The Two Meanings of Reaction

I pre-ordered Justin Murphy’s Based Deleuze book and have received an email with this excerpt, “The Two Meanings of Reaction.” I’ve written previously on the subject in my blog posts “The Sublime Justin of Ideology” and “Murphyist Micro-fascism”, although those critiques are intended to be somewhat whimsical, which I think one needs to be to properly engage Justin’s project and much of the contemporary internet’s “salon culture”. Make no mistake: Justin’s Deleuze project is entirely unserious and absurd. Anyone who turns to this for any legitimate understanding of the subject matter—either of Deleuze or of reactionary thought—is woefully mistaken.

But Based Deleuze is obviously not meant to be a serious, rigorous academic undertaking. Justin’s “line of flight to the outside” takes him from the precarious drudgery of the academic Cathedral to the equally precarious but perhaps slightly more romantic life of an internet content creator. This I respect in principle, “in theory” so to speak, but don’t think that excuses just how thoroughly unrigorous Based Deleuze is.

In short, Based Deleuze is an attempt to use Deleuze’s philosophy to retroactively justify various right-wing opinions, inclinations, and prejudices that Justin and his online audience happen to hold. Deleuze’s difficult prose is a tool to justify lazy thinking to an audience of lazy thinkers that just want something, anything, with which they can own The Left, and Justin can show you how with this one easy trick for the low price of $4.99!

Let’s turn to this excerpt:

The Two Meanings of Reaction

Discussing the ideological valence of great thinkers is difficult because they have little use for the crutches of ideology. The difficulty is particularly acute today, when ideological labels are used so loosely, and often with ulterior motives. I should therefore clarify, at the outset, what I mean by “reactionary” in the subtitle of this book.

The crux of Justin’s project. “Yes, you call me a reactionary, and yes you are probably correct. However, in accusing me of being a reactionary it is revealed that you are the true reactionary, and so on and so on…” Although I think it is good that he is at least trying to be clear on this, lest we inadvertently confuse Justin for being the true “original Occupy Leftist” he sometimes purports to be. Terms need to be defined before they can be picked apart.

In some sense, Deleuze was explicitly anti-reactionary. He was anti-reactionary in the sense that he was anti-reactive, in the spirit of Spinoza and Nietzsche. To be a reactionary, in this pejorative sense, means to be always responding to active, superior forces, instead of becoming an active force; to be captured by sad affects, to be resentful, and to think and act with these as one’s motive forces.

Fair enough so far. This summarizes Spinoza’s Ethics and Nietzsche’s post-moralism that follows Spinoza’s lead. “Beyond Good and Evil.” Good is a modal determination, instead of an eternal truth. “Good” is what something is called inasmuch as it facilitates these modes of infinite substance to persevere and thrive in their being; “Bad” is what something is called inasmuch as it acts upon these modes to break them down, to hinder their coherence. At the end of the day what these modes are is starstuff, ashes to ashes, mere finite instances of subjectivity in the endless ocean of nature unfolding upon itself.

This common sense understanding of reactionism partially maps onto the modern political-ideological sense of the word. The data show that conservatives are more reactive to disgusting stimuli, for instance. (Inbar et al. 2009) Experiments have shown that even just the presence of foul odors can make people slightly, but measurably, more conservative (Schnall et al 2008). Conservatives are more likely to see threats and reactively demand “law and order.” Edmund Burke watched the French Revolution with horror, and famously wrote about his reactions. Henceforth, we’ll refer to this aspect of reactionary or conservative politics as reactivism. I prefer reactivism to reactionism because it will remind us that left-wing progressive activism is much closer to this sense of “reactionary” than we are accustomed to thinking. Reactionary politics in this sense, reactivism, can be a failure mode of left-wing politics no less than right-wing politics.

In defining the vulgar conservative-reactionary that the Spinoza–Nietzsche–Deleuze line opposes, Justin swaps in the “left-wing progressive activism”. He must never stray too far from this objective. The progressives are the real reactionaries, this is the Justin Murphy brand, after all, and it is the labor of Deleuze to justify this determination at every opportunity. Justin is still superficially right—it is indeed possible for the left activist SJWs to display these sorts of reactionary tendencies, in the manner that Deleuze understands it. We are still at the level of believability, but we also are beginning to see the sleight of hand that will no doubt be driven home throughout the rest of his book.

Things get confusing because modern society also calls reactionary whatever transgresses left-wing or progressive norms. Nietzsche, for instance, is seen by many as a reactionary, even though one pillar of his whole life’s philosophy is a contempt for reactive tendencies. Since World War II, any sufficiently disagreeable and strong-willed individual eager to avoid reactivism — who wishes to constitute an authentic, healthy, and autonomous existence — will generally be coded as reactionary. Even if their political beliefs are ideologically ambiguous or ambivalent. Strong and uncompromisingly active drives get coded as “reactionary” if the individual is not plausibly linked to the larger collective liberation struggle of some officially marginalized group. It is only in this sense of the term that we will find a “reactionary” component in the philosophy of Deleuze.

His particular critics and opponents, a small but perhaps vocal set of people, is conflated with “Modern Society”. His own obscure feud with online people over the definitions of terms, at however many degrees of “meta-“ removed from “Politics” itself, is reframed as a sweeping world-historical antagonism characteristic of “Modern Society” at large. But what does he even mean by modernity, other than as something that “calls reactionary whatever transgresses left-wing or progressive norms”?

We possibly get a better sense of what he means by modern society: “Since World War II…” Here he lets slip his intent to provide cover for the vulgar right-wing (distinctly American) prejudices. “Modernity” began after World War II, which was the apex of a golden age of noble and heroic deeds. Before and during World War II, the vulgar American rightist imaginary goes, people “were traditional.” Postwar prosperity and lifestyle-altering technological changes made America “modern”, which is to say that it made it lose its heroic, traditional origins, the things that were “based.” Modernity made America “cringe”.

