUCTIVE, or REVOLUTIONARY Harambe, the APE OF TUMULT.
(Humour: Melancholia. Affect: Embarrassment. Constellation: Pisces. Gemstone: Ruby.)

Six days before the death of Harambe, two lions were shot dead by a zoo in Santiago after a man climbed into their enclosure, intending to commit suicide. There was, briefly, an explosion of anger at the zoo. Why the ape? Why not the lions? Why Harambe?

For much of his life, Georges Bataille was obsessed with the anal scrags of great apes. In The Pineal Eye, he describes a tropical sacrifice ceremony: a gibbon is buried alive, head down, with only the ‘bald false skull’ of its anus protruding; a nude woman crouches over it and ‘the beautiful boil of red flesh is set ablaze with stinking brown flames.’ Later he declares that ‘the little girls who surround the animal cages in zoos cannot help but be stunned by the ever-so lubricious rear ends of apes.’ In The Jesuve, he notes that with a hint of sadness that ‘anal obscenity, pushed to such a point that the most representative apes even got rid of their tails (which hide the anuses of other mammals), completely disappeared from the fact of human evolution,’ but takes comfort from the fantasy of a new sexual organ located in the human forehead. (It could be added, after Deleuze and Guattari, that ‘the first organ to suffer privatisation, removal from the social field, was the anus… it is the anus that removes and sublimates the penis.’) The obsession with apes is an obsession with a brutal and a terrifying freedom we’ve lost long ago.

We have done terrible things to the animals: most of them are wiped out and gone for good; some are slaughtered by the billions, mulched up and turned into hundred-gram increments of edible slurry; a few still sulk in the furthest wildernesses and the deepest oceans, hunger-crazed and desperate. The unluckiest become objects of contemplation. Watch a pig in a pen and try to see that brutal and terrifying freedom; walk along the rows of cloistered cattle, each tagged and microchipped, each staring in dull incomprehension, a living thing in a hard shell of cruelty, its feed dispensed by computers, its milk sucked out by machines, its death decided by algorithms, and try to find an erotic thrill.

But at the same time, an ape hovers on the edge of meaning. There is another gorilla, Koko, which has been taught basic sign language; not only can it signify, it’s capable of the rudiments of abstract thought. This is the ape as metaphor; the political ape. Killing a lion represents the cruel mastery of animals by humans, a kind of heroic mastery, with all that implies – in many societies only the king could hunt a lion. The decision to shoot a gorilla with a sniper rifle, on the other hand, represents the subjection of rational beings to the principle of reason. There is no heroism, not even a transcendental subject; only system. Aren’t we all, in some way, trapped in an enclosure, with the marksman’s single shot – delivered, of course, for very good reasons – always a possible threat? As Baudrillard writes, ‘animals have preceded us on the path of liberal extermination. All the aspects of the modern treatment of animals retrace the vicissitudes of the manipulation of humans, from experimentation to industrial pressure in breeding.’ But when it happens to an ape – an ape with a name, no less – it becomes impossible to ignore the fact that we are not free. We say Harambe’s name because he is the hero we lack, because he is the sign of our own unfreedom. We say Harambe’s name because the new orifice Bataille imagined really has opened across our foreheads, plugged in to the internet, and that’s the name it screams.

The DESPOTIC or PARANOID Harambe, the APE OF FIXATION.
(Humour: Choler. Voltage: 240 V. Disposition: Agitated. Gemstone: Topaz.)

It’s possible to discern several stages in the general reaction to Harambe’s death. First, the non-ironised, the determinate, the unfunny. Was what the zoo did justified? Donald Trump said yes. Others said no. Many were furious, petitions were signed, there were calls for the child’s parents to face criminal charges. This first movement was also the last phase in which it was at all possible to talk about image and object. Next, hyperbolic descriptions of animal slaughter at the zoo. Instances overwhelm. ‘Zoo employs troop of insane hollering teen infantry to ride multiple M1 Abrams tanks through lemur enclosure, shooting them with the tanks.’ ‘Child Plays Calypso On Ancient Galapagos Tortoise’s Shell Before Zoo Crew Obliterates Beast With M-4s.’ ‘The gorilla was killed by a tungsten rod dropped from a satellite in geosynchronous orbit over the zoo.’ Then, rewording song lyrics to be about Harambe – but this intentionality is anaemic and ironised; the songs are not about Harambe so much as the word Harambe, and a set of other words that have come to coalesce around it. This advanced form marks Harambe in the purity of its irony: a signifier without any signified whatsoever.

The ape is simply not there; this is Feldman’s ape, the mythic meme-ape, the ape as empty signifier. Its differential nature is expressed not as a relation between signifiers but as one between ‘Harambe’ and the systematicity of the signifying system itself. As Laclau points out, however, the outside which is from within the system constituted as ‘pure negativity, pure threat to the system’ is in fact ‘the simple principle of positivity – pure being.’ Harambe therefore eventually comes to signify the immanent positivity of ironic superimposition; performatively, in its discursive rather than semiological meaning, it is invoked to signify the presence of an irony – itself an empty signifier. Something called irony occurs, but rather than being in the form of any kind of antiphrasis or anything that could be understood as a substitution of meanings, meaning itself is challenged by its other.

But then something unusual occurs. The current moment – dicks out, signs at protests, streets renamed – is marked by a return to veneration of the dead ape, a kind of dialectical recuperation of the first phase. The living and dying animal itself returns, but here no longer as an event to be coded by interpretation, but an interpretation by which to code other events. The moral question of whether his shooting was justified is no longer in effect; in fact, the zoo and the child and shooting have disappeared entirely. We are angry that Hillary Clinton refused to mention Harambe in her acceptance speech. We are worried that North Korea is testing new ballistic missiles, and Harambe is not here to protect us. We wonder, in times of crisis, what Harambe would do. Word and thing are reuinited. This is the point at which the Harambe thinkpieces proliferate, attempting to interpret the phenomenon. But all such attempts at a transcendental critique necessarily fail, because the dead body of Harambe has become isomorphic with the heuristic as such; we are in Harambe, we cannot hope to think outside our present Harambe.

The NIHILIST Harambe; the APE OF DISAPPEARANCE.
(Humour: Phlegm. Articulation: Multifoliate. Sex: I’ve. Gemstone: Space Junk.)

I love Harambe, the ape who died. I love the dead ape Harambe.

The grand imperial puppet show

HIPPOLYTA:
This is the silliest stuff that ever I heard.
THESEUS:
The best in this kind are but shadows; and the worst
are no worse, if imagination amend them.
HIPPOLYTA:
It must be your imagination then, and not theirs.
Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 5.1.210-213

Imperialism, as comrade Mao Tse-tung famously pointed out, is a paper tiger. The phrase has now become so well-worn that it can be taken as a familiar piece of imagery, that we can forget to ask: why a tiger? Why paper? The term is a Chinese idiom of some pedigree, but Mao was always scrupulously careful in his use of metaphor (especially when dealing with Western journalists), never missing an opportunity to interrogate every possible meaning. He says: In appearance [US imperialism] is very powerful but in reality it is nothing to be afraid of, it is a paper tiger. Outwardly a tiger, it is made of paper, unable to withstand the wind and the rain. The image emerges of something like Henri Rousseau’s Tiger in a Tropical Storm, the fear blazing in the beleaguered creature’s eyes as the damp winds wash its frame into sodden pulp. (Rousseau’s painting was initially titled Surprise!, with the implication that the tiger is about to pounce on an unsuspecting prey – but it’s equally possible to discern in the awkward position of the animal, its leg half-suspended over the foliage, the idea that it’s the tiger that’s been surprised, caught out among the suddenly inclement elements.) This image, with the unhappy predator crumbling under the triumphant might of the people, has a firm place in the Maoist repertoire, recalling directly his slogan that the East wind is stronger than the West wind. But all this is complicated immediately afterwards. History as a whole, Mao declares, the history of class society for thousands of years, has proved this point: the strong must give way to the weak. The tiger appears strong when in reality it is weak, but the winds and the rain that tear it to shreds are weaker still; it’s only in this weakness that they can gain their victory. What exactly are we talking about when we talk about paper tigers?

Paper animals are transient, vulnerable to the elements, powerless against time. They’re not built to last. Paper animals are decorative; they’re entertainment. A paper tiger takes on the form of something very powerful, but it’s a self-conscious ruse. However convincing the representation, nobody is really expected to be afraid of it, except the children. Mao continues: When we say US imperialism is a paper tiger, we are speaking in terms of strategy. Regarding it as a whole, we must despise it. But regarding each part, we must take it seriously. It has claws and fangs. Another reversal: the thing that projects a unified, total image of power is actually weak and vulnerable; the thing that should be correctly understood as weak and vulnerable in its abstract totality is actually very dangerous in its concrete particulars. Mao’s programme for the practical struggle against imperialism is to behave like a child at a puppet show, reacting to each swipe of the paper tiger’s claws as if it were real, while at the same time never forgetting that it’s all an illusion. It’s not enough to simply refute the lies of the imperialists; you have to defeat them on the level of their own simulation: knock out its teeth one by one, even though they’re only paper.

