Funeral Rites (or Rise of the Screen)

Leo Valledor

“Modern civilization suffers from a lack of principles, and it suffers from it in every domain. By a monstrous anomaly, it is, alone, among the others, a civilization without principles, or with only negative ones, which amounts to the same thing. It is as if an organism with its head cut off went on living a life that was at the same time intense and disordered.”
Rene Guenon (East and West)

“The twentieth century saw the crystallization of a process of enormous significance, which has affected all that goes under the name “religious.” Secular society, without any need for proclamations, has become the ultimate repository for all meaning, almost as if its form corresponded to the physiology of whatever community, and meaning had only to be sought within society itself. Which itself can assume the most divergent political and economic forms, whether capitalist or socialist, democratic or dictatorial, protectionist or free-trading, military or sectarian. All to be considered, in every case, as mere variants of a single entity: society itself. It is as though, after millennia, imagination had been stripped of its capacity to look beyond society in search of something that gives meaning to what is going on within society.”
Roberto Calasso (The Unnamable Present)

“On the earth, power can have a noble mission; perhaps on it alone, on a territory protected by it, can civilizations of a higher order emerge. But the power of Sparta seems to have appeared to the world almost only for itself and for its own success, and its constant pathos was the enslavement of submissive populations and the extension of its dominion as an end in itself.”
Jacob Burckhardt (History of Greek Culture)

“You can have any color you want, as long as it’s black.”
Henry Ford

One sign of evidence for instrumental thinking and its subsumption of reason is how the climate change debates took shape and now how the Coronavirus debates are taking place. In the first there was (and is) an obsession with the thermometer. A constant return to the details of temperature, fractions of temperature and constant computational predictions on minute fluctuations. With Corona it has taken on the dead. Numbers of, percentages of, and with the same digital magic thinking in predictions. An ever growing body of graphs, curves, pie charts etc.

Chris Brodahl

“In the nineteenth century the upper-class family guaranteed a lengthy and protected childhood and, as a late reflection of feudal hierarchy, gave rise, in favorable circumstances, to a sense of security, trust, and direction or, in unfavorable circumstances, to parental tyranny and filial resentment. But the family of today has surrendered many of its remaining functions to other institutions or to society at large.”
Max Horkheimer (Critique of Instrumental Reason)

The rise of what I want to call the new magical thinking, or maybe the digital magical thinking, is clearly tied into the rise of the internet and the ubiquitous screen. The fetishizing of science is, in a sense, a stand in for reason and thinking itself. That data and information is so easy to access means that a lot of energy is devoted to shopping for the preferred opinion. In both climate change discussions and in Coronavirus discussions the social media is saturated with people scolding or hectoring others, or defending themselves from scolding, and issuing opinions based on, literally, scientific studies or monographs about which the scolder has literally no clue. The shopper for opinion, however, has become increasingly savvy about constructing a personal brand and identity — although it’s not quite identity, more on that below — or personality, from favorite sources.

There is now, it seems to me, a kind of bleeding of a self identified *identity* with and into behaviour. A reversal, in a way, of what has been the case for, probably, four hundred years. One thinks in conventional terms of someone developing a personality over time, built on what is learned in experience, from family and friends, and from work. Now the personality is constructed and THEN taken out into the world and test driven. If the response is positive the identity or personality will continue to be developed.

Robert Gotzfried, photography.

“(Pitirim) Sorokin foretells that the boundary between true and false will erode, and that conscience (superego) will disappear in favor of special-interest groups. Force and fraud will become the norm, he says; the family will disintegrate; real creativity will wane. As a substitute for the latter, we shall get a multitude of mediocre pseudothinkers, and our belief system will turn into a strange, inchoate stew of shreds of science, philosophy, and magic. Above all—anticipating here the rise of kitsch—“quantitative colossalism will substitute for qualitative refinement.” Instead of classics, we shall have best-sellers; instead of genius, technique. Real thought will be supplanted by information.”
Morris Berman (The Twilight of American Culture, 1999)

The only thing missing in observations of the kind Berman describes (and Berman remains rather neglected it seems to me) is the ‘rise of the screen’ had not yet happened, or rather was just really beginning to take control of life. The erosion of discernment, of reflective judgement, ended its trajectory with not just crudity and vulgarity, but with screen impairments that present pseudo versions of everything. This is over generalized because there are holes of contradiction, but the negative trajectory of reason and thought did not mean that reason and thought were forgotten but rather that fewer and fewer people could distinguish the real from the fake. And this , to take us back to instrumental thinking, has meant that junk science and corrupted science and paid off technicians would drown out all discourse that stood as dissent to the massive undertow of ornamental gibberish posing as actual science. But this raises questions about the evolution of the very idea of science. But before that I think the instrumental — the language of the contemporary west, really, needs to fleshed out a bit more (sic). The other profound element in the Corona crises has to do with an official perspective implanted in discourse on the means to deal with death.

