Note on the Femcels: Can a girl be an incel?

Can a woman be an incel? There is more at stake in the question than one might think. There are two immediate answers.

The answer of polite society is this: Of course women can be incel, there are countless women out there who are celibate in spite of their best efforts, and their experiences are no less valid than those of the more well-known male incels. Indeed, it is possible that because of the patriarchal society we live in, that femcels are even more alienated than the male incels, since they are denied a community in which to raise their undesirability up as a positive trait. Moreover, we uphold a fluid distinction between gender identity and sexual orientation and—although we would not consider “incel” to be a sexual orientation so much as a life condition or outlook—it would seem that defining inceldom to be exclusively male would necessarily be grounded in an archaic and problematic notion of gender as essentially identical with biological sex. So, this logic goes, whatever it means to be an incel, we should make sure that women can be included.

The answer of the incel subculture is this: Of course there are no femcels, those who claim to be femcels are essentially liars, since there will always be some man out there willing to fuck her, it is just a matter of her standards. Because of the “passive” role of the woman in courting, she actually possesses sex herself, her decision is the key to sex, and thus it is categorically impossible for her to be an “involuntary” celibate. According to the Incel Wiki: “It is generally accepted that involuntarily celibate women don’t exist with the exception of women that have medical issues like vaginismus, terminal illness, horrendous lesions all over her body or if she lives is in a sexless relationship caused by the man, or in a country with arranged marriages… Of course women can be sexless, but this is largely self-inflicted because men have a higher sex drive meaning there will always be men around willing to sexually satisfy any woman.”

The correct answer cuts through both immediate explanations, and requires a clarification of what it means to be “incel” in the first place. I argue that the essential characteristic of the incel, if one can be found in common against a backdrop of infinite exceptions, is in how the subject relates to an unattainable object of desire.

It would seem that the elusive object, the thing that the incels desire, is sex: the sexual Act, “getting it in,” the dirty, immediate reality of fucking. Popular wisdom holds that the incels “just need to get laid.” What makes an incel is not having sex, and if you have sex you can’t be an incel. Once one passes the trial of the sexual Act they become a man, and that is why the incels see themselves as something less than men.

The incel subculture cannot tolerate the idea of the femcel because, for the incel, sex (in the sense of fucking) is the impossible, sublime Thing, whose grotesque fullness is the cause of all their problems, whose residue can be seen everywhere they go, but always remains inaccessible, behind closed doors. The incel has no sex but sees it everywhere, all surfaces in the incel’s world ooze with its leftovers, as if the horrific act covers all objects with an uncanny layer of oily film. The incel has no choice. He is paralyzed by its abundance.

The sex that the incel imagines is impossible. It is pornography, which is why it is no surprise that pornography offers their only glimpse “behind the closed doors” to the inaccessible thing. It is the violent super-reality of the penetrative act itself, torn out of continuity with normal life. Thus, in porn, we rarely see the awkward moments, the mistakes, the bloopers, not to mention all the “erotic” signifiers of courting or seduction, these are completely outside the camera’s frame, the “poetry” of romance that occurs outside the penetrative act but is nonetheless an essential part of “sex” itself. In porn, we never really can understand why it is that the woman is supposed to actually desire the man she is fucking.

Femcel texts, by which I mean posts on forums or subreddits written by a “femcel” lamenting her life situation, tend to differ from incel narratives in a few key ways. The most fundamental, aside from the fact that the authors are (ostensibly) women, is the distinct emphasis away from the penetrative act as the site of an impossible, pathological object of desire. The femcel is more concerned with “recognition,” more concerned with how she is (un)desired, and what she wants is not something necessarily contained within the frame of the pornographic video. The femcel thinks more about the “Staceys” (the female “Chads,” the most desirable women) and the attention and affirmation that the Staceys get. When they think about boys they think about the ideal boyfriends, who is characterized not only by sexual potency but by a capability to truly “love” her.

