The Grand Inquisitor in the Bedroom

Miron Zownir, photography.

“The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance.”
Karl Marx (The German Ideology)

“The faculty of using my resources well diminishes when their number grows.”
Robert Bresson (Notes of a Cinematographer)

“Yes, we worship the idea of the “self-made man” — otherwise we’d go on strike against Bill Gates having all that money! We worship that idea. We vote for Perot. We think he’s a great, marvelous, honest man. We send money to his campaign, even though he is one of the richest capitalists in our culture. Imagine, sending money to Perot! It’s unbelievable, yet it’s part of that worship of individuality.”
James Hillman (Interview with Scott London)

There was a statistic last month that child literacy in Canada had dropped 30% in the last decade. There was another statistic regarding mental health. Teen suicide had risen exponentially.

“Suicide is 2nd cause of premature death in children & kids ages 10 to 24, and top cause of death among teenagers ages 13 to 14.”
Telesur English (April 2023)

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, one of four Americans took antidepressants within the last thirty days.

From the Harvard Health Blog {of Harvard Medical School}…
“According to a report released yesterday by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the rate of antidepressant use in this country among teens and adults (people ages 12 and older) increased by almost 400% between 1988–1994 and 2005–2008.”

This last report is from 2011, but nothing suggests the trend has changed. Four hundred percent.

Mark Fisher wrote in 2012, in an op ed in The Guardian on suicide and Calum’s List, a webpage dedicated to poverty and tracking suicide…

“But there’s a more general problem here. Some of the right wing commentators condemning Calum’s List have deplored the “politicisation” of mental illness, but the problem is exactly the opposite. Mental illness has been depoliticised, so that we blithely accept a situation in which depression is now the malady most treated by the NHS. The neoliberal policies implemented first by the Thatcher governments in the 1980s and continued by New Labour and the current coalition have resulted in a privatisation of stress. “
Mark Fisher (The Guardian, July 2012)

Lars Tunbjoerk, photography

The first impulse most have when reading these statistics is to ask *why*? Or to question the veracity of the statistics. Neither is, probably, very useful. And I say that because nearly everything being presented begs multiple questions. The overriding reality is that western society, or at least North America and the UK, are very unhappy places. Are places of enormous daily suffering. Mental suffering. Much of it is, I would argue, of a low key and cumulative variety. The United States also is home to a mind boggling number of mass shootings. Which is not so low key, but forms the other branch of self hatred and despair.


I have written a lot recently, here, about technology. About the intellectual origins of tech, and the cultural and ideological foundations of innovation. And I have written a lot about propaganda. But here I want to ask questions about the psychological implications of advanced capitalism, and of the so called *digital age*, and about notions of ideology in general. And how all of this is complicit in creating what is being described as a mental health crisis. Of course I am being as guilty here as anyone else in such a framing. Almost any approach is going to find a itself a reductive frame. And this is because the reality of contemporary western society is one that really demands the closest possible reading. And because these topics; guns, violence, self harm, alienation, loneliness, are all hugely overdetermined. There are multiple truths about suicide, for example. But more on that below.

The difficulty begins with language. Today anyone attempting an examination, an autopsy, really, of the violence and misery of the West is going to have to use concepts and language forged in meaning by the very forces that created this crisis. And one can start with the term *crisis*. The Oxford Dictionary defines *crisis* as: “a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger”. That seems alright. Although there is a secondary echo to this word that implies imminent catastrophe. And as I write this it occurs to me that the contemporary (last thirty years) propaganda machine of government engages in a constant dissemination of fear mongering that promises exactly this catastrophe. We live in a propagandized *now*, one that carries, intentionally, a quality of apocalyptic doom.

Merrill Wagner, (1988,
rust preventive paint on steel)

The twin propaganda theme is that of sentimental optimism. The smiley face and happy ending of entertainment. I saw the other day a clip of Springsteen and his band with Michelle Obama joining in (and Kate Capshaw, aka Mrs Spielberg) on stage (in Barcelona, I believe). I watched perhaps two seconds of this and thought, here we have the cringe worthy bread & circuses of American political life. (A note, too, on South Korea’s new fascist president singing American Pie, acapella in the Oval Office. At least that had a sort of amusing John Waters quality). This is all propaganda, and it is the flip side of a coin which shows giant asteroids hurtling toward earth (or computer generated graphics of rising sea levels, or galactic size black holes, etc).

