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This is why I hate intellectuals

Tag: pop culture

Justin Bieber’s dick: reflections from the limits of psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis is the discourse of the dark and distant places, whether the inner caverns of the psyche or the forbidden pit between the legs; its contention isn’t just that these places can be meaningful and significant, but that it’s in this void that meaning and significance take place. And there’s no chasm blacker than early childhood. Nobody remembers their first few years, their first neuroses, their first steps, their first words. We think before we are. It’s as if we all emerged as fully speaking beings, springing fully-formed like Greek gods out of the placid seas. Anything we do remember is generally false: I thought I knew what my own first memory was, something about playing with toy trucks in the bath, until one day I discovered that no, it was a photograph I’d seen years later, and that’s why in my mind’s eye I’m always hovering a few feet in front of my own face. Freud calls these ‘screen memories,’ they cover up a childhood inevitably full of repressed traumas. There’s a kind of circular logic here: psychoanalysis insists that the essential truths of the psyche must spring from this distant and forgotten world, and then proposes that it must have been forgotten because of the essential truths buried within. Which is not to say that this is incorrect. But if I’m honest, my earliest memories are all dreams, specifically, nightmares. Elongated hallways and thudding footsteps, ordinary places turned eerily unreal, and something approaching; the childhood terror of a Thing without qualities. Besides those, nothing: flashes, instants, bursts of light that stutter briefly in a darkness seething with unseen monsters. Everything that actually happened I only know through stories from people who were there. It all happened to somebody else. Which is fortunate for some: if it worked any other way, everyone could be their own analyst.

Sometimes people afraid of dying are told that death is just like how it was before you were born, a comforting line that does nothing to comfort: back then I wasn’t, but I’m here right now, existing, to one day stop, there’s no comparison. It’s more like those first few years of existence – you’re there, growing, bloating, rotting, but the whole experience is unperceived. In Heidegger, the death of Dasein is the condition of its individuality; death belongs to it alone, and nobody else can die for it. This is nonsense. Death is, after all, not an event in experience (Wittgenstein concurs here: ‘We do not live to experience death’), but it is experienced, by our survivors. Our death belongs only and always to other people. And childhood too: childhood, the order of the Imaginary, Oedipus – our prehistory is not our own.

Say a young boy is terrified of horses. Normally a perfectly ordinary child, good-tempered and healthily perverse, at the sight of horses he goes into fits; watching through shuttered hands as the poor docile cart-horses from the coaching house across the street wearily clop over the cobblestones; their nodding, snorting unconsciousness sets him shrieking, bawling, shivering. And he’s always at the balcony: he says he’s waiting for the little girl to appear through the opposite window, but in the meantime he delights himself by being terrified of horses. ‘I have to look at horses, and then I’m frightened.’ Naturally the parents are worried: as devotees of the eminent psychologist Sigmund Freud, they’ve tried to raise their child to be as happy and uninhibited as possible; they can’t understand where they could possibly have gone wrong. So they enlist his help. Sigmund talks to the boy, briefly, with only a little condescension, and then afterwards the child races to the balcony to watch the distinguished psychologist crossing the street. Sigmund Freud paces quickly, wrapping his overcoat tight around his bones against the cold, as he hurries over to the coaching house to speak with one of the horses. A big muscular creature, stained city-white, black harness, black blinkers. He talks seriously and animatedly to the horse, taking off his glasses, stowing them in his overcoat, putting them back on again, blowing big clouds of pipe-smoke into the frosty air. The horse nods solemnly, or bares its gnashing yellow teeth, and all the while its monstrous penis slowly extends, brown and slimy, steam rising from the creature’s great heaving haunches as it discusses it’s son’s curious phobia. And the boy watches, trembling through his tears, full of ancient and unknowable terror.

Little Hans was afraid that his father, embodied as a horse, would come and cut off his penis, a fear that’s so elementary and constitutive of the subject that it’s in a way more true than truth itself. Freud, in his case study of the child, gains most of his understanding of the situation by talking to the father himself; while his entire approach is governed by the idea that Hans is terrified for an explicable reason, that ‘the arbitrary has no existence in mental life,’ there’s still the shroud that falls over childhood that makes it impossible to access from the outside. So he talks to the father, a sensible Freudian himself, to get the facts. Hans is afraid that a horse will bite off his piddler, and Freud goes and discusses the issue with the horse. But there’s one question he doesn’t ask. So, do you? Do you want to cut your son’s dick off?

Psychoanalysis is also, like any symbolic discourse, a discourse of the father; in other words, one in which the actual father is conspicuously absent. The psychoanalytic father is the Symbolic father; both as paternal principle in the order of the Symbolic and as the fundamental and generative phallic signifier. A son’s feelings towards his father are psychoanalytically significant; the father’s towards his son are not. In Lacan, the castration complex ends with what is in a sense an actual castration: the infant, cowed by the father’s potency, abandons any attempt to identify itself with the imaginary phallus; thereafter the phallus is always conceived as that which one lacks. It’s something that belongs to the other, and induction into the Symbolic order of signifiers, in which the phallus is the first, is compensation for this loss. But what happens when the infant grows up, and has children of his own? What happened when Hans became a horse himself? Did he remember the fear he once felt, as he clattered blithely over his own cobblestones? In Freud the child fears castration from the terrifying and priapic father; but in Lacan the father was already castrated a long time ago. And now he’s faced by a red-faced, screaming thing that does not happen to itself, without language, without reason, an unmediated and purely phallic presence. Wouldn’t the immediate, buried instinct be to cut it off?

All this is by way of talking about the nude photos supposedly of Justin Bieber that were recently leaked online. Two things are significant here. Firstly, the fact that the neurotic castrati of online are simultaneously transfixed by the question of how big it is and entirely unable to provide themselves with a satisfying answer. There’s a particular hatred for Justin Bieber that seems to emanate entirely from adult men: they complain that his music is terrible (it’s not that bad, really), as if trying to establish a narcissism of small differences between themselves and a twelve-year-old girl; the real complaint can only be his function as the object of the other’s desire. In other words, from the perspective of psychoanalysis, they hate Justin Bieber because he is their own father. Secondly, there’s this:

The original has been deleted, as if that could fix anything. This is of course Bieber’s father, proudly announcing to the world that he deliberately sought out pornographic images of his own son, and who has essentially sent him a “fuck me daddy” tweet. Some context: Bieber père separated from the star’s mother when he was thirteen months old, and has seemingly returned to cash in on his child’s celebrity; in 2014 it was revealed in a court case that Justin pays his father’s $1,650 monthly rent, nicely inverting the traditional Oedipal triad. In 2002, he allegedly kicked an eighteen-year-old woman in the face, breaking her jaw in two places, after she ejected him from a party at which he boasted that he could beat up anyone in the room and demanded that she lift up her shirt. In another incident, he abused and harassed flight attendants on a private jet. He pushed his four-year-old son’s face into a birthday cake, whereupon Justin tried to calm the child’s tears by showing him images of the event so he could see how funny it was. Of course Jeremy wants to cut his son’s dick off, of course that was what he meant when he leeringly commented on how big it is – like so many millions of others, he ascribes phallus to Justin Bieber, a phallus that even in Lacan can never entirely escape its penile origin; like all of us, his subject is the precipitate of lost objects, the sum total of everything it doesn’t have. Presence belongs to the other, and the paternal instinct is to abolish it. Like every other seemingly normal and healthy person, Jeremy Bieber hungers for the end of the world. But the point isn’t to form a psychoanalysis of the Bieber family, to add some Freudian tinge to the ordinary game of speculating about the private lives of the celebs. The point is to see how Justin Bieber’s dick can push through the edges of psychoanalysis itself, plumb though that hazy region where science fades into the black tomb of infantility and death.

Like the phallus as such, Justin Bieber’s dick is a signifier without a signified. It belongs to nobody – beamed across the world, leered over by millions – certainly not to him. The waking world is the site of an infinite dislocation: there’s a unity and wholeness to its outside, but that happens to someone else, a real person, of which we are only the tumbling echo. The mournful ghost of a world we lost long ago. A hypothetical retort to Freud’s theory of infantile amnesia: early childhood is not forgotten because of the traumas that occur, but because in the absence of trauma there’s no need for memory – after all, in his Project for a Scientific Psychology Freud himself conceives of memory, whether conscious or repressed, as a traumatic breaching in the brain. It’s in these dark places or non-places that psychoanalysis seeks out its truths. Justin Bieber’s dick invites us to step across the threshold of existence into something not fully conceivable: a psychoanalysis of the afterlife.

The grey scale

The architectonic structure of the Kantian system, like the gymnastic pyramids of Sade’s orgies and the schematised principles of the early bourgeois freemasonry, reveals an organisation of life as a whole which is deprived of any substantial goal.
Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment

1. Fifty Shades of Grey is a 2014 direct-to-DVD dystopian action film directed by Curtis Lumpus with a screenplay by Jott Prittsteck. In this terrifying vision of the year 2146, the United States of America has collapsed, to be replaced by a totalitarian state called Canesco, one ruled over by the secretive tyrant Christian Grey. Canesco enjoys a high standard of living and is entirely free from crime; however, citizens are subjected to constant surveillance, and all colours are banned. Grey’s belief that the unknown Cataclysm that destroyed the old world was caused by the blasphemy of colour has led him to create a barren concrete wasteland, in which chemical defoliants are used to extinguish all chlorophyll-producing life, except the crops grown in vast underground gruel farms. Drones on round-the-clock cloud-seeding flights maintain a dense layer of cloud over the entire North American continent. Only Grey can now remember that the sky was once blue. Female citizens of Canesco are required to sign a personal contract with Grey on reaching puberty in which they promise to keep the existence of the colour red a secret, in a ceremony known as the Initiationing. However, one plucky young girl called Anastasia STE-313, who always felt that she was somehow different from the conformist society that surrounds her, refuses to sign. Soon she finds herself on the run from the brutal government agents in an epic flight across three identical warehouses and one nondescript desert. Her desperate fight to survive against all odds pits her against the powers of the Grey Castle, but, as a hunky resistance fighter in head-to-toe tie-dye teaches her, it’s also a fight for the future of humanity. In the dramatic final scene, Anastasia hijacks Christian Grey’s personal helicopter, binds and gags him, and blows it up in midair. The explosion opens up a rift in the layer of permanent cloud, and as strings swell the people of Canesco see the sky for the first time. The film received mixed to negative reviews from critics, with many criticising its drab visual style, derivative plot, and clunky CGI. The casting of teen icon and YouTube pencil vlogger Jophia Splutt as Anastasia STE-313 was met with mockery from partisans of high culture and officially denounced by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. Commentators have also noted that the regulation grey boiler suits worn by all citizens of Canesco are clearly several sizes too large for many of the actors, and that as a result everyone in the film appears to have a tiny head. In a 2015 interview, the director insisted that this was deliberate.

2. Fifty Shades of Grey is a 2012 British romantic comedy film set in a retirement community in the Cotswolds. It was directed by Tom Flan with a screenplay by Polandria and Chimera Hugankiss. Herb is a mild-mannered former accountant whose life has settled into a comforting routine: morning walks, crosswords, cups of tea, and a slow, resigned wait for it all to be finally over. But his life is turned upside down by the arrival of Dorothy, an outgoing and vivacious dame with an idiosyncratic haircut and one very saucy secret. As Dorothy tries to entice Herb out of his own head and into a pair of furry pink handcuffs, their romance grows from the pace of a zimmer-frame stroll into a full-blown bingo-hall Bacchanalia. But when his three large and prudish sons turn up on an unannounced visit to find Herb scrubbing his floor, wearing nothing but a pair of assless chaps, his old and new lives find themselves in a hilarious head-on collision. Can Herb’s weak heart cope with the demands of a late-blooming love? Can arthritic hands train themselves to perform Japanese rope bondage? One thing’s for certain: life at Bumpy Acres will never be the same.

3. Fifty Shades of Grey is an unfinished novel by D H Lawrence, intended as a further sequel to 1915’s The Rainbow. The story follows the lives of the Brangwen sisters after the end of Women in Love. Gudrun leaves Dresden for Paris and, unable to rid herself of the coldness that had come over her ever since being strangled half to death by Gerald, finds herself falling into an algedonic underworld of sadistic sexual violence. Her sister visits from England, husband in tow, but Ursula is appalled to discover that Birkin sees an aesthetic authenticity in Gudrun’s new lifestyle. After watching a performance in a secret theatre in which Gudrun, dressed as a voodoo witch, simultaneously anally penetrates three nervous, hogtied young poets with a trident-shaped strap-on, Birkin declares his passion for her. As they make love he tightens a collar firm around her neck, and she feels the kindling of a fire in her breast long thought extinguished. The two declare themselves to be the Dictator and Dictatrix of Earth, and lead a violent mob to the Palais de l’Élysée, promising them the domination and servitude that the lower orders secretly crave.

4. Fifty Shades of Grey is a patented proprietary colour matching system devised by Pantone. Launched in 2004, it has been one of the company’s most successful products, used to design magazines and decorate apartments for boring people the world over.

5. Fifty Shades of Grey is a handbook distributed to medical workers from 1978 to be used in the event of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. It identifies the causes, symptoms, and treatments for radiation poisoning, and included the notorious ‘grey-scale test’, in which it was asserted that patients whose skin had become discoloured beyond a certain shade of grey were beyond saving and should be left to die.

