The Occult Technique

Nicolo lo Calzo, photography.

“Art is a mode of prediction not found in charts and statistics, and it insinuates possibilities of human relations not to be found in rule and precept, admonition and administration.”
John Dewey

“In their { Horkheimer & Adorno’s } account of western modernity, enlightenment and progressive rationalization become myth and ideology legitimating social irrationality and injustice, as natural and human relations are increasingly reduced to means through instrumental rationality, fetishized in consumerist culture industries through the often unconscious hegemony of symbolically reproduced values, styles, and practices, and reified and compulsively fixated in a media-driven society.”
Eric S. Nelson (Revisiting the Dialectic of Environment: Nature as Ideology and Ethics in Adorno and the Frankfurt School)

“Or these results may be mistakes { The United States Energy Department’s Fermilab recent experiments on sub atomic particles }. In 2011, a strange finding that a particle called a neutrino seemed to be traveling faster than light threatened the model, but it turned out to be the result of a loose electrical connection problem in the experiment.”
Seth Borenstein (Tantalizing’ results of 2 experiments defy physics rulebook; Phys Org April 2021)

I have little to no training in particle physics or high math, but I always read the latest updates on the Large Hadron Collider, or anything CERN is doing. It’s a bit like reading fairy tales, really. There are artists invited by CERN to create, I don’t know really, art about the science I guess. The open call is currently closed and it’s a bit unclear exactly what the idea was behind these residencies. No matter, the results are rather uninspiring from all I can tell. But then what would one expect.

“A capacity for moral self-determination is ascribed to humans as an absolute advantage—as a moral profit—while being covertly used to legitimize dominance —dominance over nature.”
Theodor Adorno (Philosophy of Music)

Louise Bourgeois

In that same paragraph from Philosophy of Music, in a chapter on Beethoven..

“Animals play for the idealist system virtually the same role as the Jews for fascism. To revile humananimality—that is genuine idealism.”
Theodor Adorno (Ibid)

This is a very important observation, I think. Eric Nelson notes how the Enlightenment from its inception undermined its emancipatory goals through instrumental logic, and its material expression in institutionalization. Certainly the arts in the West have been all but obliterated by institutions meant to further them. The rational that becomes myth is most acutely expressed in late capitalism by the institution. Arts institutions almost cannot, by their mere existence, serve emancipation and liberation of any kind. And institutions are predicated on a kind of empiricism, in theory at least.

I will return to that. But the idea of domination itself has been occluded and mystified. And this bleeds into discussions of identity.

“Ironically, then, the identity model serves as a vehicle for misrecognition: in reifying group identity, it ends by obscuring the politics of cultural identification, the struggles within the group for the authority—and the power—to represent it. By shielding such struggles from view, this approach masks the power of dominant fractions and reinforces intragroup domination. The identity model thus lends itself all too easily to repressive forms of communitarianism, promoting conformism, intolerance and patriarchalism.”
Nancy Fraser (Rethinking Recognition, New Left Review, June 2000)

Gotz Diergarten, photography.

There is a question today that hangs over the entire Pandemic lockdown scenario, and that has to do with why so many people, the majority of the populations of western countries, have so submitted to the new restrictions and Orwellian control measures. Now, it always needs pointing out that there are significant numbers of people protesting…at least in some countries (there are none here in Norway) but its hard to argue that the majority, and maybe a significant majority, have accepted the official narrative. And I want to look at this in cultural terms firstly. Or least in terms of mass media and the entertainment industry. And this is an industry that runs entirely on identity models, and with clear constant reinforcement of what passes for science today.

The conditioning of the western psyche is really the topic. The role of class (which seems to now be called recognition — often anyway) and how the obscuring of class, as a topic, and the calculated manufacturing of an identity model for social analysis, has been a primary shaper of how many in the U.S. (in particular) view their lives. That, and the ascension of ‘scientism’. A particular formulation of scientism (sic).

