Deep Fake

Salisbury Cathedral, west front entrance.

“Although the frightful is, perhaps rightly, conjoined in our minds with the darkly coloured, the harshly dissonant – with bludgeon blows and the odours of decay – the most terrible experiences are often bereft of these properties of melodrama.”
John Franklin Bardin (The Last of Philip Banter)

“There isn’t the slightest operation, the slightest industrial or financial mechanism that does not reveal the dementia of the capitalist machine and the pathological character of its rationality {not at all a false rationality, but a true rationality of this pathology, of this madness, for the machine does work, be sure of it}.”
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari ( Chaosophy: Capitalism; A Very Special Delirium)

“Death is a problem of the living. Dead people have no problems.”
Norbert Elias (The Lonliness of the Dying)

“At the present time, we must bring to light the subject, the guilty one, that monstrous and wretched bug which we are likely to become at any moment. Genet holds the mirror up to us: we must look at it and see ourselves.”
Jean-Paul Sartre (Saint Genet)

“Commodity form is not a simple state of mind. It fragments and dehumanizes human being.”
Anne Carson (Economy of the Unlost)

Steve Zaillian’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith, for Netflix, titled simply Ripley, here, (based on her book The Talented Mr Ripley)is as sublime as anything that has ever appeared on TV. It is also the perfect capture of the Highsmith sensibility. Zaillian is 72 now, and the last of those non-Nepo film artists (he was born in Fresno). He has had to compromise a good deal, I think, in his career, but this will be his enduring masterpiece. Highsmith is worth a moment before I get into the idea of sociopathy. She was a chronic depressive, homosexual but also intermittently bisexual. She eventually became a unrepentant alcoholic. She also was, interestingly, a longtime defender of Palestinian rights (and it should be noted, a decided antisemite). She was regarded as a hugely unpleasant human. She is always lumped in with mystery writers, and that is totally wrong.

She is much closer to Dostoyevsky than to Hammett or Chandler. Closer, as well, to Flannery O’Connor and even Camus. (she met O’Connor at Yadoo and disliked her. She loved Dostoyevsky). It is interesting that my favorite of her books is Tremor of Forgery, which is about the only one never made into a film. It is this book that reminds one of Camus. It the greatest of crime novels and yet barely has a crime. It’s never clear. Of course Highsmith plotting is perfectly Hitchcockian (Strangers on a Train was her first novel). But Zaillian is the first filmmaker to present Highsmith without the superficial charms Hollywood demands. It is also the most perfect deconstruction of the wounds of class ever filmed, I think. (the purple robe, the name *Deekee*, the subtle sense of being treated like a pet by Greenleaf and Marge). The casting of Freddie Miles is genius, too. There is nobody who would not want to smash ‘this ‘ Freddie with a heavy glass ashtray. And this brings me back to class and capitalism, and to psychiatric diagnostics. A good many critics of both the books and the films have noted it’s hard not to root for Ripley. But the Zaillian version is calibrated to investigate that feeling on another entirely more existential level. It is asking what it means to kíll. In a sense, the way Zaillian presents it, Ripley kills to survive. For survival. The first fifteen minutes or so of the film are just brilliant. Ripley in NYC, failing at his, we assume, latest low rent fraud schemes. He is an anonymous supremely lonely outsider. An orphan. If true. But an outsider. A loner. What is the cost for him to find or to teach himself to find a way to integrate into society? To what end? He is not presented as immoral. As a sociopath, then? I think that is the question. For what does that mean for a Ripley? What does it mean for those born into impoverishment and penury. Born into a loveless childhood. Anyone who is born poor knows the feeling of isolation. Of emotional isolation. I had loving parents. In a sense my father, for all his faults, saved me. My aunt perhaps even more. But still, I was an only child and I was alone. Nobody taught me the ‘codes’ for social mobility. None of them. And I was sickly. Ripley and the ‘maroon’ robe scene(s) (the patronizing salesman at the expensive men’s clothing store corrects him, ‘burgundy’. Andrew Scott conveys the humiliation. The silent pain of that snub. And it wasn’t intentionally a snub. It doesn’t have to be. The lonely isolated poor kid feels pain in everything. Trust me on that. And later Dickie ridicules the ‘purple’ robe. ‘who’d wear such a thing’?).

Allegra Pacheco, photography, media.

This film also brings to mind Thomas Bernhard a bit. And Walser, the Walser of Jokob von Gunten. Now I have read many critics, and heard much on social media, about this film. Most of it negative. Ripley is referred to as a criminal. Not a fun criminal like Matt Damon. Not a killer you forgive. The audience forgave Damon. The bourgeoisie will not forgive Andrew Scott. This is a film out of time. Just the constant return of the camera to sculptures, the Caravaggio, and to gargoyles on the edge of rain gutters or the cornices of cathedrals, or on bridges, the oblique dialogue, the restraint of the performances; all of these elements created a decidedly alien feeling film for the average American. {The cinematography is by Robert Elswit}.

“From the outset,\ moreover, Victorian advertising took explicit shape around the reinvention of racial difference. Commodity kitsch made possible, as never before, the mass marketing of empire as an organized system of images and attitudes. Soap flourished not only because it created and filled a spectacular gap in the domestic market but also because, as a cheap and portable domestic commodity, it could persuasively mediate the Victorian poetics of racial hygiene and imperial progress.”
Anne McClintock (Imperial Leather)

The class issue is also joined at its inception with race. And with repression and in the U.S., later, with hygiene and anality. The rise of the ‘clean’ meme coincided with the the cotton Empire of the mid 19th century. Imperial cotton from slave plantations allowed the English middle classes (such as they were) to purchase sheets and shirts made of this fabric whose whiteness appeaaled to them on, probably, several levels. Pears soap was the leading colonial marketer for allegories of racial purity. Soap served multiple symbolic purposes. The copy on one ad (showing a white colonial gentlemen at his morning rituals of hygiene) read ‘ the first step in lightening the white man’s burden’. Cotton was followed, of course by other commodities of the plantation system, coconut oil and palm oil, from Ceylon, India and Fiji. And from West Africa. The point here is that Elizabeth the first, the Virgin Queen, bathed once a month, at most. The entrance of mass produced soap changed the ideas of personal hygiene and western civilization. The white man bathed. He wore starched white cotton shirts and his job was to civilize the brown savages. It also introduced new parameters of intimacy and sexuality, and desire.

