The Devil’s Theatre

Issei Suda, photography.

“The idea that there is a gene for adventurousness, heart disease, obesity, religiosity, homosexuality, shyness, stupidity, or any other aspect of mind or body has no place on the platform of genetic discourse.”
Eva Jablonka & Marion J. Lamb (Evolution in Four Dimensions)

“…progress’s first step is the enraged destruction of the discourse of progress.”
Max Pensky (Contributions Toward a Theory of Storms)

“Like all propagandists, the apostles of tolerance, truth to tell, are very often the most intolerant of men.”
Rene Guenon (East & West)

“The Devil’s theaters are also centers for the mystics.”
Michel de Certeau (The Possession at Loudun)

There is increasingly a quality of projection in contemporary public life. A quality of fantasy, or childlike wishing. And added to this is the ubiquity of performance. All is performative in contemporary life. In fact few people even object to this or see it as inauthentic of invalid. Performance and projection is, in a sense, all that there is. And, it *is* all there is, but we must recognize ‘that’ in order to mature. Perhaps that is progress. But is it good?

Today one is performing for the billionaire class without quite being able to see them out there in the dark. There are screens everywhere in these mental habits of the contemporary bourgeoise. But we are all tap dancing on the street for coins to be tossed into our hat.

Ashton Thornhill, photography (Abernathy, Texas)

“As long as theory has not recognised how structural changes in economic life are transformed, via the psychic constitution of the various social groups at a given moment in time, into changes in the expression of their life as a whole, then the theory of the dependence of the one on the other contains a dogmatic element which seriously restricts this theory’s hypothetical value in the explanation of the present.”
Max Horkheimer (issue one Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung )

Critical Theory, as expressed in the original Frankfurt School members is one place to start. Mattias Martinson’s essay on the early Frankfurt school importantly quotes the following….

”In materialism, the dialectics is not regarded as a closed system. Understanding that the prevalent circumstances are conditioned and transitory is not immediately equated with transcending them and cancelling them out. (…) Materialism (…) insists that objective reality is not identical with man’s thought and can never be merged into it. As much as thought in its own element seeks to copy the life of the object and adapt itself to it, the thought is nevertheless never simultaneously the object thought about, unlessin self-observation and reflection – and not even there.”
Max Horkheimer (On the Problem of Truth)

and Martinson adds….“Horkheimer’s meta-theory made something new out of the old Marxist materialism. It became the framework for a double critique. On the one hand, it was a critique of scientific abstraction and, on the other hand, a critique of political abstraction.”
Mattias Martinson (The Early Frankfurt School)

Now, I want to digress just a moment here. Or perhaps it’s not exactly a digression. Scientific abstraction has bled into contemporary consciousness in myriad ways (and this blog has written on this countless times, I think). And there is something compelling in remembering Horkheimer (and Adorno and Benjamin, too, really) when reading some of the new theories of evolution sited by Jablonka and Lamb in their book Evolution in Four Dimensions. For there is something in the ideas of cellular memory (epigenetic and behavioral inheritance systems, etc) and also on how language most negotiate these theories and how they must express them, that feels as it mirrors some of the critiques of progress, Enlightenment thought in general, positivism, and contemporary AI theory. Now my poetic reading of genetic science is just that. Still, the implications are fascinating.

Frank Wimberley

The hostility today to Frankfurt School thinkers, meaning Adorno most often, comes from several sources. The post colonial movement, which while probably a necessary corrective (to some extent) in its decolonizing of Critical Theory, ends up needing a serious injection of the both dialectical awareness and just criticality itself. One of the iconic (sic) texts in post colonial history is Robert C. J. Young’s White Mythologies. Now there is enormous hostility to philosophy in general, I think. The second source is positivist/scientism, and thirdly would be the academic back waters of identity politics (sic) and cancel culture (transhumanism, AI, and gender theory). The problem with Young’s book and those like it, is that like those exhibitions of African masks that occur in European museums or galleries, meaning is stripped away. The mask is being stripped of its indigenous meaning. Young’s history is to theory what an African mask is at the National Gallery.

But back to the early Frankfurt school. As early as 1929 the Institute was integrating psychoanalysis into their basically Marxian critique of society. And that meant Freud before all others. And as an aside, it’s always been clear that the early core group of Frankfurt scholars (all of whom were Jewish) disliked Jung and favoured Freud. And the short explanation was Jung’s ahistorical theories and universalizing of the human psyche. I suspect it was more that many just disliked the Swiss Aryan Jung, and his probably not entirely disguised attraction to National Socialism. Was it simply opportunism on Jung’s part? It was that but it was probably more, too. But, I also think that the school’s reading of Jungian theory is both wrong and biased. He was actually no more universalizing that Freud, it’s just that Jung took on the trappings of Aryan mysticism and occultism, in a way that far too much resembled the Nazi fascination with the occult and volkish mythos.

In any event the institute under Horkheimer was clearly intent on incorporating psychoanalysis into their work.

