Total Awareness of Nothing

Luc Tuymans

“Man is fundamentally an animal. Animals, as distinct from man, are not machine-like, not sadistic; their societies, within the same species, are incomparably more peaceful than those of man. The basic question, then is: What has made the animal, man, degenerate into a machine?”
Wilhelm Reich (Mass Psychology of Fascism)

“From the perspective of art and aesthetics, the dialectic of nature and history is as much the spur to art’s self-development (the history of nature become form, of materials become second nature) as it is the survival of that “fear of the overwhelming” once felt before the “overpowering wholeness and undifferentiatedness of nature” but which has now migrated into artworks, felt anew at each “moment of being shaken” by the shocks of aesthetic experience. In this sense, the shudder is both real and recollection. Real wherever this “involuntary comportment” so impresses itself upon the aesthetic subject that “for a few moments the I becomes aware, in real terms, of letting self-preservation fall away”; recollection inasmuch as “art is [the shudder’s] legacy,” the memory of the human’s sense of that “powerlessness against nature” preserved in artworks that, in becoming animate, in beginning to move and returning the onlooker’s stare, “would like to make commensurable to human beings the remembered shudder, which was incommensurable in the magical primordial world.” The shudder, “permanently reproduced in the historical antagonism of subject and object,” is also, in art, the somatic knowledge of that dialectic of nature and history through which the shocks of aesthetic experience distinguish themselves from the endless tremors induced by that culture industry for which any talk of the knowledge of natural-history is “idle nonsense.”
Ryan Crawford (Index of the Contemporary; Adorno, Art, Natural History)

“Quarantine is our most powerful response to uncertainty: it means waiting to see if something hidden inside us will be revealed. It is also one of our most dangerous, operating through an assumption of guilt. In quarantine, we are considered infectious until proven safe.”
Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley (Until Proven Safe)

“The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production.”
Karl Marx, Frederick Engels (The German Ideology)

Adorno noted that those merely formal ornaments or by products, even, of art, like meter or rhyme or perspective are to be thought of as the scars left on works by earlier modes of production. Ryan Crawford’s very good monograph on Adorno, and why so many contemporary critics, both political and aesthetic, misunderstand him (or resent him) points out that the aforementioned idea of scar is part of a crucial dimension of Adorno’s thought (see, especially, Theory of Natural History) in that nature returns in art. Its restoration is linked to the pre-history of art. But the relation between art and nature is not static. There is no absolute unchangeable dynamic, it changes as historical conditions change. Today’s antipathy to Adorno (much like to Freud and of late, to Marx) is not without explanation.

Nancy Rexroth, photography.

“Resistance to Adorno’s aesthetics may thus also be understood as antipathy to the imperative that, for aesthetics to be possible today, one must first, in the face of the artwork, “renew in [oneself], as observer, that process which is present in the work in a solidified form,” “re-enacting for one’s own part the process of production that lies within the matter itself,” and thus introject, within the otherwise myopic gaze of aesthetic theory, the thousand-eyed stare through which the artwork returns the world-weary gaze of a history nearing extinction.”
Ryan Crawford (Ibid)

The anti intellectualism of western society today has bled into an animosity to art (or further animosity) and is tied into, I believe, the irrational fears of the pandemic as global leaders have presented or sold it to the public (meaning the propaganda narrative). {Ive noticed, also, a distrust of the word narrative, which is among the more Zizekian psychological tropes in recent memory }. Distrust or disavowal are the bread and butter of an increasingly incoherent opposition to domination. It is the paranoia of a culture and society less able to depend on its most familiar experiences and associations. The psychological signposts are growing more unfamiliar. This is a top down process, it should be noted. As if the ruling class were changing the lettering on those signposts.

But back to Adorno for a bit longer. Let me from Crawford’s essay one more time…

“In the section on “Common Ideas of Art” from the Aesthetics’ “Introduction,” Hegel identifies two different ways in which the individual relates to objects. In the first, the “sensuous individual,” “in accord with individual impulses and interests, … relates himself to the objects … and maintains himself in them by using and consuming them, and by sacrificing them works in his own self-satisfaction.” This is what Hegel calls the “appetitive” relation to objects, in which desire cannot “let the object persist in its freedom, for its impulse drives it just to cancel this independence and freedom of external things, and to show that they are only there to be destroyed and consumed.”