All this is by way of responding to the recent polemic on anti-imperialism and the left; in particular two essays by workers and scholars whose thought I greatly respect: No blood for oil? by Matthijs Krul, and On the urgent necessity of anti-imperialism by the sublunar entity known occasionally as Emma Quangel. The centre of the dispute, if I understand it correctly, is this: Krul argues that the slogan ‘no blood for oil’ represents a model of anti-imperialist thought that both understates imperialism’s scope and overrates its ability to succeed; Quangel responds by asserting that if the average protester does not understand wholly the conditions of the world petroleum market, they are still taking a correct stance against US Imperialism; that is: to condemn it. Krul cautions against an uncritical support for supposedly ‘anti-imperial’ states that precludes any actual appreciation for the political and social structures peculiar to the societies in question; Quangel maintains that the goal should be to try to hobble the greatest threat to building a better world.

It’s necessary to start with particulars. Quangel begins her intervention by stating that many of the youth coming into the anti-imperialist movement today seem genuinely confused about what imperialism is – what it smells like. What, then, does imperialism smell like? Burning oil wells, charred bodies, the sharpness of gunpowder and sweat – but as she points out, imperialism is not the same as imperial war. Imperialism is a global system existing primarily to perpetuate itself, stifling any germ of an alternate social order, and its primary vector is aid and development. Development money is used to integrate states into the general system of capitalist expropriation; recourse is usually only made to guns and bombs when these means are refused. Imperialism is an all-encompassing narrative, a puppet show being played against the backdrop of the entire world, and its smell is not the stench of war. Imperialism smells like roasting chestnuts, popcorn, fireworks, the sweet clinging night-time smell of entertainment.

Imperialism is seductive, in the full Baudrillardian sense of the term. In the nineteenth century, it operated along the principle of contest, propelled by the self-confidence of the newly dominant bourgeoisie, pitting its strength against the strength of others. In the twenty-first, imperialism operates within the other’s area of weakness, which is also its own. The precursor to any imperialist action, whether as development aid or military intervention, is always an initial rupture, a breach in the form of a humanitarian crisis. There are famines, or shortages, or a government crackdown on protests, or a civil war. When this occurs, imperialist powers do not proclaim their decision to act as a function of a world-spanning omnipotence. Instead, they plead their own powerlessness in the face of the catastrophe (as in Syria today) and their own vulnerability against the other, until the clamour for action reaches boiling point. Imperial adventures from Korea to Iraq have been launched in the form of desperate measures against a looming threat; it was not only necessary for Saddam Hussein’s government to have brought suffering and genocide against its own people, he was also required to have the capacity to launch chemical drone attacks against American cities. This is a dual weakness: it’s precisely on the terrain of the human catastrophe that imperialism is weakest, because imperialism is the mother of all catastrophes.

Recent years have seen the grim spectacle of avowed leftists and socialists aligning themselves with the grand catastrophe of global imperialism to ward off the lesser catastrophe that precedes it. The counter-slogan, adopted from current trends in feminism, is that my Marxism will be anti-imperialist or it will be bullshit. The necessity of such a position is made clear by the abject pronouncements of empire’s left-apologists, less sleek running-dogs than mangy senile old hounds loping in circles as they attempt to gain a lick at their own anuses – but it also raises the spectre of an anti-imperialism without communism. A prime example of this phenomenon is provided by a recent article by Atheling P Reginald Mavengira published by the Centre for Research on Globalisation, alleging that the Boko Haram insurgency is a CIA covert operation designed to neutralise the supposed Nigerian threat to American regional power. He writes that Nigeria is a country which has always been known for its resilience and ability to resolve its problems without outside interference […] Why is someone somewhere hell bent on engineering Nigerians to form the un-Nigerian habit of harbouring and perpetrating desperate, extreme and unforgiving actions against themselves? As any cursory reading of Nigerian history should demonstrate, this is bullshit. Africans are just as capable as Europeans of delivering death and horror on each other. Mavengira has the correct stance on US imperialism – to condemn it – but it’s a condemnation arising from spurious allegations and bourgeois nationalism (although, confusingly, Mavengira doesn’t appear to be Nigerian himself but is instead a Zimbabwean businessman living in South Africa). He approaches imperialism as a function of American geopolitical ambition ranged against African states; in fact imperialism is perfectly willing to tolerate a strong and stable Nigeria. Capital always needs new spaces in which to expand: Nigeria was listed among the ‘next 11’ emerging economies by Goldman Sachs, whose board of directors now includes a Nigerian banker, and the operation of capital investment (and the enclosure and dispossession that goes with it) within the country is likely to be far more damaging than any mythical CIA covert operation. However correct Mavengira’s stance on imperialism, his analysis of it is politically useless.

Both the left apologists for empire and these vulgar anti-imperialists commit the same error: they’re taken in by the puppet show, confusing paper tigers for real ones. In the subaltern nations there is chaos and confusion; imperialism is an orderly and rational system. The only difference lies in whether they stand with this order or against it. Against this it needs to be stressed that imperialists are, for the most part, idiots who don’t know what they’re doing. The CIA isn’t some hidden cabal out of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, directing events with a malign precision; it’s a hive of myopic nerds that excels only at receiving government money, levelling Pakistani villages, and systematically fucking up. The global ruling class might have been able to ruthlessly profiteer from the current economic crisis, but they couldn’t predict or prevent it. It’s always been this way. In the nineteenth century a grand geopolitical game of chess was played between Britain and Russia over the Central Asian heartland: the British played admirably, protecting India from any encroachment to the north; the Russians had no idea the game was even taking place. There is no master plan or secret logic: imperialism is a catastrophe. Not an explosion of violence or the sudden onset of famine, but a single, sustained, rolling catastrophe, blind and stupid and propelled only by its own weakness, that has bounced around the world for five centuries, until it has eventually become the world.

How should Marxists respond when imperialism threatens a foreign state, plunging through the rupture of some local crisis to substitute its own, globally institutional crisis? Simply condemning it has not, so far, brought much success, and reading the impoverished language of some vulgar anti-imperialists might explain why. It’s been remarked that much Anglophone critical theory reads as if it had been translated from French; this stuff, with its clunky sloganeering and reliance on the imperative, sounds like an inelegant translation from Chinese. Defend the heroic resistance against US imperialism! Stand against NATO aggression! People must write these pronouncements, and some might even read them, but it’s unclear why. As Krul points out, making a show of support for one or another ‘side’ (be it the ‘anti-imperial’ state apparatus or some inconsequential socialist sect) offers little scope for actively disrupting imperialism. The task is to, in a sense, play along with the imperial game of pitting weakness against weakness. We must see where imperialism is weak and confront it there, confront it with our own weakness in the face of its cataclysm, and that weak spot is precisely those crimes and horrors used by imperialism to justify its actions. These are not the lesser of two evils: they are non-heterogeneous to the greater evil. In a world shaped and defined by the madness of imperialism, there is no human tragedy that does not follow in some manner from these conditions, nor any real distinction between the local catastrophes and the grand catastrophe: the latter is nothing more than the sum total of the former. Our world is like the Chaos described by Milton: Eternal anarchy, amidst the noise/ Of endless wars […] A universal hubbub wild/ Of stunning sounds and voices all confus’d. Every imperial intervention is a strike against itself. To admit to the global supremacy of imperialism is at the same time to show up its monumental idiocy and weakness. Any system that conquers the world becomes isomorphic with it: imperial capitalism is now not only reshaping political geography but altering the planet’s climate – it has become the wind and the rain, but it’s that wind and that rain that tears paper tigers apart.

Branding strategies for the viscous phallus-monster that has risen from the depths to reclaim our world

Sometimes I believe that this less material life is our truer life, and that our vain presence on the terraqueous globe is itself the secondary or merely virtual phenomenon.
Karl Marx, Grundrisse

This exists.

It’s easy to get whipped up into an outrage over this kind of thing. It’s enraging to see the techniques by which we are manipulated uncovered in all their foetid glory. What’s more, there’s the sheer density of meaningless marketing buzzwords repeated over an insipid steel guitar melody, managing to replicate simultaneously the effects of a cult indoctrination film and a nice strong hit of prescription opiates. There’s the naked theft of the video’s entire aesthetic from the occasionally excellent RSAnimate series. There’s the fact that the gang of marketers behind it seem to consider making a positive change in the world to only be a good thing insofar as it can be put to use selling various tubes of corn syrup-based goo. There’s the cynical manipulation of popular sentimentality for profit. There’s the section dealing with ‘families, communities and cultures,’ in which the former two are represented anthropomorphically, sitting like nineteenth-century monarchs astride a globe, while ‘cultures’ is just an arrow pointing in the vague direction of Africa. It’s all so perfectly and unwittingly ugly. But to focus on this stuff is to miss the point a little. There’s plenty of justification for a sensible critique of consumer capitalism as demonstrated by this video, but a purely sensible critique ignores not only the horrific haecceity of the thing, but the otherworldly horror that surrounds consumerism itself. For the purposes of this essay, at least, I’m not interested in the ideological presuppositions of liberal philanthropy, the incoherence of marketing discourse, the soporific nature of societally-mandated pleasantness, or even the construction of the racial-cultural other.

What I’m really interested in is this.