“Most obvious of such aspects [aspects of scientific work that greatly amplify epistemic prestige HS] is the enormously enhanced respect that accrues to parts of science that give a central role to mathematical methods. It is not at all my aim to banish mathematics from science. Mathematics has a wide range of uses in various scientific enterprises, many of them entirely legitimate. The probabilistic views of causality discussed in the preceding chapter, for example, reinforce the importance of the mathematical analyses of statistical data. And large parts of physics and physical chemistry appear to have proved amenable to systematization in terms of mathematically often quite precise laws. But the extension of this approach to many areas in which no such empirical successes can be claimed is part of what I refer to abusively as scientistic.
That this aspect of scientism — perhaps we should call it “mathematicism” — is a sociologically significant contributor to scientific prestige seems hard to dispute. It is again perhaps best illustrated by the preeminent influence of economics, with its characteristic appeal to abstruse mathematical models of little empirical worth, among the social sciences.”

John Dupre (The Disorder of Things)

Pentacostal preacher. Photographer unknown, date and location unknown (possible Tennessee).

Think ‘game theory’. Now, popular culture played a not insignificant role in this sort of kitsch science cult post WW2. One could look at the idea of science, in the second half of the 20th century (in the West) as shaped by the Atomic bomb and the Chicago School, or, rather, the strangely disproportionate influence of the Chicago school …Ayn Rand meets Robert Oppenheimer, then. Its of course not that simple, and the figure of Oppenheimer is a complex one. But this idea of ‘science’ was being codified for the first time. The end of that peculiar marketing and ideologically shaped grammar is the slogan ‘trust the science’.

“For example, consider the role science now plays in education. Scientific “facts” are taught at a very early age and in the very same manner in which religious “facts” were taught only a century ago. There is no attempt to waken the critical abilities of the pupil so that he may be able to see things in perspective. At the universities the situation is even worse, for indoctrination is here carried out in a much more systematic manner.”
Paul Feyerabend (How to Defend Society from Science)

There is a sense in which science, the idea of science, became an almost social model — by which I mean that the scientific method began to be structurally reflected back in political forms and societal institutions. One might argue that the deforming of this idea of ‘science’ is politically mirrored by fascism. Under fascism there are only state truths, state organizations or associations. In deformed science there is only the ‘truth’, a truth arrived at by the ‘method’.

“The fact that science has results counts in its favour only if these results were achieved by science alone, and without any outside help. A look at history shows that science hardly ever gets its results in this way. When Copernicus introduced a new view of the universe, he did not consult scientific predecessors, he consulted a crazy Pythagorean such as Philolaos. He adopted his ideas and he maintained them in the face of all sound rules of scientific method. Mechanics and optics owe a lot to artisans, medicine to midwives and witches. “
Paul Feyerabend (Ibid)

Jordan Casteel

Now, examining the Covid narrative, the slogan has been ‘trust the science’, a mostly contradictory anti-scientific bit of marketing but one that has appealed to a deeply indoctrinated public. A public that has been taught since the first grade to revere science.

“The motives for – and consequences of – public health measures have always gone far beyond controlling disease. Political interest trumps science – or, to be more precise, political interest legitimizes some scientific readings and not others. Pandemics are the occasion for political contests, and history suggests that facts and logic are tools for combat, not arbiters of the outcome. While public health officials urge the public to suspend normal activities to flatten the curve of viral transmission, political leaders also urge us to suspend our critique so that they can be one step ahead of the outcry when it comes. Rarely in recent history has the bureaucratic, obedience-inducing mode of governance of the ‘deep state’ become so widely esteemed across the political spectrum.”
Alex de Waal (Boston Review)

Allow me another quote from De Waal’s article…

“This changed with the application of modern industrial modes of organization to the organization of war, with the U.S. Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War. These were also the occasions on which modern medicine and the arsenal of epidemic control measures were applied to the same end. Tools of surveillance, standardization, and regimentation were applied equally to state-making, imperial expansion, industrial warfare, and population health. Just as war became about more than conquest, public health was never just about public health.{ } The metaphor of “fighting” a disease, apt for the body’s immune response to a pathogen, is incongruous for the social response to an epidemic. Nonetheless, the language of has become so familiar today that it is adopted unreflectingly—a mark of true hegemony. The traffic in metaphors runs both ways. When mobilizing for war or authoritarian measures, political leaders inveigh against “infestation” by invaders or infiltrators that are akin to pathogens. In times of health crisis, they like to “declare war” on a microbial “invisible enemy.”
Alex de Waal (Ibid)

Joos van Craesbeeck (The Temptation of St. Anthony) 1650.