Heidi Bucher-Hautraum. photography, media.

Crawford at the end of the essay quotes from the forward to a museum catalogue describing a show on modernism as… “about nature as a historically and culturally determined space and concept, and an idea of history whose course and development should not be equated with the logic of natural processes.” (Rainer Fuchs and Karola Krauss).

This echoes much of Robert Hullot-Kentor has written, who also emphasized Adorno’s essay on Natural History. And I wanted to look at this again in light of the last two years, the years of a global economic restructuring, but also a 24 months of massive byzantine propagandising never seen before perhaps. I saw recently a student walk out protesting (High schools) unsafe school conditions and demanding distance learning. In other words tele-learning (sic).

Students from another time…

“The students who led the resistance to the Vietnam War and produced largely, though not exclusively, spurious elements of a counter-culture, were able to do so in part because they were not going to lose their shirts. They could live in communes, march in the streets, bring campuses nationwide to a halt and camp out in Washington D.C. for days at a time and still get through the winter on their own. Government subsidies to higher education, shaped by the struggle with the Soviet Union for the production of scientific research staffs, made college tuition cheap. Comparable students today, however, have been entirely absorbed into the social debt structure. It most of all organizes their lives. Students are now by majority at work, at least part time, and largely unprotected, with everything to lose. In lieu of the challenge of the Soviet Union and the corresponding US government subsides, students are paying stupendous tuitions for educations that are, in fact, bare socialization and job preparation programs, and they are themselves objectively targeted by industry sales programs beyond any of the most densely animated electronic fantasies that by measure preoccupy their waking hours.”
Robert Hullot-Kentor (A New Type of Human Being and Who We Really Are)

Paula Rego (detail)

In the same essay, Hullot-Kentor talks about Adorno’s observations on America when he arrived in 1938.

“…he thought Americans of those years were starting to go through as amounting to the production of a population that was by any historical standard and in the most profound sense uneducable, that is, characterized by an objectless intelligence. This transformation paralyzed critical consciousness.”

One can see the intensified version of this today. The electronically modified version of this. A primary reason I think Adorno is so important is that he investigated aesthetics as a key to unlocking human potential, a potential to emerge out of barbarism (a word Adorno used a great deal). And as Hullot-Kentor notes, one of the reasons Adorno is scorned (by both right and left) is that he based his entire aesthetic theory on the central insight and the expanse that is modernism. And the West today, in its obsessive need for innovation and its addiction to the beliefs of progress, sees modernism as the old.

Corporations want ‘new’ ideas, not good ideas.

“…the new concept of regression that Adorno developed was the idea of the emergence, at moments of crisis, of primitive conflicts that were never resolved in the first place—conflicts that civilization itself harbors and that it manufactures and heightens by its own logic.”
Robert Hullot-Kentor (Ibid)

George Condo

Progress becomes regression. So, per Hullot-Kentor, the panicky trades and deals on Wall St are the same panicky buying of useless commodities at the local mall, it is the basic unresolved fear of daily life (not to mention the need for compulsive repetition) . And today, amid the pandemic hysteria this fear is potentiated (Hullot-Kentor) and moved ever more to the surface. Today, considerations of survival are so acute as to justify actions that overwrite basic ideas of self preservation — a distinction worth pondering. The looming climate crisis is only another chapter in this (which marketing has been going on for a decade or more so that people really think the car they choose might actually matter in helping save the planet). For the contemporary subject, the idea of survival reads as a kind of palimpsest. Culture is read as hieroglyphs anyway, an arcane system who’s origin is obscured, who’s meaning is obscured. Culture is closely associated with modernism in that sense. Parents having their young children vaccinated (with this experimental vaccine) suggests a mimetic sacrificial act, which like all blood sacrifice serves to absolve the real collective violence of the group. In this case, more the priestly class. And now, even as countless parts of the original state decrees seem to be turning out fraudulent, there remain factional contradictions, and many have embraced what is being is marketed as ‘the new normal’, regardless of health considerations. The mask is here to stay for the medium term. Maybe for the long term.