For sure, the male incels also think about most of these things. They do not only talk about sex. Being an incel is not just about sex, but about recognition. This is true, but only the femcel actually understands this intuitively; the incel always returns to a pornographic/phallocentric relation to their desire. The femcels might have sex, but the sex they report is unfulfilling, they are fucked and abandoned. The penetrative sexual act is thus not some sublime triumph but a disappointing reminder of what they lack, a violent emptiness that leaves them worse off than they were before.

This is why the “femcels” (the female incels) are so intolerable for the “real” supposedly-male incels of and r/braincels. The femcels reveal the incoherence of the formal incel and the asymmetry inherent in sexual difference. For the male incels, the femcels are “faking it”—any woman no matter how ugly can get laid because there are always men with lower standards, it’s the femcel’s choice that she is celibate because she refuses to have sex with any male incel suitors, and so on. The male incel imagines the desired Thing as encapsulated in the sexual Act, in the biological penis, in the crude collision of genitals, whereas for the femcel the Thing is dispersed across and beyond the body, leaving the phallus behind. For the femcel, alienation occurs in the all-too-real experience of being used for cheap sex and dumped immediately after. For the male incel, that scenario is a distant, titillating fantasy.

In other words, the femcels are the symbolic phallus, as they signify what the male incels lack. First, in the sense femcels have access to the sexual Act, and second, in the sense even that is lacking. For this reason it could be said that the femcels, rather than the male incels, are the “true” incels, much like how those who most experience “penis envy” are in fact those with a penis.

So the pornographic discourse of the male incels is itself cope—cope with the fact that whatever it is that they want, which is unbearable to them, cannot be contained in the biological penis. Nor is it contained in other body parts. Cope is a science, the pop-phrenology of hunky Chads, in which the incels fixate on the measurements and ratios of the physical features of beautiful men in a doomed search for the ideal male form, the form of the mythic man who is never refused sex.

What this is all to say is that the incels are all too human: a community based around a shared lack of something. That lack is itself lacking. The incels have tried to master that lack in countless ways. The ways that they have tried to master that lack unfold in the form of texts on the internet. And in these texts they always say more than they mean to say.

The texts are the surplus of the incels’ compulsive enjoyment of their condition. Words on words on words, so many words, they seek to fill the void in the incels desire, but also shield the incels from the unbearable thing.

Postscript on Names and Exceptions to the “Universal Incel”

What the incels desire cannot be contained only in the collision of genitals, as if the genitals were completely detached from their respective bodies and elevated to sacred objects. There are, after all, “escortcels,” incels that have sex with prostitutes. And there are others indistinguishable from incels who do manage to trick unsuspecting women into sex from time to time, the “ascended incels,” who never truly lose their incel-ness. This is all to say, to truly define incels we must detach it from the arbitrary, material contingency of whether fucking occurs.

Every incel is an exception to the incel as a principle, the universal incel. The incels generally divide into two sub-groups: incels that are characterized by mental shortcomings and incels that are characterized by physical shortcomings. Both tend to think that they themselves are the “true” incels who have it the worse off, the former because they have such difficulty communicating with women despite perhaps “not looking that bad” and the latter because women are so supposedly shallow that they cannot see past their bodies to appreciate the “nice guys” they really are. The Incels Wiki lists many forms of incels (but not all, which is impossible), both empirically-observed and theoretical, which I will reproduce here: gymcel, mentalcel, autistcel, elbowcel, emcel, acnecel, americel, arabcel, baldcel, blackcel, bincel, christocel, currycel, cybercel, denialcel, escortcel, ethnicel, eyecel, femcel, haircel, lesbocel, NEETcel, muslimcel, nearcel, noncel, nosecel, nymphocel, oldcel, peniscel, permacel, persocel, poorcel, protocel, quasicel, framecel, queercel, rainbowcel, ricecel, semicel, skinnycel, smallcel, standardcel, stoicel, stuttercel, transcel, truecel, turkcel, uglycel, whitecel, workcel, wristcel, yellowcel.