“Kant’s “formula of humanity” enjoins rational beings to treat one another never merely as means but always also as ends in themselves: ‘Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in any other person, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means.’ Correlatively, human beings command dignity, respect and autonomy, aspects of a core Enlightenment moral attitude which, however much it falls short in practice, is associated with hallmark liberal political norms such as equal treatment under the law, civil liberties, religious tolerance, non-exploitation and personal autonomy—the latter in areas as varied as limits on surveillance and reproductive rights.”
David J. Blacker (What’s Left of the World)

“Gramsci offers a sustained assault on the epistemologies of economism, positivism, and the spurious search for scientific guarantees. They were founded, he argues, on the falsely positivistic model that the laws of society They were founded, he argues, on the falsely positivistic model that the laws of society and human historical development can be modelled directly on what social scientists conceived (falsely, as we now know) as the objectivity of the laws governing the natural scientific world. Terms like regularity, necessity, Law, determination, he argues, are not to be thought of as a derivation from natural science but rather as an elaboration of concepts born on the terrain of political economy.”
Stuart Hall (Gramsci’s Relevance for the Study of Race and Ethnicity)

These two quotes feel naturally linked. Kant laid out a moral attitude that has been preserved, at least as an ideal, born from Enlightenment. It is foundational to nearly all western notions of civil liberties and ethical values. The second from Stuart Hall’s excellent monograph on Gramsci. It was part of Gramsci’s late attack on vulgar Marxism and the reductionist economism of same. It reads today like a critique of contemporary scientism.

Mihai Barabancea, photography.

“As Marx said, every child knows that a social formation which did not reproduce the conditions of production at the same time as it produced would not last a year.”
Louis Althusser (Lenin and Philosophy and other essays)

Now, this is a basic formula of Marxism. Reproducing the means of production. Included in this, but in a far more contested fashion is the reproduction of labour. In other words the laborer who sells his labour must be able to feed himself and his family, educate his children (so to create a further supply of labour) and house himself.

“Remember that this quantity of value (wages) necessary for the reproduction of labour power is determined not by the needs of a ‘biological’ Guaranteed Minimum Wage (Salaire Minimum Interprofessionnel Garanti) alone, but by the needs of a historical minimum (Marx noted that English workers need beer while French proletarians need wine)—i.e. a historically variable minimum. I should also like to point out that this minimum is doubly historical in that it is not defined by the historical needs of the working class ‘recognized’ by the capitalist class, but by the historical needs imposed by the proletarian class struggle (a double class struggle: against the lengthening of the working day and against the reduction of wages).”
Louis Althusser (Ibid)

Of course the education aspect becomes more complicated. It happens outside the reproduction of the means of production. There are few apprenticeships today, and in theory no more slavery. Now one could make a case that a metaphorical slavery very much exists, and it is a metaphor with a disturbing stubbornness of literality.

Trak Wendisch

“To put this more scientifically, I shall say that the reproduction of labour power requires not only a reproduction of its skills, but also, at the same time, a reproduction of its submission to the rules of the established order, i.e. a reproduction of submission to the ruling ideology for the workers, and a reproduction of the ability to manipulate the ruling ideology correctly for the agents of exploitation and repression, so that they, too, will provide for the domination of the ruling class ‘in words’.
In other words, the school (but also other State institutions like the Church, or other apparatuses like the Army) teaches ‘know-how’, but in forms which ensure subjection to the ruling ideology or the mastery of its ‘practice’.”

Louis Althusser (Ibid)

What children learn in school is the reproduction of the ruling ideology.

Now, this is all pretty basic Marx. And Marx also described society in terms of structure and superstructure. The latter was the economic base, the productive forces. The former is divided into political, and ideological. The ideological might be described as that religious, ethical, and moral. Although it is a bit more complicated than that.