So what has happened since World War II? Justin says it is that “… any sufficiently disagreeable and strong-willed individual eager to avoid reactivism — who wishes to constitute an authentic, healthy, and autonomous existence — will generally be coded as reactionary.” This is none other than the vulgar rightist American “Boomer” worldview recast as his personal grievance. Justin’s Deleuze justifying this outlook is ideology at its purest; it comes in to justify retroactively what had already been determined. It is entirely non-falsifiable. For example, let’s say that the hippies constitute an effort (whether misguided or not is another question entirely) to attempt “an authentic, healthy, and autonomous existence” against or outside the prevailing social norm. Either they will be recast as Justin’s reactionary heroes (“the hippies WERE reactionary all along!”) or they will be recast as Justin’s tormentors, the prevailing society that cannot tolerate any dissent (“the hippies WERE the Cathedral all along!”). But whatever the answer—which I don’t yet know because I haven’t read the rest of the book—it will tell us nothing that cannot already be deduced from what we know. There’s no synthetic reasoning in Justin’s entire project: it’s just obscurantist word games to reassure his racist followers of the validity of their feelings the whole way down.

This latter sense of “reaction” is a recurring, subterranean tendency that can arise from the Left as well as the Right. It is most likely to emerge from the Right, but in periods when “the Left” becomes especially, excessively decadent — the responsibility to transgress “The Left” occasionally falls to an otherwise proper leftist.

This is how we will understand Deleuze’s reactionary leftism.

Here his dance takes him back to the beginning, back to “both sides” platitudes. It separates him from what was implied in the previous paragraph. “Forget what you read before, this is what I mean, and I’m not saying much now, am I? That other paragraph was just for the paying subscribers…”

Based Deleuze will be released on September 20th.

Making Tarantino flicks after Weinstein: “Once upon a time…”

Spoilers throughout…

I had read on some film site that before Quentin Tarantino made his latest movie dealing with the Manson murders, he showed the script to his friend Roman Polanski so as to not be insensitive. It portrays Polanski’s likeness, the Manson family brutally murdered his pregnant wife, this became perceived as a defining moment in the “end of the 60s” in the public imagination, and so on. But Polanski was fine with the script, and it’s easy to see why.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is possibly the first true “post-#MeToo movie.” Ostensibly about the Manson murders, it twists it up in true Tarantino fashion, with the historical setting playing no more than a flexible, contingent context for his real, eternal subject: the meta-reflexive enjoyment of movies.

And so, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood postulates, “What if the Manson murders didn’t happen?”

The answer it gives it that we’d have a universe in which we wouldn’t have to worry about Roman Polanski drugging and raping a 13 year old girl. We could still have the innocence of the 60s, we could still “make them like they used to.” We could still have Steve McQueen pointing out to us starstruck fans the mythic heroes partying at the Playboy Mansion—see these gods that walk among us! Look how they dance so naively to “Son of a Lovin’ Man” by the Buchanan Brothers. (Polanski and Tate dance apart, in tune with the swinging spirit of the times, and no one is touching each other, nothing so subversive as the joint McQueen smokes.) We could enjoy the great works of art, the great works that give life all meaning, without having to deal with their unfortunate byproducts—that the free-love counterculture would actualize itself in the Manson Family, that all the cherished icons at the Playboy Mansion really are just as sleazy and evil, that the whole world is ruled by a cabal of billionaire pedophiles and showbiz is as complicit as the rest. We can enjoy Chinatown like we always wanted to, without worrying about what went down at Jack Nicholson’s house. We can enjoy the rest of Tarantino’s Weinstein-produced body of work.

nick mullen you could even...
Cum Town‘s Nick Mullen, who will be called up to the big leagues of the entertainment industry soon enough…

This is the grand arc of Tarantino’s career: trying to reclaim this enjoyment. There’s a nobility to it, I think, inasmuch as there could be said to be any “American patriots” left that aren’t Nazis. For the hyper-postmodern cyberpunk dystopian imaginary we now live in, the late 60s is a classical age, a renaissance that produced the best art and the best heroes, California mid-century modernism might as well be the Parthenon and spaghetti westerns might as well be Sophocles. But to call Tarantino’s nostalgia outright “fascist” and so on betrays sloppy imprecision. (And, superficially, the fascists now look to the 1980s, whereas the liberals look to the 1960s—what about the leftists?) Tarantino doesn’t, say, zealously cosign the genocide of the Native Americans, but you would never catch him agreeing to do away with “cowboys and indians” as a cultural signifier in the virtual world of cinema. He rightfully opposes the widespread murder of blacks by the police but embraces racism as cultural signifier from which we as “disinterested” observers derive aesthetic enjoyment (pervasive in his other movies, probably most notoriously in Django Unchained—but this latest entry is an exception in that it has no mention of the n-word at all…).

Anyway, there’s certainly something uncanny about Tarantino’s notoriously suspect politics—the foundational American settler violence is disavowed in a literal sense but embraced and deified in a virtual sense, we can accept the violence so long as we get our movies in the end… Perhaps what unsettles the woke critics the most about Tarantino is that his art project is actually intuitively understood by most Americans, despite however “avant-garde” the formal structure is—the studios give him rare final cut privilege only because his particular style resonates with audiences, they know he won’t really fuck it up, and even his worse entries, like The Hateful Eight, aren’t as embarrassing for the studio as, say, David Lynch’s Dune.

Tarantino’s movie is pure ideology in the sense that Mullen’s tweet is. They postulate the value of art as something that retroactively justifies all the fucked-up, oppressive relations that produced it. Political action is worthless, you won’t get the classless society, you won’t get the Hollywood without the structural sexist coercion—but at least you can get art, just make them like they used to make them. Give us the only possible “pure” thing, the thing that sets itself beyond the grime of the material world and in the ecstasy and innocence of the ideal. This is not an “innocent” position, but rather the complete opposite.

