What is the Experiment, again?

Hans Federle

“Up until 1909, Freud, to speak broadly, had been fascinated with the dynamics of desire. He wanted to know how the unconscious, the seat and source of desire, worked and in particular how it expressed itself in neuroses and dreams and in works of art. It was during this period that Freud was inclined to see erotic urges—and also, less consequentially, aggressive drives—at the root of human behavior. But as time went on, Freud became more and more preoccupied with the issue of authority, and with the agency that he thought of as the center of authority in the human psyche, the superego, or over-I.”
Mark Edmundson (The Death of Sigmund Freud)

“Impressionism depended for its force on something more than painterly hedonism or a simple appetite for sunshine and colour. The art of Manet and his followers had a distinct “moral aspect,” visible above all in the way it dovetailed an account of visual truth with one of social freedom.”
Meyer Shapiro (Marxist Quarterly, 1937)

“{ Godard’s Hail Mary} distorts and slanders the spiritual significance and historic value’ of ‘fundamental themes of the Christian faith’ and ‘profoundly wounds the religious sentiment of believers.”
Pope John Paul II

“…play only fulfills its human potential—only carries an insubordinate charge—if it is posited as a counterweight to the grownup world of purposiveness. We, on the other hand, exist in a world where the ‘adult’ and the ‘juvenile’ are hopelessly commingled; where leisure time has been both increasingly infantilized and increasingly regulated, depoliticized, dosed and packaged.”
T.J. Clark (Heaven On Earth)

The seeming lack of resistance to vaccine passes, or passports, or whatever one wants to call them, is both astonishing and, sadly, not astonishing. There is resistance, huge and profound degrees of resistance, in France for example, but in the UK, too. There is little to none in the U.S. (or Norway or most of Scandinavia, nor in Canada or Australia or New Zealand). And I was reminded this week (by Molly Klein) of T.J. Clark’s books on the art of the French Revolution (Absolute Bourgeois and his study of Courbet, The Image of the People). And first, to re read The Image of the People was startling, because I had somewhat forgotten how good it was, and then Absolute Bourgeois, which I had never really read, and which was equally brilliant, was a revelation of sorts. And the latter feels especially relevant to current moment. For Clark feels the trends of reaction in Western culture, and sees the resemblance to that period both before and after the Revolution in France (1788/89) with the climate today. I would suggest that if I were to teach the aesthetics of Covid the curriculum would start with Diary of a Man in Despair (Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen), and Absolute Bourgeois. I might then add any of several books by Franco Moretti (Far Country perhaps?) And when I say the aesthetics of Covid I must, of necessity, focus on the United States. For the stamp of U.S. culture is indelibly stained into the fabric of the entire Covid narrative.

Alfred Rethel (1851)

And this culture of which I speak is one that has been developed (in its current specific form) for about the last thirty or so years. Perhaps longer, perhaps from the 70s onward. You could make a case that even this current version began before that, began after WW2. All are true. But the post internet phase describes something qualitatively different from all that came before.

“Traditional societies tend to produce heteronomous individuals who,like the society,exist in a state of closure. In other words,there isa close functional fit between the belief system of the group and the superegos and ego ideals of its members. Unlike Hamlet,for example—a quintessentially modern man tortured by the question of his identity—it is difficult to imagine an Athenian citizen,a medieval knight,an Ottoman pasha,a Comanche warrior,or a Chinese Maoist ruminating about theirs.According to Castoriadis,an autonomous society began to emerge when the “new men”of early modern Europe—the city dwellers,the burghers,the bourgeoisie—started to fight for a different form of life.They did not simply criticize the particular authority of the Church or of the feudal system; they challenged the notion of traditional authority as such.”
Joel Whitebook (Hans Loewald, Psychoanalysis and the Project of Autonomy)

Now, I don’t actually agree with the above quote, or not entirely anyway. But it serves the purpose here of helping frame this question.

William Henry Jackson, photography (1872, Yellowstone survey team).

Now Whitebook (per Hobbes) sees the emergence of science as an ambivalent form of study, he extrapolates that modernity itself was foundationally ambivalent.