Ray K. Metzger, photography (Philadelphia, 1963)

“Literally and figuratively, primate studies were a colonial affair, in which knowledge of the living and dead bodies of monkeys and apes was part of the system of unequal exchange of extractive colonialism. Primate bodies grounded the discourses that rested on a flow of value from the lands where monkeys and apes lived to the lands where they were exhibited and textualized.”
Donna J. Haraway (Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science)

Ideas of mental health were developing alongside ideas of human normality. Sickness was both mental and physical. The precursors for psychoanalysis loomed in the colonial broth of Europe.

“From the outset, the idea of progress that illuminated the nineteenth century was shadowed by its somber side. Imagining the degeneration into which humanity could fall was a necessary part of imagining the exaltation to which it could aspire. The degenerate classes, defined as departures from the normal human type, were as necessary to the self-definition of the middle class as the idea of degeneration was to the idea of progress, for the distance along the path of progress traveled by some portions of humanity could be measured only by the distance others lagged behind. Normality thus emerged as a product of deviance, and the baroque invention of clusters of degenerate types highlighted the boundaries of the normal.”
Anne McClintock (Ibid)

I am reminded how the Venezuelan ruling class used to call Hugo Chavez ‘that little black monkey’. The industrial revolution looms as so significant for the psychic formation of the western mind. One can understand rather acutely the impulse for Stevenson to write Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Ennio Finzi

“Biological images of disease and contagion served what Sander Gilman has called the “institutionalization of fear,” reaching into almost every nook and cranny of Victorian social life, and providing the Victorian elite with the justification it needed to discipline and contain the dangerous classes.” As the century drew to a close, biological images of disease and pestilence formed a complex hierarchy of social metaphors that carried considerable social authority.”
Anne McClintock (Ibid)

Our contemporary notion of criminality can be traced pretty directly to mid 19th century London.

“London became the focus of wealthy Victorians’ growing anxieties about the unregenerate poor, variously described as the “dangerous or ragged” classes, the “casual poor ” or the “residuum.” The slums and rookeries were figured as the hotbeds and breeding haunts of cholera, crime and chartism.” “Pestering” in dark and filthy dens, the scavenging and vagrant poor were described by images of putrefaction and organic debility. Thomas Plint described the criminal class” as a “moral poison”
and “pestiferous canker, “a non-indigenous” and predatory body preying on the healthy.”

Anne McClintock (Ibid)

Criminality was an issue of hygiene, morality was inseparable from dirt and lack of personal cleanliness, and more importantly from poverty. The poor were simply inescapably linked to lack of soap — and such statement is only barely a metaphor. The fear of the poor, for English ruling classes was tied to the idea of contagion. One saw the legacy of this during Covid. This idea of degeneration was social more than biological. And hence included this moral dimension. The Victorian and his new found interest in personal hygiene was doubly concerned with the potential for contamination from the poor.

Arnulf Rainer

“…central to the idea of contagion was the peculiarly Victorian paranoia about boundary order. Panic about blood contiguity, ambiguity and *metissage* expressed intense anxieties about the fallibility of white male and imperial potency. The poetics of contagion justified a politics of exclusion and gave social sanction to the middle class fixation with boundary sanitation, in particular the sanitation of sexual boundaries.”
Anne McClintock (Ibid)

The British soon realized that the poor were sicker, their physiques more compromised and hence (since the Enlightenment loomed over this) the new public policies of weighing babies, graphing children’s growth and health, etc. So, in a sense, began the administration of daily life.

“ Here Freud observes how the frequent choice of a woman of a lower class by men of a higher class is a means to complete sexual satisfaction, a consequence of their need for a debased sexual object, inhibited with respected and respectable women. Thus such splitting between love and sex has a class dimension, again described but not theorised as to how class comes to signify debasement. { } The Wolf Man case itself suggests the early age at which bodily distinctions between high and low, and the accompanying fantasies, are transformed and intermingled with social distinctions.”
Joanna Ryan (Class and Psychoanalysis)

“Those who defend and promote psychopharmacology do so largely because its drugs, though imperfect, are generally effective. However, difficulties arise when appraising the truthfulness of the pharmaceutical company’s claims. The inordinate amount of pharmaceutical industry money involved in medical studies severely compromises the quality and trustworthiness of the information it makes public. The fact that studies with pharmaceutical industry funding are far more likely to report positive findings has been well documented. Furthermore, the drug approval processes of the US Federal Drug Administration and Health Canada — which generally follows decisions made in the United States — are dramatically skewed to the benefit of pharmaceutical companies.”
Madeleine Ritts (What the Anti-Psychiatry Movement Got Wrong About Mental Illness)

Raymond Douillet

Now here is the problem: the story of Big Pharma is incredibly well known at this point (see Robert Whitaker’s Anatomy of an Epidemic). There is also an incredibly well documented awareness, now, of the de-politicizing of psychoanalysis over the last seventy years. But there remains the issue of massive mental health problems throughout the Capitalist west. Maybe throughout the world. I would imagine, however, it is far worse in the US than anywhere else. And the problem with how this discussion is framed, usually, is that the anti-psychiatry proponents are almost always woefully simplistic and reductive. The issue is not whether mental illness is a myth or not, or whether schizophrenia is actually a liberatory response to hierarchical Capitalism, but that all of this is being debated from within the Capitalist material reality, history, and vocabulary. As Marcuse once noted, ‘ we have no idea what a non repressesd society would look like’.

