Anne Louis Girodet (detail, the Flood 1802)

“What can be done?“ said Zeus, “for all is given;
The crops, the hunt, the marts are no more free.”

Friedrich Schiller (The Division of the World, tr. Wm Wertz Jr.)

” W.E.B. Du Bois deciding he had “not been Freudian enough” when he observed the body parts of a lynched Negro displayed in a local store.”
Eli Zaretsky (Political Freud)

“Among the precepts of the Moses religion there is one that is of greater importance than appears to begin with. This is the prohibition against making an image of God—the compulsion to worship a God whom one cannot see.”
Sigmund Freud (Moses and Monotheism)

“Philosophers constantly see the method of science before their eyes and are irresistibly tempted to ask and answer questions in the way science does.”
Ludwig Wittgenstein (Blue Blook)

There has been, over the last several years, even before Covid, a separating of political thought from the arts. In general I keep seeing this de-politicizing of discourse in many fields. In science for example the popular theoretical physicist Italian Carlo Rovelli was interviewed and the subject of the pandemic came up, vis a vis science and there was no suggestion (at all) of skepticism about said science, or anything else (government policies for example). Now Rovelli is a respected figure and a suspiciously popular author of books on science for the lay reader. But he has no interest in the political implications (or aesthetic) of physics. Of what he does.

But behind this compartmentalizing of disciplines is something ideological as well. A recent BBC article on the superiority of eating insects included the line ‘and grasshoppers are less harmful to the environment’ (than cattle). The implication here is that all things ARE harmful to the environment (and defining that word might be useful) but eating bugs was a bit less harmful. In other words, if you follow the logic all LIFE is harmful to the environment. And even the carbon focus suggests that all organic life is somehow a problem. As Varun Mather noted on social media the other day: “Carbon is the building block, a primary element, of all life on earth. Carbon dioxide is one of the necessary foods of the plant kingdom. Both carbon and carbon dioxide are life of the planet itself. What is detrimental to ecology is synthesized chemicals and toxic pollutants from industrialised systems which not only harm but block the process of organic, natural generation/degeneration/regeneration.”

The creepy Jane Goodall said in an interview recently (the former Baroness Jane van Lawick-Goodall) ‘the earth would be improved if 90% of the world population were removed’. This is much the same plan as Goering had for eastern Europe (see previous blog post), get rid of the humans the better that Aryans might hunt and frolic free of the unsavoury masses. The rise of computational capitalism, the internet and AI, has been, in effect, the rise of an ideology. A specific and nihilistic ideology of death. I no longer think you can separate the eugenics of Baroness Goodall (or Prince Charles et al) from the ideology of AI, nor from instrumental thought (and positivism) in general.

Mandy Payne

Artists have anticipated this morbid urge for mass extinction. The 20th century saw the gradual removal of crowds from much painting, and in entertainment film the rise of zombies and apocalyptic narratives has been pronounced. And in fact one might intuit this death wish of sorts in all kinds of artistic endeavour — and it found expression in the two world wars. And today in the ‘Great Reset’ (and related policy plans). It is linked today to the climate discourse. And I have to say after a good deal of ambivalence on my part (I was always skeptical, but far from clear in analysing the fear mongering of the global warming alarmists) I find I believe almost none of it. And that it really does beggar belief that the same predictions used twenty years ago are being recycled without adjustment (like moving the time line forward another twenty years). And you see this in the alarmist styles of nightly weather forecasts. Suddenly a heat wave is etched in dark terrifying satanic reds while ten years ago this was just a welcome sunny summer day depicted in greens and yellows. But even earlier in work like Kafka, there is a sense of unease and anxiety that is tied to something lurking below societies surface. This has been the regression to barbarism that was always the twin of enlightenment reason. Kafka and Beckett and Genet all intuited something menacing that was just out of sight.

So where is this science that Rovelli and others promote (usually in a patented avuncular and warm persona)?

But this is all obvious stuff, frankly. And I again am reminded of Alexander Cockburn’s articles on climate change and how pilloried he was by the recently greened bourgeoisie. And these attacks will always include the word ‘denier’. Climate denier, like conspiracy theorist or anti-vaxxer is the new epithet of choice, the new stimatizing label, the scarlet letter of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. And I quote from the opening paragraph of the recent digital edition of Hyperallergic“This week was hot! Temperatures in Europe soared so high that some museums had to close their galleries. What do climate change deniers have to say about that?” This is an atmosphere that represents the closing of thought.

Colby Deal (photography. Houston’s Third Ward)

I want to look at two related topics here. One is a continuation of something I touched on in all the recent posts on this site; the ontology or at least cognitive effects of code, or/and the realm of A.I. in general. And second, the psychoanalytic (and philosophical) bedrock of this closure of thought. But before that, a short explication on the practice of history.