The metaphors are indeed both propagandistic and actual. But this was de Waal’s most pertinent point: the hegemonic position of the ruling class in directing the narrative. A hegemony that has been in the process of construction for sixty years or so. And this narrative employs an idea of science that has become itself hegemonic.

“It seems very plausible, for example, that mathematical complexities the mastery of which requires substantial training, by setting up barriers to entry (to borrow a concept, this time, from economics), serve to increase the financial and other rewards that accrue to membership of scientific professions. Or even more simply, a mystifying veneer of mathematics will sometimes serve to conceal the banality of what is offered as scientific wisdom. At any rate, the omnipresent neo-Pythagoreanism of contemporary science is surely not adequately justified by its empirical successes. If it is motivated by any legitimately theoretical considerations, I suspect that these amount to some kind of commitment to a universe amenable to one systematic and orderly description; a universe in the existence of which, I have argued, we have every reason to disbelieve.”
John Dupre (Ibid)

Couple this rising and influential idea of science to the technologies of the screen, the internet, and smart phones, and Jan Westerhoff’s comment takes on profound implications.“…many of our core beliefs about ourselves do not withstand [scientific] scrutiny. This presents a tremendous challenge for our everyday view of ourselves, as it suggests that in a very fundamental way we are not real. Instead, our self is comparable to an illusion – but without anybody there that experiences the illusion.”
Jan Westerhoff (Who are You? New Scientist, 2013)

Angela Bulloch

There is a deep existential crisis running alongside the official medical crisis. And the instrumental has taken a course that has led to ever further estrangement from the human. Mikael Stenmark makes a point here…

“Alasdair MacIntyre, when discussing modern society, expresses a certain indignation when he notes that people “put their trust in persons rather than in arguments.” But this is quite an understandable, even a rational, way of behaving, at least in a religious context, when we take into account that what we are asking for is first of all how we should live our lives and how we should overcome spiritual and moral limitations in order to obtain salvation, liberation or fullness.”
Mikeal Stenmark (The Future of the Science-Religion Dialogue and the Danger of Scientism)

This is not just understandable, but quite completely rational. And yet, most people would, I think, agree with the sentiments of McIntyre’s comment. It is as if people will only follow the most extreme examples of leader or authority. A Hitler or Mussolini. Alice Miller, in For Your Own Good, relates a story about a meeting with Hitler.

“A father’s nimbus is often composed of attributes (such as wisdom, kindness, courage) he lacks, along with those every father undoubtedly possesses, at least in the eyes of his children: uniqueness, bigness, importance, and power. If a father misuses his power by suppressing his children’s critical faculties, then his weaknesses will stay hidden behind these fixed attributes. He could say to his children, just as Adolf Hitler cried out in all seriousness to the German people: “How fortunate you are to have me!” If we keep this in mind, Hitler’s legendary influence on the men who surrounded him loses its mystery. Two passages from Hermann Rauschning’s book, The Voice of Destruction , illustrate this: [Gerhart] Hauptmann was introduced. The Führer shook hands with him and looked into his eyes. It was the famous gaze that makes everyone tremble, the glance which once made a distinguished old lawyer declare that after meeting it he had but one desire, to be back at home in order to master the experience in solitude.”

The crisis, driven by the unprecedented wealth of men like Gates and Bezos, who along with a host of World Economic Forum fixers and political leaders are all participating in something Klaus Schwab dubbed ‘the great reset’.

“The result is a profound uncertainty which renders any epidemiological forecast hypothetical and unreliable. Yet to make policy decisions, governments now use mathematical models which produce crisp numbers via a drastic simplification of such ambiguities.{ } the ‘unknowns’ cited above depend on data-collection processes which often prove fallible. After a year of Covid, even the simplest figures still elude us, and it’s probable we’ll never pin them down.”
Marco D’Eramo (Scientists or Experts, New Left Review, 2021)

The entire pandemic narrative is akin to a Lewis Carroll story. Unreliable numbers and math, unreliable voices of authority, and the strangely and increasingly disorienting role of ‘science’. And it is here that it is perhaps useful to return to Adorno and the Frankfurt School and their examinations of nature and history. And, their analysis of fascism.