This sort of takes us back to Patricia Highsmith and Steve Zaillian. For diagnosis itself, let alone what is diagnosed or how, is something worth examining and questioning. Ideas like criminality are clearly products of a class system of inequality and exploitation. Were cave dwellers of thirty thousand years ago neurotic? They had mothers. They were children and they grew up, matured mentally and physically. The answer is, probably, that the question has no meaning. I think if there is barely such a thing as language, no alphabet, then mental illness has no meaning as a concept. (the Wittgenstein side of me). Survival was likely very hard. Now, it might well be possible there have always been genetic problems, deformities. And that the cave child grew into a cave delinquent and/or heard voices in his head and killed his mother. I guess that is entirely possible. But in a non repressive community I suspect aggression manifested differently.

And here I think of that opening quarter hour of Ripley. That is not terribly far off from my life, to be honest. For a period anyway. I remember simply thinking in very VERY short term goals. Get enough money to eat, or pay rent. Years later I found out you could write plays and people would give you money (well, not much but…) and/or flatter you and I remember that amazed me. Tom Ripley is not equipped to climb up the social ladder. For many of the white American viewership this makes the entire film a bummer.

Elihu Vedder (Satyr, 1878)

I want to detour slightly and quote Russell Jacoby, in his chapter on Laing and Cooper in Social Amnesia.

“To follow him, insofar as the family violated the in­tegrity of the individual, the duty of the individual is first toward him/her self. “The only way to compassionate in­volvement with others is the shortcut of one’s own libera­tion,” Cooper writes, as if this were not the very jingle that bourgeois society monotonously plays.’ The shortcut of individual liberation cuts short the social liberation without which the individual is shunted into a dead-end street. Cooper relates an “existential” tale of a Japanese poet who chooses to pass by a small, desolate abandoned child because responsibility toward himself and his journey is of greater importance. The moral of this tale? “The hardest lesson of all is to know what one has to do for oneself.” Such is the blank existentialism that fantasizes it is negating bourgeois society even as it heeds its first pre­cept: abandon the abandoned in the name of self-help first.”
Russell Jacoby (Social Amnesia).

Jacoby adds further on, from the same chapter:

“It is forgotten that the relationship be­ tween “you and me” or “you and the family” is not ex­hausted in the immediate: all of society seeps in. If it is clear that the immediate relationship of boss and worker, teacher and student, is grounded in a non-immediate social configuration, it is no less true of family relationships. Society as the determining structure dictates more than the husk of a relationship; it cuts into the living germ. { } When Laing writes that “human beings are constantly thinking about others and about what others are thinking about them, and what others think they are thinking about the others, and so on he neglects to add the crucial qualification: not all human beings, but human beings who have been mesmerized and mutilated. “Human beings” seek double and triple confirmation when the first fails; and the first fails when the ego that advances it fails. The ego, frightened over its own fragility, seeks endless con­firmations it can neither give nor receive. The logic of human relations approaches the logic of paranoia: in every nook and cranny lurks danger. Confirmation hardly allays the fears; one needs meta-confirmation and meta-meta­ confirmation. “What I think you think of me reverberates back to what I think of myself, and what I think of myself in turn affects the way I act toward you; this influences in turn how you feel about yourself and the way you act toward me, and so on.” “And so on”: the task is endless, without escape or exit. In the prison of mirrors which is society, the lifers stare at the mirrors for signs of life. Multiple reflections are the opium for the multiple wounds the ego has suffered.”
Russell Jacoby (Ibid)

This is the last chapter in the book. And at the end Jacoby quotes Adorno that the whole is the truth and the whole is false. Jacoby has enormous sympathy for Laing and Cooper, even as he rather harshly critiques what he sees as their failures. But he knows they were on to something. And it’s close to what Guattari is saying in the interviews in Chaosophy

Agostino Bonalumi

“Antipsychiatry lays itself particularly open to the reformists’ “recuperations” because on the doctrinal level it did not divest itself of a humanistic and personalistic ideology. Laing’s antipsychiatry less than the others, but he is in a way the Left’s voice in a line of thought which one must recognize as being, frankly, situated on the whole at a remove from the contributions of Marx and Freud regarding the understanding of mental and social alienation. { } Let us hope that Laing, who has distinguished himself in a remarkable way from the traditional role of the psychiatrist, will return to a concrete struggle against the oppression suffered by the mental patients, and that he will bring a more rigorous definition to the conditions of a revolutionary psychiatric practice, that is to say a nonutopian psychiatry which can be taken up in a massive way by the avant-garde of mental health workers and by the patients themselves. “
Felix Guattari (Ibid)

I think the ambivalence toward Laing and Cooper comes from the fact that their work, in an indirect way, pinpointed the essential problem of what mental health means in a society of madness. Capitalism is a kind of delirium, one that manufactures suffering, and it has recuperated all theory meant to both understand and destroy it. The recuperation is based on other earlier recuperations. On back for, at the least, hundreds of years.

Laing recognized the madness. And in many respects his writings on mental illness remain hugely important. He was not a great theorist, but he did intuit the central issue facing the (then) 20th century — how to deal with the delirium and capitalism, the increasing generalized autism (per Debord). Laing was on the cusp of the new age of digital tech. Today the habituation to screen technology has reached a point of crisis. Its not just teenagers addicted to social media, its everyone. Look at politicians, at celebrities, at professors; all of them have smartphones in their hands. Its an extension of the human being now. And this has led to simplistic and reductive analysis by pop charlatans such as Yuval Harari et al. Those WEF futurist fascists. So now there is a cartoon level gloss on digital tech that is becoming the mainstream position. The AI theorists, those who do research on deep neural networking (Geoffrey Hinton) and the like, tend to issue warnings about runaway AI. Yet, the most powerful computing system in the world still routinely makes basic mistakes trying to identify images. This is why autonomous cars are such a fiasco. The real danger is that this stuff is taken seriously by anyone, but then billions of dollars have been invested in this line of thought. And it is largely a dead end.