“Insofar as modern science was mathematical,it contained the potential for modern technology and carried the seeds of the domination of nature within it. Thus it became essential to the project of instrumentalization. But to the extent that modern science rejected all appeals to authority and dogma in the justification of truth-claims and maintained that all assertions—about the polis as well as about nature—must be validated by argument and demonstration,it became an essential part of the project of autonomy.The emergence of modernity marked a rupture of the closure that characterized all previously existing societies and initiated a program for the creation of a new,autonomous form of society.”
Joel Whitebook (Ibid)

Whats missing here is the colonial project, the sense of European superiority, and justifications for conquest. Edward Said was very good at tracing all this in his book Orientalism. The idea of Enlightenment values driving this instrumentalized modernity has been pretty well explored. And so for the sake of another approach to the current state of things (and as I write this Australia just shut down most of Sydney, literally almost completely because of, I believe, 13 deaths from, allegedly, Covid). And to be clear, locking up healthy people is not strictly speaking quarantine, its arrest or detention. Language is becoming very important to rectify — this is the age of spin for sure.

Adam Collier Noel

Now Castoriadis, who Whitebook is following here, saw the new age of criticism (per Kant) as resulting in a populace in search of identity. (see Death of God etc). And that while that did spur creativity (did it?) and autonomy, it also increased pathologies. Enter psyhoanalysis. Ok, so far I can mostly agree with this. But it is feeling perilously anti-Marxist here. But the point is that, the emergence of psychoanalysis coincided with a number of technical discoveries (I have noted all this before) especially optical discoveries. Now Whitebook is a strangely anti-communist conservative, but his reading of Freud is pretty good and it strikes me he something of an auteur here (if he were a movie) because ambivalence is exactly the quality of his writing (at least of late). And he does note the obvious fact that the fall of the U.S.S.R. signaled the unchecked expansion of instrumental thinking and what I might here call ‘techno values’. America was free to define progress any way it chose.

So it might be that this current phase of culture began in 1989, with a precursor decade preceding it.

Here it is important to note that the word ‘science’ has to be reevaluated. Or perhaps just defined better. For Freud it was simply (for better or worse) a tool to soberly examine illusion (his idea of illusion). To understand the personal individual (through the forces of society) creation of mythologies. Personal myths. But science exceeded ambivalence almost from the start. It early on became a cult like worship of authority, an authority that appealed to its technical principles as a kind of God. Now, these personal mythes were mediated by social and economic forces. And above all else (as cause and effect) by class. And class is not a thing, it is a relation. It is social relations. And what Whitebook and even Castoriadis are guilty of is the minimizing of class struggle. For religious fundamentalism (a topic for Whitebook) is directly related to colonialism and class domination. But the main point here for the purposes of this post is that what for Freud was illusion (and by extension most secular scientists) is not a simple one dimensional thing. And the discarding of religious belief, for example, also tended, or has tended, to result in a kind of historical amnesia. It results in a de-emphasizing of tradition. Of memory, even.

Danny Lyon, photography.

So one might well argue that the rise of a social media culture, of mass electronic media platforms, and smart phones was linked directly to the fall of the Soviet Union. The other aspect of this was the transference of wealth to the very top — to the one half of one percent. And Covid is a project, however one tweezes it apart, of an unelected billionaire class that continues to amass enormous almost unthinkable amounts of money and property, beginning a project of reshaping the planet. And their influence is now expressed in global corporations and, more, in NGOs and institutions such as the WHO and World Bank, the UN (symbolically, sort of) and the World Economic Forum. That they are ignorant of their own hubris is perhaps the most terrifying part of this entire scenario. This is the age of the rigid and weak ego. And Hans Loewald was very prescient about this. The threatened ego (the threatened insecure ego) must resort to a constant policing of its boundaries.