Andre Durand

“In an essay on praxis in the critical theory of the Frankfurt School the two scholars Wolf Heydebrand and Beverly Burris hold that in the continuing reformulation of the theory ”praxis moved from ‘critical awareness’ of the contradictions of capitalist society to the ‘theoretical negation’ of that society as a totality”.
Mattias Martinson (Ibid)

This coincided with Adorno’s increasing influence and the institutes move to the United States. That move is likely also the engine for a change in perspective on science.

“In the articles from 1937 the critical perspective was outlined as an intensification of some of the critical perspectives of the original theory. To extend the argument of Heydebrand and Burris one can say that the basic principle in the new approach is to direct a devastating criticism of the basis of social science and, making a critical negation of it’s flawed logic urgent for the sake of the acute problems of the current situation (the outer conditions at the time was most certainly a decisive factor). In ”Traditional and Critical Theory” Horkheimer detects in the general approach to science an adherence to a traditional and conservative perspective. This traditional perspective is related directly to the reactionary interests of the bourgeoisie.”
Mattias Martinson (Ibid)

This seems key and it foreshadows the later collaboration between Horkheimer and Adorno with Dialectic of Enlightenment.

“In the moment of absolute discrimination between wider interests and the scientific interest of truth the traditional theory makes suspect every move towards atheoretical internalisation of the values and principles that guides the scientific work.This means that science developed in the framework of traditional theory is blind to its own radical dependence on society and therefore also incapable of an adequate critique of society. Traditional theory supports the existing condition of society.”
Mattias Martinson (Ibid)

Emmanuelle Becker, photography.

This is the exact place why looking at the early work of the Institute remains so important. For this lesson has been forgotten and when remembered engenders enormous hostility today. The critique saw science as interested in the results of abstraction (and experiment) and not their relationship in the formation of the whole of society — and the construction of history. Or how these abstractions came to be formed in relation to social and historical forces. Traditional theory (science here) deals with testable hypotheses, but not with material conditions that shaped the questions being tested. This is hugely important if we fast forward to contemporary thought, or lack thereof.

And allow me one more quote from Martinson here:

“For the understanding of the theory of the second phase of the Frankfurt School this means that the crucial point has been moved away from the attempt, in the first phase,to dissolve a coercive and idealistic philosophy by a specified version of dialectical materialism, and by that step make the antagonistic tendencies in society into a pre-supposition for scientific work, to a profound establishment of an alternative, critical theory of the antagonistic tendencies, sceptical about traditional science in se.”

The later Frankfurt School projects reflect the profound influence of Adorno. And Adorno was never really an academic philosopher at heart. His earlier influences were musicians and composers, and the Avant-garde. It has always seemed telling to me that his dissertation was on Kierkegaard.

”Whoever chooses philosophy as a profession today must first reject the illusion that earlier philosophical enterprises began with: that the power of thought is sufficient to grasp the totality of the real. No justifying reason could rediscover itself in a reality whose order suppresses every claim of reason; only polemically does reason present itself to the knower as total reality, while only in traces and ruins is it prepared to hope that it will ever come across correct and just reality”.
Theodor Adorno (The Actuality of Philosophy)

Raoul Hausmann (The Art Critic, 1920)

As Martinson notes…“from the earliest texts to the last manuscripts there is a clear and obvious focus on the disintegration of rationality.” And the implications of this are starkely obvious today. Rationality has, seemingly, fully disintegrated.

And it here that psychoanalysis looms as such a important influence in how one reads Adorno. For as Martinson notes..“The ambition is to reveal unconscious structures beyond the division of labour between different disciplines.” The importance here, regards the Dialectic of Enlightenment, is that reason , per Adorno, in its rule over nature progresses to rule over men, which finally culminates in a sense, to a rule over man’s inner nature. And if Adorno, twenty years after the publication of DoE, suggested the atom bomb as one culmination (and he was right) today the cell phone and digital enslavement of consciousness is another.

For the purposes here, however, I wanted to look at pre-Enlightenment notions of progress, or that which resembles contemporary ‘progress’.

“In its broadest terms, the idea of historical progress refers not just to progress toward some specific goal but rather to human progress or development overall, überhaupt. As Reinhart Koselleck has argued, this notion of historical progress is a distinctively modern concept that emerges in the eighteenth century. Although the Greeks and Romans had terms that could “characterize a relative progression in particular spheres of fact and experience”—prokopē, epidōsis, progressus, perfectus—these concepts were, according to Koselleck, always concerned with looking back and were not linked to the idea of a better future. Moreover, and perhaps more important, they were always partial, local; the term “progress” did not, for the Greeks, refer to “an entire social process, as we associate it today with technological practices and industrialization” .
Amy Allen (The End of Progress: Decolonizing the Normative Foundations of Critical Theory)

Andrea Orcagna (The Triumph of Death, 1348. Fragment)