Adrian Ghenie

OK, so back to mental health and sociopathy.

“The erotic deviant is not the only fetishist familiar to us. Think of the primitive,” says William Pietz. Yet this could be said in another way: by inventing the primitive, the idea of deviance in Europe came to serve a peculiarly modern form of social discipline.”
Anne McClintock (Ibid)

The idea of *fetish* becomes a kind of backchannel key to unlock ideas of aberrant or criminal behaviour. Or of deviant psychology. It is the ‘other’ path, the one not taken by Laing. William Pietz quotes Edmund Leach

“…everything that the anthropologists have ever had to say about ‘fetishism’ and ‘magic’ and the meaning of religious symbolism has its roots in an interest in the ‘phallic’ components of Hindu iconography.”
Edmund Leach (Review of Gananath Obeyesekere’s Medusa’s Hair)

This privileging of phallic interpretation was a 19th century invention, as it were. But even before that the term ‘fetish’ had a sexual aura to it. Marx picked it up, and later Freud. It is a placeholder in a sense for uncanny experience. For the invisible, too. The Lacanian idea of universal tendencies to phallic symbol making aside, the fetish was originally a term from the vocabularies of magic on the west coast of Africa.

Elizabeth Glaessner

“The fetish is the natural object of social consciousness as common sense or recognition of value.”
Gilles Deleuze (Repetition and Difference)

“This novel situation began with the formation of intercultural spaces along the West African coast whose function was to translate and transvalue objects between radically different social systems. Specifically…these spaces, which endured for several centuries, were triangulated between Christian feudal, African lineage, and merchant capitalist social systems. It was within this situation that there emerged a new problematic concerning the capacity of material objects to embody— simultaneously and sequentially religious, sexual, aesthetic, and commercial values. My argument, then, is that the fetish originated only with the emerging articulation of the ideology of the commodity form, as it developed and defi ned itself within and against the social values and religious ideologies of two radically different types of noncapitalist society, as they encountered each other in an on going cross- cultural situation. Th is process is indicated in the history of the word itself as it developed from the late medieval Portuguese feitiço to the sixteenth-century pidgin fetisso on the African coast to various northern European versions of the word via the 1602 text of the Dutchman Pieter de Marees.”
William Pietz (The Problem of the Fetish)

There is a paradox here, of sorts. The fetish is defined by its materiality. It is the material embodiment of something *not* there. Which is not quite the same as idol. The idol resembles that which is worshipped, for one thing. The fetish does not. But here we come upon a remarkable paragraph by Pietz:

“For Hegel, the African culture of the fetish represented a moment just prior to History,since the fetish was precisely that object of the Spirit that failed to participate in the Idea, which never experienced a negation and ‘Aufhebung’ to a truth beyond its natural materiality. Africa “is no historical part of the World,” writes Hegel, “it has no movement or development to exhibit…What we properly understand by Africa, is the Unhistorical, Undeveloped Spirit, still involved in the conditions of mere nature, and which has to be presented here as on the threshold of the World’s History.” Hegel’s characterization of Africans and of the religion of fetishes that actualizes “the African Spirit” typifies the accepted European understanding of African fetishism in the early nineteenth century.”
William Pietz (Ibid)

Erich Hartmann (NYC 1953)

Hegel follows this with a lengthy very Hegelian paragraph that essentially explains Africans can’t think conceptually. There is more, but like many white Europeans of this period, the upshot is that Africans were suited to be slaves by Nature. The invention of the primitive.

Now, fetishes are always composite compositions. They are fabrications of disparate forces and things, including abstractions like desire. The power, supposedly, of the fetish is that because it has appropriated these various ideas and forces is able to reenact the originating formation of itself. It can repeat it. And repetition looms as important in this discussion. As Pietz puts it “equally important, is the theme of singularity and repetition. The fetish has an ordering power derived from its status as the fixation or inscription of a unique originating event that has brought together previously heterogeneous elements into a novel identity.”

Again, the idol — which was both Euro Christian, and Islamic, in the sense both posited it as faith and law. Linnaeus wrote the social governing principle for Africans was *caprice*. Not law. But arbitrary. This idea of the arbitrary was to appear in other guises in Shakespeare and even Milton. (See Jan Kott, Shakespeare our Contemporary)

“…the illusion of natural unity among heterogeneous things that,in part, attracted Marx to the idea of the fetish. For Marx the term was useful as a name for the power of a singular historical institution to fix personal consciousness in an objective illusion. For Auguste Comte and late nineteenth- century psychologists such as Alfred Binet— who first gave the word currency to denote sexual fetishes— the origin of the fetishistic fixation was in the power of a singular personal event to structure desire. The idea of traumatic fixation upon a specific intense experience as the source of a repetition compulsion is, of course, fundamental to the psychoanalytic notion of the sexual fetish. Similarly, the idea of an enduring effect of aesthetic unity produced by a singular chance encounter of heterogeneous elements (the umbrella and the sewing machine) was fundamental to modernist art.”
William Pietz (Ibid)

Edouard Boubat, photography (Mexico City)

Fetish theory, for Marx, was false consciousness. A false consciousness based on an ‘objective illusion’. But for our purposes, the importance of the fetish was that it could repeat its origins. It could repeat this composite fabrication. And with that comes the echoes of compulsion. Additionally, and this is really my point in this post, there is an element of magic in any and all communities. Certainly there is in the nation-state. The State is not a thing, after all but a set of complex relationships. Individuals have power. Kings, Prime Ministers, Presidents, guards, policemen, judges etc. The fetish in imbued with power over my person (idols are usually in fixed locations, while fetishes are often carried around in your pocket or worn around your neck) — it mediates my desires and appetites, my guilt and shame, and my aspirations. This sense of power though, and in fact the entire false consciousness discourse, has to be seen within the reality of class relations.