“Conversation becomes superficial, convictions a burden. The various machines—record player, radio, television—which do away with speech even among friends have made their appearance just at the right moment. They provide models for behavior and give muteness the illusion that something is being said.”
Max Horkheimer (ibid)

Hon Chi Fun

The endless argument on social media that tries to find an emotional equilibrium in response to what is close to a global shutting down of entire cities, and even countries (if smaller, such as Norway and Denmark) has resulted in more writing about death than I can ever remember. Lists of dead, the numbers of those infected, the ages of those who have died. And since the virus targets the immune compromised the aged are far and the away the demographic with the highest death count. Victims in their eighties, their nineties, are only numbers now, for this is their digital funeral rite. A screen exequies, the new algorithm for mortality.

Now, running alongside any of this is are the questions of western capital, the plan or opportunistic appropriation of a pandemic, however mild it may actually be, and the reflexive impulse toward punishment. The more the state employs language of care the more certain one feels that a guilty verdict has been issued, and suddenly time itself stretches out before a public that senses extreme hardship is the penalty phase of this inquisition. And that the health of everyone will suffer far greater impairment from anxiety, stress, and the feeling of confinement that is being enforced by decree and threat of force, outside all democratic process. Don’t travel, don’t touch, and with this an entire prefabricated vocabulary — flatten the curve, social distancing, etc. “

Ogata Korin (Fujin the demon, early 1700s)

Now what the ruling class plans to do, what they have almost certainly been planning for a while, with all manner of contingencies, is to finally own nature outright. The recent headline that Venice, Italy was while under quarantine, seeing the cleanest water in seventy five years suggests a snapshot or trailer for the future of a culled world, a white world obviously, in which the elite can enjoy nature free of humanity.

Hiroyuki Hamada wrote this to me the other day….“After the warlord period of 15th century, Japan was united by a few families then by a shogun family. The period is called Edo period. They disarmed civilians and established a mild caste system. The country was closed except for a few ports controlled by the central government, travel restrictions were put in place and certain technological developments were prohibited. The period also had an interesting feature called sankinkoutai. It forced regional leaders to march across the country in formal costumes along with their armies in order to alternate their residences between their home regions and the capital of the feudal Japan, Edo. It also forced leaders’ wives and family members to remain in Edo at all time. It was an elaborate system to keep the hierarchical structure intact.” (I believe this will be part of an article up at Off Guardian, soon.)

There are several things to touch on. The idea of a Shogunate for the ruling class feels about right … and everything will be sold to the outsiders as green and sustainable. But the more significant thing here is the transformation of American consciousness over the last twenty years. And maybe it would be more telling to look at just the last decade. The climate debate brought up the new Puritan, overwhelmingly male, who is the 60s health food store manager morphed into a the guy who sells solar panels online, and secretly admires Joe Apaio. And this is evolving now, with the pandemic, to an infantile voyeur of the new funeral rites for the planet. One suspects at this level of unreality the fact that they themselves figure to be among the culled (or at least suffering severe hardship) is of little import.

Weng Fen, photography.

The new Green Puritan is also perfectly adapted to the new sex negative fear-of-germs- social distancing, and is becoming a new age Freikorps cadet in the fight to defeat humanity (because humans are the blight on the planet, and is per ghouls like David Attenborough and Jane Goodall). The war against humans has employed various rhetorical gambits, dragging out the old overpopulation theme and numbers of both woman and men have fallen over themselves promising to ‘not have kids’, for the sake of survival — of the planet (forget the species). This is among the liberal educated bourgeoisie of the West mostly. The lumpen unemployed, growing daily, are viewed as carriers of disease and to be somehow made invisible. Still, the idea of humanity as not just unnecessary but actually an active enemy to the good of the planet. For the planet is now a character in this screenplay. Calasso’s quote at the very top described something of a shift. There is now, perhaps, another shift. His use of the word stripped is well considered, I think, and now society is being abandoned as a lost cause the better to focus on ‘earth’, Gaia, the planet.

What strikes me however amid this shutdown (they like the term lockdown because it makes society seem more like a prison) is a developing calculus of death.

“Communication is crucial for the smooth operation and the self-ordering of systems. Surely, therefore, it is more important than ever to speak? However, the speaking that is required amounts to the transmitting of information, approximating to digital communication, through operational channels and protocols, analogous to cell and tissue signalling systems; communicating with precision; nothing else will do.
Psychoanalysis, on the contrary, is concerned with quite a different kind of speaking beyond the operational scientific communications systems type of “speaking” being rolled-out globally, and performed increasingly by automated systems and voice-synthesisers. The psychoanalytic “subject” is of a different order. Psychoanalysis privileges “speaking” with all quirks and idiosyncrasies left in, as well as mis-speaking or un-speaking (deparole), all part of following the “free association” rule. Where speaking reveals a slippage of meaning, something other appears. This other constitutes the subject, who is eclipsed, hidden, obscured by operational language and communication.”