Now Allen adds a bit later (again referencing Koselleck) ” Spiritual progress and the decline of the world were to this extent correlational concepts that obstructed the interpretation of the earthly future in progressive terms” . The modern notion of progress transformed the “constant expectation of the end of the world into an open future”; spiritual profectus became worldly progressus”.
Amy Allen (Ibid)

It is interesting to consider the contemporary alarmism and now constant state of exception that the West functions under and compare it to just fifty or sixty or seventy years ago. Post WW2 became a Disney happy fascism but under the guise of a new Jetsons future. The future suddenly loomed as something inevitable (notwithstanding the duck and cover drills at my grammar school). Today that inevitability is echoed in the language of Bill Gates or Klaus Schwab, in Fauci or Bill McKibben. But today the inevitable is only the response to the crisis, not the consequences of that crisis. The inevitable is obedience. But my point is more that the new version of the decline of the world is no longer connected to individual perfectibility, but rather to the gnosis of digital technology.

There is also an unstated but implied sense that androids are likely to survive where humans probably won’t. Michel de Certeau wrote of 16th century Christian mystics, a time when the Church turned inward. He wrote two books specifically about the 15th and 16th century mystics of the Church: The Mystic Fable and Possession at Loudun. It was also, for de Certeau the moment when the old world transitioned to the new. Or at least to the precursor of the new. It was also the time of the divide between Protestant and Catholic. And a time of the counter-Reformation.

Duccio di Buoninsegna (The Temptation of Christ on the Mountain, 1308, detail)

“It is the first age to be preoccupied with atheism, and one in which ethics breaks free from theology. The Protestant, the Machiavel, the Savage; the witch, the demon, the atheist; the mystic’s God and the secular moralist: these are the first embodiments of the Other.{ } Loudun is successively a metonymy and a metaphor allowing us to apprehend how a “state policy”, a new rationality, replaces a religious reason.’ Certeau’s anthropemic world thus stands in contrast to an earlier anthropophagic world. In that world the cannibalistic sacrament of the Mass united everyone in the true Church, the body of Christ. (Certeau himself does not explicitly link anthropophagy and the Mass, but the connection is there to be made.) That world, Certeau declares, is gone for ever. Christianity is now a religion of the empty tomb.”
David Wootton (Lacanian Jesuit, London Review of Books, 2001)

The relevance here is the sense of the heterogeneous that so fascinated De Certeau, the incommensurable of the inward and contemplative. An inwardness, that for him, was only to be experienced in the experience of the stranger, the exile, or wanderer. This is a figure, this stranger in the landscape, which haunts all of the 20th century. But the stranger has always been the agent of haunting. The contemporary disintegration of reason can be looked at as a almost a purely cognitive failure, but to suggest this would require some (speculative) dives into the collective memory of the West. And I cannot entirely be sure if I think this is literal or metaphorical.

As an almost sidebar here, the science of genetics has undergone extraordinary advances. As extraordinary as they are, what is more extraordinary is how much is not known. Especially as organisms become more complex. From coral or corn to humans is still a stunningly huge leap.

“Dimitri Vyssotski has shown that following the administration of morphine to male rats, or thyroxine to male mice, their untreated offspring develop phenotypes that are in many respects different from, sometimes opposite to, those of their fathers. Moreover, in subsequent generations there are still more changes, with some of the originally induced phenotypic modifications persisting, some being reversed, and new ones appearing. Vyssotski calls this cascade of transgenerational changes “epigenetic compensation,” and believes that it is an epigenetic response to stress that involves multiple loci and changes dynamically as each generation copes with the stressful legacy of the previous generation.”
Eva Jablonka (Evolution in Four Dimensions)

Ed Ruscha, photography (Melrose Ave, LA, 1975)

Even non scientists like myself can understand the implications of current genetic science. The short version is that inheritance, biologically, is revealing more and more baroque theories of how species evolve (or don’t) and that Darwinism wasn’t wrong, just woefully simplistic.

End of sidebar. Keeping in mind the theses of the early Frankfurt thinkers, it is interesting to chart the ideological forces that have resulted in the current irrationality of the U.S.(this applies to some degree to the EU, too).

“…postmodernism, broadly defined, has become a type of thought process that the U.S. administration has actively encouraged for at least three decades now, in concert with the private Interests; and, second, that in such a framework there exists no fundamental difference between the political stance of the so-called Right and that of the Left. { } What is even more damning for the whole postmodern enterprise, with its coil of cross-connections, shared beliefs, political role-playing, and overall intellectual corruptness, is its indisputable contiguity with a very special exponent of Nazism like Junger…{ } Overall, the need for a postmodern mood was far less urgent in Europe than it was in America. In any case, the task of the Liberal administration has been to exercise control over the spontaneous forces for change, which are generally expected to drift toward the established Left. Whenever State coercion proved insufficient or simply ineffectual, the government has, far more efficiently, proceeded to co-opt the representatives of these forces. Out of this process was born the “official Left.” In this sense, the institutional work of these “acceptable leftists” cannot be construed as genuinely progressive, for any gains accruing to its credit are truly increments conceded on the negotiating table by the administration itself, which, by definition, is always in charge. The official Left is perforce conservative.”
Guido Giacomo Preparata (The Ideology of Tyranny)

