The Shadow of the Golem

Barnett Newman (1968)

“The topic of religious, socioeconomic, and psychoanalytical fetishism concerns the concept of objects that stand in the place of a god, things that stand in the place of men, parts that stand in the place of the whole: that is to say, objects whose origin and sense of substitution have been lost or concealed.”
Alfonso Maurizio Iacono (The History and Theory of Fetishism)

“Without wishing to detract from the grandeur of Pasteur’s tenets, we can say without hesitation that the germ theory of contagious disease has certainly owed much of its success to the fact that it embodies an ontological represen­tation of sickness.”
Georges Canguilhem (The Normal and the Pathological)

“The beginning and the end are there at once.”
Barnett Newman ( from Lane Slate’s film interview, speaking of his paintings)

“It ought to be impossible to talk about poetry or religion as though they were capable of giving “knowledge”… A poem…tells us, or should tell us, nothing.”
C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards (The Meaning of Meaning)

“Communication, computation and finance have already converged.”
Jonathan Beller (How We Short Capitalism – And Finance the Revolution, Coin Desk 2020)

There has been an ongoing tendency toward the pathologizing of normalcy. This happens in several different tiers. The most obvious is medicine, and perhaps that is the primary one from which all others are but branches. I recently saw that a Waitrose advertising campaign was criticized (intensely) because the man in the advert was ‘too’ tan.

Here we have an admittedly absurd example of a fetishizing of victimage. Because some people get skin cancers, allegedly because of too much sun, everyone should avoid appearing ‘too’ tan. But what of the health benefits of sunshine? (regulates your immune system, kills bacteria, Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, which is essential for bone health, and can prevent conditions like osteoporosis and osteopenia. Sunlight helps regulate your circadian rhythm and improves sleep, and fights off depression, and on and on). In fact excessive UVE exposure, which is accused of causing melanoma, actually accounts for an comparatively small percentage of diseases, including skin cancer.

Dennis Wirth-Miller (1915)

And yet, Waitrose ‘apologized’. Now, some of this is pure theatre. But this public theatre, adjudicated through Madison Avenue, and western media, still has meaning. And the spectacle of public apologies is a related and huge topic all on its own. The subject of scientific verification, of evidence, in medicine, is taken generally as an immutable signpost. All discussions refer back to ‘studies’ or just to ‘science’. This, of course, reached a new apex with the Covid narrative. (note, too, that when the appeal is to the authority of science, it is always anonymous and collective. ‘Experts are saying…’ etc. But when a dissenting scientist asks questions he is singled out individually. This gives the impression that the anonymous mass of expert authority is, indeed, a mass. A mythic collective, a mythic majority. )

Waitrose apologized because media is controlled by ruling class interests. Its a shadow play, a puppet play. As Cory Morningstar put it, ‘we live in a story written by the ruling class’.

But here arises another aspect of ruling class narrative. And it has to do with rationality, or reason. I noted last time that the societal assault on rationality was near completion. And in Academia one sees in certain authors the equivalence of sun-screen advertising: Timothy Bewes comes to mind. A professor at Brown (of course) Bewes sees little use for concepts such as reification, which he designates as both racist and imperialist.

“The charge haunting the concept of reification, which has led to its eclipse within philosophy, literary criticism and the social sciences, is that it originates in a Eurocentric perspective; that, in subordinating the concept of racism, say, to the logic of reification, the experíence of racism is stripped of its specificity and prevented from being a thing in itsell that, in the final analysis, the concept of reification is imperialist and even implicitly racist. ‘One must have tradition in oneself, to hate it properþ’, declared the great reification obsessive Theodor Adorno, apparently paving the way for the monopolization of Ideologiekritik by European bourgeois intellectuals…”
Timothy Bewes (Reification, or the Anxiety of Late Capitalism)

Abandoned insane Asylum, in Naples, Italy Photographer unknown.

The problem with this paragraph is that nowhere does Adorno surboniate racism to the logic of reification, or strip its specificity (sic). And the example given is simply a non sequitur. I guess I have to include it here…

“Late-comers and newcomers have an alarming allìniry to positivism, from Carnap-worshippers in India to the stalwart defenders of the German masters Matthias Grünewald and Heinrich Schütz. It would be poor psychology to assume that exclusion arouses only hate and resentment; it arouses too a Possessive, intolerant kind of love, and those whom repressive culture has held at a distance can easiÌy enough become its most diehard defenders.”
Theodor Adorno (Minima Moralia)

The problem is not Timothy Bewes, per se, who is not exactly seen as a major thinker. It is that he embodies in his books a kind of new provincialism, a digital provincialism. And a decided anti-Marxist bent. He is helping write the ruling class storyline that we all live in. And in so doing, and this is what I mean by provincialism, his must find signposts pointing past the enclosure of this class panopticon, without actually having to look toward what is beyond. And such banality reduces the importance of topics like imperialism and racism.