What is this thing? It crops up everywhere in the video. Its tendrils extrude randomly into the field of gibberish without warning or explanation: sometimes it tenderly caresses the various symbolic representations onscreen; sometimes it’s actively antagonistic towards them, bursting out from their bodies and leaving only shattered remnants of sales patter. In one memorably horrifying sequence it’s shown passing through the heads of three people as they smile their bovinely unfazed marker-pen smiles in our direction. Here, at the video’s end, it holds the entire Earth in its grip, the planet leaving sticky stretchmarks as it tries and fails to struggle free from the gloop’s oleaginous embrace. Let’s start with what we can see. The thing is clearly alive. Maybe it’s not alive in the strict biological sense that any of us can comprehend, but it moves, it has agency, it has plans for us and our lives. It appears as a seething mass of – of what? Not liquid, exactly; it’s too firm, too collected; it doesn’t flow, it crawls. Some kind of mobile mucous then, bile-black and slug-sinuous, its surface tight and slimy, glistening under the light of a blood-clotted sun. But at the same time there’s an undeniably fleshy quality to it, fleshy in the most visceral sense of the world. It resembles nothing so much as an immense, writhing conglomeration of dicks. Could it be that what this thing wants is to fuck us?

I’ve always found there to be something almost endearingly naive in the thought of Debord and Baudrillard and other theorists of the image. Baudrillard proudly and knowingly calls himself a nihilist; in fact, he’s anything but. Nobody believes more fanatically or more religiously in truth than the poststructuralists. To speak of the spectacle or the simulacrum in terms of a precise historical moment is to assert the existence of a historical world of truths prior to the image; to speak of hyperreal images that reflect only each other and deny a pre-existing truth is to assert the existence of a pre-existing truth that can be denied. Debord in particular is militant in his rejection of the image and his partisanship on the side of reality. He’s got it all wrong. Representation isn’t a prison, it’s a shield, our only defence against a universe filled with horrors. It’s a way to make the world comprehensible. Lacan describes this process precisely: the Symbolic order has its origins in the castration complex; the phallus as an intolerable lack is what anchors the entire process of signification. When Lacan describes the Real he does so in terms that approach Lovecraftian horror: it’s something black and smooth and undifferentiated, with no cuts or cracks, no inside or outside. The infant, confronted with the realisation that the world is an enormous and unfriendly place in which his jouissance is ultimately irrelevant, begins to build metaphors for himself. It’s the only thing he knows how to do.

Eventually, though, the chains of signification loop in on themselves. In the Coca-Cola Content 2020 Initiative video, there’s no mention of Coca-Cola-as-beverage, only stories, narratives, feelings, loyalties – only images referring to other images. This makes perfect sense: images are a necessary refuge from an unpleasant reality. The fact of your utter insignificance in both the mechanistic universe and the libidinal economy doesn’t sell sugary drinks – or, at least, it doesn’t sell many to Coca-Cola’s core demographic of people who don’t just sit at home with the curtains drawn reading Kafka. Brands aren’t like us. They’re better than we are, untouched by fears or neuroses, unravaged by time. They have the commodity’s aura of unblemished totality that we pitiful human wrecks, crippled by our various lacks and lacerations, can never possess. That’s why people grow so attached to them; we want what they have. But to fully maintain the pleasant banality of advertising, to completely protect against the sour taste of reality, these images have to be decoupled from any concrete referent. They have to be purged of anything that could climb down the chain of signification and kick us in the face. That’s where we get brand slogans like Live Positively: a floating signifier, elemental in its meaninglessness. But doing this kind of thing is very dangerous. The shield of representation works by mediating between the fragile subject and the hideous object; if you break it away from the object it becomes useless. The real world can then intrude. It forces its way unopposed into the realm from which it was banished, and it hits us right where we thought we were most safe: in our advertising. And when it does so, is it any wonder that it takes on the form of the object of that first primal act of signification, slipping back across the divide between phallus and penis?

This isn’t a metaphor; it’s a portent. The creature that invaded the Coca-Cola Content 2020 Initiative video will not stop there. Our virtual creations are easy targets; its violence grows stronger with every victory. Soon the brittle crust of the Earth will snap, and viscous tentacles will emerge from the chasm to crush all our cherished symbols. The beast will rise. It will take its revenge, and it will take it in blood. We will, very soon, be once again faced with the incomprehensible horror that we once tried to abstract away, long ago, when we were infants. Luckily, we now know exactly how to deal with it. All we have to do is represent it, turn it back into a signifier. The future of the human race depends on a solid brand strategy.

…In the next financial year, our target is to double voluntary self-immolations as sacrifices to the viscous phallus-monster that has risen from the depths to reclaim our world. That’s a lot of voluntary self-immolations! To do this, we must fully engage our brand with the aspirations of our sacrificial base. This means not only promoting our brand, but entering into dialogue with the defeated human race across all multimedia platforms and allowing user-created content to grow in the fertile ashes of their ruined cities. Through the Live Every Second brand slogan consumers can independently develop content focusing on positive and aspirational life experiences they have enjoyed before inevitably succumbing to annihilation at the hand of the viscous phallus-monster that has risen from the depths to reclaim our world. Our entire advertising focus has to be centred around the Live Every Second concept if the phallus-monster brand is to achieve full market penetration. Engaging with Live Every Second means that consumers will approach their grisly fate as the appropriate end to a life not only lived well, but lived to the max. By encouraging conversations about what it means to live every second we can potentialise the creativity of our user base…

Robot wars: drones and the hegemony of the molecular

Something interesting’s happening in the East China Sea. The dispute between China and Japan over the uninhabited Senkaku Islands has seen Japanese businesses torched in cities across China, fighter jets circling each other over the barren rocks in question, and printouts of flags heroically ripped in half. Now both China and Japan are stockpiling drones. If it happens, the drone war for the Senkaku Islands will be the first of its kind: pure war, war in the abstract, war fought without armies or soldiers. Two fleets of faceless robots knocking each other out of the sky, a war that takes place on a plane of virtuality. It makes a sort of sense. For all their posturings, China and Japan are economically codependent. Maybe the drones will allow them to have their war and their trade links at the same time. Maybe the result will be something completely different. In any case, the conventions of warfare that have been in place for five thousand years might be approaching their overthrow.

It’s not just in East Asia. Hezbollah is building its own drones and flying them into Israeli airspace. The United States has set the precedent here: drones are not contained by borders; drones can operate anywhere in the world. I’m convinced that someone in the CIA’s been reading Deleuze. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the United States is fighting real nomads, Pashtun herdsmen with goats and rifles and monotheism who recognise the border for what it is: a meaningless and obsolete dividing line between the British and Russian spheres of the late 19th Century. The US has done well; it’s adapted by turning its machines of war back into warmachines, becoming more nomadic than the nomads themselves. Drones don’t just operate according to smooth rather than striated space, they obliterate space altogether. In the place of spatiality comes something like distribution. In Langley, a man pushes a button on an Xbox controller; in Waziristan, fragments of houses and pieces of people are scattered across a half-mile radius. Drones operate outside the structures of the Law: deterritorialised from their human controllers, they exist everywhere at once. There is no field of combat, only pure exteriority. Somalia, Yemen, the Philippines: they’re all separated only by the width of a fibreglass wing. War itself is a second-order concern. War is an invention of the State, a part of its stratification. For the autonomous warmachines it doesn’t exist. Instead the drone continually produces its own object. In casualty reports from drone strikes, any male over sixteen years is considered to have been a militant: if they weren’t an enemy, what were they doing in the strike area? If you’re not a threat to us, then why did we just kill you? Unlike tanks or planes drones don’t identify and eliminate their targets, they create them; you become a target by virtue of having been killed by a drone. President Obama maintains a personally approved ‘kill list’ of enemy targets. As soon as a target is destroyed another emerges to take its place. The drones have a logic all of their own; politicians are caught up in its spirals. There can be no end, not until every last building is flattened and the horizontality of the nomadic desert re-establishes itself.

For the State, capture of the warmachine is necessary for its process of continual stratification. We’re seeing something different here: the capture of the State by the warmachine. Wall Street is a warmachine par excellence, obliterating any boundary to the free flow of capital, describing lines of flight that arc across the surface of the Earth at the speed of light. Austerity programmes make warmachines out of schools and hospitals. Microfascism has taken over the world. In his critique of Deleuze, Baudillard writes that power and desire operate along the same channels. Beware of the molecular, he warns. To be fair, Deleuze and Guattari never say that the molecular is any nicer than the molar. It’s here, I think, that we reach the horizon of Deleuzian radicalism. When molecularity is hegemonic, resistance may have to take on new forms.