Behind the happy ending—the cultists break into actor Rick Dalton’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) house on Cielo Drive where they are brutally/hilariously killed by stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), his pitbull Brandy, and Dalton’s flamethrower after the bros get wasted on their “last night out;” neighbor Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) survives and invites Dalton into her house, the film ends as he walks up the driveway optimistic he’ll get some great parts in future Polanski movie, “Once upon a time…” comes up on the screen, credits roll—is a cynicism that is almost sublime in how egregious it is. Yes, Tarantino knows this is not what really happened, he leaves out all the nasty parts, not just the murders, but the shady underbelly of Hollywood itself, the rampant sexual abuse in an industry where beautiful women are as desirable as they are disposable, and so on. The movie deals with these in a purely virtual sense: it deals with them precisely in how it doesn’t deal with them—after all, it’s “Once upon a time…”

This winking dialectical switcheroo is the essence of what could be considered either infuriatingly stupid or genius about the film. There is so much to be said about the Manson case and what it means in the context of the 60s zeitgeist that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is necessarily a missed opportunity. But on the other hand, who is Tarantino to probe the psychedelic depths of man’s depravity? Tarantino is an artful director but never a “deep” one, and the truth of the Manson cult requires depth, a depth that has not been reached by anyone on the subject, other than perhaps Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica (which preceded the murders by a couple months). Tarantino can deal with it on his level, the level of endless surfaces, on which Manson is repressed, a traumatic Real that can’t be approached directly but has to be circled, even and especially if history has to be rewritten.

The moral vindication of Hollywood occurs in a scene in which Cliff Booth, the stud stuntman and receptacle of all the macho mojo that Rick Dalton has lost, gives one of the Manson Family girls a ride back to Spahn Ranch. In the car ride, she offers him a blow job; he asks her how old she is, and when she can’t prove that she’s of the legal age, he refuses as a matter of principle. Who is fooled here? This I found to be particularly obscene, so obscene that it can’t be read as anything other than as an allusion to “all that other stuff” that got left out, the grotesque seediness of Hollywood that remains entirely virtual in Tarantino’s world, but is all too real… Tarantino wants us to imagine the “good,” “nostalgic” Hollywood (the Los Angeles of soapy pop Paul Revere & the Raiders rather than the Doors and whatnot) even though we are all aware that it is necessarily a lie. Roman Polanski did all that bad stuff, Harvey Weinstein did all that bad stuff, and Quentin Tarantino would be kidding us all were he to moralize about it. In other words, Cliff Booth actually accepts the blowjob from the girl, we all know this, but we don’t know that we know it, we cannot see this, it is too unbearable, the scene depicts the necessary fiction to protect our enjoyment, the enjoyment that Tarantino considers sacred.

In the car before the murders are to happen, we see the Manson Family members preparing themselves for the event. They tell themselves that they have been raised on violence in movies, and now it is time for them to kill the people who taught them to kill (the people who make movies). They are then dispatched in the most slapstick manner—they cannot escape the “cunning of reason” of the cinematic gaze, the cultists were the instruments of historical/artistic Necessity, mere tools employed in the realization of something they themselves despised, no matter how well-planned things are, somehow they will find a way to go wrong, and so on. How else can we read this other than as an endearingly cynical defense of Tarantino’s own work? (Recall an old interview with Tarantino with someone scolding him for making violent movies, asking something along the lines of “why do you make such violent movies?” to which he answers with childish indignation, “Because it’s so much fun, Jan!”).

The tension that builds throughout the film with the expectation of the Manson murders is suddenly dissolved with the cultists ill-fated last minute change of plans. In a footnote in Less than Nothing Zizek describes the passage from Lacan’s “dark” seminar X on anxiety to the “playful” seminar XI on the four concepts of psychoanalysis: “comparable to that of Shakespeare’s late plays, Mozart’s Magic Flute, and Wagner’s Parsifal, after the lowest point of despair (Shakespeare’s mature tragedies, Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte, Wagner’s Twilight of the Gods), the mood changes, we enter a fairy-tale space where problems are magically resolved, where the tragic deadlock dissolves into bliss…” Is this not what happens when we see Booth’s pitbull ripping Manson Family member Tex Watson’s (Austin Butler) dick off and the subsequent reconciliation of all the problems in the movie that were never really problems in the first place?

That Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has the acclaimed critical reception it does in the wake of #MeToo shows what difference the movement made: Not much at all. The show must go on, “you can even fuck the kids in private… just… make movies that aren’t just marvel bullshit.” Even Jean-Luc Godard at his most politically woke gets recuperated into Tarantino’s endlessly self-reflecting images. But no matter, maybe we aren’t Brechtian revolutionaries after all, since even Brecht himself would’ve been #MeToo’d.

At its core, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is just a buddy comedy of the friendship Dalton and Booth have; Dalton goes to Europe to find his mojo and get his career back on track starring in spaghetti westerns, naturally bringing Booth along as his stuntman. Successful, Dalton comes back with a hot European wife, signalling the end of their close male friendship. But when they get back to LA, Dalton puts his wife to bed so he and Booth can spend one more night on the town, one more night for the boys, in spite of everything, the same promise of something like “Cum Town,” (the podcaster scene partying at the Playboy Mansion, Steve McQueen pointing out Chapo Trap House and others…) un-woke and post-woke like Tarantino, we see Dalton sitting in his pool drinking a margarita, headphones on, oblivious to the Manson Family intruders … what could he be listening to?

Talking Badiou, Borders, and Bernie

I’ve been getting more interested in Badiou lately—I bought and have been reading “Theory of the Subject,” casually, or at least as casually as one can read such a book. What is good about Badiou is that he offers a real revolutionary lucidity; he doesn’t get led astray in the sense that the so-called “crypto-fascist” leftists do, the leftists who always happen to find themselves on the Right whenever it counts (there is, of course, often still something of value in those “crypto-fascists” like Zizek). Badiou always tries to stay faithful to the Event, the instance of collective liberation that establishes the Truth of radical egalitarian politics. If Badiou is “bad” it is because he is too committed to this, the “unrepentant Maoist.” Whatever my thoughts on the Cultural Revolution, I think this is refreshing.

Badiou’s history of work with migrant workers and marginalized populations is particularly relevant today. In the Verso Blog (as always):

Faced with the refugee problem, the left is deeply divided between NPA-style internationalism and the protectionism defended by Chantal Mouffe or La France Insoumise. What is your position?