Our social existence is always a class existence. The State is also ‘not’ there. Class relations are there.

“Commodification marks a radical moment in the history of human culture. People who use money seem to form different relationships with one another and with objects than people who do not. Marx gave the name “alienation” to this difference. Marx believed that money makes the objects we use into alien things and makes the people with whom we exchange them into alien people. “
Anne Carson (Economy of the Unlost)

Carson notes the transition from kinship to ritualized friendships. The gift giving economy. (or anti economy in a sense). The commodity form destroyed all that. She quotes Marx (from On the Jewish Question): “Selling is the practice of alienation,” he says, “and the commodity is its expression.”

Marx said somewhere that money was like *translated* language. Carson says money makes our life strange. The way translation makes language strange. What would Marx make of ChatGPT?

Christof Yvoré

“A phenomenological analysis of this universal problem is given in the first portion of Das Kapital, in which Marx exhibits the mercantile character of everything we produce. In merchandise he sees revealed the basic ontological structure of our entire physical world, its “mercantile form. { } Marx asks this same question in the Deutsche Ideologic. Here, too, he asks whence comes this “alienation” which comes between men and their own products, so that they no longer control “the mode of their mutual relationship,” “their circumstances achieve an independent power over them,” and “the power of their own life overcomes them”? How does it come about that within the involuntary “growth of individual interests into independent class interests, the personal conduct of the individual must become materialistic and alienated, existing as a power . . . independent of the individual”?
The answer is, through the division of labor.”

Karl Löwith (From Hegel to Neitzsche)

I have to add an aside of sorts here. The quote above from Karl Löwith is from a book I read, first time, when I was about twenty one. My old mentor Ork told me to read it. And I did. Took me many months. This book had a rather profound influence on my thinking. More than I realized for a long time. When I start my online courses soon, it will be required reading. Nobody has this kind of intelligence today. Löwith was an early student of Heidegger’s, and one who felt betrayal from his old teacher when the fascists came to power. He fled to Japan, interestingly, where he stayed until 1941 (the year the above book was published). But as fascist Japan became more threatening, he emigrated to the US and taught at the New School. He died in 72. He is almost certainly the most neglected thinker of the 20th century. Even I have sort of neglected him these last few years. I will write more on Karl Löwith in coming posts.

“The mercantile nature of all our commodities and the corresponding use made of human beings is not restricted to the sphere of economics; it defines every manifestation of human life, its mode of production, as a surrender, a sale. Even intellectual and spiritual production becomes merchandise, a book becomes an item in the book market.”
Karl Löwith (Ibid)

The sense of strangeness in daily life has increased, I think, with the advent of the internet and digital tech. And so we circle back to what it means to be sociopathic (seeing as we began with Highsmith and Zaillian). Highsmith was one of the great writers of this strangeness. So, of course, Paul Bowles, and Camus and Thomas Bernhard. And of course Kafka. Pinter was one, so were Genet and Pavase and Pynchon. In their own ways they all saw the fetish character of capitalism.

Carlos Somante, photography.

They all understood and inscribed something of the alienation of our lives. And how many, in these class stratified existences were utterly cut off, utterly disenfranchised and that such a state is nearly identical, if not identical, to what is diagnosed as schizophrenia and is labeled sociopathy. Or dementia, which continues to grow globally, so statistics say, and which is appearing in younger and younger people. Its interesting to clock the countries with the highest percentages of just Alzheimer patients. The top five are Finland (and this is culturally a nation of depressives…but I will get back to that), followed by the UK, Slovakia, Albania, Iceland and the Netherlands, and then the US. Brunei has a high incident of Alzheimer but that feels a bit like an anomaly from a tiny country population wise. Which countries have the lowest percentage: Mexico, Armenia, Bulgaria, Paraguay, Macedonia, and the Caribbean island states. And Romania. And its very low, really, throughout Africa. No African country is in the top thirty except for Mozambique. Then Djibouti at thirty seven or something. Make of this what you will. Just looking at this it seems cold weather is a problem for developing Alzheimers. If you query what causes Dementia, or Alzheimers, you can’t get an answer. The can just gets kicked further and further down the road. You will be told its an abnormal build up of certain neuro-toxic proteins. But if you ask what causes this abnormal build up, you are don’t get any answer. Just more description.

The point here is Finland and northern Europe have long dark fucking winters. I know. I go a bit crazy by February here in Norway. The more affluent take trips to Gran Canaria or southern Portugal. The rural farmers simply endure it. If you chart the incidence of Schizophrenia (accepting that for this condition the numbers are perhaps more unreliable) you see high numbers in the US. You see decreases in Russia, eastern Europe, and the low countries. There are also numerous anomalies. So its not easy to chart, but one paradox (if thats what it is, which I doubt) is that recovery from Psychotic episodes is far greater in poorer less *developed* countries (India for example scores high in recovery). My point is that there are links with both these conditions (or diseases, which I think neither are, actually) with capitalism. With modern digital cyber life. If you are strung out using social media, without exposure or access to wild nature, you go crazy. Stress, which is intensified in urban centers, also contributes to all these conditions (and to recovery. The Indian recovery rates emphasised that rural sufferers did better in terms of fewer hallucinations etc, or those from cities who moved to the countryside).

There is not a single incident of chess grandmasters getting dementia. Interesting fact. It might mean those drawn to chess are prone to not getting dotty. But it might mean something else.

Patricia Highsmith

The causality of things like dementia and schizophrenia are nothing if not vague. There really is no convincing reasons found for having psychotic episodes in your twenties, suddenly. And here again, it is useful to read a Dostoyevsky, or a Bernhard. Or a Highsmith. But Dostoyevksi, as with so many things, was the deepest reader of culture and society. Even today few critics know how to talk about Dostoyevski.