Rob Weatherill (Psychoanalysis and Mental Health)

Bronzino (Madonna and Child with Saints 1540. Detail)

The planet is viewed and projected as a character free of people. Oh the people are there in this vision but only in the role of hurting mother earth, ergo the emotional pull is actually deeply nihilistic. For in this mini series teleplay of environmental concern the populations of the earth are meant to be disappeared. And that means even the self. And it may be that Zombies are the most overdetermined symbol in the history of culture. For even in zombie franchises there is a reading that has zombies as a kind of clean up crew for the new green aristocracy, the green chosen.

“I shall discuss the ways in which necrophilia shapes philosophical thought as it shapes other master discourses of modernity; but we can see at a glance that in philosophical terms post/modernity is premised on the death of God (‘and we have killed him’), which leads directly to ideas of the death of ‘man’, the death of the subject, the death of the author.”
Grace M. Jantzen (Foundations of Violence)

There is an overriding sense of the digital electronic to this coronavirus narrative. And its buried beneath the state uses of totally unnecessary authoritarian emergency measures. It is on the personal level the creation of, or further shaping of this new american personality. You see it on TV news anchors and talking heads, and you see it in Hollywood, too, but you see it most glaringly I think in social media. This new personality is based on the green puritan, but it is now given a kind of Max Headroom treatment — it is the prophet of doom, it is the voice advising people to stay home (I had one man on social media write ‘PLEASE Mr. Steppling…’. This is the voice of the child who wants to sound like an adult. And in a world without many adults this does sound to the other children like a kindergarten teacher. It is constantly reminding us of his or her concern. But he doesn’t WANT to lose his temper, he stays polite, after all this is bigger than you and me. It is mock therapeutic. But it is from the start aligned with the ruling class, and with militarism and Wall Street. There are echoes of other things, The Muppets, and Mister Rogers, and Dr. Phil. This is the whole foods version of unctuous. Of the traveling salesman. Throughout American culture there has been the figure of the salesman. A nation of salesmen with nothing to sell.

Leidy Churchman

It is not insignificant that this post literate infantilized personality — a character structure, really, — has only developed over the last decade or so. In some sense this is the post 9 11, or perhaps this is post Clinton/Gingrich (post New Covenant and Contract with America). For really this is about the dawning of a collective dread in the heartland. And I can’t say when the dawning began, because probably it was always there. It was there in the ‘Indian Killers’ of Blood Meridian and The Searchers , and it was there historically in the bloody Kansas raids and John Brown and Harper’s Ferry. But it may well be that this dread was built into the first Massachusetts Bay colonist génocidaires, into the Puritan and Calvinist and Lutheran sex negative misogynists and in the whacked out hidden violence of the Mennonites and Amish. But it was also undeniably and like most everything else, profoundly altered by the internet and the rise of the screen. The radical Pentecotalism that first surfaced in televangelists in the 50s, and with immigrant communities from central America in the 80s, gradually morphed into an arm of the Republican Party and linked Jesus with American exceptionalism. The personality that has seemingly been spawned in the shadow of social media and Google and Microsoft and Apple is always performing a role for him or herself. It is almost as if what is said a minute ago can easily be contradicted because this is a new ‘take’. The super-ego has called CUT. And repetition is doing that scene again but a little bit different. Now in one way that has always been an aspect of repetition (per psychoanalysis) but now it is part of deliberate construction of ‘self’, not an unconscious compulsion to correct or renegotiate trauma; a self, one that is given to conspicuous displays of caring and empathy.But such empathic performances are only that.

Oral Roberts

The rise of the screen has helped evolve instrumental thinking into something I’ll call digital thinking. “The shift from the logocentric to the iconocentric began approx- imately in the mid-twentieth century. The advent of television signaled it, but should not be confused as its cause. Image began to replace text as the preeminently authoritative sign. The iconic shift strengthened the effectiveness of the fear culture, as characteristics of icons lend themselves to more emotional and less analytic styles of thought.” Geoffrey Skoll (Social Theory of Fear)

Now Skoll makes an interesting point that ancient Greece saw a somewhat similar shift in the 5th century BCE. Before the shift the reciting of Homer and other poets was the main, or a main, form of socializing, and it was a form of mythic storytelling, and was set in the context of a mythic history — and people memorized huge amounts of poetry, and was really an expression of a tribal order. “Adoption of writing as the main form for the ruling epics signified the shift from mythos to logos, a shift from an oral to a written culture, from the performative to the lexical. Whereas Homer exemplified mythos, Plato became the exemplar of logos. The shift in classical Greece set the stage for a logocentric Western culture (Derrida 1967). { } Condensation is another characteristic of iconos. Each step in the mythocentric-logocentric-iconocentric evolution increasingly condensed the representation of information.
Geoffrey R. Skoll (ibid)

