The Postcard from Aruba

Michael Kvium

“In the truth content (of art), or in its absence, aesthetic and social critique are one.”
Theodor Adorno (Introduction to the Sociology of Music)

“Nowadays, if we can boast of having at our disposal scientific knowledge and technology that used to exist only in the phantasies of magicians, we must allow that, since the Renaissance, our capacity to work directly with our own phantasms, if not with those of others, has diminished. The relationship between the conscious and the unconscious has been deeply altered and our ability to control our own processes of imagination reduced to nothing.”
Ioan P. Couliano (Eros and Magic in the Renaissance)

“The electric light escapes attention as a communication medium just because it has no “content.” And this makes it an invaluable instance of how people fail to study media at all.”
Marshall McLuhan (Understanding Media, 1964)

“It is interesting not only to learn about the relationship between Renaissance man and his own phantasms but also to understand the ideological reasons that caused them to evolve in the way they did. What this amounts to is a correct understanding of the origins of modern science, which could not have appeared without the existence of factors able to cause modification of man’s imagination. Those factors were not economic, nor did they stem from a so-called historical “evolution” of our race. On the contrary, the forces that produced them were regressive on the psychosocial level and even “reactionary” on the sociopolitical level. How can it be, then, that we owe to those forces the advent of the spirit that was to lead, step by step, to the rise of modern science?
Ioan P. Couliano (Ibid)

When I was in high school I wanted to be an artist. I wasn’t even quite sure what that word meant, but I knew that I was moved by painting, by theatre and film, by literature. It felt like a realm of the world that had been kept secret. I had relatives who were artists. Some were painters, others actors. My father was an actor. And in high school I had one teacher, June Harwood, a successful artist (who used her married name at the school, which was Langsner). And she talked about culture and art as serious matters. And she spoke seriously about abstraction. And she was erudite. And I never forgot that. But this was the sixties (I graduated summer 69) and there was enormous energy in the arts, and in social transformation. I felt that energy when I first got to NY, too. That was in 71. I was back and forth between LA and NYC a lot for the next twenty years. I have written about this all before, of course. The point here is that the default position of society was that art was important. I don’t think many people disputed that, as a generalized statement.

Joseph Albers

Looking back the thing I missed, and perhaps most everyone missed, was the gradual, slow but inexorable growth of media and marketing. The effects were profound, though I think few people grasped the depth of the changes taking place. I think a certain watershed occurred with Debord’s Society of the Spectacle (1967). And then May 69, and then an escalating anti-war movement (against the US war on Vietnam).

Again, the point here is that young artists felt there was a place for them. What one sees today is the very idea of ‘place’ has all but disappeared. But this slow creeping change in class relations, and certainly in marketing overall, was clear but it was not terribly threatening. McLuhan appeared, and many others, and yet it was not until somewhere around the Millennium — somewhere from the late 90s to about 2004 that this creeping change became glaringly obvious and suddenly it WAS threatening. Of course 9/11 became the uber-marketing experiment, and the ur-modern political post internet marketing ptoject, and it set in motion a lot of what one sees today with the Covid event. The voice of Capital, whether it was the Wall Street Journal or the US State Department, started to sound desperate.

“In accepting an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame a few years ago, General David Sarnoff made this statement: “We are too prone to make technological instruments the scapegoats for the sins of those who wield them. The products of modern science are not in themselves good or bad; it is the way they are used that determines their value.” That is the voice of the current somnambulism. Suppose we were to say, “Apple pie is in itself neither good nor bad; it is the way it is used that determines its value.” Or, “The smallpox virus is in itself neither good nor bad; it is the way it is used that determines its value.”
Marshall McLuhan (Understanding Media, 1964)
oouin

Diane Arbus, photography. (Levittown, L.I. 1963)

It is interesting that a paragraph or so further on in McLuhan’s book, he makes the observation that media has transformed the life of rural an/or remote societies. He uses the example (among many) of the Bedouin with a transistor radio on his camel pack. And yet, how much has that Bedouin been changed by that radio? I suspect he has been more changed by western Imperialist encroachment, by a shrinking landscape in which his nomadic culture can wander less freely. The radio was quickly made Bedouinesque. And this is because, contra McLuhan, the technology was adjusted to a baseline banality. It is the capitalist/marketing aspect that McLuhan always missed, even amid his considerable insights. That radio was to become exactly that which would ‘not’ change the Bedouin. It was there as pure commodity (in the sense McLuhan wrote of the electric light bulb).