Writing of this ego of late modernity…“It is purchased,Loewald argues,by the narrowness of its boundaries,which exclude everything foreign to it,and by the compulsive rigidity with which it must police those boundaries—that is,by isolation from its unconscious-instinctual life. Loewald observes that,“in its dominant current”—which includes the official Freud and many of the ego psychologists of his day—a pathological form of self formation, namely, the obsessional self,is elevated into the healthy self. Thus,“psychoanalytic theory has unwittingly taken over much of the obsessive neurotic’s experience and conception of reality and has taken it for granted as ‘the objective reality’”
Joel Whitebook (Ibid)

This is very insightful and I think correct. But however we got here, this is where we are. The eradication of the unconscious, of archaic dreams and collective imagination, the disenchantment of the world, and of the self, has taken place rapidly over the last thirty years or so. It has made for an ideal human who functions as an informal scientist observing the world around him. Observing under cover of hyper rationality and sobriety. The ego-psychology of American mental health experts has been exported in ever greater degree for thirty years. And this disenchanted human is one who finds it hard to grasp the ideas of class and economic coercion. The American psychologist has internalized the sensibility of American sociologists, and almost as a reflex, exports American narcissism (American exceptionalism).

Larry Fink, photography.

The American idea of psychological well being is tied in with its Puritanical heritage. The Ego rejects the unconscious but suffers its influence anyway, indirectly. The other aspect of rejecting the archaic mythos is that the policing Ego, now cooperating, really, with the Super-ego, must police those dangerous spots where the unconscious surfaces (i.e. art and cultural expression). Whitebook riffs off Loewald and Castoriadis when he writes...”The greatness of Bach’s music does not derive solely from its sophisticated and complex contrapuntal logic. Nor is it only the result of its ability to invoke powerful primitive affective states. Bach’s greatness requires both these accomplishments in equal measure.” This is of course true of all good art. And this forms a segue back to T.J. Clark.

As an aside, it is worth noting that Loewald studied with Heidegger.

“I am deeply grateful for what I learned from him [Martin Heidegger], despite his most hurtful betrayal in the Nazi era, which alienated me from him permanently.”
Hans Loewald

But I will return to this.

Gustave Caillebotte, 1875

“As the contexts of bourgeois sociability shifted from community, family and church to commercialized or privately improvised forms—the streets, the cafés and resorts—the resulting consciousness of individual freedom involved more and more an estrangement from older ties; and those imaginative members of the middle class who accepted the norms of freedom, but lacked the economic means to attain them, were spiritually torn by a sense of helpless isolation in an anonymous indifferent mass. By 1880 the enjoying individual becomes rare in Impressionist art; only the private spectacle of nature is left. And in neo-Impressionism, which restores and even monumentalizes the figures, the social group breaks up into isolated spectators, who do not communicate with each other, or consists of mechanically repeated dances submitted to a preordained movement with little spontaneity.”
T.J. Clark (The Painting of Modern Life)

The above quote is really Clark summarizing Meyer Shapiro’s arguments in an essay, he Shapiro wrote, from the 1930s. But it is another relevant example of cultural shifts, or of how culture shifts and changes, and of something in early modernism had already anticipated the 21st century estrangement of artistic life. That particular estrangement and alienation one feels today. And, Shapiro was already introducing the idea of spectators, as a theoretical subject for cultural analysis. That spectatorship was an expression of class tension.

The purpose here is really to both find clues in previous eras, culturally speaking (though that includes nearly everything else anyway) and with the effects of a loss of coherency in the experience the public has of artistic production. (see https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-07-15/new-museum-technology-collects-data-on-viewing-habits?utm_content=citylab&utm_campaign=socialflow-organic&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social) And to try to persevere in a time in which the loss of aesthetic understanding has reached an absolute threshold — where there is essentially no longer ‘a’ culture to speak about, something that allows for a sense of collectivity and meaning in artworks. For the disappearing radical artist the search, the hunt, is not just for meaning but for revelation, I think.

