The Essential is Missing

Marco Tirelli

“I wish I could count
up to one without
first cutting off
nine of my fingers”

Bill Knott (Stumped, from Collected Poems)

“…his { Freud’s} creation, psychoanalysis, made an incontrovertible contribution to the radical avant-garde that was transforming almost every realm of European culture. Indeed, ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’ and ‘Ulysses’ are cut from the same cloth.”
Joel Whitebook (The Marriage of Marx and Freud: Psychoanalysis and the Frankfurt School)

“It is our occidental idea of art that has caused us to lose culture…To our inert and disinterested idea of art an authentic culture opposes a violently egoistic and magical, i.e., interested idea.”
Antonin Artaud (Theatre and its Double)

“We urgently need a diagnosis of the psychosocial pathology of everyday seeing – and a critical understanding of ourselves, as visionary beings.”
Juhani Pallasmaa (The Eyes of the Skin)

I have two or three (or four) concerns I want to explore in this posting. One is about the idea of ‘plot’ or conspiracy, that I see expressed everywhere and from all sides. The second is the role of culture, or really, the loss of culture. The loss of an avant-garde. And third is the idea of obedience to authority. And how the belief in organization has been so enshrined in the West. I have written on all this before, but perhaps not in a way that tries to connect them.

Allow me a quote here from Gramsci, an early Gramsci.

“Bourgeois discipline is the only force which keeps the bourgeois aggregation firmly together. Discipline must be met with discipline. But whereas bourgeois discipline is mechanical and authoritarian, socialist discipline is autonomous and spontaneous. If you accept socialist discipline it means you are a socialist or you want to be so more fully, joining the youth movement if you are young. And whoever is a socialist or wants to become one does not obey: he commands himself, he imposes a rule of life on his impulses, on his disorderly aspirations. It would be strange if, while one too often obeys without a murmur a discipline that one does not understand and does not feel, we were not able to act according to a course of conduct that we ourselves have helped prescribe and keep rigidly consistent. For this is what autonomous disciplines are like: the very life, the very thought of the person
who observes them. The discipline imposed on citizens by the bourgeois state makes them into subjects, people who delude themselves that they exert an influence on the course of events. The discipline of the Socialist Party makes the subject into a citizen: a citizen who is now rebellious, precisely because he has become conscious of his personality and feels it is shackled and cannot freely express itself in the world.”

Antonio Gramsci (La Citta futura, February 1917)

But here one has to ask how this paradigm of obedience came to exist. Horkheimer and Adorno saw in their critique of Odysseus, the ‘introversion of sacrifice’. That man believed in an archaic mythic law of equivalence. Hence sacrifices to the Gods. One might ask from whence came this idea of equivalence. But more on that later (maybe). But the idea was that Odysseus sought to free himself from the metaphoric shackles of this ‘equivalence’. The disorder of his inner self could be controlled. This, for Freud, was the Ego — and a unified Ego meant rejecting or repressing his instinctual desires and urges. By repressing the unconscious.

Marc Trujillo

“The ego’s main task, self preservation, can only be achieved by staying the course.Moreover,every additional act of renunciation adds to the reality ego’s consolidation and strength, further transforming it into a rational qua strategic subject who can manipulate the external world. And to the extent that external nature is reified,it is transformed into appropriate material for domination.Horkheimer and Adorno view Odysseus’s legendary cunning, which is a “kind of thinking that is sufficiently hard to shatter myths” as the precursor of instrumental reason and the technical domination of nature.”
Joel Whitebook (Ibid)

But this renunciation of the instincts comes at a price. And that price is the reification of the self. And this is what Horkheimer and Adorno perceptively noted; the psyche has lost its mimetic connection to Nature. And as Whitebook notes, it has replaced this mimetic connection with a pseudo mimesis. Whitebook again..: “for an objectified self mimics the reified world it has objectified.” This is the real starting point for modern man.

And in one sense, this illusive sense of loss is what drove culture for several hundred years. Certainly it coalesced as a concrete goal of 20th century modernism.

“Enlightenment was supposed to emancipate humankind from fear and immaturity and promote its fulfillment through the development of reason and the mastery of nature. As conceived by Horkheimer and Adorno, however, the whole process of ego formation, and hence the project of enlightenment, is self-defeating. It systematically eliminates the possibility of achieving its own goal.Enlightened thinking reduces the ego’s function to the biological activity of self-preservation – “mere life” in Aristotle’s sense – and the sacrifice of inner nature makes a fulfilled life impossible.”
Joel Whitebook (Ibid)

If we look at the ideas, or the origin of political domination, there are clear thresholds of qualitative change in the overriding vision of what constitutes society. Agamben writes here on Foucault’s notions of bio-politics.