Pornography

He’s lying on the couch. Not a psychiatrist’s couch, not even his own, the flat came furnished, and the couch is – frankly it’s hideous, a kind of bright synthetic blue, dulled by cigarette ash and soup-stains but still with the trace of a cheap buried radiance, half lapis lazuli, half blue raspberry flavoured energy drink; its coarse fabric breaking up and drifting into the little fluffy nebulae that dot its surface; a long laceration runs down its side, a labial scar peeling back to reveal the weak-tea-coloured cushion beneath: the dull blasphemy of the Inside, the utterly boring final insufficiency of the Real. He lies on the couch, a notepad and pen in the folds of his tracksuit, a tablet computer propped against his knees, watching pornography. She’s bent over another sofa, folded over its black leather arm. Oh-oh-oh-oh-ah, she says, veins popping. Hnnnrg, he says. There’s the steady tapping of his balls against her thighs. Thwoc-thwoc-thwoc-thwoc-thwoc. He watches distractedly. He can’t really think this early in the morning, all he sees is one pink blob fucking another; it’s entirely asemic, abstract expressionism. The camera angle switches, now you can see it from slightly below, going in and out, gleaming greasily. His legs are like pines – no, like skyscrapers. Sheer glass towers, the men in their offices at the top surveying the city and its small pathetic people with vague Olympian contempt. Helots, all of them. The gods might see the fall of every sparrow, but they don’t care. Her arse is a cosmic orb. The congress of titans. The incest of finance capital.
His analyst doesn’t have a couch; they sit on identical chairs facing each other. Dr Chen doesn’t approve of the thing, he’s some kind of structuralist; there’s a bookcase behind the desk in the corner of the room with all the usual suspects. Marcuse, Lacan, Melanie Klein, you need to have read a lot of books to be able to sit in a chair and go Hmmm occasionally, or at least to be able to charge money for the service. He wonders what Dr Chen’s neuroses are. You have to be analysed yourself before you can practice, after all. It’s like being inducted into a cult: the shaman of other people’s minds must first have his own scooped out and dissected. All except ol’ cokey himself, Big Poppa Freud; Jung offered but he was refused. In algebraic sequences every number refers to another number, all except the root, n, which exists outside time, answerable only to itself.
How often, would you say, says Dr Chen. He doesn’t ask questions, he makes flat statements of fact; their similarity to the interrogative is purely syntactical.
It’s not really a matter of how often, he says. It’s – it’s not really a quantity. I think about five hours a day. Sometimes more. I don’t know.
Dr Chen doesn’t say anything, he doesn’t even note anything down.
I know how it sounds, he says.
How do you think it sounds.
How you think it sounds. He doesn’t think, he knows. Still. It sounds like I’m crazy, he says. I’m not crazy. It’s not pleasurable, you know. I’m only doing it for research.
Crazy isn’t a category I use. But do you think it’s healthy.
Healthy?
How do you think it impacts on the way you relate to other people. Your sex life, for instance.
I don’t have a sex life.
Dr Chen nods minutely. Hmmm.
It’s been – well, over a year. I had a little anniversary about a month ago.
A little anniversary. What did you do.
What did I do? I watched pornography.
That was then. It’s now almost two years. They’ve progressed a little since.
I think it’s time we started thinking about why it is you’re here, Dr Chen says, pushing his glasses up his nose. I can help you. But I can’t help you if you don’t know what you want out of this. What do you want.
What do I want?
Do you want to go back to work. Do you want to be able to interact with people normally again.
No! No. I want… I want to be able to finish my study.
And what’s holding you back.
It won’t take form… I get distracted. I can hardly think these days. Like I’m always elsewhere.
What’s distracting you is the content of what you’re doing. It’s not a disinterested study. Surely you must know this. It’s a pathological fixation. A psychosexual fixation.
He’s heard this all before. Do you know about Charles Whitman, he says.
Charles Whitman.
Yeah. He was a mass killer in the Sixties. In America, of course. Murdered his wife and his mother, then started shooting people from a clock tower. It was twenty minutes before the police got him. But in his suicide note he requested an autopsy, he knew that the urges he was getting weren’t coming from his own mind. And when they carried it out they found he had a massive brain tumour, pressing up against his hypothalamus. It was changing his behaviour. He knew it was there. But still he went and shot all those people. What do you think about that?
What do you expect me to think about it.
I think you think he should’ve sought medical help. I think you think I’m just trying to be provocative… I think Whitman was heroic. In the proper Achillean sense. He saw what was his duty, he knew it was wrong, he knew it was monstrous, and he went and did it anyway. It doesn’t matter if that duty comes from the Gods or the King or a massive tumour in your brain. You have to do something, so you do it.
Why do you think you identify so strongly with this man.
Dr Chen is a charlatan, he thinks as he walks out. He talks about pornography, and Dr Chen wants to talk about sexuality, as if the two have anything to do with each other. It’s cold outside. The polyglot masses drift about the high street, gliding on the frost: Nigerian women in bulky overcoats, Arab men in threadbare suits, all of them ghostly-pale. London is desaturated. There are Christmas lights strung between the buildings in a thousand colours: grey-red, grey-purple, grey-green. The yellow skins of fag-ends piled in doorways, they’re vivid, at least. Jaundice. Cancer. He imagines tumours as bright iridescent things, the giddy tumultuousness of the body’s insurrection against itself. A tumour is virile, big and meaty, full of life and insanity. That’s how he knows he’s not insane.
Dr Chen wants to talk. Pure logocentrism, nothing useful is ever said aloud. Speech is always performative, there’s no real substance to it at all. He can’t watch films any more, even TV disgusts him. The words he usually hears fall into a familiar pattern. Mmmm. Mmmm. Oh-oh-oh-oh. Fuck. Yeah. Fuck me. Fuck. He imagines the girls on the toilet, sphincters straining. Shit, they moan. Mmmm. Shit. Or afterwards, sitting in some fast food restaurant with their big sunglasses covering half their faces. Eat, they whimper, burger juices dripping from their mouths. Ooooh. Eat. And finally, when there’s no more use for them and the medication’s starting to run against the natural limits of life’s unliveability, as they toss away the empty bottle and lie down on their bed, a last contented gasp: Ahhh. Die. Mmmm. Die.
He probably does hate women. He’d denied it at first; he’d written a long and verbose letter of protest to the British Journal of Ephemera. When his paper had been published there was an uproar. Everyone hated it. He’d give lectures, he’d talk for two minutes, and then suddenly all the students would stand up and walk out without saying a word. In feminist journals his name was asterisked out. Of course the faculty had to suspend him. No respectable body could employ the author of Structures of signification in Brazilian Bubble Butts 8. But he doesn’t hate them with any real malice. It’s just that once you see them smiling gratefully, their beautiful faces dripping with cum – once you’ve seen that a few thousand times, it’s hard to conceive of a female that isn’t contorted by feigned ecstasy or garlanded with jism. There’s one sequence he likes particularly, it is, he thinks, extraordinarily rich in hermeneutic possibilities. It’s from the end of one of the artier films, the ones that call themselves Erotica with no apparent irony. He’s fucking her from behind; eventually he pulls out, but rather than spurting big globs of gunk in her face, there’s only a loose watery dribble. No mind. He takes his cock, shrinking and wrinkling, and flops it all over her arse and her lower back, leaving a few glistening snail-trails. As he does so she smiles, the same placidly loving smile, as if this was exactly what she wanted, and music plays: Spanish guitar, lilting and harmonious, sad romantic notes, as if what we’re watching is an act of tender love.
He still has one friend from the faculty. Simon, his former mentor. They meet, occasionally, in a grotty old-man-pub. Simon spends half the time looking over his shoulder; he doesn’t want to be seen with him. They discuss old colleagues for a while. One of them took part in a demonstration with his students and had his head caved in by a police baton.
It’s grotesque, Simon says. There’s a constant vigil at the hospital. They’ve taken to spraypainting pictures of him all round the campus looking like Che Guevara. Ridiculous, really. Everyone’s forgotten just how reviled he used to be. Don’t you remember that antisemitic thing he wrote?
No.
Ha. Well. Exactly. It only got dug up a couple of years after the fact, but it was some really nasty stuff. Not even Holocaust denial, they could have forgiven that, I think. The ethical co-ordinates of Auschwitz as a Hegelian Moment. But then all he had to do, to be honest, was write another paper pinpointing exactly what was wrong with what he’d said before. I mean, he won’t be speaking at Tel Aviv University any time soon, but he’s been pretty much rehabilitated, hasn’t he? Simon puts his pint down and stares across the table at him. I mean, he says, couldn’t you just do the same thing?
Get beat up by the police?
You know what I mean.
You don’t understand, Simon. That paper was bad, it was dreadful, but not for any of the things it’s been criticised for. I’ve moved so far beyond all that. I’m close to a breakthrough, you know.
I know that you’ve ruined your career. I know that you’ve ruined your social life. Jesus, why can’t you just admit you were wrong-
Because I’m not wrong. Listen. I think I’ve opened up a whole new field of study. It’s not just about pornography. It’s about culture itself. The first real innovation in the theory of culture since – Christ, since the Frankfurt School, maybe.
You’re not the first person to study pornography.
Oh, gender studies, feminist criticism… I’m the first person to look at pornography in the way I’m doing it.
Simon smiles. Well, that’s true, at least.
I mean, have you read the stuff that gets written? Barbara Stanten’s for instance. Picking it apart, it’s racist, it’s sexist, with no thought for what it actually is. Myopia, ideological myopia. Pornography is culture. In its totality. Nobody thinks about the fact of utility.
You mean aesthetics.
No, not at all… Art, real art, it’s the opposite of aesthetics. The aesthetic is like a monstrous parasite on the body of art, it’s got so big and swollen that we’ve forgotten to look for the thing itself, the actual it.
Das Es, says Simon. You’ve turned into an id-monster.
Would you stop making this about me? I get enough of that from Dr Chen. Look, when I publish-
Who’s going to publish you?
I’ll go to the porn mags, if I have to. They published the Unabomber, didn’t they?
Getting published isn’t the problem at all, but he doesn’t mention that. The fact is that all he has is notes. Endless pages of them, a shelf of spiral-bound notebooks above his shelf of pornographic DVDs. Amy’s Big Day Out 3: at 12mins 37sec – Amy’s tongue – circular movement around the penis – eyes directly to camera – cf. Walter Benjamin – ‘art has escaped from the realm of the beautiful pretence’. Some are briefer. Cumshots – Aristotle (Poetics, W&W ed., p. 68)? It’s all coalescing into something, something utterly revolutionary, but he can’t quite phrase it, he can’t explain it even to himself.
Standing outside Dr Chen’s practice: now what? Stupid question. Take the bus back to his flat and watch pornography. The outside world is completely flat, a grey deadened plane, its protuberances statistically insignificant on the face of its endless impossible horizontality. Its thousand mouths speak with a single voice. Yeah well I told him yes it is a bit cooler than yesterday shameful the way she carries on nah mate it’s not like forty five pounds if you’d believe it… There are women on the bus. He’s terrified of them. Women, real women, are pure judgement. It’s not the disappointment of women that men are scared of, that’s by the by, it’s their enjoyment. Female pleasure bursts the solipsistic bubble, it’s reminder that the object is herself a living thinking being, it’s intolerable. What is a clitoris but an obscene eye, what is female genital mutilation but a symbolic enucleation, a penance for the original Oedipal sin? She’s wearing headphones, sitting on the front seat, watching the panoramic screen of the bus’s front windshield. He sits on the row behind her and visualises her face; her head revolves, like an owl’s, like in an exorcism, her eyes are bulging, her mouth is frozen in a sex doll’s perfect O. It’s perfectly hideous.