This sense of lost dreams has surfaced in corporate entertainment. The archly self consciously liberal The Good Fight (nicely done, though, I admit) had a character played by Mandy Patinkin in an episode last season. An aging lawyer and now judge who said, ‘remember when people used to want to write the Great American novel?’. He added a few other things culminating in the Peace Corp. Now, ok, this is network TV, but its a somewhat prestige show targeting educated boomers and probably more than a few millennials who feed off canned nostalgia. And even here it seems, there is a tacit understanding about the lost cultural dreams of post WW2.

Louis Moe

Now, one way to look at this technological banality it through the lens of ‘disenchantment’ — at least as Horkheimer and Adorno saw it. This in short form could be Nature described as entirely understandable via science, and simultaneously without inherent meaning (the loss of the sacred). Adorno and Horkheimer saw a somewhat complex process of regressive re-enchantment in western capitalism. Now I have focused several posts here on the legacy of theosophy and Fascist mysticism because I think it continues on via the new age environmentalists who WANT a re-enchantment of nature. But the problem is that like that transistor radio on the camel, this re-enchantment is shot through the prism of marketed western reality; i.e. made banal. This is a very particular but pronounced avenue for kitsch. The controlled re-enchantment of Capitalism is the trivializing of Nature.

“To ‘re-enchant’ nature, conversely, would be to find in it a meaning that cannot be fully understood.Adorno and Horkheimer agree with environmentalist thinkers that the process of disenchanting nature has facilitated its ‘domination’(Beherrschung) by humanity. But Adorno and Horkheimer also argue that, because modern society is unprecedentedly effective at dominating nature, it comes to appear that this form of society cannot reasonably be criticized. Individuals therefore experience modern society as unchangeable and so as deriving from nature. This, in turn, encourages individuals to see natural phenomena as ‘enchanted’ – dimly indicative of the social relations that they are believed to generate”
Alison Stone (Adorno and the Disenchantment of Nature)

Paolo Ventura, photography, media.

I want to quote myself, if you all will forgive me. From an essay in a book about the Padua Hills Playwrights Festival, that will be published later this year. About theatre.

“Speaking after thinking, or after a kind of thought. This is what prophecy really is, just speaking. It was likely the secret of the oracles of ancient Greece.”
John Steppling (When the Sky Falls On Our Heads)

There is re-enchantment and there is re-enchantment. Now, the contemporary culture of science and technology operates as if the idea of control were an indication of progress. That what the Frankfurt School thinkers saw as domination of man and Nature is actually a good thing, a sign of progress and a benefit to humankind. Except of course this is forgetting Marx and class struggle. Technology is in the hands of the proprietor class, those whose wealth has increased exponentially over the last two decades. It is a benefit only to them, but also a tool of control. Surveillance technology is not a help to humankind, but it is a help to the institutions of control like police and military. But there is another register of technological or scientific progress that has tipped into something that might be called the post pragmatic. Nobody needs more smart phones, or more complex smart phones, or new gadgets of any kind, really. Increasingly consumers can’t afford them, but there remains a massive drive to keep producing them. Mining of rare earth minerals is both difficult, costly, but also toxic. The extraction processes are polluting and harmful for both humans and the environment (nature). The growth and intensification of inequality, the transference of wealth to the very tip top 1% has seemed to favor only those with sociopathic tendencies. (imagine if a Musk or Gates or Benioff or Walton actually used their extreme wealth to feed and house people, to offer free health care and child protections. Imagine that world.)

“Any intellectual movement which recognizes pre-existing beliefs to be ‘mythological’, and which criticizes those beliefs on that account, forms part of ‘enlightenment’, for Adorno andHorkheimer. Enlightenment, then, is a gradual process taking place over history as a whole, and each of its phases has criticized previous systems of belief for being ‘myths’. For Adorno and Horkheimer, humanity’s aim in pursuing enlightenment has been to gain increased knowledge of nature, knowledge that we have desired because it enhances our ability to predict and so control the behaviour of natural entities.”
Alison Stone (Ibid)

Aapo Huhta, photography.

“Adorno’s position therefore seems to lead to a kind of negative aesthetic theology. Only art which is so uncompromising that it could not possibly be thought of as commanding any kind of consensus in contemporary society can be true to the historical situation after Auschwitz.”
Andrew Bowie (What Comes After Art)

Adorno thought that irrespective of Auschwitz, actually. Its a bit like that Groucho Marx joke about not wanting to belong to any club that would have him as a member. But Adorno is largely correct in that the uncompromising is also the serious, and it is enclosed within that intention that the crucial paradoxes of contemporary aesthetics reside (or occur) . Adorno wanted modernist art to redeem culture, in some sense. That that cultural expression which did NOT accept or reinforce or promote domination was never going to be that which could live for long under the sign of capital. Of the Spectacle. One of the most pronounced beliefs in modern science and technology, among those who view that science with admiration, is the predictive. And I think it is the most insidious of all beliefs attached to this cultic embrace of science.