“Similarly, in the Eclipse of the Spectacle (1984) Crary tries to re-contextualize the Spectacle by looking at the dominance of television as a spectacular commodity and commodity producer. He argues that, since the mid 1970s, TV passes from being a medium of representation to being the centre of mass distribution and regulation of cultural commodities. In such a shift, Crary, similarly to Baudrillard (1994), considers the boundary between objective and subjective forms, between the Spectacle and the spectators, to be collapsing.”
Marco Briziarelli & Emiliana Armano (The Spectacle 2.0: Reading Debord in the Context of Digital Capitalism)

Robert C. Morgan

I think Crary is correct, but I’m not sure at this point if the boundary between and objective and subjective is collapsing. It’s actually possible the opposite is happening. But I understand the point, it’s just that such pronouncements tend to grant technology too much power.

Jonathan Beller, writing on Walter Benjamin in this quote below, in particular that Benjamin saw , as far back as WW2, the fact that an emerging media ecology (per Beller) would serve, basically, to protect existing property relations.

“Cinema, in particular, was forced to produce celebrities and spectacle rather than be used to connect people and enable them to see and understand one another as creators of value. Under this form of production, benighted individuals served as stand-ins for everyone else, allowing for greater control of people’s desires and, therefore, ability to act. Produced by the masses, celebrity is the alienated (and indeed expropriated) agency of the masses. Today, despite their promises to horizontalize communication and knowledge, both cinema and social media are already taken over by the star and influencer systems. Online identity is composed by collapsing and subsuming other people’s attention into one’s profile, in what could be seen as a fractalization of the type of fascism Benjamin described. ”
Jonathan Beller (Fascism on the Blockchain? The Work of Art in the Age of NFTs, Coin Desk 2021)

“Self-alienated mankind experiences its own destruction as aesthetic pleasure.”
Walter Benjamin (Epilogue to Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction)

Francis Bacon (Study for a Portrait of Van Gogh IV, 1957)

Beller has noted the non-representation of nearly everyone on the planet (in juxtaposition to the visible few), excised from this ruling class narrative. The formation of ‘celebrity’ is a consequence of this divide (this is related to the King’s two bodies idea. More below). And he is right when he sites the subsumption of culture by economy. But the problem, not just for Beller (who is a remarkably astute theorist) is an over-valuation of technology. For example…

“The rise of visual culture during the twentieth century, and the reorganization of the life world by that interface called the screen along with the calculus of the image, was a requisite step in the financialization of culture and its real subsumption by capital. The succeeding phase, for which digital culture (2.0) serves as both consequence and prerequisite, marks a heavy investment in the extension of quantitative logics into the micro- and nano-logical operations of the formerly analogue endeavors—all of which, including language, images, aesthetic form, philosophy, spirituality, the imagination and the like, fell under the auspices of the now defunct humanities and are today rigorously and almost inexorably submitted to background monetization.”
Jonathan Beller (Informatic Labor in the Age of Computational Capital, Lateral, Spring 2016)

Everything IS coopted, but some things are coopted differently than others.That so much reading today is done on screens is one aspect (more below). But it’s more that what defines ‘communication’ has changed, and most significantly the valuation of social relations has changed.And the manner of an aesthetic resistance (sic) it is important to describe and identify. Beller is absolutely right, though, when he says…“Since the 1930s, the Führer cult and the celebrity, as both artifact and means of expropriation have obviously ‘evolved,’ even as they provided the shape of things to come in what now appears as a kind of fractalization of celebrity.”

What I continue to call the ‘rehabilitation of fascism’. This has happened both intentionally, via marketing and government policy, but also unconsciously, or structurally, vis a vis digital technology. But it is not total, or absolute. Not nearly, in fact. It only appears to be because, again, ‘we live in a narrative written by the ruling class’. Beller is well aware of the counter force of aesthetic resistance.

“Since Benjamin, and with the passage through what was called “postmodernism” (a periodization that retrospectively can be understood to have marked the real subsumption of the cultural by the economic), we have learned to understand culture not merely as a medium of politics, but as a means of socio-economic production and reproduction as well as of potentially radical transformation.”
Jonathan Beller (Ibid)

Barnett Newman (detail, 1949)

There is also something that happens to language, to writing, when the discussion turns to things digital. One aspect is a missing class analysis of screen image. And here looms a complex discussion of what exactly would be analysed. The advertising agencies are studying all of this…