“In defining a work of art as a “man-made object demanding to be experienced aesthetically” we encounter for the first time a basic difference between the humanities and natural science. The scientist, dealing as he does with natural phenomena, can at once proceed to analyze them. The humanist, dealing as he does with human actions and creations, has to engage in a mental process of a synthetic and subjective character: he has mentally to re-enact the actions and to re-create the creations. It is in fact by this process that the real objects of the humanities come into being. For it is obvious that historians of philosophy or sculpture are concerned with books and statues not in so far as these books and sculptures exist materially,but in so far as they have a meaning.And it is equally obvious that this meaning can only be apprehended by re-producing, and thereby, quite literally, “realizing,” the thoughts that are expressed in the books and the artistic conceptions that manifest themselves in the statues.”
Erwin Panofsky (Meaning in the Visual Arts)

Malcom Liepke

Clark wrote, in a small essay, on DeKooning, and his late paintings, work done presumably after he was diagnosed with Alzheimers.

“Let me point out how special and novel is the modern obsession with artists’ careers—with each artist’s life and work seen as a linear development which we and the artist are supposed to keep in mind as he or she goes along. All this is the creation of a certain, modern world of art which emerged in Europe in the late19th century. The very idea of a “retrospective” exhibition (especially one taking place in the artist’s own lifetime) is unknown until then.”
T.J.Clark (Painting from Memory: Aging, Dementia, and the Art of Willem de Kooning)

This is a typical Clark-like insight. And this is also worth pondering in our age of pure exhibitionism. There is something increasingly cannibalistic about culture today. The retrospective while the artist is still alive, when you actually think about it, is rather grotesque. But its just more artificial inflation of reputation (of sometimes artificial deflation). It is marketing. Coupled to this marketed art world is the loss of quiet and contemplation. Now, if one looks at the art post 1989, from the West, and in particular perhaps the U.S., but not exclusively, one sees a certain repetition that feels arbitrary. The enormous increase in ADHD and autism, in various other cognitive issues, whatever value one wants to attach to these diagnoses, suggests that pollution, antibiotic infused meat, corn syrup, the horrid commercial wheat used for most bread, have caused irreparable damage– and then people seem surprised that fertility has dropped, for both genders– suggests there is something fundamentally wrong with how people live. Humans cannot even reproduce efficiently anymore. But the quick marketing explanation is to blame the victims, to make it all massive but personal failure.

Giotto (detail, Joakim’s Dream)


Cannibalistic art becomes something even more self annihilating in this era — something that is disturbing because the artist is rarely any longer drawing on life. It is the art of a death in life. (and Jerry Saltz and Walter Robinson might end up profoundly prescient in their coining of the term ‘zombie formalism’, most recently used to describe Hunter Biden’s paintings). It is the age of the zombie. It may have become the most overdetermined metaphor in world history. The lockdowns and masks and the growing hysterical irrationality of government voices (see Australia) that encourage people to ditch unvaccinated friends, to not talk to anybody, vaxed or not, and not to talk period, even, are reaching a pitch of hysteria I, for one, could not have imagined a mere two years ago. It is as if the pent up irrational has been unleashed, filters removed, and the age of the fantastical 4th industrial revolution is really the age of maximum pathology.

I grew up with the very late modernism of Beckett and Pinter, of Genet and Handke, of Ab Ex certainly, but also of Diebenkorn and Frankenthaler, of Kiefer and Francis Bacon. And of Bresson and Fassbinder and Antonioni. And of Cashier critics, of Godard and Ornette Coleman. And in all these cases there was something of an act of recuperation taking place. I think I only realized this recently. Nobody I just listed, all off the top of my head, were innovators. In many ways they were all looking back. Even Godard. This late modernism remains, I think anyway, the least understood period of art in the last two hundred years.

And this new lay scientist spectator public was already reaching, by the 80s, a new cynicism, but one cross pollinated with both narcissism and anxiety. This was and still is a public unsure of what they are meant to be doing in their role as science adjunct; what is the experiment exactly?

For Ever Mozart (dr. Jean Luc Godard, 1996)

At the beginning of this post I noted that all cultural forensics would be shaded toward U.S. ideology and style.