There is a telling sentence of Lyotard’s ;

“Data bases are the encyclopedia of tomorrow… They are ‘nature’ for the postmodern man.”
(The Postmodern Condition)

Preperata also quotes Thorstein Veblen, from a book written right after WW1, a book on American Universities:

“Such a system of authoritative control, standardization, gradation, accountancy, classification, credits and penalties, will necessarily be drawn on stricter lines the more the school takes on the character of a house of correction or penal settlement; in which the irresponsible inmates are to be held to a round of distasteful tasks and restrained from (conventionally) excessive irregularities of conduct.”
Thorstein Veblen (The Higher Education in America)

Of course what Preperata fails to mention is the work of Debord, Merleau-Ponty, Deleuze, and Fanon during the fifties and sixties and seventies. To name just four. The so called French post-modernists have become (courtesy of reactionary historians of social theory like Preperata) a kind of stand-in for ‘the left’. And by so doing the actual left is rendered invisible. And this marked the start of a propagandistic trend that has only intensified since. College campuses in the US, even through the seventies saw students rediscovering Gramsci, reading Marcuse and even Mao. But it ‘is’ true that post-modernism in the person of French theorists came to play a certain clear role in de-politicizing the discourse at Universities.

Austin Osman Spare

The neutralizing of critical thought, though, began long before even WW1. But the acceleration of this neutralizing of critical thinking, and of dissent, began after Vietnam, I think. And referring to the epigenetic side bar, on my mythical collective level, the end of the sixties — its defeat in a sense — is probably encoded now genetically. Or rather, it has acutely affected our organism so that humans read their own DNA differently.

Preperata is deeply reactionary, but his insight into the ‘accepted Left’, the anti-communist left, and really anti-anarchist left, too, as a force of reaction is very cogent (although he himself is a rather pointed anti communist). And alongside this, the myth of the defeat of fascism. For Hitlerism and fascism and eugenics altogether, live on and are actively being rehabilitated by western media and academia.

“In the face of these looming forces, the emerging State recasts the people in its real truth. Springing from this truth, power/knowledge soars, genuinely-the power/knowledge that is at once duty/knowledge and will/knowledge. But to know this, signifies: to master thoroughly the essence of things, and by virtue of this, to be determined to achieve something [ … ], In Your name, I commit myself before the will and the work of our Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler. .. Heil Hitler!”
Martin Heidegger (Academic allocution, November 25, 1933, quoted in Preparata’s The Ideology of Tyranny )

Ron Davis

Preperata, as an example, cites Heidegger’s ongoing popularity. Even the publication of the Black Books has done little to stem the cottage industry of Heidegger studies (while Adorno continues to be the target of endless critiques decrying his Manderism and nihilism). Heidegger is particularly popular and influential in the psychiatry community.

And this is a pretty keen insight:

“Junger had seen farther, but he was too dangerous. Heidegger, on the other hand, was so obscure that one could say of his texts everything and its very opposite, and a convenient academic stalemate would allow his legacy to pass on undisturbed. More to the point, Heidegger was still needed in the West. Revered by the French postmodern Left, he was needed in an uncompassionate Americanizing West, which had emerged from the war hungering ever more for an antihumanist “new idiom”-something “sophisticated” by which to articulate that foul, innermost desire of our age: and that is, to prove that goodness is not a principle that may triumph.”
Guido Giacomo Preparata (Ibid)

“With Heidegger they let language be as the “house of being,” but without any “being” in the house!”
Paul Tillich (Letter to Adorno, quotes in Russell Re Manning’s Retrieving the Radical Tillich)

Leo Strauss was the godfather of the American right (in the form of the neo-cons) with legatees like Allen Bloom and Irving Kristol. And with a tributary that includes Ayn Rand and Paul Wolfowitz.

Today Azov battalion members tour Washington, visit schools and are feted at Brie and Chablis black tie affairs without much commotion at all. The spectre of Junger and Heidegger, of Strauss and Schmitt loom over all of this. The influence of Schwab and Van der Leyen, not to mention King Charles (sic) and Bill Gates is not serendipitous. It is keenly linked (see Project Paperclip, and the assimilation of overt active Nazis like Reinhard Gehlen and Wehner von Braun, the latter to become of the face of Disneyland’s futuristic fantasies. Not to mention ongoing US foreign policy that installed brutal dictators throughout Africa, even as they fought against liberation movements, and in South and Central America. And in Vietnam. Also in Europe with failed attempts at fascist coups in Albania and Poland). And the cancel culture today is but one expression of a mythos that lived in mid century fascism. Just as the US proxy war in Ukraine is just a bus & truck version of their increasingly sclerotic foreign policy.