“You may have heard that digital readers don’t read–they scan. Some people even suggest that our brains have adapted to this new way of “reading,” meaning novelists should be alarmed. { }But what about digital marketers? Should we be alarmed, too? Well, there was a stat bobbing around recently that said humans now have an eight-second attention span, one second less than that of a goldfish. { } To “scan” means to skim and stop when something catches the eye, so our job as marketers is to catch eyes. And catching eyes is not only the job of designers, but also copywriters and analytics people.”
Coleen Preisner ( People Don’t Read, They Scan, ‘Trendline’)

“The analysis of the screen/image that at once serves as interface and engenders the production of both data and meta-data raises the question of what it might mean to seize the means of production, particularly when many if not most readers (here just like most readers and non-readers everywhere) are experiencing a crisis of control not just over the management of the (built) environment, the workplace and its infrastructure, but over their attention, interiority, self-image, imagination, social practices, relationships, and time. The survival of all of these forms of precarity, remunerated or not, is at once bound up with the seeming impenetrability of informatics and algorithmic governance while having become means of production for capital. As I hope will be apparent, the struggle over the means of production, includes the domain of socio-cultural analysis and conceptualization, as well as of culture and interiority, in addition to the more familiar notions of fixed capital.”
Jonathan Beller (Ibid)

One problem with discussions of this economizing of culture, the economic subsumption of culture, is that everyone (as I write this on my laptop) is abstracted by digital screen technics. Discourse, daily conversation even, is as if sucked into this digital meat grinder. Language feels strange, especially one’s own language. (much like when first using hearing aids, the wearer will say they cannot recognise their own voice. It suddenly feels strange and unfamiliar. Which is pure allegory).

“Like the ledgers of slave ships, the East India Company, and monopoly cartels, the metrics of dataveillance are precisely the metrics of valuation. They measure the very metabolism of a society organized by screens in a way that suggests that computational capital is also computational colonialism.”
Jonathan Beller (Ibid)

Nuno de Campos

And this brings me back to fetishization.

“When Marx spoke about commodity fetishism—a notion that would profoundly influence, among others, György Lukács, Walter Benjamin, Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno, and subsequently Baudrillard, and which would form the basis of Guy Debord’s theory—he was referring precisely to a process of substitution according to which commodities are endowed with qualities deriving from human relations. In the era of so-called globalization, this process of substitution has become so pronounced that it has assumed the perturbing and seductive features of a sublime omnipotence.”
Alfonso Maurizio Iacono (Ibid)

This is an aspect of projection, too, of course. The sublime omnipotence is seen in climate discourse, and it was seen to a degree in the Covid narrative. There is a religion of apocalypse today. But it is hidden or disguised. It is a reintroduction of Magic. It is also relevant to that Dialectic of Enlightenment. Balthazar Bekker, writing of *primitive* beliefs in pagan idols and Magic..

“…have every one their share in the Administration of the Universe, directing the affairs of Men under the name and Authority of the Soveraign God, and being as mediators between him and Men: They converse also with these last, who can, by their means, know and effect things above the power of Nature. This knowledge gives some the name of Diviners, and these Operations cause others to be called Magicians and Sorcerers; in consequence of which, all the effects we cannot give a Reason for, or find the cause of, are attributed to these Demons or inferior Gods.”
Balthazar Bekker (The World Bewitch’d or, An Examination of the Common Opinions Concerning Spirits: Their Nature, Power, Administration, and Operations. 1695)

Elliott Erwitt, photography (Colorado, 1955)

“Factory work is ‘the economic substructure of the ideological boredom of the upper classes’.”
Walter Benjamin (Arcades Project)

Benjamin, in 1937, discovered a text by Blanqui that complemented his analysis in the Arcades Project; that modernity was a kind of Hell. And Benjamin focused a lot of attention on boredom in all this. Peter Toohey wrote a book tracing the history of boredom (well, the history of the concept and its appearance). Seneca made note of it, comparing it to nausea. Plutarch too. Dickens popularized it in Bleak House. But boredom was a topic in religious communities throughout history. I digress. The point here is one of class. The ruling class are not bored in the same way as the factory worker. In any case the advent (interesting word, that) of digital technology reconfigures boredom. And it perhaps revealing to examine this as a way to understand the shifting relations to language, and more, to rationality in the contemporary world. The ruling class resent the fashions of the working class, even today. The ruling class, business or factory owners, appropriate, culturally, from their workers. They project boredom, unconsciously, onto their employees, to the class ‘beneath’ them. And the imaginaries of the ruling class are embedded in the narrative we must all live in and with.

The so called ‘attention economy’ is part of the ruling class narrative, an economy in which the interface with screens, often through social media, convert anyone using such platforms into content providers, where new information is manufactured. Countless theorists have gone into this in some detail (Beller among them). This newly manufactured information is valorized by the owners of these platforms. But something deeper and more insidious is going on. The sense of transformation that digital technology suggests is a seductive intoxicant that even its most severe critics all prey to.