Following Althusser here, this idea of base and superstructure is a metaphor. A spatial metaphor. And while the superstructure operates with a certain degree of autonomy, it is in the final instance dependent on the base. And this tension or relation is the site of endless amounts of theoretical argument. The ideological state apparatus is worth noting here, too. For this is embodied in institutions. And the contemporary landscape is one in which institutional growth has been massive, as has the erosion of institutional legitimacy.

Robert Fludd (History of Two Worlds, illustration, 1617)

Now there is another point here, which will take us back to teen suicide and mass antidepressant use, and that is the manner of violence (or repression) exercised by the state and by institutions. The state is essentially above the law. And it has a legal monopoly on direct violence. But the institutions of capitalism are all ideologically infused with discipline and repression. (see Wilhelm Reich). And the bourgeoisie reinforce the ruling ideology, but in a myriad of ways. And probably increasingly in a somewhat confused and contradictory way. The ruling class is unified. But they are not monolithic. And the exercise of authority now bleeds directly into ideology, and I suppose it’s an open question if it wasn’t always blurring whatever edges there were to separate them.

“Gramsci reminds us that a ‘crisis’, if it is organic, can last for decades. It is not a static phenomenon but rather, one marked by constant movement, polemics, contestations, etc., which represent the attempt by different sides to overcome or resolve the crisis and to do so in terms which favour their long term hegemony.The theoretical danger, Gramsci argues, lies in presenting causes as immediately operative which in fact only operate indirectly, or in asserting that the immediate causes are the only effective ones. The first leads to an excess of economism; the second to an excess of ideologism.”
Stuart Hall (Ibid)

Louis Althusser

“Ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence.”
Louis Althusser (Ibid)

Andrew Ryder, writing of Althusser, vis a vis ideology:

“From his { Althusser } point of view, even homeschooling operates as an extension of the state. How is this possible? According to his argument, the state is not a discrete institution or bureaucratic entity but rather an ensemble of all practices that maintain the potential for the reproduction of relations of production. This means that the most paranoid Tea Partier, the angriest secessionist libertarian, or the most die-hard Randian is actually a servant of the state who extend its power ideologically and perhaps even its repressive force insofar as they can function as part of an armed paramilitary militia. This is a very counterintuitive thesis to North Americans, but it might have validity. For example, Fox News, which is certainly private media, nothing like public television, and maintains a strongly “oppositional” status toward the Democratic Party, but functions nonetheless as a clear organ of state propaganda, even more so than state-owned media in other countries. Or, one can consider various religious groupings , such as evangelicals, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which are also independent yet simultaneously act as an adjunct to state initiatives.”
Andrew Ryder (International Socialist Review #99)

Springsteen and Michelle are reproducing the ideology of the ruling class. So is virtually every single thing that is produced within the Hollywood system. But this complaint goes much further. Again, Jonathan Beller is very useful on the evolution of a technology of escape (sic). Of course it cannot be escaped. The innovations in technology were driven by ideology as much as anything else. Horkheimer said the culture industry was like psychoanalysis in reverse. And here again, as I keep saying, everything is allegory.

Lenin noted that a false consciousness accompanies the ideological apparatus of capitalism, and at his time the worry was that workers could not see beyond improving their hourly pay. The idea that you can reform capitalism is false consciousness. Contemporary digital propaganda, or the electronic propaganda apparatus has, of course, saturated daily life far more than newspapers or even radio and film. There has been a sort of flatlining of all distinctions, today. Both the manufacturing of propaganda and culture overall is now impossible to distinguish from an Ikea instruction sheet, or an architectural blueprint. Determining what is satire or parody has become impossible. And this saturation has contributed to the loss of fine art, and the lessening of of the importance of culture overall. And the very fact of this saturation is now validated as an inherent good. It substitutes for art and culture. It is a society of data acolytes. It is also a society, and this is one of the biggest changes over the last sixty years, in which OCD aspects of digital tech have accrued an aggregate value. Repetition is not just repetition today. The compulsive nature of social media platforms, if nothing else, is now incorporated into a value system that normalizes the psychopathy (or if that’s too strong a claim, the neurotic).

Jeffrey Silverthorne, photography.