Piet Strydom noted an important aspect of Adorno’s early critique of distraction in the recipient of art when he wrote…“The regression of listening in this sense, according to Adorno, has its roots in the fact that music has become a fetish. Signs of the fetish-character in music are to be found everywhere: in the cult of master violins such as Stradivarius or Amati, the public valuation of singing voices, particularly those having volume and are especially high, the veneration of the star conductor, the hunting down of the so-called ‘characteristic idea’ of a composer with the zeal of belief in property..{ } the utilisation of the concept of fetish suggests that Adorno seeks to find a foothold in Marx’s Capital itself, in a principle which at the same time is responsible for the ‘liquidation of the individual’. This principle is to be found in exchange value:‘The more inexorably the principle of exchange value destroys use values for human beings, the more deeply does exchange value disguise itself as the real object of enjoyment.”
Piet Strydom (‘Theories of the Avant-Garde’, unpublished lecture course on the sociology of art, 1984)

Larry Bell

Adorno distrusted ‘communication’ as a tool of bourgeois enclosure. A pre-determined conceptual apparatus. Hence, for Adorno, the autonomous artwork is one essentially cut off from society. Or rather, and this is often confused by academics and critics writing about Adorno, the artwork communicates through the non-communicative. By this is meant, for example, in theatre (as I have written about for a decade of more now) the off-stage is where the actual play takes place. When I say take place, I mean that the play discloses to the viewer, the audience, the real meaning of social reality — the mythological level, the tragic even by what is not immediately there. Through this autonomy, in a sense, the artwork participates in the history of society, but also of the individual viewer.

“…first, that the social character or social relevance of the work of art resides in the structure of the work of art itself; and, second, that the relation between the structure of the work of art and society is of a direct or immediate kind. Social struggles and class relations imprint themselves directly on the structure of the work of art, not through the artist entering upon a conscious treatment of the social relations of the time. ‘Works of art’, Adorno submits in Ästhetische Theorie, ‘unconsciously write the history of their epoch’.”
Piet Strydom (Ibid

Devil carrying away a soul.Missal,France, 1470-1475.- Book illustration.

What one sees today amid this massive propaganda laden economic restructuring of western society is also the unconscious sociopathy of today’s very small but extremely wealthy ruling class writ in the captive electronic media. The unconscious transcription of crimes against humanity. Only it self erases. If the avant-garde (and modernism, or aspects of it) transcribed the history of the suffering of the artists creating it, and the working class and the bourgeoisie — the suffering of humankind in history — today, with the monopolizing of visual media, of distribution, and with evolving technology in the service of sociopathy, there is only a kind of non art/marketed version of delirium and fear, of repressed guilt and self loathing. A compulsive repetition of representational violence. But the violence does not reside in TV cop show, or crime dramas, but in sentimentality and kitsch and self-help books.

Cultural expression in the form of social media avatars, of TV newsreaders or various, countless NGO panels, and in official government functions. One need look no further, really, than Zuckerberg’s Metaverse, where the ugliness and depravity of his class is congealed and given pure form. The aesthetics of western corporations and NGOs is an anti aesthetics that erases expression. Computer art (sic) is an anti-art. One sees the effects of computer drawing in architecture, clearly. But one sees automation and its encroachment on folkloric culture, an ersatz or counterfeit version of traditional historical folk arts and crafts. The growth of commodity culture has moved on to a totalized process of erasure. Mass culture today erases history before it does anything else.

“It was Bertrand Russell who declared that the great discovery of the twentieth century was the technique of the suspended judgment. A. N. Whitehead, on the other hand, explained how the great discovery of the nineteenth century was the discovery of the technique of discovery. Namely, the technique of starting with the thing to be discovered and working back, step by step, as on an assembly line, to the point at which it is necessary to start in order to reach the desired object. In the arts this meant starting with the effect and then inventing a poem, painting, or building that would have just that effect and no other.”
Marshall McLuhan (Ibid)

Caterina de Julianis (‘Time and Death’, 1727, coloured and moulded wax)

As a brief aside, Rachel Connolly had a cogent short piece on the way people ‘laugh’ online.