Back to the flat, then, and the yawning void of the afternoon. He makes a cup of tea, and changes back into his tracksuit, he even makes a halfhearted stab at reading the newspaper. His living standards have declined a little lately. They eat it all up: food, bills, debt interest, Dr Chen. His four Furies. Food a bloated lipid sac, an enormous pulsing creamy-white bag of adipose tissue streaked with faint bluish veins, eyeless, faceless, with only a huge mute mouth grinding its greying gums; it crawls around his tiny flat, heaving itself from room to room, leaving an oleaginous trail of shit wherever it goes. Bills tall and cyclopean in a pinstripe suit, standing outside on the street, its long withered neck craning up the four storeys to peer with its single merciless eye through his window. Debt Interest a howling skeleton, always standing directly behind him, nimble enough to dart out of view when he turns his head, but reminding him of its presence with the constant clicking of its bones. Dr Chen… well, Dr Chen is just Dr Chen. Unlike the other three he doesn’t really know him; that’s what’s terrifying about them, they torment him because they know exactly what he is, down to his inner chasm, the midden around which the pearly Subject develops. A pearl loose in a sea of porn.
Here are the facts. Pornography is the most voraciously consumed form of culture. Everything else just has to try to keep up, it’s valued only in terms of its relation to pornography. Pornography is mimetically represented everywhere: on billboards, on TV, on the faces and bodies of people in streets and offices. Pornography is the master-signifier, the structuring principle of all cultural activity in the metamodern era.
Here is the problem. All academic study of pornography has so far been in the form of a critique. There has been very little worthwhile attempt at a theorisation of the phenomenon, with the notable exception of Structures of signification in Brazilian Bubble Butts 8.
Here is the theory, such as it exists. The history of sexuality is at an end. Pornography is at once the apotheosis of sexuality and what has come to replace it.
He’s working through the perversions, systematically. The categorical system the websites use is woefully inadequate, he’s had to develop his own schematic, a vast topography of the postsexual landscape’s fractured contours. We’re on h(1)-18.6.m.6-A. She’s gagging on a dick, her eyes popping out past her heavy mascara, her throat bulging. The camera pans up. He sees his face. He flings the computer to the ground. When he picks it up again the film is still running; there can be no doubt about it, it’s himself. He’s a little thinner, certainly, and his hair is shorter, but it’s unmistakably him, down to the mole above his eyebrow and the little scar under his chin. Nnng, he says. Uh. You like that, bitch. You like that. The accent is American but the voice is still the same, deep and rasping, with the phlegmy granulation of two decades of cigarette smoke, the same right down to that uncanny familiarity-foreignness of your own voice in a recording. Mfkmfgrl, she says. He draws out, she starts massaging him between her tautly spherical tits. He turns the thing off and sits there on the couch, cradling the rectangle in his twitching hands.
He’s always known that the rectangles were the truest and most insidious enemies of humanity, but their malignancy had never been quite so overt. Speculative realism has a name for these objects: xenolithic artefacts, inorganic demons. Fully infernal things, their rare earth minerals churned up from the deepest depths, baptised in the blood of Congolese miners and the tears of Chinese sweatshop workers, until they’re fully charged with suffering. Then their faces suddenly glow with a phantasmal luminescence and they get to work making our lives easier. Sidling in. Everyone has one. He owns two of the things, but like everyone else he hasn’t a clue how they work or why it is they’re here. Once on the Tube he saw a mother and child, each with their own little rectangle; the mother was scrolling through photos of people on holiday, the child was bouncing brightly coloured virtual balls around the screen; both wore the blank expressions of an idolater in a demoniac trance. He has no doubt that if the rectangles could work out how to plug themselves into the mains without his help, they’d kill him in an instant.
Blame the machines, because if it’s not them trying to torture him, then that really is himself in the video. Turn it on again: he’s still there, pumping away, oblivious to his own gaze. Go back on the browser: the falconine number swoops down on him: eighty-two thousand, seven hundred and twelve views. One hundred and sixty-five thousand, four hundred and twenty-four eyes melt into being around him. Some bulge up from the walls, rippling the plaster into epicanthic folds. Some gleam from the darks spaces under doorways. Pupils sink into the concavities of his teaspoons, the balls of dust on his couch blink in unison. Perverts from every continent: they all want something from him. They want to see him fuck. They want to see him die. Scroll down: the comments. Very nice vid hi i have 9” dick want 2 meet up that’s what obama’s doing to the country came so hard to this. And the actors: all uncredited.
He needs to show someone. Dr Chen – not Dr Chen. The man would be over the moon, he’d think he’d finally found the holy grail of psychoanalysis: a genuine bonafide repressed memory. Dr Chen would think that the video explained everything.
Well, what has actually happened? He tries to collect himself. Six propositions.
Hypothesis 1. He has a twin brother, with whom he was separated at birth, who found his way into the porn industry. Hypothesis 2. The pornographers have managed to secretly clone him, and put his clone to work appearing in their films. Hypothesis 3. The pornographers have managed to secretly clone one of their actors, and put his clone to work writing about their films. Hypothesis 4. By sorcery or by quantum entanglement, he is simultaneously an American porn actor and a British porn theorist.  When he sleeps he is awake elsewhere; he is in fact two men – maybe this is true of everyone, and only he has managed to discover his double. Hypothesis 5: it’s not him, it’s a psychotic delusion, and he’s finally lost it.
He can discard a few of those. If it’s not him, if it’s not really him, why is every surface in his flat bubbling with eyeballs? Why does he feel a sudden wave of mud-green shame rising from his groin, why is his stomach acid frothing at the back of his mouth, why does he feel as if someone’s taken an electric whisk to his brain?
Helen’s sitting outside, holding a styrofoam coffee cup to her chin. She’s decked out in so much stuff – a long red coat, a jumper, a scarf, a hat with vaguely Tibetan coloured stripes – that underneath the solidity of it all she looks pale and ethereal, as if she’s about to waft away in the breeze. She’s been waiting for about ten minutes; he knows because he’s kept her waiting, ducking down an alleyway on first seeing her outside the café to take a circuitous walk through the park, wandering through the Victorian lines of bony-brittle trees, their black branches clawing out to net some of the sky’s Malevichean whiteness. Eventually he calms himself a little. He’s made a little effort this morning, he’s even shaved. It’s easy to forget these things: when the whole bedrock of your life has been pulled out from under your feet, remembering to brush your teeth in the morning doesn’t seem quite so important any more.
Helen, he says, sitting down next to her. Hi.
Hey, she says. She smiles and kisses his cheek. How are you?
I’m good, he says. I’m really good. How are you? You look great.
She does. Her cheeks are pale even in the cold, but there’s a glow to her, a fecund wintry glow that carries the warmth of a family hearth and the smell of sandalwood and the joy and kindness of a woman whose face it is suddenly impossible to envisage splattered with sperm.
Thanks. It’s been so long… what’ve you been up to? Are you teaching again?
Oh, no. I’ve been taking some time off, I’m writing a book. Besides, it’s not like anybody’ll take me.
Taking time off? For two years? It’s not because of that silly paper, is it? That’s just ridiculous. There must be somewhere. Listen: Robert’s good friends with the humanities chair up at East-
Robert?
You know Robert. He was with us in Manchester. My husband.
You never said you got married, he blurts.
You never asked.
I’m sorry. He’s trying to remember how to talk; it’s not easy. He and this woman can’t have ever been in love, it’s a fantasy. He tries to remember them together; watching TV nested up against each other; reading in their two armchairs, him occasionally glancing up over his book to let his eyes rest over her angelic concentration; having petty arguments over dirty dishes and deconstruction; fucking in the middle of the afternoon; it’s impossible. He can remember her fine, but the man in all these images isn’t him, it’s a stranger. It’s Robert, probably, whoever he is.
Well, he says. Congratulations.
Please don’t think I excluded you or anything, she says. There was hardly anyone. We had a very quiet ceremony, at this lovely old stately home out in the Cotswolds…
It’s fine, he says. Really.  And you’re… you’re happy?
We’re very happy. She leans forward. So what’s this book all about, then? Not more bloody porn, I hope.
It’s in a similar vein.
Oh, come on. Surely there has to be some other area-
That was kinda why I asked to see you, actually. I need your help.
She’s frowning now. In an academic capacity, I hope, she says.
Take a look at this. He turns his phone on and slides it across the table towards her. She glances at the screen for only a fraction of a second.
Jesus, she says. What is this?
That’s me, right? Tell me that’s me.
So you’ve crossed the line from writing about it to actually taking part? Well done. Great. Whatever works for you. But don’t you subject me to it.
But it is me, isn’t it? Doesn’t he fuck like me?
Helen stands up. I don’t have to sit here and deal with this. She turns around just as she’s leaving. Get help, she says. It’s fucking depressing to see you like this.
At least she doesn’t shout. She seems so much calmer now; maybe Robert is good for her. He can’t help but imagine Robert as a mousy, timid little man, even though he’s probably the opposite. Helen’s found a man who can tame her. She can have a serious roar on her sometimes; it comes out as she’s ferrying items between the shelves on the landing and the stack of her books she’s built on the wrought-iron dining room table.
It’s because of the essay, isn’t it, he says. Christ. First my whole career falls apart, but that’s not enough, you have to tear out my fucking heart as well…
Helen throws the books to the ground. It’s not about your fucking paper, she bellows. You think I give a shit what other people are writing about you? Eileen Gould doesn’t know a thing about who you really are. If she knew you like I do the stuff she put in that review would be the least of your fucking worries.
What is it then? What have I done?
How about the fact that you think this is all about your paper? That you’re so wrapped up in your little ideas that you forget about… ugh! She kicks a wall. Her tone softens a bit, but not by much. You’ve always been very smart, she says. Really fucking smart. And God help me, I got taken in. You might be smart, but you’re not really all that clever, are you?
She comes back a few days later with breath smelling of red wine. She didn’t mean it to end like this – she keeps on saying that – but really, it can’t go on any longer. They sleep together. This doesn’t mean anything, she says afterwards. It doesn’t mean anything at all. I know, he says. He’s trying to be empathic, to not forget about whatever it is that she was about to accuse him of forgetting about. And then, two years pass.
He hangs around the café for a while, feeling numb. He’s arranged to see her in a nice recherché area, he wanted to seem like he’s doing better than he actually is. He wonders what Helen’s double is like. When she goes to sleep in London, where does she wake up? By the end of the counter there’s a stack of women’s magazines; he flicks through one. Men are finished, it tells him, they’ve lost the world. Women dominate everywhere; now they’ve even managed to take over the patriarchy. What’s more, they’re doing a much more efficient job of it than men ever could. They’ve cut away all the crude ungainly nonsense – no corsetry, no chastity belts, no naked tits flopping about everywhere; they’ve replaced all that with something cold and streamlined and ruthless. Women can tear each other to shreds with a viciousness that men could never muster. A surly glance from a model clutching a handbag, a list of this season’s must-buy cosmetics, a cheery call for liberation and empowerment – this is how you conquer half the human race. It’s pornography, there’s no difference whatsoever.
He doesn’t say anything about the video to Dr Chen at their next session. He does mention meeting Helen. I wasn’t trying to restart our relationship or anything, he says. She’s married now, actually.
How does that make you feel.
I don’t know. I was angry for a while afterwards. But I wasn’t really angry at anything. I thought I hated her for a bit. I don’t, really. I’m sure she can’t stand the sight of me.
You think she hates you.
I think she’s disgusted by me. It doesn’t matter.
Still, it’s good that you’re starting to make an effort to reach out to people again.
I’m not. I’m not interested in other people at all. It was to do with my study. I showed her a piece I was working on. And she just got up and left.
Dr Chen leans forward, expecting an explanation.