Simone Martini (The Redeemer, 1315)

The psychoanalytical sheds light on this revanchist authoritarianism. And one of the titanic problems with Preperata is, in fact, his lack of class analysis. And it is in this that perhaps his reading of Foucault is so inaccurate. And it should be noted that the sort of 3rd generation (or is it second?) of Frankfurt theorists is very far indeed from the original core group. And as Fabian Freyenhagen has noted, Foucault might actually be a lot closer to Adorno than Habermas. But the point is that Critical Theory, for Horkheimer and Adorno (and Marcuse) is still philosophy.

“In the same vein, Marcuse argues that idealist philosophy is both ideological and utopian: it is ideological in individualising the quest of realising reason and freedom and in suggesting that they have been (fully) realised in the social world; but it also has an utopian and critical element in insulating itself from this world, and thereby pointing beyond it- ‘abstractness saves its truth’.”
Fabian Freyenhagen (Critical Theory’s Philosophy, quoting Marcuse, Negations)

Adorno in that inaugural address ( “must first reject the illusion that future philosophical enterprises began with: that the power of thought is sufficient to grasp the totality of the real.”) is channelling 21st century anxieties. This is particularly relevant to the trajectory of theory since the advent of computers (and I am thinking here of computer modelling). The erosion of reason has led (at least one aspect of it) to a scientist cult of perfectibility. And this idea of human perfectibility and its link to digital computation and data collection etc is one of perception and not reality. Computers have nothing perfect about their results, their processes, algorithms etc. Garbage in, garbage out. Computers cut labour cost. Automation cuts labour cost. But western culture has imbued digital technology with a kind of logos.

Adorno saw dialectic as historically mediated, as well. He wrote “dialectics is the ontology of the wrong state of things”.

“…Adorno eschews both the telos of absolute identity of mind and world and the trust in progress that he sees as essential to Hegel’s dialectic. { } For all the benefits modern civilisation brings, it is – according to Adorno – a ‘triumphant calamity’ because it is characterised by a decoupling (or even inversion) of means and ends that is most clearly exemplified in the death camps of Auschwitz and the creation of the Atomic bomb.”
Fabyen Freyerhagen (Ibid)

Folkert de Jong

Adorno speaks in number of places about a world of untruth. Freyenhagen’s definition seems not quite right in this case. It’s not just that it is a society of domination giving rise to false consciousness. It is that, yes, its facticity is true, but the experience is untrue. The individual’s experience is counterfeit.

The influence of both Junger, Hayak, and Strauss was reflected politically during the Reagan 80s. Raymond Geuss has nice summation of the most read philosopher of U.S. academia of the last fifty years, probably: John Rawls.

“Rawls in fact eventually, in the 1980s, the era of Thatcher and Reagan, established a very well-functioning academic industry that was quickly routinized and which preempted much of the space that might have been used for original political thinking. He was one of the forerunners of the great countermovement, outlining proleptically a philosophical version of what came to be known as the “trickle-down” theory. Crudely speaking, this theory eventually takes this form: “value” is overwhelmingly produced by especially gifted individuals, and the creation of such value benefits society as a whole. Those who are now rich are well-off because they have contributed to the creation of “value” in the past. For the well-off to continue to benefit society, however, they need to be motivated, to be given an incentive, to create. Full egalitarianism will destroy the necessary incentive structure and thus turn off the taps from which prosperity flows. So inequality can actually be in the interest of the poor because only if the rich are differentially better off than others will they create value at all, some of which will “trickle down to” or be redistributed to the less well-off.”
Raymond Geuss (Critical Theory, Forty Years On)

Mobutu and Reagan

That a pedestrian thinker like Rawls should become a celebrity in academia speaks to a number of issues that I think Adorno recognized clearly. And it should be clear that Rawls and analytical philosophy itself over the last fifty years has absorbed the mythos of Straussian cynicism and opportunism.

“The apparent gap many people think exists between the views of Rawls and, say, Ayn Rand is less important than the deep similarity in their basic views and the similarity of the social niches into which they fit. The warden of a prison may put on a benevolent smile (Rawls) or a grim scowl (Rand), but that is a mere result of temperament, mood, calculation, and the demands of the immediate situation, and will have only marginal effect…{ } The fact remains that the warden is the warden of a prison, the chaplain the chaplain of a prison, and, more importantly, that the prison is a prison. To shift attention from the reality the prison to the morality, the ideals, and the beliefs of the warden, the nature of the rations provided to the inmates, or the exact nature of the comforting doctrine preached by the prison chaplain is an archetypical instance of an ideological effect.”
Raymond Geuss (Ibid)

In addition to Rawls, Geuss recognizes the fascist implications in all analytic philosophy. The ‘analytical school’ sees the world as something to be ‘analysed’ (sic). And yet I think, like the comparison between the original Frankfurt School and its current descendents (Habermas, Honneth, et al) the original Analytic School, which could be seen to be Bertrand Russell and Moore, onto Wittgenstein (who is an outlier anywhere you lump him) dwarf today’s representatives. More importantly I doubt anyone can see Wittgenstein or even Whitehead as ideological.