“This year’s most popular emoji was the ‘tears of joy’; online, everyone is always saying ‘haha’ and ‘LOLLLL’. And yet in real life, nobody is laughing.”
Rachel Connolly (The Strange Way We Laugh on the Internet, Art Review, Dec. 2021)

The use of social media chat codes (lol, LMAO, etc) and avatars has grown so that even the most inconsequential discussion will include suggestions of hysterical laughter. Often this is mocking laughter. There is enormous aggression in these avatars for laughing. I’ve written before about the rise of what I called ‘nervous laughter’ in comedy clubs and at comedy shows. Online it is intensified considerably.

“Mocking someone online is often like this too; phrases aren’t literal and are often a wild dramatization of what is happening. It has become standard practice to share an article, or reply to something you think is stupid with ‘LOLLLL’, ‘😂😂’, or some other variation. Effectively saying: ‘Haha!!! What you said right there!!! God it was so ridiculously stupid it made me laugh!! My god it made me laugh!!’ Often this is done in response to a serious political opinion, or a tragic event. This almost never happens in real life. But online it gestures at the great collective pretence of social media: that, no matter how much time we spend online, nothing that happens there is serious. Being serious or earnest is, in fact, such a faux pas it is deserving of open ridicule. When was the last time someone said something so stupid you openly laughed at them?”
Rachel Connolly (Ibid)

End of aside. Now, the issue here amid the pandemic protocols and the new permanent (one can only assume) state of emergency, is how criticism is to operate effectively.

Sergei Sviatchenko

I think its impossible to suggest specific strategies. It is possible, however, to try and elucidate the ways that art and science are mediated in this moment. Piet Strydom discusses Walter Benjamin, and in particular Benjamin’s idea of allegory as he developed it in his Origins of German Tragic Drama :
“His main thesis – and here he introduces the important concept of ‘allegory’ – is that the allegorical mode of expression, rather than the symbolic mode of expression, comes to predominate in the Baroque, as in all periods in which things lose their immediate relationship with intersubjective meanings or where there is a lack of immanent meaning in the world.Allegory as a mode of expression in the Baroque *Traurspiel* serves to point to an external referent, and thus to transport the audience to a position outside the power of things, outside the destructive stream of time, to afford the audience an experience of transcendence.”
Piet Strydom (Ibid)

The point (because I’m not sure transcendence was exactly what Benjamin meant) is that allegory allows for the fragments and splinters of culture life to be imposed rather than derived from the original context in which they existed. This is simplifying, but its the general drift. It is different from sampling, say, because it is given this posited new context. Although context is also not quite the right word. To use a current example; during the much viewed Joe Rogan interview with Dr Robert Malone there was introduced the idea of ‘mass psychosis’ — that like Germany in the 30s, the populace was caught in a sort of trance state. Now, the problem with this idea (which seems to have been popularized by Mattias Desmet) is, besides being reductive, that it misses the class issue. Would that Desmet had read more Marx. Now Desmet makes some very acute observations regarding the mass formation of a collective anxiety, and what he describes is not incorrect, exactly. Except that the blame seems to be shifted to the people, and not to those who created this pandemic narrative. His theory is, in the end, a perfect example of enclosure by the system he purports to be criticizing. The rise of a screen culture has meant, in a real sense, that the populace has been in a trance for twenty five years. The same issue arises with the recent film Dont Look Up, a climate change satire that ridicules the dumb populace who spend endless time tweeting inanities staring at their screens. Nobody asks why they do that. Poking fun at Fox News readers is not exactly daring satire. Ridiculing avaricious politicians is done the better to demonstrate that the system can self correct.

The anxieties of the pandemic are manufactured by those who own media and by governments and elite global NGOs. The usual flu epidemic never created such anxiety in people. And there is a stunning absence of comment from Desmet on the vaccination issue, which seems central to this entire last two years. But that aside, the idea of reification looms here, too.

Going back to allegory, the pre conditions cited by Benjamin (and Adorno) have to do with the scientific world view of Nature. Where meaning has been, and continues to be, inexorably drained away from people’s experience of Nature. Or, how is Nature is defined. The constant theme today that nature must be protected is really conveying that nature must be put into responsible hands. (which of course means those with the power to protect it). Never mind these are the same people who originally destroyed it.

Guido Guidi, photography.

If social relationships are increasingly atomised and people increasingly alienated, the new aesthetics of the NGO and internet represent that alienation. The dullness of what I am calling the NGO aesthetic is the same dullness one once found in job interviews. A dullness that now exists between friends or married couples. And, layered over all of this is the structural echo of exchange value.