And, the audience, as it were, for Ikea manuals, or crayon coloring books, has seemingly lost all capacity to ‘read’ the ideological dimension of the world around them. Hence the strange disorienting cult-like response to, say, Tucker Carlson, or Zelensky, or, well, Michelle Obama (let alone the vaccine mandates, social distancing, mask wearing etc). Debord suggested a generalized autism blanketed the society of the late 20th century, and I think this is true, but there is also now, in the 21st, a sort of generalized borderline personality disorder. The inability to integrate opposites. And so, the public either accepts a degree (often a large degree) of cognitive dissonance, or it simply ignores it. (it is safe to say that such stuff can not completely be ignored. It is repressed and becomes a source of prolonged tension).

The site of resistance, though, is still within the ideological apparatus. Now, Althusser points out an important paradox, in a sense, when discussing ideology. I am not entirely sure I fully agree, but his point is well taken anyway. It is very easy, he notes, to turn this spatial template on its head. Thinking that the base rests on the superstructure.

“ For, instead of saying: ‘Fight false ideas, destroy the false ideas you have in your heads – the false ideas with which the ideology of the dominant class pulls the wool over your eyes, and replace them with accurate ideas that will enable you to join the revolutionary class’s struggle to end exploitation and the repression that sustains it!’, Action declares: ‘Get rid of the cop in your head!’ This slogan, which deserves a place in the Museum of the History of Masterpieces of Theoretical and Political Error, quite simply replaces ideas, as is obvious enough, with the cop. That is, it replaces the role of subjection played by bourgeois ideology with the repressive role played by the police.”
Louis Althusser (On the Reproduction of Capitalism)

This is not to say the Grand Inquisitor is NOT in your bedroom. I suspect at this point he is. And it is interesting Althusser mentions Plato…

“Plato already knew this. He foresaw that cops (‘Guardians’) would be needed to monitor and repress slaves and ‘craftsmen’. He knew, however, that there is no putting a ‘cop’ in the head of each slave or craftsman, and that it is not even possible to put, behind each and every individual, his own personal cop (otherwise, a second cop would be needed to monitor the first, and so on … and there would ultimately be nothing but cops in society, with no one to produce; and then what would the cops themselves live on?”
Louis Althusser (Ibid)

Pietro Longhi (The Tooth Puller, Venice, 1746.)

Only today, in the world of electronic surveillance and, more, of digital adaptation, there sort of IS a cop in everyone’s head. And everyone (well, not everyone, but a great many people) are cops. And hence less is produced. Also, since we are trafficking in metaphor here, the entire post apocalyptic genre in film, from zombies to plague to alien invasion are (as I have noted before) reconstruction stories. They are also sagas of rebirth and regeneration. The stark rise in suicides suggests the longing for rebirth (which accompanies the longing to start over, which is a more clear economic determinant) is part of this tendency to confuse myth with reality. Or the mythic, shall we say. Rebirth by suicide is a bit like burning witches. And this can easily be imagined because of the sharp colonizing of the imagination under advanced capitalism. This is not to minimize the acute suffering of anyone who takes their own life. But that suffering is happening to a population experiencing psychological co-morbidities. And here we arrive back at the mental health crisis. {and as a side bar observation, mainstream writing about suicide has taken on a certain unsettling glibness, and one can only surmise this is the fall out or byproduct of Madison Avenue’s veneer of sexiness subtly applied to the topic. See below}.

The assault on the poor has become more acute over the last thirty years. And it is tied into all the ideological (propaganda) of the state and its adjuncts. The poor are default *useless eaters*. In Canada the government actually markets euthanasia as an alternative lifestyle choice. And in spite of catastrophic falls in fertility and births, the idea of ‘too many people’ still seems to have traction. And it is becoming ever more clear that the aforementioned cultic response to *news* is tied into the prevailing religion of technology. Anxiety is now almost taken for granted. It is like breathing. For the working and not working classes there is another de-facto ideological given; the poor lack moral and ethical resoluteness. Poverty is very close to criminality. Poverty is equated with lack of discipline. With a lack of productive activity. One aspect of historical amnesia, which is so obviously a characteristic of contemporary western society, is that everything begins as a *neutral*. And this is seen to be something science embodies. Neutral and objective.