Hullot-Kentor is discussing Adorno’s essay A New Type of Human Being

“Adorno put it this way in the essay we’re discussing: the individual “seems to be on the way to a situation in which it can only survive by relinquishing its individuality, by blurring the boundary between itself and its surroundings, and sacrificing most of its independence and autonomy.” By this essentially chameleon labor, the self is thus prohibited from developing in critical opposition to society.”
Robert Hullot-Kentor (Ibid)

Herbert Bayer, photo montage.

Adorno pointed to several aspects of the transformation going on. One is rather worth discussing since it feels counter intuitive. He said the modern subject was imageless. He meant that technically reproduced images were not ‘real’ images (use whatever word you want). This loss was an engine for much of modernist painting. And it reminds one of the distinctions between theatre and film. In Artaud’s play Jet of Blood the final stage directions are that severed penises fall from the sky (as I recall anyway). The point is that on stage, as I saw in one production, you can toss roses from the rafters. You cannot do that in film. The question of verisimilitude looms– you would need to have a special effects artist create latex penises, I guess. The magic of theatre means a rose becomes a penis. But it is also the illusionistic aspect of a photograph, for example, always reminds the viewer of its artificiality. But the rose isn’t a penis, its a symbol for it. Its also not an artificial image. Except its actually a bit more than just symbol. It is this ‘something more’ in which resides the mysteries of allegory and fable, and of the uncanny. In film the uncanny is much more tied to both text, or dialogue, really, and to narrative. And in film narrative is tied to montage. In theatre the uncanny is more immediate, it is more purely visual even as theatre is more text dependent. It is the image where text takes place. The uncanny is found in that intersection between text and performance. It cannot exist without listening, a listening on the part of the actor and a listening in the audience.

So why is the rose-symbol-penis emphatic and a filmed version of that scene not? I can imagine a film version that would be, but it would not be the quality of the image, per se. It would be the mise-en-scene, the camera placement, the camera movement, and the close up. There have only ever been a handful of directors who one might see as merchants of the uncanny. Sirk was one, Straub, Dryer, Ophuls perhaps. And perhaps at their best the Dardannes. Ozu at times and early German expressionism, Murnau absolutely. Edgar G. Ulmer and the films of Val Lewton maybe above all others (notable that much popular cinema of the last forty years traffics very specifically in a fake uncanny. David Lynch being the poster boy for this, but stuff like Delicatessen, and Donnie Darko).

The loss of what Adorno called ’emphatic’ images (real images) helped with the erosion of the imagination. This was over half a century ago. Adorno wrote at the front edges of mechanical reproduction. Today the screen hegemony has all but eradicated imagination in this register. Reproduced image is ubiquitous and omnipresent. The unconscious, per Jonathan Beller, is now a film strip. And as such, it is a constrained unconscious (more on this below). The presence of the painting, though, is about more than the emphatic quality of the image.

Maria Uhden (Wood cut, 1916).

“Adorno was aware that humans become what we are and are transformed by what we hold; that—in spite of our fantasies—the object has primacy over the subject. The new type of human being, then, was experientially shaped by being involved most of all with technical objects that proscribe experience in that they most of all require the adaptation of the self to their use.{ } As we—the progeny of the new type of person—all know, the function of the individual in dealing with these devices is limited to obedience in fulfilling their instructions; that is the nature of the skill, which is in fact nothing like a skill in the historical sense of the word, that they demand. In the process of mastering the rules of these cold, technical objects, a quality shared by much of what goes by the name of theory, these devices become models of the self. The self seeks to resemble them, to become as technical, embalmed and cold as they are. The now largely electronic devices substantially take the place that was once held by emphatic images and are clutched after in their clubbishly anonymous, pervasively managerial form of happiness as libidinized objects.”
Robert Hullot-Kentor (Ibid)

A side bar note on the above paragraph. The de-skilling of contemporary man is a very big and important topic. And there is a morbid aspect to this cold technical obedience. We are the psychic undertakers for culture, in that sense. Metaverse is not only ugly, and UGLEE it is, but it is morbid. It is obscene.