The major platforms of the internet are all designed to restrict historical reflection and contemplation. There is a manufacturing of a permanent *now*.

“It should be no surprise that there is an erosion of sleep now everywhere, given the immensity of what is at stake economically. Over the course of the twentieth century there were steady inroads made against the time of sleep—the average North American adult now sleeps approximately six and a half hours a night, an erosion from eight hours a generation ago, and (hard as it is to believe) down from ten hours in the early twentieth century { } sleep is a ubiquitous but unseen reminder of a premodernity that has never been fully exceeded, of the agricultural universe which began vanishing 400 years ago. The scandal of sleep is the embeddedness in our lives of the rhythmic oscillations of solar light and darkness, activity and rest, of work and recuperation, that have been eradicated or neutralized elsewhere”
Jonathan Crary (“24/7″)

Cray notes rightly that sleep is (like most things under Capitalism) removed from the category of natural. Science has been recruited (by the Pentagon among others) in finding ways to reduce the need for sleep. Crary adds…“Sleep is an irrational and intolerable affirmation that there might be limits to the compatibility of living beings with the allegedly irresistible forces of modernization.”

Vladimir Dubossarsky


And allow two more quotes from Crary, the first describing the world of contemporary urban centers, and the artificial lighting of the nightime hours.

“More concretely, it is like a state of emergency, when a bank of floodlights are suddenly switched on in the middle of the night, seemingly as a response to some extreme circumstances, but which never get turned off and become domesticated into a permanent condition. ”

Rather prescient I’d say.

“A 24/7 world is a disenchanted one in its eradication of shadows and obscurity and of alternate temporalities. It is a world identical to itself, a world with the shallowest of pasts, and thus in principle without specters. But the homogeneity of the present is an effect of the fraudulent brightness that presumes to extend everywhere and to preempt any mystery or unknowability.”
Jonathan Crary. (Ibid)

So we return to disenchantment, and I am reminded of Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows. I think the people of the west have come to fear darkness. For in natural darkness lie the world of dreams. And in dreams looms a history that cannot be erased. Not entirely, anyway. Remember the Nazi Party slogan *Germany, awake!*.

The belief in the knowability of EVERYTHING is one of the primary myths of late capitalism, and the hegemony of modern scientific thinking.

Ulla Jokisalo, photo montage.

The artwork today must be allegory. The pandemic is itself a kind of allegory. Only the media work overtime to prevent this from being understood. It is the idea of emergency that has released the latent sadism of the petty bureaucrat and the clerks to power. It may be that being masked encourages this release.

“…before the twelfth century, the nobility, the bourgeoisie and the serfs – to mention only these three classes – existed de facto if not de jure. In our terminology we would describe them as collectives. But the repeated efforts of rich bourgeois, as individuals, to integrate themselves into the noble class caused this class to close up: it moved from a de facto statute to a de jure one. Through a common undertaking, it imposed draconian conditions on anyone wishing to enter knighthood, with the result that this mediating institution between the generations became a selective organ. But this also conditioned the class consciousness of the serfs. Prior to the juridical unification of the nobility, every serf had regarded his situation as an individual destiny, and lived it as an ensemble of human relations with a family of landowners, in other words, as an accident. But by positing itself for itself, the nobility ipso facto constituted serfdom as a juridical institution and showed the serfs their interchangeability, their common impotence and their common interests. This revelation was one of the factors of peasant revolts in later centuries.”
Jean Paul Sartre (Critique of Dialectical Reason)

One of Sartre’s key points (Crary, interestingly, quotes this book, which reminded me to pick it up again) is that modern life had become a sedimented institutionalized repetitive routine of passivity. Crary (describing Sartre’s point) “It operates as a collective delusion that transforms the experience of individual solitude and powerlessness into something seemingly natural or inevitable. ” It defines people’s servitude to anti-human restrictions and rules. Capitalism by the 60s for Sartre, was in the continuous production of loneliness and isolation.

C.N. Liew

This inert (Sartre used a neologism..practo-inert) is the dissipating of traditional communality, and collectivity. A neutralizing numbing quality that repeats the same again and again. Sartre said human relations under capitalism tend toward hollow narcissistic exchanges carefully managed to stay separate. This is amazingly prescient in the time of the Pandemic.