“First, the rampant gesticulation over law and order is conceived and carried out not so much for its own sake as for the express purpose of being exhibited and seen, scrutinized, ogled: the absolute priority is to put on a spectacle, in the literal sense of the term, For this, words and deeds proclaiming to fight crime and assorted urban disorders must be methodically orchestrated, exaggerated, dramatized, even ritualized, This explains why, much like the staged carnal entanglements that fill pornographic movies, they are extraordinarily repetitive, mechanical, uniform, and therefore eminently predictable.”
Loïc Wacquant (Punishing the Poor)

Peppi Bottrop (2008)

Again, the allegorical aspect is evident. And prediction, again, a hallmark of contemporary ideology. Predictability is also familiar. And familiarity is comforting. Or it gives the appearance of comfort to those experiencing it. Wacquant notes that the US went from a welfare state to a carceral/penal state.

“What is deviance? For the moment, let us say simply that deviance consists of those categories of condemnation and negative judgment which are constructed and applied successfully to some members of a social community by others. We intentionally avoid the notion that the essence of deviance is in actors’ behaviors; rather, we argue that it is a quality attributed to such persons and behaviors by others.”
Peter Conrad (Deviance and Medicalization)

The American culture of punishment (of course) can be directly traced back to Puritanism. In fact a good deal of US society shares an inheritance from the Puritans. And a simple five minute survey of changing definitions of criminal deviance should suffice to demonstrate both the irrational and near random aspect of this process, but also the role of institutional authority. The naked class bias is actually breathtaking today. Ghislaine Maxwell’s little black book remains shut.

“…it is worthwhile to outline some general features of the structure of medical practice that have contributed to the expansion of medical jurisdiction. The medical sector of society has grown enormously in the 20th century. It has become the second largest industry in America. There are about 350,000 physicians and over 5 million people employed in the medical field. The “medical industries,” including the pharmaceutical, medical technology, and health insurance industries, are among the most profitable in our economy. Yearly drug sales alone are over $4.5 billion. “
Peter Conrad (Ibid)

Gramsci with friends, date unknown.

The entire Covid phenomenon is evidence of medical institutional authority. But it shows more than that, and along with the Climate discourse, all the factors being discussed have come into play. Historical amnesia, cultic attachment to celebrity or influencer generated *news*, scapegoating victims and punishing them. And the scientism whose imprimatur legitimizes even the most glaringly absurd edicts. All of this is stunningly OBVIOUS. And yet, and yet, one will be met with emotional resistance to any of it.

The repressive state apparatus operates by violence, and only secondarily through ideology. And the Ideological state apparatus almost entirely through ideology, but it is an ideology that draws strength from the repressive mechanisms within it (School comes to mind).

“Hence I believe I have good reasons for thinking that behind the scenes of its political Ideological State Apparatus, which occupies the front of the stage, what the bourgeoisie has installed as its number-one, i.e. as its dominant ideological State apparatus, is the educational apparatus, which has in fact replaced in its functions the previously dominant ideological State apparatus, the Church. One might even add: the School-Family couple has replaced the Church-Family couple.”
Louis Althusser (Lenin and Philosophy and other essays)

There is an interesting and important final idea in Althusser’s breakdown of ideology. And it is one that digital and cyber technology and platforms has likely had a, as yet, incompletely understood affect.

“I shall then suggest that ideology ‘acts’ or ‘functions’ in such a way that it ‘recruits’ subjects among the individuals (it recruits them all), or ‘transforms’ the individuals into subjects (it transforms them all) by that very precise operation which I have called interpellation or hailing, and which can be imagined along the lines of the most commonplace everyday police (or other) hailing: ‘Hey, you there!”
Louis Althusser (Ibid)

There is much more to say (at a later date) about interpellation (Althusser’s version or definition) but here I think it is useful to tweeze apart a few of the strands of the various apocalyptic narratives out there.