Turi Simeti

That same essay of Adorno noted the changes in physicality. It is a complex discussion and I suspect takes me too far afield from the issues of this post, but suffice it to say it reinforces my loathing of all things (now called) interactive.

“Until then I had only read one book by him, The Jargon of Authenticity, but gathered in it was everything I’d had to suffer intellectually as student; namely, the trivialised Heideggerianism that marked the intellectual climate in the Federal Republic of Germany. Today, I would say that it was a post-national-socialist climate, Nazi-lite, so to speak, that manifested itself in an omnipresent language: from radio stations and evangelical academia through to the ‘Popular University’ [Volkshochschule], etc. “
Detlev Claussen (Interview, Communists in Situ, 2019)

Again Claussen is describing Germany in the mid sixties. Again, over half a century ago. There were clear indicators that European fascism, German and Italian, had never gone away. As Wilhelm Reich noted, fascism is not an aberration. A lot of leftists (Trots often, Stalinists, too) tend to want to believe in the goodness and health of the working class. Of the masses. Its a romantic sort of vision, but its not accurate and it trivializes the trauma that these same people have suffered at the hands of the ruling state. Everyone is damaged. Pretending otherwise is counter revolutionary, actually. But I digress. The new backpeddling from the WHO and various news outlets is indeed, though, partly the result of mass protests against vaccine mandates and passports. People are not stupid. But many of those protesting were fighting what they saw as the rise of new Commie totalitarianism (sic). They were right to protest. Instincts intact, to some degree. But there it often stalls. One would think that education then might be seen as critically important (rather than discrediting others on your side in this fight, but who harbour understandable false consciousness). So, back to what Claussen is describing. Nazi-lite. That same obfuscating rhetoric is found today in University halls, only its technocratized. (that’s not a word, I’m sure). The complaint that Adorno is obtuse and difficult is risible. Yes, of course he is difficult. As Samuel Weber observed (who translated some of Adorno), the meaning, the specificity of Adorno’s writing is inseparable from its articulation (I paraphrase). And this actually leads to another issue which is the accompanying regression of language. But it does not regress to primitivism, exactly, but it loses its capacity for complex argument and specificity. But the point here is that this conscientious refusal to offend, the bland identity fixated sociology (advertising as critical theory or philosophy) is post-post-national socialist. I read endless attacks on French post structuralism but that’s a red herring, and hardly the influence some imagine. No, the watered down Heideggariansim, the post national socialist state, was given a make over by Disney through the logical positivists and offshoots of science. Psychoanalysis became neuroscience of one sort or another, and philosophy became self help, or repurposed obscurantist jargon. It became secret codes for the initiated (those whose parents could pay exhorbitant tuition).

Didier Vermeiren

There is less and less philosophy in general today. At least in the West. There is a kind of pseudo-philosophy. A melange of lit-crit and sociology. There are specialized fields of critical writing, on gender, race, sexuality. Very little of it is worth reading. It mirrors the collapse of film, say, as an art form. LaLaLand is to Singin’ in the Rain what Richard Rorty or Dennett is to Spinoza or Kant. Or something like that. One thing I have noticed is the growing disconnect between media spin and the beliefs of the public. There has been reached a tipping point for marketing and propaganda, a point where the target demographic no longer believes anything. It neither believes or disbelieves. And the Great Reset, and the pandemic seem to reflect this. God knows millions embraced the pitch, but millions did not. But those skeptics were all too often at pains to articulate their distrust. Hence, the eighty years of conditioning and revisionist history was a reflex default position. Oh, its the commies. Its the Chinese or Russians or maybe even Muslims. I’m surprised, actually, Islam was not accused of developing a variant.