“After 1977, the courses at the Collage de France start to focus on the passage from the “territorial State” to the “State of population” and on the resulting increase in importance of the nation’s health and biological life as a problem of sovereign power, which is then gradually transformed into a “government of men”. “What follows is a kind of bestialization of man achieved through the most sophisticated political techniques. For the first time in history, the possibilities of the social sciences are made known, and at once it becomes possible both to protect life and to authorize a holocaust.” In particular, the development and triumph of capitalism would not have been possible, from this perspective, without the disciplinary control achieved by the new bio-power, which, through a series of appropriate technologies, so to speak created the “docile bodies” that it needed.”
Giorgio Agamben (Homo Sacer)

Richard Billingham, photography.

Agamben’s analysis of sovereignty is relevant here, but I think begs other questions first. And I think, while exceptionally perceptive, Agamben’s odd refusal to address psychoanalytic ideas leaves his conclusions in places very problematic. Adorno never abandoned psychoanalysis (Horkheimer moved away from it after the war) and it gave him a sober, if not nihilistic, view of the future. For Adorno saw as a danger (perhaps the greatest danger) a ‘false reconciliation’ with an unreconciled world. And Adorno also saw ‘ego psychology’, which grew into prominence in the U.S., as the ultimate rationale for mass conformity. And that is one position from which it is useful to view the contemporary landscape. Certainly for the educated bourgeoisie of the West the retreat from ANY conflict is the guiding principle of their lives. And for the last fifty some years, or more, really, Freud has become medicalized and his more radical positions censored. One of the most important readers of Freud in the second half of the 20th century was Hans Loewald. And Whitebook has an entire paper devoted to Loewald but he remains oddly outside the main psychoanalytic discourse today.

One crucial insight of Loewald had to do with defense. And the shift he saw was from seeing psychic organization as a product of defense to seeing defense as a product of psychic organization. Adaptation, per Loewald, was the reason for this shift.

“If one postulates the rule of the constancy principle, the psychological version of which is the unpleasure principle, then the whole development of the psychic apparatus with its psychic processes and structures is interpreted as a defense against unpleasure. A state of stimulation or excitation of the psychic apparatus is understood, according to the constancy or inertia principle, as unpleasure, and pleasure consists in an at least approximate return to a state of rest or non-stimulation. The equations: state of excitation= unpleasure, state of rest = pleasure, have dominated general psychoanalytic theory from the beginning. Accordingly, warding off stimulation, or its reduction and, if possible, its annulment, were seen as the function and purpose of the psychic apparatus. Excitation as such spells conflict; the state of satisfaction is nothing more than the state in which excitation is abolished. Under this perspective, defense becomes the dominant issue of psychic life, and psychic organization is ultimately a defense process. If the evolution of psychic life is not seen as a complex detour on the road to a state of rest, then psychic organization is not in the service of defense. And the ego’s defense mechanisms, discovered through psychoanalytic clinical observation, rather than being confused with ultimate postulates about the evolution of organic and psychic life, can be seen in their proper proportions as protective devices against disruption and disorganization, protections that often overshoot their mark or continue to function when no longer necessary and thus become pathological, interfering with the further organization of the self and the world of objects. “
Hans Loewald (Ego Organization and Defense)

Norman Catherine

This is a very important paragraph. For as Whitebook notes, psychoanalysis had equated a pathological form of ego formation with the Ego itself. That ‘reality’ was being viewed from the perspective of an obsessional neurotic. The implications here point to this idea of organization as of the most benefit to adaptation — and it has an ideological meaning, too. Keeping the Id and Ego separated equals ‘good’. Adorno saw there was a difference between undifferentiated unification (in this case of Id and Ego) and differentiated. One can use the word synthesis for unification. It doesn’t matter, really. Adorno remained cautious of any idea of unity in a world of unreason. As he famously said, ‘the whole is the false’.

The ideological aspect is one bound up with this privileging of organization as a sign of progress. And it is viewed both psychologically and socially. The project of white supremacy always includes an aspect of organized vs disorganized. Never mind any historical aspects to this. This is another shadow cast by Fordism and Taylorism, both themselves products of a certain belief in how society should ‘look’. And here, it is worth noting the aesthetic-ideological aspects in which the social is posited by a spectator. Kant first sort of framed this idea and it has only grown (obviously) over the ensuing centuries. Experience (especially aesthetic) is that of the spectator.