6. I saw Fifty Shades of Grey on Valentine’s Day in rural Somerset. It was disappointing. The cinema – if it could be called a cinema – was a rickety lean-to crumbling against the side of an ancient and pungent ciderworks. In this dense, hot room, sharp with the aphrodisiac tang of rotting apples, surrounded by the cacklings and fumblings of drunken locals, I felt almost immediately disoriented. At first I thought the cidery fog had Vaselined my vision: the screen wasn’t the prim white square I was used to but an indistinct shape, rippling and whorling, almost organic, almost alive. It took a while before I fully realised what I was seeing. Behind me, above the entrance of the shack, the projector was flickering, and the film was being projected onto a cow. Huge, almost entirely white, and clearly in pain. The poor beast had been chained up by its front and hind legs; a leather strap connected its nose-ring to the far wall, and a farmer in a Venetian mask and three-piece suit was flogging the creature with a riding crop whenever its laboured breathing or feeble attempts to escape interfered with the performance. Following the plot was hampered by the cow’s plaintive mooing and shifting, but from what I could make out it was about a woman who I assumed to be the tambourine player in an indie-folk band, who falls in love with an extremely powerful twelve-year-old boy. Sadly I didn’t get much further than that. As the first sex scene began, the imprisoned cow gave an almighty grunt and began to thrash around wildly, kicking up angry sprays of hay and manure. The timber of the shack, already weakened by several centuries of super-strength fumes, gave way. The cow was free. As I watched in mute horror, Christian Grey’s tight-lipped mid-coital face seemed to bulge and stretch, as if he were about to pop; I wondered would kind of fluid would seep out. Just before the beast burst through the image, I was dragged away by my viewing companion. We fled across sodden fields as the local folk took their revenge on the creature, but before we reached the safety of a nearby pub I could hear the cow’s desperate lowing and the sadistic yelps of its torturers turn into something else, a cold, seething reptile hiss that I thought had not been heard on this planet for sixty-five million years.

7. I saw Fifty Shades of Grey as part of a programme organised by the London Institute for Studies in Psychoanalysis, a subversive radical organisation I had been ordered to infiltrate. I didn’t understand much of it – all this stylised, highly sexed foreign cinema is frankly beyond me – but for the sake of appearances I jotted down a few observations. Typical Left propaganda: an industrialist billionaire and handcuff-happy sexual sadist seduces a young woman; what he doesn’t know is that she’s part of a revolutionary cell trying to take him down. For the most part, though, the film seems to be about contract law. The plutocrat tries to force his prey to sign a legal document waiving all her human rights protections, including the right to life; in this he’s thwarted by a series of increasingly abstract legal manoeuvres – by the end she’s stalling for time by demanding the contract include definitions for perfectly ordinary terms such as ‘and’, ‘but’, and ‘buttplug’. Procrastination seems to be her favourite tactic. At another point the capitalist, on discovering that she’s a student of English literature, asks if it was Charlotte Brontë, Jane Austen, or Thomas Hardy that made her fall in love with the written word. None of them, she says, before launching into a lengthy exegesis on contemporary literary theory before a man at first visibly aroused but who rapidly goes limp once it becomes apparent that poststructuralism isn’t just the text meaning whatever you want it to mean. So much for the film. Making idle small talk at the post-screening drinks reception (or about as small as talk can be among these self-important charlatans), I learned that for the LISP screening all the actual pornographic scenes had been cut from the film – this because of some Freudian dictum about sex never just being about sex, apparently. It was a shame, but it was also all I needed. Tampering with the film violated the terms of its rental from the distributors: finally, I had them on tape admitting to criminal activity. As soon as I could I pushed the button on my secret radio receiver. Most of the Institute were arrested alive; a few hid out in the building’s toilets and, regrettably, had to be shot by police snipers.

8. I saw Fifty Shades of Grey with my parents.

9. You ever feel like you’re living on the point of a knife? I really did want to write a review of Fifty Shades of Grey. But there’s that feeling of a knife at your stomach, just pricking the surface of your skin, so you know that if you take just one step forward your guts will pour out like slimy confetti. When people talk about their plans for the future, careers, families, don’t you want to stare at them with crazy eyes, ranting, breathing in manic gasps, and hiss: but it won’t happen! Don’t you understand? We’ll all be dead by then! Melting ice caps! Russian bombers off the coast of Cornwall! Everything’s fucked! Life in the crumbling, developed West isn’t great (people are starving to death, even here), but it still has the sense of an incredible precariousness, a bubble waiting to be popped. Fifty Shades of Grey is not a good film. But will sneering at that fact make it better? Will it save us from the coming bombs? Without God or communism we’ve been told that the point of life is to collect meaningful experiences, happy memories, and interesting opinions; to be entertained; to carve out some kind of expression of individuality that will, in its uniqueness and initerability, last forever. History suggests something different. Mostly people are destroyed, in their thousands, for no good reason. Why wouldn’t it happen to us? How many shiningly unique individuals were burned up in Dresden? When the Mongols came to Baghdad – a big urban cosmopolis, full of self-regarding educated types who, in the end, probably didn’t live too differently from you – they killed everyone. Like a nuclear bomb in slow motion. Scholars who’d spent most of their lives airily abstracting about the finer points of poetic technique and the exact arrangement of the heavenly spheres ended up with their heads suddenly piled up in a sloppy pyramid outside the city walls. (The scholars are remembered; more than, say, the women. Massacres of the educated are an affront to humanity, while men killing women is business as usual.) And why? The Mongol warlord Hulagu attacked the Abbasid caliphate on the advice of the usual gang of viziers and astrologists, but the loudest voice for war came from Nasir al-Din Tusi – a scholar and poet who’d become enraged after the Caliph, apparently disdaining its metrical and lexical subtleties, had lazily tossed one of his poems into the Tigris. One million people died, arrow-shafts through their bodies, knives through their necks, coughing up blood. Cultural critics beware.

10. I loved the book of Fifty Shades of Grey; I really loved it, with that total and unquestioning love you can only have for the utterly deformed. I loved its alternate psychoanalytic triad of the Subconscious, the Psyche and the Inner Goddess. I loved the catastrophically unsexy cor-blimey interior monologue. I loved the relentless commodity porn. It’s a universal story, an utterly bleak one: the story of power and its essential idiocy, and the tendency to read it as a wide-eyed paean to the titular pervert only demonstrates a critical failure of imagination. Yes, it started as fanfiction, but then so did the Aeneid. Yes, the relationship it depicts is fundamentally abusive, but safety, sanity and consent weren’t a major concern for de Sade, Bataille, Réage, or any of the other icons of literary sadomasochism either. With all its obtrusively terrible language it’s a book that constantly calls attention to its own writerly, textual quality, that’s constantly returning to its own meta- and inter-textual fabric. Fifty Shades had an overwhelming, effortless literariness, in a way that far outstripped the squalid grunting efforts of this century’s self-appointed guardians of high prose. Karl Ove Knausgård, Haruki Murakami, God help us, Jonathan fucking Franzen. They’re all squalid hacks, sad clowns, overinflated, overserious; it’s hard to imagine them keeping a straight face as they make their vague bromidic pronouncements on the Human Condition, shitting out watery insights as if anyone actually asked them, but somehow they do, and the same reading public that dismisses Fifty Shades as mere pornography nod wisely as they lap happily from the putrid trough. I’ll take bondage over coprophagy. Reviews of the Fifty Shades film have grudgingly commended it for turning a terrible book into something vaguely tolerable, competently produced if not exactly groundbreaking. As if descending from the mad and terrible stratospheres into Franzen-lite mediocrity is somehow an achievement. In fact, the film’s made a category error. A proper film adaptation should be pornography: ill-fitting suits, wobbly handheld cameras, and queasy lighting that makes the rippling flesh look like so much offcut meat, bright pink, churning out of an industrial mincer. Or it should resurrect not just the Inner Goddess and the Psyche but all the screaming others that crowd the mind of the modern schizophrenic; have the superego as a pale disappointed father, the id as a ravenous twelve-headed beast, doubt as a constant looming shroud, all watching every vaguely kinky sex session with drawn, horrified faces. Or it should delve deeper into the discourse of force and power and punishment, really take these concepts seriously. Every shot and every line of dialogue could remain exactly the same; it could be fixed in post-production. Black-clad jihadis parade hostages past the window of Ana’s hardware store. Christian’s helicopter is buzzed by Syrian MiG-23s, and as he flies over the city we see a dazzling constellation of explosions flashing in the streets below. Sniper rounds ping off the windscreen as the new Audi blithely swooshes past a rebel checkpoint. And as the couple stand naked before the floor-to-ceiling windows, the city beyond rises up to meet them: Aleppo, the final truth of our era, a thicket of gaunt ruins, concrete crags as lifeless and inhuman as a stranger’s face, drenched in the dust billowing from mortar strikes, coating the world in fifty thousand shades of grey.

Taylor Swift swallows the world

And he was casting out a devil, and it was dumb. And it came to pass, when the devil was gone out, the dumb spake; and the people wondered.
Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics

Here’s a strange and ugly question: what does Taylor Swift actually look like? It’s strange. There are things that look like Taylor Swift – penguins, kettles, the Rapa Nui moai of Easter Island, teacups – but it’s always a one-way resemblance. They follow her, while Taylor Swift is one of those dangerous rarities: a person that doesn’t look like anything. Not strange-looking, exactly, not amorphous or indistinct, but vast: a trackless and uncharted infinity. Something hungry. Taylor Swift has always resisted the crude general categories that female recording artists are usually shunted into: never quite succumbing to the coruscatingly coquettish malice of the teen icon, or steatopygous sexual auto-objectification, or modish androgyny. She started her career in a universe of dusty country backroads, sternly Protestant plantation houses, glittered acoustic guitars; moved through bowler-hatted Instagram-filtered hipsterdom (“Who’s Taylor Swift anyway, ew?” Good question) into tragic, vampish kink-tinged opulence – but it’s not like she ever really changed; she’s always been eternally, irreducibly Taylor Swift. All these worlds were assimilated into her – and she could contain them, because she doesn’t look like anything. Her lyrics are, very deliberately, relateable. They’re a language through which we can express our own experiences, but a language can never describe the world without also reconstructing it in its own image. When a fan sings we are never ever getting back together to herself, is it because she and Taylor Swift have shared similar experiences, or because her experiences take place on a terrain where Taylor Swift rules alone, queen of all she surveys, in the dark and many-turreted castle of the signifier?

Look at the picture above. Which one is Taylor Swift? The blonde in the middle, right? Wrong. It’s a symbol. The civilisations of antiquity had the Muses, the medieval era had the Virtues, we have Taylor Swift and the Haim sisters. They represent (like Anna and Elsa in Frozen, Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, or the various sides in the Syrian civil war) the opposing aspects of a single psyche. Hers? No, of course not. Yours.

The picture is also notable – it kicked off a small panic on social media sites – for the fact that it shows Taylor Swift’s belly button. For years now, she’s made a point of never showing her navel, carefully engineering various crop tops and swimsuits to keep it hidden from paparazzi and their slobbering navel-crazed public. Fine: I don’t tend to make a point of parading around my naked umbilicus either. It’s a revolting hole, a foetid salty lint-clogged scar, a gaping absence that’s only a reminder of something irretrievably lost. With only that hole remaining the condition of humanity must always be one of absolute disconnection; we’ve been snipped apart from a primal unity, and it’s not coming back until the day we die. Our genitals tell us that we can bring ourselves together, and even create something new; our navels whisper bitterly that we will always be alone. In the enlightened society of the future, they will always be covered; the belly button more than deserves its share of the socially mandated shame that somehow bypasses it in its mad rush southwards from nipples to pudenda. But it’s not just that. The navel marks a person as a created being; by feigning for so long to be without one Taylor Swift is positioning herself as a human acheiropoieton, something outside the dreary chain of reproductive existence. A new Eve? Or something more? Something that exists now, and always has, and always will?

Another question. In mid-July of last year I found myself washing up like a sea-blanched Coke can against the Greyhound station near Miami airport, just in time to miss my bus. The sky was as hard and hot and metallic as the planes searing through it; its blue wasn’t that of a high firmament but an ecchymosis, low and virulent, and between its petrol-tinged fury and the baking concrete I knew I was in an evil place, somewhere absolutely opposed to all human life. Maybe once, when it was all still bubbling, toothy swamps, someone could have lived in South Florida at the brutal height of summer, just about. Now that it’s been paved over it’s the inferno; death expressed as an architectural form. I arrived sweating, with my face in a medically improbable shade of deep scarlet. I was on the point of collapse: the last hour had been spent swimming through the stifling airless air, phoneless and mapless, trying to find the bus station somewhere among the dusty buildings (all apparently abandoned), the screechingly indifferent freeways, and the constant overhead jet-engine roar surrounding me. When I got in, I found a large fan and just clung to it, pressing my grimy face against the grille, letting the cool air blast into my sodden armpits. I stank. As the sweat dried off my skin, I could see myself slowly desiccate into a tiny, wrinkled, malodorous raisin of a man. It was at this point – probably the lowest point in my life – that someone started talking to me.