“I am convinced that this anti-Fordist strain in the politics of the 1960s endowed many social historians with at least a latent ambivalence about quantitative methods and the positivist philosophical assumptions that came in their baggage…{ } Yet we social historians were to some degree aware that in adopting quantitative methodology we were participating in the bureaucratic and reductive logic of big science, which was part and parcel of the system we wished to criticize. { } In retrospect, I would say that we new social historians found ourselves in the objectively contradictory situation of using big science Fordist methods in pursuit of an at least partly anti-Fordist political agenda.”
William H. Sewell, Jr. (The Political Unconscious of Social and Cultural History, or, Confessions of a Former Quantitative Historian)

Sewell’s essay is a good place to start for an examination of how positivism and quantitative sociological methods affected the academic view of the world in the late 20th century. Sewell notes that the work of E.P. Thompson loomed large as a corrective to quantitative methodology in the social sciences. What C. Wright Mills called ‘abstracted empiricism’. What Thompson hoped to correct was the ‘condescension of posterity’ to the working classes. Sewell observes; “In retrospect, I see my switch from social to cultural history as a belated working out of the anti-Fordist dimension of my 1960s radicalism.” The work of the 1980s cultural historians was borrowing heavily from the humanities. But Sewell’s historical overview points out one crucially important trend. The shift from Social History, with its dependence on statistical analysis to the newer cultural histories (influenced heavily by post structuralists like Derrida and Foucault) who both deconstructed the statistics themselves, revealing the biases and prejudices in their manufacture, still ended in a curious paradox. There is or was a trend in this shift, one away from the illiterate and marginalized of history to those more able to articulate their subjectivities. There seems a gravitational pull in 20th century humanities that swept all before it to the same destination. And this is a reality today for Academia, but also for a wider societal context. The rise of film as a subject for serious study (and the growth of film schools, and I taught at one) and the rise of this over appreciation of kistch, began to erase working class voices. Today none exist in Hollywood, but few exist in literature fields either. Young writers, if not wealthy, are going to write screenplays. The road for prose writers is impossible if you are not enrolled in a prestige MFA program. And so those young writers don’t learn much about writing. They read other screenplays, not literature.

Novelists today are almost entirely from affluent backgrounds. The exceptions are just freak-show outliers, the organ grinder’s monkeys. Novel writing (and the ability to be published, which is entirely nepotistic and class hardened) is the province of bourgeois sensibility and middle brow taste. At least English language novels.

“Meanwhile, I think that the understandable preference of cultural historians for symbolically rich artifacts, usually texts, has also tended over time to displace our gaze from the poor and powerless, who were the favorite subject of the new social history, to those more favored categories who were likely to commit their thoughts to paper and whose papers were more likely to be conserved. This drift away from the socially marginal has been compounded by poststructuralist epistemological doubts about the possibility of knowing or representing the thoughts of the poor.”
William H. Sewell, Jr. (Ibid

Robert Fludd (1617)

Here Sewell notes that many Marxist commentators (David Harvey for one) were cogently noting the transformations in global capitalism and the affect this had on human consciousness but also on ‘culture’. And the word *culture* became one of the most overused words in English. Everything suddenly had a culture. The culture of Wall St, the culture of athletics, the culture of the military, etc. But the real point is about the evolution of capitalist domination. The downsizing, outsourcing, and offshoring that began with the downturns of the 70s, coincided with the growth of marketing and advertising. The emergence of *lifestyle* as a barometer of the public’s taste (or rather the employment of that idea to help shape public taste) was a part of the growth of the *Spectacle* (Debord). There was the growth of transnational capital, global markets, and then the technology of computational trade accelerated the development of new financial products (derivatives etc) and the further pauperizing of the global working class. There was also the Reagan/Thatcher shift in political/economic ideologies. Democracy as an ideal was shrivelling.

The sheer volatility of neo-liberal markets is just one source of a growing backdrop of anxiety for all but the top 1%, though they have their own anxiety backdrop. The counterculture of the 60s was rejecting corporate conformism and the ideas of class segregation. But this positivist/anti-positivist debate was also, to a degree, missing the point.

Matias Duville

“Thus, cultural historians were kicking down the door of Fordist social determinisms at the moment when such determinisms, Habermas’s systematic ‘administration of human beings and their relations to each other by means of social organization,’ were collapsing. In the far more anarchic social world that was emerging, relations between human beings were increasingly determined by market forces rather than by systematic administration, social organization of the Fordist sort was being restructured into networks of entrepreneurial actors, and economic production itself was increasingly becoming a play of signifiers (although decidedly not a free play). Thus, the
explicit or latent oppositional politico cultural project of the 1960s intellectuals who undertook the cultural turn was not entirely appropriate to the context in which it was occurring.”

William H. Sewell, Jr. (Ibid)

The importance of what Sewell is outlining in his essay is that, in essence, something of an oppositional nature has been lost in what is now called ‘cultural history’. But again there are contradictions in all this. Cultural History was a corrective born of the 60s and it has given birth to studies on vernacular architecture, for example. And to an analysis of historical photographs. But is also entrenched in the idea of progress (or modernisation) in ways that are likely regressive. Modernity is projected backwards. The idea is for a discovery of those conditions or beliefs that anticipate modernity. And here the missing element is the role of class. Raphael Samuel writes;

“The indulgence which social historians extend towards their subjects, and the desire to establish ’empathy’ – seeing the past in terms of its own values rather than those of today, can also serve to flatter our self-esteem, making history a field in which, at no great cost to ourselves, we can demonstrate our enlarged sympathies and benevolence. It also serves to rob history of all its terrors. “
(History Today, 1985)

Lovis Corinth

It is interesting in light of the above to see gentrification, cancel culture, and a host of other trends to be embedded in what amounts to a thinly veiled ‘nostalgia industry’. I have spent a good deal of time here on this topic but it seemed a useful sort of preface to what follows. On the subject of regression…