“The utopia of the early analytic philosophers was a society in which “science” had completely replaced the traditional forms of humanistic culture, especially art, rhetoric, and religion, and had seen itself established as the sole guide to sensible human action. “Scientific method” was to set the terms within which any serious philosophical or political discussion could be conducted.”
Raymond Geuss (Reality and its Dreams)

Richard Caldicott

The reproduction of ideology seems almost reflexive today. As the Great Reset project looks to commodify all of Nature, and to further surveil and control the populations of, eventually, all countries (a project doomed to fail, though I am not sure that matters) so culture, art and philosophy, increasingly seem ideological artifacts, facsimiles of actual life. The tendency today to rely on the results or answers of specific investigations. Rarely is the context of this investigation itself questioned or investigated.

“So does analytic philosophy tend to foster a naive trust with respect to and excessive solicitude for certain kinds of facts—the “facts” of established sciences and the “facts” of everyday linguistic usage? Nothing, of course, against “the facts”; as long as one can be sure they are facts and not just artifacts. And as long as one does not appeal to one set of facts to distract attention from other facts. And as long as one does not falsely insinuate forms of relevance into certain kinds of facts that they do not possess.”
Raymond Geuss (Ibid)

This is the irrationality of scientism. It is a fetishized attraction to a certain kind of reified method. It is also impersonal. There is an assumption (I’m not sure how conscious) that computers investigate questions all by themselves. By extension there is a belief automation itself will ask and answer ‘everything’. And this is the gnosis of technology.

I was thinking today about why the West so quickly became so hysterically anti Putin. Putting massive propaganda aside, and a history of anti sovietism, there is still something more. Something about the image and perception of Putin that triggers the western bourgeoisie. And this finally brings me to a few thoughts on psychoanalysis and critical theory.

“Neuroses do not occur out of biological necessity. … Neuroses are social diseases … the outcome of unfavorable and socially determined educational measures, corresponding to a given and historically developed social milieu. … They cannot be changed without corresponding change in the milieu.”
Otto Fenichel (Psychoanalytical Theory of Neurosis)

For Adorno psychoanalysis was partly, if not largely, linked with art. With music, certainly, but with literature and even some paintings. And with theatre. Franco Moretti has a piece on Marxist criticism, which foregrounds Adorno and Benjamin.

Zarouhie Abdalian

“Let us start with a small classic of Modernist imagination (which, I believe, we owe to Lautréamont): an umbrella and a sewing-machine meeting on an anatomical table. Dada, Surrealism, Pound, Eliot and several others have produced countless variations on this basic pattern, which, to be sure, ironically negates any idea of ‘totality’ and any hierarchy of meanings, leaving the field free for a virtually unlimited interpretative play. And yet: is this really such a subversive image? It would seem that Lautréamont’s dream was shared, not only by fellow poets, but by the owners of the first department stores as well. Describing their windows, D’Avenel wrote in 1894 that ‘the most dissimilar objects lend mutual support when they are placed next to each other.’ ‘Why should this be?’ wonders Richard Sennett, to whom I owe the quotation. ‘The use character of the object,’ he replies, ‘was temporarily suspended. It became “stimulating”, one wanted to buy it, because it became temporarily an unexpected thing; it became strange.’ A common object transformed into something unexpected and strange: is this not precisely the de-automatization of everyday perception advocated by that crucial Modernist principle—the ‘ostranenie’ of Russian Formalism? Is it not also the basic technique of modern advertising, which took off shortly after the golden age of avant-garde movements, and whose task is to endow commodities with a surprising and pleasant aesthetic aura?”
Franco Moretti (The Spell of Indecision)

That anatomical table or the department store window is also what Bly wrote about, exactly, in Leaping Poetry. Modernism, and all of that which is now called post-modern, in the arts, is related to several things. One is ambiguity, the second is disenchantment, and the third is the uncanny. But all of them are embedded in what Bly called those leaps of imagination. And as commodity fetishism grew, and the Avant Garde eroded and finally disappeared, the leaping became harder. And positivism, scientism, and a replacement form of reason (which like the Avant Garde was now but a shadow) all expressed disapproval for these things, for art cannot be the answer to a question. It is not the result of an investigation. Now Adorno used the word ‘spell’ (Bann in German) in several places in his oeuvre (in Negative Dialectics most thoroughly). And *spell* is, as all the translators note, an inadequate substitution, but the best English can offer.

“Bann, then, is both real and an illusion, a real force in the material world and a concealing semblance that deludes those under it. Furthermore, it has a surface meaning that can occlude “all its implications” and lead one to ignore the other “possibilities” it “contains.””
Christopher Turner (Under Adorno’s Spell, New German Critique)

Jacob Gils, photography.