Today, it is impossible to consider any major political problem except on the world scale. The consequences to be drawn from an organizational point of view are another matter… If you do not focus on this level, you cannot understand the situation. It is not completely wrong to say that there are no more manual workers in France. At the world level, on the other hand, there have never been so many workers as there are now. Simply that they are all in China, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Brazil or Romania. We seriously misinterpret the political and social situation, in the broadest sense, by seeing it only through the French keyhole. Forty years ago, in this country, there was a complete social fabric, with peasants and workers in large factories. The changes of globalized capitalism force us to change our thinking accordingly. If you don’t have the same measure as your opponent, you’re bound to fail! Today’s proletariat is a vast nomadic proletariat seen as immigration or migrants. In reality, this is a question of class relations at the planetary level. This implies, at a minimum, prioritizing international relations and having a position on this nomadic proletariat that arrives in our country or wants to settle there. I like these divisive questions! Those on which there’s a consensus are rarely the right ones. This is the major political issue that divides, in a confusing way. Positions on the left are unclear. After all, what would an organization of the nomadic proletariat mean? We are far from having solved this problem. But you have to raise it. The strategic political stage is global. On this point, capitalism is a good step ahead because it is comfortably established on this stage.

I’ve written before about how socialist electoral politics faces an impasse with the issue of this nomadic proletariat. For the democratic socialists taking power in a country such as the United States requires, at the very least, winning over the existing “settler” working classes—the working classes that were long satisfied with the post-WW2 semblance of endless plenty, the classes who were invited into a way of life that resembled the rich and bourgeois classes but forced back out once their labor was no longer the most cost-effective option, the classes on the internal periphery of the core of capital, the dispossessed white blue-collar Trump voters archetype we have heard so much about. Carrying the torch of American social democratic politics, Bernie Sanders must speak for these people if he wishes to be elected president; he must, per Zizek, consider the jouissance that obstructs the “coming-together” of the dispossessed Rust Belt worker with the Other of the undocumented nomadic proletarian of Central America, the outsider from the external periphery, beyond the polis. The insistence that there is no impasse or tension whatsoever between these different groups is false.  This is not to say that Sanders must be racist, in the crass or vulgar sense, but it almost certainly means that he must leave some racist institutional structures unquestioned.

Let me put this another way: the total abolition of borders, the unconditional affirmation of the principle of absolute freedom of movement, and so on, is not a promising electoral strategy because it offers little to the people who will vote. (I will not specify the abolition of ICE in particular because that refers to the inhumane practices of the agency and not necessarily the theoretical stance of “no borders” overall.) Even if the nomadic proletarians do not steal the jobs and enjoyment of the dispossessed citizen-settlers as much as the nativist reactionaries claim, the impression, the popular mood, is what counts. The people Sanders must win over will not vote for him if the electoral socialist left’s messaging is that they (the citizen-settlers) are seen simply as white devil petit bourgeois class enemies—even if they really are.

(I am speaking of collectives, of myths, essentially. The “Trump voter” identity is the silliest myth of all. But we must use these broad strokes because we don’t have a discrete subject we can talk to, as in psychoanalysis. Instead, we have a sort of necessarily-inadequate aggregate nebula of moods.)

The woke-PC democratic socialists are right to say that these dispossessed Trump voters aren’t really the “proletariat” in the grand scheme of things. And to turn back to Badiou, “it is impossible to consider any major political problem except on the world scale.” But the very next sentence: “The consequences to be drawn from an organizational point of view are another matter…”

The abolition of borders is impossible in the context of a democratic electoral program that maintains continuity with the existing order. If we want to organize the nomadic proletariat we need to think outside of electoral politics, outside the nation-state—we must think in terms of international relations.

This impasse is something that polite democratic socialists do not want to accept exists. Either they must identify with democracy, the nation-state, the parliamentary status quo, and work with the settler classes or they must reject electoral politics entirely and side with the nomadic proletariat, taking the path of revolutionary politics and effectively ceasing to be American (“Amerikkkan”). The latter option is the real rejection of identity politics since its goal is the end of identity, full stop.

What this ultimately comes back to is a question of what the Left should be trying to achieve, the organizational question. A Sanders presidency—a best-case scenario for the DSA faction—would by definition maintain continuity with the status quo, sanctioned by authority of the Constitution written by all those slave owners, and whatever. It would not be Communist. But that isn’t to say that it wouldn’t be better than what things are now. I will leave this question hanging here. The DSA faction will only trip over itself if it thinks it can legislate its way to revolutionary politics and abolishing the nation-state. If we just want some of the “nice things” that social democratic Europeans get to have, then we can skip the revolution—but we have to beat the imperialist bourgeoisie at their own electoral game. Is it worth it?

A Quick Break from It All

I’ve been taking a little break from Twitter lately, which has been very nice. So far it’s been going on for about a week and a half. It was difficult at first because I kept feeling like I wanted to check what was going on, instinctively, every moment I was bored. When you expect the responses to something you’ve posted, it is much harder to look away.

After about a day or two I started to forget whatever it was that was going on when I was on Twitter last, and with that the reflex urge to check it was gone. Whatever is happening I don’t necessarily need to comment on, I don’t necessarily need to have some kind of provocative in-character take, I don’t need to argue with random people. There is a time and place for that—it was worth it when I was building an audience, but now feels like a lot of unnecessary grind for diminishing returns. I need to work on something bigger.

I can finally hear my own thoughts again without it being drowned out by all the noise. You need to get away from social media to write anything. Otherwise, you don’t know where your thoughts end and the hubbub of everyone else in the big disembodied network assemblage begins. Most of the people in the assemblage are very stupid too. Or perhaps they are just sad, which I suppose I’d consider identical in the Spinozist sense. I am one of those stupid people.

I’ve been getting my news from the “Apple News” app thing on my phone and whatever stuff my wife tells me about. But the mainstream news for normies is so trite and without nuance that it isn’t really worth spending much time thinking about. I think this makes me much happier.