“I reached the point of feeling a sort of secret, abnormal, despicable enjoyment in returning home to my corner on some disgusting Petersburg night, and being acutely conscious that that day I had again done something loathsome, that what was done could never be undone, and secretly, inwardly gnaw, gnaw at myself for it, nagging and consuming myself till at last the bitterness turned into a sort of shameful accursed sweetness, and finally into real positive enjoyment.”
Fyodor Dostoevsky (Notes from Underground)

Tom Ripley is the 20th century underground man, in a sense. At least at the start of the book (and Zaillian’s film). There are other writers, too, who realize this underground… such as Herman Broch, or Sebald, or Peter Handke. Ripley learns directly, in a new way, something of class relatedness. Dickie Greenleaf appears an attainable goal. But only by the backdoor (murdering him and assuming his identity).

But let me discuss the role of *science* in how this culture pathologizes class, or rather pathologizes all but the ruling class. And how the culture now medicalizes social problems including inequality and racism.

“…the metaphor of ‘disease’ to describe racism has been gaining currency within the medical and psychological sciences and within popular culture. Increasingly, the descriptor of “disease” is turning up in scholarly articles, treatment protocols, academic conference presentations, and in more general “shoptalk” among behavioral and social scientists. Behavioral scientists have asserted, for example, that racism produces among its victims a variety of clinical syndromes; while social scientists have argued that racist practices might actually produce psychological stress among whites who participate in, or benefit from, overt forms of racism.{ } , there exists a concurrent development in which racism is situated as a psychopathological condition. This framing of racism as a medical problem, whereby individuals suffering from it need to seek “professional help” or treatment, has inserted itself within mainstream press and popular discourse.”
Sander Gilman (Are Racists Crazy?)

Paul Flora

Gilman’s book is very worth reading and is an excellent source book for this topic. He adds a while after the above quote, how Mel Gibson (but also Michael Richards and athlete Riley Cooper) made public apologies for racist remarks. Apologies that added they were seeking *help*, professional help, and hoped to initiate a process of healing for themselves and those afflicted or hurt by their statements. This is now a public ritual in the West. An actor is caught getting a blow job from some trannie hooker, he must apologise and seek help. Public confession is also something of a marker for privilege. The poor rarely are asked to confess in public.

“Note that Gibson describes his racism as more than just a moral failing. His actions require “healing,” including an “ongoing program of recovery.” Also worth noting is just how closely the language Gibson uses to describe his racism parallels the language used to describe an addiction to alcohol, another social problem medicalized in the post–World War II era.”
Sander Gilman (Ibid)

So from the late 1800s to the mid twentieth century there was a pseudo-biological treatment or framing of racism, and it coincided with eugenics, as well. After WW2 racism became a social construction, albeit a pathological one. Gilman suggests a conjunctural crisis between ideology, politics and science allowed for this medicalizing treatment of a social class problem. Capitalism was being treated medically. The fact that the majority of Americans, for example, hold racist opinions does not prevent the narrative being constructed that racism is a pathology. Except by definition a pathology is an abnormality and racism is a belief shared by a majority of population. This however begs a deeper question — what we mean by believing something. I know people who are bigoted and prejudiced against blacks or Asians but would never act on that prejudice, at least in any meaningful way. In fact they often go out of their way to correct what they know are their biases.

Delcy Morelos

Tom Ripley, in the Zaillman version, is the underground man, the invisible surplus population. Harari’s *useless class*, whose *rise* so disturbs him. Diagnosis of sociopathy is almost always a ruling class diagnosis. Is Joe Biden a sociopath? Almost certainly by any definition. Netanyahu is clearly a psychopath. But nobody diagnoses him as such. How different is Ben Gvir from Son of Sam? Not much. Capitalism breeds poverty and inequality, but it also alienates everyone. And it fetishizes our subjectivity, in a sense. The question of this curious uncanny aspect of alienation remains unanswered. And this despite its growth and the acceleration of its affects.

”Lévi-Strauss had concluded his own essay with the claim that “the same logical processes operate in myth as in science.” Mythical thought (what used to be called the “primitive mind”) and scientific reason obey the same laws, laws that also structure social organizations such as kinship systems. Different social structures, be they communicational systems like languages or concrete institutions, reflect the fundamental organizational structures of a given society like so many mirrors positioned around the walls of a room, each reflecting the same furniture from diff erent angles with a “timelessness” that poststructuralism will identify with the timelessness Freud att ributed to the “unconscious.” The “furniture” in Lévi-Strauss’s image is not, of course, real furniture existing in the phenomenal space of lived experience and embodied movement but rather the general rules— the mental furniture— that inform a particular mode of social organization without themselves being objects of consciousness (people speak and marry without knowing the linguistic or kinship rules they use in performing these actions; hence such structures constitute a social unconscious shared by all members of a given culture). Dialectic, according to Lévi-Strauss, is simply the unlimited capacity of these mirrors to totalize all aspects of social experience through representation (an argument opposing Jean- Paul Sartre’s privileging of the dialectical form of human temporality and historicity). But the metaplay with structures expressed in myths is really more combinatory and rhetorical than dialectical in any Marxian sense. Myths are likened to the dream-riddles decoded by Freud; indeed, structuralists identified the different processes of the “dreamwork” described by Freud with the different types of rhetorical fi gures, tropes, whose poetic operation had been classified in classical rhetoric. The psychic processes of the unconscious theorized by psychoanalysis were identified not only with the poetic structures theorized in linguistics but also with the performative rules of social organizations posited by structuralist social science. “
William Pietz (The Problem of the Fetish)

Budd Hopkins

This is the crux of the matter, I think. Pietz glosses on Baudrillard (who was glossing on Barthes and Marx both):

“According to Baudrillard, contemporary consumer society increasingly reveals— through the technological forms of its own self- spectacle— the degree to which commodities are no longer objects (those posited, but absent, signifieds) but rather image signifiers, “simulated” objects existing in a “hyperreal” social order that has been schizophrenically freed from all fixed investments of individual personality and particular desire. In postmodern society (so it is said), it is no longer the material use of products that is the object of our consumption so much as their commodified meaning— the content of their form, their exchange value— now revealed as autonomous forces in packaging and advertising. “
William Pietz(Ibid)

This is correct, except that now we have reached the next stage of the spectacle in which the commodities that are no longer objects are again objects, or rather the simulated is now psychologically real (like the old Zen saying that before enlightenment a man looks at a mountain and sees a mountain. On the path to enlightenment however, he looks at the mountain and sees something more. When he reaches enlightenment, his Buddha self, he looks at the mountain and once again only sees a mountain). — In a sense this is why deep fakes are not really feared by most people. They are already living in a deep fake.