The alphabet came into play around the 7th century BCE. The shift toward simplification (or condensation) in a sense. Skoll observes that the full on dominance of icons (his terminology) has meant that everything teeters close to a form of propaganda. Not much cognitive activity is needed to elicit an emotional response (see collapse of the World Trade Center, or Bana Al Abed). In another simpler sense Jerry Mander wrote forty years ago about television (Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television) “The technology of TV predetermines the boundaries of its content. Some types of information can be conveyed completely, some partially, and some not at all. The most effective TV messages are linear, gross, and simplified to fit the purposes of its commercial controllers. It is
pre-selected material that innately excludes all other material. The act of sitting in front of TV is itself a replacement of our other experiences. Because subtleties do not transmit well, technicians constantly strive for high-contrast images with low detail.”

Rubem Valentim

What was lost with the shift away from that pre alphabetic sociality was what Rene Geuenon calls the ‘mysteries’. It is the dynamic of soothsaying and prophecy that lingered in the Oracle at Delphi and later incarnations.

“There too,the sixth century was the starting-point of the so-called ‘classical’ civilization, which alone is entitled-according to the moderns-to be considered ‘historical’, everything previous to it being so little known as to be treated as ‘legendary’, even though recent archeological discoveries no longer leave room for doubt that there was a very real civilization; and we have reasons for supposing that this first Hellenic civilization was far
more interesting intellectually than what followed, and that the relationship between the two is to some extent analogous to that between medieval and modern Europe. It should be noted however that the breach was not so complete as in the latter case, for at least a partial re-adaptation was carried out in the traditional order, principally in the domain of the ‘mysteries’; one may refer here to the case of Pythagorism, which was primarily a restoration, under a new form, of the earlier Orphic tradition, and whose connection with the Delphic cult of the Hyperborean Apollo bears witness to an unbroken and regular line of descent from one of the most ancient traditions of mankind. But on the other hand there very soon appeared something of which there had been no previous example,
and which, in the future, was to have an injurious effect on the whole Western world: we refer to that special form of thought that acquired and retained the name of ‘philosophy’…”

Rene Guenon (The Crisis of the Modern World)

Mary Ramsden

For Guenon, a Sufi, the initiatic path is of crucial importance. It is the intimate passing on of a knowledge, a secret practice and wisdom. It is oral. And there is something in this view worth discussing. Guenon was born in France but converted to Islam and died in 1951 in Cairo, Egypt.

“Cuneiform script and glyphs appear to the modern mind as text. Nonetheless, the art historian Zania Bahrani (2003) made a strong argument that the writing really was part of what they represented. A statue of the emperor with inscriptions was experienced as if he were actually present. The mythocentric age of performance communication and consciousness depended on presence even in its absence. Just so, in the iconocentric age, live presence occurs as iconic representation.”
Geoffrey R. Skoll (ibid)

“Surveillance capitalism operates through unprecedented asymmetries in knowledge and the power that accrues to knowledge. Surveillance capitalists know everything about us, whereas their operations are designed to be unknowable to us. They accumulate vast domains of new knowledge from us, but not for us. They predict our futures for the sake of others’ gain, not ours. ”
Shoshana Zuboff (The Age of Surveillance Capitalism)

Rene Guenon and Frithjof Schuon.

Nothing is present, and the shapers of opinion and behaviour are invisible. And this in a roundabout sort of way brings me to theatre.

“The transformation of ideas into hallucinations is not the only respect in which dreams differ from corresponding thoughts in waking life. Dreams construct a situation out of these images; they represent an event which is actually happening; … they “dramatize” an idea.”
Freud (The Interpretation of Dreams)

Theatre is, finally, about presence. Even the greatest films are still not really present in that same way. But what does that mean? It means that in theatre the first register of experience is an idea or ideas. It is thinking, the author is thinking and the play itself is thinking. Now that sounds odd, perhaps, but I think this is true. The play is a ritual or a ceremony. It is intensely symbolic (more on that below) and it exists in a relationship with the audience. And each performance is different, and with each performance the ideas change…or the focus changes. The play thinks, it is a composite experience for actors, director and audience. This also tied into reason and its relationship with capital.

“Reason in artworks…is reason as gesture: They synthesize like reason, but not with concepts, propositions, and syllogisms—where these forms occur in art they do so only as subordinated means—rather, they do so by way of what transpires in the artworks. Their synthetic function is immanent: it is the unity of their self, without immediate relation to anything external given or determined in some way or other; it is directed to the dispersed, the aconceptual, quasi-fragmentary material with which in their interior space artworks are occupied.”
Theodore Adorno (The Essay as Form)

In all great art, actually, there is a residue of dreamwork. And one of the things that instrumental or digital thinking does is to stop the dialectic embedded in authentic art. And here one need be reminded of Beller’s idea of psychoanalysis as film theory. All dreaming is a movie.