“The concept had broad implications by suggesting that the history of the human species, like that of the individual human mind, does not exist on a single “progressive” surface, but rather has active layers or strata, formed in the past, to which we can return or regress. This broad sense is in play when we say that fascism involved regression. But it was also in play when Theodor Adorno claimed that consumer society fostered “narcissistic regression” in the form of Warhol-style infinite celebrity. Used this way, the concept of regression offered a new way to think about history.”
Eli Zaretsky (Ibid)

It is useful to look at Freud’s work on the Unconscious ( in german: das Unbewusste, the unknowable) and the antagonism toward Freud today, where the work on quantum theory is so embraced. Both work with the unseen, and to a large extent the unknowable. Of course quantum mechanics provides us with smart phones and lasers, and Freudianism does not. But then what psychoanalysis does provide is another register of knowledge, one whose uses are more opaque perhaps, but just as profound. It is a tool to examine, in fact, smart phones and the rest of contemporary science.

“In this formula the killing of God was of course not mentioned, but a crime that had to be atoned by the sacrifice of a victim could only have been a murder. And the intermediate step between the delusion and the historical truth was provided by the assurance that the victim of the sacrifice had been God’s son.[…] The blissful sense of being chosen was replaced by the liberating sense of redemption. “
Sigmund Freud (Ibid)

Loic le Groumellec

Zaretsky notes that psychoanalysis was to late Capitalism what Calvinism was to early Capitalism.

“Divested of its function as the primary locus of production and reproduction and reduced to a sphere of domestic intimacy, the family increasingly forfeited its traditional capacity to furnish individuals with a secure and stable identity. Suspended between the family (a shrunken residue of its former self) and the impersonal mass-market society, individuals were effectively turned back upon themselves. In this new con-text, personal identity became both a problem and a project for individuals, one expressive of both the anxiety-inducing disorientation caused by far-reaching social transformations and the emancipatory hopes awakened by the declining authority of the traditional patriarchal family.”
Phillip Henry & Benjamin Y. Fong (A Whole Climate of Critique: Psychoanalytic Politics Between Vitality and Obsolescence)

It is important to note what happened to psychoanalysis in the 1930s (and allow me to note that the best study of what happened to psychoanalysis remains Russell Jacoby’s excellent Social Amnesia, a book criminally neglected today), a period that saw (as Henry and Fong note) the destruction of the discipline in Europe and its unfortunate transplantation to North America, as well as the death of its founder. Once in the U.S. psychoanalysis was subject to the ravages of American sociological biases, and the general bad faith of a culture bent on the domestication of all things heterogenous. America favoured smiley faces and optimism, sentimentality and all with the patina of Puritan residues. What Samuel Weber described as ‘ethical rationalization’. Psychoanalysis became a cog in the machinery of Fordist and Keynesian productivity. As Henry and Fong note “…productive power, a power, that is, that works not by constraining from the outside but by guiding from within. In the bipolar global order created by the Cold War, psychoanalysis (and particularlyAmerican ego psychology) represented a ‘maturity ethic’ premised on the rejection of radical politics and the insistence that freedom resided in the private realm.”

Germaine Krull, photography.

In what Henry and Fong call the ideology of intersubjectivity, the West eradicated all remnants of the radical socialist spirit of the original Vienna circle, and cleansed the ambivalence and dark corners of Freudianism. But before moving onto the psyche of contemporary humanity, I want to touch on ideas that preceded Freud on the unconscious. In particular the age of Romanticism (and it was Curtis White’s interview where he mentions the importance of Romanticism that got me thinking on this). For this also is a period in which Enlightenment promises begin to be interrogated. Matt Ffytche , in a chapter on the very original (and largely untranslated Odo Marquand) writes: “The danger for the Enlightenment project was that it would illicitly substantiate an account of human potential — potential freedom and potential harmony — by giving it a speculative basis in ‘nature’, at the very same time as these ideals were failing to materialise in human history.”

Marquand saw, perceptively I think, that psychoanalysis was close to transcendental philosophy, a transcendental Nature Philosophy, but disenchanted. The issue for writers like Marquand, and Foucault for that matter, is the emergence of modernity. And how the ‘unconscious’ was seen, or discovered in a sense, or posited in a period still fleeing the strictures of feudalism and Church dogma. Or at least the vestiges of that dogma. The idea of the self was being constructed, in a sense, in the early 19th century, to fit an anticipated new social reality.

But this anticipation could still look at the French Revolution in the rearview mirror. Today, the computational age has nothing in the rear view mirror save for National Socialism, Hiroshima, and fifty some years of U.S. aggression against the global south and communism. The age of AI and the ontology of code has not provided tools for a development of the self in the same way Romanticism did for the appearance of modernity. The autonomous individual of classic liberalism is fractured and deformed today.

“…the notion of self-development is…typically Romantic in origin, and furthermore represents one of the three faces of liberty or freedom.”
Steven Lukes (Individualism)

Kiluanji Kia Henda

“For John Gray, essential to an understanding of liberalism is an insight into its background in modern European individualism — the conception of ourselves ‘as autonomous rational agents and authors of our own values’. These features ‘are fully intelligible only in the light of the several crises of modernity’ which include the dissolution of the feudal order in Europe and the French and American revolutions at the end of the eighteenth century. { } Terry Eagleton has associated the emergence of ‘bourgeois culture’ and the middle class in modernity with a liberal humanism centred on the notion of an ‘autonomous human subject’. However ghostly its existence, this autonomous subject is no mere ‘metaphysical fantasy’ — it remains somehow indispensable to modern culture ‘partly because the subject as unique, autonomous, self-identical and self-determining remains a political and ideological
requirement of the system’.”