“The character structure of modern man, who reproduces a six-thousand-year-old patriarchal authoritarian culture is typified by characterological armoring against his inner nature and against the social misery which surrounds him. This characterolgical armoring of the character is the basis of isolation, indigence, craving for authority, fear of responsibility, mystic longing, sexual misery, and neurotically impotent rebelliousness.”
Wilhelm Reich (The Function of the Orgasm1927)

Matvey Levenstein

The contemporary fascist sensibility is possible because so many people, starting with the bourgeoisie and the managerial clerks to empire, have been utterly untethered from their interior life. The above quote of Reich’s is at the heart of his thinking. What Reich called the emotional plague. Fascism grew as a lower working class movement, merchants and shopkeepers, clerks, officials at the lower end of authority, and agricultural workers. Those who saw themselves aspiring to the upper class, and hence fearful of downward social movement. For Reich, the fascist leader must share a character structure with those who he wants to lead — and it is interesting to look at the current ascension of sexual conservatism triggered by the pandemic protocols. For as restrictions fall away across the globe, the work may have already been done. The fear of the other, the fear of contagion and infection, and a fear of intimacy in general, as a source of contamination. The pandemic protocols gave expression to a latent but still active sexual anxiety. The mass consumption of internet porn speaks to this anxiety, I think. Sexual communion is erased in porn, and replaced (increasingly ) with domination and sadism. This reflects the growing atomization of society, and its loss of community structure. Pornography isolates sex to the genitals, as society isolates the individual from his community. Such isolating mechanisms produce fetishization. Sitting alone masturbating is mirrored in the political by sitting alone and clicking ‘like’, or even voting online, and by ‘owning’ one’s opinion, shopped for in the media political version of home shopping network. The cold technical skills required for smart phone navigation are reproduced in isolated and cold erotic encounters with the screen. One is having sex with oneself, or with a hologram fantasy of onself.

On the legacy of Playboy, Paul B. Preciado writes: “The Bunny media empire is a model of economic and cultural production that allows to understand the displacement, after the Second World War, from a disciplinary regime of production of sexuality toward what I call a pharmacopornographic regime characterized by the introduction of new chemical, pharmacological, prosthetic, media, and electronic surveillance techniques for controlling gender and sexual reproduction.”
Paul B. Preciado (Pornotopia)

Lucas Cranach the elder (1538)

And here it is worth reminding one of Marcuse’s ideas of ‘repressive desublimation’. Which in essence is the neutralizing of rebellious, negative, and dissident feelings and activities by embracing them and marketing them. As Robert Paul Wolff notes… “embracing them, commodifying them, converting them into sources of profit. So long hair, piercings, tattoos, and the insolence of the slouch became advertising devices, splashed across newspaper and magazine pages to sell soft drinks, jeans, cars, and beer. This unblocking of the negative energies of Eros and Thanatos robbed them of their power to challenge the existing order. It was a desublimation whose effect, against all expectation, was actually repressive, by depriving previously buried wishes, fantasies, and thoughts of their power to destabilize the dominant social and economic order.”
(The Philosopher’s Stone, 2019)

Now, on an ideological level this is more complex. One can absorb the codes of rebellion, and the style and symbols even. I mean corporate clothes lines do this weekly. They search the streets to find the next new thing and quickly appropriate it. In fact style is now so rapid in its changes, the semiotics of dress codes is actually dialectical. As someone once said of the band Love (Arthur Lee et al) they were black guys imitating white guys imitating black guys. In the 21st century now, I think the pandemic has revealed something of the new parameters of cyber phenomenology.

This is structurally what advanced capitalism pretty much does with everything. The protocols, then, were giving concrete form to already existing tendencies. And porn, like Metaverse, and like Playboy (notwithstanding the considerable positive and progressive aspects of Hefner’s influence) not to mention the Disney empire, are aesthetic expressions and systems that neutralise the idea of transcendence that was foundational to modernism. And in each case what is reproduced is something Adorno would see as inauthenic. The temporal aspect of Porn has economic implications. Porn is capital friendly. Sexual communion, or intimacy, is not. And there are competing, or perhaps just overlapping structural aspects to all this. Sex as click bait. Politics as click bait. Health as click bait.

Sun-t’aek No, photography.

There are countless historical markers for the separation of immediate creation with an abstracting of that immediacy. In the 16th century Alberti did this with architecture, substituting architect and his drawings (plans) for the stone mason and his hands-on creative labour.