Any word with “-cel” suffix means that the word becomes the characteristic that alienates the incel subject from the Thing—“the cause of the celibacy”—which can be done (and basically is) to any word in language. A philosopher could say that all could be considered instances of the absolute languagecel. (The Chad is said to be outside language, able to sidestep the whole issue of the relationship of the signifier with the signified, attracting the Stacey with his inarticulate grunts of pure immediate thought; whereas for the Incel—as for his treacherous twin brother, the Cuck—“language is to the wife as desire is to the husband”… always saying something else…)

It is tempting to conclude from this that “there is no fixed incel essence, only an infinite multitude of incels in their particularities.” But the “universal incel” should not be seen as the container of this multiplicity of identities, but rather as the site of contradiction within the idea of the incel itself, which the countless identities are failed attempts to grasp and overcome.

Some incels fuck, and some incels have more agency over their sexless condition than others. The term is a logical antagonism, an abstraction that is always left behind in the lived existence of these people in the world. Involuntary / Celibate. The incel is not necessarily “involuntary” nor “celibate” but the superposition of those notions—notions that are both lacks, the lack of choice and the lack of sex. So the incel isn’t necessarily celibate—but is non-non-celibate with respect to their choice in the matter, which isn’t necessarily involuntary, but rather non-non-involuntary.

What this dizzying word game means to indicate is that there is a void at the core of the incels’ formal essence that carries over into their lived reality as a double alienation.

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.

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?

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.”
“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.

The Massive House

Like Zarathustra coming down from the mountain, Sam Kriss tells me he is done with politics. He welcomes me into his massive house, where I see a group of preening aristocrats sipping tea iconoclastically. Anna Khachiyan is among them: “Mother!” I call out. She grimaces.

Sam is becoming an idiot. He is becoming Dostoevsky’s Prince Myshkin, who “sees the world from the vantage-point of infinity.” Sub specie aeternitatis. Before, Sam was merely an interested vector of desire, a squirming, pulsating mode of substance, but now he has transcended that. His ideas are now perfect and adequate. He sees from the perspective of reason itself, the endless stupidity of politics reveals its grotesque naked form in a full kaleidoscopic spectrum of impossible colors. Reason tells him to become a poet. The Thames is his Ister. I admire the impressive view of the Canary Wharf skyline. I suspect that I am an idiot, too.

“Do you mind if I smoke in here?” I ask. I think about my mom back home, who would forbid it. “Yes, please don’t.” he says. Sam is now castrated, which is a good thing. The place looks like Barry Lyndon. I imagine Sam terrorizing girls at the Verso Loft with the inspired tyrannical madness of Stanley Kubrick. He bought them $10 Frida Kahl-adas, and they have the audacity not to drink them. That was then. We’re both tired of politics.

I notice that the aristocrats seem to be drinking something peculiar, something other than tea. “What are you drinking?” I ask. “Hemlock and sewage,” they reply, “ironically.” Stav from “CumTown” raises his pinky ever so daintily as the glass approaches his lips. “Damn neoliberalism,” I say, “depriving the working classes of this luxury.”

“As Marxists,” Sam begins, gesturing vaguely, the words slow and the “r” lazy and British. I hear it drawn and stretched out like it goes on forever: “Aaaassss Mmmmaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhkkkksssiiiissssttttssss…” I hear it from the psychedelic perspective of infinity. It’s the voice of Reason, the voice of God. It’s the implicit assumption that underlies all knowledge. “As Marxists, we…” We. Recognition. Class solidarity. He knows I’m here and for once I feel welcome in the massive house.

On the massive walls, in Barbara Kruger font: “TODAY, TO ABANDON THE WORLD OF POLITICS IS THE LAST, THE ONLY, AND THE TRUEST POLITICAL ACT.” I am astonished. Between the Earth and the Sky, between Gods and Mortals—Poetry. Could this be the most radical communism of all? Could Sam have completed what Benjamin promised in his unfinished Passagenwerk? Is this the foundation of the proposed materialist dialectic of intoxication, lost forever to Benjamin’s untimely death? Has Sam completed the system? What secrets are hidden within the walls of the massive house?

Sam is packing up his bags and everyone else is gone. He’s going to stay in the Côte d’Azur for several months at least, and has no idea when he’s coming back. He tells me he hates France now, though. Theory is over. They’re naming a street after that bastard Owen Jones in Paris’ 4th arrondisement. “Rue Owen Jones.” They’re naming it after him because he fucked the fathers of all his haters, just like he said he would on Twitter, and now Corbyn is the Prime Minister. Europe is saved. But Sam doesn’t care. Politics is over.