Matt Ffytche (The Foundations of the Unconscious)

The 18th century saw, in Europe, an idea of individual striving for personal development. This meant different things, obviously, in different places, but it was a strong prevailing assumption that coloured all social life. The self-improvement mantras of 21st century (and late 20th) America differ by being situated in a strange fantasy landscape ( for the white bourgeoisie), one that must be continuously propped up at the cost of extreme expenditures of energy. What I see today in the West is a collective fatigue, both emotional and intellectual. The smart phone culture drains the psyche by providing an ersatz refuge from the irrationality of electronic conditioning. The western bourgeoisie suffers today from an incapacitating sense of self failure, a judgement of themselves that is private but lacerates their emotional life and plagues their dreams (though I think their dreams are disappearing).

Qui Shihua

As a sort of side bar digression, the Lacanian idea of the mirror stage is one that I suspect is another example of anticipatory intuition.

“Yet Lacan also reads the imaginary as prior to and thus separate from the Symbolic and thus privileges the Symbolic for its significative complexity. Correspondingly, he reads the “fictional direction” of the mirror stage as seducing the subject with the illusion of an autonomy she cannot possess except in a purely hypothetical manner. The fiction and “drama” of the mirror stage mark self making potentiality as an illusory dimension that masks Symbolic determinism. The Lacanian subject is both identity-less and trapped by the Symbolic’s arbitrary effects, her own performative and fiction-making power greatly reduced.”
Joel Farflak (Romantic Psychoanalysis)

The Lacanian reading of Freud is one that senses the front edges of our now extreme instrumentalized thought. The illusion of identity is the cornerstone of 21st century America.

“Psychologists spoke of a prejudice having become unconscious. The truth is that the rigor of the system made the daily affirmation of a superiority superfluous.”
Franz Fanon (Toward an African Revolution)

Jean Baptiste Greuze (late 1700s)

“Once the individual is notionally amputated from the organic body of society,” versions of the unconscious start to reconceive that greater organic body in such a way that moral and political anxieties concerning fragmentation are allayed, though without wholly compromising the experience of self-directedness within the individual.”
Matt Ffytche (Ibid)

So from the early 19th century onwards the idea of an autonomous ‘self’, an inner unique soul, free and capable of development (progress) appears. Of course the unconscious has been referred to in other ways since antiquity, but here it is tied to this unique idea of individuality. And for the subaltern, as Fanon notes, the racist in a racist society is normal. That unique idea of self, an interior ‘something’ is still one tied into white European domination. Ffytche’s book takes an exhaustive look at Schelling and his influence on the origins of psychoanalysis (and Freud). For the purposes here, the turn toward the dark mystical in Schelling coincided with his move from the north of Germany to the Catholic south. From the Goethean light (as it were) to the dark mysterious Night of Böhme . George Lukas called Schelling a destroyer of reason. So we have this curious Catholic mystical reactionary irrationalist idea of man set against a backdrop of social trauma; of the Prussian defeat at Jena and the Napoleonic defeat at Waterloo in 1815. Schelling also tried to found a magazine titled Germans for Germans (sic) during this period, and, it is worth noting (as Ffytche does) that 1806 (the year Schelling moved south) marked the formal dissolution of ancient Reich. This period also the death of his wife Caroline and a few years later the death of his father. It marked the critical shift toward the theosophical in Schelling.

Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, 1848 (daguerreotype)

“The point is still that the beginning of the individual, of all individuals, and the basis for their radical freedom, cannot be wholly transcribed into rational terms, cannot be made wholly explicit or subsumed under general principles such as the principle of sufficient reason: ‘We are hardly in a position to form a concept…’. But rather than abandoning philosophy, or advocating a religious leap of faith in
other powers, Schelling starts to theorise obscurity or unconsciousness as necessary technical principles, and places unconsciousness at the heart of his account of the secular cosmos — of nature, life, history and the psyche. This assumption of obscurity and unaccountability starts to influence his philosophical descriptions of the nature and development of matter and preconscious life forms.”

Matt Ffytche (Ibid)

Schelling became obsessed with the ideas of origin. With a beginning, which he knew was ‘unthinkable’, literally, but still so powerful a draw for him that he continued to speculate. What is relevant in this quasi theosophical matrix of irrationality is the importance such ideas held for later thinkers (Heidegger for one). This is the conservative Germanic Catholicism of Bavaria. And Schelling, in spite of himself, really, became the center of a certain notion of counter Hegelian thinking. His lectures, in fact, later in 1841, in Berlin, were attended by Kierkegaard (who described Schelling as speaking insufferable nonsense), Bakunin, Burkhardt, and Engels. It is hard to escape the influence of Schelling’s thought (on the unconscious and otherwise) on later developments in philosophy. And yet, looming above all this remains Hegel. Much as Nietzsche looked to denounce Christianity, yet became in a sense the most profound of Christians, Schelling and his followers denouncing of Hegel left them still much under the influence of Hegel.