“In the same period, the most dreaded adversary of this society, Blanqui, revealed to it, in his last piece of writing, the terrifying features of this phantasmagoria. Humanity figures there as damned. Everything new it could hope for turns out to be a reality that has always been present; and this newness will be as little capable of furnishing it with a liberating solution as a new fashion is capable of rejuvenating society. Blanqui’s cosmic speculation conveys this lesson: that humanity will be prey to a mythic anguish so long as phantasmagoria occupies a place in it. “
Walter Benjamin (Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century; Expose of 1939, Arcades Project)

Aurora consurgens (Text by Thomas Aquinas), early sixteenth century, manuscript.

Benjamin called it phantasmagoria, Debord forty years later dubbed it ‘the spectacle’. Cutting across all this is the idea of progress. For there is always this idea of how to look backward and how to look forward. Benjamin says each age dreams the next age. But in so doing the subject dreams the past, as well. And new technology ushers in a sense of progress. Even if debated, even if people ask is this really progress? There remains a quality of progress that tinges everything. Progress has tributaries like ‘speed’. When the age dreams of digital tech, it also dreams of mass instantaneous computation. The digital age dreams of the past as S L O W. But the spectacle, as with phantasmagoria, transmits ideological data. Or rather it renders all data ideological. Its mass manufacturing ideology. And the ideologies it produces are NOT new. They only feel new. And to understand how this is a part of the larger assault on rationality, it is important to recall what Susan Buck-Morss wrote of the Arcades Project…”

“But perhaps most of all, this is the story of the interpretive process itself.”
Susan Buck-Morss (Dialectic of Seeing)

“…to seize the essence of history, it suffices to compare Herodotus and the morning newspaper.’ What is expressed here is a feeling of vertigo characteristic of the nineteenth century’s conception of history. It corresponds to a viewpoint according to which the course of the world is an endless series of facts congealed in the form of things. The characteristic residue of this conception is what has been called the “History of Civilization;’ which makes an inventory, point by point, of humanity’s life forms and creations. The riches thus amassed in the aerarium of civilization henceforth appear as though identified for all time. This conception of history minimizes the fact that such riches owe not only their existence but also their transmission to a constant effort of society-an effort, moreover, by which these riches are strangely altered.”
Walter Benjamin (Ibid)

Hexagram mandela,Manly Palmer Hall alchemical manuscripts, late 18th century-

Benjamin’s never completed Arcades Project (never really started, actually) marked a shift in his thinking. There is no philosopher in the 20th century so difficult to summarize as Benjamin. From his Origins of German Tragic Drama to his study of Goethe, to notable essays like The Storyteller, Benjamin seemed to write off his muse, of the moment, whether Scholem, or Brecht, or Adorno. The Arcades marks the culmination of his Adorno period. Except it was never really started. What you have are notes, commentaries (for his own use) and letters to friends, as well as snippets of ideas, comments, questions. And even at this, it is a remarkable assembly of material.

“The Paris Passages built in the early nineteenth century were the origin of the modern commercial arcade. Surely these earliest, ur-shopping malls would seem a pitifully mundane site for philosophical inspiration. But it was precisely Benjamin’s point to bridge the gap between everyday experience and traditional academic concerns, actually to achieve that phenomenological hermeneutics of the profane world which Heidegger only pretended.”
Susan Buck Morss (Dialectics of Seeing)

This is an excavation of early industrial society, an origin story in a sense. And perhaps that story ends with Debord’s Spectacle.

“The whole life of those societies in which modern conditions of production prevail presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. All that once was directly lived has become mere representation”.
Guy Debord (Society of the Spectacle)

Louis Ducos du Hauron, photography (Trichrome 1876)

For Benjamin, evident in his earliest work, was a desire to make allegory actual. Objects, the detritus of industrial society, the stuff of obsolescence, become receptacles of meaning, as if history is congealed in these everyday objects.

“The allegorical mode allows Benjamin to make visibly palpable the experience of a world in fragments, in which the passing of time means not progress but disintegration. “
Susan Buck-Morss (Ibid)

Benjamin was a severe critic of the idea of progress. For him myth relied on or bestowed on history a sense of the inevitable. Progress was its inversion. But also without a possibility for human emancipation. For Benjamin, Darwinism was an inverted myth where progress was automatic. And here enters the idea of fetish. And looms as important in delineating the transformation (if that’s the right word) from modernity to the digital age. In the notes on the Arcades Project Benjamin suggested that display, the crowd as spectators of commodity splendors marked a new epoch:

“But for Benjamin, whose point of departure was a philosophy of historical experience rather than an economic analysis of capital, the key to the new urban phantasmagoria was not so much the commodity-in-the market as the commodity-on-display, where exchange value no less than use value lost practical meaning, and purely representational value came to the fore.”
Susan Buck-Morss (Ibid)

High prices enhanced the commodity symbolism, and when newness entered the discourse, Benjamin suggested that now history itself became a commodity. Everything took on qualities of fashion.