Instrumental logic cannot abide the mythos, the experience of humanness, really. And the human is always somehow collective. And for the average American the rule of individuality means there will be resistance. And today there is resistance to even presence itself.

Elmgreen & Dragset

“This minimal dramatization is simply amplified in dreams that rework the material of unconscious fantasy,> in the fantastic genealogies of “family romance,” in the stories of day- dreams, and also in literary fiction, which originates, according to Freud, in fantasy. Starting with the simplest fantasy, we are on a level with the potentially proliferating order of fable (muthos): we are al- ready far removed from the drab imagination of satisfaction. Furthermore, and this is no doubt what matters most, the subject (or the ego, as Freud would say) is always implicated in the scenario, either because it intervenes directly and in the “first person”-this is the case with most dreams and also with daydreams, which are, as Laplanche and Pontalis write, “filled to overflowing by the ego””-or because it turns out to animate one fantasmatic character or another from within, as in those popular novels whose protagonist, as Freud notes, is a cover for “His Majesty the Ego, the hero alike of every day-dream and of every story.”
Mikkel Borch Jacobsen (The Freudian Subject)

And this is the paradox — the ego, in dreams, in a mythos (though today that may be atrophied) is operating in symbols and constructing a text and image that is highly overdetermined. The super ego does not do any of that.

I think the shift from instrumental to digital is worth a long analysis, but for here, the short version is that instrumental thinking, and logic, was there to serve cataloguing and measuring, to give a vocabulary to institutional and bureaucratic projects, and it fostered a philosophy that favored positivism and logic. It is the language of industrialization and finance, of all things mechanical. The digital has abandoned most of that because computational power subsumes it. The digital is the missing voice, the mute observer (voyeurism is nearly always silent), and the voice of pop therapeutics. The digital is a recorded voice, and a grammar that would come from a damaged speech, a developmental disorder or neurogenic flaw. It is a speech that prefers to remain silent.

Aaron Delehanty, photography. (Rochester Museum & Science Center)

What one can see in the public narrative around the outbreak of the Coronavirus is the presentless digitalized infantilism of the contemporary spectacle. It is rife with this new age magical thinking, where washing your hands with alcohol or staying in your room are the new rituals of death defying hygeine. And, in this particular case there are the fingerprints of the unknowable powers of what Zuboff calls Surveillance Capitalism. It is a narrative of sentimental fake caring (can it be noted clearly nobody came out to denounce the massive genocidal on Yemen, just as an example, but there a countless others) and real paranoia. In the UK, to reinforce the funeral aspect to this public mass ceremonial regression it now far easier to register deaths (presumably meaning old theatre comedies like Kind Heart and Coronets will live on) and it on a less conscious level a master narrative of infestation and eastern/Oriental cunning and rapacity. It is also a vehicle to disseminate fear. And it appears, magically, as if out of thin air. But perhaps most significantly it is about desire. The state, the ruling class, has met with almost no resistance, but with applause for instigating the most draconian and authoritarian restrictions and policies. The liberal bourgeoisie desire this story. One aspect of this has to do with a new template for managing death.

“The purpose of advertising is to unify and homogenize people and culture. The fact that you choose a Ford and I choose a Volvo doesn’t mean diversity; it means unity. We agree that we need a car that is essentially identical in everything but style.”
Jerry Manders (ibid)

Frederike Von Rauch, photography.