Leah Gordon, photography (Haiti, karnaval).

“As a thinker Adorno shunned systematic philosophy and doubted whether true thinking could ever achieve transparency: “True thoughts are those alone which do not understand themselves.” {Negative Dialectics} His complaint against systematic philosophy was of a piece with his sweeping objection to methodological thinking:Both suffer an avoidance of the purported object of inquiry by the very constraints that allow them to have a goal or isolate a phenomenon in the first place.”
Tom Huhn (The Cambridge Companion to Adorno)

Our historically situated histories and values essentially restrict our access to this construct of ‘nature in itself’. The role of junk science (and scientism) has played an extraordinarily important role in shaping how many people see the world. The ascension of screens has meant a further erosion of critical judgement and the corruption of education a further erosion of basic literacy.

On one level, its almost as if having a goal guarantees you cannot ever reach it.

“That’s the secret behind short-answer tests, bells, uniform time blocks, age grading, standardization, and all the rest of the school religion punishing our nation. There isn’t a right way to become educated; there are as many ways as fingerprints. We don’t need state-certified teachers to make education happen—that probably guarantees it won’t.”
John Taylor Gatto (The Underground History of American Education)

Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey, photography (Temple of Horus) 1844

As a side bar, as one digs into all the various glosses on Adorno and Horkheimer, the influence of Habermas has to be seen as particularly pernicious. Eric Nelson’s essay quoted above devotes a detailed analysis of Habermas’ thought that is very much to the point. And here I want to just touch on Adorno’s notion of non-identity (partly because Habermas so badly confuses it, and Axel Honneth is little better). For Adorno reconciliation with nature is not the Sierra Club ideals of tamed wildness (or the World Wildlife Fund in another way) but is…

“…indicated in the nightmares of the monstrous,the mutated, and the archaic—like King Kong and the Loch Ness Monster—which express both human fear of nature and “the hope that animal creation might survive the wrong human beings have done it.”
Eric S. Nelson (Ibid, quoting Minima Moralia)

The stealth form of instrumental thought is found in the banalizing of language and artistic expression, in the making acceptable through an implied moralism that harbours distinctly repressive origins. It is the sanctifying of a bourgeoisie sensibility at its most middle brow. The crudest expression of this is found in Hollywood, of course, in the ‘happy ending’, or the artificial resolution to plot. It is the closing down of that which points beyond itself.

It is also the hidden drive behind the sentimentalizing of emotion. The terrors lurking in actual Nature are there to be domesticated as a sign of progress, a justification to the monetising of Nature and humanity alike.

Dr. Atl

Allow me one more quote from Nelson, for it touches, in its criticism of Habermas and Honneth, something important in the larger picture of projects like The Great Reset.

“The dominant model of critical social theory in Honneth and Habermas approaches nature through the forced either/or of romantic or scientistic naturalism, which is genealogically dismantled in Dialectic of Enlightenment . Their dyadic strategy undialectically resolves the aporias of the dialectic of enlightenment in communicative rationality, or reciprocal interaction and recognition, by abandoning nature to the abjection of disenchantment and instrumentalization. It consequently disavows human dependence on the animality and materiality of life, a life that is presupposed by the theorist even as it is rejected. This solution reinforces the Baconian vision of the equation of knowledge and power that is achieved in mastery over nature and other humans. “
Eric S. Nelson (Ibid)

Horkheimer noted that the more nature is mastered the emptier the mastering subject becomes. This was sixty years ago, that he wrote that. That mastering subject is now well beyond empty and subjectivity is collapsing in on itself.

Qualitative distinctions become subsumed by quantitative cataloguing. In literature it is easy to spot the prescience of middle and late 19th century novelists — Dickens and Flaubert, or Melville in Bartelby the Scrivener, or earlier in the stories of Gogol, or in an early 20th century writer like Italo Svevo in Confessions of Zeno, or George Konrad in The Case Worker, and of course in Kafka — the sense of a coming loss of the human. The horror of bureaucracy.