Whenever Sam Kriss writes a blog post I get an email, so I’ve been reading his stuff lately. It’s refreshing to be notified of his stuff rather than the predictable op-eds by fascist-apologist New York Times columnists that the leftoids all love getting spun up about. Anyway, I’m sure that getting away from Twitter has done wonders for Sam too. I wonder what his plan is. I want to see a Kriss Komeback but it won’t happen where he wrote before. I don’t think he should even bother trying to get back into the Verso Blog circuit. He should write a book.

People like Sam Kriss—and Anna Khachiyan and Amber Frost, who, I might add, are also off Twitter—have a lot more to offer than the rest of the leftoid literati because they’re characters. Not that I don’t think they’re dumb (except Amber, who is underrated and the smartest of those I have mentioned), but they know what to say to get ideas in motion through crowds. This is what counts, even though I am confident I am a better writer and that they’ll regret not following me back on social media before I get big, but I digress.

When you’re away from Twitter for just a little bit, the campaigns to cancel people for their respective transgressions—Sam being a pathetic sex pest and Anna and Amber being ableist and whatnot—seem so ridiculous. Pretty much all writers worth talking about (and not worth talking about) have objectively worse stuff to their names. And even the woke lib-feminist writers the woke lib-feminist police people want you to read turn out to be wildly anti-Semitic or something.

(Before Sam got cancelled he sorta held true to the woke-police line, which is particularly apparent in his incoherent critique of Zizek over the refugee issue in “The Non-existence of Norway” piece and subsequent back-and-forth. Now he comes back to grovel at the disgusting feet of the mad Slovenian master—as he should, because he is a Zizekian, he was a Zizekian all along. I am not sure what I am.)

When I was on Twitter last I remember Crane/James Callahan talking a bunch about the Brechtian maxim: “Don’t start from the good old things but the bad new ones.” I think about this a lot. Let the new things be bad, and we can put well-intended-but-intellectually-uncurious types (academics) to work sorting out how to make those things good while we come up with more bad new things. Brecht was very bad. I am bad! I am nowhere near as bad as Brecht, fortunately. But nonetheless, I invite my own cancellation. Every time I see “cancel” in the context of ostracism for un-woke thoughts, I think of Hegel; I think of spirit coming to know itself by taking the roundabout path through its own negative, by cancelling itself so that it can come to understand what it was all along. Isn’t that the most logical connotation of the word?

I feel like in this time I’ve started thinking a lot more about “literature” and less about “philosophy-qua-politics.” (I won’t call it just “philosophy” because by philosophy I understand it to mean this overarching structure of knowledge that grounds, mediates, brings forth all the other disciplines.) This is something I think Sam Kriss wrote about too, and something I think I made fun of him for. But I have no regrets about that.

I’ve been working on a book. Or a book proposal, rather. But it will be a book, because I’ve already done so much of it that there’s no turning back now. It’s going to be very dope. It will be the culmination of the work I’ve done in the past years, stripped of the academic pretension but keeping all the valuable insights. Dostoevsky didn’t just write in theory jargon. I am not a Dostoevsky but I am at least a Sartre, a chic pseud who liked to imagine suffering while enjoying all the banal pleasures of bourgeois life. I’ve been thinking a lot about the useless philosophy of the existentialists, which is relevant to my book. It’s hard to not want to share everything about it, but it’s gotta be secret. You will see it soon enough.

Stop Calling Me a Psychoanalyst

There is a common misconception of psychoanalysis that claims that it reduces all psychological problems to one particular schema that inevitably returns “sexual repression” in some variation, like a magic 8-ball’s answer to everything. This is an response I’ve heard to my writing on fascism and “masculine anxiety,” ostensibly to refute that there is any connection between the two at all. I am not an analyst so I have no grounds or reason to defend the practice itself, but it is nonetheless worth addressing because my work is generally informed by Freud, Lacan, and others.

Usually this is intended to resist an “uncovering” of some obvious surface aspect in “manosphere” or other far-right phenomena. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a licensed psychoanalyst to see that a general group like “fitcels” bodybuilds to compensate for a perceived weakness, wish to make their flesh literal armor, that they’re terrified of women, and so on. In fact these sorts of points are more often than not openly admitted by their members. It should go without saying that this sort of truth—about a collective—is well outside the range of psychoanalysis. The truth of these observations are so mundane as to be banal.

It is the obviousness and banality of the truth that makes it unspeakable. And so the members of these online fandoms must mediate their relationship to it with an ironic distance. The leaders see themselves as characters, Roosh is a performance, BAP is a performance (undoubtedly they themselves know that most of their followers are idiots). Irony mediates everything these days because there is such an abundance of noise that the various channels need to be distinguished from each other. It feels almost impossible to have an unironic position on the internet.

The ironic position in these far-right/manosphere contexts means that, in short, since they talk about sex they can’t be sexually repressed in any sense. With the BAP fandom, the overt and excessive homoeroticism specifically defends them against the accusation that there is anything “gay” or “weak” about them, since they are supposedly aware of their fixation on male bodies, the “Dominated by Doug” text, and all the other artful parts of that whole hyper-erotic fascist mythos.

The misconception implies that since we now live in a permissive society—sex is promoted everywhere you look: at the cinema, at the theatre, at the Super Bowl, on TV and in newspapers, in songs and on beaches, in podcasts and Twitch streams, in our cars sitting in traffic, in schools, and even in churches—people are supposedly less anxious about problems linked to the sexual sphere. The taboos have fallen, they say, and people are no longer afraid of sex.

Lacan called the idea that sex is invading all aspects of life “an advertising phenomenon”—and we know it probably applies now even more than back then. And it’s clear that even in a so-called permissive society people never fail to find a way to be immiserate themselves over their sexuality. You can teach teenagers how to use condoms and practice safe sex and they’ll still turn into incel spree killers (although that shouldn’t necessarily dissuade us from doing so).