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  1. George Mc says:

    “Ripley” is undoubtedly a shock to the Netflix educated watcher. My wife and I have watched tons of stuff on Netflix. I would class most of it as “efficient entertainment” that could be assembled into a spectrum of sorts. From the blatant escapism of fantasies like “Locke & Key”, to pieces that could be described as “worthy” (“Mindhunter”) to the sheer sleek production line of Harlan Coben (slick and superficial with choreographed “twists” that make little sense).

    The usual pattern is represented by something like “Prison Break” where the initial premise is frankly ludicrous but it hardly matters since, as the seasons progress, they are clearly spinning it out in increasingly contrived and desperate ways. (TV series “House MD” is another good template for this, trying out every variation but trapped in an initial premise that doesn’t allow for real development.)

    To move from these to “Ripley” is literally a culture shock. And I am embarrassed to admit that my wife and I were a bit hesitant about continuing after the first two episodes. We were in “guilty pleasure” mode. But we’re both glad we did continue. It is one of those pieces where I feel astonished that something like this is still possible – to have a piece that treats the watcher with respect and permits time to take effect.

    (As for the regular fare that has no respect for the viewer, I recall Adorno’s comment on what jazz seems to expect from the recipient: “The subject which expresses itself expresses precisely this: I am nothing, I am filth, no matter what they do to me it serves me right”)

    From some of the feedback, there is a clear incomprehension as to what “Ripley” was about. “The black and white hurts my eyes” or “They only filmed it like that to save money”. The Damon version would have been preferable to this mentality.

    Speaking of which, I saw the 20 second Netflix excerpt for this Damon movie and felt depressed. The clip was from the initial meeting between Ripley and Greenleaf on the beach. In the recent version – in austere black and white – there are only three people on the beach: Ripley, Greenleaf and Marge. Andrew Scott as Ripley looks totally uncomfortable in his swimming briefs whilst Johnny Flynn as Greenleaf is affable but wan. In the Damon version it is of course in full colour and the beach is packed with the customary beautiful Hollywood assembly line models. It may as well be “Baywatch”. Damon as Ripley strides up with his muscular chest and brimming with complacent confidence. Law appears arrogant and grouchy. Paltrow does her usual simper. So I reckon I’ll skip that!

    It’s interesting that you mention the Freddie Miles character. This was played by Eliot Sumner, Sting’s offspring. Eliot is – and it almost seems to go without saying – “trans”, thus complying with a trend also exemplified by Naomi Watts and Jamie Lee Curtis. It seems to me that celebrities are like the middle class who comprise the “Outer Party” in Orwell’s “1984” i.e. they are the main participants in the maintenance of the system and therefore have to embody the requisite morality and habits. And the transgender programme is clearly of huge importance here. The “trans” people as shown throughout the media would seem to portray the ultimate endpoint of consumerism: permanent infants totally steeped in narcissism and bleating about how vulnerable they are. Jamie Lee Curtis has made a ludicrous plea for the protection of the “mere existence” of her “daughter”. Curtis cries: “As if we haven’t learned from fascism”! (It may be facetious to note this but, in the clip where Curtis says this, she actually makes the same gestures as Hitler made in his speeches!)

    The celebrity class seem to me to be a kind of “step down from the top layer” class. They are the privileged, a minority basking in the reverence shown them by the media but ever vulnerable to immediate demotion should they err in misunderstanding what is required from them. The case of Graham Linehan – comic writer behind “Father Ted”, “The IT Crowd” etc. – is instructive here. He seems to have stumbled into the “trans controversy” but “on the wrong side”. Subsequently, his career was wrecked and his marriage ruined. And Linehan didn’t have the financial security of other celebrity “trans apostates” like J K Rowling. Linehan then found that it was difficult to find any other celebs who would support him. This produced a roll call of disgraceful cowardly celeb retreats – which was revealing in itself since it blew open the “friendly little family” image that the media tries to maintain.

  2. John Steppling says:

    I did notice JLCurtis and her Hitler impersonation. Unsettling. I think the non binary Sumner was a perfect Freddie. Its actually a really fine performance. He exudes this privilege. And unlike Hoffman’s version of freddie, there is nothing redeeming about this one. There are so many sublime moments in Ripley. And all the Italian actors are just terrific. The final desk clerk and Detective Ravini in particular though. The swim suit stuff is great, the purple robe, the Ferregamos….the ring…..these symbols of privilege and Ripley never understands them. The pen….his instincts are such that he recognizes their importance, but is not schooled in their use. He either overvalues them, or undervalues them. His lostness is part of the tragedy here.

  3. George Mc says:

    Yes Eliot Sumner was ideal for the role. I also liked the humorous touch with the cat as an inscrutable presence. Jason Flynn as Greenleaf came across as an affable mediocrity. The murder scenes were almost clinical in their painful graphic detail. Then the sense of voluptuous affluence in the rich quarters beside the decay of the lower apartments with the obsessively repeated staircase scenes.

  4. Regino Robainas says:

    Joyfully, we may slay fakery fascism with
    the likes of “The Revolutionary & Ecological
    Legacy of herbert Marcuse” by Charles Reiz
    and celebrate A20 on the shores of Lake
    Well, maybe not so joyfully. And experience
    Netflix’s The Gentlemen, Resident Alien, &
    tonight, Rebel Moon’s The Stargazer. I think
    excluding Dostoyevsky from High SCHOOL ,
    without Marcuse from the 60’s to the early
    21st. century & Steppling today, I might have
    commited suicide long ago.