In a lecture, according to Rolf Tiedemann, Adorno defined *bann* as ‘the eternal sameness of the historical process’. There is also a sense in which *bann* carries with it a quality of the archaic. As Turner notes, an almost anthropological quality. And in that sense it carries something Freudian with it as well.

Also, the etymology (of which Adorno was certainly familiar) is worth noting here.

Bann and bannen are derived from an archaic German verb bannan, whose three main senses were ‘prohibition [Verbot],’ ‘to summon [aufbieten],” and “to command [gebieten].’ Guus Kroonen’s Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic similarly lists under its entry “to command, summon,’ as well as “to forbid, prohibit; to curse.
Christopher Turner (Ibid)

The verb form, bannan includes the meaning to expel, exile, to banish or excommunicate. The stranger, the exile, the scapegoat.

“Modernist imagination has become immensely more ironical, free and surprising than it was in the past—but at the price of leaving our ‘first’ life wholly bereft of these qualities. From this point of view, Modernism appears once more as a crucial component of that great symbolic transformation which has taken place in contemporary Western societies: the meaning of life is no longer sought in the realm of public life, politics and work; it has migrated into the world of consumption and private life. { } Romanticism, observed Carl Schmitt, managed to coexist with all sorts of political regimes and beliefs: this is even more true of Modernism, whose extensive range of political choices can be explained only by its basic political indifference.”
Franco Moretti (Ibid)

Anne Truitt

Moretti adds toward the end of this essay:

“Once avant-garde literature abandoned plot, the void was inevitably filled by a parallel system—mass literature—which, just as inevitably, has acquired an ever increasing relevance. The appeal of mass literature is that ‘it tells stories’, and we all need stories: if instead of Buddenbrooks we get The Carpetbaggers, then Harold Robbins it is. It’s certainly no progress, in our perception of history, but it is a fact that, in this century, narrative forms capable of dealing with the great structures and transformations of social life have more often than not belonged to the various genres of mass literature and, more broadly, mass culture.”
Franco Moretti (Ibid)

“The tragedies of Hamlet, Lear, Richard III […] entail the history of men confronted by the violent forces of their instinctual nature. { } With all these struggles, and as though with an artistic palette, he sketched the portrait of that person he believes to be when he says ‘I’. In fact, this I is a character, an ‘actor’ on the world scene who, in private, in his internal reality, attends a more intimate theatre whose repertory is secret. Unknown to him, scenarios are organized, farcical scenes and tragic scenes in search of a place of representation and of action. The director, of course, is the I itself, but the face of the characters, the plot as well as its dénouement are veiled to him; he does not even know those who are pushing him towards the drama. No warning is given to him that the action is going to begin and that somewhere, in a place of his psyche, a character is moving about –Seagate – and wants to enter the stage.”
Joyce McDougall (Theatres of the Mind)

James Elder Christie (Pied Piper of Hamelin, 1860)

The very basic structure of our psyche is predicated on the ‘scene’. Religion came out of theatre. The site of trauma. Primal trauma. Primal scene. And always, ‘somewhere a character is moving about’. The stranger. The uninvited. The ‘Other’. That presence, that ‘character’, is an emissary from an unknown authority. From Kafka’s castle. Only I don’t think this character wants to enter the stage. I think they want to stay ‘off stage’, the unconscious area for theatres. The offstage is almost the red-light district for the World Stage. Offstage a figure appears, in a landscape. Though the landscape is in the dark. Off-stage it is always night. That figure is both temptation and guilt, is both sexual seduction and the executioner.

The evolution of modernism (into postmodernism) meant a growing indifference to history. Adorno used *bann* in Negative Dialectics in a couple important instances. In the first it is used in conjunction with rationalization. But a particular kind of rationalization.

“Adorno has defined rationalization itself as originally the projection of evil onto a victim, arising from an archaic residue of the predatory impulse of ferociousness, in which a predator does not merely kill its victim but rages against and terrifies it first, both to arouse itself for the kill and to render its victim less able to defend itself.”
Christopher Turner (Ibid)

Projection is part of this, so is scapegoating. And again, the archaic returns but is transformed into obedience to power. As Turner observes, it is denigrating the ‘Not I’. And here the spectre of Kant, and then more significantly Hegel looms. This projection and transformation is in violation of the deeper meaning of Hegel’s *Spirit*. So, *Spirit’s* rationalization contains its *bann*.