Augusto Ramelli (Diverse and Artificial Machines, 1588)

Science posits the natural world (for the most part) as object(s) of study. The inner nature of man, and external nature are not independent of one another, except in science. As Adorno noted in his chapter on the Culture Industry…the “pretense of individualism…necessarily increases in proportion to the liquidation of the individual”. The world, the external, is so increasingly narrowed under the auspices of scientific study that eventually one arrives at CERN, at pure poetry, pure subjectivity, really. Or more accurately, a prospectus for subjectivity.

The best reader (and translator) of Adorno is Robert Hullot-Kentor. And his book Things Beyond Resemblance is likely the best book about and on Adorno’s work. It is important to understand Adorno’s attitude toward not just aesthetics overall, but music in particular. And specifically, or most acutely, the music of Schoenberg. For the purposes here (and notwithstanding the endless misreading of Adorno and that lesser known masterpiece Philosophy of New Music) I want to look at that intersection, both recondite and lucid, where myth and reason collide.

“Someone will ask why I am writing a textbook of harmony, if I wish technique to be occult knowledge. I could answer: people want to study, to learn, and I want to teach.”
Arnold Schoenberg (quoted in Things Beyond Resemblance)

“The central thesis of Adorno’s aesthetics is that art becomes the unconscious writing of history through its isolation from society. In Philosophy of New Music Adorno details the immediate object of aver-sion from which modern art and Schoenberg’s music withdrew. There he writes that just as abstract art was defensively motivated by its opposition to photography—the mechanical art work—Schoenberg’s music developed in “antithesis to the extension of the culture industry into music’s own domain.”
Robert Hullot-Kentor (Ibid)

Yann Mingard, photography.

Today institutions have as their primary function a false conciliatory gesture to bourgeois anxiety. It is to paint regression to the mythic as progress, or at least that (never spoken aloud) which separates ‘us’ from the colonies. Progress has lost an orientation toward the future and now entails only efficiency and risk management.

The artist can today only work with the falsified tools of their own entrapment. Remember Schoenberg’s remark about technique as an occult knowledge. This has very deep implications today. If Schoenberg’s musical integrity guaranteed commercial marginalization, the path toward emancipation, both political and spiritual, is one of removal and meticulous aesthetic fasting (so to speak, an aesthetic witholding). It is the removal of the parenthetic, that which gallery owners or movie producers deem too unpleasant (there is an interesting discussion to be had, and I think I wrote a blog post somewhat about this five years ago, to do with the role of the unfinished. Even philosophy seems to have instinctively grasped this. Certainly narrative fiction has.) Myth is closed off, or seen from afar, and this distancing is there to stop the actual disruptive realities of human (and animal) suffering. Schoenberg’s rigour found its most profound expression not in his difficulty, but in his refusal. There are no happy endings in Schoenberg.

Hullot-Kentor concludes his chapter on The Philosophy of New Music thusly…

“Whereas, extra-aesthetically, subjectivity translates phenomena into examples of a subordinating concept and thereby consumes the potential of expression, in Schoenberg’s music subjectivity organizes the nonidentity of the universal and the particular; it is an organization that, in its dissonance, constantly surpasses its own organization. The ideal that inheres in this music is a transformed subectivity that, rather than dominating its object, gives it binding expression.”

Adam Jeppesen

Transforming subjectivity then is caught in the over-determined aspects of popular culture, today. And propaganda. The constant interruptions of advertising in TV, as well as shows cancelled without warning mid story, the incomplete architectural projects and infrastructure projects that are stopped for financial reasons — there is a message in this landscape, and it is both one of insecurity and of the incomplete. The decaying suburbs, the clogged freeways and bridges, are the marks or scars on Nature from a decrepit system of Capital profit that of necessity is now constricting in on itself. Nature that has already been hidden for two hundred years. But that is to speak (at least partly) metaphorically. Living under a freeway overpass is a nightmare, it has material and biological implications. The poor live there, not the wealthy. But that overpass still resonates as a by-product of capitalism, and of institutional irrationality. The institutional expresses itself irrationally, and with a certain paralysis that finds execution in bureaucracy. The dying infrastructure or the denuded suburbs go unrecognized. Disfigured Nature only exists as metaphor.