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  1. Two and a half weeks ago, I had surgery performed on my eyes. When I went into surgery, (I live in a more densely populated area of Canada), the society around me was functioning as per usual. The surgery went well; however, the recovery period was unexpectedly brutal. I spent the first 5 days, mostly in bed with a headache ranging from moderate to severe migraine. My vision was quite blurred and I was not able to read or use the computer (I don’t have a cellphone) without extreme discomfort or nausea. I basically lay in silence, in bed, my muscles cramping up, stiff with pain and exhaustion, spending most of my waking moments simply feeling intense pain. After about 5 days, I was able to leave the apartment a couple times a day to walk and ease the muscle cramps (with eye protection against the wind, which felt like sandpaper on my eyeballs). I would wander for a walk at the local park or cemetery with my big sunglasses and a toque pulled low over the top part of the glasses to prevent air seepage. Then I would return home and lie in bed with exhaustion. This routine lasted about another 5 days.
    Toward the end of that 10 day acute recovery period, as I began to do some little errands like visit the grocery store, or go to a coffee shop, I became aware of a kind of intensification of panic and fear. I felt almost near-hysterical with a slightly different than I felt when I was lying in bed, in intense pain, (admittedly feeling my own fears, worries and upset, and some regret about choosing to have the surgery). I found that it was increasingly difficult to be in the vicinity of people. So I chose to keep to myself and continue resting and building up my physical strength–which also helped keep me emotionally stable/grounded. I mostly stayed in my apartment or went for walks in the woods and kept my social interactions to phone calls (landline) with friends (computer use is still a strain….choosing to read this blog post will use up my computer/reading time for the day).
    Then quite suddenly, I felt recovered enough from the surgery, and grounded enough in myself to face the world. I felt exuberant and excited to see my friends! I left the house and the world had changed…. Of course, i knew about some of the changes from phone calls from my friends and I was aware of the panic I could sense in people on those excursions to the store, but I do not participate in any social media and I do not read, watch or listen to any news, so most of my sense of the changes came from witnessing how spaces were altered and watching people’s actions and hearing their words. I know what is going on by observing people’s actions, behaviours and emotions and then going inward and feeling….in other words: being present. I also get a sense by walking for hours in the woods, noting the sky, the clouds, the trees, the return of migratory birds….are they joyful? Are they scared and panicked? Are they thriving? What are they? The Earth knows differently than our mainstream society has chosen to know. Not only do I feel just as adequately informed as any of my friends who have immersed themselves (with conscious, inward awareness and critical thinking or not) in media and information outlets, but I seem to be avoiding the sense of stress, panic, fear and worry that seems to be part of some very odd behaviours–feelings that I did have, at first when I sensed the height of panic in people around me, and I do sense creeping back into me from time-to-time, but that I do not feel unconsciously governed by. And I don’t think the problem is that people are having these intense emotional experiences, I think the issue is that a lot of people are not aware they are having them…or that the emotions become projected onto others and not truly felt, experienced, processed and allowed to move through. It is the lack of awareness that prevents change….that connection between emotion and cognition seems severed. I say this from a place of recognition as I, too, was once unable to feel my own emotions and used denial to prevent feeling/processing them (there are probably still some things I have blocked from witnessing/feeling). It is possible to change this.

    Over a year ago now, a friend prompted me to read the ancient Chinese book, the I CHING, or “The Book of Changes”, as it is often translated. I have studied it for over a year now and i remember when I first started reading it, that I had a very curious experience and awareness of reading that I had never had so consciously with a book before. I noticed that the I CHING is not so much something one *reads* but something one studies or practices. The very simple and yet infinitely complex structure of this text allows for a sort of consciousness of the dialogue which is possible between reader and text….a kind of “performance”. There is this uncanny sense I get when I study or consult the I CHING, that the ancients are with me and I am being seen as I am seeing (a very popular trope with acting teachers: SEE AND BE SEEN!!). Sometimes, I find that the way to study the I CHING is to know when to stop studying the I CHING and wait to grow. Slow down. Knowledge, it seems, is not always something to be consumed or had through intense work or searching. There is another kind of knowledge that simply enters and transforms without effort. I wonder if people experience reverence and respect and deep delight and curiosity for Google and CNN and Twitter feeds the way I do when I open the I CHING? …..I feel inspired to write of my relationship with the I CHING from your thoughts on screen culture above and also the quote near the beginning of this post about “secular society” replacing “religion” or, perhaps, I might say the “Great Mystery” or “embodiment” or the “spiritual” (though that word has many connotations glommed onto it, which can deflect from my meaning).

    Do I have the answers? No. I do not *have* answers…(there’s that consumption metaphor at work in how we think about knowledge: having, “getting it.” And this narrative way of constructing and containing information in the limited form of *answers* and *problems* to be *solved*) I do not *have* answers. I practice the answer.

  2. Niko Popovich says:

    Hey John,

    I was listening to the latest podcast on aesthetic resistance (#5) before reading this. Somehow the two trains of thought collided in my mind (I was stoned on a walk)
    You guys were talking about zombie movies in the podcast and the kind of desire&anxiety that fantasy expresses. in this blog the drift i caught was this kind of degradation of the ability to think or to symbolize. In both the blog and the podcast you mention this strange phenomena among the upper middle class (white), mostly male American population. the phenomena itself is a little bit obscure when spelled out but I think I’m understandably paraphrasing you in saying that these people search for their self in the Other- that they take a role to be in the Other’s scene. By their imagination of what the Other knows and wants of them. I discovered in myself recently this is not actually desire but anxiety, or the desire of a very immature person. its kind of hard to formulate.
    So thats one tab to keep the finger on…
    So in Zombieland Jesse Eisenberg is an upper middle class nerd, plays computer games, there’s some scenes of sexual frustration. He’s from the class ‘of normal/ideal normal Americans’ with nowadays (under the regime of neoliberalism) very loose family structure with members who are unable to relate to eachother (from the same lack of any identity mentioned before, this has been going on, I see, for at least 4 generations.)
    So no family relations with no experience of reality, as computer addicts,
    leads to no identity, and that phenomenon of searching the Other for your self as role.
    This is an unconscious process, at least in me, but from experience with other Americans (white and not even limited to whites, but running more along class lines, which entail a certain of living.) Anyways, i notice myself doing this, but I see in younger cousins of mine that there may be ‘nothing there’ to even become conscious of that, so undeveloped is the ego, the soul, forgive me. He can’t become conscious of that phenomenon because he is just that phenomenon, which gives these people their eerie, body-snatched, brave new world feeling when you’re with them.
    That’s cynical, but I want to say that I believe these people are only like that when they’re around someone whose presence effects them, like some very undeveloped kind of transference. I’ve had a lot of my life run by these rules and I know them well, wow (: but anyways, I think everyone negotiates that. they battle it. they’re not happy and I think aware of that, but don’t have the vocabulary to start grappling it.