“There are, for example, millions and millions of square kilometers across the world devoted to default surfaces of grey concrete, green grass, white walls and black asphalt. This barely perceived default setting establishes an almost nothing state to which things then appear to have been added as a visible quantity. It is what makes both the spectacle and resistance to it possible. The apparent excesses of imagery depend upon a particular unobserved effect of almost nothing. These seemingly innocuous surfaces covering the planet are the real site for Architectural production.”
Mark Wigley (Toward a History of Quantity)

Aesthetic disconnect. But it is this very disconnect that began, in its current phase, most profoundly with Disney. Culture always reproduces in allegorical form, the tensions of trauma in society. Architecture and theatre are the ur-mediums for expressing the cultural values of a society. Buildings are built today as if they were meant to be experienced on a screen, not lived or worked in. Theatre is trivialized (this is not entirely true, but for the purposes here) by film. The camera narrows possibility. Architecture is created on screens, to be built in the real world, a world modified to accommodate this instrumental vision. Architecture designed to adumbrate presence. There is a transition to a new caste system. Visibility on media defines caste, or identifies caste markers (for the upper caste) but in the real world, ever more prolentarianized, the caste system is those families living under freeway overpasses. Disconnect. Play in Metaverse (or sell property, virtual property that is) while the vast majority of Western countries continue to live in extreme precarity.


The pandemic is pure regression on one level. Primitive unresolved conflicts set against the hyper-spectacle of advanced capitalism. But the Reset and the Pandemic protocols and policies (lockdowns, masks, etc) are the unresolved conflicts of the ruling class. And it is this class, at least partly independent of the state via NGOs and global health institutions, that imposed this irrationality on the masses. It is the unprecedented wealth of people like Bezos or Zuckerberg or Musk or Gates that drives these fantasy projects. Musk’s Mars’ tourism or Gates racist saviour complex (genocidal in nature) that are infantile wishes, really. Infantilism that masks the anal-sadistic character of each.

“In the German Ideology and in the discussion of the fetishism of commodities in volume I of Capital, Marx showed that specific forms of social organization -property and production relations–bring forth specific forms of consciousness, which in capitalist society are ideological because they remain imprisoned in social appearance without penetrating to the essence of things and their inner laws of motion. Because of this false appearance the existing relations domination can be maintained and strengthened. { } According to Wilhelm Reich, a materialistic psychoanalysis “has to discover the means and mechanisms by way of which social existence is transformed into psychic structure and with that, into ideology.”Formulated another way: “psychoanalysis… can clarify in detail the psychological effects of production conditions upon the individual; can clarify, that is say, the way that ideologies are formed ‘inside the head’. { } This uneven material and intellectual development in different regions results from the specific character of capitalism-its demand for profits rather than the harmonious development of the entire society. But this is only one side of the problem. The other lies in the situation that precisely in the highly developed capitalist centers irrational forms of consciousness not only continue to exist to a large extent, but are constantly being reproduced.”
Reinhard Kühnl and Anson G. Rabinbach (Problems of a Theory of German Fascism: A Critique of the Dominant Interpretations, New German Critique, Winter 1975)

Todd Hido, photography (from his series Foreclosed Homes).

“…the rise of information itself is an extension of the ongoing quantification and instrumentalization of the life-world imposed by early capitalism, and further that the abstraction of “information” and its mechanization as “computation” take place in the footprint of the calculus of the value-form and the leveraged value-expropriation of labor by capitalized industry.”
Jonathan Beller (The Message is Murder)

What Adorno so acutely described in his essay A New Type of Human Being is worth considering in a context with Beller’s books — which are a forensic analysis of what he calls the algorithms of inequality. Aesthetics today has shrunken down to computational descriptions and predictions.

“As Robin Kelley explains in “Thug Nation: On State Violence and Disposability,” and as Katherine Mckittrick, drawing on Simone Browne shows in “Mathematics Black Life,” archives, metrics, words, and mass media representations, are the result of and repository of racial violence, and they reproduce racial violence.{ } The “financialization of everyday life,” the emergence of what Randy Martin terms “the society of risk,” the submitting of all possible acts to a cost-benefit analysis (do I dare eat a peach?), all emerge by means of digitization—a digitization that has a long history of recursivity in relation to social practice. Real needs are addressed, but at a price, and as the mesh of valuation expands and becomes finer, neither the rewards nor the costs are evenly distributed.”
Jonathan Beller (Ibid)

I was speaking on Press TV today, in a rolling coverage on the protests in Yemen. And I noted that this is really a story of colonialism. This is a story, besides the US military assistance and weapons sales, of white European and North American colonial practice. Open the lens a little and this is the creation of states, the maintenance of power and privilege.