The idea of seeing the world pathologically, from the experience of the obsessional is probably a pre-condition for Capitalism to thrive. But there is something to be found in how this intersects with the Enlightenment generally, and more, how societies have been formed even in antiquity. The scientism of today is also, of course, caught up with this kind of Taylorism that permeates western culture. The very idea of what ‘organization’ means is conditional for the workings of a digital age.

“The deep and natural affinity between critical theory and psychoanalysis is not difficult to understand. Both are products of the same cultural movement that arose when modernizing Central European Jews encountered the world of German Kultur. Their idealizing, even fetishizing,love for Bildung, Humanität, and the Aufklärung may have been “unrequited” and ended tragically,but it was extraordinarily productive…”
Joel Whitebook (Hans Loewald, Psychoanalysis and the Project of Autonomy)

Atul Dodiya

When Adorno and Horkheimer were exiled to California, they began a study project that was driven by the question of why such industrial scale barbarism had become not just possible but actual. The rationality of the Enlightenment was suddenly questioned. Much of what they and many others have written in the interim of the last eighty years has tracked western decline in the shadow of Enlightenment values. There is an interesting early paragraph in Agamben’s Homo Sacer, where he is again writing about Foucault.

“[O]n the one hand, the study of the political techniques (such as the science of the police) with which the State assumes and integrates the care of the natural life of individuals into its very center; on the other, the examination of the technologies of the self by which processes of subjectivization bring the individual to bind himself to his own identity and consciousness and, at the same time, to an external power.”

This is an oft quoted passage. The question becomes how the processes of subjectivation relate to or are dependent on disciplinary power. Today, this excluded subject is one that has grown. The ‘surplus population’ that eugenicist minded voices like Bill Gates and King (sic) Charles, or David Attenborough, seem to see as of having no value, or worse, who constitute a threat to those lives that do matter. Those lives are the lives of those with power.

It is also here worth remembering the role of compromised culture as it has evolved in the West. Gramsci write quite a few brief cultural pieces, often very brief.

“Among the popular classes, too, there is a ‘bookish’ degeneration of life which comes not only from books but also from other instruments of diffusion of culture and ideas. Verdi’s music, or rather the libretti and plots of the plays set to music by Verdi, are responsible for a whole range of ‘artificial’ poses in the life of people, for ways of thinking, for a ‘style’. ‘Artificial’ is perhaps not the right word because among the popular classes this artificiality assumes naive and moving forms. To many common people the baroque and the operatic appear as an extraordinarily fascinating way of feeling and acting, a means of escaping what they consider low, mean and contemptible in their lives and education in order to enter a more I, select sphere of great feelings and noble passions. Serial novels and below-stairs reading (all that literature which is mawkish, mellifluous and whimpery) provide the heroes and heroines. But opera is the most pestiferous because words set to music are more
easily recalled, and they become matrices in which thought takes shape out of flux. Look at the writing-style of many common people: it is modelled on a repertory of cliches. “

Antonio Gramsci (Cultural Writings)

Jacopo Pontormo (The Deposition of Christ, 1525-28 ) detail.

I wonder if the very idea of cliche is losing meaning. This idea of high and low art is relatively recent. The folkloric tradition, the turning of regional cultural activities INTO folkloric reaches a pinnacle with today’s tourists visiting ‘genuine’ Voodoo rituals in Benin or Ghana as part of a package vacation. Or what has happened to bullfighting, or even to Noh theatre for that matter. But these loses are tragic, really. And the white visitors returning to scenes of former colonial holdings is rather obviously an attempt, at the least, of symbolic recuperation of conquest.

“When fully developed, bureaucracy stands … under the principle of ‘sine ira ac studio’ (without scorn and bias). Its specific nature which is welcomed by capitalism develops the more perfectly the more bureaucracy is ‘dehumanized,’ the more completely it succeeds in eliminating from official business love, hatred, and all purely personal, irrational and emotional elements which escape calculation. This is the specific nature of bureaucracy and it is appraised as its special virtue.”
Max Weber (Bureaucracy)

The idea of the social, of a society, contains within it the pathological vision of the obsessional. When I speak of the structural anti-semitism that exists throughout western culture today, it is worth noting a few things.