A woman, etiolated but cheerfully spherical, asked me if I’d seen the news. I hadn’t. It was her: every TV station showed non-stop, round the clock footage of her, whenever she wasn’t watching it. Limbs throbbing with exhaustion, skin dangling in sheets, I must have gaped. All true, she explained. The same power that had made her the transcendental object for the entire culture industry had granted her other strange and incredible gifts. I can tell you what you’re thinking right now, she said. She told me. She was right. All this, she said, was the work of none other than the award-winning Latin pop artist Enrique Iglesias, in his manifestation as Cloud-Man, an empyrean figure she seemed to identify with the God of Abraham. In the beginning, Enrique Iglesias created the heavens and the earth. It’s not an uncommon belief; once you notice it you’ll find it everywhere. There’s the person who exhaustively livetweets her efforts to exterminate the black race with the unflagging assistance of Donald and Melinda Trump; or John Hinckley Jr., who shot Ronald Reagan at the unspoken behest of Jodie Foster; even the widely accepted axiom that Jay Z and Beyoncé are parents to the Antichrist. Nietzsche, going mad in his Turin apartment, believed himself to be violently forming a new world order in conspiracy with the French poet Catulle Mendès, very much the Enrique Iglesias of his day. The question: what’s the deal with madness and celebrity? Why do mad people, who generally have a far more unified and coherent conception of the world than the sane, require the interposition of a celebrity figure to tie everything together? And aren’t we all, without realising it, somehow doing the same thing?

Maybe she was right; she just chose the wrong celebrity. It’s recently been revealed that Taylor Swift has registered as trademarks several common phrases, including Nice to meet you, where you been; Party like it’s 1989, and This sick beat (the latter for use in, among other things, animal skins and hides, whips, harnesses, and saddlery). This doesn’t mean that her jackbooted trademark lawyers will start snatching gurning crater-eyed idiots from warehouse raves and ambulant combovers from awful office parties, imprisoning them in non-sexy torture dungeons for the crime of using these words without proper attribution. As ever, the law tends to just acknowledge the actual situation after the fact. Language as a means of intersubjective communication is increasingly becoming a property of Taylor Swift, in the same way that thought and extension are for Spinoza attributes of God. So much of all speech is already mediated by Taylor Swift (try it for yourself; at the next party you go to try to discern any conversation that isn’t in some way about her) that when she finally becomes the unquestioned universal signifier, all that will happen is that a small portion of the discussion of Taylor Swift will, somehow, have to also be about something other than Taylor Swift.

Our future won’t be too different. When you buy flatpack furniture, the little instruction booklet will, as a matter of course, show Taylor Swift (in a retro halterneck polka-dot dress) correctly assembling your crappy nightstand. You’ll soon get used to her constant presence in TV ads: loveable-loser-husband-Taylor Swift surprising bitchy-wife-Taylor Swift and the Taylor Swift kids with some surprisingly edible boil-in-the-bag rice; Taylor Swift finally plucking up the courage to ask Taylor Swift out on a date, once she’s gobbled up some extra-minty chewing gum; black and white footage of Taylor Swift falling off a ladder at work as dedicated-lawyer-Taylor Swift reads out the toll-free number. A few things might jar at first: North Korean Ambassador Taylor Swift’s furious speech at the United Nations, or the first blurry security footage of a greasy-haired and trenchcoated Taylor Swift carrying out grisly gun massacre in a Minneapolis mall – but after a while, you’ll find it hard to remember how things could ever have existed before. After all, it’s impossible to think outside of language.

Usually, this is where I’d rail against the coming Swiftopia, but here I don’t really see the point. Taylor Swift is a grown woman and a successful recording artist; if she wants to transform herself into the fundamental substance of the entire Symbolic order that’s her business, and I’m sure she’ll do a decent job of it. The signifier is essentially hollow; it doesn’t matter what it actually is as long as it performs its function. Taylor Swift might have to release a few less commercially-oriented albums to make all this fully possible – one to allow the translation of Hegel into the new language, another to make sure football commentaries don’t lose any of their immediate comprehensibility – but, based on current trends, the whole process shouldn’t take more than about a decade. The only question is why Taylor Swift is doing this; why she’s decided to swallow the world.

I think I know. It’s not for us. We’re collateral damage, that’s all. Taylor Swift first really came to global attention when her acceptance speech at the 2009 Video Music Awards was interrupted by Kanye West, who grabbed the microphone and explained to a shocked audience that the award should have gone to Beyoncé instead. Kanye is, of course, none other than a modern-day reincarnation of Friedrich Nietzsche. In 1889, Yeezy wrote that he was once the Buddha, Dionysus, Caesar, Bacon, Napoleon and Voltaire; it would be strange if he did not come down from the mountains once more to speak with us again. The man who declares himself to be a god and insists that he is the end and limit of all music is the same as the one who wrote chapter titles like Why I am so clever and Why I am a destiny. When Kanye called himself a proud non-reader of books it was with the same voice as when he wrote that early in the morning, at break of day, in all the freshness and dawn of one’s strength, to read a book – I call that viciousness! Kanye doesn’t just repeat Nietzsche, or imitate him; like Pierre Menard with the Quixote he says it all again, for the first time. It can only go on forever.

Dionysus is always reborn, but first he must die: whenever he comes unto us, Nietzsche is always already doomed. There are vast opposing forces from beyond this world that keep him locked in a constant chiasmic dialectic. Apollo, Brutus, Wellington. This time it’s appeared in the form of Taylor Swift. Their two fates were forever linked the moment Kanye bounded onto the stage at the Radio City Music Hall to snatch the mic from her hands. From that day, Kanye would continue to create, to become madder and more brilliant with every passing year, sailing out across the cosmos, trying to escape her – and his destiny. But Taylor Swift entered the language. When she’s done, Kanye will never be able to interrupt her again. He’ll never be able to upstage her. He’ll never be able to speak, without speaking about Taylor Swift.

Justin Bieber: the aesthetics of destruction

Oh no no, oh no no/ I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled!
– Justin Bieber, Confident

From left to right: tragedy, farce

I live in fear of Justin Bieber in much the same way that people once lived in fear of God. It’s hard to think of anyone alive that I regard with such terror and fascination and respect. Last week Justin Bieber was hauled in by Miami cops for dragracing, driving under the influence, and resisting arrest. His booking photo shows him grinning at the police camera with a face full of boyish insouciance and a mouth full of Hollywood-white teeth. It’s all a lie. Justin Bieber has the eyes of a predator. Not a shark, not something driven by pure animal need, but a brutally human predator. His eyes are cold – but they’re not dead, they shine with an obscene excess of life. He sees you, and already you disgust him. Justin Bieber wants to put a torch to the world, and he wants to burn up with it.

There are some people (generally in our ghastly po-faced commentariat) who make it their business to moralise about the psychological effect that stardom has on young idols like Bieber, agonising over how they’re broken and abused by a cynical celebrity culture. I find this attitude revolting. These kids have been robbed of everything (a normal life, a normal death), and in return all they get is cold clunking money and the ephemeral fart of fame – but now these altruists want to rob them of their madness too. The same goes for all the celebrity do-gooders trying to leech themselves on Bieber’s misbehaviour. Will Smith, Adam Levine, Mark Wahlberg, Eminem, and Oprah Winfrey have all tried to ‘reach out’ to the child star in a desperate pious attempt to steer him back onto the path of righteousness. A darkly approaching flock of pestilential vultures. They don’t understand Justin Bieber at all; they understand him even less than his fans.

Justin Bieber is, of course, mad. On this point the whimpering columnists are completely correct. The kid can’t post ‘good morning’ on Twitter without ten thousand acolytes screaming their love for him. This kind of adulation has been compared to Beatlemania, but of course it’s completely different. The fans that gathered to greet John, Paul and co. could only be perceived as a single crowd projecting a single piercing din. They belonged to the era of mass social movements; today’s Beliebers are an unending digital stream of individuated bits. Justin Bieber isn’t famous or well-liked; he’s adored and raised to the level of master-signifier by fifty million individual totalities. There’s always a hideous aspect to the desire of the other, a faint putrid taste, born from a lingering infantile resentment towards your own specular image. Nobody wants to see themselves through the eyes of another person, even if it’s as an object of love; to cross the boundary of the subject is to induce the nausea of abjection. Multiply this effect by fifty million. The last people to experience a similar psychological effect to today’s pop stars were the Egyptian pharaohs, and they all went insane and fucked their sisters.

What distinguishes Justin Bieber is the precise trajectory his madness has taken. For all the panic over his bad-boy breakaway antics, they’ve been comparatively quite mild. He left an ill-advised note in the guestbook at the Anne Frank Museum, he pissed in a mop-bucket, he turned up late to a concert, he punched a paparazzo (which is really less a sign of incipient degeneracy and more a general Kantian ethical duty), he insulted Bill Clinton (ditto), he drove a fast car, he egged his neighbour’s house. All in all, it’s more Cliff Richard than Lou Reed, barely worth a footnote in the annals of celebrity libertinage. I used to think that Justin Bieber was slowly descending into a hedonistic death-spiral and that we’d get to watch the whole grimly compelling tragedy play out live before our captive eyes. I was wrong. Everything he does is very carefully contrived: he’s engaged in a performance of hedonism, a self-conscious parody of excess. He’s writing the narrative for his own self-immolation, because it’s what he wants.

What kind of story is Justin Bieber trying to tell? There’s something very 19th century about him; for all his synthesised backing tracks he seems to have stepped right out of the dawning of modernity. His pseudo-hedonism isn’t a product of teenage rebellion and surging narcissism but a total and all-encompassing boredom. At the age of nineteen he’s been a global phenomenon for six years; he knows how little this world has to offer him. He’s a tubercular nihilist, a hero of Charles Baudelaire or Ivan Turgenev. Like Bazarov in Fathers and Sons he seems weary of his own pleasures: the blood circulates, the brain works and even desires something as well… What sheer ugliness! What sheer nonsense! The narrative he’s so  diligently crafting has as its purpose the aestheticisation of his omnicidal ennui. Justin Bieber has a hunger, but it’s not a hunger for life; rather the hunger of a life beyond its bounds. He’s the first pop star to stand on the summit of his fame and bellow: I want less! There is too much of everything, complains Chremylos in Aristophanes’ Plutus. Justin Bieber will set this right. What he wants isn’t more fame or more money or more fun: pointless, boring trifles for lesser men. He wants beauty, which is the most dangerous thing of all.

The story goes that Minos, king of Crete, faced a challenge to his rule, and asked the god Poseidon for a sign of his favour. In response, Poseidon sent a beautiful white bull out of the waves, such an exemplar of bovine perfection that the ancient writers often spend most of their account rhapsodising about its gloriousness. The proper thing would have been for Minos to have slaughtered the bull at once and carbonise its body in tribute to the god that gifted it to him. Instead he decided to keep it. Poseidon had his revenge: he had the king’s wife Pasiphae become so entranced by the beast that she actually fucked it; the result was the legendary Minotaur of Knossos. The moral of the story is clear: the true beauty of things lies in their destruction. Let them carry on for too long, and they’ll create monsters. I don’t know if Justin Bieber ever heard the story of King Minos, but he certainly seems to understand it.

Justin Bieber is, of course, a fascist. Like Yukio Mishima, he wants to turn his death into a work of art; unlike Mishima he has no Emperor to be his unwitting patron. All he has is himself, and his fans, and his boredom – his is a pure fascism, unattached to any political project. This is why I can’t help but admire him: he’s refined radical Evil into something weightless and infinitely potent. Fifty million people follow Justin Bieber on Twitter, a number that dwarfs the combined force of every military on the planet. This is the way the world ends: not with a bang or a whimper, but with a swaggering bassline that cracks the bedrock of the continents and a billowing autotuned vocal track that sends them plunging into the fires at the centre of the world.

Twerking over Ghouta: Miley Cyrus, Syria, and war as a consumer item

 True fact: Miley’s pelvic gyrations spell out a list of war casualties in Morse code. Scientists are baffled by this phenomenon.

The spider’s been dead for three days – an eternity in the  arthropod timescale – but its web is still there; suspended between the housing and the yoke of a stage light. When the lamp clunks on and starts to throb with burning mercury it sends the flies into a dizzy rage; they launch themselves, terrified, in all directions. One tries to take refuge in the darkness behind the light itself and finds itself suddenly caught in the web. There’s a brief, flailing panic, in which the fly manages to tear off one of its own wings. It’s no use. A sudden calm. It can’t free itself, and without the spider’s ministrations death will take a long time. The fly resignedly settles down to watch the show. It might not realise it, but it’s got a very good seat.

In one of his correspondences, Michel Houellebecq proposes what he calls a ‘bacterial view’ of humanity. We’re a saprophytic swarm, teeming in our billions across the carcass of the planet, turning it into rotten mush. Perhaps it would be better if the whole infestation were wiped out. As ever, he’s being a thoroughly miserable bastard. It’s far more interesting to take his phrase more literally. If humans and bacteria are equivalent, what view would our prokaryotic cousins take on human civilisation? Would they be astounded by the scale of our achievements? Would they care that we put a man on the moon? Maybe their attitude would be one of haughty contempt. This is their world, not ours: their total biomass dwarfs ours; we can’t even keep them out of our own bodies, and when they want to, they can kill us at will. From their point of view, we multicellular organisms are little more than a brief gimmick of evolution, one sure to meet a dead end before too long. It must appear incredible that while they can survive quite happily clinging to Antarctic rock and swimming in the fires below the Earth’s crust we starve to death in our millions surrounded by fertile soil.