Eugene Atget, photography (Versailles, The Orangerie Staircase,1901)

The ascension of visuality then is tied into the ascension of commodity capitalism. And this makes sense. Just as later the billboard, and more, the shop displays in retail windows were there for those ‘driving’ past and not walking past. Signage became enclosed with an automobile universe, and that meant enclosed as well within an ideology of speed. But speed is also tied into ‘newness’. One thing this early ‘spectacle’ did was to disguise class relations. There is an odd contradiction buried in here, though. The spectator him or herself is being seen. This knowledge leads to the performance of self. And that performance is going to, usually, want to obscure class, unless it is the ruling class who will want to display their wealth (or display not caring about their wealth).This culture of the promenade is one of endless secret codes and the visual equivalent of a secret handshake. Eventually the auto cruising scene of southern california in the 50, 60s and even the early 70s was just the enhanced promenade.

“Haussmann’s slum “clearance” simply broke up working-class neighborhoods and moved the eyesores and health hazards of poverty out of central Paris and into the suburbs. His system of public parks and “pleasure grounds” provided the illusion of social equality, while behind the scenes his building projects initiated a boom of real estate speculation whereby the government expanded the private coffers of capitalists with public funds. Railways penetrated to the heart of Paris, and railroad stations took over the function of city gates.”
Susan Buck-Morss (Ibid)

Haussmann’s redesign (demolition) of Paris is today replicated in cities where the Olympics take place, or the World Cup. These are almost mini-versions of Haussmann’s project, but the symbolism is the same, albeit with a strange impermanence.

“The true goal of Haussmann’s works was the securing of the city against civil war [ … ]. The width of the avenues was to prohibit the erection [of street barricades], and new streets were to provide the shortest routes between the barracks and the working-class sections. Contemporaries christened the undertaking “strategic beautification. “
Walter Benjamin (Ibid)

Dorothea Lange, photography (US 99, Kern County, 1938)

Today the promenade takes place on smart-phones. There is developing an odd lack of *movement* in the bourgeois class, added to, of course by the lockdowns. Literal movement outside of their area of residence. This is another allegory in a sense, because class asencion is ever more restricted. In fact the entire pandemic narrative (an essential aspect of the ruling class narrative) has been one with how Benjamin saw Haussmann’s demolition of Paris. The underclass today, increasingly without jobs, are being prohibited from nearly all non essential movement, if only by the cost of gasoline and, now, with the Ukraine proxy war, by food shortages. Manufacturing scarcity is a hallmark of Capitalism in crisis.

But there is another allegory that has found traction in media. (shit, maybe media helped originate it, they have certainly popularized it). And that is transgenderism. And I mention this because it reverts to back to questions of consciousness, AI, and self. Or rather, it tries to become part of a more significant question or set of questions. Joanna Williams has a very good overview :

“Whereas the gay rights movement was about demanding more freedom from the state for people to determine their sex lives unconstrained by the law, the transgender movement demands the opposite: it calls for recognition and protection from the state in the form of intervention to regulate the behaviour of those outside of the identity group. Whereas in the past, to be radical was to demand greater freedom from the state and institutional authority, today to be radical is to demand restrictions on free expression in the name of preventing offence.”
Joanna Williams (The Corrosive Effect of Transgender Ideology)

The real victims of homo-phobic or trans-phobic prejudice will be invisible, the manufacture of transgender celebrity will simply be monitizing gender, not to mention the inherent misogyny in this appropriation of, and performance of, being a woman. The misogyny relates to several other threads in marketing that are related to the myth of overpopulation, and more, to, again, climate. As reproductive rates drop across the world there is concurrent stigmatizing of child birth.

Bo Bartlett

“While admitting the importance of objective methods of observation and analysis in pathology, it does not seem possible that we can speak with any correct logic of “objective pathology.” Certainly a pathology can be methodical, critical and fortified experimentally. It can be called objective with reference to the physiCian who practices it. But the pathologist’s intention is not that his object be a matter without subjectivity. One can carry out objectively, that is impartially, research whose object cannot be conceived and constructed without being related to a positive and negative qualification, whose object is not so much a fact as a value.”
George Canguilhem (Ibid)

The co-opting of movements happens so quickly today that is almost passes unnoticed, really. The most vulnerable in the trans community, the homeless, often prostituting themselves of necessity (and who are the customers exactly? Many condemning them in public statements) are outside the discourse. The parody of ‘family friendly’ drag queen shows speaks to the kitschification of what is already kitsch. Camp becomes hyper camp, becomes simply the strip mined white Christian soccer mom ethos applied to something transgressive at its inception. These movements are quickly enclosed within a western capitalist narrative, marketed and neutered. The drag phenomenon, historically, was a kind of parody. Meant as a subversive parody. Today the subversive aspect is blended into the self parodying soccer mom who sits applauding this parody of family friendly show. And that elusive middle class (usually if not always white) was itself a myth. But the idea of transgression is worth a word or two, also.