It is interesting how many of my critics (from the Right) who take issue with the connection between a new fascism and masculine anxiety seem to implicitly accept the unmistakably “boomer” ideologeme that removing the public taboo of sex will completely undercut all the “old” problems and anxieties. In other words, that free love will liberate us from the authoritarianism of the nuclear family. Many of these people talk openly about sex and engage in a kind of discourse that could be described as pornographic—always at least figuratively (Elliot Rodger), sometimes also literally (BAP). It doesn’t matter whether they come down as “pro-sex” or “anti-sex” at the end of it all, because either way they are compulsively, fearfully fixating on it.

Whatever the case, people (people-qua-“subject” and not people-qua-“multitude”) are going to continue to find ways to be alienated from their own bodies, no matter how advanced our collective social-engineering mechanisms become. People are going to find new ways to have anxiety, and they’re going to find new ways to talk about it.

But they will always talk about it. And that’s why we haven’t even come close to the limit of Freud.

Dream Analysis 1: The Math Test

Patient A. dreams she is taking a math test, a test that she is very worried about. She also has a biology test later, but she is not so worried about that. A fat black woman, presumably an administrator of the test, tells her that she cannot use her math book to help her. The test is difficult, and as she looks at one of the problems she sees that the numbers and letters are gibberish. However, this gibberish of symbols is assembled in such a way that it resembles a diagram of Sternberg’s triangular theory of love. The testing ends, and Dr. Nowzaradan from the show “My 600 lb Life,” now her math professor, says “I hope you all used your math books.” Patient A. worries that she won’t do as well on the test since she was told she couldn’t use her book.

Patient A. dreams she is taking a math test, a test that she is very worried about. Patient A. has recently been studying for the GRE test, particularly the math part, so it is logical that the idea of taking a math test would appear in a dream. Examination dreams are a common form of anxiety dreams that Freud talks about in The Interpretation of Dreams: “having done something wrong or failed to do something properly, we expect to be punished by the event—whenever, in short, we feel the burden of responsibility.” Often, these dreams occur in patients that have long since passed all the tests they need to take. So, the source of the anxiety is not so much the test itself, but rather something deeper that takes the form of the test in a dream. However, that this test likely relates to an actual future event for Patient A., one that she is somewhat justified in worrying about, is an exception. Although Patient A. is very smart and will likely do well on this test, she has always had an excessive anxiety about tests throughout her life, even on tests that she found herself with perfect scores on. She also reports that she has had such dreams long before she decided to start studying for the GRE test. It is probably safe to say that there is more to this than just that she had a math test on her mind in the days prior to the dream.

She also has a biology test later, but she is not so worried about that. Patient A. is good at science, especially biology. I am not quite sure what to make of this detail, other than that it suggests the anxiety is not fundamentally about “taking tests” in general, but something specific to the “math test.”

A fat black woman, presumably an administrator of the test, tells her that she cannot use her math book to help her. In her job, Patient A. (who is white) regularly has to deal with people in bureaucratic roles that fit this racially-coded description. This is a form of the racist “DMV worker” caricature—black women as lazy and incompetent, occupying government jobs from which they cannot be fired, seemingly deriving some kind of satisfaction in just how unpleasant they can be. Incidentally, Patient A. has had to deal with endless bureaucratic complications in getting a correction/update to her driver’s license in the past year, which often leaves her at the mercy of particular DMV workers who often do not seem to understand the actual state laws/bureaucratic processes they are supposed to implement. In other words, this represents a sort of arbitrary or possibly illegitimate authority.

The test is difficult, and as she looks at one of the problems she sees that the numbers and letters are gibberish. However, this gibberish of symbols is assembled in such a way that it resembles a diagram of Sternberg’s triangular theory of love. I have attached an image of this triangle. In the dream, the math test is not a math test at all, but rather a puzzle of love. Patient A. reports not being able to trust her boyfriend, who in the past had lied to her about his previous relationships. Not being able to trust her boyfriend undermines the “Intimacy” aspect of the triangle of love, which throws a wrench into the schematic of the whole desiring machine. In the dream, the test essentially asks her to mathematically solve the issues of her relationship. Of course, she lacks access to “the book,” which would help her decode the meaning of the gibberish on the page. Thus, she is powerless to figure it out. Since Patient A. loves her boyfriend and tends to want to avoid confrontation with most people, especially him, it makes sense that her dream would resist and censor the latent content message of her relationship anxiety by presenting it in the manifest form of her math test.

what-is-sternbergs-triangular-theory-of-love-1.jpg
Sternberg’s Triangle

The testing ends, and Dr. Nowzaradan from the show “My 600 lb Life,” now her math professor, says “I hope you all used your math books.” Patient A. worries that she won’t do as well on the test since she was told she couldn’t use her book. In the previous days before the dream, Patient A. had been watching the reality show “My 600lb Life”, which, incidentally, my wife and I are also familiar with. For those that aren’t familiar, Dr. Nowzaradan has a very important role in the show. He performs the gastric bypass surgery for the patients, but perhaps more importantly, he is the one that reviews the patients’ monthly weight-loss targets and whether or not they are met. In doing this, he often scolds the patients who are unable to control their own eating habits. This part of the show is a recurring “moment of truth”—the patients often pathologically lie to themselves about their eating addictions, but they are unable to trick the doctor (who to them is seemingly all-powerful) when it is revealed on the blind scale of Justice just how little weight they have been losing. The Doctor then asserts that the responsibility for the weight loss is entirely on the patients’ own choices. For the (presumably-not-600lb) viewer of the show, Dr. Nowzaradan scolding his patients induces a feeling of “perverse” satisfaction.

(It’s also important to note the obvious truth that weight-loss and body image issues have a different meaning for women than they do for men. Women, even at a healthy weight, tend to insist that they are “fat” and need to lose weight. This is not at all the same for men that aren’t overweight, who would perhaps tend toward the opposite, and insist that they need to “bulk up.” We do not need to dwell on this point much more, other than pointing out that Patient A. is not an exception to this general tendency of women to pay attention to their body image in such a way.)

Rather than scolding the Patient A., the Doctor assumes a more friendly role. In the dream, the Doctor tells the patient what his patients on the TV show would always like to hear themselves: that their failure to achieve their goal was not their fault, but rather the fault of the test itself. That she did not use her book in taking the test, when in fact she was allowed to all along, means that she is not responsible for whatever her score is. Her worry about not doing as well on the test conceals her wish that she be held not responsible for it.