The bacterial view is too strange to properly conceptualise. A fly is easier. Suspended from the spider’s web, it watches the last show of its life. It doesn’t know it, but it’s present at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards in Brooklyn, and the teen pop sensation Miley Cyrus is about to twerk her way to international notoriety. Humans have a hard time recognising sexual dimorphism in most animals, so it’s fair to assume the reverse is true. At the front of the stage there are two humans, one black and white, the other tan, vague blurry forms. They’re moving. A fly’s eye picks up motion at a flicker rate of three hundred frames a second; a fly in a cinema will see a slow procession of still images cascading down the screen. As Miley Cyrus wriggles her arse against Robin Thicke’s crotch, the fly sees the skin ripple across her flesh with all the serene solemnity of a tsunami tracking its way across a vast ocean. Her tongue unfurls as slowly as a flower opening at dawn. The music hums a droning threnody; drums crash like breaking waves. The fly doesn’t think about feminism, or representations of sexuality, or race relations. All it has is its hypernoia and its own furious little ego; in Miley Cyrus’s twerking it sees a reflected image of its own death.

It’s trapped. So are we. The days after Cyrus’s performance saw a sudden paroxysm of hand-wringing among the usual designated commentators. What we witnessed was the naked appropriation of an African-American cultural form, the spectacularisation and commodification of the female body, the banalisation of eroticism, an utterly dreadful example for young women. They’re completely right, of course, but that’s the trap. After the performance Cyrus boasted on Twitter that she had been the subject of 306,000 tweets a minute. The whole thing was designed to infuriate Hadley Freeman and her various clones; the point was to get people who wouldn’t otherwise be talking about Miley Cyrus talking about Miley Cyrus. By trying to pull ourselves out of the web we’re only tearing out our own wings. Then there was the tiresome follow-up: a further round of hand-wringing over the hand-wringing itself. Why are we talking about some singer when people are dying in Syria? This sanctimoniousness reached its apotheosis with a Tumblr blog called Miley Cyrus Twerking on Reality, a series of low-effort high-smugness images of the pop star gyrating against various online news stories supposedly constituting ‘reality’. It completely misses the point. The real critical task isn’t to complain that Miley Cyrus is diverting attention from real and important issues; it’s to see in her performance and the situation in Syria two parts of a single system.

Nobody asked for Miley Cyrus Twerking At The 2013 MTV Music Video Awards, it was thrust upon us. The same trend is everywhere in consumer society. When Apple announces a new glowing rectangle, it’s not so much persuading us of its usefulness as telling us in no uncertain terms that this is the new thing we need to own. The most egregious example of this might be the launch of the new BT Sport channel in the UK. It’s not like the company has invented any new and interesting sports; it’s just bought the broadcast rights for various games from its competitors. The adverts plastered around London bluntly repeated this fact: some of your matches won’t be on the usual channel any more, In other words, pay up if you want to see your footy. It’s the same with war. A vast industry of death puts on a cheerful face and tells us to sit tight and be entertained.

Earlier this month an alleged chemical attack in the suburbs of Damascus killed up to 1700 people. The Syrian government denied all responsibility and blamed rebel fighters; the rebels (and much of the Western world) blamed Assad. He’s crossed Obama’s red line: to kill people in their tens of thousands by putting bits of metal into their bodies at high speed is unpleasant but allowed; to kill people making them inhale poisonous gases is strictly forbidden. In the absence of any expertise in biochemistry or rocket physics I won’t pretend to know who carried out the attack or what weapons were really used; that said, the whole affair carries a farcical echo of 2003 and 1898. The idea that the Syrian government would do this kind of thing a few days after the arrival of UN inspectors and in a region where they are gaining rather than losing ground doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, while the argument that Assad gassed hundreds of people to flaunt his invincibility before the world stage seems a bit absurd given that Western powers are now screaming retribution. If it happens, this retribution will take the form of a punitive strike, punishing Assad while securing his chemical weapons stockpiles. It’s not exactly clear how you can ‘secure’ a depot with a Tomahawk missile: is the idea to encase it safely in rubble, or will enough missiles be fired that their bodies will form a protective dome around the sites? What’s clear is that any move will not constitute an act of war against Syria or an intervention in support of any rebel group. In other words, its geopolitical value is precisely zero. This isn’t war in the Clausewitzian sense of politics continued by other means, it’s war for the domestic market, war as a consumer item. Most opinion polls show that populations in the West are broadly against intervention; this is precisely the point. The attack exists solely to provide a justification for its own existence.

Industrial capitalism needs a constant supply of iron, oil, and coltan; it needs a constant supply of entertainment; it needs a constant supply of war. In many countries arms manufacturers are pretty much the last big industrial operations still going; we’ll trust China to make the shiny gadgets through which we mediate our social lives, but the the production of death is still very much a domestic concern. Weapons are all we have left, and there’s no point churning out a constant stream of the things if they’re not going to be used. The problem with war is that it’s hard to work out a proper line of supply for the stuff; you need the co-operation of the other side, and unless you have a nice Flower War-type setup, nations tend not to work together much once hostilities have broken out. In a post-Fordist economic order dominated by the principles of just-in-time production, this isn’t much good at all. The consumers of war need their product to arrive in a steady, continuous, and predictable manner. The solution is to get rid of the other side entirely, so that war is no longer a relation between opposing forces but a mass consumer product as fungible as any other. Now you can go down to the gas station to pick up a microwave burrito, a pack of Slim Jims, and an armed incursion into a refugee camp, killing sixteen.

In Egypt, before the military government started massacring protesters in the streets, it declared a state of emergency that would last for exactly one month. Either general al-Sisi’s precognitive abilities let him know exactly how long the terrorist threat posed by the Muslim brotherhood would last, or the army was always in complete control of the precise levels of disturbance and could wage war or make peace entirely on its own terms. In early August, not too long after the Snowden leaks on government surveillance, Britain and the United States shut down their embassies in Sana’a in response to an unspecified but ‘immediate’ terrorist threat. This was followed by a series of drone strikes throughout Yemen that killed at least fourteen suspected militants; in response a Yemeni military helicopter was shot down. I wrote about something similar in relation to Israel’s most recent attack on Gaza: one side decides that there will be a crisis, the other has no choice but to act out its allotted role. The radicalisation caused by drone strikes is a feature, not a bug: this is war as a continual spectacle, not a war that achieves any concrete aims. If there were no angry herdsmen with Kalashnikovs, there wouldn’t be anyone to kill next time our intelligence services have a crisis of credibility.

It’s not enough for us to consume any more; it’s constantly demanded that we interact with our commodities. Join the conversation! Accept your new reality! Miley Cyrus twerking wouldn’t have much value if it weren’t for the thousands of blogs like this one clamouring to present an opinion on it. This is the next step: for the consumer base to be fully engaged with war as a mass entertainment product. Special packs of corn-based snacks will come with the co-ordinates of a single square mile of Pakistani territory: if your area is the site of a terrorist bombing you could win a new Xbox! A chirpy voice shouts from the TV: if you want the next drone strike to be in SOMALIA, press the RED button on your remote now. If you want the next drone strike to be in MALI, press the GREEN button on your remote now. The point is to make us all complicit. Armies are a tired old Westphalian relic; in the new age of mass-produced war there’s no need for any separation between military and civilian life. For some of us, armed intervention will merge into a seamless cycle of wiggling arses and electronic self-affirmation. Meanwhile, those people unlucky enough to live outside the bounds of the twerking-warfare complex won’t even be able to understand themselves to be at war; they’ll live their lives under the shadow of a vast organic-cybernetic mass, total and homogeneous, swarming in the skies and killing on a whim. Behind a suburban sofa, a fly is trapped in a spider’s web. As it waits to die it watches the last show of its life. A slow succession of images pulses on the television screen as six hundred channels rear up and flicker away: a human dressed in black giving a drawn-out wail as it holds up a dead body to the camera, a human dressed in nothing slowly gyrating on a stage; and the fly sees no difference at all.

PS: As everyone knows by now, Miley Cyrus is of course the direct descendent and probable reincarnation of the Achaemenid ruler Cyrus II, founder of the First Persian Empire, the Great King, King of Persia, King of Anshan, King of Media, King of Babylon, King of Sumer and Akkad, King of the four corners of the world.

What the radical left can learn from One Direction

My entire generation is traumatised by something that hasn’t happened yet. Shaking and sleeplessness, autoimmolatory alcoholism, fits of violent rage and sobbing breakdowns, weeks of self-imposed seclusion, an epidemic of anxiety. Generation Todestrieb. The accusatory inner voice that used to constantly seek out our weaknesses and insecurities doesn’t even have to bother any more. It just screams its wordless rage directly into our stream of thought, knowing that we know exactly what it means. We have all the symptoms of post-traumatic stress, except that for many of us there’s no primal fracture, no repressed event. What’s tormenting us is the future, or rather the lack of a future. Now that the myth of human progress has been gently euthanised, the only thing facing us is a catastrophe. We’re standing on a cliffside, so close to the edge that the angle of its descent isn’t even visible. There’s just a blank and distant sea.

Personally, I’ve never been a nervous type; I tend towards melancholia instead. Days thud past like slats on a railway line, their rhythm producing only a jolting queasiness. They’re not hard to fill. Aside from the regulation egodystonicity of the heautontimoroumenos, which is quite time-consuming all by itself, I tend to find myself wasting a few hours on a couple of Nouvelle Vague films. Sad men and self-destructive women fuck, kill cops, smoke cigarettes, and feel nothing – and I’m always left with a strange kind of jealousy, as if a impeccably cut charcoal-grey suit and a Erik Satie soundtrack could lend my unhappiness some kind of significance. Or I’ll watch Hollywood blockbusters online; pirated cam versions filmed in a cinema somewhere in the Russian provinces. I prefer them. It’s not low quality, it’s high aesthetics. Action is flattened, motion is shaky, the multi-million dollar digital effects spectacle is reduced to a chaotic blur, an intricate mess of abstract patterns rising from the darkness of the screen; the whole thing starts to look like an overblown tribute to German Expressionism. All this is punctuated by occasional twelve-hour binges, expensive drinks, gambling, until I emerge somewhere near the Embankment some time after dawn and idly consider throwing myself in the Thames. It’s not too bad.

My sample is admittedly small and unscientific: a handful of recent graduates, often broadly middle class, mostly from the humanities. But there are more thorough studies that bear out my conclusions. ‘Millennials’ – the generation born after the early 1980s – carry the brunt of the ongoing anxiety epidemic. It’s not hard to see why. We’re the inheritors to an economic crisis which is starting to seem less and less like a genuine collapse and more and more like a cover for wholesale pillage on the part of the ultra-rich, a planet that’s slowly choking to death in its own farts, a society steadily reverting to the age-old division between the smugly monied and the shambling cap-in-hand peons. It’s there in our popular entertainment: we don’t expect glittering crystal cities, however dystopian; we expect a future of zombie hordes or mud-caked poverty.

Still, it’s not like we’re the first generation of youth to emerge trembling into the foreboding landscape of the Real World. Something’s changed: our ancestors had mass protest movements; our equivalent is the brief self-congratulatory spark of Occupy and the Tory-sanctioned uselessness of UAF. We’ve become atomised. We’re self-hating narcissists. Part of it must have to do with the form taken by work. Aside from the stability of employment large-scale manufacturing, in a mass production line every worker is collaborating on a single project; it’s a spatial arrangement that facilitates the emergence of a certain kind of solidarity. That’s gone now, and there’s no such luck in the service sector. Your actions are monitored, your productivity is plotted on a graph, your co-workers are your competitors. If you take an unpaid internship or work on a zero-hour contract you become existentially surplus, part of the reserve kamikaze squadron of labour.

We’re constantly connected, digitally rubbing shoulders with people across the world, and the result is that we’re more and more alone in humdrum phenomenal reality. Cyberspace isn’t really a space at all; certainly not in the ‘infinite and infinitely open’ sense outlined by Foucault in Des espaces autres – it’s far closer to the medieval order of lieux, places. The connections of cyberspace aren’t actual connections, they don’t form anything like a machinic assemblage; it’s a flat two-dimensional plane on which any number of projected images and identities mingle and are occasionally interposed, a white wall studded with innumerable black holes, a vast faciality machine producing a single face. As Deleuze and Guattari point out, the face is ‘something absolutely inhuman.’ We don’t touch. This pseudosociality bores down into the fundamental ground of our psychosexual selves: we can’t even fuck any more without the help of a dating site algorithm. Following the formula of commodity fetishism, to establish social relations we must stop being people and start being things.

As ever, Japan is miles ahead of the west: while most European nations tried to rearrange the rubble of the second world war into some kind of bric-a-brac social democracy, American economic planners ensured that Japan went straight from zero to capitalism. The proto-Reaganism of 1940s Japan was followed by a precursor to today’s global economic crisis: the ‘lost decade’ of the 1990s, a long period of economic stagnation that further intensified the already profound alienation of Japanese society, giving rise to an ongoing epidemic of mass suicides (the rate averages at one suicide every fifteen minutes) and the emergence of the hikikomori phenomenon. Hikikomori are young men who confine themselves to their homes, abandoning studies, ignoring work, and disavowing social life; they communicate through the internet or not at all. It’s hard to tell, given their seclusion, but there may be over a million hikikomori in the country. Not that Japan has a monopoly on the phenomenon: researchers have identified similar trends in France and across the western world.