“The Jewish Question: After I had told M. Bonnet that I could not discuss the question officially with him, he said that he only wanted to tell me privately how great an interest was being taken in France in a solution of the Jewish problem. To my question as to what France’s interest might be, M. Bonnet said that in the first place they did not want to receive any more Jews from Germany and whether we could not take some sort of measures to keep them from coming to France and that in the second place France had to ship 10,000 Jews somewhere else; they were actually thinking of Madagascar for this. I replied to M. Bonnet that we all wanted to get rid of our Jews but that the difficulties lay in the fact that no country wished to receive them.”
Joachim von Ribbentrop (letter to Hitler regarding meeting with George Bonnet, French minister. 1938)

Sybille Bergemann, photography.

The above is quoted in Richard Rubenstein’s The Cunning of History. Rubenstein also quotes a passage from Goebbel’s diaries: “At bottom, I believe that both the English and the Americans are happy that we are exterminating the Jewish riffraff.” It is clear that for a good long while the European elite were perfectly sanguine about Hitler’s plans, even the final solution.

It is worth quoting Weber again here, on this idea of bureaucracy.

“The decisive reason for the advance of bureaucratic organization has always been its purely technical superiority over any other kind of organization. The fully developed bureaucratic mechanism compares with other organizations exactly as does the machine with the non mechanical modes of organization. Precision, speed, unambiguity, knowledge of the files, continuity, discretion, unity, strict subordination, reduction of friction and of material and personal costs—these are raised to the optimum point in the strictly bureaucratic organization.”
Max Weber (Ibid)

Rubenstein makes one other trenchant observation on the efficiency of Nazi bureaucracy. When Himmler took over Dachau it was a messy and disorganized (sic) detention camp. But Himmler was a believer in bureaucracy and assigned the running of the camp to a former police administrator, Theodor Eicke. “The intent of Eicke’s regulations was to eliminate all arbitrary punishment by individual guards and to replace it with impersonal, anonymous punishment.”

Raghubir Singh, photography.

So this idea of organization is worth pondering. Rubenstein also points out that no laws were broken at any of the death camps. No crimes committed. Everything was carried out according to German law. In fact, after . ‘Kristallnacht’, the Nazi party elite vehemently opposed anymore roaming gangs of thugs or mob violence. Martin Bormann insisted on strict methodologies for getting rid of this surplus population. Strict and efficient and clean. This was as Rubenstein wryly notes, like building a Leica or a Mercedes Benz.

But this sort of segues to another aspect of structural antisemitism. And I’m not sure calling it structural is quite right. But be that as it may, the point is the prevalence of ‘plot’ in analysing and understanding world events. For as soon as someone suggests the ultimate source of any particular event is to be found in one specific group, or even in one individual (rarely) one is hearing the voice of Tsarist police when they invented the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I read one reasonably irritating and self congratulatory piece that suggested those at Davos were behind all US foreign policy and all US economic policy. That the EU and even non EU European countries were beholden somehow to ‘those at Davos’ (sic). Never mind this actually makes no sense, the point is that there is a ‘plot’ to be discovered. A plot to be revealed, to be unpacked and disclosed, to be made public. The one source that must always be hidden, the better to be uncloaked. The hiddenness is crucial here for a libidinal linkage, and also this cathexis is tied then to a fictive history, for the hidden always has a history, I think. The discovery of ‘clues’ that came about at the end of the 19th century was the result of optical discoveries such as the microscope, where the previously hidden is revealed. This gave birth as well to the literary detective. The detective who found clues hidden in plain sight, often. The detective who solved (!) the problem, or the mystery.

The scapegoating mechanism has an intimate relationship with secret plots. For the hidden or secret ‘plot’ is nefarious by nature. And the international Jew (sic) is the perfect combination of attributes. The sophisticated but also primitive and unfashionable, both villainous and hyper intelligent. The Jew is a constant stranger, a traveler and the antipode to the Nationalist sensibility. The Jew can never assimilate enough. The fascist mythology in Germany demanded a racial basis. Now, it is easy enough to see the overt antisemitism in European political parties today, in leaders like Geert Wilders or AfD in Germany or Vox Espania, the Swedish Democrats, etc. The danger is, however, in not seeing the antisemitism of the liberal parties in Europe. The target of the right wing nationalists (like Vox Espania for example) has clear racial overtones, notably in Arabs and Africans. But it is clear the Arab has become a stand-in for Jew and often, actually, there is the overt mention of Jew (as in Jewish bankers etc). But the migration of antisemitism to liberal Europe (and North American) is less obvious. But it is still pretty clear if anyone bothers to look. The US remains an Imperialist project and continues to target poor nations, and under Obama and his ‘pivot to Africa’, the U.S. resumed a colonial project that is both military and economic.