    and back to the zombie fantasy- this combo of no family (estranged and strained relations) with no actual experience has these later social-psychic consequences. Younger people have trouble communicating (beyond memes and the most superficial, even if it’s ‘deep’) they cannot be intimate, cannot satisfy themselves or eachother because they don’t exist enough, are too anxious and afraid.

    (every zombie fantasy also has some love fantasy intertwined)
    It seems like this libidinal, sexual frustration, the anxiety and madness of no identity, and being deeply estranged from the human race and ‘reality’ (the reality principle) gives rise to these fantasies. The anxiety (the question of the Other…) warps everything negative, makes it violent, murdering every rival the nerdy hero eventually has sex. (Jesse Eisenberg). but you know about that kind of stuff. I wonder what you see running along these lines…

    (these movies and books also bring up the question of the relation between fantasy and story. All scifi is little more than these kinds of psychotic, weird fantasies, with a little bit (never a lot) of symbolical processing to make it a story… like, the anxiety, whatever it is- aliens, the plague, zombies, etc… never has a solid enough grounding somehow. they never link the anxiety (the bogeyman of the plot and the events of the story) to the character’s desire and their actions- which happens in good tragedy and storytelling. so fantasies and stories are of the same nature, but differ in structure and ‘development of symbolic meaning and understanding’ maybe? I dont know)

    All this fantasizing about the end of the world on the part of bored, disaffected kids is similar to what Martin Billheimer wrote about some young guys just loving the idea of going to war in 1914, thinking about it all day, if not just as a way to break up the monotony and encounter something ‘real’ (and this is all unfortunate and very sick)

    Anyways, there’s also the discussion of the future and the social system in your blog. All these Jesse Eisenbergs are going to be the ones running the country tomorrow (they already are). Theyre the ones who take higher functionary roles in corporations and government or else entrepreneuring or making the cultural commodities. We’re already seeing this with Trump, and not so much with his actions, but the inaction of the entire apparatus of government, the complacency in workplaces and society in general. That these kids cannot think. They don’t have enough of a soul. They just take the roles that they find in the Other, in their anxiety. I think this class is incapable of abiding by any code or law or any ideal whatsoever, and thats not radical to say or point out, but of most importance is the fact that we’ve reached a point of psychic degradation and erosion that the society in question cannot reproduce itself in the same form. Society (the state and the regime of labor) will regress to something not more primitive (our tech isnt going anywhere, it just will stop advancing) but more brutal. Less codified, symbolic, mediated violence- more widespread and immediate violence.
    This is a consequence of the operation of the system, just like climate change, all the wars around the world right now… the people leading it (and maintaining the inner structure by codes and rules) have no real ‘conscience’. no personality, no ego. Just whatever is desired by the Other. people are easy to control in this state.
    anyways, its not a conspiracy, it just happened because of the way the system has been running now for 50 years going. Its a known tactic of war to try and subvert an enemy society by corrupting the upper class youth. The United States does this by flooding their cultural scenes with hard drugs. Thats a long story. This is similar, but is just an (another) unfortunate consequence of capitalism. the dehumanizing of those who are supposed to be the most involved in it.

    You used this phrase once before on the blog; ‘unconsciously artificial.’ oh! what a shudder! Its strange how this line from instrumental reasoning led to creating people who cannot think.

    Also, I was wondering how I could read some of your screenplays or screenplays by the padua playwrights… do you know if there are any online copies? could you send me something? haha! please! I would love to write drama stuff… like theater and films or whatever… I just started working at a theater here in Belgrade. the theater lives..!

    Thanks for doing what you do man..
    take it easy

  3. stephen quintanilla says:

    In addition to the points you have made about the epidemic of fear regarding coronavirus is the growing use of references to war, in particular WWII. Minutes after reading this article I saw 2 such references on TV. One from an owner of a micro distillery that is producing hand sanitizer who said we are in a “world war” and the other from some official at Tufts University speaking about the offer by the university to house coronavirus patients (future forced quarantines?) saying that this is a “Dunkirk” moment, comparing this offer of housing to the boats “crossing the channel.” People are starting to move beyond grateful compliance with the police state repression to a militant attitude.