“‘When we say “I”, we mean, to be sure, an individual; but since everyone is “I”, when we say “I”, we only say something quite universal.The universality of the “I” enables it to abstract from everything, even from its life.'”
G.W.F. Hegel (Philosophy of Mind)

Laurent Baheux, photography.

“Critics have viewed this shift, from the seemingly materialist bent of the Naturphilosophie to the terrain of Renaissance magic and the obscure metaphysics of a pre-scientific era, as a regression. Sitting through the lectures of 1842, Burckhardt was so struck by Schelling’s descent into ‘genuine’ Gnosticism, that he expected at any moment to see ‘some monstrous Asiatic god on twelve legs’ come waddling into the auditorium.”
Matt Ffytche (Ibid)

Schelling’s turn toward Neo-Plotonism (including Giodorno Bruno) is significant here to the degree that for the Neoplatonic the absolute must be outside all else. Outside the world. In any event Schelling was now channeling Bruno and Jakob Böhme . As Ffytche notes, what Schelling was trying to do was locate an ontological scheme…” that could accommodate the idea of a general self-determination of entities, or which would allow a certain originary point of freedom and self-motivation to be theorised at the heart of every life.” This insertion of nothingness into his philosophical system (or anti system) resonates right up until today. This idea of self and nothingness, of self-creation, found direct echoes in both Laplance and Lacan (per Ffytche), and in Sartre. This is Lacan’s original lack. But it is found, too, in Winnicott and Jung. In fact it is found throughout mid 20th century psychoanalytic theory.

Schelling was not interested in history, as such. His was a metaphysical pursuit. And its only worth noting that in one sense what he was doing was creating a mythology. And this bears some importance for future theory. For this bent toward the mythic was seen later by Adorno and Horkheimer as the seed (or one of them) that the Enlightenment carried within it. The dark shadow of Englightenment progress and rationality. For in Schelling (and others who followed him) there was a sense of some primordial epoch, lost and perhaps even secret. This was consciousness set against unconsciousness, against the unknowable. Ideas of intuition, of a knowing of something we also do not know, what Ffytche calls a ‘dilation of the self’, linked to Dionysian spirt and set against empirical science. Schelling wrote in a letter that he had taken a number of books from the Dresden library on the subject of prophecy and animal magnitism, on dreams and intimations. Much of this mysticism is found in Ekhart, too (a favorite of Heidegger). And its easy to see these ideas recreated later in Jung. And across all of these permutations of the mystical is an idea of primordial ground (something Heidegger was to focus on quite a lot), but which also appears in various religious scripture from Islam to the Kabbalah.

Park Seo Bo

“Here, as elsewhere, Schelling’s tendencies can reveal an unexpectedly ‘modern’ orientation. Max Weber found that Tauler and the mystics, with their absorption of the divine by the soul, paradoxically upheld ‘the psychological foundations for a rational ethics’ which Luther then undermined.” Heidegger, too, observes of Schelling’s notion of the ‘eternal past’ that remains in God as his ground, that this ‘is only the continuation of an attitude of thinking which begins with Meister Eckhart and is uniquely developed in Jakob Bohme’. But for Heidegger it is precisely here that ‘the whole boldness of Schelling’s thinking comes into play’. These are not the ‘vacuous play thoughts of a manic hermit’; Schelling ‘is no “mystic”‘; rather he is attempting to ‘bring this being, the ground in God, “humanly closer to us.””
Matt Ffytche (Ibid)

The crucial point here, regards the import of this post, is found in the uses Schelling’s theosophy has for the climate of domination in Heidegger.

“…an attempt to resist the language of domination through an appeal to the irreducible indeterminacy of Being. Or one can read it back into the context of Heidegger’s 1933 Rectoral address on ‘The Self-Assertion of the German University’ in which the same terms are implicated in propaganda for the ‘inner truth’ of National Socialism. In this speech, Heidegger once more drew on Greek tragedy to make the point that ‘all knowledge of things remains beforehand at the mercy of overpowering fate and fails before it’, and when ‘the entire might of the concealedness of what is’ first rises up, ‘what is reveals itself in its unfathomable inalterability and confers its truth on knowledge’.”
Matt Ffytche (Ibid)

Writing of the spiritual world of the Volk…Heidegger states…“it is the power that comes from preserving at the most profound level the forces that are rooted in the soil and blood of a Volk, the power to arouse most inwardly and to shake most extensively the Volk’s existence.'”

Adam Wiseman, photography (San Pedro Techuchulco, Mexico)

The violence of the crisis of identity — which for Heidegger is found in the danger of an overpowering Being, in other words the World — from which escape is to be found in the origin of things. This origin (as Ffytche notes) is a projected ground, which was always there, but must be excavated, spiritually. An excavation that brings unity and identity (for the elect). It is interesting that Heidegger emphasizes an obedience to “what the beginning of our spiritual-historical existence decreed in the distant past.” For Heidegger, in this speech, the new laws (of the state) are given for the first time, and in obedience to these laws is found true freedom.

The law of one’s own being. Or Being. The unconscious here is only a ground of primordial authenticity.

Lukas saw a direct line from Schelling to Hitler by way of Heidegger and Spengler.

The Freudian unconscious is really the Romantic psyche but with a scientific veneer. I don’t happen to think thats a bad thing. But early on the positivist school of psychology went to great lengths to minimize the importance of the unconscious. The fascist sensibility in Heidegger is not unlike Freudian repression– except for the critical factor of domination. And this domination is transmitted by a regressive fiction of a primordial past. In Freud, the instincts replace this mystical ground.