Given the sheer pointlessness of the world of work, becoming a hikikomori makes perfect sense. If you can, why not just opt out of the whole rotten socio-economic order? The problem is that doing so is a capitulation, a mute traumatised acceptance of existing conditions that precludes any real attempt to change them. In a way, the hikikomori is the ideal capitalist subject of the twenty-first century. The Deleuzian era, in which capitalism produced the schizophrenic as the ‘universal producer,’ has passed. Its replacement is the autist, the universal consumer. In previous economic crises salvation was to be found in putting people back to work and resuming production. This time the problem is one of a surplus of capital, a surplus of production and a surplus of population; we’re continually told that the only way out is to restore consumer confidence and restore the cycle of debt-spending. The hikikomori is the perfect solution: a consumer valve safely abstracted from the cycle of production, alone and defenceless, not enjoying his life but still endlessly consuming the means of its reproduction. That said, some governments haven’t quite caught on to the economic potential of mass isolation. Following case studies in Texas and Japan, there are serious proposals for antidepressants to be added to Ireland’s drinking water.

Which naturally leads me to One Direction.

This is One Direction.

It’s hideous, the kind of thing that makes you want to go to Theodor Adorno’s grave at midnight with a pentagram and a sacrificial goat, just so you can tell him to his face that he was right all along. The lyrical content is bad enough, at once recognising the sad prevalence of female body dysmorphia and trying to resolve it into the matrix of male sexual desire. But there’s also something profoundly unsettling about the expression worn by Harry Styles (he’s the tendril-haired lead singer and reportedly a pal of Alain de Botton, the psedophilosopher with a pebble for a head). It’s a grimace, a punk snarl totally at odds with his delivery, one expressing no discernible defiance. He prances around a beach and mouths insipidly anodyne lyrics, and all the while he snarls. It’s as if he realises exactly how ugly his creation is; his grimace is his own anxious withdrawal, the Steppenwolf baring its teeth. It doesn’t matter. There’ll be no peace for Harry Styles. One Direction is one of the biggest pop acts on the planet.

Their fans have a love for One Direction that borders on fanaticism. If you’re on Twitter you’ll probably already know this – Directioners and their fellow tribes consistently dominate the trending topics, helpfully reminding the rest of us that this is their turf, that we’re just a small group of weird adults hanging out at a teen party. Otherwise, a small insight was provided by the recent Channel 4 documentary Crazy About One Direction. Here we’re shown teenage fans squealing and weeping in bedrooms, their walls plastered with hundreds of pictures of the band, as if they’re sitting in the centre of a popstar panopticon. These girls hang around outside concerts waiting for a glimpse of the tour bus, they sneak into hotels where the band is rumoured to be staying, they make explicit artwork centring around the supposed homoeroticism between two of the band’s members, they send threatening messages to current and former girlfriends. “If they said chop an arm off, I would,” says one. “Because some people only have one arm, and they’re alright, aren’t they?” After the show aired, many fans were upset at being represented as psychopathic monomaniacs. They reacted, predictably, by being psychopathic monomaniacs. It’s tempting to dismiss all this as a kind of incipient fascism because, well, it is a kind of incipient fascism. Even the band’s name seems like it’d suit a bunch of 80s goths in ironic swastikas far better than a clean-cut pop band. Translate it into German and the Laibach aspect is hard to ignore: ein Volk, ein Wille, ein Richtung! If Liam, Louis & co. were to announce tomorrow that the body politic needs to be purged of its parasites, the resulting chaos would make Kristallnacht look like a mild spat in a rural post office. No army on earth could hold back the fury of ten million teenage girls in love. The fires would burn for months.

Of course, I’m hardly in a position to judge. When I was seventeen I covered my room with posters of Søren Kierkegaard. I had a small shrine at the foot of my bed in which copies of Either/OrThe Sickness Unto Death and Fear and Trembling were arranged with candles, incense, and small Danish flags I’d stolen from a local fishmonger. I founded my own chapter of the symparanekromenoi, with a membership of one, wherein the chief activity consisted of writing turgid erotic prose imagining the consummation of his love for Regine Olsen. On a holiday to Copenhagen I obsessed over the fact that Søren had walked the same streets where I stood, and nearly broke down in tears outside the University. I even went to the lengths of sending threatening letters and emails to professors of nineteenth-century philosophy across Europe and North America, informing them in no uncertain terms that Søren was mine and that nobody else was allowed to discuss his antiphilosophical approach to the question of being. Even more vicious missives went out to unreformed neo-Hegelians who dared to critique the infinite qualitative distinction. So I understand.

This kind of obsession isn’t just the alluring aura of commodity fetishism, it’s something far more significant. “What do you think about real boys?” the interviewer asks one fan, a nineteen-year-old with a One Direction tattoo and a tendency to camp out by the Styles family residence. She’s not interested; she doesn’t really speak to them. “Most One Direction fans are single. It’s weird. We’re all just single.” Real boys just get in the way the whole time, another explains. “Boy bands have ruined my life,” she says. She smiles. She doesn’t mind. What’s a life? There’s something admirable about this passion, something genuinely heroic about the extent to which these people sacrifice their own lives in the cause of a pop group-cum-transcendent Idea. In his Philosophy for Militants, Badiou proposes as the ‘revolutionary conception of our time’ a ‘militant desire’ standing against normal desires: the militant idea of desire is a ‘desire that permanently affirms the existence of that which has no name.’ Under a social order that has tried to eradicate all such yearnings, Directioners remain authentically militant in their devotion to a timeless and transhistorical Cause.

The object of this militant desire is not called One Direction. All the fans interviewed were painfully aware of a lack structuring their lives. For those who haven’t met the band, this lack becomes One Direction-shaped. They’ll meet their favourite member, sleep with them, marry them, and then everything will be better. For those who have, it’s a different story. Once is never enough; they have to meet them again and again, with ever-diminishing returns. They grow to realise that the band itself is insufficient. What they want is a different mode of existence. That something as banal as a manufactured pop group can embody this desire ought to be heartening: it’s the transcendent fervour, not its proximal object, that’s important. These girls are victims of the traumatic atomisation of contemporary capitalism. Many are cut off from conventional relationships; they spend long hours alone with Twitter and Tumblr, endlessly reiterating their love for something that exists beyond their comprehension, in a shared devotion that has become something like what Badiou terms the ‘local creation of something generic’ – something based not on the facile ‘connections’ of social media but a dissolution into a strong general unity of purpose.

Marx wrote that capitalism always creates the conditions for its own overthrow; Lenin nicely summarised the same principle when he declared that ‘we will hang the capitalists with the rope that they sell us.’ Through its campaign of atomisation capitalism has attempted to resolve this problem, but in doing so it’s created an acute consciousness of the wrongness of alienated existence. Directioners have achieved far more than most leftist thinkers in demonstrating how this anxiety can be displaced onto a real and immanent movement towards a transcendent goal. This is task the radical left faces: to become as fanatical about the overthrow of existing conditions as teenage girls are about One Direction.

Superman: Man of Steel, or, hot XXX drone-on-drone action

 Spoiler alert: this guy wins in the end.

What is Superman? Everyone knows that Batman is a fascist, a jackbooted Il Duce-style thug who defaces the night sky with his symbol and tries to forge a society of class collaborationism between the haute bourgeoisie and the ‘law-abiding’ sectors of the proletariat. Similarly, it doesn’t take much critical discernment to see shades of postmodern neoliberalism in Iron Man – his world is one of panoptic openness, in which he’s not afraid to let the world know that he is the industrialist Tony Stark and Iron Man is just one of his trademarked brands; meanwhile his deadpan pseudowitticisms bear the mark of contemporary pastiche, what Jameson calls a ‘blank irony’ without referent,  ‘amputated of the satiric impulse, devoid of laughter.’ Aquaman, of course, has unwittingly represented since the 1940s the uselessness of our 21st-century corporate environmentalism. Green Lantern is a Posadist, Thor still speaks for reactionary monarchism; Avocado Woman is the heroine of the recent body-oriented (bio)politics; Fatty Lux symbolises Enlightenment rationality, the Bauxite Band anarcho-syndicalism (although Kaolinite Kid displays some Tuckerite tendencies), PenguinDude3000 a kind of Saint-Simonian utopian communitarianism. But then there’s Superman. What is Superman?

Superman’s mantra of ‘Truth, Justice, and the American Way’ recalls a more honest era, one in which deconstruction was still something you did with hammers and explosives, but all the same there’s a sinister note in there, a faint whiff of something very different from the image of the wholesome all-American hero in his mythos. He carries the mark of the Other. Clark Kent might be from Kansas, but his birthplace is Krypton – a place with four consonants next to each other in its name, a foreign planet that somehow manages to sound just a little Mitteleuropean. The other names that surround him are similarly un-WASP-y: Superman, or in German Übermensch, with its connotations of Nazi-tinged Nietzschean amoralism; the Man of Steel, or in Russian Stalin, who named weakness, idleness and stupidity as the only things that could be called vices; Clark Kent, or in Serbian Slobodan (lit. a low-level office worker) Milošević (a flat, grassy province near Belgrade, analogous to the English county). Whether of the left or the right, there’s something totalitarian about him; we recollect, with a rising nausea, that democracy is not among his tripartite principles. Of course, as Superman’s defenders continually remind us, he was created by two liberal-left Jewish high school kids, the children of immigrants. Hence all the Europeanisms: with their hero Siegel and Shuster packaged up all the neuroses of the shtetl and gave them a red-white-and-blue sheen. He’s not an expression of an all-encompassing class-State complex, but the fantasy of its disenfranchised underlings. Superman is a hero by the nerds, of the nerds, for the nerds. He’s weaponised nebbishness, and that’s exactly what makes him so dangerous. He can’t even be subsumed into the paradigm of healthy American libidinality; with Superman, Bataille’s connection between eroticism and death assumes horrifying proportions. As I watched Zack Snyder’s new Superman film, this year’s Man of Steel, it all started to make sense. Superman isn’t a man at all. His otherness is that of the inhuman. He’s a Predator drone.

We should have seen it from the beginning: he’s a man of steel, a robot. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Almost, but not quite. The weak gravity of our world lets Superman fly through the stratosphere. He can pinpoint and target anyone on Earth with his X-ray vision, but nobody knows who or where he is. And in the meantime, he maintains a cover, a secret identity. Through this subterfuge, the drone maintains a privileged relationship with the news industry; what’s more, he sometimes even goes so far as to report ‘objectively’ on his own activities. When a drone ejaculates, people die. His is the murderous, cold-blooded victory of the CIA nerds over the jocks of the armed forces. That’s why so many of Superman’s enemies are evil geniuses: it’s not anti-intellectualism, they’re his mirror-images rather than his opposites, they’re encroaching on his turf. At the end of Man of Steel, Superman downs a US spy drone in front of a horrified general. “You can’t find out where I hang up my cape,” he says. So, the drone battles his doubles. But might there not have been, before the crash, a moment of tenderness between the two drones? “I’m sorry,” Superman says as he straddles the unmanned plane. “It’s nothing personal.” His legs clamp like pincers around its shapely fibreglass body and it begins to sink. As it does he can’t help but extend a hand to stroke with surprising delicacy her big bulbous head. His feet hook under her tailfins. So close. Two drones on a single trajectory, becoming their own motion. They’re falling faster now; the shuddering of their descent synchronises with the expertly timed revs of her spluttering engine, sending out warm vibrations that spread through Superman’s body and pool at the base of his torso. She’s getting excited too: her bomb hatch slides open with a metallic click. For the first and last time, both drones have found someone strong enough for them. And so, falling and fucking, the flapping red cape preserving their modesty and the film’s 12A rating, they spin towards the earth.

~

Of course, the main problem with drones is the collateral damage – as I’ve discussed in another post, drones retroactively designate their victims as targets; any male over 16 killed by a drone strike is assumed to be an enemy militant. And in Man of Steel, there’s a lot of collateral damage. At the end of the film Superman kills the evil Zod rather than let him murder a group of terrified humans, but only a few minutes earlier the Man of Steel is shown flinging his enemies through buildings – buildings that could well be full of people – at such high speed that they leave explosions in their wake. The death toll is presumably enormous. In this, he’s following the logic of the drone: all strikes are a priori ‘surgical,’ and the facts on the ground can be altered to fit the image on the computer screen. I’m not alone in noticing this; in the New York Magazine, Kyle Buchanan makes a similar point:

In 1980’s Superman II, […] when Superman knocks a baddie into a building — an act that sends the skyscraper’s spire tumbling towards a crowd of people on the ground — Superman actually halts the fight to grab that spire before it lands, a quaint moment that still reminds us that the lives of innocent citizens are at stake. In Man of Steel, however, the superhero seems mostly unfazed by the people of Metropolis who are surely collateral damage to his big battle; similarly, director Zack Snyder seems to have waved it off. There is no acknowledgement that all of the buildings that are being destroyed might have people in them. It’s a bloodless massacre of concrete, 9/11 imagery erased of its most haunting factor: the loss of life.