“After the 1973 war the Arab appeared everywhere as something more menacing.Cartoons depicting an Arab sheik standing behind a gasoline pump turned up consistently. These Arabs, however, were clearly “Semitic”: their sharply hooked noses, the evil mustachioed leer on their faces, were obvious reminders (to a largely non-Semitic population) that “Semites” were at the bottom of all “our” troubles, which in this case was principally a
gasoline shortage. The transference of a popular anti-Semitic animus from a Jewish to an Arab target was made smoothly, since the figure was essentially the same. Thus if the Arab occupies space enough for attention, it is as a negative value. He is seen as the disrupter of Israel’s and the West’s existence, or in another view of the same thing, as a surmountable obstacle to Israel’s creation in 1948. Insofar as this Arab has any history, it is part of the history given him (or taken from him: the difference is slight) by the Orientalist tradition, and later, the Zionist tradition. Palestine was seen— by Lamartine and the early Zionists — as an empty desert waiting to burst into bloom; such inhabitants as it had were supposed to be inconsequential nomads possessing no real claim on the land and therefore no cultural or national reality. Thus the Arab is conceived of now as a shadow that dogs the Jew. In that shadow— because Arabs and Jews are Oriental Semites— can be placed whatever traditional, latent mistrust a Westerner feels towards the Oriental. For the Jew of pre-Nazi Europe has bifurcated: what we have now is a Jewish hero, constructed out of a reconstructed cult of the adventurer-pioneer-Orientalist (Burton, Lane, Renan), and his creeping, mysteriously fearsome shadow, the Arab Oriental. Isolated from everything except the past created for him by Orientalist polemic…”

Edward Said (Orientalism)

The Covid event had intensified (intentionally guided by western capital) the ‘othering’ mechanisms that fueled mid century fascism. However threadbare, the new Arab (Jew, Black, etc) is the unvaccinated. And the ease and enthusiasm that the western bourgeois expresses its punitive disapproval is not terribly different from the good Germans in the 1930s. The difference is the unvaccinated can be redeemed by a simple injection. A simple symbolic act of pseudo science, the spectator can be welcomed back to (what the state department calls) the international community. For there is a new globalist facade (it takes a village) to the schoolmarm scolding of western leaders.

Raja Ravi Varma (Birth of Shakuntala)

The fact that these vaccines (which in fact they aren’t, but rather gene editing treatments that, in theory, provide the same protection) are apparently dangerous (the deaths from adverse reactions would in normal times be high enough for recall) is all baked into the mythology, to the architecture of sacrifice. The redemptive act must entail risk, that is the price of inclusion. That said vaccines (sic) are dangerous for those who early on got the shot (what those crazy kids are calling the ‘clot-shot’) is entirely beside the point. The ‘othering’, the scapegoating, this is the convenient structure of social tension that the ruling class has always taken advantage of, and always with a good degree of success. Well, not always, but over the last hundred years or so, and this is a telling point. The racializing of propaganda began with the colonial era. But it was in the mid 1800s a meme for buttressing the more significant and foregrounded twin branches of scientism (Darwin largely) and (overlapping) the natural superiority of European culture (and here the Church played a not unimportant role). The colonial engine was of course economic but it was mostly under the cover of a civilizing mission. This has not changed. White paternalism is rife in nearly all western governments. Biden calling Cuba a failed state, for example (check infant mortality and then decide which state is failed). Calling for an armed intervention in Haiti. There would never be an intervention for, say, Slovakia. (The intentional destruction of the former Yugoslavia was for many of the same economic reasons that drives the threats to invade Haiti or Cuba, but it needed the moral scaffolding that suggested these darn old former Communist countries need help to stave off civil war, etc. The apparatchik as a version of lazy ‘negro’, or diabolical Arab, or cunning nefarious Asian). As if the poorest country in the hemisphere were not in such dire poverty precisely because of Western governments. The unspoken understanding among the white bourgeoisie is that Haitians are uncivilized. Its all that voodoo and shit. England has the same relationship toward Jamaica. It did toward (and still does) most of Africa (see Kenya). In fact the entire continent of Africa is feeling the squeeze of white saviors from the West. Africa has the resources.

Lars Turnbjork, photography.

Remember above all else the mortality from Covid, and its variants, remains under 1%.