Photographer unknown. (Lucha Libre, apprx 1960)

The idea of a ‘plot’ to explain away complex historical forces is clearly appealing. And one of the reasons for this appeal is in its simplicity. The contradictions of advanced capitalism are myriad and many. The US works ‘with’ the Saudis, in a genocidal destruction of the poorest Arab country in the world, Yemen. The US also still occupies Syria. The U.S. denounces Assad but murders Qadaffi (while bombing a civilian water reclamation facility, a clear war crime). The U.S. continues its plunder of Haiti, and denounces Venezuela and Bolivia. The liberal left (so called) in the U.S. is always completely onboard with these Imperialist projects. In fact even more overtly left outlets, such as Counterpunch (who I once wrote for) have tacitly supported U.S. foreign policy by invoking the equivalence argument (denouncing Russia while also mildly rebuking U.S./NATO). This is only a variant of the angry white guy usually associated with the far right. Russia represents the asiatic ‘other’. And it always has. The ‘plot’ phenomenon is also linked to ideas of world domination, to globalists (another dog whistle term) and secret international cartels. The double think is evident in all this, as is the problem of the actual plots and conspiracies that do exist. There are relatively secret organizations (the CIA and its black budget for example) and all the other NGOs and commissions that operate out of sight of mainstream media. And the reality of factional interests conflicting with one another also muddies the narrative. How much does the Pentagon buy into the Great Reset? Is the WEF working ‘with’ MI6? Probably, but perhaps only with factions within MI6. In Spain, the far right movement carries deep Francoist sympathies, much as the AfD carries National Socialist sympathies. The paranoia in the far right usually includes accusations of feminising society, the loss of ‘values’ (usually vaguely defined) but these tendencies have found curious homes in many Green Parties in Europe. The rightward shift of the Greens is usually under cover of an ’emergency’ mentality. What Agamben calls a state of exception. Of course Schmitt used to bang away at this same condition, but with approval.

“…abandoning certain forms of explicit Anti-Semitic hate-speech does not imply the dissolution of a Weltanschauung similar to the one that characterized the Coup of 1936 – which was also justified as a national revolt against the “Jewish conspiracy” – amongst the lines of Vox and its international partners. The fundamental task of the still growing rhetoric identified as the Lingua Quartii Imperii and that of its visual counterpart, what we call the Imago Novii Imperii, is to effectively perform an act of political camouflage. It unlocks a disruptive interruption of the preceding visual and textual vocabularies of the transnational extreme right, altering – if we quote Klemperer and follow the metaphorical explanation given by the German linguist – the “magical spell” of political language through the substitution of the “magic words”, albeit without altering the main objective of such “political spell”. The strictly cosmetic shift lies mostly in the surface and not in the core of these political movements; affects primarily their lexical arsenals – and only partially, as LTI keywords such as Lügenpresse gain new relevance at a transnational level – and self-representational repertoires.”
Miguel Rivas Venegas (Exnominated Anti-Semitism? Reframing the Paranoid Hate-speech of Spanish National-populism)

Andy Warhol (Rorschach paintings, 1984)

“…we are not going to remain silent in the face of his collaboration with the communist narco-dictators.”
Santiago Abascal, [Vox Espania] (Speech before Spanish Congress, Dec 16th 2020)

The paranoia of a search for hidden plots also seems part of a weird anti-Utopianism at work in the contemporary West. Organization has replaced harmony. The truth of nazi death camps is, of course, on one level very far from a Mercedes. But that is part of the mythology of hyper organization. And this mythology has found clear expression in today’s scientism. But the closer one looks at each issue the more clearly there is a demand for a dialectical reading. Organization is messy. It is also abstractly clean and even sterile. It is efficient. And efficiency is a very loaded term. Efficiency implies goals. The dictionary definition of efficient favours maximizing productivity. The second meaning is reducing waste of a resource.

The loss of mimetic connection returns here. I have three young children who are bilingual. They speak much better Norwegian than they do English, but they speak both. And it is interesting to live as an ex-pat in a country where my grasp of the language is rudimentary. But I have lost much of my southern california accent over the years. That is, until I return to El Lay. This phenomenon is experienced by many. Suddenly, surrounded by people who speak a certain way, the subject returns to the voice he or she had forgotten, or let wither away. This is mimesis. And mimesis is human contact. There is no conscious decision in my starting to speak like I did when I was twenty (or twelve). I simply hear it, all around me, and I internalize it. I imitate it, and yet it was mine before, it is returned. Somewhere I have a memory of it. But it not conscious. I can’t remember my accent, per se. My body remembers it, though. But it is important to see this as a mimesis and not as a part of a science of linguistics.