The transgressive, as an idea, has always had a seductive allure, an appeal that built upon things lost, and regretted. There is also, I think always, something of a sado/masochistic nature to transgression.

Jacques Gautier d’Agoty (mezzotint, 1746)

“A quarter of a century ago we discussed ‘society’ as a reality with confidence; as recently as 1990 we considered ideas like a ‘common culture’ without caution. Today, in the wake of a series of debates, we cannot even pronounce such holisms without fear of intellectual reprisals on the basis of epistemological imperialism. ‘Identity politics’ has become a new currency with different, and increasingly minority, groups claiming a right to speak and equivalence of significance. Perpetually fresh questions are raised about the relationship between the core of social life and the periphery, the centre and the margins, identity and difference, the normal and the deviant, and the possible rules that could conceivably bind us into a collectivity. “
Chris Jenks (Transgression)

Jenks notes cogently that stepping outside moral restraint is now privatized. This is true because the ruling class narrative has spent a good deal of effort on erasing the collective. The narrative we live in no longer recognizes sub culture OR transgression. The transgressive is diluted, and repackaged, it is made generic. So one sees, in photos, swastikas on the helmets of Ukrainian soldiers –yet the reporter and paper involved ignore such once transgressive symbols. And as education is inexorably worn away the audience, the public, no longer know, or no longer trust what they once knew to be outside the acceptable. And looming above all this is the finitude of death.

I was reading an article the other day, in some lay science zine, and it considered the new theories of when the Sun will die. And how long before it dies will it expand and incinerate earth. Hundreds of billions of years as I recall, but still. Now, this also reminds me of Nietzsche and his (now shlock) remark that God is dead. And if one considers that for a moment, the intensification of marketing and the consolidation of media, the new anti democratic edicts from various governments, and you see an explanation of sorts for the obsessive and disproportionate emotional intensity directed as the new lepers of the health terror (non vaccinated, non mask wearing, anyone who questions the vaccine passports etc). It is religious. God is dead, long live God. A newish ersatz God lives on social media virtue signalling. The public has turned to virtual lynching as a new form of veneration.

“The transgression is a component of the rule. Seen in this way, excess not an abhorration, nor a luxury, it is rather a dynamic force in cultural reproduction – it prevents stagnation by breaking the rule and it ensures stability by reaffirming the rule. Transgression is not the same as disorder; it opens up chaos and reminds us of the necessity of order. But the problem remains. We need to know the collective order, to recognise the edges in order to transcend them.”
Chris Jenks (Ibid)

Ferdinando Scianna, photography (Sicily, 1987)

There seems to another propaganda project, though it might well be simply the consequence of decades of indoctrination and not a marketing idea at all. And that is the selling of oblivion. That sperm counts are so low mankind is doomed. Climate alarm is obviously part of this. And yes, it is exactly in contradiction to the stigmaizing of childbirth. But the current ‘assisted suicide’ government campaign in Canada is part as well. That self harm statistics remain high across the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Europe is indicative of this normalizing of self elimination altogether. Self mutilation, children approved for various gender reassignment treatments, hormonal and surgical, suggests another branch of this general nihilism. Now, is the marketing quotient of this cruelty and despair aware at all of the implications? Is there a de-population agenda at work? Well, eugenicists like King Charles certainly have an agenda. But one register of this oblivion idea is found in zombie films, and post apocalyptic road movies. Zombies are perhaps the most overdetermined symbol in history, but the TV franchise The Walking Dead added the idea of road movie (so did, actually, Cormac McCarthy). And so the ‘freedom’ of the open road, the American dream, is now also an escape genre. These themes have been around for a long while in the Western world. Films about a planned escape from prison anticipated the ‘year zero’ walk toward redemption. The Walking Dead is really just The Pilgrim’s Progress but with zombies.