Sandy Skoglund (installation, 1982)

“…the term apocalypse (and variants thereof) has become synonymous with various cataclysmic and “end of the world” scenarios (Bowker 1997). However, the catastrophe associated with an apocalypse should not be thought of as simply the result of a natural disaster or a human conflict. An apocalypse represents something that is bigger than nature and bigger than human action. It is an event of “biblical proportions,” something that is “permeated by the expectation of the imminent end and, for it, the advent of the end does not depend upon human action” (Stone 1984). However, this “imminent end” is not understood as the final endgame or terminus. Along with its destructive implications an apocalypse also implies transition, a radical change and a reordering for the better. In essence, an apocalypse is cipher par excellence for a “new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. (Rev 21:1).”
Glenn Fairen (As Below, So Above)

So again we find the idea of regeneration and rebirth. That destruction yields a new heaven on earth. Or at least a new shining light on the hill. The climate discourse (or climate and green marketing) is rarely if ever couched in a language of mortality. Death is not even addressed very often. That *you* and *I* will die is, at best, a side bar. The *event* is bigger than you and I, you see. And I suspect this demand for a mythic frame is the reason an escalation of US/Russia conflict (and subsequent nuclear war) doesn’t seem to frighten people all that much. But rising levels, a Biblical deluge and flood, a bursting of methane bubbles and run away feedback loops or whatevertherthefuckever does seem worth being afraid of. The individual human, much privileged over the community under neo liberalism, now gives way to Gaia, to some abstraction implying a new dawn for mankind. A thousand year Reich…oh wait, that’s been used already. But you get the idea.

There is a contradiction in climate discussions. For global warming is both *man made* and, simultaneously, bigger than man. Man is not important. Man is both the problem (we have met the enemy and he is us) and irrelevant. There is a good deal of bad faith in most climate discussions. I am not sure how many of Greta’s followers actually believe her, deep down. But they like the storyline. They like now joining in this new volk. There is little evidence of terror in people who argue for action on climate. Certainly I have noticed very few of that top 1% in wealth who behave with urgency. In fact largely nobody has radically changed their behavior because of climate change. People have not put down their smartphones or driven their diesel Landcruisers off a cliff. There is not even much in the way of religious revivalism (though they might yet happen, though for a variety of other reasons).

Antonio Turok, photography.

“The neoliberal programme draws its social power from the political and economic power of those whose interests it expresses: stockholders, financial operators, industrialists, conservative or social-democratic politicians who have been converted to the reassuring layoffs of laisser-faire, high-level financial officials eager to impose policies advocating their own extinction because, unlike the managers of firms, they run no risk of having eventually to pay the consequences. Neoliberalism tends on the whole to favour severing the economy from social realities and thereby constructing, in reality, an economic system conforming to its description in pure theory, that is a sort of logical machine that presents itself as a chain of constraints regulating economic agents.”
Pierre Bourdrieu (The essence of neoliberalism, Le Monde Dip. 1988)

Severing the economy from social reality. This is a lot like Game Theory, in one sense. Contemporary economics is also a bit like quantum theory. It is divorced from the materiality of daily life. Bourdrieu describes neo liberalism as a pure mathematical fiction. And, the proponents of this fiction allow for no dissent. When reality encroaches, the IMF or OECD issue sanctions. It very much like the Medieval church in this respect. Sanctions are the new version of the inquisition. Which in a way takes me back to apocalypse. So called *Apocalypticism* originated at the foundational time of early Judaism. The earliest Christian writing on apocalypse followed not long after. The point here is not to deconstruct the relevance of the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Nag Hammadi Library, but to ponder the impulse that gave birth to these narratives.

“These economists trust models that they almost never have occasion to submit to the test of experimental verification and are led to look down upon the results of the other historical sciences, in which they do not recognise the purity and crystalline transparency of their mathematical games, whose true necessity and profound complexity they are often incapable of understanding.”
Pierre Bourdrieu (Ibid)

Francisco Mata Rosas, photography.

The cult of economism, of neo-liberalism, resembles the apocalypticism of antiquity, and it resembles, too, the quantum physicists that today speculate on images from the James Webb Space Telescope (sic), which transmits back pictures they themselves created as math formulae. The pure abstract economist vision is a form of rebirth for the priests of Wall St. The world can end, but our belief lives on. But this is the point at which archetypical psychology has some relevance.

The impulse for a narrative of apocalypse is tied into this instinct or desire for the revealing of a secret. It is rebirth, too, regeneration, but it carries with it another quality that is very prevalent today; a member of a select few who are given the *real* truth. This is the basis of 90% of social media babble. The story behind the story. And you have been granted a place to witness what lies behind the curtain. In a sense The Wizard of Oz is the great modern parable.