“The absolute — here absolute violence—cannot be comprehended; it requires diffidence, perhaps silence. The refusal to name the absolute preserved the possibility of redemption. Conversely, language seduces by the illusion that it captures the truth. What Adorno called the “liberal fiction of the universal communicability of each and every thought” must be resisted. We must retain awareness of the distance and gaps, the inability to visualize the absolute. “The materialist longing to grasp the thing,” Adorno wrote in Negative Dialectics, aims at the opposite of idealism. “It is only in the absence of images that the full object could be conceived. Such absence concurs with the theological ban on images.” For Adorno “the true speech of art is speechlessness.”
Russell Jacoby (Picture Imperfect)

Carl Andre

Communicability is very close in its interests with organization, and with efficiency. Universal communicability (as a belief, an ideology even) is also ahistorical, in a glaringly obvious way. It assumes an end, a direction, a goal, a result. But there is another thread to introduce at this point. The loss of the mimetic, and its deterioration, in a society, in a civilization, and the corollary of instrumental thinking, of Enlightenment rationality, and the attendant construction of a ‘reality’, or picture of reality, built from a misreading of psychological pathology, in this case what constitutes the organizing principle of the Ego, all combine to destroy the empathic. (likely why one sees countries, like Denmark, developing educational classes to teach empathy). This now extreme distance between our sense of who we are and how we believe we feel is creating a secondary pathology of indifferent cruelty. It also accounts for the drastic rise in various forms of self harm. Activities like ‘cutting’ are a desperate cry to feel something, anything.

“…the inhumanity of contemporary architecture and cities can be understood as the consequence of the neglect of the body and the senses, and an imbalance in our sensory system.the growing experiences of alienation, detachment and solitude in the technological world today, for instance, may be related to a certain pathology of the senses. It is thought-provoking that this sense of estrangement and detachment is often evoked by the technologically most advanced settings,such as hospitals and airports.”
Juhani Pallasmaa (Ibid)

Dr. Lakra (Jeronimo Lopez Ramirez)

Martin Jay (In Downcast Eyes) quotes (and is in turn quoted by Pallasmaa) Robert Mandrou: “the hierarchy [of the senses] was not the same [as in the twentieth century] because the eye, which rules today, found itself in third place, behind hearing and touch, and far after them.the eye that organises, classifies and orders was not the favoured organ of a time that preferred hearing.”

The question of ocular privilege is more complex than many writers suggest. Jean Paul Sartre spent much of life deriding the ‘the look’, the frightening proliferation of images (imagine if he were alive today). And Pallasmaa accepts this, and there is truth in this observation, but the anthropological reasoning regards human senses tends toward the simplistic and schematic. Certainly I would agree westerners sense of smell has atrophied, but the ugly alienated architecture of the West over the last half century is not because of our over dependence on the visual. (this is also one of Heidegger’s riffs). Susan Sontag, too. And now in the age of the selfie, the smartphone photo op, there is clearly something deep happening vis a vis the photographic picture of the world (and its replacing of the material world).But vision, as its being described in Pallasmaa and others is not vision shorn of history. It is a vision born of the restraints of Capital, the forces of psychic deformation that is the result of a society of domination. The whole is the false. Our eyes are not impartial observers. But Pallasmaa is correct when he writes:

“…the increasing use of reflective glass in architecture reinforces the dreamlike sense of unreality and alienation. the contradictory opaque transparency of these buildings reflects the gaze back unaffected and unmoved; we are unable to see or imagine life behind these walls.the architectural mirror, that returns our gaze and doubles the world, is an enigmatic and frightening device.”

An architecture that hides life. This is also an architecture of paranoia. Its useful to compare a Zada Hadid or Richard Meier with Frank Lloyd Wright or Luis Barragan, Kahn, Scarpa, or Rossi. One is built within some kind of human scale, one is not.

“…the weakening of the experience of time in today’s environments has devastating mental effects. In the words of the american therapist Gotthard Booth,‘nothing gives man fuller satisfaction than participation in processes that supersede the span of individual life’. We have a mental need to grasp that we are rooted in the continuity of time, and in the man-made world it is the task of architecture to facilitate this experience. architecture domesticates limitless space and enables us to inhabit it, but it should likewise domesticate endless time and enable us to inhabit the continuum of time.”
Juhani Pallasmaa (Ibid)

Jose Yalenti, photography.