Listen to the Aesthetic Resistance podcasts for more on this https://soundcloud.com/aestheticresistance

If the degrading of culture (and this does not mean there isn’t terrific, even great work being done in most fields) has been so acute, this is partly the result of electronic media, of the penetration of high art (sic) by the the captains of Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and the WEF. The ascension of NGOs, and lobbying, the financialization of capitalism altogether, has meant that daily life is more colonized by , firstly, commodities, but secondly, now, by algorithms. By a form of constant propaganda that can barely be called propaganda any longer. This is the new bio politics, often absurdly misunderstood, that fuels a half dozen cottage industries that are fed by those staring at screens. The fall of the Soviet Union had deep and unrecognized (until recently, I think) effects. It allowed a course correction for western capital.

In discussion of modernism, Herbert Read wrote that its character was that of “a break-up, a devolution, some would say a dissolution. Its character is catastrophic.”
Herbert Read (Name and Nature of Modernism)

Geometrischer, artist unknown. Late 16 century Germany, collection at the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel

“The first characteristic of modernism is the one most obviously associated with the heterogeneity just described, and this is its negativism and antitraditionalism: its defiance of authority and convention, its antagonism or indifference to the expectations of its audience, and, on occasion, its rage for chaos.”
Louis Arnorsson Sass (Madness and modernism : insanity in the light of modern art, literature, and thought)

But I do not think this is quite right. And I think it’s important to examine in what way it is ‘not quite right’. The defiance of authority is quite true, and this is most significant, actually. But then I think nearly all art is in one way or another defiant of authority. And its most certainly not, on the whole, anti-traditional. This is the kitsch version of the avant garde. And this kitsch version has come to color the sensibilities of nearly all cultural institutions. This is the age of what my friend Guy Zimmerman and I discussed fifteen years ago (and a term he coined) ‘placebo art’. It is the age of the bureaucratic imprint. The auteur of 21st century culture is the bureaucrat and he or she is narrating the story of his or her own impotence. This bean counter academic is the bloodless rational man, and this rationality has accepted that the avant garde was all about shock and scandal.

The truth is that only the most idiotic of kitsch modernist work can be so described. The more authentic of modernist work, the more serious let us say, is very much concerned with tradition. And this has enormous implications, and it implicates Heidegger and his metaphysical primitivism. For Heidegger and his Black Notebooks lead directly to the empty anti-humanism of Robert Wilson and Marina Abramovic.( Wilson is, in one sense, aestheticizing the post Hiroshima landscape). The post ’89 art world, following the course correction of western capital, looked to appropriate the past, imitate style codes and cues, empty it, and then distance itself ironically. This even appears in the architecture of a Zaha Hadid. The past is quoted, but only as cocktail chit chat. The entire post modern idea is an attempt to diminish historical value through a diminishing of belief in cultural importance. Snark and sarcasm are so ubiquitous as to be a preferred mode of discourse. The post modern world, because of or along with, the loss of narrative abilities, the loss of rhetorical skill, and a general loss of literacy, will tend toward a validation of vulgar narcissistic display — and this accompanies an acceptance of authority, an underhanded embrace of the status quo.

All the branded dissident artists, from Dylan (and I like much of Dylan, sort of) to James Taylor or countless performance artists, are now doing ads for Victoria’s Secret or credit card providers or whatever. Pepsi and Coke. Taylor and the cloying Jackson Browne want to play to ONLY vaccinated audiences.