When we put these pieces together it makes sense to interpret this dream as a fulfillment of Patient A.’s wish that she not be held responsible for the problems in her relationship with her boyfriend.

The Thing that the Incels Desire

The incel—the pathological incel—is mysteriously drawn to repeat the trauma of his own suffering. The incel is drawn back to the scene of what we will call The Thing. The Thing is the object of the incel’s desire. The Thing involves the physical act of sex and it involves what we would call “love”—but it cannot be reduced to either. The Thing is beyond signification, but it is Real. It is empty, but it is filled by the incel subject’s fantasy. The Thing is something that, if the incel were to have, would make him cease to be an incel. For the pathological incel, The Thing contains a traumatic reminder of his own misery. The Thing taunts the incel by showing him what he does not have, and it suggests (wrongly) that others have The Thing that he does not. The Thing is presented as good, but the idea of The Thing being accessed is experienced as suffering and evil. The excessive goodness of accessing The Thing in its immediacy is intolerable, impossible. The Thing is the object of the incel’s intense desire and it also brings him face-to-face with the horrific truth of himself. The Thing, in its deepest core, also promises to contain the most sinister riddle: the code to what exactly it is that women desire.

This description of “The Thing” as it relates to the incel’s pathology may seem abstract, obscure, or a needless indulgence in Lacanian terms, but to see its relevance we may look no further than Elliot Rodger’s “My Twisted World” manifesto. For Elliot Rodger, the archetypal incel, The Thing is heavenly. Whenever he is talking about the “heavenly” things, he is talking about The Thing. (Keep in mind what one must cross to reach “heaven.”) Here is the scene of The Thing:

After I left the campus I drove around downtown Santa Barbara to explore new areas. I went up and down State Street, the main common area of the city where everyone frequents. Countless restaurants and shops lined a magnificently designed street with wide walkways. It was absolutely beautiful… a true paradise, for those who were thriving there. I can only imagine how heavenly it would be to walk with a beautiful girlfriend down that street. My life would be complete if I get to do that. It would be the epitome of gratifying perfection. To have a beautiful blonde girl by my side, to feel her hand clasping my own as we walk everywhere together, to feel her love! That is what I want in life. Instead, I had to watch other men experience my idea of heaven while I rot in bitter loneliness.

For Elliot Rodger, fantasy surrounding The Thing is particularly symbolized by blonde girls, but the Thing itself isn’t simply the blonde girl, or simply sex-qua-fucking with this girl. To say that The Thing is “to feel her hand clasping my own as we walk everywhere together, to feel her love!” comes closer because it includes the desire of the other, but that does not encapsulate it adequately either. The Thing is situated in this scene, this street in downtown Santa Barbara, “the common area of the city where everyone frequents”. Rodger describes The Thing psychogeographically, as if it is embedded in the terrain, which comes in his account before the nameless, anonymous blonde. Dante’s Paradiso and his beach-blonde Beatrice. The Thing is tied to a place, signified by a place—and a public, social one at that. It is where one is recognized not just by a single other, a partner, but by all others, the Big Other of society. But the thing also isn’t simply the place in its inert, materialistic immediacy. It is the place as saturated with the fantasy, it is the place as it is with the presence of the blonde girl, the place as it is with all the people there, the place as it is with everyone belonging and playing their part: it is the Scene.

We must also pay close attention to the ending of this paragraph, which is a perfect representation of the horrific aspect of the Thing, the Terror, as it relates to its total experience. This Terror comes out of The Thing, as its consequence, an afterthought, a closing punctuation. The Terror follows The Thing like its shadow. It reveals itself as the hole, the emptiness that characterizes the real truth of The Thing. It comes after the Scene, like the ending of Jodorowsky’s “The Holy Mountain,” when the Alchemist, Jodorowsky, the author himself, reveals that the whole thing was a fiction all along, and smiles a geeked up smile with shroomywide pupils—he is seeing something that you aren’t, or rather he’s seeing the absence of The Thing you see, which is to say he sees nothing.

The excess of heavenly goodness in The Thing means that it becomes experienced as suffering and evil. It is simply intolerable, unacceptable. Approaching the goodness of The Thing is a violation of morality, an injustice:

Sex is by far the most evil concept in existence. The fact that life itself exists through sex just proves that life is flawed. The act of sex gives human beings a tremendous amount of pleasure. Pleasure they don’t deserve. No one deserves to experience so much pleasure, especially since some humans get to experience it while some are denied it. When a man has sex with a beautiful woman, he probably feels like he is in heaven. But the world is not supposed to be heaven. For some humans to actually be able to feel such heights of heavenly pleasure is selfish and hedonistic.

We know, of course, that Rodger is not simply talking about “sex,” but The Thing. And anyway, if The Thing is so evil—and not just evil but “the most evil concept in existence”—inducing such suffering and misery, self-evident proof of the fundamental flaw of life itself … why does he always return to it? Here is another scene in which the horrific reality of The Thing reveals itself to Rodger, exciting him so intensely that he acts out:

Another incident happened on the following day, near the same location. I went to the Starbucks at the Camino Real Marketplace by myself, like I usually did every morning. I ordered my coffee and sat down on one of their chairs to relax. A few moments later, when I looked up from my drink, I saw a young couple standing in line. The two of them were kissing passionately. The boy looked like an obnoxious punk; he was tall and wore baggy pants. The girl was a pretty blonde! They looked like they were in the throes of passionate sexual attraction to each other, rubbing their bodies together and tongue kissing in front of everyone. I was absolutely livid with envious hatred. When they left the store I followed them to their car and splashed my coffee all over them. The boy yelled at me and I quickly ran away in fear. I was panicking as I got into my car and drove off, shaking with rage-fueled excitement. I drove all the way to the Vans at the Fairview Plaza and spent three hours in my car trying to contain my tumultuous emotions. I had never struck back at my enemies before, and I felt a small sense of spiteful gratification for doing so. I hated them so much. Even though I splashed them with my coffee, he was still the winner. He was going home to have passionate heavenly sex with his beautiful girlfriend, and I was going home to my lonely room to sleep alone in my lonely bed. I had never felt so miserable and mistreated in my life. I cursed the world for condemning me to such suffering.