The participation in processes that go beyond the life of the individual is an important observation. Post war American building and social planning developed alongside the incremental destruction of unions and community. Living in the same area as your family was often no longer possible. And here again the spectre of the exile looms, the stranger appearing in the landscape. But the landscape was never really familiar. Suburbs in which none of the residents had any part in its construction.

This seems to always return to the de-humanizing quality of contemporary life. I know it must account for the sense of malaise and dread that I see across the U.S., even in friends I have known for decades. And this ties in with the alarmism now pumped out 24/7 by corporate media. There is now a kind of post modern form of authority at work in society. It is linked to the internet and to social media, but it is not only found there. The role of *expert* is now a kind of bodiless priest class, an emissary from who knows where, but from somewhere…there must be a supreme site of authority. The Oracle at Delphi is replaced by Snopes.

It is the distance that is so profound. Life on screen, the Zoom conference calls, the on-line educational processes, all of this is distant from the immediate. The human face is becoming remote from us. The screen image, either on laptop, or CCTV, or in police surveillance tapes — or on our smartphones — is more familiar than the face of someone standing in front of us.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty was working on a book when he died. This unfinished work is remarkable partly because it was never finished. One even suspects the author sensed it could not be completed. That was part of the problem being addressed. The first paragraph is:

“We see things themselves, the world is what we see: formulae of this kind express a faith common to the natural man and the philosopher—the moment he opens his eyes; they refer to a deep-seated set of mute “opinions” implicated in our lives. But what is strange about this faith is that if we seek to articulate it into theses or statements, if we ask ourselves what is this we, what seeing is, and what thing or world is, we enter into a labyrinth of difficulties and contradictions. “
Maurice Merleau-Ponty (The Visible and the Invisible)

This is one of those works that one returns to, sometimes after years, and reads in part, because it feels inexhaustible.

Ger van Elk

Merleau-Ponty has a chapter on science.

“When it gained access to domains that are not naturally given to man—to astronomical spaces or microphysical realities —the more inventiveness in the wielding of algorithm science has exhibited, the more conservative it has shown itself to be in what concerns theory of knowledge. Truths that should not have left its idea of Being unchanged are—at the cost of great difficulties of expression and thought—retranslated into the language of the traditional ontology—as if science needed to except itself from the relativities it establishes, to put itself out of play, as if blindness for Being were the price it has to pay for its success in the determination of beings.”
Maurice Merleau-Ponty (Ibid)

What Merleau-Ponty was doing is rather rare, and I find it points toward a method, if that’s the word, for overcoming the state of both scientism and mysticism that plague contemporary thought.

One of the mysteries touched upon, inherent in this phenomenological approach is how we recognize the ‘other’ as a subject, and not simply an object. One is tempted to interrogate Merleau-Ponty here in much the manner he is doing regarding psychology and ontology both. One cannot escape language. And Merleau-Ponty knew this. What we describe in language is, after all, a kind of object.

Stefan Moses, photograophy. (FDR, 1960)

“Take, example, the condition that we have to have a brain to perceive. If we look at the neurons in our brains, there is nothing about their behavior that distinguishes them from, say, liver cells with regard to consciousness. The metabolic processes of neither point to consciousness.”
James Mensch (Lectures on Merleau Ponty)

We live in an increasingly Orwellian dystopia, a state where the citizens no longer even expect to be happy, let alone well. Health is fluidly defined, and the arbitrary diktats of the state are known to be fraudulent, by many, but the will to organize and force change is lacking. Others accept the state propaganda as truth. And in fact the propaganda is now multi tiered and self contradictory often. The various creators of propaganda work from a post ironic palette. The normalizing of cynicism is total now. And the normalizing of Nazis and fascism continues to move forward, too. Cyncicism is often experienced as honesty, as truth. Nike once ran a print ad with a photo of basketball shoe with the only copy reading ‘made in sweat shop’. They pulled it, I am told after a day. It was an experiment.