  5. Regino Robainas says:

    Each day it’s becoming more
    difficult to survive & carry
    on in the light of this kafkaesque
    empire, with orgamizing carnivals
    like these –

    And how Israel has shape-shifted into an
    even bloodier Nuremberg, like Amerika, even
    more self-righteous in harvesting terror
    through K’s paths.

  6. I enjoyed the quote about how we relate to each other. I recall one of the most helpful things anyone said to me when I was in my late teens is to point out that everyone you know, everyone who is in your life from close family to distant acquaintances, has a different version of you in their head and there is precious little we can do about that — no matter how much we think we are a certain person — immutable and solid. I also had my ego pretty well destroyed early (though I guess we all still contend with what the Persians call the “nafs”). I am so amazed at how so many people never lose their ego and this ugly trait of “having to be right” all the time.

    The talk of Finnish national Alzheimer’s made me run through all my family members living and dead and I cannot come up with any that have displayed such. Well, most of my family checks out ahead of “expectancy” … but your post prompted me to think a lot about my grandfather’s brother this week. After suffering a pretty major stroke while he was skiing in Switzerland in the late 80s he spent the last several years of his life in this fancy nursing home outside of Helsinki and though it was sad it was also fascinating how his mind worked those last years. He had been a bigwig biz man and diplomat and his manners and elegant bearing were still present. He could also still play the piano excellently and speak 6 languages. But he didn’t recognize anyone and doctors and his family all said it appeared that his mind had reverted back to the late 60s… when he was running a big company and lived in a grand residence. He would greet you at his nursing home like he was hosting some function and he treated the staff like they worked for him (they humored him most of the time) but then you’d sit down and have lunch and he would be speaking very eloquently but he’d just jump around all these random topics and he’d also cycle through all his languages. He would listen to you politely if you spoke to him but then he’d be around the bend and speaking in German or something (at the time I only knew 3 of his 6 languages). And then he’d just wander off and play the piano for an hour, something lovely by Liszt or whatever. If I had the consciousness I do today back then in the 90s I would have gone to have lunch with him frequently — it would have been interesting. Sometimes he’d be very lucid but the frustrating thing for everyone was the not knowing who people were in his life. Particularly for the woman who had become his life partner after his divorce. Since he was operating from perspective what his life was in the 60s he kept asking about his wife and was very distressed that he never saw her — of course the problem was that she was dead and they had divorced 20 years prior. I have thought that if I live long enough to end up in a nursing home it is not a bad way to be unaware of your present reality and still be able to play Schubert beautifully.

    I’m sure there are many similar stories but I am still amazed at how his linguistic skills remained and most of the time still had this zest for life and wanting to converse … just that he wasn’t aware of who you were but had that diplomatic charm still… motor skills were fine. Just the mind got all these crossed wires.

  7. Jonathan says:

    Speaking of the psychotic kaflaesque empire/carnival check out this reference from one of the leading edge right-wing propaganda factories

  8. Also glad to hear about the online classes. That sounds like a good deal. reading your blog reminds me of the best college class I ever took, and of course it was the most nontraditional. I was in Montreal for a year and this acquaintance of mine who had gotten a grad degree there had told me I needed to take a course from this Religious Studies prof Barbara because she was just so brilliant and nonconformist. I had no interest in ever taking a religion class but I respected this guy and enrolled. It wasn’t really a religion class though it was housed there and called Religion and the Arts. It was so oversubscribed that it had to be moved to the largest lecture hall on campus. Half the students took it because they had heard about her brilliance and sense of style — the other half took it because they had heard that she didn’t believe in marks (as the Canadians say) and everyone got an A or B unless you just didn’t turn anything in.

    Her lectures were dense and perfectly timed and you felt like you were swimming in rare pools that you didn’t know existed. And it made such a difference that you weren’t trying to regurgitate or learn some stuff for a test. I think 60% of the mark (she had to turn them in even if she thought they were silly) was our journals we had to turn in maybe 4 times. You could respond to anything from the lectures or readings and she just wanted to see that you were thinking and improving. She would write very detailed responses to whatever you wrote — don’t know how she had the time.

    I can still remember the essence of some of her lectures… the topics ranged from Kandinsky, Klee, Kafka, Tillich, her personal research interest Franz Rosenzweig, and it was of course much more about spirituality than religion. I think she gave at least 3 lectures on Kafka.

    She would walk into the classroom in her exquisite bespoke outfits and take off her hat, sunglasses, and long gloves and then start her mesmerizing lecture — even though there were 200 undergrads in the room many of whom took the class for an easy mark, you could literally hear a pin drop. There was something so compelling about her that I think even if you had trouble making sense of her deep lectures everyone was in rapt attention.

    She let me take over one of her classes to read and discuss Wallace Stevens poetry. She didn’t realize I was going to read the entire Man With The Blue Guitar when I suggested it to her and she was like cool, that sounds good. We’ve never stopped laughing about that day. I was such an insufferable nerd.

    I became friends with her and used to see her every time I was back in Montreal. We used to drink coffee and smoke cigarettes at this great outdoor cafe. As one would imagine the faculty hated her and always passed her over for tenure despite all her books and articles and international reputation and having the most popular class in the dept. So she left her beloved Montreal when she was recruited to be chair of a department at a large university in the South. Being a sophisticated Jewish Montrealer didn’t really translate in a small Southern college town at a U most known for its football team. And instead of her incredibly diverse and mostly bright and curious students she once emailed me complaining that all her students were dumb as bricks and that she felt she was “always walking on blood”. So she left after a couple years of this “prestigious” position to go back to Montreal where she was treated even worse by the universities there.

  9. John Steppling says:


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