I am alone in Sam’s massive house. I realize that I am Prince Myshkin, that I am Nick Carraway at the end of “The Great Gatsby,” that I am Judge Schreber with sunrays coming out of his anus, that I am Stephen Dedalus, that I am the Starship Pequod in the “Moby Dick” anime. I understand with an idea most perfect, adequate, and eternal. They’re just like me. But most of all, I realize that I’m a big idiot.

Murphyist Microfascism

Justin Murphy is a fascist. He’s not a proper racist, or a proper misogynist, or a proper anti-Semite. He’s not a Nazi or even a bigot. He’s not a screeching demagogue or a violent terrorist or a crass, acidic ironist. But what he is, simply, is just a proper structural fascist. He’s polite and fluent in the manners of the academic Left, which makes him difficult to pin down. His fascism is chic-Deleuzian. Beneath his ostensibly post-political attachment to “nomadic,” “barbarian” online movements lies a younger, more nuanced iteration of the “Intellectual Dark Web” brand of politics. Petersonian, anti-SJW, postmodern, authoritarian performance art.

And thus, Justin should be cancelled. Not cancelled violently, spectacularly—not in the chaotic, unproductive “punch nazis” sense. His person is no immediate threat to public safety. He shouldn’t be #cancelled so much as his superpersonal essential characteristics cancelled, in the Hegelian meaning, aufgehoben—sublimated, negated in the process of reason coming into awareness of itself—cancelled in that the internal, underlying contradictions come to a resolution and produce some kind of higher knowledge. In other words, his art project should be cancelled, and it should be cancelled in the form of art.

Justin’s official, self-professed political ideology is apparently “Catholic libertarian communist.” But what is this, other than a fanciful collection of paradoxical terms? How are we supposed to interpret this? Is he any of these things? How much does he talk about Catholicism proper, libertarianism proper, communism proper? There is no intended value to these labels other than to negate each other and establish an implicit, tactical ironic distance from each of them. This heterodox political label is a stylistic allusion to the online communities whose energies he seeks to tap and a mask to conceal his true politics, whatever those true politics, if they exist, happen to be.

Justin calls himself a communist precisely to say that he is not a communist. It is always to separate him from “those” communists, the intolerant ones, the difficult ones, the joyless, preposterous, angry, absurd ones. He has transcended the stupidity of the campus Marx study group. He never is a communist in the present tense, but always was one. Someone who was something always has more to say than someone who never was in the first place. (Leftists wonder why the New York Times will always be more interested in the opinions of now-woke former Bush administration officials than theirs.)

Justin isn’t really a Marxist, not even in the sense that one could be a “Deconstructionist” Marxist. His suggestion for a feudal communism (“Make Communism Elite Again”), ridiculous and nonsensical on the surface, creates an obvious ironic distance that conceals the phantom kernel of seriousness—a proposal for technocratic authoritarianism, which is all that can possibly remain after feudalism and communism are totally abstracted from their historical conditions and put side-by-side. This distancing effect is also at play in the political-scientific analysis of Kekistan, which uses his academic discipline’s ordering methodology to come to a conclusion exonerating (rather than a more nuanced recognizing-and-overcoming) the iconography of Kekistan of its fascist-ironic—which is to say, contemporary fascist—overtones.

This technocratic-authoritarian kernel of seriousness attaches itself to the nomadic-barbarian tendencies of contemporary internet avant-gardes and hides among an amorphous, ever-shifting array of absurd virtual surfaces. It seeks to take advantage of the de-centered rhizomatic nature of these networks—it will seize anything and everything: feudal communism, Kekistan, Deleuzo-Petersonianism, and so on—using these non-contradictory names to stand in for the nameless absolute darkness at the unspeakable center: hierarchy, order, fascism.