The emotional plague of Reich came out of his experience of Nazi power, but it could as easily been applied to King Leopold, to the Raj, to Kenya and French West Africa, or the Deutsches Kolonialreich. Or the Italian or Dutch. Or the Spanish in the ‘new’ world.

Cassio Vasconcellos, photography (Sao Paulo).

“In brief, the informationalization of life and nature was an extension of the violence of its instrumentalization under the rationality of capitalism: Information appears as a formalization and encoding of practices of violence and violation, an ever more granular extension of the violence of abstraction under capitalism into the cosmos.”
Jonathan Beller (Ibid)

By abstraction here, I think, what is meant is not visual abstraction but emotional and political. It is the disconnect, again. The data and information now perform what aesthetics once performed. From the stone mason to the architect to the information processing center. Only this data harvesting is for profit, it is the legacy of slavery and colonialism and class oppression reduced to a spread sheet. But this process did not begin with the computer. The abstracting of suffering was the basis of colonial practice. The ledgers for slave ships, the sugar count on Caribbean plantations translated into bookeeping, and the technological inventions that accompanied these industries enclosed the violence and sanitized it. Capitalism was always manufacturing poverty and suffering, and always notating the profit margin. Thus the deep sleep of forgetting necessary to survive. Amnesia as self preservation. And amnesia is how the fascist invented a mythology for itself. Those giant information processing centers in the deserts of the planet are new Kafka parables. The Castle is now The Utah Data Center (well, the Intelligence Community Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative Data Center to be accurate). Exchange value informs all of aesthetics, today. The birth of coinage far before the Industrial Revolution, marked one inexorable march toward structural restraints on the psyche (there are other marches, too) Since the mid 1800s the divorce from Nature has been widening. What Adorno described as shudder …standing before the overwhelming wholeness of the world has shrivelled down to repetitive exchanges of the same, to the onanistic fetishized toys of the cybersphere. Dull bloodless digitalized total awareness of nothing.

“Surprisingly perhaps, computation, understood now in accord with the logic of media convergence to be the ultimate medium of communication, is not simply ancillary to this process of inscribing the messages of others on living bodies, but the very means by which this process has achieved a new level of efficiency, inexorability and hegemony. Simply put, global communication and information processing utilizes planetary dispossession as its substrate. All of our high-tech communiqués are written on the backs of modern slaves. This book included.”
Jonathan Beller (Ibid)

Photographer unknown. (Monsignor Bos with Dayak girls for first communion. Borneo 1929)

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, when our school went fully remote, it was evident to me that the loss of human connection would be detrimental to our students’ development. It also became increasingly clear that the response to the pandemic would have immense consequences for students who were already on the path to long-term disengagement, potentially altering their lives permanently { } The data about learning loss and the mental health crisis is devastating. Overlooked has been the deep shame young people feel: Our students were taught to think of their schools as hubs for infection and themselves as vectors of disease. This has fundamentally altered their understanding of themselves.”
Stacey Lance (I’m a Public School Teacher. The Kids Aren’t Alright, 2022)

To donate to this blog (and to Aesthetic Resistance podcasts) use the paypal button at the top.


  1. Regino Robainas says:

    Ex Nihilo
    Spray painting my rented drywalls , turning on ,
    and turning off the lighte, then deeply listening
    to the subversive psychedelic waves…Maybe, these
    were earlier primitive dysney-electronic substitutes
    to having a life & a natural history, i.e, n animistic
    soul. Spurrious, but the only knifes we could lift, tired
    and shuttered as we were, from the beach hot arena.