“Schönberg’s music, in its strict form and restrictive technique, itself expresses the decline of human subjectivity…”
Brett Schneider (Platypus Review 21, on Adorno)

Adorno saw in Stravinsky (from that same volume) the false reconciliation of popular culture.

“The pressure of reified bourgeois culture incites flight into the phantasm of nature, which then ultimately proves to be the herald of absolute oppression. The aesthetic nerve quivers to return to the stone age.”
Theodor Adorno (Philosophy of New Music)

The desire for the end that is reiterated again and again in Hollywood post apocalyptic films, or zombie narratives. The suffocating pressure of bourgeois culture, the stifling repetitiveness of institutional demands is aestheticized by the false reconciliatory — the discreet charms of the bourgeois grotesque in a show like The Undoing (HBO, David E. Kelley) , a paean to the inevitability of class segregation and the wisdom of the wealthy. For such material is telling the same story as The Walking Dead.

Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant, in expensive aspirational (sic) wardrobes are already post apocalypse. So the narratives of the pandemic, from Fauci (a character Scorsese might have invented) to the cartoon nazi figure of Klaus Schwab or the walking dead that are Bezos and Gates, Musk and Thiel, are acting out the still born drama of the 4th Industrial Revolution. And the public is cast as extras. But this ersatz dream of the fascist is all just stagecraft. Fascism’s inevitable failure is its truncated imagination, its idealistic dream — as Adorno so cannily intuited, finds a Nature with its wildlife destined for the ovens. For institutions like the World Wildlife Fund, ‘Nature’ is that which is ticketed for extermination. They may not so describe it, but their ‘gaia’ rhetoric is really just the New Agey mask of sadistic indifference to all but themselves.

Andrzej Nowacki

There is a recurring propaganda now that suggests humanity is just badly written code. Old guard racists and eugenicists like David Attenborough title their projects Humans are the Intruders (count the many ways that is essentially marketing gibberish). But the backdrop to these marketing campaigns is the collapse of subjectivity.

The kitsch bourgeois dramas that come out of Hollywood, or the BBC or Channel 4, are increasingly ritualistic since the formulae for narratives is so predictable. And empty ritual is another toxic by.product of class domination.

But here I want to just add a few notes on this idea of ‘Scientism’, because it casts a very lengthy shadow over the already instrumentalized world.

“My claim in this book is that the message of neuroscience advocates is much the same as that of the so-called “New Atheists,” and that the two should be considered together. The New Atheists speak on behalf of science just as the neuroscientists do, and the message of both camps is: submit. Confess to the superiority of science and reason.”
Curtis White (The Science Delusion)

Bruce Nauman

White notes that Obama signed off on (with a big press announcement) billions spent to ‘map’ the brain. For this is the belief, that ultimately consciousness and thought can be reduced to and explained by neural pathways and this will be the new frontier for various branches of science. Now there are more than a few scientists who think this is folly, but then, more think its just fine because there is now a lot of grant money out there for research in this field.

“It is, in its essence, science as ideology (or “scientism,” as it is often called). Unfortunately, scientism takes its too-comfortable place in the broader ideology of social regimentation, economic exploitation, environmental destruction, and industrial militarism that, for lack of a better word, we still call capitalism.”
Curtis White (Ibid)

But this new brand of instrumental thinking, one that dovetails with AI and game theory and which is, as several have noted, influenced by and perhaps initiated by economic theory is ubiquitious. But there are two aspects, or registers to consider. One is a group of sort of pop science writers (Dawkins and Sagan, et al) and included in that group are scientists who only perhaps write occasionally (Stephen Hawking) and the other register is the the political and aeesthetic/cultural influence of scientism. And they overlap to a degree. I only wanted to point out something White identifies, and that is the triteness of this pop science literature. And it is especially trite when trying to describe (paying lip service) to either the religious or just to art. As White rightly notes, they traffic in cliches and overused adjectives (marvelous, wondrous, etc) to describe, say, the cloud nebula. Or the functions of the brain. There is a weird knee jerk reflex in such writers to make their readers aware they “love” art, they love “beauty” etc. That they are not unfeeling machines. None of these writers ever just fully commits to their instrumental logic. The technical papers that scientists put out are, obviously, different. But they are unintelligible to the non specialist. Much of it is written in equations or formulae, and hence can barely be called writing. But at least they are science, they do what they purport to do, and that is useful. It is very carefully conscribed, however.