Murphy is a true Petersonian at the core in that he deploys a series of symbolic-mythological masks to conceal what is fundamentally an unspectacular retreat into assumed hierarchies that undercuts radical opposition (in other words, the SJWs) to those hierarchies. For Murphy especially, these hierarchies are distinctly fascist, rather than simply conservative, in that rather than referring to an organic body of tradition, the political project unscrupulously attaches to any viral movement without any attention to internal logical coherence. There is no interiority to the signs it takes up, other than that unspeakable tyrannical center, which is not so much an interior as it is a void, an absence.

The question that remains is how to find an adequate ground for a critique of the ideology that saturates this authoritarian rhizomatic assemblage. How does one contradict a system of seemingly total non-contradiction?

Mike’s Spinoza Reading List

Original Spinoza content:

Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (Theologico-Political Treatise, or the TTP)

The Ethics

People who are unfamiliar with Spinoza should read the TTP first, and then move on to the Ethics. If they start reading the Ethics and find its “geometric form” impenetrable, then they should move on to some of the secondary literature. Balibar’s Spinoza and Politics is the best for this. It situates Spinoza’s works in their sociopolitical context in the United Provinces during his lifetime and provides a clear, readable analysis of key concepts such as the unity of metaphysics and politics, political anthropology, and Spinoza’s theory of the state and democracy. In contrast to Balibar’s more “Marxist” introduction to Spinoza, Deleuze’s “Spinoza: Practical Philosophy” situates Spinoza as a predecessor of Nietzsche and gives an accessible overview to the core ideas of his influential reading of Spinoza. But beware: Deleuze has an agenda!

Tractatus Politicus (Political Treatise)

Tractatus de Intellectus Emendatione (Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect)

Principia philosophiae cartesianae (Principles of Cartesian Philosophy)

The Political Treatise, Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect, and Principles of Cartesian Philosophy should be read after the TTP and Ethics, pretty much in whatever order that interests the reader. Their subjects should be pretty clear from their titles…

Core contemporary applications of Spinoza:

Etienne Balibar, Spinoza and Politics.

Gilles Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy.

Antonio Negri, The Savage Anomaly.

Pierre Macherey, Hegel or Spinoza.

The first two are the most accessible, but all four are essential. Negri’s take on Spinoza is the most “savagely” radical communist one, but it is a very difficult text. Macherey’s book is a powerful response to Hegel’s influential misreading of Spinoza (a misreading I see repeated very often).

Overview of scholarship:

Duffy, Simon (2009), “Spinoza Today: The Current State of Spinoza Scholarship.” Intellectual History Review 19 (1): 111-132.

Wiep van Bunge (2012), Spinoza Past and Present: Essays on Spinoza, Spinozism, and Spinoza Scholarship.


(In addition to the Balibar and Negri books.)

Warren Montag, Bodies, Masses, Power: Spinoza and His Contemporaries.

Frederic Lordon, Willing Slaves Of Capital: Spinoza And Marx On Desire.

Ruddick, Susan (2010), “Politics of Affect: Spinoza in the work of Negri and Deleuze.” Theory, Culture, Society 27 (4): 21-45.


Kiarina Kordela (2007), $urplus: Spinoza, Lacan.  Argues against the Deleuze/Israel/Negri/Hardt conception of Spinoza (the “Neo-Spinozists”) as well as Zizek’s lazy dismissal of Spinoza as the “philosopher of late capitalism.”

Jacques Lacan (1932), De la psychose paranoïaque dans ses rapports avec la personnalité (Paranoid psychosis and its relationship to personality). This was Lacan’s doctoral thesis, very early work.

Spinoza’s life:

Theun de Vries, Spinoza in Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten. (Hamburg: Rowohlt Taschenbuch, 1970). Only available in German.

Steven Nadler, Spinoza: A Life. (Cambridge University Press, 2001).

Spinoza’s reception

Jonathan Israel, Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750

Other assorted suggested reading:

Gilles Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza. 1968 (Trans. 1990).

My “to read” list:

Jon Miller, Spinoza and the Stoics. 2015.

Gregor Moder, Hegel and Spinoza: Substance and Negativity. 2017.

Knox Peden, Spinoza Contra Phenomenology. 2014.