He knows who Dr Chen’s double is. Dr Chen spends half his time rotting in the psychiatric ward of some prefab concrete hospital in Guangdong Province, sitting on his bunk staring into the middle distance, dosed up to the eyeballs on antipsychotics, and he thoroughly deserves it. His own other self is a little more elusive. That’s fine. Dr Chen doesn’t have the full story, as always. He’s feeling great, he’s fizzing with energy. That’s taken a few days to develop, though. On first coming back to his flat after meeting Helen the numbness he felt in the café has given way to a black rage. He paces up and down his truncated corridor, wandering into his bedroom, circling his bed in a series of ever-tightening loops, walking out again, flopping down on the sofa, jumping back up, his internal monologue boiling out through his lips: fuck, fuck, fuck, idiot, fucking moron, fuck. He lights a cigarette, stubs it out, looks out the window, walks with the stammering ferocity of a man in an old silent film into the bathroom, spits in the sink. Fucking idiot. Why. Why. Fuck. Then a sudden calm blankets him. It doesn’t matter what Helen thinks of him, he has what he wanted. He knows it’s him. Now he just has to find out who he is.
As soon as he returns from Dr Chen’s he gets straight to work. He’s discarded the notebook; the content of the films hardly concerns him any more. Two East Asian women are bathing naked together in a big circular pool; a man in a towel walks up to them, their eyes widen, they share a conspiratorial grin and start paddling towards him, their round arses bobbing above the waterline like geobukseon. It’s not him. A blonde girl is having a massage, the masseur pulls the towel away from her and starts rubbing oil into her mons pubis; at first she looks a little perturbed but rather than sitting up and asking if this behaviour falls within his professional code of conduct she starts rubbing his crotch. It’s not him. A man is lying supine on a futon, a woman’s bruise-splotched arse rocking back and forwards on his cock. He’s entirely motionless. So good, she moans. He could consider the hyperreality of the scene, the fact that in trying to create a perfect representation of the sexual act the film is instead producing something bearing no resemblance to it whatsoever, an imitation without an original, one that negates the very idea of the authentic; he doesn’t. The camera swings around. It’s not him. The film in which he saw himself, h(1)-18.6.m.6-A, was made by a company called Digital Sin Studios. He’s working his way through their entire back catalogue.
After two weeks, he’s deflated a little. He’s doing it wrong. It’s not any actor he’s trying to find, it’s himself, but a self that isn’t accessible to him. He needs someone else to draw it out, someone who knows who he is. There aren’t many who know who he is. Food, Bills, Debt Interest, Simon, Helen; few of them are very well disposed towards him. He’ll have to make do.
Dr Chen takes some convincing. Then he’s silent for quite a while. What you are asking me to do, he says eventually, is take part in an act of Jungianism.
Is that a problem?
A problem? Yeah, it’s a problem. Dr Chen is clearly rattled; he’s never heard him speak with a question mark before. I’d lose all standing. I’d get booted from the Association. You may as well have me reading palms at a carnival. Writing horoscopes for the weeklies.
You saw the video.
Yeah, I saw the video. And you’re right. If this is real, we can chuck out everything we think we know about everything. Dr Chen takes a long breath. OK. If we’re going to do this, obviously we need to terminate our therapeutic relationship. I can refer you to one of my colleagues – God knows you still need help. And I want first rights to publish any findings. If we go through with this at least I want to be the heresiarch instead of some gibbering cultist.
That’s fine, he says.
OK, says Dr Chen. His voice is different. There’s no muted concern, none of his usual collectedness; he’s agitated, talking quickly, drumming his fingers on the side of his chair. It’s easy to forget that Dr Chen is just a character he plays in this office, that when he leaves his practice in the evening he gains a first name. Come to my house on Saturday afternoon, Dr Chen says. We’ll do it then.
He’s always wondered what Dr Chen’s neuroses are; walking up to the house in Hampstead he finds out. Dr Chen’s neuroses are parked in the gravel driveway, gleaming red, with a big crude underbite of a bonnet and a swooping tailfin; he may as well have painted flames above the wheels and a Confederate flag on the roof. Mrs Chen lets him in. Their home is bright and airy; there’s a big abstract fingerpainting framed on one wall of the corridor – it might be something one of their children did, it might be a work of contemporary art, it’s hard to tell. A litter tray is padded with yellowing pages from the Guardian; she smiles apologetically at it. They talk for a minute or two. Mrs Chen’s met quite a few of her husband’s analysands, she likes them, they tend to be interesting people. He tries not to see the ejaculate – Dr Chen’s ejaculate – oozing up from the pores in her face.
There’s no guarantee this will work, says Dr Chen. I mean, just for starters, plenty of people aren’t even suggestible to hypnosis.
I know.
Lie back, then. Dr Chen twitches. You know, I promised myself I’d never see a patient on a couch. If I could see myself now…
I thought I wasn’t your patient any more.
Oh, shut up. He picks up a marble on a string. I don’t have a lancet case, he says. And then, after a while: where are you? He’s in Dr Chen’s living room. The French windows look out onto a long narrow garden, the grass hoary with frost. Where are you? He’s in Dr Chen’s living room. The mantelpiece is littered with Occidentalist tat nestled inbetween the framed photos: crucifixes, monstrances, collector’s plates, all presumably very ironic. Where else are you? The Californian sun is shining bright and hot through the French windows. Wires snake across the floor, creeping like tendrils, sprouting lights and cameras and people. At first the people are black and plasticky; then their chrysales shatter and they come to life, tapping on clipboards, adjusting headphones, fetching coffee. The mantelpiece melts away, the framed paintings shrivel and flutter to the ground, the walls blanch from cream to white. Outside the grass withers and dies. The earth churns out buildings, boxy white bungalows.
What are you doing? says Dr Chen. He’s lying on the couch in Dr Chen’s living room. He’s across the room, naked, tumescent, chugging an energy drink. The lights and cameras chatter to each other in isochronous clicks and atonal hums. He lies on the couch and watches himself across the room. He stands across the room and watches himself lying on the couch. His gazes meet. He can see himself seeing himself. The drink is sickly-sweet in his mouth. He shakes his head. For a moment he thought he saw something else where the bed is, a long grey sofa. It’s been a long shoot, he reasons. He’s exhausted; they always said tiredness messes with your mind, and the coke probably doesn’t help much either.
Anthony, the director, is giving him a concerned look. You alright, Rod?
Yeah, he says. Fine. I dunno. Feeling a bit woozy all of a sudden. I’m fine. I was just out of it for a second.
Alright. Ready to go again?
Sure. He puts down the plastic bottle and walks over towards the bed by the window. Lucy positions herself on top of it, sticking her butt up in the air.
Positions, guys, says Anthony. Take sixteen. And…
What’s your name? says Dr Chen.
He rents a car at Los Angeles airport. It’s an automatic; he spends half the journey distractedly reaching for an absent gearstick. He’s been to the place once before, for an academic conference at UCLA. That had been before he’d gained his infamy as the author of Structures of signification in Brazilian Bubble Butts 8; he’d attended a few lectures and guiltily cheated on Helen with a medievalist from the University of Copenhagen. Then he’d been put up in a hotel on Wilshire Boulevard; now he has to find himself a motel in Hollywood. The one he chooses is an indelicate slab of Platonically ideal Americana. An enormous rusty excrescence hangs limpet-like from the side of the building, promising air conditioning and cable TV in reasonable rooms. Inside the carpeting is slightly sticky. The TV shows adverts, American adverts, they’re impossible to watch. Enquire now and get this beautiful chrome-plated pen absolutely free, says the TV. That’s right, there’s no charge, and you can cancel whenever you want and still keep the pen. Orwell called advertising the rattling of a stick in a swill-bucket, but that’s nonsense. Haplessly bound by the crudity of his Trotskyite Toryism, the poor man couldn’t begin to understand that he’d mixed up the ontology of the whole process: consumer goods only exist to stimulate the demand for more advertising. One day there’ll be a pure advertising, without intentionality, one that doesn’t need to refer to any product. Then advertising can finally take its place among the unholy pandemonium of painting, poetry, cinema, and the other degenerate arts.
A card on the windowsill informs him of the pay-per-view options. When he selects a porn channel he’s not at all surprised to see himself up on the screen, in that white-painted room, fucking Lucy on the bed by the window. He wants to call up Dr Chen about it; there’s no point. When he told Dr Chen what he’d experienced while under hypnosis he thought the man would pop a vein. Faced with the defeat of a century’s worth of Freudian dogma, he’d gone into a rage. Jungian mysticism, vaudeville acts, hysteria; at the end he bitterly accused him of having an incurable delusional psychosis, as if it were somehow his own fault. The video was a coincidence, the hypnosis was a placebo, he’d been roped into this unscientific nonsense, and he wanted out. Dr Chen had all but chased him from the house; his wife stood bemused in the hallway, half-proffering a cup of tea. The analyst hadn’t really wanted to be a heresiarch; all his frustrations with the psychoanalytic community were already being pretty effectively routed through the accelerator of his Ford Torino GT. No matter. It took him a few days to decide what he needed to do, but now it seems obvious; it’s the only way he can free himself. There’s a blue couch in the motel room – frankly it’s hideous, a kind of bright synthetic blue, dulled by cigarette ash and soup-stains but still with the trace of a cheap buried radiance, half lapis lazuli, half blue raspberry flavoured energy drink; its coarse fabric breaking up and drifting into the little fluffy nebulae that dot its surface. He lies on the couch, watching pornography. Everything is in its proper place.
The next day he stops at a hardware store to buy the things he needs, and then drives up to the Valley. At first it’s as if he’s leaving the city altogether – the barren hills of the Santa Monica Mountains rear up all around him, their flanks empty but for scrubby bushes and advertising billboards, the freeway winding around them; it looks almost Mediterranean. Then a few towers appear over the tarmac, and the whole San Fernando Valley spreads its legs out in front of him. The mountains hang anaemic purple over the city’s car-exhaust miasma; between here and there the valley is flat, gridded by a matrix of broad avenues. Once again he feels a sense of the world’s absolute horizontality. There’s something underneath it, though: these rows of prim bungalows are stretched over the boiling crucible of a million tiny seething resentments. Municipal boundaries, property values, school board elections, there’s a war here as real as any other, being played out in slow motion.
Digital Sin Studios is based in a big glassy building on an unremarkable boulevard, sitting squat between a strip mall and the South Valley Congregation of Christ. There are a few people on the street. Most of the women are tall and blonde, their pneumatically meaty legs sprouting trunk-like from tiny denim shorts. It takes him a few minutes before he notices what’s really different about them: as their indifferent gazes swivel to watch him drive past, he doesn’t feel any hatred or any sense of existential shame. Instead, a feeling he barely recognises: high above the Californian desert, his libido is soaring towards the ocean, closing in on him after years of separation, its shriek echoing through the limpid skies.
A middle-aged woman sits behind the reception desk. Shouldn’t you be in there? she says. I think they’re wrapping up already.
Is Rod here? he says.
She gives him a concerned look. Is this some kind of joke?
It’s not a joke, he says. I need to see Rod. He works here, doesn’t he?
The clicking of shoes sounds on the spiral stairs behind her desk. There’s a voice. So I like spoke to the British Journal of Ephemera, it says. And they gave me this university email address, but it’s not working. So I thought, fuck it, right? Even if I don’t find him, then you know I’ve always wanted to go to Europe.
As he turns the last twist of the staircase he stops dead. His phone clatters down the steps to the marble-tiled floor. There, in the lobby, looking a little more dishevelled, a little fatter, wearing loose jeans and a crumpled white t-shirt, is himself. For a second he can’t quite believe it. Ever since Tina showed him that photo of himself next to an essay on pornography in an old academic journal, he’s been trying to track the author down: now he’s suddenly face to face with him. He walks towards him, slowly, reverentially silent. His mirror-image does the same.
Hi, he says. I’m Rod.
His double doesn’t say anything. He shudders. For a moment it looks as if the man’s about to have an epileptic fit. Then he smiles a crooked smile, one full of disjointed English teeth, and pulls the knife from his waistband. He lunges.