“And yet the world is there, with the immediately visible effects of the implementation of the great neoliberal utopia: not only the poverty of an increasingly large segment of the most economically advanced societies, the extraordinary growth in income differences, the progressive disappearance of autonomous universes of cultural production, such as film, publishing, etc. through the intrusive imposition of commercial values, but also and above all two major trends. First is the destruction of all the collective institutions capable of counteracting the effects of the infernal machine, primarily those of the state, repository of all of the universal values associated with the idea of the public realm. Second is the imposition everywhere, in the upper spheres of the economy and the state as at the heart of corporations, of that sort of moral Darwinism that, with the cult of the winner, schooled in higher mathematics and bungee jumping, institutes the struggle of all against all and cynicism as the norm of all action and behaviour.”
Pierre Bourdrieu (Ibid)

People want to believe the moon landing was a hoax. They want to believe viruses don’t exist. These borderline irrational ideas serve as distractions from real conspiracy. There is enough actual verifiable state malfeasance that distractions only serve the interests of the ruling class. In this sense, they are a secondary ideological project. It is why so many accuse Alex Jones et al of being CIA projects.

Vicente Albán, Noble Woman & Slave (detail) 1783,

Apocalypse as a reset, as the engine for rebirth, is tied into the very earliest myths of cyclical history.

“This initial interpretation is what makes possible and orients all these perceptions, because it begins by situating the interpreter in a world, in the world that he interprets to himself; it is this interpretation that initially determines his experience of cosmic space. Here the structure of space reveals to phenomenological analysis a particular sense of the cosmos, which experiences the world as a crypt.”
Henry Corbin (Avicenna, quoted in Tom Cheetham’s All the World an Icon)

The earliest Shiite and Zorastrian religions see in the stranger the primordial spiritual presence. It is telling, I believe, that the guide is discovered as the stranger, the figure, literally, seen on the horizon, in the distance. And I have suggested before that religion came out of theatre. And in theatre, the stranger, the figure in the landscape, is an architype — for lack of a better word, that is foundational for the stage. Theatre begins with the stranger in the landscape (on stage). And the landscape is empty.

“And the feeling of estrangement is at the same time a longing for home. The Stranger is by definition a figure seeking to return.”
Tom Cheetham (All the World an Icon)

The stranger is transformed in modernity to the *exile*.

This is the earliest spiritual thinking, probably, that can be found. Neoplatonists, Sufis, Ismailian theosophists: all share this idea (central to Corbin) of the ta’wil or spiritual exegesis. Which is literally a *bringing back*, a return to the origin. That is the central idea in nearly all Islamic traditions. The return to home. And I have also said before, all narratives are about homesickness. All narratives are also crime stories. (and the reason so much of Hollywood product today is unsatisfying is exactly because it is about personal identity and not return).

Graciela Iturbide, photography.

“Beneath the idea of exegesis appears that of the Guide (the exegete), and beneath the idea of an exegesis we glimpse that of an exodus, of a “departure from Egypt,” which is an exodus from metaphor and the slavery to the letter, from exile… ”
Henry Corbin (Ibid)

Interestingly both Bachelard and Charles Olson were enthusiastic readers of Corbin. But I wanted to add a few final addendums here, vis a vis apocalypse and contemporary madness, or contemporary banality.

“We are fated to be actors in the grand drama of the Lost Word, the lost speech.”
Tom Cheetham (Ibid)

There is a sense of lostness in 21st century culture. A culture now infused with the idiocy of AI, of code and algorithms, and of a generalized depletion of meaning. Cheetham quotes Olson later:

“John Keats, walking home from the mummers’ play at Christmas 1817, and afterward he’d had to listen to Coleridge again, thought to himself all that irritable reaching after fact and reason, it won’t do. I don’t believe in it. I do better to stay in the condition of things. No matter what it amounts to, mystery confusion doubt, it has a power, it has “what I mean by Negative Capability.”
Charles Olson (Projective Verse)

Fact and reason. But this reason is a form of unreason. The reason that removes doubt is never to be trusted. Cheetham notes that fact and reason (per Keats) is the motive for innovation, for techne. And these innovations are meant to make our lives run more smoothly. And they do, except they don’t. This is the illusion of Enlightenment reason. Something was lost, or forgotten.