“The animal man becomes a human being only through a fundamental transformation of his nature, affecting not only the instinctual aims but also the instinctual “values.” ”
Herbert Marcuse (Eros and Civilization).

Now in terms of the contemporary psyche, questions of individuation loom large. Jung was hugely concerned with what makes an ‘individual’, but so have been Winnicott and Klein. For even without a definition of ‘individual’, there is a sense that without some unity, a form of maturation and completion (from the variously theorized fragmented selves of the infant and child) the psyche finds itself in acute suffering. Another question enters the discussion. That of the personal individual and the collective. For they overlap. And in Jung, at least, there was a clear suspicion that scientific rationalism , abstract knowledge, is of only limited value, in the end, for explaining or defining the self. And he even hints that perhaps the self should not be *explained*. And here there is another question; which is that the very language used to pose these questions has an instrumental bias. The profound and nearly incalculable influence of scientific method (and values) means that those assumptions about progress especially, colour all investigations of the self — and the unconscious. So there is either the regressive mythos of fascist hierarchies and its implications presented materially in class struggle, or there is an abstract scientific methodology that inherently narrows experience. That privileges a kind of descriptive duplicatable (and predictable) reality. And here we sort of go full circle back to quantum mechanics and the question of the observer. In quantum theory the observer is often only what gets bumped into. It is the measurable aspect of an experiment. Quantum theory, for all its uses, is also the final stage of removing the self from reality.

Vivian Van Blerk

In Winnicott, there is a return to the importance of creativity and the value of some things remaining hidden. He drew extensively on English Romantics like Wordsworth and Coleridge.

“The Recluse {Wordsworth} also forms the primal scene of Romantic psychoanalysis, a troubled origin Romanticism can neither name nor understand. Riffing off Freud’s sense of its phantasmal nature, Ned Lukacher argues that the primal scene is always already a scene of analysis, an “ontologically undecidable intertextual event that is situated in the differential space between historical memory and imaginative construction, between archival verification and interpretive free play.”
Joel Faflak (Romantic Psychoanalysis)

For Wordsworth, and for Freud, there was enormous value is simply talking about what one thought. And in fact Freud wrote “success of psychoanalysis depends upon [the analysand] noticing and reporting whatever comes into his head and not being misled, for instance, into suppressing an idea because it strikes him as unimportant or irrelevant or because it seems to him meaningless.”
( Preface to the Translation of Bernheim’s Suggestion)

But the question of technology intersects here, or probably anywhere above, really. For with the advent of the internet and electronic media, of algorithms and code, there appears another stage in how the psyche views itself. And what the forces (Capitalism primarily) mean for these views.

“Nietzsche is reacting against the spirit of scientific positivism in the later nineteenth century, by which time science had become rather more institutionalized and a clinical concern with the mind’s functioning had produced an ethos of mental hygiene, of minds properly understood and thus properly located within the public sphere. Knowing the ruse of this proper management all too well, Nietzsche rejects rationalism as a “sublime metaphysical illusion” and argues instead that “it is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified.”
Joel Faflak (Ibid)

William Blake, by James Deville, 1809.

“In our science as in the others the problem is the
same: behind the attributes(qualities) of the object under examination which are presented directly to our perception, we have to discover something else which is more independent of the particular receptive capacity of our organs and which approximatesmore closely to what may be supposed to be the real state of affairs. We have no hope of reaching the latter itself, since it is evident that everything new that we have inferred must nevertheless be translated back into the language of our perceptions, from which it is simply impossible to free ourselves. But herein lies the very nature and limitation of our science…Reality will always remain unknowable. “

Sigmund Freud (Outline of Psychoanalysis)

The drive of science, at least since the Enlightenment (modern science in other words) is to know everything. To know everything means to explain everything. If you know it, but can’t explain it, then you don’t know it — so goes the general thinking. Hence this idea of explanation is a very recent, really. The Cambridge dictionary defines science this way:

(knowledge from) the careful study of the structure and behavior of the physical world, especially by watching, measuring, and doing experiments, and the development of theories to describe the results of these activities.

To describe the results. Why? The better to explain it to someone else? Why not study and measure and experiment…and know something.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines science this way:

(uncountable) knowledge about the structure and behaviour of the natural and physical world, based on facts that you can prove, for example by experiments.

Websters this way:

knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method.

That last one is curious. But lets not get sidetracked here. Explain and prove. (except Miriam Webster). I think my point is that implicit in the idea of science is proof, and explanation. And to have proof requires evidence. And evidence of the unseen was a breakthrough brought by the optical discoveries of the late 19th century. Microscopes and telescopes, and eventually the camera. As Moretti notes, this also marked the first detective story.

Hughie Lee Smith

“Artificial intelligence is not an objective, universal, or neutral computational technique that makes determinations without human direction. Its systems are embedded in social, political, cultural, and economic worlds, shaped by humans, institutions, and imperatives that determine what they do and how they do it. They are designed to discriminate, to amplify hierarchies, and to encode narrow classifications. When applied in social contexts such as policing, the court system, health care, and education, they can reproduce, optimize, and amplify existing structural inequalities. This is no accident: AI systems are built to see and intervene in the world in ways that primarily benefit the states, institutions, and corporations that they serve.”
Kate Crawford (The Atlas of AI)

So, science is a practice, a belief, that valorizes results. It is the basis of technology. A.I. is one result, and the point is that science has evolved in ways congruent with the forces of capital. But that’s another whole topic. I wanted to look at how history is developed, and how it intersects with these same forces, how the practice of history takes place within a society with particular values. It uses language that carries with it certain biases. And the study of the human psyche has also taken place within these same parameters. But the study of the psyche is, finally, not amenable or congruent with Capital. It has been corrupted by Capital but so has everything.