“Sartre describes not only individual isolation but the seriality that underlies situations with a manifestly collective or group character. He uses the notion of “recurrence” to explain how forms of mass conformity and homogeneity are produced in consciousness or material culture.”
Jonathan Crary (Ibid)

In some respects Sartre saw the effects media more clearly than most anyone. And yet he was dealing with radio and TV mostly, when he wrote of the illusions of collectivity, the artificial audience that remain alone. Sartre, like Adorno, saw that only an aesthetic revisualizing of one’s existence could generate a revolutionary consciousness. Only anger and bitterness could drive a leap of consciousness.

“In obvious ways, this section of the Critique raises crucial questions regarding the nature or possibility of revolutionary movements today, and about how groups actually come together. It also poses the question of whether current forms of electronic separation and perceptual management are part of conditions that would inhibit or deflect the processes Sartre details. In what ways are new strata of communication networks and their myriad applications essentially new strata of the practico-inert, new appropriations of daily life in which seriality is intrinsic to its mutating make-up? All the 24/7 electronic interfacing, all the mass immersion at a micrological level in contemporary technological culture, might easily be said to constitute a new negative unity of passivity and alterity.”
Jonathan Crary (Ibid)

Brook Andrew

When Crary calls sleep an unwanted reminder of premodernity, I think this is important. Any such reminder, in art or in policy or philosophy even, is anathema to the status-quo. It is reflexive, for those who create tech for Microsoft or Google are not consciously aware of this, they are not ideological in any normal sense. It is just a reflex. One developed over decades. And that reminder is often neutralized by kitsch mysticism. This is part of the role that the occult plays in propping up the system. (see previous posts for the links between fascism and the occult). But all of what I am writing about really requires much deeper discussion. Anger and bitterness, I noted above, are somehow necessary for personal growth. But what do I mean by anger? What do I mean by growth, for that matter. Growth is a word linked associatively with progress. Our language is coopted. And there are countless registers of anger. This is where, for me, psychoanalysis is crucial. But if one reads the comment threads on any social media site certain things become apparent. And perhaps the most glaring is how Western anti-communism has entrenched itself very deeply in the culture. Many (!!) who instinctively distrust the vaccine mandate, for example, fear it because they think ‘it will turn us into North Korea or Cuba’. Such is the indoctrination in the West, and in particular the U.S.

“If the aesthetic object owes its value, as some Marxists rightly contend, to its resistance to the market, then this resistance must be figured in psychoanalytic terms as a resistance to the super-ego and its increasing repressions and idealizations.”
Joan Copjec (Aesthetics and Sublimation)

Copjec notes that Lacan said fear and pity were the emotions that bound us to the rule of the super-ego. And were the foundation of pathological moralism. (adding Jesse Helms and the moral majority targeted the National Endowment for the Arts as the most evil organization in America). Today this moralism is in service to the protocols of the Pandemic. (see: https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-01-06/covid-19-vaccinations-family-court )

Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri

Pity is tied to fear, but it is also a magic gesture or gesture of emotional sacrifice. Pity is sublimated aggression, but is additionally begs mercy for its own conscience. Its own failures.

The other very real problem with finding a critical position is the constant deceptions of media, a kind of default stream of lying and revisionism. And, social media is a hugely distorting mirror. Add to this the fact that the majority of twitter users employ aliases and you arrive at a strange performance of concern from identities of which one cannot really be sure. Which reminds me, and forgive yet another digression (of sorts) of the performance of emotion in Ancient Rome. This is true, too, in ancient Greece, but its more complex in that case. Rome is closer to us anyway.

When Julius Ceasar’s daughter died during childbirth, in 45 BCE, Ceasar was away on the campaign in Britain. When news reached him, he retired in his grief for a mere two days. Much was made of this in Rome, where orators and consul members applauded Ceasar’s emotional restraint, and his dedication to his duty — the war. The restricting of emotion was a virtue and tied to *gravitas*.

Hugo Jaeggi, photography.


“The wise person is never influenced by favor, never forgives anyone’s wrong doing. Only the foolish and lightweight person experiences pity. It is not manly to yield to entreaty or to be appeased. Some poor disaster-stricken people come for aid. ‘You will be scandalously wicked if you do anything for them out of pity’.”
Zeno of Citium (Ad Atticum 13.6.3;)

Worth remembering that for Roman law the display of emotion when pleading a case was never questioned in terms of its being real of feigned. Only if the performance of that emotion was convincing. For the Roman of elite status the emotions were always legitimate to a degree. Emotions were always performative anyway, after all. I find this rather interesting if one considers the endless list of compulsively crying Christian televangelists and, actually, the culture of therapy and the cottage industry that self-help books have become. Or, for that matter, Oprah. Today the emotions, when performed or put on display publically, are often tied to confession. But to social hierarchy, too. Why does this matter?