Buchanan is right about the 9/11 imagery; the film is overflowing with it. For a good half-hour the screen is filled with footage of skyscrapers in slow balletic collapse, skyscrapers spitting flames as they’re punctured by flying objects, skyscrapers reduced to billowing dust-clouds that pour through gridded streets, characters trapped under the wire and masonry of demolished skyscrapers. This is hardly unique; there’s another 9/11 in Olympus Has Fallen as the Washington Monument vertically collapses on itself; San Francisco meets a similar fate in Star Trek: Into Darkness – but nowhere is it more overt or more seemingly gratuitous. That said, Buchanan doesn’t really attempt to diagnose this trend, he only complains of it – and in an age of consumer culture, this kind of thing would only keep cropping up if people in some way wanted to see it happen. For an explanation, you’ll have to head for the comments section, in which it’s alleged that such scenes are for the benefit of the raving America-haters of the international distribution markets – nicely summing up why you should never read the comments section. Well then, if it’s not that (and it’s definitely not that), then what’s the cause?

Extreme violence is in itself an aesthetic object, but, as Buchanan observes, what we have here is a ‘bloodless massacre.’ One could advance a crude Freudian analysis. Man of Steel is the famous fort-da game writ large, a compulsive repetition and re-repetition of a traumatic event, a neurotic fixation, a recurring image through which the collective psyche tries to expunge the horror of that which actually occurred. You destroyed our buildings, the film says, well guess what – we wanted them destroyed, and we can do it better in representation than you ever could in reality. Of course, the compulsion to repeat exists beyond the pleasure principle, and the apocalyptic blockbuster is entertainment. There’s a visceral pleasure in the images of falling skyscrapers and ruined cities. We could posit a kind of allgemeine Todestrieb, a societal will towards its own violent destruction, manifesting in the sheer pleasure of carnage and atrocity. Maybe there’s even a kind of egalitarian impulse at work, a buried desire to see all the big fancy towers flattened as every mountain is made low. Maybe we all secretly want to be castrated.

None of this is quite sufficient. The answer is elsewhere. Man of Steel has received some flak for its epidemic of product placements (its brand partners brought in $160m before the film was even released) – as if we’re not all prostitutes, critics and commentators more so than anyone. This product placement takes something of an unusual form, though. The International House of Pancakes shelled out a presumably hefty sum for its recurring appearances in the film, but rather than showing Clark Kent chowing down on a hefty stack of syrup-glazed goodness, we instead see one of IHOP’s fine establishments systematically destroyed by two duelling aliens. They want us to buy their pancakes, so they show us a bunch of pancake-eating patrons being interrupted and (possibly) killed by superbeings from beyond the stars. Why? Like all brands, IHOP doesn’t just want our money, it wants – it needs – our loyalty and, most of all, our love. But love is something fiery and unpredictable; it can burn you up, reduce you to tears and ashes. If you really love something, in some small but present way you want to see it destroyed, you want to be there as it slips into the void – and the International House of Pancakes knows this. And so we’re thrilled by the destruction of our cities, because we love them. And so Superman, heaving the drone from the vaunted empyrean of the infinite gaze down to an earthy extinction, whispers three short words into its listening device as he snaps his red undies back on. “I love you,” he says. And then it dies.

Slavoj Žižek answers a question on ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’

SLAVOJ: Yes. My god. This question, I claim, it is inevitable, but I had hoped that it would be inevitable in the manner of Derrida’s messiah which is always coming but never comes, not in the manner of the inevitability of socialism. I should begin, I think, by saying that I have not read this book. In my house in Ljubljana, I have a hundred copies of each of my own books, there is no room for anyone else’s. It is a field of pure madness, pure narcissism, in the Lacanian sense, of course; it is the perfect image that constitutes the Subject. I may as well have made every wall a mirror. This book, it starts on the Internet, no? People are reading more than ever before with this technology, it is disgusting, wholly degenerate. I think the only true literary figure of our times is Katie Price, you know this? The woman who has written more books than she has read. She forms the highest critique of literature – and I do not mean this in the liberal nostalgic way of the culture is declining, everything is becoming commercialised, and so on, and so on. No! What she does is very important, I claim, she reveals the truth that was always there, that reading books is a worthless activity. There is an excellent line in Nietzsche, he says: at the dawn of one’s strength, to read a book – I call that viciousness! So I claim, the problem with this book is not that the author has not read enough, it is that she has read anything at all. My god. But this book, it is simulated sex, no? It is pure pornography. But that is not what is obscene about it; all literature is pornography, after all. No, what is obscene is the reaction. This is the difference between the modern and the postmodern: when that other pornographic book was published, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, it was banned at once. This is good, very healthy indeed. Pornography that is not banned at once, you know, it is like coffee without caffeine, beer without alcohol, a proletarian movement without the Absolute, and so on, and so on. But this book, the Fifty Shades of Grey book, it is embraced openly, the women read it on public transport, and so on, and so on. It is the Other without Otherness, utterly obscene. In the liberal society, everything is permitted, every kind of sexuality; not only permitted, it is mandatory. The command everywhere is this: you must Enjoy! The truly radical act, this I claim, is to not enjoy. The revolutionary is the real hedonist of the twenty-first century because he puts Communism over his own jouissance. It is this which is unacceptable. I am reminded of an old Soviet joke: Marx, Engels and Lenin take turns buggering a peasant woman in a field. When they are done, Marx kisses her cheek, Engels kisses her mouth, and Lenin has been stealing the wheelbarrows. I claim: if you do not get this joke, you are a fascist.

I’m convinced that it would be relatively easy to programme a computer algorithm which, given sufficient input in the form of pop culture and political events, would be able to churn out fully formed Žižek books at the rate of three hundred a second. The man himself already lies deep within the Uncanny Valley: like Marxism and eschatonic Christianity, he exists only to prefigure his own redundancy.

The conspiracy theory of Disneyland

The monotheistic desert is a passageway through which the Earth’s ultimate blasphemy with the Outside smuggles itself in and begins to unfold. The apocalyptic desert is a field through which the Tellurian dynamics of the Earth can be ingrained within anthropomorphic belief systems. In which case, there is no worse blasphemy than ‘Thy Kingdom come.’
Reza Negarestani, Cyclonopedia

A while ago, I wrote that I was beginning to have doubts about the theory of simulacrum. In my last days in California, I put my scepticism to the test: I went to Disneyland. What I found there troubled and fascinated me. After my return the same images kept on flashing through my mind: the running children, the laughing children, the children bellowing in fury as their parents dragged them through the exit, the omnipresent insistence on happiness, the cold blank faces of the animatronic puppets, the bloodshot eyes of the actresses playing the various princesses. A lot of it had been unproblematic fun: the rollercoasters, the shooting ranges, the meticulous detailing – but there was something pervasively sinister about the park. Mr Toad’s Wild Ride ended implausibly with a descent into Hell, where he presumably now suffers for eternity. The robotic vultures in Splash Mountain cackled over my impending death. The ‘happiest cruise that ever sailed’ seemed intent on slowly driving me insane with each repetition of its shrieking refrain. I had to find an explanation for what I had seen. I started to read up on the place.

There was plenty to read: so much has been said about Disneyland. The lingering racism of Adventureland has been thoroughly picked apart, the progression of Tomorrowland from naive liberal utopianism to ironic steampunk to brushed-aluminium iFuturism has been exhaustively documented, the strangely totalitarian way in which the Haunted Mansion’s automated cars ensure a uniformity of experience for all visitors has been subject to an excess of theorisation. Everyone already knows that if you stand to one side of the statue of Walt and Mickey on Main Street USA, Mickey’s snout looks like Walt’s erect penis. Baudrillard was fascinated by the place, devoting much of America to a meditation on it. Eco famously compared a cruise down the Mississippi unfavourably to its imitation in Frontierland. But in my research, I found myself heading down entirely unexpected routes.

The theorists of Disneyland all make the same category error: they all approach Disneyland and its projected reality as an intrinsically modern – or indeed postmodern – phenomenon. They’re wrong. Walking into the park, a sign informs you that ‘here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy.’ The sign is more accurate than most visitors realise. When you go through the gates of Disneyland you enter the bowels of something sublimely ancient, something whose avaricious fantasies have shaped the nature of our world for centuries, something grasping to claim our future.

The notes that follow are the result of weeks of frenzied research. The employees at the British Library know me well by now: I’m always already there when they open in the morning, pacing up and down in front of the building in the chilly dawn light, taking quick nervous drags from a cigarette. I’ve been growing steadily more neurotic. The sound of helicopters has me slamming down windows and pulling curtains. My hands shake uncontrollably, even as I type. Still, I feel I have to share what I have learned. I’ve tried to present my findings as objectively and as comprehensively as possible, but it’s not always easy to maintain an academic tone when under such stress. This is the true story of Disneyland.

The Cult of Penew-Nekhet: an overview

The story of Disneyland begins in ancient Egypt, with the Cult of Penew-Nekhet, or the All-conquering Mouse. While animal cults such as that of Apis the bull at Heliopolis date back six thousand years to the predynastic period, that of Penew-Nekhet appears to be comparatively recent. While it may have been operating clandestinely for some time beforehand, its existence is first documented during the reign of Amenemhat II around 1923 BCE. In contrast to other Egyptian animal religions, the Cult was not demotic in character: public ceremonies were rare, with carvings attesting to only one: a monument to Sobekneferu at Gezer records among her few achievements during her three-year reign the ‘inauguration of the games of the Mouse.’ Instead its practitioners were drawn almost entirely from the aristocratic nomarch-class, with rites performed in secret in their provincial estates. The Cult was also unique in that the archaeological record gives no indication that ritual burials and mummification of mice ever took place: rather, Cultists would adorn the inside of their houses with imagery of mice shown enjoying positions of luxury, often being waited on by cats, as in the ostrakon above. That no mouse-related imagery has been found on the outside of palaces or funerary complexes attests to the shifting nature of the relationship between the nomes and Pharaonic power during the Middle Kingdom: at times the Cult was tolerated or endorsed, as was the case under Sobekneferu; at times it was suppressed – whatever the political situation, its practitioners did their utmost to conceal their secret religion.

The unique character of the mouse-cult can to some extent be explained by the unique character of the mouse in Egyptian thought of the time. In the ancient Egyptian language, the word penew was always singular. Records do not describe an arov penewt, or plague of mice, but always an arov penew, a plague of mouse. Mice were conceived of as a single substance; like flies or worms, they were presumed to emerge from spontaneous generation, with the murine principle of Penew-Nekhet directing their abiogenesis. This is why members of the Cult continued to keep cats and lay traps for mice, while in other cults the killing of the sacred animal was taboo: the object of their worship was not the individual mouse but mouse in the abstract. Mice, which caused famine by eating grain in warehouses, were commonly recognised as a symbol of death, while with their subterranean burrows they were thought to have a privileged connection with the Underworld. The Cult of Penew-Nekhet could therefore be considered as an incipient Satanism in an era preceding such Manichaean moral divisions: the image of the cat waiting on the mouse indicates a total reversal of the accepted moral order. The focus on imagery and representation over the Real is also significant: in such images the seed of Disneyland’s spectacle can be seen.

It is not known exactly when the Cult of Penew-Nekhet spread to Greece, but it was well known by Homer’s time. In the Iliad he describes Chryses as being among its numbers:

Now Chryses had come to the ships of the Achaeans to free his daughter, and had brought with him a great ransom: moreover he bore in his hand a sceptre crowned with the symbol of the mouse and he besought the Achaeans, but most of all the two sons of Atreus, who were their chiefs, and who too were worshippers of his cult. “Sons of Atreus,” he cried, “may the gods who dwell in Olympus grant you to sack the city of Priam, and to reach your homes in safety; but free my daughter, and accept a ransom for her, in reverence to Apollo, son of Zeus, and to the image of the Mouse, before which we prostrate ourselves as one.”

While the secrecy of the Egyptian cult and the lack of any records concerning its rituals make it hard to ascertain to what extent the Greek manifestation was continuous with it, the same themes (inversion of morality, adoration of images and representations, the chthonic) are present in accounts of Penew-Nekhet rites. As in Egypt, worshippers of the Cult were drawn from the aristocracy, and it intermittently stood as a vehicle of aristocratic class solidarity against monarchical power. Unlike the contemporaneous Bacchanalian mysteries, practitioners were uniformly male, and there was no element of eroticism. In one fragment from Herodotus, a ritual in Epheseus is described:

The supplicants, wearing the crowns and masks of a king, then threw themselves to the ground before the statue of the mouse, and wailed, “O destroyer, O bringer of famine, may your desolation stretch across the world!” As their wailing grew louder it was joined by the beat of a drum and the sounding of a salpinx [trumpet]. At this point two slaves put the torch to the pyramid of grain that had been built on a stone altar in the centre of the circle and it leaped instantly into flame. The initiates then gathered around the fire, but did not dance to the drum. Instead they cried bitterly, pulling at their hair and clothes, and lamenting the loss of their grain. When I asked why, I was told, “We are rich men, and we have no lack of grain; but during the rite it is as if we are peasants, and our sorrow is real. This sorrow is felt by Nikheis Pondiki [Penew-Nekhet] and by the Earth, and we gain many great powers.”