“Games have been a preferred testing ground for AI programs since the 1950s. Unlike everyday life, games offer a closed world with defined parameters and clear victory conditions. ”
Kate Crawford (Ibid)

Trevor Paglen, photography (Reaper drone)

The terrors of history, that Professor Samuel mentioned above are erased (as much as possible) because of the values of a society that demands results. Even history must imply results. And the psyche is not about results. And that is part of the problem with psychoanalysis. Kate Crawford writes that AI began with WW2, in military signal processing — that it and sought to simplify the world:

“A strong emphasis on rationalization and prediction emerged, along with a faith that mathematical formalisms would help us understand humans and society. The belief that accurate prediction is fundamentally about reducing the complexity of the world gave rise to an implicit theory of the social: find the signal in the noise and make order from disorder.”

This is significant. Reduce and simplify. As Crawford says, its the ‘epistemological’ flattening of worldly complexity that is the root for machine learning. It is the principle followed. She calls this ‘enchanted determinism’. And often the magnitude of representations of data and input layered on a problem gives the entire project, as she writes, something that feels theological.

“We are told to focus on the innovative nature of the method rather than on what is primary: the purpose of the thing itself. Above all, enchanted determinism obscures power and closes off informed public discussion, critical scrutiny, or outright rejection.”
Kate Crawford (Ibid)

Enchanted determism has two branches; one is dystopian (the singularity) and one is uptopian (AI will solve all our problems). Crawford notes that both are ahistorical and, really, nonsensical. (the dystopian neglects how already so many people on the planet are dominated by extractive computation). Also, there is that profound anthropomorphism at work, as well as (per Crawford) a implicit Cartesian dualism (AI, or computers generally, are viewed as disembodied brains). As a side bar here… Crawford carefully points out just how much of AI and its various projects are subsidized with public funds (public utilities like discount electricity, and by defense funding and Federal grants).

Moataz Nasr

“AI is born from salt lakes in Bolivia and mines in Congo, constructed from crowdworker-labeled datasets that seek to classify human actions, emotions, and identities. It is used to navigate drones over Yemen, direct immigration police in the United States, and modulate credit scores of human value and risk across the world { } What epistemological violence is necessary to make the world readable to a machine learning system? AI seeks to systematize the unsystematizable, formalize the social, and convert an infinitely complex and changing universe into a Linnaean order of machine-readable tables. Many of AI’s achievements have depended on boiling things down to a terse set of formalisms based on proxies: identifying and naming some features while ignoring or obscuring countless others. To adapt a phrase from philosopher Babette Babich, machine learning exploits what it does know to predict what it does not know: a game of repeated approximations.”
Kate Crawford (Ibid)

Now, both quantum theory and A.I. are endgames for science. Both remove the human. In quantum theory ONLY the results matter. Most physicists cannot tell how why certain theories work, only that they do. Most believe the ‘observer’ question is irrelevant (though my colleague Johan Eddebo begs to differ). In AI, data-sets function as proxies for people. (this is not totally unlike what game theory does). And increasingly, given the cult like belief in AI, the proxies are taken as ‘the truth’. As evidence in a sense. Fixed evidence for fluid complexity (Crawford). The tech sector is tied in directly with the military. The proxy data set compilations are used for drone strikes and surveillance alike (and as Crawford notes, and as I have said repeatedly over the years, facial recognition and the like are closer to phrenology than anything else). The apathy of the public in response to data theft by the likes of Facebook is a sign of a shift away from 20th century humanist values.

Justice William O. Douglass , in 1972, struck down laws against loitering in the Papachristou v. Jacksonville case. He defended the right to wander where you wanted, to sit on a park wall and watch people pass. It is an opinion of which no Supreme Court Justice today would be capable. Douglass writes of being free to walk where you like…

“…historically part of the amenities of life as we have known them. They are not mentioned in the Constitution or in the Bill of Rights. These unwritten amenities have been in part responsible for giving our people the feeling of independence and self-confidence, the feeling of creativity. These amenities have dignified the right of dissent and have honored the right to be nonconformists and the right to defy submissiveness. They have encouraged lives of high spirits rather than hushed, suffocating silence.”
William O. Douglass (Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville, 405 U.S, quoted by B. Harcourt, Exposed)

Pierre Muckensturm

The messy and unquantifiable nature of the unconscious (something many still claim doesn’t exist) is the shadow realm to AI. The unknowable realm of ourselves. The compulsive need for results means that approximations will stand in for reality, and in a sense, the practitioners of A.I. prefer it that way. Nothingness was once the existential question for the human. Today it is just something to be fixed by an algorithmic adjustment.