“Nihilism chiefly signals a crisis of authority. In the wake of the death of God, humanity seeks new idols who will command and provide a new metaphysical foundation for morals. In Zarathustra Nietzsche dramatises the predicament in which modern human beings find themselves, and shows both the necessity and the impossibility of instigating a new legislation. How can new values be fashioned and legislated when the transcendental basis which would support them has been undermined? In the age of nihilism, not only is it imperative to rethink the value of truth, but equally the value of morality, of justice, and of law.”
Keith Ansell-Pearson (An Introduction to Nietzsche as a Political Thinker)

Geneviève Asse

Baudelaire, Melville in The Confidence Man, Poe certainly, particularly in Masque of the Red Death (a story I have written about before on this blog and which I find of singular importance and resonance). And maybe in McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, there is a figure that has a particular American quality. The forgotten America of slavery and Puritans, of eugenics and lynching post cards. And this figure, this character, is very hard to describe. He (it is always a he) appears in westerns and noir both. It is realized to a degree in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. In a sense, this character is always already dead. And this figure is something that haunts American culture, but is rarely realized. There are a dozen later Hollywood versions, but all of them shallow and infantile. And it is interesting in a sense that the fascination with ‘true crime’, with films and books about serial killers, from Son of Sam to Ted Bundy to the Green River killer — is almost the residue, the after thoughts that came from not realizing the actual implications of this character. For Jeff Dahmer is the prosaic version of something with more historical meaning, for this character is a kind of Golem, a Protestant/Puritan version.

“In 1714, the Christian Orientalist Johann Jacob Schudt, drawing on Arnold’s letter and other sources, compiled a lineage of tales concerning the golem. His aim was to prove that Jews performed sorcery and abused the name of God. Schudt’s text served as the basis for Jacob Grimm’s golem tale of 1808, a rendition that inspired the rewriting of the story among a number of Christian German nineteenth-century Romantics, such as Ludwig Achim von Arnim and E. T. A. Hoffmann. In Grimm’s succinct version, the Polish Jews who create the golem verbally pronounce the explicit name of God (“Schemhamphoras”) in order to bring the anthropoid to life, and they use it as a servant until it grows threateningly large and ultimately crushes its creator.”
Maya Barzilai (Golem; Modern Wars and their Monsters)

Transgression is not nihilism. It is closer I think to taboo. The American Golem is a close relative of the original. This Protestant ‘Golem’ that I find casts a dark shadow over all of U.S. history, is tied to the original, it was carried to the US on slave ships, and probably even earlier. And both Golems are always a projection of the allure and repulsion tied into technology.

Robert Bubel

“When provided for in advance, [political] disorders can be cured; but if you wait until they are upon you, medicine is too late – the disease has become incurable. It is the same with pulmonary tuberculosis: doctors say that it is easy to cure in its incipient stage, but hard to recognize; yet as time goes on, if not recognized and treated at the outset, it becomes easy to recognize and hard to cure.”
Machiavelli (The Prince)

But the Golem is also the spectre of regression, of anti-progress. And yet it is not quite barbarism, it is something archaic that is intuited as primordial. It is that darkness you see out of the corner of your eye, or that society sees; that sense that nothing is quite as placid as it seems. It is there, certainly, in Nazi atrocities, in Hiroshima, in Fallujah, at Sabra and Shatila. In that sense it is the originary form of guilt. It is related to Kali, too. Or Durga perhaps.

It is interesting to look at Freud’s Totem and Taboo today, a book constantly maligned over the last twenty years. It was the book Freud was most proud of, in fact. But that fourth chapter looms in today’s intellectual climate as simply too contrary to political/cultural tastes. It might be interesting to imprint Benjamin’s ideas on allegory over the Freudian notion of the primal horde and his thinking of rivalries. If the allegory takes this idea of displacing the patriarch in way which reduces the sexual, then it is a strange critique of capitalism. If the father is a CEO, then the sons are searching for respect, or stature in society. So described, this is a ghost world. Perhaps,though, in the digital age this is found outside the waning familial ties. And in a way this was Lacan’s reading of Totem and Taboo.

“God is dead, nothing is permitted any more.”
Jacques Lacan (Lecture of March 9th 1960 at the Faculté universitaire Saint-Louis)

“The whole of life in our time is devoted to organizing necessary massacres, some visible, others invisible. Whoever dares to revolt in the name of life is crushed in the name of that verylife. Industrial civilization, like the civilization of war, feeds
on carrion. Cannon-fodder, and machine-fodder. Blood in the fields and blood in the streets; blood in the tent and blood in the factory. Life can only rise higher by so to speak discharging its ballast, a part of itself, as it moves on.”