But the wider issue here is about the authority that the idea of science now carries with it.

Sigmar Polke

It is about, actually, the cultural affects, and by extension the political and social. And here is where I start to have a problem with the term ‘scientism’. The problem is that the use of the term itself is almost a back door form of what is being defined as ‘scientism’. Also, let me interject here that the contemporary use of the term ‘science’ is often interchangeable with ‘technology’. It’s a vulgar conflation, but in popular culture science rarely appears without technology accompanying it.

There are entire books devoted to defining what ‘scientism’ means. Devoted to mapping out what is meant by ‘scientism’. And this seems to rather miss the point. ‘Scientism’, as I see it, is the term now employed to explain the cult like authority that science — as it is understood in contemporary society — has managed to accrue. It is a something that has both political and aesthetic implications. Scientism is a branch of propaganda.

And if you go to the index of the book Scientism; Prospects and Problems, edited by Jeroen de Ridder,Rik Peels, and René van Woudenberg, you will not find an entry for propaganda. It is also, perhaps, revealing that there are several pages listed for Martin Heidegger but none for any of the Frankfurt School thinkers, or any other Marxists of which I am aware. The point here though is that ‘Scientism’ is really part of the manufacturing of a hegemonic system of belief and values that privileges empiricism and positivism. It defaults to a position that culture and art are anti intellectual and somehow effeminate (and here is where one could do a entire article on the evolution of that term as a pejorative). The actual defining of what constitutes empirical analysis is left rather vague because such a definition is not really important to the uses of science as propaganda.

Simryn Gill, photography.

So, yes Scientism accurately describes a cultural belief system (and a presentation of self, per Goffman) that distrusts skepticism toward authority. Scientism is an appeal to belief in authority.

“The spirit of logical positivism lives on the anti-metaphysical and antitheological stance of scientism…”
Jeroen de Ridder (Scientism, Problems and Prospects)

But the question is more in identifying what forces encouraged this belief system, this identification with an idea of science for people who were themselves not scientists and had no training in science. Part of the answer is that science, what is often referred to as ‘hard science’ is perceived as masculine. And it overlaps with the ascension of ‘conspiracy theory’ as catch all denial of skepticism and/or the questioning of authority and the status quo.

One relevant observation from an essay by James Edward Rankin (The Conspiracy Theory Meme as a Tool of Cultural Hegemony: A Critical Discourse Analysis ) is telling…

Chloe Wise

“Both the left and the right spin the same events or label the same groups as conspiratorial. As Pipes (1997) suggests, “replace the Right’s bogeys (Illuminati, the Rothschild family, Trotsky) with those of the Left (Jesuits, the Rothschilds, Disraeli), and conspiracism becomes ambidextrous” (p. 155). Pipes posits an adversary culture (p. 174) and self-hatred found in the United States contributes to the pervasiveness of conspiratorial thinking.”

This segues back nicely to Adorno for what is described above is antisemitism. But also to the relationship that critical theory has to Scientism (sic) and art.

“It must be emphasized at the outset, however, that art – or, more properly, aesthetic experience – is not to be understood in the traditional way, as the subject’s experience of an object, but rather as precisely that which constitutes the crisis of the identity of subject and object. For both Adorno and Heidegger, Kant’s separation of art from science and morality constitutes what Jay Bernstein has called “aesthetic alienation,” or the separation of the aesthetic from questions of cognition and ethics.”
Samir Gandesha (Leaving Home, Adorno and Heidegger)

Arnold Schoenberg, self portrait.

It is my belief that what we can now call ‘scientism’, or this fealty to empiricism and instrumental thinking — this deference to the authority of ‘science’ is only the contemporary expression of fascism. And accompanying this science/fascistic is structural antisemitism.