“The birth of the expository society has gone hand in hand with a gradual erosion of the analog values we once prized—privacy, autonomy, some anonymity, secrecy, dignity, a room of one’s own, the right to be let alone.”
Bernard Harcourt (Exposed; Desire and Disobedience in the Digital Age)

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  1. George Mc says:

    That quote from Hyperallergic (“This week was hot! Temperatures in Europe soared so high that some museums had to close their galleries. What do climate change deniers have to say about that?”) is just so glaring in its dumb charlatanry. And as such it follows the covid pattern i.e. an experience of something commonplace and of no particular interest (hot weather, the onset of a cold) is pre-empted by a psychological molding programme to generate panic. And then the induced panic is taken as proof of what is claimed. A perfect circle.

  2. George Mc says:

    On the topic of the media’s “death cult” that has haunted Western culture and with particular reference to this:

    “And that it really does beggar belief that the same predictions used twenty years ago are being recycled without adjustment (like moving the time line forward another twenty years).”

    This is one of those moment when you realise you’ve been fed a line of bullshit – or even an entire philosophy of such – and it comes as a kind of “revelation of the mundane” i.e. someone points out the crap and you realise it’s been there all along. The same predictions, the same dour pronouncements, the same blandly assumed “sage utterances” etc. All to shore up a misanthropic outlook where the worthlessness of humanity and indeed of life itself has been complacently presumed from the start. Covid merely speeded up the moronic repetitions thereby making them more noticeable.

  3. John Steppling says:

    the worthlessness of humanity. Yup.

  4. Geir Olsen says:

    ~Papachristou V.Jacksonville case.
    Interesting that there are supreme court precedents that go against
    the prevailing zeitgeist.
    AS always your essays teach me theory and perspectives that resonates with lived experience.
    Lets Hope your texts contributes to bend history towards a future on the side of humanity.

  5. Patrick L. says:

    If you haven’t yet seen it,, and if you have a strong stomach, take a look at the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony in Birmingham U.K.. Brief 45s extract here:


    It’s yet another solemn-silly,, sinister kitschfest, entirely up its own arse, and it must have cost millions. Note how the commentators take care to read aloud the official “meaning” of it all, in case the bored & baffled viewers (presumed to have a mental age of eight-and-a-half) have fallen asleep, switched channels, or smashed their TV sets: “[…] It’s now up to Stella and The Dreamers to stop The Bull! Stella. [breathless pause, low reverent voice] offers friendship and compassion to tame the beast.”

    Was it for this the clay grew tall? It’s the kind of thing that can make you loathe everyone involved, musicians, actors and athletes. Maybe that’s the intention.

  6. I read EP Thompson The Making of the English Working Class a few years ago, it made a big impression on me; I’d never read about most of that history surprise surprise. Especially his short section on the Luddites, who were far more organized, savvy, nuanced in their views etc than most history tells it–they saw the irrationality of capitalistic “progress” that was being pushed at all costs. They were brutally suppressed, what else is new, so that we could get on with the “no alternative” view of progress. As an aside, I knew nothing about EP Thompson, found the book in a used bookstore, one that no longer exists. In fact, none of the used bookstores I used to visit exist, the past 3 years have done away not only with the obvious businesses (restaurants, non-big box clothing) but with a lot of that used book “culture” which was barely hanging on anyway.
    Anyway, thank you again for these posts. Especially the last 4, which are kind of a consciousness trilogy. And the podcasts…

    And here’s Shakespeare on climate change:
    “These are the forgeries of jealousy:
    And never, since the middle summer’s spring,
    Met we on hill, in dale, forest or mead,
    By paved fountain or by rushy brook,
    Or in the beached margent of the sea,
    To dance our ringlets to the whistling wind,
    But with thy brawls thou hast disturb’d our sport.
    Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,
    As in revenge, have suck’d up from the sea
    Contagious fogs, which falling in the land,
    Hath every pelting river made so proud,
    That they have overborne their continents:
    The ox hath therefore stretch’d his yoke in vain,
    The ploughman lost his sweat; and the green corn
    Hath rotted ere his youth attain’d a beard:
    The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
    And crows are fatted with the murrion flock;
    The nine-men’s-morris is fill’d up with mud;
    And the quaint mazes in the wanton green,
    For lack of tread, are undistinguishable:
    The human mortals want their winter cheer;
    No night is now with hymn or carol blest:–
    Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
    Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
    That rheumatic diseases do abound:
    And thorough this distemperature we see
    The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
    Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose;
    And on old Hiems’ chin and icy crown
    An odorous chapelet of sweet summer buds
    Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer,
    The childing autumn, angry winter, change
    Their wonted liveries; and the mazed world,
    By their increase, now knows not which is which:
    And this same progeny of evils comes
    From our debate, from our dissension;
    We are their parents and original.
    Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act II Scene I, Titania.

    So now we know.

  7. George Mc says:

    An old school friend relocated to America (from Scotland) and I was surprised to find that he had become a big Heidegger reader. However on reading his (now departed) blog, it seemed that his “take” on Heidegger was of a kind of vague New Agey doctrine of personal development that seemed hugely Americanized.

    Johannes Fritsch’s “Historical Destiny and National Socialism in Heidegger’s Being and Time” relates how Heidegger’s thought was very much mutated as it crossed the ocean. “Being and Time” contained passages and references to notions prevalent in Nazi Germany that would not have been recognised in America – or even in the Germany of the present. Thus the absorption of this writer who, as Guido Preparata noted, has been oddly forgiven by the West.

  8. John Steppling says:

    its fascinating, this Heidegger fixation in the US. And now I shall have to read the Fritsch book.

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