Corbin says somewhere that ‘finding your voice’ is really ‘coming home’. Many American poets have spoken of this, Robert Duncan and Bly, Olson and Merwin. There is a carefulness about language in artists in general.

“In Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam it is a given that we are in the world but not of it. The story of a Fall into a world of shadows and evil is common to all these traditions. We are in exile, and our destiny is to return home.”
Tom Cheetham (Ibid)

Bosco Sodi

In my conception, then, of theatre, the figure in the landscape is the guide. And the guide is there to lead us home. But in another sense, we cannot ever get home. I have called theatre *impossible*. It is in this exact sense that it is impossible. And here one bumps up against the other truth of narrative, that every story is a crime story. This is the imposition of capitalism, in a sense. If the original descent (the fall into shadows) is originary, is the source of apocalypse, of the need to return, then somewhere in the origins of capitalism lies the primal crime. This is Freud’s scene of the crime but removed from the bedroom. Capitalism is the ur-crime story. Or it is the aggregate best version of it. And perhaps we should stop seaking innocence, for that is a lie.

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  1. Yeah, we’ve become a schizophrenic society.
    Ian McGilchrist wrote a great book on the issue of being left brain focused called The Matter With Things.
    For example, the left brain sees a linear logic that focuses on parts and details. The right brain sees big picture wholeness.
    The left brain is convinced it is correct.
    The right brain has a healthy doubt and keeps an open mind to consider that it might be wrong or that the answer requires more data or observation.

    Sad to say, the squares painted or shapes sketched art displayed here are what he explains as a lack of right hemisphere thinking.
    “Many elements to be found in modern art are, in fact, strikingly similar to distortions experienced in right hemisphere damage.91”

    He focuses on the studies of lateral brain damage because that is the way they were able to see how an extreme shift away from either side could change perception of reality.

  2. Laurent Leduc says:

    ‘Religion comes out of theatre’. Indeed, theology shares the same root as theatre; theos.

  3. Laurent Leduc says:

    « The Philosophy of ‘As if’ » has received a new lease on life.

    I recommend you have a look at it.

  4. John Steppling says:

    thanks laurent. I will check it out. Ive not read it, but it kinda rings a bell.

  5. Psuedo-Nicodemus says:

    The moon landing WAS a hoax, my friend. It’s incredibly obvious if you actually study the evidence, and not at all a “distraction” from the issues you pursue, if you consider the ideological ramifications to, for example, the cult of scientism and progress, and this ultimate modernist metamyth’s resonance with AI hype, climate alarmism, and medical tyranny, et al. It’s all ideologically intertwined. In fact, the Apollo moon fake could and should be near the heart of your discourse, if you chose to brave the knee-jerk ridicule that would inevitably come from taking an intellectually honest look in that direction, an action I doubt you would consider.

    Please prove me wrong. This blog is often a breath of fresh air. A leftist willing to strongly criticize the pandemic coup. Rare and valuable stuff, but critical theory does have its limitations. Sometimes a spade is just a spade, or in the case of the moon landings, sometimes the assertion that a spade is a spade does not make it so.

  6. John Steppling says:

    um, I have little more to say about this. There is a lot of evidence, starting with third party photographs of debris. But Im not going down this particular rabbit hole. It saddens me so many think it *obvious* (sigh). You know what, lets talk in 2030 when the next landing is scheduled-. And im ever so glad i am ‘often’ a breath of fresh air.

  7. Psuedo-Nicodemus says:

    Special effects will be far advanced by 2030. The next “landing” should be riveting. I, for one, can’t wait. I didn’t mean to sound condescending with that word “often.” Your writing is a breath of fresh air. No qualifier. I seek out many perspectives, yours is one I “often” disagree with, but which provides illumination in the darkness nonetheless.

    But I stand by my assertion that it is obvious. We live in an age of mass delusion, and your discourse skirts the edges of what is acceptable to say. The Spectacle still has the last laugh.

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