I doubt anyone was outraged. Society today, in the West, is one of facsimile. But it is not mimetic. In the story of Adam and Eve, the serpent appears and *whispers* something to Eve. The content is not revealed. But Eve goes to reach for the apple immediately afterward. Eric Auerbach’s seminal study Mimesis, in its first chapter, which juxtaposes Homer and the Old Testament, writes: “that not the stories, but the religious doctrine, raises the claim to absolute authority; because the stories are not, like Homer’s, simply narrated “reality.” Doctrine and promise are incarnate in them and inseparable from them; for that very reason they are fraught with “background” and mysterious, containing a second, concealed meaning.” The Bible then was one branch of narration and Homer represented the other. Adorno and Horkheimer were right to see the figure of Odysseus as the first representation of the bourgeoisie. And that form of narration was to hold prominence for several hundred years. The return to the style and intent of the Old Testament began with modernism. With Buchner and Kafka, with Von Kleist even, Melville and Dostoyevksy… and then it was supplanted by Freud. One might argue all 20th century literature of any significance can be traced back to the Old Testament. The one outlier here is Shakespeare. For Shakespeare was doing exactly what the scriptural authors were doing. But then theatre is inherently tied to that tradition by the nature of the characteristics of the medium.

Knut Pani

I think this is partly why modernism held such promise for Adorno. It was a recuperation in some sense. It was the privileging of hiddenness and secrecy, and of concealment. And like Tragedy, the concealment was always in the act of being unconcealed.

“Since so much in the story is dark and incomplete, and since the reader knows that God is a hidden God, his effort to interpret it constantly finds something new to feed upon. Doctrine and the search for en­lightenment are inextricably connected with the physical side of the narrative-the latter being more than simple “reality”; indeed they are in constant danger of losing their own reality, as very soon happened when interpretation reached such proportions that the real vanished.”
Eric Auerbach (Ibid)

Interpretation is critical. As Auerbach notes, there is really nothing to ‘interpret’ in Homer. So, the obsessive alienated (and antisemitic) need for explanations found in ‘plots’ has to be differentiated from the sense of tragic unconcealing. It is as if ‘plot’ paranoia is the caricature of hiddenness. The burlesque version of Old Testament search for revelation.

Wittgenstein, in a letter to the publisher of Tractatus, Ludwig Fiker, writes:

“I once meant to include in the preface a sentence which is not in fact there but which I will write out for you. What I meant to write, then, was this: My work consists of two parts: the one presented here plus all that I have not written. And it is precisely this second part that is the important one.”

As Russell Jacoby notes, “The idea that what is most important is what is unwritten would be congenial to believing and nonbelieving Jews from Maimonides to Mauthner. Indeed, Wittgenstein goes further. Not only is the essential part of his book missing, but the reference to its absence is absent as well.”
Russell Jacoby (Ibid)

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  1. Regino Robainas says:

    The stumbling Bureaucratic block is
    the cursed obedience to the non-desiring
    biblical apple hating Policeman/Storm Trooper
    in the constructed Above.
    Kafka and we are conscious of how our world
    has been a-to paraphrase Hemingway in sort- moveable
    genocide.. Wilhelm Reich and we are machine torn by
    its cultures of prohibition. As long as we consent to
    this slave patrol narratives.
    I forgot the name of the poet, but I remember
    reading in the New Yorker back in ’66 a poem that
    I found kind of depressing for its reconciliation
    to this way of death in life. It went, sd far as I
    can recall:
    “See now the libidinous flare
    Spinning on its axis
    In vain resistance to
    Morality’s gravity
    And the upright Ego…”

  2. Not related to this post but to your last podcast re: the ersatz family image promoted by TV sit coms and dramas, Big Bang Theory is instructive. It revolves around four scientists employed by a university/research facility but who behave like arrested early teen “nerds” who fraternize a comic store and are totally absorbed in the paraphernalia of sci-fi shows e.g. Star Wars, Star Trek, Dr Who etc. Various celebs from that genre have appeared on the show – Bill Shatner, Adam West, James Earl Jones, Carrie Fisher etc. They all behave like kids playing games and tricks on each other. And we’ve even had appearances from Bill Gates and Elon Musk – the latter appearing in a soup kitchen!

    Naturally, none of the ones who appear seem to have any money problems. The girl from across the hall, played by Kaley Cuoco, complains about money but somehow manages to maintain her occupancy of the customary luxury flat. But the biggest howler must be the character Arthur Jeffries who played a children’s TV persona called Professor Proton (he is played by Bob Newhart) and who, we are led to believe, hasn’t had a job in decades other than hiring himself out at kids’ parties. But he seems to be living in the same mansion as the big celebs.

    It’s hard to say if this is more or less bearable than Friends. You could maintain that the fraudulence in BBT is much more “up front” which may work in its favour. But then Friends never grovelled so much to actual power players like Gates and Musk.

  3. John Steppling says:

    ha, Ive never seen it but its not hard to imagine. Yeah, this is a really perfect example of this insidious propaganda machine that is Hollywood.

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