“As a soldier during the First WorldWar, he { Schoenberg } quickly recognized that the war was “being conducted not merely against enemies from abroad but at least as vigorously against those at home,”a group that included,“besides all those interested in liberal and socialist causes, the Jews.”
James Schmidt ( Mephistopheles in Hollywood)

The shrinking of subjectivity can be looked at in the light of Scientism, in the expected authority that technical experts now carry. Partly this is the militarization of western society. The military is all about expertise. And the blurring of difference between science and technology is found most pointedly in the military.

“In the historical analysis of this section [of the proposed book] the idea is to be developed via the model of music that the decisive changes, whose drastic expression is the seizure of power by fascism, take place in such a deep stratum of social life that the political surface does not decide at all,and that these experiences of the depths, as they are connected to the problem of unemployment and the elimination of the rising bourgeoisie (crisis of the opera), are strikingly expressed in an apparently as derivative area of culture as that of music.”
Theodor Adorno (Music Writings, Vol 6)

And this is a very telling paragraph from Adorno. The public/political narrative is now just a fairy tale, albeit a violent scapegoating one with deeply regressive resentments. The enemy is within (I wrote last post that the Muslim terrorist is now those who won’t wear a mask or get vaccinated) only unlike the War on Terror, the war on the Virus doubles as a cleansing, and the vaccination a baptism. But against this cleansing allegory, as a backdrop, is the landscape of Scientism. But as Adorno wrote of Germany and the fascist takeover of power, the aesthetic production from artists is coming from a very deep and nearly inaccessible spot. The last great few writers, off the top of my head, that generation of Bernhard, Handke, Bloch, Beckett, and Pinter, they were all stripping away and searching for a language that was resistant to coopting and commerical appropriation.

Julian Charriere, photography.

Mackenzie Wark in an essay on Franco Moretti…

“How does this bourgeois hegemony show up in the novel at the level of style? Moretti traces it through adjectives. It is sometimes thought that, as the novel becomes a specifically bourgeois form, its descriptive detail increases. Moretti takes that intuition as a testable hypothesis. Using databases of thousands of novels, Moretti is able to disprove it. Its more a question of the work adjectives are doing. They start to have a strangely metaphorical character. Adjectives like “hard,” “fresh,” “sharp,” or “dry” express a judgment without a judge, the author having retreated behind the screen of her or his putatively neutral prose. This, for Moretti, is the real significance of the bourgeois novel’s free indirect discourse, that strange point of view characteristic of the novel, which hovers close to a character but is not identical to it: “It is as if the world were declaring its meaning all by itself.”
Mackenzie Wark (The Engine Room of Literature, LA Review of Books)

The official bourgeois drama today is exemplified by Too Close, a ITV production. A three part drama with Emily Watson and the exceptional Irish actress Denise Gough. And this is a show that perfectly expresses the lost GPS of corporate produced drama. Written by Clara Salaman. This is the crime story that feels the crime genre is beneath it. It becomes another story of bourgeois suffering, with clear redemptive resolutions. For the professional white collar (and white) criminal is never just a criminal. I mention this as another example of the Walking Dead but alive. The public narrative of virtue signalling in Covid (masks or Fauci ouchie t shirts) is reproduced in drama that congratulates the target audience and the creators. This is the cinematic language of the soap opera, but with a budget. Not that it duplicates the camera placement or mise en scene, but that it reproduces the emotional extortion that those shows exhibit. The white offender is somehow exceptional. The black criminal is not. The black criminal may be innocent, in need of saving and salvation, but his crime is not exceptional. His pain remains opaque.

André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri, photography ( 1858, glass negative, cartes-de-visite of Prince Lobkowitz)

I leave off here ..though I feel a part two to all this is necessary… with a quote from Adorno, and it was put in Minima Moralia in 1951. He was referencing the second world war. It sounds much like something Benjamin would have written.

“The war is as totally divorced from experience as is the functioning of a machine from the movement of the body,which only begins to resemble it in pathological states….Life has changed into a timeless succession of shocks,interspersed with empty,paralyzed intervals….The total obliteration of the war by information,propaganda commentaries, with cameramen in the first tanks and war reporters dying heroic deaths, the mishmash of
enlightened manipulation of public opinion and oblivious activity: all this is another expression for the withering of experience, the vacuum between men and their fate, in which their real fate lies.”

Theodor Adorno (Minima Moralia)

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