Giovanni Papini (Lacerba, newspaper, 1901. Quoted in Enzo Traverso’s Origins of Nazi Violence)

Thomas Pollock Anshutz (Ironworkers Noontime) 1880

“The return to symbolism would be the end of the Protestant era, the end of Protestant literalism. Symbolism in its pre-Protestant form consisted of typological, figural, allegorical interpretations, of both scripture and liturgy.”
Norman O. Brown (Love’s Body)

The return to allegory. That was Benjamin. And contrary to the ‘vulgar Marxists’ I know, this is not out of line with Marx. Benjamin was the prophetic end of the Frankfurt School. His Marxism was always coloured by his kabbalistic tendencies. Protestant literalism is univocalistic. One clear meaning for all particular things. Norman O. Brown wrote the following fifty years ago, and its remarkably resonant today:

“There is also the new hierarchy of scribes, controlling the interpretation, the higher scholarship. Since the one single and solid meaning does not in fact reveal itself, the commentary which does establish it becomes the higher revelation. The apparent deference of the expert to the text is a fake.”
Norman O. Brown (Ibid)

The theme here, then, is the ‘hidden dieties’ of contemporary digital surveillance capitalism. Deities at odds with the status quo, though the practitioners of these secular (masked sacredness) texts and codes may not know it.

“…what really happened; *Wie es eigentlich gewesen ist.* Ranke’s phrase, without his respect for the mystery of individuality, was what the American professors brought back from Germany; to become the motor of the Ph.D. factory, mechanical literalism in action.”
Norman O. Brown (Ibid)

Operation Paperclip. The above is a paragraph from O. Brown that I’ve never seen quoted. And yet this is what Beller mentioned above, it is, too, the rehabbing of Heidegger, it is Disneyland, and rocket trips for billionaires. The occult of the Fuhrer is really just mechanical literalism in a nostalgic costume.

Snapshot by unknown soldier. Acetic, Calcutta street, 1926.

“With its industrial methods of execution Auschwitz thus presents essential affinities with a factory, as is quite clear from its architecture, with its chimneys and sheds aligned in symmetrical rows, and its position in the center of an industrial zone and
important railway junction. Production and extermination are indistinguishable, as if massacre (in the gas chambers of Birkenau) was simply a particular form of production.”

Enzo Traverso (Ibid)

Thus, converging are financialization, quantitative logics of monitization, fetishization, and protestant literalism. Set against allegory, the Golem, transgression, and taboo. AI was at its inception a form of Golem. Everything from Frankenstein to Terminator is another story of the Golem. The logics of data collection, of the industrializing and monetizing of life ends at the railroad junction of Auschwitz. Everything of the current green capitalism is still tied to that, for extraction of minerals, and metals is built on the same system. If European Jews, and Roma worked as slaves to build Nazi rockets for Von Braun’s dream of conquest, so today do African worker/slaves mine for the rockets of Bezos and Musk, and for the Dept. of Defense. Guest workers (sic) died in the hundreds to build the stadiums for the World Cup. Qatar bought the Cup from its colonial masters of a mere two hundred years earlier. Less, really.

Taboo is a word which originated with in Polysnesia, the Tongan language, or Proto Polynesian, and Hawaiian. It meant outcast, outlaw, as it were. The Romans used the word *sacer* to denote much the same thing. And *tabu* became *taboo*.

“What had to remain in the collective unconscious as a monstrous hybrid of human and animal, divided between the forest and the city — the werewolf — is, therefore, in its origin the figure of the man who has been banned from the city. That such a man is defined as a wolf-man and not simply as a wolf (the expression caput lupinum has the form of a juridical statute) is decisive here. The life of the bandit, like that of the sacred man, is not a piece of animal nature without any relation to law and the city. It is, rather, a threshold of indistinction and of passage between animal and man, physis and nomos, exclusion and inclusion: the life of the bandit is the life of the loup garou, the werewolf, who is precisely neither man nor beast, and who dwells paradoxically within both while belonging to neither. Only in this light does the Hobbesian mythologeme of the state of nature acquire its true sense. We have seen that the state of nature is not a real epoch chronologically prior to the foundation of the City but a principle internal to the City, which appears at the moment the City is considered tanquam dissoluta, “as if it were dissolved” (in this sense, therefore, the state of nature is something like a state of exception). Accordingly, when Hobbes founds sovereignty by means of a reference to the state in which “man is a wolf to men,” homo hominis lupus, in the word “wolf ” (lupus) we ought to hear an echo of the wargus and the caput lupinem of the laws of Edward the Confessor: at issue is not simply fera bestia and natural life but rather a zone of indistinction between the human and the animal, a werewolf, a man who is transformed into a wolf and a wolf who is transformed into a man — in other words, a bandit, a homo sacer.”
Giorgio Agamben (Homo Sacer)

The Golem and Leviathan.

The transgressive is never family friendly. If it passes as such, it is not transgressive. Today this liminal area of the officially banned is where the actual family will be rescued. The outcasts and outlaws, the criminals and condemned, are the carriers of the seeds of transformation. Revanchist fascism is found in all of cancel culture, in all virtue signaling. The Golem of technological fetishizing is anti-human, is finally, anti life.

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