The list of politicians who cried is very long, indeed. The Bush family loved to cry. Theresa May cried, and even Thatcher cried (sort of, though it appeared she didn’t quite know how to do it). Churchill cried all the time. Obama cried over Sandy Hook. Ed Muskie cried and it cost him the nomination. John Boehner breaks down almost weekly it seems. Pro athletes cry constantly, but its sort of expected because they are seen as immature somehow, or just stupid. Putin even cried once. Matt Hancock recently tried to cry in one of the more bizarre moments on UK television in decades. No tears came. Merkel, like Hancock, tried to cry, also about the Pandemic. She almost made it. Eric Garcetti, mayor of LA, cried over the Covid narrative too. Also unconvincingly.

Jessica Bennet, writing for the Telegraph in 2020 …“Tears at work have long been discouraged: People who cry risk being perceived as less professional and less competent than their more stoic peers.”

Man Ray (Julius Ceasar)


This is so interesting, to me anyway. Zeno, quoted above, was a Stoic. So in a sense, much like Ceasar and his two day hiatus from crushing Britain, restraint is manly — perhaps today especially for female public figures. But why this matters has more to do with the generalized autism (per Debord) and the increasingly masked face. The ability to read emotion was in decline before Covid.

The ruling class cry out of privilege. And they cry to pity the suffering they have caused. Not because of empathy, heaven forbid, but out of narcissism. In fact, public confession is another sign of privilege. Only the privileged can cry without recourse. Workers are not allowed to cry. And this brings me, finally, I think, to my point. Tears are a bit like a tan cashmere topcoat. For such a thing is a sign of not having to work.

Now this introduces a host of related topics, the crisis in masculinity (in the West) for one. Hollywood has a tendency to limit action heroes from crying. Unless it’s a cowboy and his horse died. Cops don’t cry ever, I don’t think. I have noticed though, with the insane increase in depictions of autopsies and other forensic activities that vomiting is ok. Better to throw up than shed a tear. Im actually not being facetious at all here. Still, there is, so I predict, going to be a dramatic decline, in the general populace, in the ability to read facial expressions. To read or understand or intuit the emotions of others. And there will likely be a growing issue around people’s ability to read their own emotions. To identify what it is they are feeling.

Alexithymia is the psychological term for this. The Medical News lists the symptoms (in sort of lay terms):

difficulties identifying feelings and emotions-
problems distinguishing between emotions and bodily sensations that relate to those emotions-
limited ability to communicate feelings to others-
difficulties recognizing and responding to emotions in others, including tone of voice and facial expressions-
a lack of fantasies and imagination-
a logical and rigid thinking style that does not account for emotions-
poor coping skills when it comes to dealing with stress-
behaving less altruistically than others-
appearing distant, rigid, and humorless-
poor life satisfaction-

Sanell Aggenbach, photography.

Alexithymia feels like an overlap with mild autism, but I think this is one of those rather suspect conditions that keep appearing, especially considering one of the risk factors listed is ‘low level of education’. Men are twice as likely as women to suffer from this condition it says. I have a sense that this is simply a condition called living under advanced capitalism, made worse by co morbidities such as using the smart phone too much and watching corporate news shows. It is also a condition nearly anyone would get from being locked in their fucking house for two years (unless said house is a mansion, and unless one could take a private jet to Barbados once every month or so). But the loss of dreaming is the key symptom here, because I think today, people ARE dreaming less. Sleeping less. And when they do sleep, they sleep badly. Less deeply. And they cannot dream. And if you do not dream asleep, you dream awake (sleep deprivation). And if you do not dream awake you go insane.

Funny, looking at the list of causes, one of them is “low emotional intelligence”….um….isn’t that the condition itself? Like saying the cause of death was the person stopped living.

The entire Pandemic narrative, including the experimental vaccines, the lockdowns (house arrest of the healthy, of everyone) and the accompanying economic restructuring (i.e. The Great Reset, and Green New Deal, etc) and now the launching of a new ‘climate’ emergency, all of it is irrational, and all of it is, to some extent, planned. NONE of it has actually been debated in any open or democratic way. And perhaps the travel restrictions (except for the very rich on private jets) will have the most acute psychological effect as well as signal a new global system of domination. For if you cannot freely cross borders, anonymously, your life opportunities, your interior horizon shrinks. For that is the ur-allegory. For your own good we, the rich and powerful, are going to destroy your life. But we’ll send digital postcards from Aruba.