Qassam existentialism

1: Why the rockets? The Palestinians are trying to kill Jews, any Jews, they’re targeting civilians. Except that’s not really the case. The rockets are useless, tin cans filled with horse shit and refined sugar with warheads of dodgy trinitrotoluene. Many fail to launch altogether, most of those that do get off the ground are shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system, most of those that manage to land somewhere generally end up in some empty patch of ground miles from anyone. From the twelve thousand rockets launched in the last twelve years, there have been twenty-two Jewish fatalities. That’s a kill rate of 0.175%. If Hamas were really serious about killing Jews they’d have plenty of other ways to go about it. There are always soldiers patrolling up and down the fence that rings the Gaza Strip, it’d be far easier to have a pop at one of them. Or it’d still be possible to smuggle some gunmen into Israel proper to enact a few atrocities in a couple of kibbutzim – expensive, certainly, but given that each rocket costs about $800, it’d be a far more effective investment. But instead of doing that, they fire rockets. Not just Hamas, either. In times of truce the Hamas police have to go about arresting and torturing members of other groupuscules, gangs of kids feverishly building rockets in basements across Gaza City. Why the rockets?

1.1: The rockets aren’t weapons of war at all. Gaza has no industry, no exports, eighty percent of its population is dependent on aid. Most of the world, its nominal allies included, would rather it weren’t there. The rockets are a form of communication, the only one available. A reminder, a gadfly’s bite, a projection of the reality that is life in Gaza beyond the cloacal confines of the world’s largest prison camp. Extension du domaine de la lutte. Every sad volley of sputtering white-tailed rockets is another desperate whisper: I exist… I exist… And every precision-guided Israeli bomb is a brutally curt reply: No you don’t.