But these are, in the end, generalizations — the salient point is that 20th century modernism was recuperating something already being lost. Already fading from memory. What was ‘new’ was that the artwork was recapturing what had been forgotten. But it was cultural autopsy, too. Pinter and Beckett were stripping Shakespeare down to the studs. Fassbinder, with Sirk as his totem, was confronting the populism of melodrama and dime novels. (and it is interesting that Tarantino is the reverse Fassbinder in this sense). I think of Fassbinder as the best exemplar of Benjamin’s arguments in Origins of German Tragic Drama. The world as allegory — as Howard Eiland wrote “Allegorical perception bespeaks a world of mutability and equivocation, a melancholy sense of eternal transience without access to the transcendentals of the medieval mystery plays—though no less haunted and bedeviled, and no less susceptible to momentary apotheosis. History as trauerspiel—as shaped by the base machination of schemers.. { } modern allegory in its inscription of the abyssal, of ever-increasing, apparently incomprehensible, layers of depth, experience, and interpretive questions.” This is the interrogation of authority, finally, and of class. The end of modernism came, I think, with the end of communism. And post modernism was the willing capitulation of the bourgeoisie with the ruling 1% (well, in the 90s that would be ruling 5%). It came via a solipsistic post structuralist and de-politicized academic curriculum and with the loss of legitimate public intellectuals and discouse. Just as the Pentagon and State Department learned lessons from the Vietnam War, so did ruling wealth learn by repurposing Marx in academia. And the promotion of intellectual as reactionary clown (Zizek and now Jordan Peterson). For civil rights, replace Malcolm X with Jay Z and capitalize and brand dissent as soon as it appears.

Edward Kienholz

The fall of the U.S.S.R. also accelerated the schizophrenia of the western bourgeoisie. The entire structure of Girardian sacrifice had lost a key element, never mind most of the proletarian planet was enfeebled and without direction. Without trying to chart anything like a comprehensive graph or time line, the repression in the slave owning Puritan stage of the U.S. found its subjective policing voice growing more remote. The protagonist of American political drama, post WW2, is always the cop.

Post sixties new age mysticism was the precursor, in one sense, to the Covid response. Not in the working class so much, but in the white bourgeoisie. For that new age depoliticizing trend was also an embrace of authority. Werner Erhard is today reincarnated as Anthony Fauci, or the various health ministers of Canada or Australia or Denmark. ‘Dont talk to people, its not the time’ is exactly the EST directive that doesn’t allow bathroom breaks. The rise of social media was there to replace parenting, relieving the growing anxiety of that first generation of screen raised adult children. A reflexive retreat to infantilism was launched. And Zukerberg et al were there to manufacture the stuffed animals and teething rings needed. The post modern bent toward impersonal subjectivity, that sort of lit-crit idea, the fragmented subject, that was taught at U.S. universities the last thirty five years, is actually, contrary to what is now accepted wisdom, a more cultic view of one’s self than even Romanticism. The contemporary subject is, as I wrote last time, identity politics where there is no identity. The fragmented or untethered ego has not resulted in less narcissistic display but more.

“In Alfred Jarry, the turn-of-the-century plavwright who inspired the theater of the absurd, we find a more annihilating solipsism, the celebration of an utter self-involvement of the mind: Being, said Jarry, “consists . . . not in perceiving or being perceived, but in that the iridescent mental kaleidoscope think “itself and of itself [SE pense]. This subjectivist variant is not the only version of modernist worldhood, however; in another mode, external reality loses not its substantiality and otherness but its human resonance or significance, thus bringing about what Heidegger called the “unworlding of the (human) world.” One extreme manifestation of this is what has been called the “white style” or “zero degree of literature”—exemplified by the novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet’s chosisme (“thingism”), his aspiration to depict a world “neither meaningful nor absurd, [that] quite simply is,” a world where “all around us defying our pack of animistic or domesticating adjectives things are there…without false glamour, without transparency.”
Louis Arnorsson Sass (Ibid)

Bhupen Khakar


So, ok, this is pretty reductive stuff, but the point is that the cultural shifts taking place from the 70s onward, and accelerated greatly after 89 (and changed qualitatively) have been, in the West, the celebration of white superiority, the celebration of the ‘end of history’, and the celebration of bourgeois importance and value. The suburban soccer mom meets Mad Men, and no matter the increasing precarity of this class, and no matter if their sense of self worth is mostly voyeuristic (and gleaned from Oprah) the trend remains toward default settings of self importance and hatred of those they deem beneath them. In fact one aspect of this growing post modern stupidity is an open hatred of the poor. It fuels intensified bigotry and racism. And this is the subjectivity that refuses to see anything in terms of class.