Rodger experiences The Thing traumatically. His account is unambiguously unpleasant for him; it does not seem fun. And yet he comes here to order his coffee, like he does “every morning.” Presumably he always sees people like this, not just here and but the many other places where all the “beautiful blonde girls” congregate with their “obnoxious punk” boyfriends. He does not avoid this. Not only is he not a complete recluse but he instinctively seeks out places he can assume the tortured voyeuristic gaze. For some reason, he is compelled to always come back to The Scene of The Thing, to experience the trauma of The Thing over again, this hellish, humiliating, hours-long shock-experience that affects him both emotionally and physiologically—an instinctive compulsion that comes into contrast with the pleasure principle.

So far I have described the concept of The Thing in the Elliot Rodger case and tied it to the repetition compulsion. We also see this dynamic in play in a virtual, discursive space like the r/Braincels subreddit, as well as other “Manosphere” sites, particularly those with comment/message boards, in which the experience of The Thing is fragmented and distributed across a collective.

In incel/manosphere internet spaces (scenes) like r/Braincels, most posts have certain characteristics:

  1. Anecdotes of women’s sexual activities that serves as a reminder of the unjust distribution of sexual pleasure in the world. Women are gushing with eroticism, it is flowing out of them constantly. Stories about women that are out there in the world, being sluts and having some sort of heavenly utopian fulfilled sexual life, a utopian life that is real but always absent to the incel subject, always behind closed doors, the pearly gates. Women are just out there, all of them sluts, getting their heavenly holes filled, and someone is enjoying it, but it sure ain’t you!
  2. Anecdotes of women who cheat on or want to cheat on their weak “cuck” boyfriends or husbands. Women say one thing but mean another. They are liars and hypocrites, and no matter what they say (such as when they say they like guys with a “nice personality”), their small brains are programmed in such a way that their insatiable sexual appetites override their limited capacities of reason—they will cheat on you the first chance they get once they meet a stronger, taller, more attractive, “bad-boy” male. One recurring thing is links to posts from the “relationship advice” subreddit, which often includes stories of various “cuck” men in relationships with women who are cheating on their boyfriends or husbands.
  3. Anecdotes of stronger, more attractive “Chad” men and how they are desired by women, and satisfy that desire. The Chad will always melt the walls that these “sluts” put up to keep the incels out. Whereas incels and cucks, who together are the majority of men, hopelessly throw themselves at the feet of women, the Chad enjoys women throwing themselves at him. One recurring type of post includes pictures of Tinder conversations between women and a (presumably fake) attractive/buff/male-model Chads—the Chad goes straight to the point and says he wants to fuck them, or otherwise treats them aggressively and disrespectfully, such as opening a Tinder conversation by saying he wants to rape them, and the women are shown to still be interested, flattered, confessing to deep-down rape fantasies, giving out their numbers, and so on, presumably leading to, of course, something heavenly.
  4. Analysis of the particular ways in which the incel subjects, the forum posters themselves, are deficient, discussions and comparisons of all the qualities that they have that characterize their lack, and how that means they will never be able to possess The Thing. This entails a special attention to the eroticism of various body parts: bone structure, jawlines, height, shoulders, penis size, and so on. It also can include racial comparisons. For example, the black incel laments that he is not a “Tyrone” (the name for “black Chad”). However, the sometimes-charming intersectionality does not extend to women: the existence of “femcels” (female incels) is denied. This policing of the borderlands of the conceptual incel includes such things as a quasi-scientific analysis of why it is impossible for femcels to exist to support the claim that even the ugliest women still have men chase after them (and so, by calling themselves “femcels” these women are stealing an identity that they don’t deserve…).
  5. Presentation of the horrific, unspeakable, “black-pilled” truth—the Terror. This is the real truth, the truth that evades being articulated in polite language. It is both heavenly and hellish. This is a terrible truth that you know, but you perhaps didn’t even know that you knew—what Rumsfeld would call an “unknown known.”
welcometoreality
“Welcome to Reality.”

Is this supposed to turn us off from sex? To dissuade us from trying? To show us our hopelessness and inadequacy and turn us into ascetics so we live alone in the desert like the early church fathers? Or is the feeling that one gets from this scrolling-feed kaleidoscope of psychotic, deranged, and fragmented texts (looking beyond the usual political disagreement with the sexism and all), not a kind of strange arousal? In a sense, I get the impression that I almost wish the world was like this—oozing with desire out of every disgusting pore, needlessly and effortlessly cruel, the feeling Bataille must’ve gotten when he thought about his ex-wife fucking Lacan, just dangerously and preposterously horny. Who are these mythical people who are actually having this heavenly sex, this sex in which the participants are in total agreement with the fantasy of the other, and nothing is kept secret, in which all pleasure is brought to the conscious light of day and retains its naughty allure? I would like to meet them. This fantasy world is a space that, like the Scene of Elliot Rodger’s Santa Barbara, is completely saturated in erotic energy, even if that erotic energy is always accompanied by the terrible, traumatic, humiliating realization, the sadistic morality that comes after the feast, that The Thing is entirely inaccessible. Though the images themselves are not (usually) pornographic—and often the incels/manosphere discourse tends to be explicitly anti-porn—the texts sure are, at least in the way that romance novels targeted at old ladies are. When the “arousing” aspect of this experience is considered, the formation of a community/subculture that has its own rules, language, and hierarchy seems like a logical consequence of this collective-desiring-creature and less like a weird, freak aberration that somehow exists in the “post-patriarchal” society we like to think we live in. And so we can maybe come closer to making sense of why these people keep coming back, coming back to The Scene of The Thing, posting, posting and reading these infuriating reminders of their own impotence, grasping on to their own psychic condition, grasping as if it were the last thing in this “twisted” world they had to call their own.