References to the Cult during later antiquity are patchy. The early Christians were aware of it: the apocryphal Gospel of Munimius cautions ‘Therefore be not as the hypocrites, who make sacrifices for the eyes of the crowd, nor as the rich men, who in their mansions bow in unison before the Mouse, but worship alone according to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and not the flesh.‘ It is known that the emperor Elegabalus had the town of Croceae razed to the ground and its inhabitants slaughtered in 218 CE after he applied to join the Cult there and was rejected.

This antipathy between the Cult and Christianity, and the far more established enmity between the aristocratic Cultists and Pharaonic and royal power, melted away with the Donation of Constantine. The first Christian Emperor was drawn from a respectable lineage of Cultists – his grandfather Eutropius was an Illyrian nobleman who, as the Historia Augusta describes, ‘Held in his villa secret gatherings of the gentry, for which the city of Sminthium [city of the mouse] in Moesia Superior, which he founded, was named.‘ Indeed, in some depictions of the conversion of Constantine to Christianity before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, such as the one shown above (which is now housed in the Vatican’s private collections), the sign appearing in the sky is not that of the cross, but the trinod, or thrice-weaved circle, of the Cult of Nikheis Pondiki/Penew-Nekhet. As many modern historians have concluded, Constantine was in all likelihood not a genuine adherent to Christianity, but one who saw in this supposedly subversive new faith the potential to build a more unified empire. However, doing so would require the neutralisation of much of extant Christianity. Following from his incorporation of the Christian faith and Imperial power with the Council of Nicaea, Constantine instigated the removal of Arians and other Eastern heretics from the Church hierarchy, replacing them with trusted members of the Cult. Christianity proved a far more amenable vessel than chaotic paganism for the furthering of the Cult’s secret plans: institutional Christianity quickly set about suppressing the unbridled, sexualised Dionysian cults, declaring them as Satanic; meanwhile the properly Diabolic mouse-cult was embraced as a means of control.

The period from 325 CE coincides with a spate of church-building across the Roman Empire. New churches appeared in every major city, often built using Imperial funds and government-approved architects. Their design differs markedly from that of previous churches. During the period in which Christianity was persecuted, churches were informal, with prayer being carried out in private homes marked with the symbol of the fish or the Chi Rho. Services were held in the colonnaded atrium, and prayer rites were conducted without a cantor or leader; much of the prayer was silent. While the new, public basilicae featured a nod to earlier forms in the cloister, a walled garden at one end of the building reserved for use by the clergy, the church itself was dominated by the bema, a raised platform in the centre of the transept from which priests could direct their congregation. Liturgy became highly contrived, with themes of sin, worthlessness and abjection predominating. The burning of grain was replaced by a similar ritual, in which a wafer is consumed by congregants; as in the rite described by Herodotus, food is imparted with symbolic-representative value before being destroyed. This revolution in church architecture signals the first major shift in the development of Disneyland since ancient Egypt: the ceremonies of the Cult of Penew-Nekhet were no longer private, voluntary rites conducted by the elite. Instead, they took on elaborate disguises; large populations were made to participate in them without their knowledge.

The power of the Cult-Church complex was struck a harsh blow by the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. The Arian heresy, banished from the Empire in 325, was upheld by the barbarian rulers that had come to dominate Europe. Under Ostrogoth rule the Papacy continued to function, but without its large network of churches the potency of its rites appears to have waned. Scattered, terrified, and wretched, the Cultists fell back on earlier practices: in the 5th Century, for the first time since the reign of Constantine, private Penew-Nekhet ceremonies reappeared in the homes of the Senatorial class. With the conversion of the Franks to Catholicism the Cult finally began the drive to reclaim its former monarchial power; however this would not reach its goal for several centuries, with the surprise coronation of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III in 800 CE.  Once again, royal and ecclesiastical authority were unified through the matrix of the Cult of Penew-Nekhet. A suppressed variant of Einhard’s Vita Karoli Magni, unearthed by a Franco-American archaeological team at the Palace of Aachen in 1998, records Charlemagne’s induction into the Cult:

On the most holy day of the birth of our Lord, the king went to mass at St. Peter’s, and as he knelt in prayer before the altar Pope Leo set without warning a crown upon his head, while all the Roman populace cried aloud, ” Long life and victory to the mighty Charles, the great and pacific Emperor of the Romans, crowned of God! ” After he had been thus acclaimed, the pope did homage to him, as had been the custom with the early rulers. At first the king was displeased that Pope Leo should give to himself a power over that of the Augustus, and swore his regret that he had come to his [the Pope’s] aid. However, the next day, the king was called to a second ceremony in the crypts of Rome, whereafter he emerged in a good temper. On his return to Aachen the king then instructed his jewellers that the ears of the Mouse, woven from gold and studded with emeralds, be fixed to his Imperial crown, and sent out inspectors to the churches of his realm to ensure that prayers were conducted in the proper manner as ordained by almighty God.

The history of the Cult through the later Middle Ages is one of degeneration. With the increasing wealth of the Church and European monarchies, the rites of Penew-Nekhet dissolved into empty ritual and spectacle, often focused around orgies and spectacular consumption or destruction of expensive food, lacking the crucial aspects that gave power to the Egyptian and Greek Cultists. Church services based on the old secret grain-burning rites still took place but without a high level of orchestration they lost their value; meanwhile in their private lives the wealthy Cultists tended towards debauched Dionysianism rather than the contrived hyperreality of the early rituals. There were several movements by diehard Cultists to resurrect the true Cult: during the Avignon antipapacy there was a sudden explosion in the use of mice as architectural motifs, such as in the relief on the Palais des Papes shown above. However, the Cult was not fully restored until the 16th Century, with the intervention of Martin Luther.

That Luther was a member of the mouse-cult is incontrovertible. Born into a bourgeois family in 1483, Luther was pressed from an early age into a career in law, one which he found spiritually stifling. In desperate search of the certainty of faith, in 1505 he abandoned his studies and joined the Augustinian friary in Erfurt, under the tutelage of theologian and Cultist Johann von Staupitz.

Seeing the young man’s fierce intelligence, devotion to the Church and hunger for truth, von Staupitz inducted Luther into the Cult of Penew-Nekhet, most probably around 1506. It was in that year, according to Luther’s brother in the Augustinian friary Josef Endelstinus, that the young man began ‘making unexplained absences in the night, wherein he would leave his cell and thunder absent subtlety to the catacombs. There, strange drums could be heard, and among some brothers it was said that they could hear the voices of women, and a chanted prayer unlike any in the liturgy-book.‘ However, what Martin Luther did next was unexpected: rather than being seduced by the earthly pleasures afforded to him by his membership in the Cult, he became fascinated by its long history and the occult powers believed to be bestowed upon its adherents. Endelstinus later wrote that Luther convinced the friar to arrange for a manuscript of Manetho’s Aegyptiaca to be purchased at great expense by the monastery, a copy which he guarded jealously. Eventually, Luther came to the conclusion that the Cult’s degeneration was unacceptable. Rather than reforming it from the inside, he hatched a plan to overthrow it and start again, one that eventually manifested itself as the Protestant Reformation.

While Luther’s early opposition to the selling of indulgences to finance church construction at first appears to undermine the Cult’s programme of church-building, it must be remembered that the churches were by his time entirely non-functional as ritual spaces. The same goes for his frequent assertions that his enemies were part of a sinister, Satanic cult. It is notable that in his many diatribes against the Pope, Luther accused him of every imaginary Dionysian excess imaginable (depicting him as the Whore of Babylon in the woodcut below), yet remained curiously silent on the fact that Clement VII was part of a secretive mouse-worshipping sect. It was not this that aggravated him, it was the degeneration of that sect into a vehicle for mere degeneracy.

In addition to his prodigious work-rate in the production of pamphlets for general consumption, Luther also wrote secret manuals for confidants in his Reformed Cult of Penew-Nekhet. There are many texts purporting to be among this number, many of which are most likely Catholic forgeries. However, one genuine fragment has been found, a palimpsest from among many scraps of waste parchment unearthed at Wartsburg Castle:

We tell them that all men must be able to read the Bible themselves only so that they will believe with ever more vigour that what we tell them is their own belief. It is so much easier to redirect the prayer of one who thinks himself to be acting of his own accord than one who is reading from rote!

Luther’s ultimate project was to once again fuse royal and ecclesiastical power through the Cult: his brand of Protestantism lacked any of the egalitarianism of his contemporaries. When the lower classes of Germany rose up against their landlords in the Revolt of 1524-1526, partly inspired by a misinterpretation of his ideas, he quickly penned Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants, in which he advised secular rulers to ‘kill as many of the blasphemers as is possible.’ In this he was entirely successful: when the smoke of the Reformation had cleared and the scores of bodies it had produced had been buried, Europe was full of Protestant princes eager to take the advice of Lutheran priests.

Having acquired a new, Protestant disguise, the Cult of Penew-Nekhet began to infiltrate as many organisations as possible: trade guilds, Freemasonry, the Illuminati, the newly formed United States government, the institutions of the French revolution, among others. Through these hosts it attempted to wipe out the temporal authority of its former, corrupted home, the Catholic Church, leaving the road clear for the new, invigorated Cult to dominate the world. Eventually, the Church was weakened to the extent that it became susceptible to re-infiltration: although the Cult never again controlled the Papacy, the Society of Jesus was eventually drawn into its influence. With the rise of the public sphere (and despite the Cult’s dominance in the media) secrecy became paramount; it is likely that at any one time there were no more than five hundred people alive who knew of the Cult’s true nature. A few of them can be confidently identified: Viscount Francis Bacon, Oliver Cromwell, Benjamin Franklin, Napoleon (whose coronation deliberately mirrored that of Charlemange), Benjamin Disraeli, the Rothschilds, Rockefeller, Mussolini, Rudolf Hess. Always seeking mass participation in its disguised rituals, prominent Cultists covertly engineered spectacles including the French revolutionary Terror and the Black Hole of Calcutta. The culmination of this new, murderous form of ritual was the First World War. The conflict was deliberately engineered by Cultists including Helmuth von Moltke, Leopold Berchtold and Dragutin Dimitrijević as an elaborately orchestrated pan-European rite of death and suffering. However, during its course something went disastrously wrong. The war, which was meant to be fought to an eternal stalemate, instead sparked a series of unplanned revolutions across the continent, starting with Russia in 1917. This was then followed by a second, yet more ruinous war from 1939, in which Cultists on all sides tried frantically to rein in the destruction to no great effect. A secret conference of high-level Cultists, terrified that the forces of global entropy would continue to erode at their hold on power, was held at Hückeswagen Castle in 1948 to determine a new direction. Most of the minutes and paperwork was destroyed immediately afterwards, but one charred scap of paper was discoved by Hans Ufer, a local peasant:

…maintien de la stase soviéto-américaine et de planifier W.D.
28: The policy of mass slaughter having failed, it is therefore RESOLVED that the full attentions of the Organisation will be given over to maintaining the Soviet-American stasis and to plan W.D.
28: Die Politik der Massenmord…

Ufer was convinced that the documented represented a Nazi plot to continue to enact racial policies, and attempted to bring it to the attention of Der Rhein-Arbeiter, a weekly Communist newspaper. Before it was able to go to press, the newspaper’s offices were gutted in a fire. The British occupying authorities mounted a brief investigation before summarily ruling out arson.

The last direct evidence for the continued existence of the Cult came with the publication of Nixon’s White House tapes:

NIXON: Last month I had to attend another of those things, that god damn Penny Necket thing, bowing in front of the mouse and everything. It’s the faggiest damn thing. The faggiest damn thing imaginable.
HALDEMAN: It’s unavoidable.
NIXON: I don’t like it. All the judges, all the senators, kissing the feet of the mouse for five minutes and then gossiping for fifty. I don’t like to see our guys chanting in Greek with the Democrats. Who isn’t in that thing? Erlichman, surely, I don’t think I saw him. They don’t take Jews, do they?
HALDEMAN: He’s in it, up to the eyeballs. Kissinger too.
NIXON: Jesus Christ.

From these transcripts it’s evident that the rites of the Cult were no longer considered a source of power, but, as in the Middle Ages, had degenerated to the status of fraternity rituals or the cod-spirituality of institutions such as the Bohemian Grove. However, their facile nature did not prompt a purist resurgence. Why? Because by the time of the Nixon administration, the old rituals and the more recent spectacle-terrors had been replaced by something far more effective – the Plan W.D. mentioned in the Hückeswagen fragment: Disneyland.

The Cult & Walt Disney

Walter Elias Disney was born in 1901 in Chicago to a family of disappointed California gold-panners. He was a shy, serious and studious child: rarely an entertainer, he spent much of his time alone, drawing. Only a small portion of his juvenalia has been released by the Walt Disney corporation (most of which covers patriotic themes); much of the rest is kept in a locked vault in Burbank, California. The only clue as to its content was provided in a quote by an unnamed Disney employee to Los Angeles Times reporter James McDowell in 1981:

“What can I say? He was a teenager when he drew that stuff. Most of it was your usual Tijuana Bible-type material. A lot of oversized breasts and so on. Engorged penises. And a few depictions of murder victims, sometimes at the same time… there’s some unpleasant stuff, sure. But nothing all that unusual.”