Giacomo Borlone de Burchis, (14th century mural, Clusone Italy)


“…fascism is constructed on an intense line of flight, which it transforms into a line of pure destruction and abolition. It is curious that from the very beginning the Nazis announced to Germany what they were bringing: at once wedding bells and death, including their own death, and the death of the Germans. They thought they would perish but that their undertaking would be resumed, all across Europe, all over the world, throughout the solar system. And the people cheered, not because they did not understand, but because they wanted that death through the death of others.”
Deleuze & Guattari (A Thousand Plateus; Capitalism and Schizophrenia)

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Comments

  1. Joanna Perry-Folino says:
  2. Regino Robainas says:

    Most assuredly, sir, you blew my brain to
    spent shell fragments of dream-silky blue
    petals. No allegory. So, thank you forever.

    In my ancient dreams, the first digital alarm
    clock beeped me wide awake from the prior
    night’s night swims and joints and then I
    ran alongs Collins Ave. and smashed the buzzy
    flourescent light post.

    Back in the maternal shelter of my room, I
    sanks into her eyes’ flaming candles.

  3. From Wilhelm Reich’s analysis of the emotional plague-driven character (1945):

    In the individual afflicted with the emotional plague, the mo-­
    tives of the action are always counterfeit. The ostensible motive
    never tallies with the real motive, whether the latter is conscious
    or unconscious. Nor does the ostensible goal tally with the real
    goal. In German fascism, for example, “salvation and pacifica-­
    tion of the German nation” was given as the goal, whereas the
    real goal-grounded in the character structure-was imperialis­-
    tic war, the subjugation of the world, and nothing but that. It is a
    basic characteristic of the plague-afflicted individual that he seri-
    ously and honestly believes in the ostensible goal and motive. I
    should like to stress that the character structure of a person af-­
    flicted with the emotional plague can be comprehended only if it
    is taken seriously. The plague-afflicted person acts under a
    structural compulsion. No matter how good his intentions may
    be, he can act only in the manner of the plague. His action is in
    keeping with his nature just as much as the need for love or truth
    is in keeping with the nature of the genital character.

    From the Covert Action Magazine article on Samantha Powers (12/21/21, Christopher Mott):

    Power is merely one of the most visible manifestations of this kind of selective ideology, one that festers in elite universities, upper-middle-income brackets, and among the rank and file of the foreign policy establishment. It is easy to dismiss such sentiments as purely ideological cover for far more cynical motives, but for many in the Beltway establishment, these sentiments can be very real and genuine, even if they are often not the primary motivations for justifying primacy.

    Reich again

    Let us briefly outline a few typical areas in which the emotional plague
    is either chronically rampant or capable of breaking out in an
    acute way. We shall see immediately that it is precisely the most
    important spheres of life in which the emotional plague is active:
    mysticism in its most destructive form; passive and active thirst
    for authority; moralism; biopathies of the autonomic nervous
    system; party politicking; familial plague, which I have designated
    as “familitis”; sadistic methods of education; masochistic tolera­-
    tion of such methods or criminal rebellion against them; gossip
    and defamation; authoritarian bureaucracy; imperialistic war
    ideologies; everything that falls under the American concept of
    “racket”; antisocial criminality; pornography; profiteering; racial
    hatred.

  4. John Steppling says:

    oh im so glad to see Reich quoted. He’s more relevant than ever, i think. Thanks. Great piece and my god, samantha power….you know her motorcade ran over a small boy, age six or seven, killing him . as they drove to the capital of camaroon. They didnt stop. Oh , security reasons. But they US (im not making this up) paid the family like 1600 US dollars, AND a goat.

  5. klaus Wenk says:

    Just look at us .Everything is backwards;everything is upside down .Doctors destroy health, lawyers destroy justice ,universities destroy knowledge ,governments destroy freedom and religions destroy spirituality.M.Ellner Progress is not possible without deviation Frank Zappa

  6. Regino Robainas says:

    Seems some pebble sized debris is obstructing my
    spiritual arm…One appears to have an encryption
    that reads “How can the Wilhelm liberator ve named
    after Wagner’s Reich”? And another asks “Why is
    the holy ring of Heaven’s Dream require Hell’s
    flames”?

  7. Regino Robainas says:
  8. Excellent work. I think you have typo:

    “post internet marketing ptoject”

  9. John Steppling says:

    thanks.

  10. Regino Robainas says:

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