    It has even become pointless to read They are really fanning the flames of this panic. A couple of days ago 19 out of 20-21 articles were about the coronavirus with similar proportions for the last week or so. I think they are hoping that capitalism will finally collapse, the masses will see the light and run into the arms of the SEP to lead them. Some delusional thinking over there as a matter of course, but especially among the followers that participate regularly in the comments section.

    I’m sure you’re probably aware that there is now a Baby Shark video about handwashing that is going viral. Your “Baby Shark Coup” article was much appreciated. Sometimes it feels like I’m the only one who has noticed this growing childishness in U.S. culture. It is reassuring to know that isn’t the case.

  4. John Steppling says:

    thanks, and i may well quote you (from your first paragraph). A Dunkirk moment indeed. But then US has always loved metaphors of genocide, occupation and war. Black Hawk Down to Apache helicopters, to tomahawk missiles. And it goes on.

  5. John Steppling says:

    thanks, lots of great points in there.

  6. stephen quintanilla says:

    Here are couple of links to give you more accurate quotes. I couldn’t find the exact video I saw of the distillery owner using the term “world war” but I did find this one where she say “This is war, this really is war”:

    Here is Tufts president Terry Monaco invoking the memory of Dunkirk:

    The really frightening development is all the cheerful upside of indefinite confinement stories. A few examples:

    “Minnesota couple gets engaged during surprise video chat with friends”:

    “Man runs marathon distance by going back and forth for almost 7 hours on 23 foot balcony” (note the stomach turning phrase “In the age of confinement”):

    And of course this one that was making the rounds quite a bit with the heartwarming photo that doesn’t look at all like a no-contact prison visit. (Shades of “Midnight Express”): “Woman surprises quarantined grandpa with engagement news through nursing home window”:

  7. “Dawn in New York has
    four columns of mire
    and a hurricane of black pigeons
    splashing in the putrid waters.

    Dawn in New York groans
    on enormous fire escapes
    searching between the angles
    for spikenards of drafted anguish.

    Dawn arrives and no one receives it in his mouth
    because tomorrow and hope are impossible there:
    sometimes the furious swarming coins
    penetrate like drills and devour abandoned children.

    Those who go out early know in their bones
    there will be no paradise or loves that blossom and die:
    they know they will be mired in numbers and laws,
    in mindless games, in fruitless labors.

    The light is buried under chains and noises
    in the impudent challenge of rootless science.
    And crowds stagger sleeplessly through the boroughs
    as if they had just escaped a shipwreck of blood.” – Lorca

  8. John Steppling says:

    which translation is that?

    this is bly translating city that does not sleep

    In the sky there is nobody asleep. Nobody, nobody.
    Nobody is asleep.
    The creatures of the moon sniff and prowl about their cabins.
    The living iguanas will come and bite the men who do not dream,
    and the man who rushes out with his spirit broken will meet on the street corner
    the unbelievable alligator quiet beneath the tender protest of the stars.

    Nobody is asleep on earth. Nobody, nobody.
    Nobody is asleep.
    In a graveyard far off there is a corpse
    who has moaned for three years
    because of a dry countryside on his knee;
    and that boy they buried this morning cried so much
    it was necessary to call out the dogs to keep him quiet.

    Life is not a dream. Careful! Careful! Careful!
    We fall down the stairs in order to eat the moist earth
    or we climb to the knife edge of the snow with the voices of the dead dahlias.
    But forgetfulness does not exist, dreams do not exist;
    flesh exists. Kisses tie our mouths
    in a thicket of new veins,
    and whoever his pain pains will feel that pain forever
    and whoever is afraid of death will carry it on his shoulders.

    One day
    the horses will live in the saloons
    and the enraged ants
    will throw themselves on the yellow skies that take refuge in the eyes of cows.

    Another day
    we will watch the preserved butterflies rise from the dead
    and still walking through a country of gray sponges and silent boats
    we will watch our ring flash and roses spring from our tongue.
    Careful! Be careful! Be careful!
    The men who still have marks of the claw and the thunderstorm,
    and that boy who cries because he has never heard of the invention of the bridge,
    or that dead man who possesses now only his head and a shoe,
    we must carry them to the wall where the iguanas and the snakes are waiting,
    where the bear’s teeth are waiting,
    where the mummified hand of the boy is waiting,
    and the hair of the camel stands on end with a violent blue shudder.

    Nobody is sleeping in the sky. Nobody, nobody.
    Nobody is sleeping.
    If someone does close his eyes,
    a whip, boys, a whip!
    Let there be a landscape of open eyes
    and bitter wounds on fire.
    No one is sleeping in this world. No one, no one.
    I have said it before.

    No one is sleeping.
    But if someone grows too much moss on his temples during the night,
    open the stage trapdoors so he can see in the moonlight
    the lying goblets, and the poison, and the skull of the theaters.

  9. It’s in an edition of Lorca’s collected poems which losts Greg Simon and Steven F. White as translators.

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