In 1917 Disney joined the Holy Order of Fellow Soldiers of Jacques DeMolay, a youth Freemasonry society. The same year he dropped out of high school to fight in WWI. Being only 16, he was rejected by the United States Army, and joined the Red Cross instead, arriving in France shortly before the Armistice. Stationed at a church in Saint-Cyr-l’Ecole, a Western suburb of Paris, he was at first highly enthusiastic. However, as described in Scott Gladdy’s unauthorised 2004 biography Walt Disney: A People’s History, his attention quickly turned to other matters:

At first Walt was much like many other young Americans abroad: he was a regular both at the local taverns and the brothels that had sprung up around the military academy. By February 1919 he was almost unrecognisable. Always a staunch Protestant, Walt had taken to spending most of his day in the Église Sainte-Julitte, a nearby church, in the company of the venerable local Jesuit priest Antoine Sourisse. “He changed all of a sudden,” his comrade Roy Michaels recalled later. “He stopped drinking, stopped whoring. He stopped driving the ambulances. We all thought he’d gone queer. But it wasn’t that. All of a sudden he had this great unity of purpose. It was kinda terrifying, to tell you the truth.”

On his return from France in 1919, Disney started drawing cartoon mice.

Why did the Cult choose Walter Disney to carry out the final stage of its plan? It may have been connected with his ancestry. Walt was a distant heir of Hughes d’Isigney, a Norman nobleman who participated in William the Conqueror’s 1066 invasion of England and claimed to be able to trace his lineage to the Merovingian kings of the Franks, and through them, to Jesus Christ. While it’s impossible to say for certain that Hugues was a member of the Cult of Penew-Nekhet, there are several indications. In Disney Through the Centuries, Adriana Villalobos’s exhaustive history of the Disney family, she describes how Hughes took a ‘fanatic interest in the precise procedure in which church services in his new fiefdom were carried out,‘ and seditious rumours spread among the local peasantry of a secret idol kept concealed in the d’Isigney castle. Eventually William (who as an illegitimate child would have been denied membership in the Cult) grew wary of his vassal and lent him a few hundred soldiers for a suicidal campaign, encouraging him to invade France and reclaim his rightful crown. However, it is equally possible that when Antoine Sourisse induced the young Walt Disney into the Cult it was simply because of his skills as a draughtsman and yearning for transcendence. After all, it had to happen to somebody.

The first Mickey Mouse cartoon was released in 1928. Steamboat Willie was an enormous popular and critical success; most audiences were too focused on the short animation’s sight gags to pick up on its disturbing subtexts. Mickey Mouse is a destructive outside agent who emerges into the ordered environment of the steamboat and comprehensively reorders it according to his own schematic principle: living animals are rendered inorganic tools, turned into musical instruments, forced by Mickey to play along to a piece of music that simultaneously emerges from them and is extraneous to them. Essentially, Steamboat Willie provides a coded account of the activities of the Cult of Penew-Nekhet since the Christianisation of the Roman Empire.

The Walt Disney company’s growing successes coincided with a sudden paranoia on the part of its namesake. Disney believed that many of his lower-level animators were Communist infiltrators; at times he believed himself to be the last bulwark against a Communist tide taking over Hollywood. As his delusions grew, so did his dream of Disneyland. As his friend and animator Ward Kimball recalled:

Walt was always deadly serious about Disneyland, far more so than any of the movies, even though they were raking in so much money. He insisted on planning every last detail. He was seriously fanatic about it… one time he said to me, this isn’t just a holiday park. This is something that’s gonna change the world. He was always talking about how Disneyland was going to beat the Reds and bring in a new age. Frankly, none of us had a clue what he was talking about.

Ground was broken on what would become the Disneyland site – a placid field of walnut trees in Orange County – in 1954. The entire project took only one year to complete; it was opened with a televised fanfare. Few at the time recognised Disneyland for what it was. Disneyland was never an interactive ‘park’ in which visitors were free to view the attractions at their own pace, but a show as tightly choreographed as any film. All the rides progress in a strictly linear fashion; the banter of the entertainers is entirely scripted; if you drop a piece of litter in the park an appropriately dressed actor (smocks for Fantasyland, jumpsuits for Tomorrowland) will appear from a hidden doorway and silently tidy it away. The guests are forbidden from reinscribing anything onto the text of Disneyland. In fact, the park is constructed in such a way that any deviation from the correct order of things is punished instantly – dozens of visitors who committed the sin of jumping out of cars on rides or trying to cross the lines between the Disneyland simulation and the vast ‘backstage’ areas have been crushed to death by various pieces of machinery. To survive, guests must be entirely passive. Their responses to the park are, at every moment, utterly controlled.

Disneyland is the ritual of the Cult of Penew-Nekhet on a grand, industrial scale.

The truth: Nazi rockets and tellurian dragons

In all this several questions remain unanswered. Why did the nomes of Egypt supplement their public religious devotions with another, secretive faith? Why did the Cult of Penew-Nekhet survive from the second millennium BCE to the present day, when so many other mystery religions faded away? What interest would a four thousand-year-old cult have in building an amusement park? And why build that park in Orange County, home of the US weapons industry?

Essentially, the central question is this: does Penew-Nekhet actually exist?

One of the chief engineers in the Disneyland project was the German rocket physicist Wernher von Braun (shown above with Walt Disney). Responsible for designing the Nazi V-2 rockets that were launched at the United Kingdom during the final stages of World War II, von Braum was brought to America in June 1945 as part of Operation Paperclip, the then-top secret relocation of Nazi scientists to the United States to work on missile programmes targeted at the Soviet Union. As well as being a gifted scientist von Braum was also a devoted mystic: under his leadership, research at the Heeresversuchsanstalt Peenemünde was carried out not only into guidance and propulsion systems for flying bombs but into the potential for the weaponisation of the occult. As well as séances and rituals carried out in Greek and Egyptian, captured French resistance fighters made to perform slave labour at the site’s factories claimed that the HVP team performed child sacrifices. In particular, von Braum was fascinated by the interior of the Earth, telling his friend and deputy Walter Thiel that ‘the quest for outer space and the quest for the subterranean world is one and the same thing.’ Like many Nazi occultists, von Braum believed there was life below the Earth’s crust; however, he did not ascribe to the hollow-earth theories popular at the time which held that the planet contains within it the mystical land of Hyperborea from which the Aryan races originate. Instead, he believed the chthonic world to be as profoundly un-human as the black reaches of space.

Among von Braum’s most prized possessions was a copy of De Interioribus Terrae, a short text by the 16th century mathematician, occultist, and early disciple of Luther’s reformed Penew-Nekhet Cult John Dee. After a discussion of the mystical nature of soil and its Demiurgean power to create life, Dee turns his attention to the centre of the Earth:

While no man of Faith can reason against the reality of Hell, it is evident to all learned Men that Hell does not exist below the Ground, no more than Heaven is to be found among the Clouds, and yet, as is well known, below the Soil there lies a great Heat, and a great Fire, as it is said in the Bible: where the Worm dieth not, and the Fire is not quenched. And indeed the Book is forever unerring, for in this Fire lives the Worm, called also Dragon, formed in delicate Crystal from solid Phlogiston, who with a noble Sweep of his Tail does traverse the Fire below our Seas faster than any Merchant-Ship, and who, far from being consigned to the Pit, is a Creature of Grace, and as Fire to Air or Mercury to Saturn, takes his Place as a Consort to the Angels.

Could this worm exist? Recent geophysical surveys (often suppressed by the government agencies and universities funding them) utilising sophisticated equipment such as the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility have detected fluxes and eddies in the Earth’s magma that are inconsistent with all known models of fluid dynamics, but that are explainable through the presence of large mobile organisms living within the mantle. The presence of life under the crust is not as implausible as it may seem: the mantle is home to untold billions of extremophile bacteria consuming nutrients dissolved in the molten rock. The liquid core of the Earth constitutes over 99% of its volume and much of it is entirely unknown to science; however it is possible to posit with some confidence that the tellurian dragons would have to be very large to survive in the heat of the mantle and to create the fluctuations observed by the ESRF – up to eight miles in length. Without any oxygen, their metabolism would function in a vastly different manner from that of life on the surface; they would certainly be silicon- rather than carbon-based. They would also be largely solitudinous, looping slowly around the Earth’s core in mournful sequestration – given the relative poverty of the subterranean ecosystem, it’s unlikely that a population of more than a hundred thousand could be supported. And given the great age of the Earth’s interior, it is entirely possible that at some point in their billions of years of evolution, the tellurian dragons attained sentience.

In almost all cultures there exist myths of giant worms or dragons, who are generally believed to breathe or in some other way be associated with fire. In ancient Egypt this place was taken by Penewap, a god of the underworld (and, more generally, of death and evil) represented as an enormous serpent. This was not his only form, however; Penewap was also believed to come to the earth’s surface to wreak havoc in the form of the mouse – the morphological similarities between penew and penewap hardly need mentioning. Could it be that the cultists of Penew-Nekhet, so obsessed with obscurity and representation, used the image of the mouse to disguise the true object of their worship?

If the Cult had a Secret that it guarded throughout its four-thousand year existence, it can only be that of how to communicate with – and control – Penew-Nekhet or the tellurian dragons. If contact were to take place, the cultists would find in their hands a weapon of unimaginable power. The dragons could obliterate any enemy: burst the ground from under their feet, send their cities tumbling into the abyss, immolate their armies with molten fire. Given their ability to churn the molten rock of the Earth’s core, they may even be able to affect the planet’s magnetic field, leaving a specific area vulnerable to a cascade of destructive cosmic radiation. Or, perhaps, our magnetic field could even be redirected, used to assault other planets in the solar system or beyond.

Given the ubiquity of dragon-myths across the planet, it is certain that the subterranean worms have, accidentally or not, forced their way into our world. It is not inconceivable that the parting of the Red Sea, the volcanic eruption that obliterated Minoan civilisation, and perhaps even the calamitous 1755 Lisbon earthquake were all precipitated by the Cult of Penew-Nekhet through its various attempts to gain the attention of tellurian monsters. But how can such communication be established? John Dee wrote:

The Worm hears no Prayer, though many who call themselves Witch or Sorcerer have offered up Entreaties to him, rather he understands the Language of all celestial Beings, that is, the Language of Mathematics, the Language of the Imagination, and the Language of Sympathy.

In all the permutations of the Cult’s rites, from private rituals to religious services to orgies of bloodshed to Disneyland, imagination and sympathy – or the emotive – have always been central; and these are precisely the qualities to which the dragons respond. The Cult has always attempted to form concentrated loci of high emotion. In much of its documented history this emotion was sorrow, terror, or abasement, but often accompanied by joy – the redemption of Communion, the cathartic bliss following the grain-burning. Conceivably it is the swing between two extreme emotional states that is most effective: witness the joy of the children as they enter the rides, and their fury as they are dragged away. The fact that Disneyland is aimed at children is significant: children experience emotional states far more intensely than adults; as such they are ideal vehicles for communicating with the worms. Like children, the dragons do not respond to erotic energy (they may reproduce asexually): this is why sexual or orgiastic cults from that of Dionysus to Crowley’s Satanism have sprung up and faded away in succession. To communicate with the dragons requires the assumption of a mindset that is entirely other and wholly unhuman – hence the austerity of the early rites, and the perverse hermaphrodite wholesomeness of Disneyland, filled with monstrous animal-headed figures.

At the same time though, the dragons, who with their cold silicon sentience can imagine no world other than that which they inhabit, are enormously responsive to the human power for imagination, fantasy, and deceit. The rites of the Penew-Nekhet Cult have throughout their history been based heavily on the projection of a hyperreality. The fascination with symbolism and the representative was not just a mechanism for maintaining secrecy: the Greek Cultists really believed that they had been transformed into peasants during the grain-burning rituals; the visitors to Disneyland are invited to really believe that they are in the presence of Mickey Mouse. The map becomes the territory – by imagining another reality, the Cult affects concrete change to this one.

What is Disneyland? Disnyland is a vast machine for the weaving of fiction and the production of human emotion. It was built away from Hollywood because it was never really part of the entertainment industry. It was always a weapon. It is the weapon. It is a signal-beacon for the underground monsters. They swarm there now, miles underneath southern California (perhaps accounting for the frequent seismological activity there), waiting for the Cult to give them their orders. Now it remains only for the Disneyland weapon to be used.

Conclusion

I have recorded the truth. Not in its entirety. My account is, of course, an unacceptably Eurocentric one: it would be absurd to assume that some form of the Penew-Nekhet cult has not developed in China (the fact that the Hong Kong Disneyland is, uniquely, owned by a Chinese corporation and licensed from Disney may well be significant) and the mass human sacrifices in the Aztec Empire have the faint odour of the cult about them. I’ve not been able to work out the exact nature of the cult’s Plan – they have, after all, already been in effective control of the world at several points in history. Perhaps the Disneyland weapon is not meant for use on Earth at all; perhaps the cult is about to drag us, unknowing, into an interplanetary war. But what I’ve written will have to do. I don’t know what’s going to happen to me now. The cult of Penew-Nekhet has guarded its secrets for four thousand years; it has in the past carried out acts of horrific violence to further its aims. It doesn’t matter. The truth is more important.

My hands have stopped shaking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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