As a class, the post 89 ruling wealthy saw themselves as victorious. Hubris is the allegorical trope for western society the last thirty years. Jeff Bezos actually *thanked* his Amazon employees for his ‘space ride’. This is self parody. But the rise of media made wealth, the now constant immersion of billions of people with their smart phones, has allowed for the lockdown of entire nations. And more, at least in the U.S., and certainly among the educated white pseudo middle class, there is resurfacing the most acute Puritanism (its hard to know the degree of bad faith in all this, but its likely a significant amount) and an embrace of the practice of exclusion. It is the *responsible* meme weaponized. We are doing it for your own good. This reminds of Franco Moretti’s examination of DeFoe’s Robinson Crusoe (in The Bourgeoisie). Three key words, useful, efficiency, and comfort are highlighted.

Nandalal Bose (Parthasarathi Krishna)


“Earlier on, I quoted the moment when Robinson addresses the reader— ‘this will testify for me that I was not idle’— in the tone of one who is justifying himself in front of a judge. But then, the sentence veers in an unexpected direction: . . . that I was not idle, reverse’— is completely irrational. It’s only in the latter case that the absurdity of instrumental reason reveals itself and that I spared no pains to bring to pass whatever appeared necessary for my comfortable support’. Comfortable: this is the key.”
Franco Moretti (The Bourgeois)

One can see that the comfort of those working from home, in spacious apartments or houses, are little Crusoes surveying the world of the uncivilized island around them. And the Central American maid or nanny who comes by public transport is their own ‘Friday’. The reality of urban decay is distanced the less you have to actually leave your home. The unreality of these Crusoes online can be sustained throughout the lockdown. Propaganda can be handed over to algorithms and over the course of six months now, the normalizing of curfews and exclusion have been nearly completed. But that tone, ‘of one justifying himself before a judge’ is a tone that has continued to be heard in Western discourse. The adjunct scientist viewing an experiment of which he has no knowledge also contains the voice of one before a judge or tribunal. It is the voice found often in Kafka. The public is a spectator, a lay scientist, uncertain of what is meant to be observed, but feeling the need to make clear they are watching all the same. Responsibly.

Today the voice of the government, the voice of institutional authority is one of the grade school teacher, or even kindergarten teacher. And much of the bourgeois public welcomes this tone. The child feels safer when limits are provided.

“Waiting for Hitler in Vienna in that winter of 1938 was an old and desperately ill Sigmund Freud—as well as a hundred and seventy-five thousand other racial enemies. The Nazis hated Freud with a particular vehemence. When they burned his books at their outdoor rallies in Germany in 1933, the presiding officer had shouted out an indictment: “Against the soul-destroying glorification of the instinctual life,” he cried, “for the nobility of the human soul! I consign to the flames the writings of Sigmund Freud.” Freud, hearing the news about the book burning, remarked, “What progress we are making. In the Middle Ages they would have burnt me;… ”
Mark Edmundson (Ibid)

It is telling today that there is such a pronounced dislike of Freud, a near weekly rebutting of Freudian theory and practice. It seems that it cannot be said enough, for it is repeated endlessly. Freud remains the ‘other’. He is too closely associated with the archaic forces of the unconscious, something the new ‘responsible’ bourgeoisie wants to deny.

Gaston Gale

Notwithstanding the enormous distrust of government narratives regarding the Covid virus, the incessant drumbeat of the official story is wearing down many, and even the skeptical, at least in the U.S. are beginning to acquiesce. There is also now the threat of exclusion. The creation of a new caste system with the unvaccinated as the, literally, new untouchable, is a powerful coercive strategy. But it is the hubris of the ruling class that signals their own fall. Because Branson and Bezos, Musk and Gates, nobody likes these men. I don’t believe people, in general, are fooled. But there are other forces at work, and the insistence on following the rules is backed by economic coercion.

“When associates pointed out to Freud, as they often did, that no nation outside of Germany and Austria was more hospitable to psychoanalysis than America, Freud’s inevitable reply was that Americans had no idea what psychoanalysis was actually about. “We are bringing them the plague,” Freud purportedly said when he and Jung and Ferenczi disembarked in New York in 1909. “We’re bringing them the plague, and they don’t even know it.”
Mark Edmundson (Ibid)

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