1.2: Well, not quite. Israel might not want the Gazans, but it certainly needs their rockets. The IDF, the most advanced army on the face of the planet, is now not much more than the armed wing of Netenyahu’s re-election committee; a few Israeli lives lost in the cause of party politics is apparently perfectly acceptable. Israel is defending itself – against what? The current escalation has been entirely contrived by the Israeli side. Hamas only started firing rockets after Israel lobbed shells at children playing on a football pitch. When Ahmed Jabari was murdered he was hashing out the details of a long-term truce. The Israeli bombardment of Gaza isn’t designed to stop the rockets, that’s the last thing they want; it’s a deliberate provocation. If enough rockets are fired they can respond however they want. Freud wrote that a masochist is always at the same time a sadist. Hit me, hit me again, let Gaza transform itself into a volcanic fountain spewing scrap iron and potassium nitrate, hit me until the roles suddenly switch and I seize the whip to avenge myself.

1.2.1: It’s not about Gaza at all, it’s about the January election and the upcoming Palestinian bid for recognition at the United Nations. More than that: it’s autotelic, war for the sake of war. The worst thing is that the Gazans must know this; they know they’ve been turned into mere implements. It might have been better for them to have not responded – the only way they could have thwarted their aggressors was by inaction. Impossible, of course. Our form might precede our function, our freedom might be absolute, but if your leader is assassinated on a whim you can’t just do nothing. You have to strike back, you have to launch rockets at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, you have to play along and carry out your role in a play that’s already been meticulously scripted. Otherwise you lose legitimacy. Hamas is like Sartre’s café waiter, playing at being itself.

2: The Palestinians fire rockets from densely populated civilian areas. They hide behind their women and children. Of course they do. Why shouldn’t they? They know that Israel needs to keep its end up in the propaganda war. They know that Gaza is full of mobile phones with their all-seeing eyes. No sensible military commander would see the opportunity to attack with impunity and not take it. What should they do instead? Should they march out in formation to a patch of dust outside Gaza City, nice and gentlemanly, with muskets gleaming in the sun, so an Israeli jet can come over and wipe them all out without injuring any photogenic kiddies? Supporters of Israel continually voice their disgust at how Hamas is waging its war. How would they prefer them to do it? Maybe the Knesset should approve the sale of a few unmanned drones to the Palestinian resistance. Then the two sides could both hide themselves safely away, firing missiles with xbox controllers and calling each other fags through their headsets.

2.1: More to the point, Zionist disgust articulates itself in a strangely constricted moral field. Palestinians try to send their rockets into population centres. Israelis, meanwhile, talk sickeningly of precision warfare and surgical strikes. As if the airdropped leaflets warning of a raid excuses the raid itself. As if it’s perfectly admissible for them to kill whomever they want, as long as they’ve bloodlessly decided on which particular person they intend to kill. As if their ongoing colonial project is a-ok as long as they don’t murder too many innocents. As if the specific tactics of Hamas invalidate the justice of the Palestinian cause.

2.1.1: The leaflets say: avoid Hamas operatives, don’t go near them, we are trying to kill them, we are determined to defend ourselves. Hamas is the elected government in Gaza. The leaflets are telling people to avoid their own state. The IDF is a Deleuzian nomad, a war machine defined by its absolute exteriority, warding off state-formation and smoothing striated space, its missiles describing lines of flight. Liberation.

2.2: Talk of collateral damage is always sickening. We’re not trying to kill you, they say, so if you die it’s not our fault, it’s the caprice of chance, we will express regret but never apologise. The language of surgical warfare is nothing more than a feckless shrug at the dozens of civilian deaths. At the same time, though, some of what the Israelis are saying is true: millions of dollars of munitions have been fired at Gaza in hundreds of air assaults; considering that, the fatality rate is preternaturally low. So if these raids aren’t causing casualties, what are they targeting? Arms caches, military posts, and so on. But Gaza isn’t that big a place. During the last Israeli massacre in Gaza, they destroyed water treatment plants, telephone exchanges, factories. Organs of the state, after all, and the state is controlled by Hamas. David Harvey calls this kind of thing ‘creative destruction on the land’ – capital always needs somewhere to reinvest, it needs that magic three percent yearly growth; if you bomb a factory then you get to award the contract for its reconstruction afterwards. I don’t think it’s just that. During periods of truce, Israel is forever breaking its own blockade. It sends mountains of aid into Gaza, armoured vans full of shekels to prop up the banks, trucks full of food in quantities determined by the government’s coldly calculated calorie allowances. It’s a propaganda coup. Such generosity, we’re feeding our prisoners, we’re supplying their services, because for some mysterious reason they can’t do it themselves. And after all this, the ingrates dare to fire rockets at us.

3: And the people living in Sderot and Ashkelon and Nahal Oz, who famously have sixty seconds to scramble into their bomb shelters, whose skulls resound with the sounds of sirens and impacts – what are they doing there? Unlike their less fortunate neighbours, they have no wall keeping them in. Is their colonial project so important that they’d subject their children to these terrors? There could almost be a kind of wild romanticism to it: desert settlers, building a new rugged Judaism out in the scrublands, where the ground is hard and the sun is blistering and the sky spits a constant barrage of rockets. They could culture a good strong fanaticism out there, piously farm the chthonic irrationality that bubbles up from inbetween the rocks. That could be forgivable. Of course the actuality is the total opposite. In interview after interview the residents of these towns say the same thing: they just want a nice quiet life, they want things to go back to normal, and the slaughter in Gaza is a fair price for their diazepamoid banality. They want the humiliation – sometimes the extermination – of an entire people for the transcendent Good of low house prices and a tolerable commute. Sderot is a blasphemy, a monster sitting on the corpse of the Palestinian village of Najd: rows of houses with their pitched red roofs sprouting along broad avenues, delicately pruned palm trees rising from nail-clippered grass embankments, dreadful public sculptures. Its people are Hebrew-speaking Americans, displaying the same kind of petty anaesthetic viciousness that has the sublime crags of the San Gabriel mountains intercut with lines of identical bungalows, that builds Burger King restaurants by the side of the freeway in the Mojave Desert, that reels out electrified fences on the banks of the Rio Grande. Kill them all, they say. They’d enact an anodyne genocide.

3.1: Architecture is the continuation of war by other means.

3.2: Eyal Weizman told us that the Israeli army reads Deleuze. If they’re not doing so already, the Palestinians should read Negarestani. The war is being fought in the air, with drones and rockets, but its source is subterranean: the tunnels into Sinai, the bomb shelters under Ashdod. The surface is a fragile and ( )holey membrane, a plane of peril.

4: My first reaction to a monstrous injustice being carried out against people on the other side of the world is to find someone who supports it and argue with them. It’s pointless, and probably not particularly healthy, but what else is there? During Operation Cast Lead, I was baton-charged by police outside the Israeli embassy in London. There were thousands of us demonstrating: bourgeois students like myself, Hamas supporters in keffiyehs, sweet old ladies hoisting banners of Stalin. When the last remnants of the protest were broken apart by riot police, I went home bruised and exhausted to find out that Israel had mounted a ground invasion while I was out.

5: Žižek describes war as a kind of phatic communication. It’s true that when two radically different cultures first encounter each other, they’re always very curious: they want to know about each other; chiefly they want to know how the other side dies. Now they have new ways of talking. The Israeli Defence Forces and the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades are idly chatting on Twitter: swapping threats and insults; disputing claims of downed planes, rocket attacks, civilian casualties. The IDF operates a programme for its online sympathisers: by sharing propaganda photos on Facebook, you can rise through imaginary military ranks. You too can serve in the Israeli armed forces, fighting the war from your laptop. Actually, the opposite is taking place. The keyboard warriors aren’t being integrated into the military, the military is turning into part of the online commentariat. It’s turning into me. Baudrillard said that the Gulf War didn’t take place, that the Americans were fighting a nonexistent enemy. Now both sides are nonexistent. The war is a staged event, a text; it exists not to be won but to be interpreted. It’s a fiction being played out in real life.

5.1: And people are dying.

Against authenticity

I’m starting to lose sympathy for Baudrillard and Debord and Eco and other theorists of the simulacrum. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent too long in Los Angeles; maybe it’s because I am a child of the spectacle and have been duped into ‘forget[ting] that it has only just arrived’ – but it seems as if the idea of simulacrum itself is predicated on an entirely false binary, with the opposite principle being that of authenticity. Was the period before the emergence of late capitalism and its cultural logic in any way more ‘authentic’? Was the misery of a medieval serf in any way more ‘real’ than the misery of a modern wage-labourer? Was the sacred sublimity of ancient Egyptian religion or the false consciousness generated by Roman panis et circenses any different, any less artificial, any less of a usurpation of ‘reality’ than contemporary spectacular society? During the age of high Romanticism, long before the mechanical reproduction of mass culture, wealthy landowners would alter the landscapes of their estates to bring them more into line with the picturesque paintings of artists such as Lorrain; they would with Speerian insanity build pre-ruined classical follies on their grounds; they would view sublime scenery through a tinted mirror, facing away from it, so that the object of their enjoyment would more closely resemble an oil painting. It’s not hyperreality that’s a recent invention, it’s reality itself. Authenticity is not something we’ve lost, it’s a recent conceptual manifestation of the guilt and neurosis that attends an alienated society. The insistence on a lost authentic past of which our world is a degenerated imitation seems to be little more than a rehash of tired old Platonist dogmas. A far more helpful and productive concept is Deleuzian virtuality: the virtual object is not one that lacks reality, but one that lacks actuality; in its movement towards actuality the virtual has enormous creative potential.

I’m not consistent in this, of course. I still can’t stand the fucking Kindle.

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