    I deeply admire your essay, but harbor one critical
    observation regarding how we (I, too) respond to &
    create histories & stories- To overcome one aspect
    of that history, the fossil fuel sludge pig sty we’ve
    puked on our precious sister Earth correlated with
    the loss of Aestethics.

  2. “As we—the progeny of the new type of person—all know, the function of the individual in dealing with these devices is limited to obedience in fulfilling their instructions; that is the nature of the skill, which is in fact nothing like a skill in the historical sense of the word, that they demand. In the process of mastering the rules of these cold, technical objects, a quality shared by much of what goes by the name of theory, these devices become models of the self. The self seeks to resemble them, to become as technical, embalmed and cold as they are. The now largely electronic devices substantially take the place that was once held by emphatic images and are clutched after in their clubbishly anonymous, pervasively managerial form of happiness as libidinized objects.”
    Robert Hullot-Kentor (Ibid)

    One of the Christmas commercials I saw on TV last month was for a new phone/device, by Samsung I think. In the commercial, a young girl looks longingly into the window of a phone store, then walks away, obviously disappointed she can’t have the phone being featured. After she leaves, the phone starts pulsing out red valentine hearts, playing sad love songs, and showing an avatarized cartoon image of the girl on its screen, and this spreads to all the (identical) phones in the store. Well, come Christmas day, and the girl opens the package and guess what, there’s the enamored/enamoree phone. Girl and device meet at last. Happy ever after. And the tagline: “YOU are the gift.” The girl is the gift to the phone.
    These things aren’t usually that blatant, but it appears obvious that the company’s targetting the young (the girl is maybe 15). This is love—safe, cold, small, customized (the girl’s hair and the phone are the same pink/purple), metallic, short-lived (until the next iteration of phone comes out). Morbid indeed.

    And, with respect to physicality, here’s John Berger on Courbet.
    “To grow up surrounded by such rocks (the Jura) is to grow up in a region in which the visible is both lawless and irreducibly real. There is visual fact but a minimum of visual order. Courbet, according to his friend Francis Wey, was able to paint an object convincingly – say a distant pile of cut wood – without knowing what it was. That is unusual amongst painters, and it is, I think, very significant.” Portraits.
    Berger was also writing that in the 90s I think, so even more significant now, when your phone would probably tell you what it was, or tell you to turn right in .5km anyway. And as to laws, there are thousands on the books, and even though Berger was referring to a visual lawlessness, the fact that most wandering or existing outside of productive mode is illegal now also registers under the skin. It kind of relates to a generalized exhaustion people seem to be feeling which is partly of the senses, lost reference points, maybe internal reference points, tied to years of precarity and the disney notion of “newness” but not even that concrete, more like the fact that everything is now a reference to something that was already artificial twice over. But that also sounds too sort of “conservative” buzzwordy. It is definitely somatic, though, and exists.

    Thanks, John, again, for these essays.

  3. John Steppling says:

    glad you quoted berger. I know that essay and its great. That commercial is very telling, isnt it. In a way surprising it was made that blatant. But then….maybe not.

  4. Very VERY interesting essay.
    I am not philosophically trained, but do “think” and I am a visual artist.
    I will read and re read this.
    Thank you.

  5. Regino Robainas says:

    What is the ontology of a warm rubber
    covered but with breathing holes blaring
    Jim Morrison’s music during a mercilessly
    frigid night at the beach? What could
    be more calamitous than the gadget’s heart
    batteries die from oxidation and wetness?
    Is there not a special, yes even new, joy
    in such a bleak neoliberal landscape to
    be unravelled therein? A hearty Kafka

  6. Regino Robainas says:
  7. Regino Robainas says:

    As half-lives are often so nearly
    eternal surpassing a billion years &
    the study revealed no significantly
    radioactive traces, I propose that
    ancient Marsian settlements may, like we
    shall if we fail to act in time, have
    perished because of overuse of
    fossil fuels and pentagons. and

  8. Regino Robainas says:

    The Outcast Poet at the Fact(S)tory

    Who am I? Where am I?

    Shit, be chilled!

    Are you just granite

    In the planet of silk?

  9. Regino Robainas says:

Speak Your Mind


To Verify You\'re Human, Please Solve The Problem: * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.