“For this eminently “rational” process of hypostatization in which everything has its place but only as the repetitive iteration of thought things is in fact also a kind of magical thinking, though opposed to sympathetic magic and its practice of mimesis; rather, it is a practice of summoning a thing’s mana and apotropaically averting those aspects of a thing that might threaten the summoner. Thus understood, Bann contributes to an understanding of how it was possible that the rational endeavor for self-preservation ends up imperiling human existence instead.”
Christopher Turner (Ibid)

The simpler meaning is simply that the constrictive suffocating prison that is Capitalist society has drained hope and belief in the future, any future, from the subject. Enclosed in the irrationality of a system one has lost belief can be changed. The archaic returns as analytical philosophy, as AI, leisure time, and as entertainment. Reason cannot be conjured. Identification with the aggressor is then, on one level, identification with rage against the irrational. But the psychic gatekeeper, the Super Ego, quickly turns it into sanctioned and approved anger (at those who don’t wear masks, at those who voted for Trump, at Putin, etc). We are under the spell of data collection, algorithms and constant manufactured fear.

I wanted to leave off with the first two paragraphs of David Wooten’s description of the events at Loudun. I have no ‘rational’ reason for this.

Antonio de Pereda (Vanitas, 1670)

In 1632 Loudun was a frontier town, with Catholicism to the north, south and east, and Protestantism to the west. Internally divided, it was in the process of being recaptured by the new religious orders of the Counter-Reformation (the Jesuits arrived in 1606, the Capuchins in 1616, the Ursulines in 1626); while at the same time Richelieu was planning to destroy the town’s castle, thus turning its citizens into subjects of the absolutist state. In October 1632, demons took possession of a group of Ursuline nuns. Exorcists were called in, but exorcism did not drive out the demons; instead, it established a method of communicating with them. For four years the demons testified: although demons are natural liars it was maintained that they had no choice but to tell the truth when commanded by an exorcist. Once or twice a day, simultaneously in five churches and chapels, the demons bore witness to the power of the Catholic Church. While the nuns writhed lasciviously, their demons spoke in strange voices and (on occasion) foreign tongues. (There were demons with Biblical names such as Leviathan and Behemoth; but also ones called Coal of Impurity, Concupiscence, Fornication, Dog’s Dick – this translation of Caudacanis is to be preferred to Dog’s Tail, which is the more usual, literal rendering.) Loudun became a tourist attraction, the theatre of possession the most exciting and puzzling of public spectacles.

The demons now began to enter the exorcists and their accomplices. Father Lacance, who died on 18 September 1634; Maunoury, the surgeon who had examined Grandier and testified that he bore the devil’s mark; Louis Chauvet, one of the judges: these three died distracted and raving, soon after Grandier; Father Tranquille died in 1638, possessed by Dog’s Dick and Leviathan. Among those possessed was Father Jean-Joseph Surin, a Jesuit mystic who had arrived in Loudun in December 1634, and who, instead of participating in the exorcisms, had prayed with the leader of the possessed nuns, the prioress, Sister Jeanne; he had even prayed that her demons would leave her and enter him. Which they did. For twenty years Surin suffered the after-effects, often unable to walk, talk or dress himself, tempted to suicide, and convinced he was damned. At the end of this long nightmare came a series of works that have won an enduring place in the history of Catholic spirituality: the Cantiques spirituels, the Catéchisme spirituel, the Dialogues spirituels, the Science expérimentale.”
David Wooten (Lacanian Jesuit, London Review of Books, 2001)

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  1. John Steppling; always an education. Again, I come away very much the fascinated eavesdropper who has enlarged greatly his awareness of his own ignorance: hardly Steppling’s fault, and I do learn from reading him, I do.

  2. Preparata may have confused the modern Left with French post-modernists but he also had a bitter animosity towards Marx too. He wrote an essay with the typically verbose title:

    “‘If Only the Russians Could Open their Archives’ Of Vetero-Marxist Ogresses, Historiographic Myths, and the Perennial Remoteness of Russia — An Afterword to the New Russian Edition of Conjuring Hitler”

    In it he launches the most vitriolic attack on Marx I’ve ever read. It’s also embarrassingly threadbare. Indeed vacuous. But it seems to me that his venom was initiated by the hostile treatment given to him by various academics over his published work – which, to be sure, has a tendency towards occultism and many of the old anti-communist conspiracy memes.

  3. John Steppling says:

    He is a very VERY strange combination of insightful, at times remarkably so, and utterly ignorant of …well, Marxist analysis, class analysis, and by extension then, history. He has another book, Conjuring Hitler, which is pretty cringe worthy in places (though no more than anthony sutton et al). I hesitated to quote him, but then I thought, well, on certain things he is really sharp.

  4. Regino Robaainas says:

    Walpurgis Holiday Haiku In Honor
    of Artimis On Seeing the Moon 4
    First Time

    Have you also
    Swam at night past
    Temptress Waves of
    Drifting residues of forgotten
    MUSIC? With crosscurrent roars
    of Yearnings for Who, among many,
    Cannot so far Be?

  5. Regino Robainas says:

    And being SunDay, I wanted to remind my
    fine yet to be known companions in this
    strange Theatrical production that in touch
    cosmologists like Sir Roger Penrose have
    concluded that topologies can be determined
    without being algorithmically determined, thus
    properly dissing the extreme AI groupies.

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